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BOYS AND GIRLS IN JAPAN (continued)
When Japanese boys and girls go to school, they make very low bows to their teacher and draw in the breath with a buzzing sound. This is a sign of deep respect, and the teacher returns their politeness by making low bows to them. Then the children sit down and begin to learn their lessons.
Their books are very odd-looking affairs to us. Not only are they printed in very large characters, but they seem quite upside down. To find the first page you turn to the end of the book, and you read it backwards to the front page. Again, you do not read from left to right, as in our fashion, but from right to left. Nor is this all: for the lines do not run across the page, but up and down. Altogether, a Japanese book is at first a very puzzling affair. When the writing lesson comes, the children have no pens; they use brushes instead. They dip their brushes in the ink, and paint the words one under the other, beginning at the top right-hand corner and finishing at the bottom left-hand corner. If they have an address to write on an envelope, they turn that upside down and begin with the name of the country and finish with the name of the person--England, London, Kensington Gardens, Brown John Mr.
But Japanese children have quite as many things to learn at home as at school. At school they learn arithmetic, geography, history, and so on, just as children do in England, but their manners and their conduct towards other people are carefully drilled into them by their parents. The art of behaving yourself towards others is by no means an easy thing to learn in Japan. It is not merely a matter of good-feeling, gentleness, and politeness, as we understand it, but there is a whole complicated system of behaviour: how many bows to make, and how they should be made. There are different forms of salutation to superiors, equals, and inferiors. Different ranks of life have their own ways of performing certain actions, and it is said that a girl's rank may easily be known merely by the way in which she hands a cup of tea to a guest. From the earliest years the children are trained in these observances, and they never make a mistake.
THE WRITING LESSON
The Japanese baby is taught how to walk, how to bow, how to kneel and touch the floor with its forehead in the presence of a superior, and how to get up again; and all is done in the most graceful manner and without disturbing a single fold in its kimono.
A child is taught very carefully how to wait on people, how to enter the room, how to carry a tray or bowl at the right height, and, above all, how to offer a cup or plate in the most dainty and correct style. One writer speaks of going into a Japanese shop to buy some articles he wanted. The master, the mistress, the children, all bent down before him. There was a two-year-old baby boy asleep on his sister's back, and he, too, was awakened and called upon to pay his respects to the foreign gentleman. He woke without a start or a cry, understood at once what was required of him, was set on his feet, and then proceeded to make his bows and to touch the ground with his little forehead, just as exactly as his elder relatives. This done, he was restored once more to the shawl, and was asleep again in a moment.
The art of arranging flowers and ornaments is another important branch of a girl's home education. Everything in a Japanese room is carefully arranged so that it shall be in harmony with its surroundings. The arrangement of a bunch of flowers in a fine porcelain jar is a matter of much thought and care. Children are trained how to arrange blossoms and boughs so that the most beautiful effect may be gained, and in many Japanese houses may be found books which contain rules and diagrams intended to help them in gaining this power of skilful arrangement. This feeling for taste and beauty is common to all Japanese, even the poorest. A well-known artist says: "Perhaps, however, one of the most curious experiences I had of the native artistic instinct of Japan occurred in this way: I had got a number of fan-holders, and was busying myself one afternoon arranging them upon the walls. My little Japanese servant-boy was in the room, and as I went on with my work I caught an expression on his face from time to time which showed me that he was not over-pleased with my performance. After a while, as this dissatisfied expression seemed to deepen, I asked him what the matter was. Then he frankly confessed that he did not like the way in which I was arranging my fan-holders. 'Why did you not tell me so at once?' I asked. 'You are an artist from England,' he replied, 'and it was not for me to speak.' However, I persuaded him to arrange the fan-holders himself after his own taste, and I must say that I received a remarkable lesson. The task took him about two hours--placing, arranging, adjusting; and when he had finished, the result was simply beautiful. That wall was a perfect picture: every fan-holder seemed to be exactly in its right place, and it looked as if the alteration of a single one would affect and disintegrate the whole scheme. I accepted the lesson with due humility, and remained more than ever convinced that the Japanese are what they have justly claimed to be--an essentially artistic people, instinct with living art."