Popular Science Monthly/Volume 43/May 1893/Japanese Home Life
|JAPANESE HOME LIFE.|
By Dr. W. DELANO EASTLAKE.
IT must be confessed that the ideas of Japan and the Japanese which we are likely to gain through the current literature of the day are apt to be sadly confusing. This, I am quite confident, is not from any desire on the part of writers on Japanese subjects to encourage any false impressions, but rather from the very fact that neither poet nor artist traveler—ay, nor many of the long residents in Japan, for that matter—have opportunity to see or take part in the home life of the people of Japan.
But few visitors to that country have been able, in so short a time, to become so thoroughly en rapport with the customs and life of this interesting people as Sir Edwin Arnold, whose graceful writings show us how he has thought with them, lived with them, and loved with them in a deeper and truer sense than many of the oldest foreign residents, although his stay was comparatively short. Yet even in Sir Edwin's writings on Japan we see the poetry rather than the prose of Japanese life; and this is not to be wondered at, for of all countries and people none could appeal so deeply to the poet as does this fairyland of flowers and romance. The very air one breathes, the delicious sense of rest and quiet, the graceful courtesy of the people, the romantic beauty of mountain or highway, city or dwelling—all these, and far more, complete an ideal picture that awakens enthusiasm in the prosiest of tourists or visitors. It could surely scarcely have been otherwise that the author of the Light of Asia, whose very heart-strings are tuned to the melody of poetry, should have struck the keynote of Japanese life and awakened naught but answering chords of most enchanting harmony.
So he has given us these in his writings on Japan so vividly and artistically that we can almost hear the soft-voiced welcome of the serving maiden, as the soji is noiselessly pushed aside, and amid the subtle fragrance of the plum blossoms sink back among the silken cushions with that delicious sense of repose, while lulled to rest by the melodic echo of the koto strings, and find ourselves once more in fairyland Japan. And would it were only true!
Yet we are not all of us poets, and few of us are artists, and so find that there is prose beneath the fragrant blossoms that the poet's pen has so lavishly scattered over things Japanese. On the
other hand, we find that the sweeping assertions regarding Japanese ethics and morals—or rather lack of morals—as contained in other writings on Japan, are both unjust and untrue.
On the one hand. Sir Edwin Arnold tells us that the women of Japan approach our ideal of the angelic, while another writer cries out against the utter lack of morality in Japanese women. Such diametrically opposed statements are distressingly confusing, and the characteristics of "angelic immorality" are hard to conceive of, and must be rather paradoxical, to say the least.
Should we desire to gain any true idea of the "prose and poetry" of Japan, we must look into the details of the home life of the people; for, after all, it is the daily routine, the domestic and social duties, the thoughts, pastimes, and aspirations typical to any people that mold the ethics and character of the nation itself. In a word, we must enter the homes of both high and low, there to learn facts and not "foreign impressions."
But, alas! the task is one most difficult to accomplish, for it must be acknowledged that the vast majority of foreign residents, and practically all transient visitors to the country, see little or nothing of the details of the home life of the people. And why? Is the life of the people just what they see it to be in its picturesque and courteous superficiality, and is it indeed all poetry, music, and flowers, and no earnest reality?
Indeed, there is; for the word "home" has the same tender meaning in the hearts of the Japanese as with us; and the cricket that chirps so lustily on the hearths of American or English homes would find a rival songster in the cheery little fellow whose contented chirp by the side of the glowing brazier, or hibachi, makes such sweet music in Japanese homes.
Apart from the diplomatic and consular representatives from Western countries, the foreign residents of Japan are chiefly composed of merchants, missionaries, and a comparatively small number of professional men. The merchant or trading class represent by all odds the majority of the foreign community. Numerically, missionaries would come next. Indeed, it would not be an unfair estimate to state that these two classes constitute at least four fifths of the foreign population. Trading, as far as foreigners are concerned, is still limited to the treaty ports, including Yokohama, Kobé, Nagasaki, and a few others. Socially, the Japanese merchant ranks below the humblest tradesman, and, as all foreign trading with the interior must be carried on through the medium of these Japanese commission merchants, it is with this class of people that the majority of the foreign residents come in contact, and then only in their business relations, and seldom socially or intimately; although, were this the case, the idea gained of Japanese home life would be misleading, for the Japanese trader very soon learns to conform himself to the manners of his customers, and can not be regarded—as thus met—as typical of the truly Japanese.
