Japanese Girls and Women



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The young wife, when she enters her husband's home, is not, as in our own country, entering upon a new life as mistress of a house, with absolute control over all of her little domain. Should her husband's parents be living, she becomes almost as their servant, and even her husband is unable to defend her from the exactions of her mother-in-law, should this new relative be inclined to make full use of the power given her by custom. Happy is the girl whose husband has no parents. Her comfort in life is materially increased by her husband's loss, for, instead of having to serve two masters, she will then have to serve only one, and that one more kind and thoughtful of her strength and comfort than the mother-in-law.

In Japan the idea of a wife's duty to her husband includes no thought of companionship on terms of equality. The wife is simply the housekeeper, the head of the establishment, to be honored by the servants because she is the one who is nearest to the master, but not for one moment to be regarded as the master's equal. She governs and directs the household, if it be a large one, and her position is one of much care and responsibility; but she is not the intimate friend of her husband, is in no sense his confidante or adviser, except in trivial affairs of the household. She appears rarely with him in public, is expected always to wait upon him and save him steps, and must bear all things from him with smiling face and agreeable manners, even to the receiving with open arms into the household some other woman, whom she knows to bear the relation of concubine to her own husband.

In return for this, she has, if she be of the higher classes, much respect and honor from those beneath her. She has, in many cases the real though often inconsiderate affection of her husband. If she be the mother of children, she is doubly honored, and if she be endowed with a good temper, good manners, and tact, she can render her position not only agreeable to herself, but one of great usefulness to those about her. It lies with her alone to make the home a pleasant one, or to make it unpleasant. Nothing is expected of the husband in this direction; he may do as he likes with his own, and no one will blame him; but if his home is not happy, even through his own folly or bad temper, the blame will fall upon his wife, who should by management do whatever is necessary to supply the deficiencies caused by her husband's shortcomings. In all things the husband goes first, the wife second. If the husband drops his fan or his handkerchief the wife picks it up. The husband is served first, the wife afterwards, and so on through the countless minutiæ of daily life. It is not the idea of the strong man considering the weak woman, saving her exertion, guarding and deferring to her; but it is the less important waiting upon the more important, the servant deferring to her master.

But though the present position of a Japanese wife is that of a dependent who owes all she has to her protector, and for whom she is bound to do all she can in return, the dependence is in many cases a happy one. The wife's position, especially if she be the mother of children, is often pleasant, and her chief joy and pride lies in the proper conduct of her house and the training of her children. The service of her parents-in-law, however, must remain her first duty during their lifetime. She must make it her care to see that they are waited upon and served with what they like at meals, that their clothes are carefully and nicely made, and that countless little attentions are heaped upon them. As long as her mother-in-law lives, the latter is the real ruler of the house; and though in many cases the elder lady prefers freedom from responsibility to the personal superintendence of the details of housekeeping, she will not hesitate to require of her daughter-in-law that the house be kept to her satisfaction. If the maiden's lot is to be the first daughter-in-law in a large family, she becomes simply the one of the family from whom the most drudgery is expected, who obtains the fewest favors, and who is expected to have always the pleasantest of tempers under circumstances not altogether conducive to repose of spirit. The wife of the oldest son has, however, the advantage that, when her mother-in-law dies or retires, she becomes the mistress of the house and the head lady of the family, a position for which her apprenticeship to the old lady has probably exceptionally well fitted her.

Next to her parents-in-law, her duty is to her husband. She must herself render to him the little services that a European expects of his valet. She must not only take care of his clothing, but must bring it to him and help him put it on, and must put away with care whatever he has taken off; and she often takes pride in doing with her own hands many acts of service which might be left to servants, and which are not actually demanded of her, unless she has no one under her to do them. In the poorer families all the washing, sewing, and mending that is required is always done by the wife; and even the Empress herself is not exempt from these duties of personal service, but must wait upon her husband in various ways.

When the earliest beams of the sun shine in at the cracks of the dark wooden shutters which surround the house at night, the young wife in the family softly arises, puts out the feeble light of the andon, which has burned all night, and, quietly opening one of the sliding doors, admits enough light to make her own toilet. She dresses hastily, only putting a few touches here and there to her elaborate coiffure, which she has not taken down for her night's rest. Next she goes to arouse the servants, if they are not already up, and with them prepares the modest breakfast. When the little lacquer tables, with rice bowls, plates, and chopsticks are arranged in place, she goes softly to see whether her parents and husband are awake, and if they have hot water, charcoal fire, and whatever else they may need for their toilet. Then with her own hands, or with the help of the servants, she slides back the wooden shutters, opening the whole house to the fresh morning air and sunlight. It is she, also, who directs the washing and wiping of the polished floors, and the folding and putting away of the bedding, so that all is in readiness before the morning meal.

When breakfast is over, the husband starts for his place of business, and the little wife is in waiting to send him off with her sweetest smile and her lowest bow, after having seen that his foot-gear—whether sandal, clog, or shoe—is at the door ready for him to put on, his umbrella, book, or bundle at hand, and his kuruma waiting for him.

Certainly a Japanese man is lucky in having all the little things in his life attended to by his thoughtful wife,—a good, considerate, careful body-servant, always on hand to bear for him the trifling worries and cares. There is no wonder that there are no bachelors in Japan. To some degree, I am sure, the men appreciate these attentions; for they often become much in love with their sweet, helpful wives, though they do not share with them the greater things of life, the ambitions and the hopes of men.

The husband started on his daily rounds, the wife settles down to the work of the house. Her sphere is within her home, and though, unlike other Asiatic women, she goes without restraint alone through the streets, she does not concern herself with the great world, nor is she occupied with such a round of social duties as fill the lives of society women in this country. Yet she is not barred out from all intercourse with the outer world, for there are sometimes great dinner parties, given perhaps at home, when she must appear as hostess, side by side with her husband, and share with him the duty of entertaining the guests. There are, besides, smaller gatherings of friends of her husband, when she must see that the proper refreshments are served, if they be only the omnipresent tea and cake. She may, perhaps, join in the number and listen to the conversation; but if there are no ladies, she will probably not appear, except to attend to the wants of her guests. There are also lady visitors—friends and relatives—who come to make calls, oftentimes from a distance, and nearly always unexpectedly, whose entertainment devolves on the wife. Owing to the great distances in many of the cities, and the difficulties that used to attend going from place to place, it has become a custom not to make frequent visits, but long ones at long intervals. A guest often stays several hours, remaining to lunch or dinner, as the case may be, and, should the distance be great, may spend the night. So rigid are the requirements of Japanese hospitality that no guest is ever allowed to leave a house without having been pressed to partake of food, if it be only tea and cake. Even tradesmen or messengers who come to the house must be offered tea, and if carpenters, gardeners, or workmen of any kind are employed about the house, tea must be served in the middle of the afternoon with a light lunch, and tea sent out to them often during their day's work. If a guest arrives in jinrikisha, not only the guest, but the jinrikisha men must be supplied with refreshments. All these things involve much thought and care on the part of the lady of the house.

In the homes of rich and influential men of wide acquaintance, there is a great deal going on to make a pleasant variety for the ladies of the household, even although the variety involves extra work and responsibility. The mistress of such a household sees and hears a great deal of life; and her position requires no little wisdom and tact, even where the housewife has the assistance of good servants, capable, as many are, of sharing not only the work, but the responsibility as well. Clever wives in such homes see and learn much, in an indirect way, of the outside world in which the men live; and may become, if they possess the natural capabilities for the work, wise advisers and sympathizers with their husbands in many things far beyond their ordinary field of action. An intelligent woman, with a strong will, has often been, unseen and unknown, a mighty influence in Japan. That her power for good or bad, outside of her influence as wife and mother, is a recognized fact, is seen in the circumstance that in novels and plays women are frequently brought in as factors in political plots and organized rebellions, as well as in acts of private revenge.

Still the life of the average woman is a quiet one, with little to interrupt the monotony of her days with their never-ending round of duties; and to the most secluded homes only an occasional guest comes to enliven the dull hours. The principal occupation of the wife, outside of her housekeeping and the little duties of personal service to husband and parents, is needle-work. Every Japanese woman (excepting those of the highest rank) knows how to sew, and makes not only her own garments and those of her children, but her husband's as well. Sewing is one of the essentials in the education of a Japanese girl, and from childhood the cutting and putting together of crêpe, silk, and cotton is a familiar occupation to her. Though Japanese garments seem very simple, custom requires that each stitch and seam be placed in just such a way; and this way is something of a task to learn. To the uninitiated foreigner, the general effect of the loosely worn kimono is the same, whether the garment be well or ill made; but the skillful seamstress can easily discover that this seam is not turned just as it should be, or that those stitches are too long or too short, or carelessly or unevenly set.

