It was with a view to decorating my newly-built London house that I paid a second visit to Japan, being convinced that it was possible to handle the labour there at a cheaper rate and with finer results than in Europe. My experience proved that I was right. Before leaving England, however, I was carefully informed by all my friends of the exceedingly bad reputation that the Japanese have gained commercially. I was told that they were treacherous and unscrupulous in their dealings, and that I was, above all, to beware of the Japanese merchant. As it happened, it was through making a friend of one particular little Japanese merchant--through concentrating my attention upon him, and studying him continually--that I was enabled to gain a real insight into the life of the people, and to tear away that impenetrable veil which, to the Westerner's eyes, always hangs before them.
When you get to know a Japanese merchant well, a man who has studied our methods, you will find that he talks openly and frankly about his dealings with the European globe-trotter. He will tell you that he cheats you and charges you high prices because the average Westerner has got no eye. The Westerner does not appreciate the really fine and beautiful articles that the Japanese soul worships; therefore the merchant gives him what he thinks the Westerner wants, and asks the price that he thinks the traveller will give. When we first came into touch with the Japanese we began by cheating them and foisting deceptions upon them, and now they simply turn the tables upon us and cheat us to the best of their ability. The only difference is that the Japanese have more intelligence about wrong done them, and their motive for cheating is thus resentingly greater. I have had many dealings with the Japanese myself, and have always found them just. To be sure, I have never come into touch with the treaty-port merchants, who have been more or less tainted by the Westerner; but I have come into touch with, and studied, the genuine workers of Japan.
A LITTLE JAP
My first object on arriving in Tokio was to find some Japanese who would be capable of gathering together a series of splendid craftsmen to work for me. As luck would have it, I found my man--a perfect little genius of a fellow--on the evening of my first day in Japan, and in a most unexpected manner. I was sitting in the reading-room of the hotel, with my plans spread out before me, dreaming of the Japanese glories that were to decorate my London house, when my attention was attracted by seeing a little creature, looking like a monkey with a great box on his back, bound suddenly into the room, evidently by aid of the manager's foot in the adjoining hall. Not in the least perturbed, he began to unstrap the box from his back, from which he took out curios, and drifted about the room trying to sell them to the different globe-trotters assembled there. Nothing was too small or too trivial for him: he would sell anything. He was chivied about, insulted, and abused by every one; yet he received it all with a smiling face. Nothing seemed to affect him. He was a typical Japanese, with bright slit-like eyes set as close together as any monkey's--blinking eyes they were, but so intelligent. I could see that he was a keen observer, and that he looked upon these wayfarers as so much material of prey, by the quiet way in which he selected a man with a big pocket, sidling up to him and allowing himself to be insulted, yet always getting the best of the bargain in the end. He tried to sell me some very bad cloisonné, and he was so clever about it, handling his wares in so dexterous a manner,--making his twopenny-halfpenny pots appear of priceless value--that it occurred to me that this little monkey resemblance might have ideas of his own, and be in some small way able to help me. He spoke English a little, and I told him to come up to my room that night, when I should have something to say to him. Glancing at me in a searching way, without asking a single question or showing the slightest surprise, he only said, "I come!"
And he came. When I went up to my room after dinner, I found him sitting there, or rather squatting on a chair, waiting for me, blinking his beady little eyes and looking as solemn as an owl. I told him all my schemes. I explained that I was a painter, thoroughly in sympathy with the Japanese, and that I wanted his help to gather together a company of workers--fan-workers, metal-workers, and screen-workers--in order to furnish a house that I had built in London. He grasped my idea in an instant, and very soon entered into the spirit of the plan, taking an enthusiastic interest in all my schemes. Whenever there was anything that needed measuring exactly, this little man would run his finger and thumb over it in the most dexterous manner possible, murmuring to himself, "One inchie, two inchie, three inchie, seven-and-a-half inchie," etc. I talked on and on, expounding and arranging, until it must have been nearly three o'clock in the morning. Japanese people are in the habit of going to bed very early, and soon my little ally became obviously sleepy, although he was far too polite to admit it. Only when midnight struck did he beg that he might be allowed to smoke a pipe, in order, as he said, "to keep himself awake." I gave him permission, and he immediately jumped into the fireplace, crouching right down in the fender, close up against the red-hot coals, and smoked his miniature pipe there. I talked on, and he listened, really interested in everything I said, and gazing at me with his little beady eyes, bright with interest, yet blinking so rapidly that there was almost a mist over them. Then, for the first time, I noticed that the little soul was tired, and, feeling that it would be cruel to keep him up any longer, I bade him good-night and shut the door.