The missionaries as well, for the most part at least, have little opportunity to study the details of the social or home life of the people they are working among. Theirs is a duty and vocation which from its very nature would render this well-nigh impossible. They are teachers, not students; they are bearers of spiritual truths, and must needs open warfare against the existing creeds of the people; and this attitude in itself would, in the majority of instances at least, debar them from entering into the pursuits orpastimes of the people. Before leaving the subject of missionaries, I would call attention to the frequent allusions made by the
Silk Merchant. Many of these shops are open to the street. To the right is the cashier, fenced in by his latticed "office".
representatives of certain missions, to the disrespect and disregard paid to them or their teachings by the Japanese. Such assertions are too sweeping, to say the least, as well as misleading, for many of the foreign missionaries in Japan have gained the high esteem of natives, and have endeared themselves, both by their noble, self-sacrificing lives, as well as ever ready sympathy and friendliness. There have been many missionaries sent to Japan during the past decade who are educationally sadly incompetent to meet the emergencies that present themselves in Japan. It must be borne in mind that the standard of education of the present generation in Japan is most high. The works of Huxley, Spencer, Darwin, and many others have, for the most part, been translated into Japanese, and the students and graduates of the university, the Dai gakko, are able to compete educationally with men from our best colleges and universities. The eagerness for knowledge that one finds so universally displayed among the Japanese, together with the remarkable advance in this direction that the nation has made during the past twenty years, and the prominent position Japan is assuming in its relations to America and European countries—all this commands our unbiased interest and respect.
The task of endeavoring to portray a clear, although of necessity incomplete, view of Japanese home life is one of no little difficulty. It would seem almost as difficult as an adequate description of a Beethoven sonata would be without the aid of music. For there is a subtle "something" about Japan in which, perhaps, the exquisite harmony of the land—the scenery and the people—plays an important part; yet a "something" that is wont to cast a charmed spell around one, and causes a former resident, like myself, to look back to the years spent in the "Land of the Rising Sun" as to the memory of some peaceful vision of fairyland. This indefinable charm can not be described in mere word-pictures, and yet escapes few visitors to Japan, and is seldom lost even after long residence in that country.
The sense of restfulness that pervades our Japanese towns, in bold contradistinction to that feeling of noisy hurry and feverish excitement of a busy American city, has been attributed to the comparative absence of horse traffic in the former. Undoubtedly this is a potent factor, but not the only one which gives that sense of quiet and repose already referred to. The courteous politeness of the people, both rich and poor, the general evidences of light-heartedness among even the poorest laboring classes, the absence of that distracting hurry and rush so typical of our great business centers, and in addition to all this the picturesque houses and streets, the spotlessly clean homes, the evidences everywhere of a national love for the beautiful and artistic, the absence of saloons or barrooms, and their substitution by public bath-houses, at almost every corner—all these must be regarded as factors productive of this sense of quiet and rest. Then, again, the strange com-mingling of the new and the old—for, turning aside from some busy street thronged with shoppers, venders and tradesmen, a few steps may find us approaching some majestic temple gateway, leading to the shrine or tomb of some great hero of centuries gone by. Ascending the time-worn stone steps, and standing beneath the shadow of the lofty gabled roof of the gateway, our gaze may follow the intricate maze of lacquer and bronze architectural adornment until it is lost in the shadowy gloom overhead. On either side of the two central columns, and shut off by a railing, are the colossal figures of the "guardians of the temple," grim and gaunt, with sword in hand. Flanked on either side are the tall bronze or stone lanterns of the temple, and still beyond, back even of the font of water and the great temple bell in its gabled belfry, is the shrine itself, a fitting resting place or tribute to one who has served his country well, guarded as it is by gnarled and ancient pines and lofty cryptomarias that were ancient when the grandsires of the happy throng below ascended these self-same steps to offer a tribute to the memory of the hero.