Fancy work or embroidery is not done in the house, the gorgeous embroidered Japanese robes being the product of professional workmen. Instead of the endless fancy work with silks, crewels, or worsteds, over which so many American ladies spend their leisure hours, many of the Japanese ladies, even of the highest rank, devote much time to the cultivation of the silkworm. In country homes, and in the great cities as well, wherever spacious grounds afford room for the growth of mulberry trees, silkworms are raised and watched with care; an employment giving much pleasure to those engaged in it.

It is difficult for any one who has not experimented in this direction to realize how tender these little spinners are. If a strong breeze blow upon them, they are likely to suffer for it, and the least change in the atmosphere must be guarded against. For forty days they must be carefully watched, and the great, shallow, bamboo basket trays containing them changed almost daily. New leaves for their food must be given frequently, and as the least dampness might be fatal, each leaf, in case of rainy weather, is carefully wiped. Then, too, the different ages of the worms must be considered in preparing their food; as, for the young worms, the leaves should be cut up, while for the older ones it is better to serve them whole. When, finally, the buzzing noise of the crunching leaves has ceased, and the last worm has put himself to sleep in his precious white cocoon, the work of the ladies is ended; for the cocoons are sent to women especially skilled in the work, by them to be spun off, and the thread afterwards woven into the desired fabric. When at last the silk, woven and dyed, is returned to the ladies by whose care the worms were nourished until their work was done, it is shown with great pride as the product of the year's labor, and if given as a present will be highly prized by the recipient.

Among the daily tasks of the housewife, one, and by no means the least of her duties, is to receive, duly acknowledge, and return in suitable manner, the presents received in the family. Presents are not confined to special seasons, although upon certain occasions etiquette is rigid in its requirements in this matter, but they may be given and received at all times, for the Japanese are preëminently a present-giving nation. For every present received, sooner or later, a proper return must be sent, appropriate to the season and to the rank of the receiver, and neatly arranged in the manner that etiquette prescribes. Presents are not necessarily elaborate; callers bring fruit of the season, cake, or any delicacy, and a visit to a sick person must be accompanied by something appropriate. Children visiting in the family are always given toys, and for this purpose a stock is kept on hand. The present-giving culminates at the close of the year, when all friends and acquaintances exchange gifts of more or less value, according to their feelings and means. Should there be any one who has been especially kind, and to whom return should be made, this is the time to do so.

Tradesmen send presents to their patrons, scholars to teachers, patients to their physicians, and, in short, it is the time when all obligations and debts are paid off, in one way or another. On the seventh day of the seventh month, there is another general interchange of presents, although not so universal as at the New Year. It can easily be imagined that all this present-giving entails much care, especially in families of influence; and it must be attended to personally by the wife, who, in the secret recesses of her storeroom, skillfully manages to rearrange the gifts received, so that those not needed in the house may be sent, not back to their givers, but to some place where a present is due. The passing-on of the presents is an economy not of course acknowledged, but frequently practiced even in the best families, as it saves much of the otherwise ruinous expense of this custom.

As time passes by, occasional visits are paid by the young wife to her own parents or to other relatives. At stated times, too, she, and others of the family, will visit the tombs of her husband's ancestors, or of her own parents, if they are no longer living, to make offerings and prayers at the graves, to place fresh branches of the sakaki before the tombs, and to see that the priests in charge of the cemetery have attended to all the little things which the Japanese believe to be required by the spirits of the dead. Even these visits are often looked forward to as enlivening the monotony of the humdrum home life. Sometimes all the members of the family go together on a pleasure excursion, spending the day out of doors, in beautiful gardens, when some one of the much-loved flowers of the nation is in its glory; and the little wife may join in this pleasure with the rest, but more often she is the one who remains at home to keep the house in the absence of others. The theatre, too, a source of great amusement to Japanese ladies, is often a pleasure reserved for a time later in life.

The Japanese mother takes great delight and comfort in her children, and her constant thought and care is the right direction of their habits and manners. She seems to govern them entirely by gentle admonition, and the severest chiding that is given them is always in a pleasant voice, and accompanied by a smiling face. No matter how many servants there may be, the mother's influence is always direct and personal. No thick walls and long passageways separate the nursery from the grown people's apartments, but the thin paper partitions make it possible for the mother to know always what her children are doing, and whether they are good and gentle with their nurses, or irritable and passionate. The children never leave the house, nor return to it, without going to their mother's room, and there making the little bows and repeating the customary phrases used upon such occasions. In the same way, when the mother goes out, all the servants and the children escort her to the door; and when her attendant shouts "O kaeri," which is the signal of her return, children and servants hasten to the gate to greet her, and do what they can to help her from her conveyance and make her home-coming pleasant and restful.

The father has little to do with the training of his children, which is left almost entirely to the mother, and, except for the interference of the mother-in-law, she has her own way in their training, until they are long past childhood. The children are taught to look to the father as the head, and to respect and obey him as the one to whom all must defer; but the mother comes next, almost as high in their estimation, and, if not so much feared and respected, certainly enjoys a larger share of their love.

The Japanese mother's life is one of perfect devotion to her children; she is their willing slave. Her days are spent in caring for them, her evenings in watching over them; and she spares neither time nor trouble in doing anything for their comfort and pleasure. In sickness, in health, day and night, the little ones are her one thought; and from the home of the noble to the humble cot of the peasant, this tender mother-love may be seen in all its different phases. The Japanese woman has so few on whom to lavish her affection, so little to live for beside her children, and no hopes in the future except through them, that it is no wonder that she devotes her life to their care and service, deeming the drudgery that custom requires of her for them the easiest of all her duties. Even with plenty of servants, the mother performs for her children nearly all the duties often delegated to nurses in this country. Mother and babe are rarely separated, night or day, during the first few years of the baby's life, and the mother denies herself any entertainment or journey from home when the baby cannot accompany her. To give the husband any share in the baby-work would be an unheard-of thing, and a disgrace to the wife; for in public and in private the baby is the mother's sole charge, and the husband is never asked to sit up all night with a sick baby, or to mind it in any way at all. Nothing in all one's study of Japanese life seems more beautiful and admirable than the influence of the mother over her children,—an influence that is gentle and all-pervading, bringing out all that is sweetest and noblest in the feminine character, and affording the one almost unlimited opportunity of a Japanese woman's life. The lot of a childless wife in Japan is a sad one. Not only is she denied the hopes and the pleasures of a mother in her children, but she is an object of pity to her friends, and well does she know that Confucius has laid down the law that a man is justified in divorcing a childless wife. All feel that through her, innocent though she is, the line has ceased; that her duty is unfulfilled; and that, though the name be given to adopted sons, there is no heir of the blood. A man rarely sends away his wife solely with this excuse, but children are the strongest of the ties which bind together husband and wife, and the childless wife is far less sure of pleasing her husband. In many cases she tries to make good her deficiencies by her care of adopted children; in them she often finds the love which fills the void in her heart and home, and she receives from them in after-life the respect and care which is the crown of old age.

We have hitherto spoken of married life when the wife is received into her husband's home. Another interesting side of Japanese marriage is when a man enters the wife's family, taking her name and becoming entirely one of her family, as usually the wife becomes of the husband's. When there are daughters but no sons in a family to inherit the name, one of three things may happen: a son may be adopted early in life and grow up as heir; or he may be adopted with the idea of marrying one of the daughters; or, again, no one may have been formally adopted, but on the eldest daughter's coming to a marriageable age, her family and friends seek for her a yōshi, that is to say, some man (usually a younger son) who is willing and able to give up his family name, and, by marrying the daughter, become a member of her family and heir to the name. He cuts off all ties from his own family, and becomes a member of hers, and the young couple are expected to live with her parents. In this case the tables are turned, and it is he who has to dread the mother-in-law; it is his turn to have to please his new relatives and to do all he can to be agreeable. He, too, may be sent away and divorced by the all-powerful parents, if he does not please; and such divorces are not uncommon. Of course, in such marriages, the woman has the greater power, and the man has to remember what he owes her; and though the woman yields to him obediently in all respects, it is an obedience not demanded by the husband, as under other circumstances. In such marriages the children belong to the family whose name they bear, so that in case of divorce they remain in the wife's family, unless some special arrangement is made about them.