For almost an hour after he had gone, I sat on dreaming and brooding. Then I was suddenly aroused by hearing a fumbling noise outside my room, as though some one were tapping at the hall door. I went out to see who the intruder might be, and there I found my little Japanese friend, practically asleep, but running his fingers all over the bolted door, trying to measure it, and murmuring, "one inchie, two inchie, three inchie." From that moment I christened him "Inchie," and now all over Japan at the present time this little man is known as Mr. Inchie.
After that night Inchie became my constant companion and friend. Wherever I went he came. Whether it was to theatres, neighbouring towns, metal-workers or fan-workers, Inchie always accompanied me, until in the end it became a daily habit for him to drift about with me in the sunshine, neglecting his business entirely. For Inchie was an artist first and a merchant after. We visited the temples, where Inchie taught me to appreciate the difference between a degenerate Buddha and a perfect Buddha, a difference so subtle as to be quite indistinguishable to the alien. Gradually, bit by bit, as I grew to know him better, this little merchant's true nature revealed itself to me. I began to see the man apart from the merchant, and he proved himself to be a great artist. Here in England we should call him a distinguished genius, and undoubtedly there are scores of equally brilliant men in Japan.
I have indeed no reason to believe that there are any men in Japan who are not brilliant, considering that here, the first man I had met, an ordinary little merchant in a hotel for Europeans, was an artist. Every day we wandered about the streets trying to discover the best operators in metal, wood, and bronze to work for me; and in a very short time we had gathered together a bevy of excellent associates, each thoroughly proficient in his own particular direction.
Inchie and I talked out our plans during our many walks through Uyeno Park and down the theatre streets, and we came to the conclusion that this Japanese house of mine should be a house of flowers. Each room should be some individual and beautiful flower--such as the peony, the camelia, the cherry-blossom, the chrysanthemum,--and, just as a flower begins simply at the base, expanding as it reaches the top into a full-blown bloom, so my rooms should begin with simple one-coloured walls and carpets, becoming richer and richer as they mounted up, ending as they reached the ceiling in a perfect blaze of detail.
SWINGING ALONG IN THE SUN
That was my dream; but, unlike most dreams, it was realised to the full and far beyond my widest expectations. I first of all turned my attention towards the wood-carvers; and, discovering that each man had his favourite flower, which he manipulated more skilfully than any other, I arranged that he should work solely on that particular species. Having found three or four men who had a special fancy for the peony, I allowed them to occupy themselves entirely in the peony room. I gave them the exact measurement of the ceiling, squaring it out into a certain number of panels, with complete measurements of the doors, the frieze, and every portion of the room, allowing them to give bent to their own artistic instincts as to colour and design. These drawings were then handed over to the wood-carvers, to be pasted on to wood panels and carved. In a very short time every workman in Inchie's store, and every artist too, became enthusiastically interested in this work that they were undertaking. In fact, it was not work to them at all, but one long artistic joy. So much rubbishy bric-a-brac has to be made for the European market that when a Japanese is allowed to go his own way and create self-imagined beautiful things, it is an untold personal pleasure to him.
I never saw a body of men work together so unselfishly as these. The metal-workers in the peony room went on in sympathy with the wood-carvers from the cherry-blossom hall; the screen-makers were interested in the proceedings of the fan-makers; and the designers were interested in them all. Each individual operative was zealously interested in the success of the results as a whole; and the end is that my house now looks like the product of one man, or rather of one master. It was a revelation to me, after my experience of British workmen, to see the way these little Jap fellows toiled. How they would talk and plan out schemes of decoration for me among themselves, studying peony flowers, for instance, in some celebrated temple garden in order to introduce a new and more natural feeling into their wooden ones; and then the joy with which they would think out every little detail, flying round to my hotel at all times of the day to inform me of some new departure, surprised and pleased me greatly.
These men were all brilliant craftsmen and designers, creating work that could not be surpassed in Italy or anywhere else for beauty. Yet the bulk of them were poorly fed, receiving only sevenpence or eightpence a day. Too poor to buy meat, they lived on rice and on the heads and tails of fish twice a week, being unable to afford that which was between.
