By Basil Hall Chamberlain.
I VISITED the island of Yezo for the third time in the summer of 1886, in order to study the Aino language, with a view to elucidate by its means the obscure problem of the geographical nomenclature of Japan. But, as is apt to happen on such occasions, the chief object of my visit soon ceased to be the only object. He who would learn a language must try to lisp in it, and more especially must he try to induce the natives to chatter in it in his presence. Now in Yezo, subjects of discourse are few. The Ainos stand too low in the scale of humanity to have any notion of the civilised art of "making conversation." When, therefore, the fishing and the weather are exhausted, the European sojourner in one of their dreary, filthy seaside hamlets will find himself,—at least I found myself,—sadly at a loss for any further means of setting his native companions' tongues in motion. It is then that fairy-tales come to the rescue. The Ainos would not suggest the idea themselves. To suggest ideas is not their habit. But they are delighted to follow it when suggested. Simply to repeat something which they have known by heart ever since the days of their childhood is not such an effort to their easily-tired brains as is the keeping up of a conversation with one who speaks their language imperfectly. Their tongues are at once loosened.
In my own case, I found myself, after a short time, listening to the