Child-life in Japan and Japanese Child Stories

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Child-life in Japan and Japanese Child Stories (1909)
by Matilda Chaplin Ayrton, translated by Basil Hall Chamberlain (for some tales)
Matilda Chaplin Ayrton1764610Child-life in Japan and Japanese Child Stories1909Basil Hall Chamberlain (for some tales)

The Lion of Korea.








Author of "The Mikado's Empire" and "Japanese Fairy World"





Copyright, 1901,
By D. C. Heath & Co.


Over a quarter of a century ago, while engaged in introducing the American public school system into Japan, I became acquainted in Tokio with Mrs. Matilda Chaplin Ayrton, the author of "Child-Life in Japan." This highly accomplished lady was a graduate of Edinburgh University, and had obtained the degrees of Bachelor of Letters and Bachelor of Sciences, besides studying medicine in Paris. She had married Professor William Edward Ayrton, the electric engineer and inventor, then connected with the Imperial College of Engineering of Japan, and since president of the Institute of Electric Engineers in London. She took a keen interest in the Japanese people and never wearied of studying them and their beautiful country. With my sister, she made excursions to some of the many famous places in the wonderful city of Tokio. When her own little daughter, born among the camellias and chrysanthemums, grew up under her Japanese nurse, Mrs. Ayrton became more and more interested in the home life of the Japanese and in the pictures and stories which delighted the children of the Mikado's Empire. After her return to England, in 1879, she wrote this book.

In the original work, the money and distances, the comparisons and illustrations, were naturally English, and not American. For this reason, I have ventured to alter the text slightly here and there, that the American child reader may more clearly catch the drift of the thought, have given to each Japanese word the standard spelling now preferred by scholars and omitted statements of fact which were once, but are no longer, true. I have also translated or omitted hard Japanese words, shortened long sentences, rearranged the illustrations, and added notes which will make the subject clearer. Although railways, telegraphs, and steamships, clothes and architecture, schools and customs, patterned more or less closely after those in fashion in America and Europe, have altered many things in Japan and caused others to disappear, yet the children's world of toys and games and stories does not change very fast. In the main, it may be said, we have here a true picture of the old Japan which we all delighted in seeing, when, in those sunny days, we lived in sight of Yedo Bay and Fuji Yama, with Japanese boys and girls all around us.

The best portions and all the pictures of Mrs. Ayrton's big and costly book have been retained and reproduced, including her own preface or introduction, and the book is again set forth with hearty "ohio" (good morning) of salutation find sincere "omédéto" (congratulations) that the nations of the world are rapidly becoming one family. May every reader of "Child-Life in Japan" see, sometime during the twentieth century, the country and the people of whom Mrs. Ayrton has written with such lively spirit and such warm appreciation.


Ithaca, N.Y.


Preface by William Elliot Griffis v
Introduction by the Author xi
Seven Scenes of Child-Life in Japan 1
First Month 16
The Chrysanthemum Show 30
Fishsave 34
The Filial Girl 37
The Parsley Queen 38
The Two Daughters 40
Second Sight 44
Games 46
The Games and Sports of Japanese Children, by William Elliot Griffis 50


The Lion of Korea Frontspiece
A Ride on a Bamboo Rail 1
A Game of Snowball 3
Boys' Concert—Flute, Drum, and Song 5
Lion Play 6
Ironclad Top Game 7
Playing with Doggy 9
Heron-Legs, or Stilts 11
The Young Wrestlers 13
Playing with the Turtle 15
Presenting the Tide-Jewels to Hachiman 18
"Bronze fishes sitting on their throats" 19
The Treasure-Ship 23
Girls' Ball and Counting Game 26
Firemen's Gymnastics 28
Street Tumblers 29
Eating Stand for the Children 31
Fishsave riding the Dolphin 35
Bowing before her Mother's Mirror 37
Imitating the Procession 39
The Two White Birds 41
Eye-Hiding, or Blindman's Buff 47
Stilts and Clog-Throwing 48
Playing at Batter-Cakes 49
Hoisting the Rice-Beer Keg 51
Getting ready to raise the Big Humming Kite 60
Daruma, the Snow-Image 62


In almost every home are Japanese fans, in our shops Japanese dolls and balls and other knick-knacks, on our writing-tables bronze crabs or lacquered pen-tray with outlined on it the extinct volcano [Fuji San][1] that is the most striking mountain seen from the capital of Japan. At many places of amusement Japanese houses of real size have been exhibited, and the jarogon of fashion for "Japanese Art" even reaches our children's ears.

