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The children of Japan have many games, and some of these games are shared with them by their fathers and mothers--yes, and by their grandfathers and grandmothers too, for an old man will fly a kite as eagerly as his tiny grandson. The girls play battledore and shuttlecock and bounce balls, and the boys spin tops and make them fight. A top-fight is arranged thus: One boy takes his top, made of hard wood with an iron ring round it, winds it up with string, and throws it on the ground; while it is spinning merrily, another boy throws his top in such a way that it spins against the first top and knocks it over. So cleverly are the attacking tops thrown that the first top is often knocked to a distance of several feet. Other games are playing at war with toy weapons, hunting grasshoppers, which are kept in tiny cages of bamboo, and hunting fireflies. The last pastime is followed by Japanese of all ages, and the glittering flies are pursued by night, and struck down by a light fan.
Wherever there is a stream of water, the boys set up toy water-wheels, and these water-wheels drive little mills and machines, which the boys have made for themselves in the cleverest fashion.
Here is a group whose heads are very close together. Let us peep over their shoulders, and see what it is they watch so quietly and earnestly. Ah! this is a favourite trick. A small boy is setting a team of half a dozen beetles to draw a load of rice up a smooth, sloping board. He has made a tiny cart of paper, and filled it with rice. The traces of the cart are made of fine threads of silk, and he fastens the threads of silk to the backs of the beetles with gum.
Now he has his strange team in motion, and the beetles are marching up the board, dragging their load. The tiny faces in the ring of watchers are filled with deep but motionless interest. Not one dreams of stretching out a finger. There is no need to say, "Don't touch!" No one would dream of touching--that would be very rude. Japanese children manage their own games, without any appeal to their elders. It is not often that a dispute arises, but, should that happen, the question is settled at once by the word of an elder child. The decision is obeyed without a murmur, and the game goes on.
Another game of which children are fond is that of painting sand-pictures on the roadside. A group of children will compete in drawing a sand-picture in the shortest time. Each has four bags of coloured sand--black, red, yellow, and blue--and a bag of white. The white sand is first thrown down in the form of a square; then a handful of black sand is taken, and allowed to run through the fingers to form a quaint outline of a man, or bird, or animal, upon the white ground. Next, the design is finished with the other colours, and very often a most striking effect is obtained by these child artists. "But the most extraordinary and most fascinating thing of all is to watch the performance of a master in sand-pictures. So dexterous and masterly is he that he will dip his hand first into a bag of blue sand and then into one of yellow, allowing the separate streams to trickle out unmixed, and then, with a slight tremble of the hand, these streams will be quickly converted into one thin stream of bright green, relapsing again into the streams of blue and yellow at a moment's notice."
There are many indoor games, and a very great favourite is the game of alphabet cards. This is played with a number of cards, some of which contain a proverb and some a picture illustrating each proverb. The children sit in a ring, and the cards are dealt to them. One of the children is the reader, and when he calls out a proverb the one who has the picture corresponding to the proverb answers at once and gives up the card. The first one to be rid of his cards is the winner, and the one who holds the last card is the loser. If a boy is the loser, he has a dab of ink or of paint smudged on his face; if it is a girl, she has a wisp of straw put in her hair. The game is so called because each proverb begins with a letter of the Japanese alphabet.
Japanese children have many holidays and festivals, and they enjoy themselves very much on these joyous occasions. With their beautiful dresses of silk shining in the sun, a crowd of them looks like a great bed of flowers. Mr. Menpes speaks of a merry-making which he saw: "It was a festival for girls under ten, and there were hundreds of children, all with their kimonos tucked up, showing their scarlet petticoats, and looking for all the world like a mass of poppies.... Two rows or armies of these girls were placed several yards distant from each other in this long emerald-green field, and in the space between them stood two servants, each holding a long bamboo pole, and suspending from its top a flat, shallow drum, covered with tissue-paper.
"Presently two young men teachers appeared on the scene, carrying two baskets of small many-coloured balls, which they threw down on the grass between the children and the drums. Then a signal was given, and all the girls started running down the field at full tilt towards one another, pouncing on the balls as they ran, and throwing them with all their force up at the paper drums.
"After a time, when a perfect shower of balls had passed through the tissue drums, quite demolishing them, a shower of coloured papers, miniature lanterns, paper umbrellas, and flags came slowly fluttering down among the children on to their jet-black bobbing heads and into their eager outstretched hands. Never have I seen anything more beautiful than these gay, brightly-clad little people, packed closely together like a cluster of flowers in the brilliant sparkling sunshine, with their pretty upturned faces watching the softly falling rain of coloured toys."