It may be wondered why young men ever care to enter a family as yōshi. There is only one answer,—it is the attraction of wealth and rank, very rarely that of the daughter herself. In the houses of rich daimiōs without sons, yōshi are very common, and there are many younger sons of the nobility, themselves of high birth, but without prospects, who are glad enough to become great lords. In feudal times, the number of samurai families was limited. Several sons of one family could not establish different samurai families, but all but the eldest son, if they formed separate houses, must enroll themselves among the ranks of the common people. Hence the younger sons were often adopted into other samurai families as yōshi, where it was desired to secure a succession to a name that must otherwise die out. Since the Restoration, and the breaking down of the old class distinctions, young men care more for independence than for their rank as samurai; and it is now quite difficult to find yōshi to enter samurai families, unless it be because of the attractiveness and beauty of the young lady herself. Many a young girl who could easily make a good marriage with some suitable husband, could she enter his family, is now obliged to take some inferior man as yōshi, because few men in these days are willing to change their names, give up their independence, and take upon themselves the support of aged parents-in-law; for this also is expected of the yōshi, unless the family that he enters is a wealthy one.

From this custom of yōshi, and its effect upon the wife's position, we see that, in certain cases, Japanese women are treated as equal with men. It is not because of their sex that they are looked down upon and held in subjection, but it is because of their almost universal dependence of position. The men have the right of inheritance, the education, habits of self-reliance, and are the bread-winners. Wherever the tables are turned, and the men are dependents of the women, and even where the women are independent of the men,—there we find the relations of men to women vastly changed. The women of Japan must know how to do some definite work in the world beyond the work of the home, so that their position will not be one of entire dependence upon father, husband, or son. If fathers divided their estates between sons and daughters alike, and women were given, before the law, right to hold property in their own names, much would be accomplished towards securing them in their positions as wives and mothers; and divorce, the great evil of Japanese home life to-day, would become simply a last resort to preserve the purity of the home, as it is in most civilized countries now.

The difference between the women of the lower and those of the higher classes, in the matter of equality with their husbands, is quite noticeable. The wife of the peasant or merchant is much nearer to her husband's level than is the wife of the Emperor. Apparently, each step in the social scale is a little higher for the man than it is for the woman, and lifts him a little farther above his wife. The peasant and his wife work side by side in the field, put their shoulders to the same wheel, eat together in the same room, at the same time, and whichever of them happens to be the stronger in character governs the house, without regard to sex. There is no great gulf fixed between them, and there is frequently a consideration for the wife shown by husbands of the lower class, that is not unlike what we see in our own country. I remember the case of a jinrikisha man employed by a friend of mine in Tōkyō, who was much laughed at by his friends because he actually used to spend some of his leisure moments in drawing the water required for his household from a well some distance away, and carrying the heavy buckets to the house, in order to save the strength of his little, delicate wife. That cases of such devotion are rare is no doubt true, but that they occur shows that there is here and there a recognition of the claims that feminine weakness has upon masculine strength.

A frequent sight in the morning, in Tōkyō, is a cart heavily laden with wood, charcoal, or some other country produce, creaking slowly along the streets, propelled by a farmer and his family. Sometimes one will see an old man, his son, and his son's wife with a baby on her back, all pushing or pulling with might and main; the woman with tucked-up skirts and tight-fitting blue trousers, a blue towel enveloping her head,—only to be distinguished from the men by her smaller size and the baby tied to her back. But when evening comes, and the load of produce has been disposed of, the woman and baby are seen seated upon the cart, while the two men pull it back to their home in some neighboring village. Here, again, is the recognition of the law that governs the position of woman in this country,—the theory, not of inferior position, but of inferior strength; and the sight of the women riding back in the empty carts at night, drawn by their husbands, is the thing that strikes a student of Japanese domestic life as nearest to the customs of our own civilization in regard to the relations of husbands and wives.

Throughout the country districts, where the women have a large share in the labor that is directly productive of wealth, where they not only work in the rice fields, pick the tea crops, gather the harvests, and help draw them to market, but where they have their own productive industries, such as caring for the silkworms, and spinning, and weaving both silk and cotton, we find the conventional distance between the sexes much diminished by the important character of feminine labor; but in the cities, and among the classes who are largely either indirect producers or non-producers, the only labor of the women is that personal service which we account as menial. It is for this reason, perhaps, that the gap widens as we go upward in society, and between the same social levels as we go cityward.

The wife of the countryman, though she may work harder and grow old earlier, is more free and independent than her city sister; and the wife of the peasant, pushing her produce to market, is in some ways happier and more considered than the wife of the noble, who must spend her life among her ladies-in-waiting, in the seclusion of her great house with its beautiful garden, the plaything of her husband in his leisure hours, but never his equal, or the sharer of his cares or of his thoughts.

One of the causes which must be mentioned as contributing to the lowering of the wife's position, among the higher and more wealthy classes, lies in the system of concubinage which custom allows, and the law until quite recently has not discouraged. From the Emperor, who was, by the old Chinese code of morals, allowed twelve supplementary wives, to the samurai, who are permitted two, the men of the higher classes are allowed to introduce into their families these mékaké, who, while beneath the wife in position, are frequently more beloved by the husband than the wife herself. It must be said, however, to the credit of many husbands, that in spite of this privilege, which custom allows, there are many men of the old school who are faithful to one wife, and never introduce this discordant element into the household. Even should he keep mékaké, it is often unknown to the wife, and she is placed in a separate establishment of her own. And in spite of the code of morals requiring submission in any case on the part of the woman, there are many wives of the samurai and lower classes who have enough spirit and wit to prevent their husbands from ever introducing a rival under the same roof. In this way the practice is made better than the theory.

Not so with the more helpless wife of the nobleman, for wealth and leisure make temptation greater for the husband. She submits unquestioningly to the custom requiring that the wife treat these women with all civility. Their children she may even have to adopt as her own. The lot of the mékaké herself is rendered the less endurable, from the American point of view, by the fact that, should the father of her child decide to make it his heir, the mother is thenceforth no more to it than any other of the servants of the household. For instance, suppose a hitherto childless noble is presented with a son by one of his concubines, and he decides by legal adoption to make that son his heir: the child at its birth, or as soon afterwards as is practicable, is taken from its mother and placed in other hands, and the mother never sees her own child until, on the thirtieth day after its birth, she goes with the other servants of the household to pay her respects to her young master. If it were not for the habit of abject obedience to parents which Japanese custom has exalted into the one feminine virtue, few women could be found of respectable families who would take a position so devoid of either honor or satisfaction of any kind as that of mékaké. That these positions are not sought after must be said, to the honor of Japanese womanhood. A nobleman may obtain samurai women for his "O mékaké" (literally, honorable concubines), but they are never respected by their own class for taking such positions. In the same way the mékaké of samurai are usually from the héimin. No woman who has any chance of a better lot will ever take the unenviable position of mékaké.

A law which has recently been promulgated strikes at the root of this evil, and, if enforced, will in course of time go far toward extirpating it. Henceforth in Japan, no child of a concubine, or of adoption from any source, can inherit a noble title. The heir to the throne must hereafter be the son, not only of the Emperor, but of the Empress, or the succession passes to some collateral branch of the family. This law does not apply to Prince Haru, the present heir to the throne, as, although he is not the son of the Empress, he was legally adopted before the promulgation of the law; but should he die, it will apply to all future heirs.

That public opinion is moving in the right direction is shown by the fact that the young men of the higher classes do not care to marry the daughters of mékaké, be they ever so legally adopted by their own fathers. When the girls born of such unions become a drug in the matrimonial market, and the boys are unable to keep up the succession, the mékaké will go out of fashion, and the real wife will once more assume her proper importance.