There is a marked similarity in the daily routine of the inmates of Japanese homes, whether they be homes of the rich or poor, the official or tradesman. The wife is always the mistress of the home, and hers is the duty of in every way possible rendering the life of her husband happy—and to be happy herself, as far as he knows. The instruction of the daughters of the home in the various domestic duties also devolves upon the mother. The wardrobe of the entire family is the work of her hands, with the assistance, perhaps, of an aunt (obāsan), maid, or her growing daughters. The latter, by the way, are taught how to sew while yet quite little tots, and as they grow older in years and skill, are initiated into the mysteries of art needlework. Then the daughters are instructed in music, a certain knowledge of the samisen, koto, or some other musical instrument being regarded as a requisite accomplishment in even the poorer and middle classes, while the daughters of the higher classes and nobility are well versed in art, music, and the poetry of the country. The other accomplishments deemed desirable in women consist principally in the artistic arrangement of flowers and the details of ceremonial tea making and drinking (cha-no-yu).
The recitation, or reading of historical poems (utai) is a favorite study, especially if some romance is interwoven into the story. Usually the dramatic poems (iōrori) are ceremoniously read or sung by the young maidens, while an elder sister or teacher willthrum a minor accentuated accompaniment on the samisen.
Gateway of an Ancient Buddhist Shrine.
Sometimes the story of the utai is told in prose to the eager group of children gathered around the glowing brazier, or hibachi. The latter, it must be confessed, in spite of its cheery appearance, radiates but a scant amount of heat in comparison with the open grates of the Occident. Such a family group may be seen in thousands of homes in Tōkyō alone, on a winter's afternoon; the boys, if back from school, resting contentedly on the white tatami, or studying the morrow's lessons in some quiet nook; the little maidens, demurely grouped about the hibachi, busily plying their needles, while listening to some story told by the old aunt or nurse, that may be acting as instructress. The contented hum of
Singing Girls playing on the Koto and Samisen.
the quaint old iron kettle, resting over the glowing coals, supported by an iron tripod thrust into the ashes of the hibachi, suggests its entire readiness to assist in the preparation of tiny cups of fragrant tea for any chance guest that arrives, or for any member of the family that wants a steaming cup of this delicate beverage—which is so much more dainty and delicious as prepared and drunk by the Japanese than by us.
It is then that the telling of stories finds its place in Japanese. The deeds of heroes, the romances of ancient dynasties, mystical lore, stories of ghosts and ghouls, and of the wicked and revengeful deeds of fox or badger sprites—this folk lore, historical or mythical, as it may be, has become so blended with the home life of the people that one can not well dissociate the one from the other. The story of Kogo-no-Tsuboné—properly an utai, or historical poem—is a favorite on account of the sweet romance it contains.
THE STORY OF KOGO-NO-TSUBONÉ.
Long, long years ago, before the Shoguns, that now sleep in their ancient graves in Shiba, had gained power, and before the advent of foreigners had been even dreamed of, the peace-loving young Emperor Takakura, a monarch of the imperial line, graced the sacred throne of his ancestors.
But the imperial power of Takakura was but a nominal one, for the prime minister—one Kiyomori, of Taira descent—virtually ruled the land, and, to accomplish his ends more adroitly, had even caused his daughter to be made empress. Thus the peace-loving young monarch was a mere tool in the artful hands of Kiyomori. Indeed, his power was great, for the emperor could not have declared war or made peace against Kiyomori's tyrant will.
So, while the prime minister was scheming with his daughter the empress, the young monarch was forced to seek consolation in music and art, and found a willing and loving follower in one of his retainers, Nakakuni, who himself was a most skilled performer on the flute. Now, it happened that among the royal musicians at the palace there was a lady in waiting to the royal household who in music far outranked any other. Fair as a dream, gifted with the sweetest of voices, Kogo—for this was her name—was able to awaken music from her koto strings that seemed to spring from the very soul of the instrument. None but the tapering fingers of the fair Kogo could create such entrancing harmony, and it truly seemed as though the silken strings would murmur a loving response to her gentle caress.
