THE LION OF KOREAS
OVER a quarter of a century ago, while engaged in introducing the American public school system into Japan,
I became aquainted in Tokio with Mrs. Matilda Chaplin Ayrton, the author of "Child-Life in Japan."
This highly accomplished lady was a graduate of Edinburgh University, and had obtained the degrees
of Bachelor of Letters and Bachelor of Sciences, besides studying medicine in Paris. She had married
Professor William Edward Ayrton, the electric engineer and inventor, then connected with the Imperial
College of Engineering in Japan, and since president of the Institute of Electric Engineers in London.
She took a keen interest in the Japanese people and never wearied of studying them and their beautiful
country. With my sister, she made excursions to some of the many famous places in the wonderful
city of Tokio. When her own little daughter, born among the camellias and chrysanthemums, grew up
under her Japanese nurse, Mrs. Ayrton became more and more interested in the home life of the
Japanese and in the pictures and stories which delighted the children of the Mikado's Empire. After
her return to England, in 1879, she wrote this book.
In the original work, the money and distances, the comparisons and illustrations were naturally
English, and not American. For this reason, I have ventured to alter the text slightly here and there,
that the American child reader may more clearly catch the drift of the thought, having given to
each Japanese word the standard spelling now preferred by scholars and omitted statements of fact
which were once, but are no longer true. I have also translated or omitted hard Japanese words,
shortened long sentences, rearranged the illustrations, and added notes which will make the subject
clearer. Although railways, telegraphs, adn steamships, clothes and architecture, schools and customs,
patterned more or less closely after those in fashion in America and Europe, have altered many things
in Japan and caused otheres to disappear, yet the children's world of toys and games and stories
does not change very fast. In the main, it may be said, we have here a true picture of the old
Japan which we all delighted in seeing, when, in those sunny days, we lived in sight of Yedo Bay
and Fuji Yama, with Japanese boys and girls all around us.
The best portions and all the pictures of Mrs. Ayrton's big and costly book have been retained
and reproduced, including her own preface or introduction, and the book is again set forth with
a hearty "ohio" (good morning) of salutation and sincere "omedeto" (congradulations) that the
nations of the world are rapidly becoming one family. May every reader of "Child-life in Japan"
see, sometime during the twentieth century, the country and the people of whom Mrs. Ayrton has
written with such lively spirit and such warm appreciation.
IN almost every home are Japanese fans, in our shops Japanese dolls and balls and other knickknacks, on
our writing-tables bronze crabs or lacquered pen-tray with outlined on it the extinct volcano [Fuji San]
that is the most striking mountain seen from the capital of Japan. At many places of amusement
Japanese houses of real size have been exhibited, and the jargon of fashion for "Japanese Art" even
reaches our children's ears.
Yet all these things seem dull and lifeless when thus severed from the quaint cheeriness of their
true home. To those familiar with Japan, that bamboo fan-handle recalls its graceful grassy tree,
the thousand and one daily purposes for which bamboo wood serves. We see the open shop where squat
the brown-faced artisans cleverly dividing into those slender divisions the fan handle, the
wood-block engraver's where some dozen men sit patiently chipping at their cherry-wood blocks, and
the printer's where the coloring arrangements seem so simple to those used to western machinery, but
where the colors are so rich and true. We see the picture stuck on the fan frame with starch paste,
and drying in the brilliant summer sunlight. The designs recall vividly the life around, whether
that life be the stage, the home, insects, birds, or flowers. We think of halts at wayside inns,
where bowing tea-house girls at once proffer these fans to hot and tired guests.
The tonsured oblique-eyed doll suggests the festival of similarly oblique-eyed little girls on the
3rd of March. Then dolls of every degree obtain for a day "Dolls' Rights." In every Japanese
household all the dolls of the present and previous generations are, on that festival, set out to
best advantage. Beside them are sweets, green-speckled rice cake, and daintily gilt and lacquered
dolls' utensils. For some time previous, to meet the increased demand, the doll shopman has been
very busy. He sits before a straw-holder into which he can readily stick, to dry, the wooden
supports of the plaster dolls' heads he is painting, as he takes first one and then another to give
artistic touches to their glowing cheeks or little tongue. That dolly that seems but "so odd" to
Polly or Maggie is there the cherished darling of its little owner. It passes half its day tied on
to her back, peeping companionably its head over her shoulder. At night it is lovingly sheltered
under the green mosquito curtains, and provided with a toy wooden pillow.
The expression "Japanese Art" seems but a created word expressing either the imitations of it, or
the artificial transplanting of Japanese things to our houses. The whole glory of art in Japan is,
that it is not Art, but Nature simply rendered, by a people with a fancy and love of fun quite Irish
in character. Just as Greek sculptures were good, because in those days artists modelled the
corsetless life around them, so the Japanese artist does not draw well his lightly draped figures,
cranes, and insects because these things strike him as beautiful, but because he is familiar with
their every action.
The Japanese house out of Japan seems but a dull and listless affair. We miss the idle, easy-going
life and chatter, the tea, the sweetmeats, the pipes and charcoal brazier, the clogs awaiting their
wearers on the large flat stone at the entry, the grotesquely trained ferns, the glass balls and
ornaments tinkling in the breeze, that hang, as well as lanterns, from the eaves, the garden with
tiny pond and goldfish, bridge and miniature hill, the bright sunshine beyond the sharp shadow of
the upward curving angles of the tiled roof, the gay, scarlet folds of the women's under-dress
peeping out, their little litter of embroidery or mending, and the babies, brown and half naked,
scrambling about so happily. For, what has a baby to be miserable about in a land where it is
scarcely ever slapped, where its clothing, always loose, is yet warm in winter, where it basks
freely in air and sunshine? It lives in a house, that from its thick grass mats, its absence of
furniture, and therefore of commands "not to touch," is the very beau-ideal of an infant's
The object with which the following pages were written, was that young folks who see and handle so
often Japanese objects, but who find books of travels thither too long and dull for their reading,
might catch a glimpse of the spirit that pervades life in the "Land of the Rising Sun." A portion of
the book is derived from translations from Japanese tales, kindly given to the author by Mr. Basil
H. Chamberlain, whilst the rest was written at idle moments during graver studies.
The games and sports of Japanese children have been so well described by Professor Griffis, that we
give, as an Appendix, his account of their doings.
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