Upon the th day of February, , the day on which the Emperor, by his own act in giving a constitution to the people, limited his own power for the sake of putting his nation upon a level with the most civilized nations of the earth, he at the same time, and for the first time, publicly placed his wife upon his own level. In an imperial progress made through the streets of Tōkyō, the Emperor and Empress, for the first time in the history of Japan, rode together in the imperial coach. Until then, the Emperor, attended by his chief gentlemen-in-waiting and his guards, had always headed the procession, while the Empress must follow at a distance with her own attendants. That this act on the part of the Emperor signifies the beginning of a new and better era for the women of Japan, we cannot but hope; for until the position of the wife and mother in Japan is improved and made secure, little permanence can be expected in the progress of the nation toward what is best and highest in the Western civilization. Better laws, broader education for the women, a change in public opinion on the subject, caused by the study, by the men educated abroad, of the homes of Europe and America,—these are the forces which alone can bring the women of Japan up to that place in the home which their intellectual and moral qualities fit them to fill. That Japan is infinitely ahead of other Oriental countries in her practices in this matter is greatly to her credit; but that she is far behind the civilized nations of Europe and America, not only in practice but in theory, is a fact that is incontestable, and a fact that, unless changed, must sooner or later be a stumbling-block in the path of her progress toward the highest civilization of which she is capable. The European practice cannot be grafted upon the Asiatic theory, but the change in the home must be a radical one, to secure permanent good results. As long as the wife has no rights which the husband is bound to respect, no great advance can be made, for human nature is too mean and selfish to give in all cases to those who are entirely unprotected by law, and entirely unable to protect themselves, those things which the moral nature declares to be their due. In the old slave times in the South, many of the negroes were better fed, better cared for, and happier than they are to-day; but they were nevertheless at the mercy of men who too often thought only of themselves, and not of the human bodies and souls over which they had unlimited power. It was a condition of things that could not be prevented by educating the masters so as to induce them to be kind to their slaves; it was a condition that was wrong in theory, and so could not be righted in practice. In the same way the position of the Japanese wife is wrong in theory, and can never be righted until legislation has given to her rights which it still denies. Education will but aggravate the trouble to a point beyond endurance. The giving to the wife power to obtain a divorce will not help much, but simply tend to weaken still further the marriage tie. Nothing can help surely and permanently but the growth of a sound public opinion, in regard to the position of the wife, that will, sooner or later, have its effect upon the laws of the country. Legislation once effected, all the rest will come, and the wife, secure in her home and her children, will be at the point where her new education can be of use to her in the administration of her domestic affairs and the training of her children; and where she will finally become the friend and companion of her husband, instead of his mere waitress, seamstress, and housekeeper,—the plaything of his leisure moments, too often the victim of his caprices.


No Japanese woman is ashamed to show that she is getting along in years, but all take pains that every detail of the dress and coiffure shall show the full age of the wearer. The baby girl is dressed in the brightest of colors and the largest of patterns, and looks like a gay butterfly or tropical bird. As she grows older, colors become quieter, figures smaller, stripes narrower, until in old age she becomes a little gray moth or plain-colored sparrow. By the sophisticated eye, a woman's age can be told with considerable accuracy by the various little things about her costume, and no woman cares to appear younger than her real age, or hesitates to tell with entire frankness the number of years that have passed over her head.

The reason for this lies, at least in part, in the fact that every woman looks forward to the period of old age as the time when she will attain freedom from her life-long service to those about her,—will be in the position of adviser of her sons, and director of her daughters-in-law; will be a person of much consideration in the family, privileged to amuse herself in various ways, to speak her own mind on most subjects, and to be waited upon and cared for by children and grandchildren, in return for her long years of faithful service in the household. Should her sight and other bodily powers remain good, she will doubtless perform many light tasks for the general good, will seldom sit idle by herself, but will help about the sewing and mending, the marketing, shopping, housework, and care of the babies, tell stories to her grandchildren after their lessons are learned, give the benefit of her years of experience to the young people who are still bearing the heat and burden of the day, and, by her prayers and visits to the temple at stated seasons, will secure the favor of the gods for the whole family, as well as make her own preparations for entry into the great unknown toward which she is rapidly drifting. Is there wonder that the young wife, steering her course with difficulty among the many shoals and whirlpools of early married life, looks forward with anticipation to the period of comparative rest and security that comes at the end of the voyage? As she bears all things, endures all things, suffers long, and is kind, as she serves her mother-in-law, manages her husband's household, cares for her babies, the thought that cheers and encourages her in her busy and not too happy life is the thought of the sunny calm of old age, when she can lay her burdens and cares on younger shoulders, and bask in the warmth and sunshine which this Indian Summer of her life will bring to her.

In the code of morals of the Japanese, obedience to father, husband, or son is exalted into the chief womanly virtue, but the obedience and respect of children, both male and female, to their parents, also occupies a prominent position in their ethical system. Hence, in this latter stage of a woman's career, the obedience expected of her is often only nominal, and in any case is not so absolute and unquestioning as that of the early period; and the consideration and respect that a son is bound to show to his mother necessitates a care of her comfort, and a consultation of her wishes, that renders her position one of much greater freedom than can be obtained by any woman earlier in life. She has, besides, reached an age when she is not expected to remain at home, and she may go out into the streets, to the theatre, or other shows, without the least restraint or fear of losing her dignity.

A Japanese woman loses her beauty early. At thirty-five her fresh color is usually entirely gone, her eyes have begun to sink a little in their sockets, her youthful roundness and symmetry of figure have given place to an absolute leanness, her abundant black hair has grown thin, and much care and anxiety have given her face a pathetic expression of quiet endurance. One seldom sees a face that indicates a soured temper or a cross disposition, but the lines that show themselves as the years go by are lines that indicate suffering and disappointment, patiently and sweetly borne. The lips never forget to smile; the voice remains always cheerful and sympathetic, never grows peevish and worried, as is too often the case with overworked or disappointed women in this country. But youth with its hopeful outlook, its plans and its ambitions, gives way to age with its peaceful waiting for the end, with only a brief struggle for its place; and the woman of thirty-five is just at the point when she has bid good-by to her youth, and, having little to hope for in her middle life, is doing her work faithfully, and looking forward to an old age of privilege and authority, the mistress of her son's house, and the ruler of the little domain of home.

But I have spoken so far only of those happy women whose sons grow to maturity, and who manage to evade the dangerous reefs of divorce upon which so many lives are shipwrecked. What becomes of the hundreds who have no children to rise up and call them blessed, but who have in old age to live as dependents upon their brothers or nephews? Even these, who in this country often lead hard and unrewarded lives of toil among their happier relatives, find in old age a pleasanter lot than that of youth. Many such old ladies I have met, whose short hair or shaven heads proclaim to all who see them that the sorrow of widowhood has taken from them the joy that falls to other women, but whose cheerful, wrinkled faces and happy, childlike ways have given one a feeling of pleasure that the sorrow is past, and peace and rest have come to their declining years. Fulfilling what little household tasks they can, respected and self-respecting members of the household, the O Bă San, or Aunty, is not far removed in the honor and affection of the children from the O Bā San, or Grandma, but both alike find a peaceful shelter in the homes of those nearest and dearest to them.

One of the happiest old ladies I have ever seen was one who had had a rough and stormy life. The mother of many children, most of whom had died in infancy, she was at last left childless and a widow. In her children's death the last tie that bound her to her husband's family was broken, and, rather than be a burden to them, she made her home for many years with her own younger brother, taking up again the many cares and duties of a mother's life in sharing with the mother the bringing up of a large family of children. One by one, from the oldest to the youngest, each has learned to love the old aunty, to be lulled asleep on her back, and to go to her in trouble when mother's hands were too full of work. Many the caress received, the drives and walks enjoyed in her company, the toys and candies that came out unexpectedly from the depths of mysterious drawers, to comfort many an hour of childish grief. That was years ago, and the old aunty's hard times are nearly over. Hale and hearty at three-score years and ten, she has seen these children grow up one by one, until now some have gone to new homes of their own. Her bent form and wrinkled face are ever welcome to her children,—hers by the right of years of patient care and toil for them. They now, in their turn, enjoy giving her pleasure, and return to her all the love she has lavished upon them. It is a joy to see her childlike pride and confidence in them all, and to know that they have filled the place left vacant by the dead with whom had died all her hopes of earthly happiness.

The old women of Japan,—how their withered faces, bent frames, and shrunken, yellow hands abide in one's memory! One seldom sees among them what we would call beauty, for the almost universal shrinking with age that takes place among the Japanese covers the face with multitudinous wrinkles, and produces the effect of a withered russet apple; for the skin, which in youth is usually brightened by red cheeks and glossy black hair, in old age, when color leaves cheek and hair, has a curiously yellow and parchment-like look. But with all their wrinkles and ugliness, there is a peculiar charm about the old women of Japan.

