Children. Japan has been called "a paradise of babies." The babies are indeed generally so good as to help to make it a paradise for adults. They are well-mannered from the cradle, and the boys in particular are perfectly free from that gawky shyness which makes many English boys, when in company, such afflictions both to others and to themselves. Pity only that a little later they are apt to deteriorate, the Japanese young man being less attractive than his eight or ten-year-old brother,—becoming self-conscious, self-important, sometimes intrusive.
The late Mrs. Chaplin-Ayrton tried to explain the goodness of Japanese children by a reference to the furniture-less condition of Japanese houses. There is nothing, she said, for them to wish to break, nothing for them to be told not to touch. This is ingenious. But may we not more simply attribute the pleasing fact partly to the less robust health of the Japanese, which results in a scantier supply of animal spirits? In any case, children's pretty ways and children's games add much to the picturesqueness of Japanese life. Nothing perhaps gives the streets a more peculiar aspect than the quaint custom which obtains among the lower classes of strapping the babies on to the back of their slightly older brothers and sisters, so that the juvenile population seems to consist of a new species of Siamese twins. On the 3rd March every doll-shop in Tōkyō, Kyōto, and the other large cities is gaily decked with what are called O Hina Sama,—tiny models both of people and of things, the whole Japanese Court in miniature. This is the great yearly holiday of all the little girls. The boys holiday takes place on the 5th May, when the towns and villages are adorned with gigantic paper or cotton carps, floating in the air from poles, after the manner of flags. The idea is that as the carp swims up the river against the current, so will the sturdy boy, overcoming all obstacles, make his way in the world and rise to fame and fortune.
The unpleasant appearance of some Japanese children's heads is simply due to a form of eczema. The ailment is one by no means unknown in Europe, and is easily curable in a week. But as popular superstition invests these scabby heads with a health-giving influence in later life, no attempt is made to cure them. Probably shaving with dirty razors has something to do with the disease; for it generally ceases when shaving stops, and has noticeably diminished since the foreign custom of allowing children's hair to grow has begun to gain ground. The Japanese custom is to shave an infant's head on the seventh day after birth, only a tiny tuft on the nape of the neck being left. During the next five or six years, the mother may give rein to her fancy in the matter of shaving her little one's head. Hence the various styles which we see around us. Shaving is left off when a child goes to school, instead of, as among Europeans, generally commencing when he quits it. The Japanese lad's chin does not begin to sport a few hairs for several years later. Japanese infants are not weaned till they are two or three, sometimes not till they are five years old. This is doubtless one cause of the rapid ageing of the mothers.
European parents may feel at ease about their little ones chance of health in this country. Medical authorities declare the mortality among children of European race in Japan to be exceptionally low.
Book recommended. Japanese Girls and Women, by Miss A. M. Bacon, especially Chap. I.