Things Japanese/Pipes

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Pipes. The diminutive pipes of modern Japan are but one among the innumerable instances of the tendency of Japanese taste towards small things. To judge from the old pictures that have been preserved, the first Japanese pipes must have been as large as walking-sticks, whereas those now used give a man but three whiffs. After the third whiff, the wee pellet of ignited tobacco becomes a fiery ball, loose, and ready to leap from the pipe at a breath; and wherever it falls, it pierces holes like a red-hot shot. But the expert Japanese smoker rarely thus disgraces himself. He at once empties the contents of the mouthpiece into a section of bamboo (hai-fuki) which is kept for the purpose, somewhat after the fashion of a spittoon. Not so the foreigner ambitious of Japonising himself. He begins his new smoking career by burning small round holes in everything near him,—the mats, the cushions, and especially his own clothes.

The pipe may be made either of metal only, or of bamboo with metal at either end,—the bowl and the mouthpiece. The metal commonly employed is brass, but silver is more fashion able; and as massive silver would be inconveniently heavy, the plan followed is to engrave and inlay it elaborately, thereby both lightening the article and beautifying it. A really fine pipe may cost as much as thirty yen, and will be handed down as an heirloom. A friend of the present writer has collected over a hundred sorts, ranging from such artistic triumphs down to the five sen pipe of the navvy or the navvy's wife,—for in smoking, if in nothing else, Japanese manners sanction complete equality between the sexes.

Around the pipe as an evolutionary centre, a whole intricate and elegant little world of smoking furniture and smoking etiquette has come into existence. There is the tabako-ire, or tobacco-pouch,—as far removed in its dainty beauty from the cheap gutta-percha atrocities of Europe as a butterfly is from a blunderbuss,—the netsuke, or carved button, used to attach the pouch to the owner's girdle, and above all the tabakobon, or smoking-box, which contains a brazier and other implements. In aristocratic houses the smoking-box is sometimes lacquered, and the brazier is of plated or solid silver. A specially light and graceful kind is that invented for use in theatres, and arranged so as to be easily carried in the hand. The smoker before whom, on a winter's day, is placed—let us say—a handsome bronze brazier to warm his hands and light his pipe at, must not empty the pipe into it by knocking the metal head upon the rim. He must insert the leather flap of his tobacco-pouch between the pipe head and the brazier, so as to prevent the tapping of the former from making a dent in the bronze. The introduction of European costume among the upper classes has entailed certain modifications in the smoking paraphernalia. The tobacco-pouch has been reshaped so as to accommodate itself to a breast or side-pocket, and the little pipe itself has been shortened so as to be enclosed in the pouch, much as a pencil is enclosed in a pocket-book. The old plan was for the pipe to be carried at the girdle in a case of its own. These innovations have happily not, as in so many other cases, been attended with loss of beauty. On the contrary, charmingly designed articles have sprung into existence, and are all the more interesting for their novelty.

To clean a Japanese pipe is an art in itself. One plan is to heat the pipe head in the charcoal of the brazier, and then blow out the refuse; but this method corrodes the metal of a fine pipe. Such must be cleaned by means of a twist (koyori) of fine, tough paper, which is passed up the stem and pulled out through the head, the operation being repeated until all the nicotine has been removed. An industry worth mentioning in this connection is that of workmen who replace worn-out bamboo pipe-stems by new ones of any desired length. The stems are now often beautifully speckled in imitation of tortoise-shell, porcupine quills, and other things.

Must it be revealed, in conclusion, that in vulgar circles the pipe, besides its legitimate use, occasionally serves as a domestic rod? The child, or possibly the daughter-in-law, who has given cause for anger to that redoubtable empress, the Obāsan, or "Granny," before whom the whole household trembles, may receive a severe blow from the metal-tipped pipe, or even a whole volley of blows, after which the old lady resumes her smoke. (See also Article on Tobacco.)