Beside the sink are an earthen jar to hold water for washing and a wooden pail for drinking water, but there is really no difference in the quality of the liquid in the two receptacles as it has in either case been drawn from the well. The wells are either private or public; in the latter case, they are used by the whole neighbourhood, a small tax being levied for their maintenance, and are the favourite resorts for the exchange of scandals. As these wells have all wooden sides and a square wooden flooring where washing is done, they present a far from cleanly appearance, and the water is as often as not contaminated, especially in the crowded quarters of the city. The Tokyo municipality undertook some years ago to supply pure water, and as water-pipes have been laid throughout the city, the wells are rapidly disappearing in Tokyo.
Let us next turn to the kitchen and see how it is arranged. The kitchen varies very much in size; but the commonest range from six to sixteen square yards, that is, it would, if it were matted, hold from three to eight mats. But the floor is usually entirely boarded, though in a large kitchen a mat or two are laid for the servants to sit on. There is a space of ground at the entrance for leaving clogs in, and another on which the sink is set. The most prominent feature of the kitchen is the hearth for cooking rice. It is made of a shallow wooden box, on which a square plaster casing is built with a round hole at the top and an aperture at a side. On the hole the rice-pot is put; and the side-opening is used for feeding the hearth with small pellets which are kept in a cavity under the wooden box. The hearth is as often as not double, and over the other hole the soup-pot is set.
The parlour, the principal room of the house, is always kept tidy. It has an alcove, six feet long by three deep, consisting of a dais, a few inches high, of plain hard wood, which will bear polishing, though a thin matting is sometimes put over it. Not unfrequently, another piece of wood, generally square, forms the outer edge so that the thickness of the floor of the alcove can be concealed. The dais has a special ceiling of its own, or a bit of a wall, of plaster or wood, coming down over it a foot or more from the ceiling. On the dais is set a vase of porcelain or metal, bottle-shaped or flat, in which branches of a tree or shrubs in flower are put in, and on the wall is hung a kakemono, or scroll of picture or writing. These two constitute the main ornament of the room. New flowers are put in every few days and the kakemono is changed from time to time. This is the peculiarity of the kakemono as a piece of house decoration. We do not exhibit all our treasures in kakemono at the same time, but hang them one, two, or three at a time according to the size of the alcove and the kakemono themselves, so that the visitor calling at different seasons may delight his eyes with the sight of fresh pictures or writings each time he calls.
The smallest houses are those in the slums which have only three yards’ frontage and a depth of four yards. The entrance, the space for kitchen utensils and the sink, and perhaps a closet or cupboard would leave room for little more than three mats, on which the whole family live; but as children spend all their playtime outside and come in only for meals, it is at night that the house is crowded, and even then as they sleep higgledy-piggledy, a couple or so of children do not inconvenience their parents to any appreciable extent. A two-roomed house is common enough and is not confined to the slums. A childless old couple, when the wife has to do the household work, find such a house large enough for them. Artisans also live in them. Three-roomed houses, too, are very common. Houses built in blocks are oftenest of this size. They are made up of the porch, the sitting-room, and the parlour or drawing-room. These three rooms are the essential portions of a house; and larger houses merely add to them. A visitor calls at the porch, the paper sliding-door is opened, he is invited to come in, he leaves his hat and greatcoat in the porch, and enters the parlour.
A Japanese room is measured, not by feet and inches, but by the number of mats it contains. A mat consists of a straw mattress, about an inch and a half thick, with a covering of fine matting which is sewn on at the edges of the mattress either by itself or with a border, usually dark-blue and an inch wide, of coarse hempen cloth. It is six feet long by three wide; this measure is not always exact, but may vary by an inch or more in either direction. When a house is newly built, the mat-maker comes to make mats to fit the rooms in it. But in spite of the variation, the size of a room is always given in the number of mats it holds, so that we never know the exact dimensions of a room. The smallest room has two mats, that is, is about six feet square; the next smallest is three-matted, or three yards by two. Four-matted rooms are sometimes to be found; but such rooms are unshapely, being four yards long by two wide. A room with four and a half mats is three yards square and has the half mat, which is a yard square, in the centre. The next size is six-matted, or four yards by three and is followed by the eight-matted, or four yards square.
In Japan there was neither an architect nor a builder as a distinct calling. Even now, ordinary dwelling-houses are not built by either of them; it is the carpenter who has charge of their construction. The carpenter’s is a dignified craft; he is called in Japanese the “great artificer,” and stands at the head of all artisans. In the building of a house, a master carpenter is called in; he prepares the plans, and if they are approved, he sets to work with his apprentices and journeymen.
here is, however, still another element of insecurity in wooden houses. House-breaking is by no means difficult in Tokyo. In the daytime the front entrance is generally closed with sliding-doors which can, however, be gently opened and entered without attracting notice unless some one happens to be in an adjoining room. The kitchen door is usually kept open, and it is quite easy to sneak into the kitchen and make away with food or utensils. Tradesmen, rag-merchants, and hawkers come into the kitchen to ask for orders, to buy waste-paper or broken crockery, or to sell their wares, so that there is nothing unusual in finding strange men on the premises. Sometimes these hawkers are really burglars in disguise come to reconnoitre the house with a view to paying it a nocturnal visit. At night, of course, the house is shut and the doors are bolted or fastened with a ring and staple, but very seldom locked or chained.
Gates, too, vary in size and form. The most modest are no more than low wicker-gates which can be jumped over and offer no bar to intrusion. Others are of the same make, but stand higher so that the interior can be seen only through cracks. But the most common consist of two square posts with hinged doors which meet in the middle and are kept shut by a cross-bar passing through clamps on them. These gates may be of the cheapest kind of wood, such as cryptomeria, or may be massive and of hard wood. Another common kind has a roof over it with a single door which is hinged on one post and fastened on to the other and provided with a small sliding-door for daily use. The larger pair gates have also small side-doors for use at night when they are themselves shut.
Though many private houses in the business quarters have no gates, those of any pretensions in the residential districts where land is naturally cheaper, are mostly provided with them. It is not usual for professionals in humbler walks of life and for artisans to live within a gate; but officials and others of some social standing prefer to have one to their houses. Sometimes there is a single gate to a large compound with a number of small houses in it; in such a case the gate-post is studded with name-plates. Gates, too, vary in size and form. The most modest are no more than low wicker-gates which can be jumped over and offer no bar to intrusion.