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IN THE COUNTRY (continued)
On a wet day in the country the people thatch themselves to keep off the rain. The favourite waterproof of the coolie is a huge cloak made of rice straw, the long ends sticking out. With this and his great umbrella hat he keeps comfortably dry. Those who do not wear a big hat carry a large oiled paper umbrella, which shelters them well.
There is plenty of wet weather in Japan, particularly in the summer, and then travelling is not very pleasant. The good roads become muddy and soft, and the bad roads become sheer quagmires, in which the coolie pulling the rickshaw is continually losing his straw sandals. These sandals, called waraji, mark out the tracks in every direction, for they soon wear out, and are cast off to litter the wayside in their hundreds. They are quickly and cheaply replaced, however, for almost every roadside house sells them, and a pair may be bought for a sen--something less than a halfpenny.
Not only do the men wear straw shoes, but horses are shod in them also, and a very poor and clumsy arrangement it is. The shoes are thick, and are tied on the horse's feet with straw cords. They wear out so fast that a bunch has to be kept hanging to the saddle for use on the way, and in every village a fresh stock has to be secured, at the cost of a penny per set of four.
The foreign visitor who travels through country places in Japan has to submit to being stared at, but nothing more. The people are so interested in a person who looks so different from themselves that they are never tired of watching him and his ways. But otherwise their unfailing politeness remains. They do not crowd upon him, or, if they should come a little too near, they are soon warned off. An English artist, Mr. Alfred Parsons, was once sketching in Japan, and the crowd, anxious to see his work, came a little too near his elbow. He says: "The keeper of a little tea-shop hard by, where I took my lunch, noticed that I was worried by the people standing so close to me, and when I arrived next morning I found that he had put up a fence round the place where I worked. It was only a few slender bamboo sticks, with a thin string twisted from one to another, but not a soul attempted to come inside it. They are such an obedient and docile race that a little string stretched across a road is quite enough to close the thoroughfare."
A familiar figure along the Japanese highways and byways is that of the pilgrim going to see some famous shrine, or, most often of all, marching towards Fujisan, the sacred mountain. The Fuji pilgrim may be known by his garb. He is dressed in white, with white kimono, white socks and gaiters, and straw sandals. He wears a great basin-shaped white hat, and has a rush mat over his shoulders to temper the heat of the sun or shed the rain. Round his neck hangs a string of beads and a bell, which tinkles without ceasing as he goes. He carries a little bundle of spare sandals and a staff with an ornament of paper about its end.
His pilgrimage costs him very little. His food is of the simplest, and he gets a bed at a tea-house for a halfpenny, or he lodges with a villager who offers him hospitality. To entertain his guest the villager will fetch his best furniture from the village godown, for in the country one of these storehouses suffices for a whole hamlet. They are made very large and strong, with many thick coats of mud and plaster on a wooden frame, and with a door of iron or of bronze; then, when the fire, which is sure to come at some time or other, sweeps over the hamlet and leaves it a layer of smoking ashes around the big godown, there are the village treasures still unharmed, and ready to adorn the houses which will spring up again as if by magic.
When bedtime comes, the amado, the wooden shutters, are drawn around the house and securely fastened; for a Japanese dwelling, so open by day, is shut up as tightly as a sealed box by night. Now all is quiet save for the village watchman, whose duty it is to guard against fire and thieves. He marches up and down, beating two pieces of wood together--clop-clop, clop-clop--as he walks. This is to give assurance that he is not asleep himself, but watching over the slumbers of his neighbours, and to let the thieves know that he is looking out for them.