Frequently the flutist Nakakuni would accompany Kogo's music and song, while the young emperor would listen like one entranced. These three passed many happy hours together; but as time wore on, the young monarch realized that sweet Kogo's music and verse had awakened love. But, alas! Kiyomori learned of the emperor's infatuation, and poor Kogo was compelled to secretly flee to the mountain forests of Saga in order to escape from the relentless persecutions of Kiyomori and his daughter the empress.
On learning of Kogo's flight from the palace, Takakura at once ordered his faithful retainer Nakakuni to go in search of the missing maiden, and look far and wide, and not to return until he had found her hiding place. The fleetest horse of the royal mews was made ready, and Nakakuni, bearing with him a message from the Emperor, was soon speeding toward the gloomy mountain of Saga.
Long he rode; the giant cryptomarias that flanked the highway towered overhead, and well-nigh shut out the remnant of the dying day. Night dropped her black pall over the earth as he entered the dark forests of the mountain, but far, far above the tree-tops the silver moon shone forth, with the stars peeping out
A Geisha, or Professional Entertainer and Musician.
one by one, as though desiring to aid the loyal retainer in his search. Again and again he would check his horse and stop to listen, for it seemed that he could hear the melodious tones of a koto. At last, when, far late into the night, he arrived at the ancient temple of Horin, the sounds became more audible, although still distant. Was it the distant moan of some far-away tempest among the mountain peaks? Was it merely the night wind sighing through the lofty pines overhead? Or could it be the plaintive, liquid melody from the harp of the lost one? Checking his panting, foaming steed, Nakakuni listened intently, and while listening his heart began to beat wildly, for he now recognized the music of an old love song, and the magic touch of Kogo's fingers on the koto strings. Led by the guiding music, he soon reached a miserable-looking hut, whence the sounds proceeded. Dismounting at the door of the hut, he proclaimed himself a royal messenger and demanded admittance.
A voice from within answered that no dweller in so humble a hut was worthy of being the recipient of a message from the emperor, and that surely he had made some mistake. Not to be put off, however, Nakakuni declared that he had recognized Kogo's music, and that it was for Kogo that he was seeking. Then, indeed, he was made welcome to the humble abode; but, after delivering the emperor's message, the fair Kogo announced her determination to forsake the world forever and live the holy life of a recluse, and begged that Nakakuni would secure the emperor's pardon for her enforced disobedience to his commands. In vain did the faithful messenger endeavor to alter this determination, and presently the two fell to talking of the happy past at the palace. The koto was brought forth, and Kogo once more sang those well-known love songs, and the harp strings rang again with melody. The moments rolled into hours, and the day was breaking when Nakakuni took leave of the weeping and disconsolate maiden and rode slowly back to the palace alone.
Sometimes the story is ended here with the conclusion that Kogo became a Buddhist nun and spent her life in ministering to others, self-abnegation, and prayer; but the history of the romance, as set forth in the utai, is kindlier, for the emperor again sent for the sweet musician, who was finally prevailed upon to return to the palace, where she was restored to her former honorable position in the imperial household.
In rendering the above in English I have endeavored to retain, as far as possible, the quaintness of the original with which almost every Japanese is familiar. Regarding the purely legendary lore of Japan, this is as a rule most weird and mystical. The large variety of supernatural beings, for the most part of a purely psychical origin, is truly startling; indeed, it would be difficult to imagine or invent any grewsome form for an apparition that is not already an old inhabitant of Japanese "ghostdom."But for "fireside" stories it is, after all, the recital of the uncanny and magical deeds of foxes and badgers that awakens the
In the Daidoku, or Kitchen, during the Preparation of the Morning Meal.
