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Amusements. The favourite amusements of the Japanese are the ordinary theatre (shibai); the Nō theatre, (but this is attended chiefly by the aristocracy); wrestling matches,—witnessing, not taking part in them; dinners enlivened by the performances of singing and dancing-girls; visits to temples, as much for purposes of pleasure as of devotion; picnics to places famous for their scenery, and especially to places noted for some particular blossom, such as the plum, cherry, or wistaria. The Japanese also divert themselves by composing verses in their own language and in Chinese, and by playing chess, checkers, and various games of the "Mother Goose" description, of which sugoroku is the chief. Ever since the early days of foreign intercourse they have likewise had certain kinds of cards, of which the hana-garuta, or "flowercards," are the most popular kind,—so popular, indeed, and seductive that there is an official veto on playing the game for money. The cards are forty-eight in number, four for each month of the year, the months being distinguished by the flowers proper to them, and an extra value being attached to one out of each set of four, which is further distinguished by a bird or butterfly, and to a second which is inscribed with a line of poetry. Three people take part in the game, and there is a pool. The system of counting is rather complicated, but the ideas involved are graceful. There is another game of cards, in which stanzas from what are known as the "Hundred Poets" take the place of flowers. At this game no gambling is ever indulged in. It is rather an amusement for family parties, who at New Year time often sit up, over it all night.

Some of the above diversions are shared in by the ladies; but take it altogether, their mode of life is much duller than that of their European sisters. Confucian ideas concerning the subjection of women still obtain to a great extent. Women are not, it is true, actually shut up, as in India; but it is considered that their true vocation is to sit at home. Hence visiting is much less practised in Japan than with us. It is further to be observed, to the credit of the Japanese, that amusement, though permitted, is never exalted by them to the rank of the great and serious business of life. In England at least among the upper classes a man's shooting, fishing, and golf, a girl's dances, garden-parties, and country-house visitings appear to be the centre round which all the family plans revolve. In Japan, on the contrary, amusements are merely picked up by the way, and are all the more appreciated.[1]

Some sixteen or seventeen years ago, it looked as if the state of things here sketched were about to undergo considerable modification. Poker, horse-racing, even shooting and lawn-tennis, had begun to find devotees among Japanese men, while the fair sex, abandoning their own charming costume for the corsets and furbelows of Europe, were seen boldly to join in the ball-room fray. True, as Netto wittily remarks in his Papierschmetterlinge aus Japan, "most of them showed by the expression of their faces that they were making a sacrifice on the altar of civilisation." Happily a reaction supervened, older customs and costumes were resumed, and on the now very rare occasions when Japanese ladies enter a ball-room, it is as spectators only, and in their infinitely more attractive native garb.

The sports of Japanese children include kite-flying, top-spinning, battledoor and shuttlecock, making snow men, playing with dolls, etc., etc.,—in fact, most of our old nursery friends, but modified by the genius loci. The large, grotesquely coloured papier-mâché dogs given to babies, often by the kennelful, owe their origin to some idea of the dog as a faithful protector, more especially against onslaughts by evil spirits. (See also Article on Polo.)

Books recommended. Child-Life in Japan, by Mrs. Chaplin-Ayrton. Children's Games and Sports, in Griffis' "Mikado's Empire."—Hana-aivase (Japanese Cards), by the late Major-General Palmer, R. E., in Vol. XIX. Part III. of the "Asiatic Transactions."

  1. A critic of the first edition humorously suggested that, had the author been a merchant, he would have reversed this dictum, and have said that that which the Japanese merely picked up by the way was business!