Japan is a land of small things, and this fact is impressed on one as he goes from city to city, where he sees every family, however poor, occupying its own house and enjoying an existence apart from every other household—a state of things wholly unknown to the overcrowded centers in the United States and Europe. Most strangers have the impression that the people of Japan and China are so crowded together in their cities that they scarcely have breathing room. That this is a mistake is discovered on reaching Tokio, which numbers half a million less inhabitants than does New York, yet extends over 100 square miles.
One may start out in a kuruma in the early morning and ride the greater part of the day through the residence portion of the capital of Japan, looking out upon the one-story wooden buildings. The foreigner who goes to Japan to see things, avoids the railroad when he contemplates short journeys or pleasure excursions into the country. Railway travel is cheaper in Japan than any other mode of traveling, but the natives prefer to travel by water or by kurumas if they are not going a great distance. When one contemplates traveling about over the country his route must be specified minutely, and no deviations are allowed other than his passport calls for. There is no more delightful trip than a ride of a few hours through the rice fields and mulberry plantations, beautified by lotus ponds. The mulberries have no chance to grow up into the trees, but are simply clusters of green leaves on the tender shoots which feed the silkworm.
You are surprised that at the inns everywhere you eat in your own room, as there is no such thing as a separate dining room. When you arrive at an inn, they assign you a room in which you sleep, eat and entertain your friends. All this is quite compatible with comfort, for at the clapping of your hands, your dinner table glides in, guided by a pretty Japanese girl, who kneels and bows before you so often, as she comes and goes, that you begin to wonder if you are not a Prince instead of an ordinary traveler seeing the sights of the orient.
The fine tablecloth is spread and the dishes appear as if by magic, one girl serving each guest. You sit on your mat with your chin on a level with the tiny table and its hand-painted china, and all your wants are looked after without your having to utter a command. The samisen played by nimble fingers aids your digestion and supplies the finishing touch to the dinner. After the meal the girls remove tho table and all traces of the dinner and the dining room becomes the reception room. The college professor may be one of the curious callers, and as Japanese etiquette permits a man to stretch out his visit to any length from two hours to ten, you are the unwilling victims of the professor's insatiable curiosity, which permits him to ask questions pertinent and impertinent. For instance, when you show him a pair of very old and handsome bracelets, a brooch and an amulet collected in a trip through the country, he insists on knowing the exact price of each.
At bedtime the little girls came running in, their arms filled with quilts and white sheets, which they spread on the floor for beds. Then they bring the makura, or pillows, which are little wooden boxes with rocker bottoms, and the most uncomfortable inventions that ever sprang from the brain of man. Across the entire room they stretch a large mosquito net. Their duties at an end, they retire with many bows and leave you to woo sleep between the sheets on the hardest floor in Christendom.
In Japan one must spend at least half his time in the bath tub if he wants to be thought up to the customs of the country. Eminent doctors have agreed that the Japanese carries his cleanliness too far and makes too frequent use of his bath, which he always takes boiling hot. The hot bath is advisable in this climate, as every one soon learns by experience, and the publicity of the bath tubs, which are barely screened from the passers by in the streets, is a revelation of Japanese modesty. For centuries this nation has had her public baths, while we of the New World have brought them into our cities with the past generation.
The Japanese have a multitude of quaint customs, many of which have common sense as their basis. When a guest has outworn his welcome, the mistress of the-house does not grow outwardly impatient in his presence and throw out little hints of what duties will claim her attention soon, but she prepares the daintiest luncheon imaginable and puts it into the prettiest of boxes, which she wraps with rice paper and ties with a ribbon. Then, come morning when no other members of the household are present, all having been warned to keep out of the way, she puts the lunch box with the sweetest of smiles into his hands. Before the lunch hour the guest, if he be wise, has vanished like a morning cloud, and no one can tell whither. Even the poorest people have the habit of going every morning between the hours of 5 and 7 to the water's edge, carrying in their hands their tooth brushes, which they use vigorously as soon as they reach the stream, which is not any too clean because it flows down from the rice fields. – Los Angeles Herald, 1904
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