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his heart is in Japan, with its junks and Fujisan,
We have heard of Fujisan, the famous mountain; we have talked of tea-houses and temples; and now we must say something about the rickshaw-man or boy, a very important person indeed in Japan. He is not important because of riches or rank, for, as a rule, he is very poor and of the coolie order; he is important because he is so useful. He is at one and the same time the cabman and the cab-horse of Japan. He waits in the street with his little carriage, and when you jump in he takes hold of the shafts himself and trots away with you at a good speed.
The jin-ri-ki-sha, to give it its full name, means man-power carriage, and is like a big mail-cart or perambulator. There is a hood of oiled paper to pull up for wet weather, a cushion to sit on, a box for parcels under the seat, two tall slight wheels, and a pair of shafts. If the rickshaw-boy is well-to-do in his business, his carriage is gaily lacquered and painted with bright designs, and however poor he may be, there will be some attempt at decoration.
At night every rickshaw is furnished with a pretty paper lantern, circular in form, about eighteen inches long, and painted in gay designs. These look quite charming as they bob here and there through the dusk, their owners racing along with a fare. The rickshaw is as modern as the bicycle. The first one was made less than forty years ago, but they sprang into favour at once, and their popularity grew by leaps and bounds. The fact is that the rickshaw fits Japan as a round peg fits a round hole. In the first place, it opened a new and money-making industry to many thousands of men who had little to do. There were vast numbers of strong, active young fellows who leapt forward at once to use their strength and endurance in this novel and profitable fashion. Then, the vehicle was suited to Japanese conditions, both in town and country.
In town the streets are so narrow and busy that horse traffic would be dangerous. In fact, in many places a horse is so rare a sight that when one trots along a street a man runs ahead, blowing a horn to warn people to clear out of the way. But the rickshaw-boy dodges through the traffic with his little light carriage, and runs over no one.
Then, in the country the roads are often very narrow, and sometimes very bad--mere tracks between fields of rice. Here the rickshaw is of great service, owing to its light weight and the little room it requires.
As a rule, the rickshaw is drawn by one man and holds one passenger; but it has often to contain two Japanese, for the pair of them will fit snugly into the space required for one Englishman. If the traveller wishes to go fast, he has two human horses harnessed to his light chariot. Both run in front till a hill is reached, when one drops back to push behind.
Wherever you arrive in Japan, whether by steamer or by train, you will find long rows of rickshaw-boys waiting to be hired. They are all called boys, whatever their age may be. Until a possible passenger comes in sight, the queer little men, many of them under five feet in height, stand beside their rickshaws, smoking their tiny little brass pipes with bowls about half as big as a thimble. Their clothes are very simple. They wear a very tight pair of short blue drawers and a blue tunic, upon the back of which a huge white crest is painted, the distinguishing mark of each boy. An enormous white hat the size and shape of a huge basin is worn on the head; but if the day becomes very hot the hat is taken off, and a wisp of cloth bound round the forehead to prevent sweat from running into the eyes. As for sunstroke, the rickshaw-boy has no fear of that.
When you step into sight, a score dart forward, dragging their rickshaws after them with one hand and holding the other up to draw your attention, and shouting, "Riksha! Riksha! Riksha!" You choose one, and step in. The human steed springs between the shafts, raises them and tilts you backwards, and then darts off, as if eager to show you his strength and speed, and prove to you what a good choice you have made.
Away bounds the little man, and soon you are bowling along a narrow street where a passage seems impossible, so full is it of boys and girls, men and women, shops and stalls. There may be a side-walk, but then, the shopkeepers have taken that to spread out their wares, or the stallkeepers have set up their little booths there. So the people who want to go along the street, and the boys and girls who want to play in it, are all driven to the middle of the way.
Here and there your rickshaw dodges, working its way through the crowd. Now the man pauses a second lest he should run full-tilt over a group of gaily-dressed little girls, each with a baby on her back, playing at ball in the road. Half a dozen others are busy with battledores and shuttlecocks, and the gaily-painted toys drop into your carriage, and you are expected to toss them out again to the mites, who will bow very deeply and with the profoundest gravity in return for your politeness; then something flutters over your head, and you see that two boys and an old man are sitting on the roof of a house about as high as a tool-shed, trying to get their kites up. And you say to yourself that it is lucky that there are no horses, for the quietest beast that ever lifted a hoof would bolt here and charge through the whirl and uproar and the rain of dropping shuttlecocks and bouncing balls.
Another fine thing about rickshaw-riding is that no one can call it expensive. While the boy goes, you pay him about sevenpence an hour; while he waits you pay him rather less than twopence-halfpenny an hour, and you can have his services for a whole day for about half a crown. But some of them will try to cheat you in places where foreigners are often met with, and will put a whole twopence an hour on the regular price.
This is very sad, and causes the rickshaw-boy to be looked upon as a tradesman; he is not allowed the honour of being regarded as a servant and the member of an honourable profession--one who puts his master's interests before his own. But, as a rule, the foreigner who employs the same rickshaw-boy comes to look upon him as a guide, philosopher, and friend. He will tell you where to go and what to do; he knows all the sights, and can tell you all about them. If you go shopping, he will come in and see that you don't get cheated any more than you are bound to be. If you go on an expedition, he will find out the best tea-house to stay at, he will cook for you, wait on you, brush your clothes, put up the paper screens to form your bedroom, take them down again, see that the bill is reasonable, pay it, and fee the servants--in short, he will manage everything, and you have only to admire what you have gone to see.
Wherever you stop on a jaunt, whether it is some famous temple or some lovely park, there is sure to be a coolie's tea-house handy, and he takes the opportunity of refreshing himself. He dives into the well under the seat and fetches out his lacquer box full of rice. He whips the rice into his mouth with chopsticks, and washes it down with the yellow, bitter Japanese tea. Then he sits and smokes his tiny pipe until you are ready to go on.