greatest interest among the children, and which are, for the most part, believed in even by the elders. In fact, among the more illiterate classes to be possessed with the spirit of a fox (kitsuné-tsuki) is a form of zoanthropy not infrequently met with, although the disorder is more likely to be assumed than real, and the epithet kitsuné-tsuki, or "fox-hearted," is more apt to be figuratively applied than otherwise. Undoubtedly the popular belief in the magical powers of foxes and badgers in Japan is as extensive as the frequently unexpressed belief in the supernatural found in this country. The educated classes will decry any such superstitious belief, and yet will tell you of alleged experiences of their friends or relatives with foxes or badgers, which are "very strange and not to be accounted for." Fox and badger stories are therefore highly appreciated by the juvenile members of any Japanese family, principally on account of their "authenticity," and because of that fascinating condition of fear and "the creeps" that their recital occasions. Here is a good badger story, the truth of which I can vouch for, insomuch as there is a field of Inami near Kyōtō, and that it is a grewsome spot well suited for a trysting place for ghouls and ghosts.
THE BURIAL AT MIDNIGHT.
Not far from Kyōtō, in the smiling hill-land of Harima, there is a broad, open plain known as the "Field of Inami." Although surrounded by verdant hillsides, this plain is bleak and barren; great gusts of wind sweep over the long, dry grasses, and no farmer or peasant has ever found a home in this desolate spot. Yet the great highway to Kyōtō runs just to one side of the plain, and on this road a postman used to carry his load of letters once or twice every week. A little bypath leads across one corner of the plain, lessening the distance to the city, and this path was a great favorite with the postman, as it made his journey so much the shorter.
Going one day as usual to Kyōtō, he reached the field a little later than was his wont, and night came on before he had advanced very far. Without a light or the means of procuring one, he wandered aimlessly on for a while, but finally seeing that he had missed the path in the darkness, resolved to pass the night where he was, with the sky for a coverlet. Without giving a second thought to all the ugly stories told of the field, the ghosts and malicious fox-sprites said to hold their nightly revels in that spot, the postman bravely determined to make the best of it, and was just looking for some sort of shelter when he caught sight of a little, half-ruined hut. Drawing nearer, he found that it was a sort of watch-house, such as the peasants build near the rice-fields in order to protect the growing grain. Overjoyed at having found even this poor shelter, the postman entered the little hut, and, throwing himself on a heap of dried grass, was soon fast asleep. Perfect silence reigned over the sterile plain; only now and again the far-off hoot of an owl or the mournful cry of some night bird broke the stillness of the night.
Several hours had passed, when the sleeper was suddenly awakened by the deep, sonorous note of a bell. The sound seemed to come from the western portion of the field, and all at once the startled sleeper heard a tramping as of many feet, and a confused murmur of Buddhist chants and prayers. Nearer and nearer came the crowd of people, to the listener's great astonishment. "There are no houses in the field," thought he, "and anyhow no one would think of going at midnight to such a deserted and ill-omened spot." The stars were shining brightly, but no moon illumined the scene, so that the trembling postman could only see objects very near him. Nevertheless he peeped cautiously out of his hiding place and saw, to his unbounded surprise, a long procession of men bearing torches and lanterns. In front of all marched a tall priest, reciting the Buddhist invocation, Namu Amida Butsu, in a clear, loud voice. "It is a funeral procession!" thought the frightened listener, and crept farther back into the shadows of the hut.
As soon as the mournful procession had reached the little hut a halt was made, and the coffin-bearers stepped forward. Scarcely five paces from the hut the grave was dug, and the coffin placed in it. The priest then threw the earth back into the grave and built a little mound above it, and finally placed a few sticks covered with Buddhist characters in one end of the mound. Without further word the somber procession turned back, and moved slowly away in the same solemn and impressive manner, leaving the postman in a most pitiable frame of mind. It was quite bad enough to be compelled to spend the night in such an uncanny and grewsome spot; but the late hour, mysterious burial, and the proximity of the freshly dug grave were enough to frighten the bravest heart.
