The Handkerchief as a Travelling Bag-Bags and Bottles- Computing Time-The Mystic Animals of the Zodiac- Superstitions Regarding Them-Temple Fortune-Telling- An Ekisha-The Ema-Yuki Tells of a Wonderful CureTHE national travelling bag of the Japanese is a large, strong handkerchief of silk or cotton, in which the articles carried on a journey are tied up. The elasticity of this container, which is called a furoshiki, is its great advantage. It is as large or as small as its contents require, and when it is empty you do not have to lug it about by hand, like an empty suitcase, but merely put it in your pocket.
The trouble with our style of suitcases and bags is that they are heavy, bulky, and not adaptable. On one occasion they are overcrowded, on another we carry them half empty. My own bags remind me of the way I used to feel about wine bottles in the cheery days when one could afford to regard such things with a somewhat critical eye. I always felt that wine bottles were either too large or too small. Pints held a little too much for one, yet not enough for two; and quarts held rather more than was required by three, yet left four dissatisfied. Let us, however, drop this subject. De mortuis. . . .
I was often struck with the fact that though the Japanese woman seems to be more heavily dressed than the foreign woman, and though her coiffure is generally more elaborate, she carries so much less baggage when she travels. In our Yuki's furoshiki there was always room for my cigars, cigarettes, books, and kodak films. Her own things seemed to take no space at all.
There are several reasons for this. A Japanese woman carries no hair-brush and wears her comb in her hair. Nor do the Japanese generally take nightclothes with them on a journey, for a clean cotton kimono, in which to sleep, is supplied by all Japanese hotels. More than once, when I saw Yuki starting off with us for a two- or three-days' trip with baggage consisting of a furoshiki tied to about the size of two ordinary novels, I thought of Johnnie Poe's famous "fifty-three pieces of baggage-a deck of cards and a tooth-brush."
A favourite theme for the decoration of the furoshiki embodies the signs of the Chinese zodiac, consisting of twelve animals. The Chinese calendar was adopted centuries ago by the Japanese, and they still take account of it, though they now generally use our Gregorian calendar for computing time. But even so, their era is not the Christian Era, but dates from the beginning of the reign of Jimmu Tenno the Divine, whom the Japanese count as the first of their Imperial line, and who is said to have ascended the Throne, 660 B.C. Thus our current year, 1921, is the year 2581 in Japan. Time is also measured arbitrarily by the reigns of emperors, the present year being Taisho 10, or the tenth year of the reign of the present Emperor.
The Chinese zodiac, however, figures largely in Japanese superstition. As there are twelve animals, the years are counted off in cycles of twelve; and the same animals are also associated with days and hours, in cycles of twelve. The attributes of the astrological animal governing the year of one's birth are supposed to attach to one.
"My mother is a cow," a Japanese lady explained to me. "My husband is a snake and I am a rabbit."
The lore of these animals is complicated. I have only a smattering of it, but what I know will suffice to show the general tendency of such superstition.
It is considered good fortune to be born in the year of the horse because the horse is strong and energetic. 1920 was the year of the monkey. It is unlucky to marry in monkey year because the word saru, which means "monkey," also means "to go back," the suggestion being that the bride will go back to her former home, or in other words be divorced. A woman born in the year of the rabbit will be prolific. (The lady who said, "I'm a rabbit," though very young, was the mother of four.)
Similarly the animals, in their cycle, bring good luck or ill luck in connection with events occurring on certain days. It is unlucky to take to one's bed with a sickness on the day of the cow, because the cow is slow to get up. It is lucky to begin a journey on the day of the tiger, because the tiger, though he travels a thousand miles, always returns to the point from which he started; but for the same reason it is unlucky for a girl to marry on this day, because she, like the tiger, may return to the place from which she started: her father's house. And the day of the tiger is a bad one for funerals, because the tiger drags its prey with it, suggesting that another funeral will soon follow. The significance attaching to each animal according to the Japanese idea is not always apparent, without explanation, to the stranger. For instance, though I know it is considered lucky for a bride to cut her kimonos on the day of the rooster, I do not know why. Nor do I know why it is considered particularly lucky to have, in one family, three persons born under the same sign.
Superstitition of all kinds plays a large part in the daily life of the Japanese masses, and persons of intelligence often patronize fortune tellers, among whom are the Buddhist priests in certain temples.
At Asakusa, the great popular temple of Tokyo, the fortune-telling business is so brisk that two or three priests are busy at it all the time. The system is simple. The diviner shakes a lot of numbered sticks in a box, draws one out, and takes a paper from a little drawer which bears a number corresponding with that on the stick. Your fortune is written on the paper, in multigraph. I paid two cents for mine, and when it was translated to me I felt that I had paid too much.
Yuki, when she saw that I was disposed to take the matter lightly, seemed a little disappointed, and when later several of us decided to give the necromancers one more fling, she herself escorted us to the establishment called Hokokudo, at number 3 Chome, the Ginza, where father, son, and grandson successively have told fortunes for the past hundred and twenty years. Here we paid one yen each for our fortunes, but though the ekisha took more time to the job, examining our hands and faces, rattling his divining rods and making patterns with his Chinese wooden blocks, he didn't do much better than the priest had done for two cents. Yuki was impressed when he predicted a sea voyage for me, but the prophecy did not seem to me to constitute a remarkable example of divination.
The visit to the ekisha was however, an experience. The little house was picturesque, and it was interesting to see the stream of Japanese coming in, one after another, intent on learning what the future held in store for them. Also, while Yuki's fortune was being told I got a good photograph of the ekisha examining her hand through his magnifying glass.
Another superstition is exampled in the ema, votive offerings in the form of little paintings on wood, which are put up at Shinto shrines by those in need of help of one kind or another. For almost any sort of affliction an ema of suitable design may be found, though the meaning of the grotesque design is seldom apparent to the foreigner.
While in Japan I collected a number of these curious little objects and investigated their significance. Among them was one which Yuki recognized as an appeal for relief from eye trouble.
"That very good ema," she told me. "I use one like that once when I have sore eyes."
"Did it cure you, Yuki?"
"Yes-in two weeks. I put it up it shrine and I promise the god I no drink tea for two weeks. In two weeks my eyes all right again."
"And you are sure the ema did it?"
"Yes, sir, I sure."
"You didn't do anything else for your eyes?"
"No, it just like I say. I put up ema for god and not drink tea. Then I wait two weeks."
"Did your eyes hurt you during the two weeks?"
"Oh, yes. They hurt so much I have to wash them two three times a day with boric acid, while I wait for ema to make cure. But when end of two weeks comes they not sore any more. That ema work very good."