Yet all these things seem dull and lifeless when thus severed from the quaint cheeriness of their true home. To those familiar with Japan, that bamboo fan-handle recalls its graceful grassy tree, the thousand and one daily purposes for which bamboo wood serves. We see the open shop where squat the brown-faced artisans cleverly dividing into those slender divisions the handle, the wood-block engraver's where some dozen men sit patiently chipping at their cherry-wood blocks, and the printer's where the coloring arrangements seem so simple to those used to western machinery, but where the colors are so rich and true. We see the picture stuck on the fan frame with starch paste, and drying in the brilliant summer sunlight. The designs recall vividly the life around, whether that life be the stage, the home, insects, birds, or flowers. We think of halts at wayside inns, when bowing tea-house girls at once proffer these fans to hot and tired guests.

The tonsured oblique-eyed doll suggests the festival of similarly oblique-eyed little girls on the 3d of March. Then dolls of every degree obtain for a day "Dolls' Rights." In every Japanese household all the dolls of the present and previous generations are, on that festival, set out to best advantage. Beside them are sweets, green-speckled rice cake, and daintily gilt and lacquered dolls' utensils. For some time previous, to meet the increased demand, the doll shopman has been very busy. He sits before a straw-holder into which he can readily stick, to dry, the wooden supports of the plaster dolls' heads he is painting, as he takes first one and then another to give artistic touches to their glowing cheeks or little tongue. That dolly that seems but "so odd" to Polly or Maggie is there the cherished darling of its little owner. It passes half its day tied on to her back, peeping companionably its head over her shoulder. At night it is lovingly sheltered under the green mosquito curtains, and provided with a toy wooden pillow.

The expression "Japanese Art" seems but a created word expressing either the imitations of it, or the artificial transplanting of Japanese things to our houses. The whole glory of art in Japan is, that it is not Art, but Nature simply rendered, by a people with a fancy and love of fun quite Irish in character. Just as Greek sculptures were good, because in those days artists modelled the corsetless life around them, so the Japanese artist does not draw well his lightly draped figures, cranes, and insects because these things strike him as beautiful, but because he is familiar with their every action.

The Japanese house out of Japan seems but a dull and listless affair. We miss the idle, easy-going life and chatter, the tea, the sweetmeats, the pipes and charcoal brazier, the clogs awaiting their wearers on the large flat stone at the entry, the grotesquely trained ferns, the glass balls and ornaments tinkling in the breeze, that hang, as well as lanterns, from the eaves, the garden with tiny pond and goldfish, bridge and miniature hill, the bright sunshine beyond the sharp shadow of the upward curving angles of the tiled roof, the gay, scarlet folds of the women's under-dress peeping out, their little litter of embroidery or mending, and the babies, brown and half naked, scrambling about so happily. For, what has a baby to be miserable about in a land where it is scarcely ever slapped, where its clothing, always loose, is yet warm in winter, where it basks freely in air and sunshine? It lives in a house, that from its thick grass mats, its absence of furniture, and therefore of commands "not to touch," is the very beau-ideal of an infant's playground.

The object with which the following pages were written, was that young folks who see and handle so often Japanese objects, but who find books of travels thither too long and dull for their reading, might catch a glimpse of the spirit that pervades life in the "Land of the Rising Sun." A portion of the book is derived from translations from Japanese tales, kindly given to the author by Mr. Basil H. Chamberlain, whilst the rest was written at idle moments during graver studies.

The games and sports of Japanese children have been so well described by Professor Griffis, that we give, as an Appendix, his account of their doings.

  1. Fuji San, or Fuji no Yama, the highest mountain in the Japanese archipelago, is in the province of Suruga, sixty miles west of Tokio. Its crest is covered with snow most of the year. Twenty thousand pilgrims visit it annually. Its name may mean Not Two (such), or Peerless.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1935, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 88 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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