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Lafcadio Hearn

THE outward signs of any Japanese matsuri are the most puzzling of enigmas to the stranger who sees them for the first time. They are many and varied; they are quite unlike anything in the way of holiday decoration ever seen in the Occident; they have each a meaning founded upon some belief or some tradition - a meaning known to every Japanese child; but that meaning is utterly impossible for any foreigner to guess. Yet whoever wishes to know something of Japanese popular life and feeling must learn the signification of at least the most common among festival symbols and tokens.


IT is the fifteenth day of the seventh month - and I am in Hokii.

NOTHING is more silent than the beginning of a Japanese banquet; and no one, except a native, who observes the opening scene could possibly imagine the tumultuous ending.

1 This was written early in 1892

2 Quoted from Mr. Satow's masterly essay, 'The Revival of Pure Shinto,' published in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan. By 'gods' are not necessarily meant beneficent Kami. Shinto has no devils; but it has its 'bad gods' as well as good deities.

3 Satow, 'The Revival of Pure Shinto.'

4 Ibid.

5 In the sense of Moral Path, - i.e. an ethical system.

1 Formerly both sexes used the same pillow for the same reason. The long hair of a samurai youth, tied up in an elaborate knot, required much time to arrange. Since it has become the almost universal custom to wear the hair short, the men have adopted a pillow shaped like a small bolster.

Kinjuro, the ancient gardener, whose head shines like an ivory ball, sat him down a moment on the edge of the ita-no-ma outside my study to smoke his pipe at the hibachi always left there for him. And as he smoked he found occasion to reprove the boy who assists him. What the boy had been doing I did not exactly know; but I heard Kinjuro bid him try to comport himself like a creature having more than one Soul. And because those words interested me I went out and sat down by Kinjuro.

1 There is a legend that the Sun-Goddess invented the first hakama by tying together the skirts of her robe.

2 'Let us play the game called kango-kango. Plenteously the water of Jizo-San quickly draw - and pour on the pine-leaves - and turn back again.' Many of the games of Japanese children, like many of their toys, have a Buddhist origin, or at least a Buddhist significance.

1 As it has become, among a certain sect of Western Philistines and self-constituted art critics, the fashion to sneer at any writer who becomes enthusiastic about the truth to nature of Japanese art, I may cite here the words of England's most celebrated living naturalist on this very subject. Mr. Wallace's authority will scarcely, I presume, be questioned, even by the Philistines referred to:

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