But although the Japanese workman is very poorly paid, it must also be remembered that his necessities are few and simple. This is roughly the way a workman in Japan lives. He has one meal of rice per day, of the poorest quality, which costs him two sen eight rin. A sen is a tenth part of a penny, and a rin a tenth part of a sen. For a mat to sleep on at night he pays one sen five rin. Three sen he pays for fish or the insides of fowls. Drinking-water costs him two rin, while two rin per day pays for the priest. The total cost of his daily living thus sums up into about five sen three rin. Then, as to be buried at the public expense is considered a deep disgrace, forty sen is always put on one side for the purchase of a coffin, seventy-five sen if the gentleman wishes to be cremated, twenty sen for refreshments for mourners, five rin for flowers, three sen for the fees of the two priests, while, to economise, a Japanese of the lower grade will generally make use of friends as bearers.
Apropos of the absurdly small price at which a man can live in Japan, I am reminded of an experience in Kioto. I was walking down the theatre streets one day with a Japanese friend, and we stopped in front of a little stall full of very dainty toys. There were thousands of toys--miniature kitchen utensils exquisitely carved in wood, small pots and pans and dishes, all bound with lacquer and beautifully finished, such as would delight the heart of every housewife of my acquaintance. I asked the stall-holder, a little stolid old man, through the interpretation of my friend, how much he would sell his entire stock for. His excitement was intense, and my friend told me that my simple question had had the effect of an avalanche upon this stolid little toy-seller, and that he was quite unable to grasp my meaning, so startling and gigantic did the transaction seem to him. After a great deal of gesticulation, and much flicking of the beads on his counting machine, the little man came to the conclusion that his entire stock would be worth two yen thirty sen. This ridiculous price quite took my breath away, and I immediately said that I would buy the lot. Then there was another commotion: the little man was thoroughly upset, and could not understand what I meant. In the end I made him carry away his stall bodily and follow me with it to my hotel. I paid him the money, and he quickly disappeared. "You won't see that little gentleman in theatre street again in a hurry," my friend said: "he will be living in luxury now for a week or more on that two dollar thirty sen, and he certainly won't dream of doing any more work until he has spent the lot." Sure enough, I never saw the stolid toy-seller again during the whole of my stay in Kioto, which stretched over more than a month. But although the coolie and the workman in Japan live on next to nothing, the rich man spends very lavishly. If he entertains you, he gives you a dinner which, although you seldom appreciate its splendid qualities (for it does not appeal to the Western palate), is, from the Japanese standpoint, truly regal. There will be four or five different kinds of fish, some of which will be specimens of great value; and a dinner given at a Japanese tea-house by a merchant to a European friend would cost more than the most expensive dinner it is possible to procure at the Carlton or at the Savoy.
My men flourished on the heads and tails of fish, and did splendid service. Day by day the decorations for my house grew, as one worker after another was added to the little band. One man recommended another, and gradually the number increased, until at last there were as many as seventy working for me Inchie was my help, my interpreter, my foreman. At first there were many difficulties in the way, for Inchie's knowledge of English was limited, and my knowledge of Japanese was none at all. It thus arose that the only method of making him understand me was pantomime. One day, while discussing a certain measurement, we became so involved that I was determined to demonstrate my meaning. So I borrowed the carpenter's tools and constructed a little model of the house, with its different rooms, showing how the carved ceilings and friezes should be placed. Inchie was astounded that I should have so great a knowledge of his own particular work of carpentry, and respected me the more accordingly.
My one great obstacle with the men was in persuading them to make several things alike. They were all artists and hated repeating themselves, and without rhyme or reason I would suddenly find that they had made a red lacquer door twice the size of its fellow by way of variety. When I first employed them I made the grave mistake with my workers of ordering large quantities at a time of required materials. I actually ordered a hundred electric-light fittings--fairy-like lamps daintily wrought in bronze, of which they had made me a model--but they refused me point-blank, and the only way to get them at all was by asking a dozen at a time, and by arranging that each dozen should be varied in some slight respect. It was the same with my picture frames. They were to be a combination of wood and silk, and when I told the master bronze-worker to make me two hundred of them for my next exhibition in London, his face clouded over; he was thoroughly displeased. "No can make," he said decisively: "there is berry much difficulty. Much it cost to make; I must get big shops to do that; I no likee." The little man was quite discouraged, and I was only able to procure my frames by degrees.
Now, in England it would be quite the reverse--the larger the order, the more contented the merchant; but in Japan everything is made by hand. The men take an artistic interest in the work. They hate repeating themselves; and in all the panels designed for my carved ceilings there were not two alike, although the entire design formed a complete whole. Why in the world we do not use Oriental labour in Europe is a marvel to me.