As if chained to the spot by some evil spell, the postman kept staring at the little mound before him. Suddenly, while he was gazing fixedly at the grave, it began to rock slowly from side to side. Quicker and quicker became the rocking, while the involuntary spectator underwent an agony of terror. Faster and faster still rocked the mound, until it fell over with a great shock, anda naked, horrid thing jumped from the grave and ran toward the
Meal Time. Each member of the family has a lacquered table to himself, while the maid waits in readiness to replenish the bowls with rice from the covered bucket.
postman. In an instant he remembered that horrible ghouls always attend a burial, and that these ghouls often kill and eat living beings. There was no time to lose, for the creature had already reached the entrance of the hut. Crazed with fear, the
The "One Hundred Steps" leading to the Bluff and Tea House, Yokohama.
postman drew his sword and made one desperate cut at his enemy, and then, without daring to give a second blow, ran out of the hut and into the night.
Hours seemed to have passed before the postman arrived, half dead with exhaustion and panting for breath, at the house of a peasant, just beyond the outskirts of the field. He knocked again and again, but no one came in answer, and so he had to wait for the day to dawn. Shortly after sunrise the people of the house arose, and, hearing the knocking, took the still breathless wanderer into the guest chamber, where they attended to his pitiable state, and then begged him to relate what had befallen him. This he did, and the peasants at once determined to go to the little hut in the field of Inami, which was well known to them. Upon arriving at the spot they found no signs of a burial or of a grave. Mound and coffin had utterly disappeared; but just in front of the hut lay the body of a huge badger, killed by the one cut of the good steel. At once they saw what had happened. The evil beast had wished to frighten the belated wanderer; and the funeral procession and priest, coffin, and grave had been merely the work of magic.
So much for the stories that play such an important rôle in the drama of home life in Japan. It is to be regretted that this subject has not been more extensively dealt with in recent writings of the country, for many of the hidden beauties of the country and people are best portrayed in the stories of bygone heroes, as told to the children around the hibachi, or as sung by some graceful maiden with samisen or koto accompaniment; while the tales of ghosts or ghouls rival those of almost any other land in variety and horror.
Turning to the pastimes common to Japanese homes, a brief mention of the most popular games must not be omitted. Go and shogi are similar to our games of draughts and chess, yet the former is far more scientific than checkers. There are several games of cards, the playing cards being about as long as those used in this country, but scarcely three quarters of an inch wide. Another favorite game is that of "One Hundred Poems." It is somewhat similar to our rather childish game of "Authors," with the exception that the Japanese game is by no means childish, and requires an intimate knowledge of at least one hundred poems of well-known merit. Two hundred cards are used in the game, and half a poem is written on each card. The cards being spread before the players, the half of a poem on any one card is read, and the other half searched for by the contestants. Then the different seasons of the year have typical games. The most picturesque of these is haguita, or "battledoor and shuttlecock," which is exclusively a New-Year's game. Then the time of the cherry blooms brings its games beneath the bloom-laden branches. Music and song find their way into the homes of Japan far more extensively than in this country. To be sure, the music of either koto or samisen is apt to sound strange, and at first perhaps almost unintelligible, to our untutored ears; but we soon become familiar with the plaintive notes of the koto or the sonorous vibrations of the samisen, and learn to both recognize and appreciate the quaint minor harmonies and softly worded melody of some love song, or so-fu-ren.
As I have already had occasion to mention, the dramatic or operatic poems are sung with the accompaniment of the samisen, while the historical poems, or utai, find a musical accompaniment only when recited on the nō stage, and then flute and drums are the instruments used. The dramatization of the utai upon the nō stages is a very ancient custom, and can only be appreciated by the better educated classes. Correctly speaking, nō is a historical
Facsimile of a Poem by Aritsuné
dance, full of weird mysticisms almost unintelligible to those not conversant with its meaning, but its proper performance is a classic art. It has remained unchanged in the slightest detail for centuries, and through its medium the classic historical poetry of the nation is retained and placed before the appreciative public of the higher class.
