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THE JAPANESE BOY
A Japanese boy is the monarch of the household. Japan is thoroughly Eastern in the position which it gives to women. The boy, and afterwards the man, holds absolute rule over sister or wife. It is true that the upper classes in Japan are beginning to take a wider view of such matters. Women of wealthy families are well educated, wear Western dress, and copy Western manners. They sit at table with their husbands, enter a room or a carriage before them, and are treated as English women are treated by English men. But in the middle and lower classes the old state of affairs still remains: the woman is a servant pure and simple. It is said that even among the greatest families the old customs are still observed in private. The great lady who is treated in her Western dress just as her Western sister is treated takes pride in waiting on her husband when they return to kimono and obi, just as her grandmother did.
The importance of the male in Japan arises from the religious customs of the country. The chief of the latter is ancestor-worship. The ancestors of a family form its household gods; but only the male ancestors are worshipped: no offerings are ever laid on the shelf of the household gods before an ancestress. Property, too, passes chiefly in the male line, and every Japanese father is eager to have a son who shall continue the worship of his ancestors, and to whom his property may descend.
Thus, the birth of a son is received with great joy in a Japanese household; though, on the other hand, we must not think that a girl is ill-treated, or even destroyed, as sometimes happens in China. Not at all; she is loved and petted just as much as her brother, but she is not regarded as so important to the family line.
At the age of three the Japanese boy is taken to the temple to give thanks to the gods. Again, at the age of five, he goes to the temple, once more to return thanks. Now he is wearing the hakama, the manly garment, and begins to feel himself quite a man. From this age onwards the Japanese boy among the wealthier classes is kept busily at work in school until he is ready to go to the University, but among the poorer classes he often begins to work for his living.
The clever work executed by most tiny children is a matter of wonder and surprise to all European travellers. Little boys are found binding books, making paper lanterns and painting them, making porcelain cups, winding grass ropes which are hung along the house-fronts for the first week of the year to prevent evil spirits from entering, weaving mats to spread over the floors, and at a hundred other occupations. It is very amusing to watch the practice of the little boys who are going to be dentists. In Japan the dentist of the people fetches out an aching tooth with thumb and finger, and will pluck it out as surely as any tool can do the work, so his pupils learn their trade by trying to pull nails out of a board. They begin with tin-tacks, and go on until they can, with thumb and finger, pluck out a nail firmly driven into the wood.
Luckily for them, they often get a holiday. The Japanese have many festivals, when parents and children drop their work to go to some famous garden or temple for a day's pleasure. Then there is the great boys' festival, the Feast of Flags, held on the fifth day of the fifth month. Of this festival we shall speak again.
Every Japanese boy is taught that he owes the strictest duty to his parents and to his Emperor. These duties come before all others in Japanese eyes. Whatever else he may neglect, he never forgets these obligations. From infancy he is familiar with stories in which children are represented as doing the most extraordinary things and undergoing the greatest hardships in order to serve their parents. There is one famous old book called "Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Virtue." It gives instances of the doings of good sons, and is very popular in every Japanese household.
Professor Chamberlain, the great authority on Japan, quotes some of these instances, and they seem to us rather absurd. He says: "One of the paragons had a cruel stepmother who was very fond of fish. Never grumbling at her harsh treatment of him, he lay down naked on the frozen surface of the lake. The warmth of his body melted a hole in the ice, at which two carp came up to breathe. These he caught and set before his stepmother. Another paragon, though of tender years and having a delicate skin, insisted on sleeping uncovered at night, in order that the mosquitoes should fasten on him alone, and allow his parents to slumber undisturbed.
"A third, who was very poor, determined to bury his own child alive in order to have more food wherewith to support his aged mother, but was rewarded by Heaven with the discovery of a vessel filled with gold, off which the whole family lived happily ever after. But the drollest of all is the story of Roraishi. This paragon, though seventy years old, used to dress in baby's clothes and sprawl about upon the floor. His object was to delude his parents, who were really over ninety years of age, into the idea that they could not be so very old, after all, seeing that they still had such a childlike son."
His duty to his Emperor the Japanese takes very seriously, for it includes his duty to his country. He considers that his life belongs to his country, and he is not only willing, but proud, to give it in her defence. This was seen to the full in the late war with Russia. Time and again a Japanese regiment was ordered to go to certain death. Not a man questioned the order, not a man dreamed for an instant of disobedience. Forward went the line, until every man had been smitten down, and the last brave throat had shouted its last shrill "Banzai!" This was the result of teaching every boy in Japan that the most glorious thing that can happen to him is to die for his Emperor and his native land.