Living in a Japanese House-The Priceless Yuki-The Servants in the House-The Red Carpet-Our Trunks Depart-Tokyo's Night-time Sounds-Tipping and Noshi -The Etiquette of Farewells-SayonaraMY LAST days in Japan were my best days, for I spent them in a Japanese home, standing amid its own lovely gardens in Mita, a residential district some twenty minutes by motor from the central part of Tokyo.
Through the open shoji of my bedroom I could look out in the mornings to where, beyond the velvet lawns, the flowers and the treetops, the inverted fan of Fuji's cone was often to be seen floating white and spectral in the sky, seventy miles away.
After my bath in a majestic family tub I would breakfast in my room, wearing a kimono, recently acquired, and feeling very Japanese.
While I was dressing, Yuki sometimes entered, but I had by this time become accustomed to her matutinal invasions and no longer found them embarrassing. She was so entirely practical, so useful. She knew where everything was. She would go to a curious little cupboard, which was built into the wall and had sliding doors of lacquer and silk, and get me a shirt, or would retrieve from their place of concealment a missing pair of trousers, and bring them to me neatly folded in one of those flat, shallow baskets which, with the Japanese, seem to take the place of bureau drawers.
Thus, besides being my daughter's duenna and my wife's maid, she was in effect, my valet. Nor did her usefulness by any means end there. She was our interpreter, dragoman, purchasing-agent; she was our steward, major domo, seneschal; nay, she was our Prime Minister.
The house had a large staff, and all the servants made us feel that they were our servants, and that they were glad to have us there. With the exception of a butler, an English-speaking Japanese temporarily added to the establishment on our account, all wore the native dress; and there were among them two men so fine of feature, so dignified of bearing, so elegant in their silks, that we took them, at first, for members of the family. One of them was a white-bearded old gentleman who would have made a desirable grandfather for anybody. If he had duties other than to decorate the hall with his presence I never discovered what they were. The other, a young man, was clerk of the household, and enjoyed the distinction of being Saki's husband.
Saki was the housekeeper, young and pretty. She and her husband lived in a cottage near by, and their home was extensively equipped with musical instruments, Saki being proficient on the samisen and koto, and also on an American melodeon which was one of her chief treasures. She was all smiles and sweetness-a most obliging person. Indeed it was she who pretended to be asleep in a Japanese bed, in order that I might make the photograph which is one of the illustrations in this book.
Four or five coolies, excellent fellows, wearing blue cotton coats with the insignia of our host's family upon the backs of them, worked about the house and grounds; and several little maids were continually trotting through the corridors, with that pigeon-toed shuffle in which one comes, when one is used to it, actually to see a curious prettiness.
Sometimes we felt that the servants were showing us too much consideration. We dined out a great deal and were often late in getting home ("Home" was the term we found ourselves using there), yet however advanced the hour, the chauffeur would sound his horn on entering the gate, whereupon lights would flash on beneath the porte-cochére, the shoji at the entrance of the house would slide open, and three or four domestics would come out, dragging a wide strip of red velvet carpet, over which we would walk magnificently up the two steps leading to the hall. But though I urged them to omit this regal detail, because two or three men had to sit up to handle the heavy carpet, and also because the production of it made me feel like a bogus prince, I could never induce them to do so. Always, regardless of the hour, a little group of servants appeared at the door when we came home.
Even on the night when, under the ministrations of the all-wise and all-powerful head porter of the Imperial Hotel, our trunks were spirited away, to be taken to Yokohama and placed aboard the Tenyo Maru, even then we found it difficult to realize that our last night in Japan had come.
The realization did not strike me with full force until I went to bed.
I was not sleepy. I lay there, thinking. And the background of my thoughts was woven out of sounds wafted through the open shoji on the summer wind: the nocturnal sounds of the Tokyo streets.
I recalled how, on my first night in Tokyo, I had listened to these sounds and wondered what they signified.
