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A JAPANESE DAY (continued)
But we must return to our Japanese housewife, who has at present only shown her husband out politely to his business. Now she sees that all the paper screens are removed, so that the whole house becomes, as it were, one great room, and thus is thoroughly aired. The beds are rolled up and put away in cupboards, and the woodwork is carefully rubbed down and polished. Perhaps the flowers in the vases are faded, and it is a long and elaborate performance to rearrange the beautiful sprays and the blossoms brought in from the garden.
Cooking is not by any means so important a matter in her household life as it is in that of her Western sister. If her rice-box is well filled, her tea-caddy well stored, her pickle-jar and store of vegetables in good order, she has little more to think about. "Rice is the staple food of Japan, and is eaten at every meal by rich or poor, taking the place of our bread. It is of particularly fine quality, and at meals is brought in small bright-looking tubs kept for this exclusive purpose and scrupulously clean; it is then helped to each individual in small quantities, and steaming hot. The humblest meal is served with nicety, and with the rice various tasty condiments, such as pickles, salted fish, and numerous other dainty little appetizers, are eaten. To moisten the meal, tea without sugar is taken. A hibachi, or charcoal basin, generally occupies the central position, round which the meal is enjoyed, and on the fire of which the teapot is always kept easily boiling."
When the Japanese housekeeper goes to market, she turns her attention, after the rice merchant's, to the fish and vegetable stalls. At the fish-stall nothing that comes out of the sea is overlooked. She buys not only fish, but seaweed, which is a common article of diet. It is eaten raw; it is also boiled, pickled, or fried; it is often made into soup. Sea-slugs, cuttle-fish, and other creatures which we consider the mere offal of the sea, are eagerly devoured by the Japanese.
OFFERING TEA TO A GUEST
At the vegetable-stall there will be a great variety of things for sale--beans, peas, potatoes, maize, buckwheat, carrots, lettuce, turnips, squash, musk- and water-melons, cucumbers, spinach, garlic, onions, leeks, chillies, capucams (the produce of the egg-plant), and a score of other things, including yellow chrysanthemum blossoms and the roots and seeds of the lotus. The Japanese eat almost everything that grows, for they delight in dock and ferns, in wild ginger and bamboo shoots, and consider the last a great tit-bit.
But to Europeans the Japanese vegetables seem very tasteless, and the chief of them all is very much disliked by Westerners. This is the famous daikon, the mighty Japanese radish, beloved among the poorer classes in its native land and abhorred by foreigners. It grows to an immense size, being often seen a yard long and as thick as a man's arm. When fresh it is harmless enough, but the Japanese love to pickle it, and Mrs. Bishop remarks:
"It is slightly dried and then pickled in brine, with rice bran. It is very porous, and absorbs a good deal of the pickle in the three months in which it lies in it, and then has a smell so awful that it is difficult to remain in a house in which it is being eaten. It is the worst smell I know of except that of a skunk!"
The pickle-seller's stall must not be forgotten, for the Japanese flavour their rather tasteless food with a wonderful variety of pickles and sauces. The great sauce is soy, made from fermented wheat and beans with salt and vinegar, and at times saké is added to it to heighten its flavour. This sauce is served with many articles of food, and fish are often cooked in it.
When the Japanese housekeeper reaches home again she finds that her servants have finished their simple duties. Englishwomen always wonder what there is in a Japanese house for servants to do. There are no fires to lay, no furniture to polish and clean, no carpets to sweep, and no linen to wash and mend; so Japanese servants spend much time chatting to each other, or sewing new kimonos together, or playing chess. As a rule, there are many more servants than are necessary to do the work. This is because servants are very cheap. There are always plenty of girls who are ready to fill the lower places if they can obtain food and clothes for their services, and the upper servants only receive small sums, sometimes as low as six or eight shillings a month.
If a servant wishes to leave her employment, she never gives direct notice to her mistress. That would be the height of rudeness. Instead she begs permission to visit her home, or a sick relation, or some one who needs her assistance. Upon the day that she should return a long and elaborate apology for her non-arrival is sent, saying that, most unhappily, she cannot be spared from her home or her post of duty. It is then understood that she has left.
In a similar fashion, no mistress tells a servant that she will not suit. A polite explanation that it will be inconvenient to accept her services at the moment is sent through a third party.
In the evening the whole family, servants included, gather in the main room of the house. The master and mistress sit near the hibachi (the stove) and the andon (the big paper lantern); the maids glide in and sit at a respectful distance with their sewing, if they have any. There may be conversation, or the master may read aloud from a book of historical romances or fairy stories; but the servants may laugh and chat as freely over joke or story as anyone.
When bed-time arrives the quilts come out of the cupboards, and are spread with due care that no one sleeps with the head to the north, for that is the position in which the dead are laid out, and so is a very unlucky one for the living. Then the little wooden neck-rests, which they use as pillows, are set in their places, and every one goes to bed. The Japanese day is over.