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A FARTHING'S WORTH OF FUN
How would you like to go to a fair with a farthing, a whole farthing, to spend as you pleased? I think I can see some of you turning your noses up, and looking very scornful. "A farthing, indeed!" you say. "Pray, of what use is a farthing? I wouldn't mind going to a fair with a shilling, or even sixpence, but what could anyone do with a farthing?" Well, in Japan you could do a great deal. We must remember that Japan is a country of tiny wages; many of its workers do not receive more than sixpence a day, and a man who gets a shilling is well off. Tiny earnings mean tiny spendings, and things are arranged on a scale to meet very slender purses.
We will now see what sort of time O Hara San, Miss Blossom, and her brother, Taro San, Master Eldest Son, had at the fair one fine day in Nagasaki. In the morning they sprang up from their quilts full of excited pleasure, for they had been looking forward to this fair for some time. But they did not romp and chatter and show their excitement as English children would do. Their black eyes shone a little more brightly than usual, and that was all.
When they had whipped their rice into their mouths with their little chopsticks, they started for the fair, which was to be held in the grounds of a great temple. Of course, they were dressed in their best clothes. Both had new kimonos, and O Hara San had a very fine obi, which her parents had bought for her by denying themselves many little luxuries. Their father and grandmother went with them, but their mother stayed at home with the baby. Their father wore a newly-washed kimono, but his chief glory was an old bowler hat which a European gentleman had given to him. It had been much too large for him, but he had neatly taken it in, and now wore it with great pride. When they reached the fair they gave themselves up to its delights with all their hearts. There was so much to do and so much to see. Almost at once O Hara San and Taro were beguiled by a sweetmeat stall.
Each had five rin, and five rin make one farthing, or rather less, but we will call it a farthing for the sake of round figures. One rin apiece was spent here. The stall was in two divisions: one stocked with delicious little bottles of sugar-water, the other with pieces of candy, tinted bright blue and red and green. Miss Blossom went in for a bottle of sugar-water, and her brother for candies. But first he demanded of the candy-seller that he should be allowed to try his luck at the disc. This was a disc having an arrow which could be whirled round, and if the arrow paused opposite a lucky spot an extra piece of candy was added to the purchase. To Taro's great joy, he made a lucky hit, and won the extra piece of candy; he felt that the fair had begun very well for him.
While they drank sugar-water and munched candy, they wandered along looking at the booths, where all sorts of wonders were to be seen--booths full of conjurers, acrobats, dancers, of women who could stretch their necks to the length of their arms, or thrust their lips up to cover their eyebrows, and a hundred other curious tricks. The price of admission was one rin each to children, and finally they chose the conjurer's booth, and saw him spout fire from his mouth, swallow a long sword, and finally exhibit a sea-serpent, which appeared to be made of seal-skins tacked together.
When they left the show they came all at once on one of the great delights of a Japanese fair. It was the man with the cooking-stove, round whom children always throng as flies gather about honey. For the fifth part of a farthing you may have the use of his cooking-stove, you may have a piece of dough, or you may have batter with a cup, a spoon, and a dash of soy sauce. You may then abandon yourself to the delights of making a cake for yourself, baking it for yourself, and then eating it yourself, and if you spend a couple of hours over the operation the man will not grumble. As this arrangement combines both the pleasure of making a cake and playing with fire, it is very popular, and we cannot wonder that Taro took a turn, though Miss Blossom did not. She felt herself rather too big to join the swarm of happy urchins round the stove.
THE TOY SHOP
While Taro was baking his cake she spent her third rin on a peep-show, where a juggler made little figures of paper and pasteboard dance and perform all kinds of antics. Then they went on again. Each bought one rin's worth of sugared beans, a very favourite sweet-meat; and these they ate while they waited for their father and grandmother to join them at the door of a certain theatre where they had agreed to meet. Into this theatre was pouring a stream of people, old and young, men, women, children, and babies, for a great historical play was to be performed, and it would shortly begin. Soon their elders turned up, and their father took their last rin to make up the payment which would admit them.
In they went, and took possession of their place. The floor of the theatre was divided by little partitions, about a foot or so high, into a vast number of tiny squares, like open egg-boxes. In one of these little boxes our friends squatted down on the floor, and the grandmother began to unpack the bundle which she had been carrying. This bundle contained a number of cooking-vessels and an ample supply of rice, for here they meant to stay for some hours to see the play, to eat and drink, and enjoy themselves generally.
The father filled his pipe, lighted it at the hibachi, and began to smoke, as hundreds more were doing all round them. Each box contained a family, and each family had brought its cooking-pots, its food, and its drink; and hawkers of food, of pipes, of tobacco, of saké, and of a score of other things, rambled up and down selling their wares.
When the play began every one paid close attention, for it was a great historical play, and the Japanese go to the theatre and take their children there in order to learn history. There are represented the old wars, the old feuds, the struggle of Daimio against Daimio--in short, the history of old Japan. When an actor gave pleasure, the audience flung their hats on the stage. These were collected by an attendant, and kept until the owners redeemed them by giving a present. For six hours O Hara San and Taro sat in their little box, laughing, shouting, eating, and drinking, while the play went on. Then it was over, for it was only a short play, at a cheap theatre. "Ah!" said their father, "when I was a boy we had real plays. We used to rise early and be in the theatre by six o'clock in the morning. There we would stay enjoying ourselves until eleven at night. But now the decree of the Government is that no play shall last more than nine hours. It is too little!"
The children quite agreed with him as they helped their grandmother to gather the pots and pans and dishes which were scattered about their box. Then each took the wooden ticket which would secure the shoes which they had left outside with the attendants, and went slowly from the theatre. When they had obtained their shoes and put them on, Miss Blossom and Master Eldest Son strolled slowly homewards through the fair. They had not another rin to spend--their farthing's worth of fun was over.