In Tōkyō, when the grass grows long upon your lawn, and you send to the gardener to come and cut it, no boy with patent lawn-mower, nor stalwart countryman with scythe and sickle, answers your summons, but some morning you awake to find your lawn covered with old women. The much-washed cotton garments are faded to a light blue, the exact match of the light blue cotton towels in which their heads are swathed, and on hands and knees, each armed with an enormous pair of shears, the old ladies clip and chatter cheerfully all day long, until the lawn is as smooth as velvet under their careful cutting. An occasional rest under a tree, for pipes and tea, is the time for much cheerful talk and gossip; but the work, though done slowly and with due attention to the comfort of the worker, is well done, and certainly accomplished as rapidly as any one could expect of laborers who earn only from eight to twelve cents a day. Another employment for this same class of laborers is the picking of moss and grass from the crevices of the great walls that inclose the moats and embankments of the capital. Mounted on little ladders, they pick and scrape with knives until the wall is clear and fresh, with no insidious growth to push the great uncemented stones out of their places.

In contrast with these humble but cheerful toilers may be mentioned another class of women, often met with in the great cities. Dressed in rags and with covered heads and faces, they wander about the streets playing the samisen outside the latticed windows, and singing with cracked voices some wailing melody. As they go from house to house, gaining a miserable pittance by their weird music, they seem the embodiment of all that is hopeless and broken-hearted. What they are or whence they come, I know not, but they always remind me of the grasshopper in the fable, who danced and sang through the brief summer, to come, wailing and wretched, seeking aid from her thriftier neighbor when at last the winter closed in upon her.

As one rides about the streets, one often sees a little, white-haired old woman trotting about with a yoke over her shoulders from which are suspended two swinging baskets, filled with fresh vegetables. The fact that her hair is still growing to its natural length shows that she is still a wife and not a widow; her worn and patched blue cotton clothes, bleached light from much washing, show that extreme poverty is her lot in life; and as she hobbles along with the gait peculiar to those who carry a yoke, my thoughts are busy with her home, which, though poor and small, is doubtless clean and comfortable, but my eye follows her through the city's crowd, where laborer, soldier, student, and high official jostle each other by the way. Suddenly I see her pause before the gateway of a temple. She sets her burden down, and there in the midst of the bustling throng, with bowed head, folded hands, and moving lips, she invokes her god, snatching this moment from her busy life to seek a blessing for herself and her dear ones. The throng moves busily on, making a little eddy around the burden she has laid down, but paying no heed to the devout little figure standing there; then in a moment the prayer is finished; she stoops, picks up her yoke, balances it on her shoulders, and moves on with the crowd, to do her share while her strength lasts, and to be cared for tenderly, I doubt not, by children and children's children when her work is done.

Another picture comes to me, too, a picture of one whose memory is an inspiring thought to the many who have the honor to call her "mother." A stately old lady, left a widow many years ago, before the recent changes had wrought havoc preparatory to further progress, she seemed always to me the model of a mother of the old school. Herself a woman of thorough classical education, her example and teaching were to both sons and daughters a constant inspiration; and in her old age she found herself the honored head of a family well known in the arts of war and peace, a goodly company of sons and daughters, every one of them heirs of her spirit and of her intellect. Though conservative herself, and always clinging to the old customs, she put no block in the path of her children's progress, and her fine character, heroic spirit, and stanch loyalty to what she believed were worth more to her children than anything else could have been. Tried by war, by siege, by banishment, by danger and sufferings of all kinds, to her was given at last an old age of prosperity among children of whom she might well be proud. Keeping her physical vigor to the end, and dying at last, after an illness of only two days, her spirit passed out into the great unknown, ready to meet its dangers as bravely as she had met those of earth, or to enjoy its rest as sweetly and appreciatively as she had enjoyed that of her old age in the house of her oldest son.

My acquaintance with her was limited by our lack of common language, but was a most admiring and appreciative one on my side; and I esteem it one of the chief honors of my stay in Japan, that upon my last meeting with her, two weeks before her death, she gave me her wrinkled but still beautiful and delicately shaped hand at parting,—a deference to foreign customs that she only paid upon special occasions.

Two weeks later, amid such rain as Japanese skies know all too well how to let fall, I attended her funeral at the cemetery of Aoyama. The cemetery chapel was crowded, but a place was reserved for me, on account of special ties that bound me to the family, just behind the long line of white-robed mourners. In the Buddhist faith she had lived, and by the Buddhist ceremonial she was buried,—the chanted ritual, the gorgeously robed priests, and the heavy smell of incense in the air reminding one of a Roman Catholic ceremony. The white wooden coffin was placed upon a bier at the entrance to the chapel, and when the priests had done their work, and the ecclesiastical ceremony was over, the relatives arose, one by one, walked over to the coffin, bowed low before it, and placed a grain of incense upon the little censer that stood on a table before the bier, then, bowing again, retired to their places. Slowly and solemnly, from the tall soldier son, his hair already streaked with gray, to the two-year-old grandchild, all paid this last token of respect to a noble spirit; and after the relatives the guests, each in the order of rank or nearness to the deceased, stepped forward and performed the same ceremony before leaving the room. What the meaning of the rite was, I did not know, whether a worship of strange gods or no; but to me, as I performed the act, it only signified the honor in which I held the memory of a heroic woman who had done well her part in the world according to the light that God had given her.

Japanese art loves to picture the old woman with her kindly, wrinkled face, leaving out no wrinkle of them all, but giving with equal truthfulness the charm of expression that one finds in them. Long life is desired by all as passionately as by ancient Hebrew poet and psalmist, and with good reason, for only by long life can a woman attain the greatest honor and happiness. We often exclaim in impatience at the thought of the weakness and dependence of old age, and pray that we may die in the fullness of our powers, before the decay of advancing years has made us a burden upon our friends. But in Japan, dependence is the lot of woman, and the dependence of old age is that which is most respected and considered. An aged parent is never a burden, is treated by all with the greatest love and tenderness; and if times are hard, and food and other comforts are scarce, the children, as a matter of course, deprive themselves and their children to give ungrudgingly to their old father and mother. Faults there are many in the Japanese social system, but ingratitude to parents, or disrespect to the aged, must not be named among them; and Young America may learn a salutary lesson by the study of the place that old people occupy in the home.

It is not only for the women of Japan, but for the men as well, that old age is a time of peace and happiness. When a man reaches the age of fifty or thereabouts, often while apparently in the height of his vigor, he gives up his work or business and retires, leaving all the property and income to the care of his eldest son, upon whom he becomes entirely dependent for his support. This support is never begrudged him, for the care of parents by their children is as much a matter of course in Japan as the care of children by those who give them birth. A man thus rarely makes provision for the future, and looks with scorn on foreign customs which seem to betoken a fear lest, in old age, ungrateful children may neglect their parents and cast them aside. The feeling, so strong in America, that dependence is of itself irksome and a thing to be dreaded, is altogether strange to the Japanese mind. The married son does not care to take his wife to a new and independent home of his own, and to support her and her children by his own labor or on his own income, but he takes her to his father's house, and thinks it no shame that his family live upon his parents. But in return, when the parents wish to retire from active life, the son takes upon himself ungrudgingly the burden of their support, and the bread of dependence is never bitter to the parents' lips, for it is given freely. To the time-honored European belief, that a young man must be independent and enterprising in early life in order to lay by for old age, the Japanese will answer that children in Japan are taught to love their parents rather than ease and luxury, and that care for the future is not the necessity that it is in Europe and America, where money is above everything else,—even filial love. This habit of thought may account for the utter want of provision for the future, and the disregard for things pertaining to the accumulation of wealth, which often strikes curiously the foreigner in Japan. A Japanese considers his provision for the future made when he has brought up and educated for usefulness a large family of children. He invests his capital in their support and education, secure of bountiful returns in their gratitude and care for his old age. It is hard for the men of old Japan to understand the rush and struggle for riches in America,—a struggle that too often leaves not a pause for rest or quiet pleasure until sickness or death overtakes the indefatigable worker. The go inkyo of Japan is glad enough to lay down early in life the cares of the world, to have a few years of calm and peace, undisturbed by responsibilities or cares for outside matters. If he be an artist or a poet, he may, uninterrupted, spend his days with his beloved art. If he is fond of the ceremonial tea, he has whole afternoons that he may devote to this æsthetic repast; and even if he has none of these higher tastes, he will always have congenial friends who are ready to share the saké bottle, to join in a quiet smoke over the hibachi, or to play the deep-engrossing game of go, or shogi, the Japanese chess. To the Japanese mind, to be in the company of a few kindred souls, to spend the long hours of a summer's afternoon at the ceremonial tea party, sipping tea and conversing in a leisurely manner on various subjects, is an enjoyment second to none. A cultivated Japanese of the old times must receive an education fitting him especially for such pursuits. At these meetings of friends, artistically or poetically inclined, the time is spent in making poems and exchanging wittily turned sentiments, to be read, commented on, and responded to; or in the making of drawings, with a few bold strokes of the brush, in illustration of some subject given out. Such enjoyments as these, the Japanese believe, cannot be appreciated or even understood by the practical, rush-ahead American, the product of the wonderful but material civilization of the West.

