In almost every home are Japanese fans, in our shops Japanese dolls and balls and other knick-knacks, on our writing-tables bronze crabs or lacquered pen-tray with outlined on it the extinct volcano [Fuji San] that is the most striking mountain seen from the capital of Japan. At many places of amusement Japanese houses of real size have been exhibited, and the jargon of fashion for "Japanese Art" even reaches our children's ears.
Yet all these things seem dull and lifeless when thus severed from the quaint cheeriness of their true home. To those familiar with Japan, that bamboo fan-handle recalls its graceful grassy tree, the thousand and one daily purposes for which bamboo wood serves. We see the open shop where squat the brown-faced artisans cleverly dividing into those slender divisions the fan-handle, the wood-block engraver's where some dozen men sit patiently chipping at their cherry-wood blocks, and the printer's where the coloring arrangements seem so simple to those used to western machinery, but where the colors are so rich and true. We see the picture stuck on the fan frame with starch paste, and drying in the brilliant summer sunlight. The designs recall vividly the life around, whether that life be the stage, the home, insects, birds, or flowers. We think of halts at wayside inns, when bowing tea-house girls at once proffer these fans to hot and tired guests.
The tonsured oblique-eyed doll suggests the festival of similarly oblique-eyed little girls on the 3rd of March. Then dolls of every degree obtain for a day "Dolls' Rights." In every Japanese household all the dolls of the present and previous generations are, on that festival, set out to best advantage. Beside them are sweets, green-speckled rice cake, and daintily gilt and lacquered dolls' utensils. For some time previous, to meet the increased demand, the doll shopman has been very busy. He sits before a straw-holder into which he can readily stick, to dry, the wooden supports of the plaster dolls' heads he is painting, as he takes first one and then another to give artistic touches to their glowing cheeks or little tongue. That dolly that seems but "so odd" to Polly or Maggie is there the cherished darling of its little owner. It passes half its day tied on to her back, peeping companionably its head over her shoulder. At night it is lovingly sheltered under the green mosquito curtains, and provided with a toy wooden pillow.
The expression "Japanese Art" seems but a created word expressing either the imitations of it, or the artificial transplanting of Japanese things to our houses. The whole glory of art in Japan is, that it is not Art, but Nature simply rendered, by a people with a fancy and love of fun quite Irish in character. Just as Greek sculptures were good, because in those days artists modelled the corsetless life around them, so the Japanese artist does not draw well his lightly draped figures, cranes, and insects because these things strike him as beautiful, but because he is familiar with their every action.
The Japanese house out of Japan seems but a dull and listless affair. We miss the idle, easy-going life and chatter, the tea, the sweetmeats, the pipes and charcoal brazier, the clogs awaiting their wearers on the large flat stone at the entry, the grotesquely trained ferns, the glass balls and ornaments tinkling in the breeze, that hang, as well as lanterns, from the eaves, the garden with tiny pond and goldfish, bridge and miniature hill, the bright sunshine beyond the sharp shadow of the upward curving angles of the tiled roof, the gay, scarlet folds of the women's under-dress peeping out, their little litter of embroidery or mending, and the babies, brown and half naked, scrambling about so happily....