Open main menu

Topsy-turvydom. It has often been remarked that the Japanese do many things in a way that runs directly counter to European ideas of what is natural and proper. To the Japanese themselves our ways appear equally unaccountable. It was only the other day that a Tōkyō lady asked the present writer why foreigners did so many things topsy-turvy, instead of doing them naturally, after the manner of her country-people. Here are a few instances of this contrariety:—

Japanese books begin at what we should call the end, the word finis (終) coming where we put the title-page. The foot-notes are printed at the top of the page, and the reader inserts his marker at the bottom. In newspaper paragraphs, a large full stop is put at the beginning of each.

Men make themselves merry with wine, not after dinner, but before. Sweets also come before the pièces de résistance.

The whole method of treating horses is the opposite of ours. A Japanese (of the old school) mounts his horse on the right side, all parts of the harness are fastened on the right side, the mane is made to hang on the left side; and when the horse is brought home, its head is placed where its tail ought to be, and the animal is fed from a tub at the stable door.

Boats are hauled up on the beach stern first.

On leaving an inn, you fee not the waiter, but the proprietor.

The Japanese do not say "north-east," "south-west," but "east-north," "west-south."

They carry babies, not in their arms, but on their backs.

In addressing a letter they employ the following order of words: "Japan, Tōkyō, Akasaka district, such-and-such a street, 19 Number, Smith John Mr."—thus putting the general first, and the particular afterwards, which is the exact reverse of our method.

Many tools and implements are used in a way which is contrary to ours. For example, Japanese keys turn in instead of out, and Japanese carpenters saw and plane towards, instead of away from, themselves.

The best rooms in a house are at the back; the garden, too, is at the back. When building a house, the Japanese construct the roof first; then, having numbered the pieces, they break it up again, and keep it until the substructure is finished.

In making up accounts, they write down the figures first, the corresponding items next.

Politeness prompts them to remove, not their head-gear, but their foot-gear.

Their needle-work sometimes curiously reverses European methods. Belonging as he does to the inferior sex, the present writer can only speak hesitatingly on such a point. But a lady of his acquaintance informs him that Japanese women needle their thread instead of threading their needle, and that instead of running the needle through the cloth, they hold it still and run the cloth upon it. Another lady, long resident in Tōkyō, says that the impulse of her Japanese maids is always to sew on cuffs, frills, and other similar things, topsy-turvy and inside out. If that is not the ne plus ultra of contrariety, what is?

Men in Japan are most emphatically not the inferior sex. When (which does not often happen) a husband condescends to take his wife out with him, it is my lord's jinrikisha that bowls off first. The woman gets into hers as best she can, and trundles along behind. Still, women have some few consolations. In Europe, gay bachelors are apt to be captivated by the charms of actresses. In Japan, where there are no actresses to speak of, it is the women who fall in love with fashionable actors.

Strangest of all, after a bath the Japanese dry themselves with a damp towel!