Thus, amid enjoyments and easy labors suited to their closing years, the elder couple spend their days with the young people, cared for and protected by them. Sometimes there will be a separate suite of rooms provided for them; sometimes a little house away from the noises of the household, and separated from the main building by a well-kept little garden. In any case, as long as they live they will spend their days in quiet and peace; and it is to this haven, the inkyo, that all Japanese look forward, as to the time when they may carry out their own inclinations and tastes with an income provided for the rest of their days.


The court of the Emperor was, in the early ages of Japan, the centre of whatever culture and refinement the country could boast, and the emperors themselves took an active part in the promotion of civilization. The earliest history of Japan is so wrapped in the mists of legend and tradition that only here and there do we get glimpses of heroic figures,—leaders in those early days. Demigods they seem, children of Heaven, receiving from Heaven by special revelation the wisdom or strength by means of which they conquered their enemies, or gave to their subjects new arts and better laws. The traditional emperors, the early descendants of the great Jimmu Tenno, seem to have been merely conquering chieftains, who by virtue of their descent were regarded as divine, but who lived the simple, hardy life of the savage king, surrounded by wives and concubines, done homage to by armed retainers and subject chiefs, but living in rude huts, and moving in and out among the soldiers, not in the least retired into the mysterious solitude which in later days enveloped the Son of the Gods. The first emperors ruled not only by divine right, but by personal force and valor; and the stories of the valiant deeds of these early rulers kept strong the faith of the people in the divine qualities of the imperial house during the hundreds of years when the Emperor was a mere puppet in the hands of ambitious and powerful nobles.

Towards the end of this legendary period, a figure comes into view that for heroic qualities cannot be excelled in the annals of any nation,—Jingo Kōgō, the conqueror of Corea, who alone, among the nine female rulers of Japan, has made an era in the national history. She seems to have been from the beginning, like Jeanne D'Arc, a hearer of divine voices; and through her was conveyed to her unbelieving husband a divine command, to take ship and sail westward to the conquest of an unknown land. Her husband questioned the authenticity of the message, took the earthly and practical view that, as there was no land to be seen in the westward, there could be no land there, and refused to organize any expedition in fulfillment of the command; but for his unbelief was sternly told that he should never see the land, but that his wife should conquer it for the son whom she should bear after the father's death. This message from the gods was fulfilled. The Emperor died in battle shortly after, and the Empress, after suppressing the rebellion in which her husband had been killed, proceeded to organize an expedition for the conquest of the unknown land beyond the western sea. By as many signs as those required by Gideon to assure himself of his divine mission, the Empress tested the call that had come to her, but at last, satisfied that the voices were from Heaven, she gave her orders for the collection of troops and the building of a navy. I quote from Griffis the inspiring words with which she addressed her generals: "The safety or destruction of our country depends upon this enterprise. I intrust the details to you. It will be your fault if they are not carried out. I am a woman and young. I shall disguise myself as a man, and undertake this gallant expedition, trusting to the gods and to my troops and captains. We shall acquire a wealthy country. The glory is yours, if we succeed; if we fail, the guilt and disgrace shall be mine." What wonder that her captains responded to such an appeal, and that the work of recruiting and shipbuilding began with a will! It was a long preparation that was required—sometimes, to the impatient woman, it seemed unnecessarily slow—but by continual prayer and offerings she appealed to the gods for aid; and at last all was ready, and the brave array of ships set sail for the unknown shore, the Empress feeling within her the new inspiration of hope for her babe as yet unborn. Heaven smiled upon them from the start. The clearest of skies, the most favoring of breezes, the smoothest of seas, favored the god-sent expedition; and tradition says that even the fishes swarmed in shoals about their keels, and carried them on to their desired haven. The fleet ran safely across to southern Corea, but instead of finding battles and struggles awaiting them, the king of the country met them on the beach to receive and tender allegiance to the invaders, whose unexpected appearance from the unexplored East had led the natives to believe that their gods had forsaken them. The expedition returned laden with vast wealth, not the spoil of battle, but the peaceful tribute of a bloodless victory; and from that time forward Japan, through Corea, and later by direct contact with China itself, began to receive and assimilate the civilization, arts, and religions of China. Thus through a woman Japan received the start along the line of progress which made her what she is to-day, for the sequel of Jingo Kōgō's Corean expedition was the introduction of almost everything which we regard as peculiar to civilized countries. With characteristic belittling of the woman and exalting of the man, the whole martial career of the Empress is ascribed to the influence of her son as yet unborn,—a son who by his valor and prowess has secured for his deified spirit the position of God of War in the Japanese pantheon. We should say that pre-natal influences and heredity produced the heroic son; the Japanese reason from the other end, and show that all the noble qualities of the mother were produced by the influence of the unborn babe.

With the introduction of literature, art, and Buddhism, a change took place in the relations of the court to the people. About the Emperor's throne there gathered not only soldiers and governors, but the learned, the accomplished, the witty, the artistic, who found in the Emperor and the court nobles munificent patrons by whom they were supported, and before whom they laid whatever pearls they were able to produce. The new culture sought not the clash of arms and the shout of soldiers, but the quiet and refinement of palaces and gardens far removed from the noise and clamor of the world. And while emperors sought to encourage the new learning and civilization, and to soften the warlike qualities of the people about them, there was a frontier along which the savages still made raids into the territory which the Japanese had wrested from them, and which it required a strong arm and a quick hand to guard for the defense of the people. But the Emperor gradually gave up the personal leadership in war, and passed the duty of defending the nation into the hands of one or another of the great noble families. The nobles were not by any means slow to see the advantage to be gained for themselves by the possession of the military power in an age when might made right, even more than it does to-day, and when force, used judiciously and with proper deference to the prejudices of the people, could be made to give to its possessor power even over the Emperor himself. And so gradually, in the pursuit of the new culture and the new religion, the emperors withdrew themselves more and more into seclusion, and the court became a little world in itself,—a centre of culture and refinement into which few excitements of war or politics ever came. While the great nobles wrangled for the possession of the power, schemed and fought and turned the nation upside down; while the heroes of the country rose, lived, fought, and died,—the Emperor, amid his ladies and his courtiers, his priests and his literary men, spent his life in a world of his own; thinking more of this pair of bright eyes, that new and charming poem, the other witty saying of those about him, than of the kingdom that he ruled by divine right; and retiring, after ten years or so of puppet kinghood, from the seclusion of his court to the deeper seclusion of some Buddhist monastery.

Within the sacred precincts of the court, much time was given to such games and pastimes as were not too rude or noisy for the refinement that the new culture brought with it. Polo, football, hunting with falcons, archery, etc., were exercises not unworthy of even the most refined of gentlemen, and certain noble families were trained hereditarily in the execution of certain stately, antique dances, many of them of Chinese or Corean origin. The ladies, in trailing garments and with flowing hair, reaching often below the knees, played a not inconspicuous part, not only because of their beauty and grace, but for their quickness of wit, their learning in the classics, their skill in repartee, and their quaint fancies, which they embodied in poetic form.