Thus the drama and history of the country, so full of heroism and romance, shape themselves into poetry and song. The blending of art with poetry is another feature typical of the Japanese people. There are two purely Japanese schools of art: the one dealing with the minutest details, and the other with the bold and forcible portrayal of impressions and suggestions, rather than details; graceful sketches, rather than detailed drawings. "We can not reproduce Nature in art," a Japanese artist has said, "and instead of making so bold an attempt, had best satisfy ourselves with mere suggestions of Nature's beauties." The same may be said of some Japanese poetry, for the uta, or sonnets, usually are mere poetic suggestions of a deeper meaning or sentiment. This brings one to a realization of the close connection between art and poetry in Japan, as also between poetry and music. In social gatherings among friends, a favorite mode for mutual entertainment is for one of the guests to quickly sketch some passing thought or memory of one of Nature's beauties; it may be the crest of some distant mountain, a branch heavy with blossoms, or a flower. This sketch is then passed on to another guest, who, in looking at it, seeks to find some poetic suggestion, or hidden lesson, and having done so, adds the verse to the sketch, and the picture is complete. These illustrated sonnets, the fruits of poetic inspiration and artistic impression, are taken home, to be preserved as cherished souvenirs of the evening's entertainment.
To illustrate this more clearly, we will say that an artist has, with two or three rough strokes of his brush, depicted a bleak mountain peak, with a flock of birds flying above it. This is passed to Aritsuné, a Japanese poet of recognized merit, who after a few moments' thought adds a sonnet to the sketch. It is, like the sketch, a mere suggestion of a deeper sentiment, or imi, as the Japanese would have it. I can best render it as follows, making the translation as literal as possible:
We may struggle to the peak
Of the mountain, bare and bleak,
There but to learn,
And well discern,
That the winging birds above,
Speeding to their nests of love,
More of Nature's beauties see
Far than we.
Surely the beauty of the thought is evident, and the deeper meaning, or imi, appreciable even to the prosiest of us. Yet in rendering the lesson of the sonnet, as implied to the Japanese reader of the above words, I might add the following lines:
So, when striving naught but fame to obtain,
Thou chance mayst reach the highest peak of earthly gain;
Then thou wilt learn,
And well discern,
That Nature doth her beauties wide outspread
For those to daily duties who are wed.
While simple lives yield peace and light,
Fame blinds the sight.
One more example of this variety of illustrated verse will suffice, and in the one I have chosen the meaning is confessedly obscure, or at least deep enough to require some thought. The picture, or sketch, is one of a bunch of wild flowers (chrysanthemums), which make their first appearance during the closing days of September, by which time, also, the cheery voice of the locust has been hushed by the increasing cold of the autumn:
Though September's last days are fast ebbing away,
And the locust's bright sonnet is stilled,
Yet the wild flowers fair breathe a far sweeter song
While the air with their fragrance is filled.
In justice it must be confessed that the imi of the above lines is rather vague, but may be regarded as a reminder of Nature's kind compensation, for, with the change of seasons, one beauty is
Facsimile of an Uta, or Sonnet
scarcely missed before another has filled its place. Perhaps the words may be construed as a gentle reproof to discontented spirits. That the very heart of the nation finds its voice in song is quite evident, for in every instance where a sonnet or poem would find application we are sure to find one. During the time of the cherry and plum blossoms, in early spring, the bloom-laden branches are further ornamented by numerous sonnets inspired by the beauty of the scene—written on strips of white paper, and then made fast to the low-hanging branches. Indeed, the poetic enthusiasm of a score of Orlandos in the forests of Arden would be put to shame. Every season of the year, with the flowers that it brings, is praised in verse. From the chrysanthemums in autumn, the camellias and plum blossoms of the winter months, the cherry and peach blossoms and wistaria during early spring, the peony in May, and the great lotus flowers during the summer months, so every season has its typical flower, and every flower is loved and praised in song and sonnet by the people. There is room for flowers in the humblest abode, and even the crests of the thatch-roofed huts of the farmers are transformed into miniature gardens of hyacinths and tulips.
So we have pushed aside the latticed doors and glanced in at the Japanese home. True, our stay has been short, and much must be left unnoticed; yet, as we take our reluctant leave, above the soft melody of the koto strings, we can clearly hear the lusty chirp of the "cricket on the hearth."
- This tale was first translated from the Japanese into German, and read, among others, before the Gesellsehaft für Völkerkunde in Ost-Asien, in Yokohama, by F. Warrington Eastlake, Ph. D.