Now they explained themselves to me, as to a Japanese.
A distant jingling, like that of sleigh-bells, informed me that' a newsboy was running with late papers. A plaintive musical phrase suggestive of Debussy, bursting out suddenly and stopping with startling abruptness, told me that the Chinese macaroni man was abroad with his lantern-trimmed cart and his little brass horn. At last I heard a xylophone-like note, resembling somewhat the sound of a New York policeman's club tapping the sidewalk. It was repeated several times; then there would come a silence; then the sound again, a little nearer. It was the night watchman on his rounds, guarding the neighbourhood not against thieves, but against fire, "the Flower of Tokyo." In my mind's eye I could see him hurrying along, knocking his two sticks together now and then, to spread the news that all was well.
Then it was that I reflected: "To-morrow night I shall not hear these sounds. In their place I shall hear the creaking of the ship, the roar of the wind, the hiss of the sea. Possibly I shall never again hear the music of the Tokyo streets.
My heart was sad as I went to sleep.
Fortunately for our peace of mind, we had learned through the experience of American friends, visitors in another Japanese home, how not to tip these wellbred domestics-or rather, how not to try to tip them. On leaving the house in which they had been guests, these friends had offered money to the servants, only to have it politely but positively refused.
Yuki cleared the matter up for us.
"They should put noshi with money," she explained in response to our questions. "That make it all right to take. It mean a present."
Without having previously known noshi by name, we knew immediately what she meant, for we had received during our stay in Japan enough presents to fill a large trunk, and each had been accompanied by a little piece of coloured paper folded in a certain way, signifying a gift.
In the old days these coloured papers always contained small pieces of dried awabi-abelone- but with the years the dried awabi began to be omitted, and the little folded papers by themselves came to be considered adequate.
Fortified with this knowledge I went, on the day before our departure, to the Ginza, where I bought envelopes on which the noshi design was printed. Money placed in these envelopes was graciously accepted by all the servants. Tips they would not have received. But these were not tips. They were gifts from friend to friend, at parting.
The code of Japanese courtesy is very exact and very exacting in the matter of farewells to the departing guest. Callers are invariably escorted to the door by the host, such members of his family as have been present, and a servant or two, all of whom stand in the portal bowing as the visitor drives away.
A house-guest is despatched with even greater ceremony. The entire personnel of the establishment will gather at the door to speed him on his way with profound bows and cries of "Sayonara!" Members of the family, often the entire family, accompany him to the station, where appear other friends who have carefully inquired in advance as to the time of departure. The traveller is escorted to his car, and his friends remain upon the platform until the train leaves, when the bowing and "Sayonaras" are repeated.
Tokyo people often go to Yokohama with friends who are sailing from Japan, accompanying them to the ship, and remaining on the dock until the vessel moves into the bay. How Tokyo men-of-affairs can manage to go upon these time-consuming seeingoff parties is one of the great mysteries of Mysterious Japan, for such an excursion takes up the greater part of a day.
To the American, accustomed in his friendships to take so much for granted, a Japanese farewell affords a new sensation, and one which can hardly fail to touch the heart.
Departing passengers are given coils of paper ribbon confetti, to throw to their friends ashore, so that each may hold an end until the wall of steel parts from the wall of stone, and the paper strand strains and breaks. There is something poignant and poetic in that breaking, symbolizing the vastness of the world, the littleness of men and ships, the. fragility of human contacts.
The last face I recognized, back there across the water, in Japan, was Yuki's. She was standing on the dock with the end of a broken paper ribbon in her hand. The other end trailed down into the water. She was weeping bitterly.
Wishing to be sure that my wife and daughter had not failed to discover her in the crowd, I turned to them. But I did not have to point her out. Their faces told me that they saw her. They too were weeping.
So it is with women. They weep. As for a man, he merely waves his hat. I waved mine.
I turned away. There were things I had to see to in my cabin. Besides, the wind on deck was freshening. It hurt my eyes.