Much attention was given to that harmony of art with nature that the Japanese taste makes the sine qua non of all true artistic effort. The gorgeously embroidered gowns must change with the changing season, so that the cherry succeeds the plum, the wistaria the cherry, and so on through the whole calendar of flowers, upon the silken robes of the court, as regularly as in the garden that graces the palace grounds. And so with the confectionery, which in Japan is made in dainty imitation of flowers and fruits. The chrysanthemum blooms in sugar no earlier than on its own stalk; the little golden orange, with its dark green leaves, is on the confectioner's list in winter, when the real orange is yellow on its tree. The very decorations of the palace must be changed with the changing of the months; and kakémono and vase are alternately stored in the kura and brought out to decorate the room, according as their designs seem in harmony with the mood of Nature. This effort to harmonize Nature and Art is seen to-day, not only in the splendid furnishings of the court, but all through the decorative art of Japan. In every house the decorations are changed to suit the changing seasons.

Through the years when Japan was adopting the civilization of China, a danger threatened the nation,—the same danger that threatens it to-day: it was the danger lest the adoption of so much that was foreign should result in a servile copying of all that was not Japanese, and lest the introduction of literature, art, and numerous hitherto unknown luxuries should take from the people their independence, patriotism, and manliness. But this result was happily avoided; and at a time when the language was in danger of being swept almost out of existence by the introduction of Chinese learning through Chinese letters, the women of Japan, not only in their homes and conversation, but in the poetry and lighter literature of the country, preserved a strain of pure and graceful Japanese, and produced some of the standard works of a distinctly national literature. Favor at court to-day, as in the olden times, is the reward, not of mere rank, beauty, and grace of person, but must be obtained through the same intellectual endowments, polished by years of education, that made so many women famous in the mediæval history of Japan. Many court ladies have read much of their national literature, so that they are able to appreciate the bonmots which contain allusions in many cases to old poems, or plays on words; and are able to write and present to others, at fitting times, those graceful but untranslatable turns of phrase which form the bulk of Japanese poetry. Even in this busy era of Méiji, the Emperor and his court keep up the old-time customs, and strive to promote a love of the beautiful poetry of Japan. At each New Year some subject appropriate to the time is chosen and publicly announced. Poems may be written upon this subject by any one in the whole realm, and may be sent to the palace before a certain date fixed as the time for closing the list of competitors. All the poems thus sent are examined by competent judges, who select the best five and send them to the Emperor, an honor more desired by the writers than the most favorable of reviews or the largest of emoluments are desired by American poets. Many of the other poems are published in the newspapers. It is interesting to note that many of the prominent men and women of the country are known as competitors, and that many of the court ladies join in the contest.

There are also, at the palace, frequent meetings of the poets and lovers of poetry connected with the court. At these meetings poems are composed for the entertainment of the Emperor and Empress, as well as for the amusement of the poets themselves.

In the school recently established for the daughters of the nobles, under the charge of the imperial household, much attention is given to the work of thoroughly grounding the scholars in the Japanese language and literature, and also to making them skillful in the art of composing poetry. At the head of the school, in the highest position held by any woman in the employ of the government, is a former court lady, who is second to none in the kingdom, not only in her knowledge of all that belongs to court etiquette, but in her study of the history and literature of her own people, and in her skill in the composition of these dainty poems. A year or two ago, when one of the scholars in the school died after a brief decline, her schoolmates, teachers, and school friends wrote poems upon her death, which they sent to the bereaved parents.

It is difficult for any Japanese, much more so for a foreigner, to penetrate into the seclusion of the palace and see anything of the life there, except what is shown to the public in the occasional entertainments given at court, such as formal receptions and dinner parties. In , the new palace, built on the site of the old Tokugawa Castle, burnt seventeen years ago, was finally completed; and it was my privilege to see, before the removal of the court, not only the grand reception rooms, throne-room, and dining-room, but also the private apartments of the Emperor and Empress. The palace is built in Japanese style, surrounded by the old castle moats, but there are many foreign additions to the palace and grounds. It is heated and lighted in foreign style, and the larger rooms are all furnished after the magnificent manner of European palaces; while the lacquer work, carvings, and gorgeous paneled ceilings remind one of the finest of Japanese temples. The private apartments of the Emperor and Empress are, on the other hand, most simple, and in thorough Japanese style; and though the woodwork and polished floors of the corridors are very beautiful, the paintings and lacquer work most exquisite, there is little in this simplicity to denote the abode of royalty. It seems that their majesties, though outwardly conforming to many European customs, and to the European manner of dress, prefer to live in Japanese ways, on matted, not carpeted floors, reposing on them rather than on chairs and bedsteads.

Their apartments are not large; each suite consisting of three rooms opening out of each other, the Empress's rooms being slightly smaller than the Emperor's, and those of the young Prince Haru, the heir apparent, again a little smaller. The young prince has a residence of his own, and it is only on his visits that he occupies his apartments in his father's palace. There are also rooms for the Empress dowager to occupy on her occasional visits. All of these apartments are quite close together in one part of the palace, and are connected by halls; but the private rooms of the court ladies are in an entirely separate place, quite removed, and only connected with the main building by a long, narrow passageway, running through the garden. There, in the rooms assigned to them, each one has her own private establishment, where she stays when she is not on duty in attendance on the Emperor and Empress. Each lady has her own servants, and sometimes a younger sister or a dependent may be living there with her, though they are entirely separate from the court and the life there, and must never be seen in any of the other parts of the building. In these rooms, which are like little homes in themselves, cooking and housekeeping are done, entirely independent of the other parts of the great palace; and the tradesmen find their way through some back gate to these little establishments, supplying them with all the necessaries of life, as well as the luxuries.

A court lady is a personage of distinction, and lives in comparative ease and luxury, with plenty of servants to do all the necessary work. Besides her salary, which of course varies with the rank and the duties performed, but is always liberal enough to cover the necessary expenses of dress, the court lady receives many presents from the Emperor and Empress, which make her position one of much luxury.

The etiquette of the imperial household is very complicated and very strict, though many of the formalities of the olden times have been given up. The court ladies are models of conservatism. In order to be trained for the life there and its duties, they usually enter the court while mere children of ten or eleven, and serve apprenticeship to the older members. In the rigid seclusion of the palace they are strictly, almost severely, brought up, and trained in all the details of court etiquette. Cut off from all outside influences while young, the little court maidens are taught to go through an endless round of formalities which they are made to think indispensable. These details of etiquette extend not only to all that concerns the imperial household, but to curious customs among themselves, and in regard to their own habits. Many of these ideas have come down from one generation to another, within the narrow limits of the court, so that the life there is a curious world in itself, and very unlike that in ordinary Japanese homes.

But among all the ladies of Japan to-day,—charming, intellectual, refined, and lovely as many of them are,—there is no one nobler, more accomplished, more beautiful in life and character, than the Empress herself. The Emperor of Japan, though he may have many concubines, may have but one wife, and she must be chosen out of one of the five highest noble families. Haru Ko, of the noble family of Ichijō, became Empress in the year , one year after her husband, then a boy of seventeen, had ascended the throne, and the very year of the overthrow of the Shōgunate, and the restoration of the Emperor to actual power and the leading part in the government. Reared amid the deep and scholarly seclusion of the old court at Kyōto, the young Empress found herself occupying a position very different from that for which she had been educated,—a position the duties and responsibilities of which grow more multifarious as the years go by. Instead of a life of rigid seclusion, unseeing and unseen, the Empress has had to go forth into the world, finding there the pleasures as well as the duties of actual leadership. With the removal of the court to Tōkyō, and the reappearance of the Emperor, in bodily form, before his people, there came new opportunities for the Empress, and nobly has she used them. From the time when, in , she gave audience to the five little girls of the samurai class who were just setting forth on a journey to America, there to study and fit themselves to play a part in the Japan of the future, on through twenty years of change and progress, the Empress Haru Ko has done all that lay within her power to advance the women of her country. Many stories are afloat which show the lovable character of the woman, and which have given her an abiding place in the affections of the people.

Some years ago, when the castle in Tōkyō was burned, and the Emperor and Empress were obliged to take refuge in an old daimiō's house, a place entirely lacking in luxuries and considerably out of repair, some one expressed to her the grief that all her people felt, that she should have to put up with so many inconveniences. Her response was a graceful little poem, in which she said that the narrowness of her abode would not limit her love for her people, and that for them she would endeavor to explore wisely the unlimited fields of knowledge.

