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BOYS AND GIRLS IN JAPAN
In no country in the world do children have a happier childhood than in Japan. Their parents are devoted to them, and the children are always good. This seems a great deal to say, but it is quite true. Japanese boys and girls behave as quietly and with as much composure as grown-up men and women. From the first moment that it can understand anything, a Japanese baby is taught to control its feelings. If it is in pain or sad, it is not to cry or to pull an ugly face; that would not be nice for other people to hear or see. If it is very merry or happy, it is not to laugh too loudly or to make too much noise; that would be vulgar. So the Japanese boy or girl grows up very quiet, very gentle, and very polite, with a smile for everything and everybody.
While they are little they have plenty of play and fun when they are not in school. In both towns and villages the streets are the playground, and here they play ball, or battledore and shuttlecock, or fly kites.
Almost every little girl has a baby brother or sister strapped on her back, for babies are never carried in the arms in Japan except by the nurses of very wealthy people. The baby is fastened on its mother's or its sister's shoulders by a shawl, and that serves it for both cot and cradle. The little girl does not lose a single scrap of her play because of the baby. She runs here and there, striking with her battledore, or racing after her friends, and the baby swings to and fro on her shoulders, its little head wobbling from side to side as if it were going to tumble off. But it is perfectly content, and either watches the game with its sharp little black eyes, or goes calmly off to sleep.
In the form of their dress both boys and girls appear alike, and, more than that, they are dressed exactly like their parents. There is no child's dress in Japan. The garments are smaller, to fit the small wearers--that is all.
The main article of dress is a loose gown, called a kimono. Under the outer kimono is an inner kimono, and the garments are girt about the body with a large sash, called an obi. The obi is the pride of a Japanese girl's heart. If her parents are rich, it will be of shining costly silk or rich brocade or cloth of gold; if her parents are poor, they will make an effort to get her one as handsome as their means will allow. Next to her obi, she prides herself on the ornaments which decorate her black hair--fine hairpins, with heads of tortoiseshell or coral or lacquer, and hair-combs, all most beautifully carved.
A boy's obi is more for practical use, and is not of such splendour as his sister's. When he is very small, his clothes are of yellow, while his sister's are of red. At the age of five he puts on the hakama, and then he is a very proud boy. The hakama is a kind of trousers made of silk, and is worn by men instead of an under-kimono. At five years old a boy is taken to the temple to thank the gods who have protected him thus far; and as he struts along, and hears with joy his hakama rustling its stiff new silk beneath his kimono, he feels himself a man indeed, and that his babyhood of yesterday is left far behind.
Upon the feet are worn the tabi--thick white socks, which may be called foot-gloves, for there are separate divisions for the toes.
These serve both as stockings outside the house and slippers inside, for no boots are worn in a Japanese house. When a Japanese walks out, he slips his feet into high wooden clogs, and when he comes home he kicks off the clogs at the door, and enters his home in tabi alone. The reason for this we shall hear later on. In Japanese clothes there are no pockets. Whatever they need to carry with them is tucked into the sash or into the sleeves of the kimono. The latter are often very long, and afford ample room for the odds and ends one usually carries in the pocket.
But fine kimonos and rich obis are for the wealthy Japanese; the poor cannot afford them, and dress very simply. The coolie--the Japanese working man--goes almost naked in the warm weather, wearing only a pair of short cotton trousers, until he catches sight of a policeman, when he slips on his blue cotton coat, for the police have orders to see that he dresses himself properly. His wife wears a cotton kimono, and the pair of them can dress themselves handsomely--for coolies--from head to foot for a sum of 45 sen, which, taking the sen at a halfpenny, amounts to 1 S. 10-1/2d. in our money.