Upon another occasion, when Prince Iwakura, one of the leaders of Japan in the early days of the crisis through which the country is still passing, lay dying at his home, the Empress sent him word that she was coming to visit him. The prince, afraid that he could not do honor to such a guest, sent her word back that he was very ill, and unable to make proper preparation to entertain an Empress. To this the Empress replied that he need make no preparations for her, for she was coming, not as an Empress, but as the daughter of Ichijō, his old friend and colleague, and as such he could receive her. And then, setting aside imperial state and etiquette, she visited the dying statesman, and brightened his last hours with the thought of how lovely a woman stood as an example before the women of his beloved country.

Many of the charities and schools of new Japan are under the Empress's special patronage; and this does not mean simply that she allows her name to be used in connection with them, but it means that she thinks of them, studies them, asks questions about them, and even practices little economies that she may have the more money to give to them. There is a charity hospital in Tōkyō, having in connection with it a training school for nurses, that is one of the special objects of her care. Last year she gave to it, at the end of the year, the savings from her own private allowance, and concerning this act an editorial from the "Japan Mail" speaks as follows:—

"The life of the Empress of Japan is an unvarying routine of faithful duty-doing and earnest charity. The public, indeed, hears with a certain listless indifference, engendered by habit, that her Majesty has visited this school, or gone round the wards at that hospital. Such incidents all seem to fall naturally into the routine of the imperial day's work. Yet to the Empress the weariness of long hours spent in classrooms or in laboratories, or by the beds of the sick, must soon become quite intolerable did she not contrive, out of the goodness of her heart, to retain a keen and kindly interest in everything that concerns the welfare of her subjects. That her Majesty does feel this interest, and that it grows rather than diminishes as the years go by, every one knows who has been present on any of the innumerable occasions when the promoters of some charity or the directors of some educational institution have presented, with merciless precision, all the petty details of their projects or organizations for the examination of the imperial lady. The latest evidence of her Majesty's benevolence is, however, more than usually striking. Since the founding of the Tōkyō Charity Hospital, where so many poor women and children are treated, the Empress has watched the institution closely, has bestowed on it patronage of the most active and helpful character, and has contributed handsomely to its funds. Little by little the hospital grew, extending its sphere of action and enlarging its ministrations, until the need of more capacious premises—a need familiar to such undertakings—began to be strongly felt. The Empress, knowing this, cast about for some means of assisting this project. To practice strict economy in her own personal expenses, and to devote whatever money might thus be saved from her yearly income to the aid of the hospital, appears to have suggested itself to her Majesty as the most feasible method of procedure. The result is, that a sum of , yen,  sen, and  rin has just been handed over to Dr. Takagi, the chief promoter and mainstay of the hospital, by Viscount Kagawa, one of her Majesty's chamberlains. There is something picturesque about these sen and rin. They represent an account minutely and faithfully kept between her Majesty's unavoidable expenses and the benevolent impulse that constantly urged her to curtail them. Such gracious acts of sterling effort command admiration and love."

Not very long ago, on one of her visits to the hospital, the Empress visited the children's ward, and took with her toys, which she gave with her own hand to each child there. When we consider that this hospital is free to the poorest and lowest person in Tōkyō, and that twenty years ago the persons of the Emperor and Empress were so sacred in the eyes of the people that no one but the highest nobles and the near officials of the court could come into their presence,—that even these high nobles were received at court by the Emperor at a distance of many feet, and his face even then could not be seen,—when we think of all this, we can begin to appreciate what the Empress Haru has done in bridging the distance between herself and her people so that the poorest child of a beggar may receive a gift from her hand. In the country places to this day, there are peasants who yet believe that no one can look on the sacred face of the Emperor and live.

The school for the daughters of the nobles, to which I have before referred, is an institution whose welfare the Empress has very closely at heart, for she sees the need of rightly combining the new and the old in the education of the young girls who will so soon be filling places in the court. At the opening of the school the Empress was present, and herself made a speech to the scholars; and her visits, at intervals of one or two months, show her continued interest in the work that she has begun. Upon all state occasions, the scholars, standing with bowed heads as if in prayer, sing a little song written for them by the Empress herself; and at the graduating exercises, the speeches and addresses are listened to by her with the profoundest interest. The best specimens of poetry, painting, and composition done by the scholars are sent to the palace for her inspection, and some of these are kept by her in her own private rooms. When she visits the class-rooms, she does not simply pass in and pass out again, as if doing a formal duty, but sits for half an hour or so listening intently, and watching the faces of the scholars as they recite. In sewing and cooking classes (for the daughters of the nobles are taught to sew and cook), she sometimes speaks to the scholars, asking them questions. Upon one occasion she observed a young princess, a newcomer in the school, working somewhat awkwardly with needle and thimble. "The first time, Princess, is it not?" said the Empress, smiling, and the embarrassed Princess was obliged to confess that this was her first experience with those domestic implements.

Sometimes in her leisure hours—and they are rare in her busy life—the Empress amuses herself by receiving the little daughters of some imperial prince or nobleman, or even the children of some of the high officials. In the kindness of her heart, she takes great pleasure in seeing and talking to these little ones, some of whom are intensely awed by being in the presence of the Empress, while others, in their innocence, ignorant of all etiquette, prattle away unrestrainedly, to the great entertainment of the court ladies as well as of the Empress herself. These visits always end with some choice toy or gift, which the child takes home and keeps among her most valued treasures in remembrance of her imperial hostess. In this way the Empress relieves the loneliness of the great palace, where the sound of childish voices is seldom heard, for the Emperor's children are brought up in separate establishments, and only pay occasional visits to the palace, until they have passed early childhood.

The present life of the Empress is not very different from that of European royalty. Her carriage and escort are frequently met with in the streets of Tōkyō as she goes or returns on one of her numerous visits of ceremony or beneficence. Policemen keep back the crowds of people who always gather to see the imperial carriage, and stand respectfully, but without demonstration, while the horsemen carrying the imperial insignia, followed closely by the carriages of the Empress and her attendants, pass by. The official Gazette announces almost daily visits by the Emperor, Empress, or other members of the imperial family, to different places of interest,—sometimes to various palaces in different parts of Tōkyō, at other times to schools, charitable institutions or exhibitions, as well as occasional visits to the homes of high officials or nobles, for which great preparations are made by those who have the honor of entertaining their Majesties.

Among the amusements within the palace grounds, one lately introduced, and at present in high favor, is that of horseback-riding, an exercise hitherto unknown to the ladies of Japan. The Empress and her ladies are said to be very fond of this active exercise,—an amusement forming a striking contrast to the quiet of former years.

The grounds about the palaces in Tōkyō are most beautifully laid out and cultivated, but not in that artificial manner, with regular flower beds and trees at certain equal distances, which is seen so often in the highly cultivated grounds of the rich in this country. The landscape gardening of Japan keeps unchanged the wildness and beauty of nature, and imitates it closely. The famous flowers, however, are, in the imperial gardens, changed by art and cultivated to their highest perfection, blooming each season for the enjoyment of the members of the court. Especially is attention given to the cultivation of the imperial flower of Japan, the chrysanthemum; and some day in November, when this flower is in its perfection, the gates of the Akasaka palace are thrown open to invited guests, who are received in person by the Emperor and Empress. Here the rarest species of this favorite flower, and the oddest colors and shapes, the results of much care and cultivation, are exhibited in spacious beds, shaded by temporary roofs of bamboo twigs and decorated with the imperial flags. This is the great chrysanthemum party of the Emperor, and another of similar character is given in the spring under the flower-laden boughs of the cherry trees.

In these various ways the Empress shows herself to her people,—a gracious and lovely figure, though distant, as she needs must be, from common, every-day life. Only by glimpses do the people know her, but those glimpses reveal enough to excite the warmest admiration, the most tender love. Childless herself, destined to see a child not her own, although her husband's, heir to the throne, the Empress devotes her lonely and not too happy life to the actual, personal study of the wants of daughters of her people, and side by side with Jingo, the majestic but shadowy Empress of the past, should be enshrined in the hearts of the women of Japan the memory of Haru Ko, the leader of her countrywomen into that freer and happier life that is opening to them.

Each marks the beginning of a new era,—the first, of the era of civilization and morality founded upon the teachings of Buddha and Confucius; the second, of the civilization and morality that have sprung from the teachings of Christ. Buddhism and Confucianism were elevating and civilizing, but failed to place the women of Japan upon even as high a plane as they had occupied in the old barbaric times. To Christianity they must look for the security and happiness which it has never failed to give to the wives and mothers of all Christian nations.