IN THEATRE STREET
Nothing that these Japanese workmen made for me at the rate of sevenpence or eightpence a day can be approached in London for love or money. I had some gold screens made for me in Japan. They were very beautiful, and were made of gold on silk varnished over and lacquered, with apple-green and vermilion silk borders made from the linings of old dancing dresses. These screens were so brilliant that they were like gold mirrors in which a lady might see her reflection just as accurately as in any Parisian cheval glass. In the passage to England one of the screens became slightly damaged. I was greatly distressed, and took it to a celebrated firm of house-decorators to have it repaired. They undertook the task very confidently; but directly they attempted to match the gold they found that it was impossible to approach to anything like the brilliancy of its surface, although every conceivable method was attempted. They tried putting on gold and then burnishing and varnishing it over to imitate the surface of the lacquer. The result was that, to the present day, that screen stands in my hall with the same dull, sullied patch in the middle of it, a silent testimony to the inferiority of the British house-decorator as compared with his Japanese contemporary.
Little Inchie and I, as I have said, soon became great friends. He followed me about wherever I went, and I often lingered in his store, watching him sell curios to English people and British merchants from Kobe. It was often a revelation to observe the subtlety of the man and the masterly way in which he handled these inquiring visitors. He seemed to divine their inner-most thoughts, and to know at a glance exactly what they wanted, and the prices that they would be likely to pay. After a time I learnt the price of nearly every curio in his store. There was never a fixed value for anything: Inchie was always led by his customer. Perhaps an American and his wife would come in, the man saying nothing, the wife remarking on everything. It was, they said, all "beautiful." I noticed that little Inchie was not at all enthusiastic, merely answering their questions, but not attempting to sell. He would not waste an ounce of energy on them, and after a time they would sweep out of the place, the lady gushing to the last moment and saying how beautiful and exquisite everything was. Directly they had gone I would ask Inchie why he had not worked harder to try and sell them something. "Gentleman and lady not got big pocket," he would say. How in the world he knew that they had but little money puzzled me. "Lady berry much talk--American lady always berry much talk. She say 'This curio number one,' but never buy. English daimio lady come to my store no berry much talk; English gentleman no big pocket. When she leave my store I say, 'Me presentie you.'" What little Inchie means by this is that he feels that this English lady is refined and really admires his beautiful things, but cannot afford to buy them. He appreciates her delicacy, and, in his quaint pidgin English, begs to be allowed the privilege of giving her this little inexpensive trifle to take away.
Very often, when I was spending a morning in Inchie's little curio store, a Kobe merchant would drop in to buy--a pompous fellow and burly, asking the price of everything he saw. "How much is this? and how much is that?" he would say, and "What do you suppose you'd charge for that?" Inchie would look up at the merchant and blink with almost a scared expression, so meek was it. The merchant, like the great bully that he was, feeling satisfied that he was cowing the little man, would pick up a piece of ivory and say, "How much?" "Four dollars," answers Inchie. "Very dear," replies the merchant sternly. Then Inchie would pick up another piece of ivory, putting away the former, and say with a scared expression, as though the merchant had frightened him down, "I charge two dollars for this." "I will give you one and a half dollar," urges the merchant. And little Inchie, puckering his brow and in a melancholy voice, says, "I takee," the merchant going off highly delighted, convinced that he has been robbing all round.
Immediately after he had left the store, the change in Inchie was extraordinary. He was no longer meek and melancholy, but gleeful and triumphant, and longing to tell me what had happened. "The merchant from Kobe he berry much cheat, that man," he said, with a chuckle. "I show him number one curio, I ask him number one cheap price, and he say, 'Berry de-ar.' Then I show him no number one curio and ask him more double price. He say, 'I no pay that; I give half that.' He take away curio at half that price, and that very good for me. I make more money like that than when I sell good curio." Then Inchie explained how very easy it is to deceive the average traveller. He does not stand a chance against the Japanese merchant, and half the collections of curios ticketed and placed in museums in England as fine and unique specimens are in reality worthless imitations.
The really fine productions never leave the country at all. Westerners visiting Japan expect to secure fine works of art by paying a small sum for them; but it cannot possibly be done. In that country they know the value of productions, and will not easily part with them. Inchie, becoming very serious and natural, would give me a little lecture on the absurdity of Westerners coming to Japan expecting to buy really fine old curios and pictures at a small price, when no Japanese would part with them for any consideration. "A man," he said, "will come from your country who thinks he understands Japan because he has read some books about it, and has seen some examples of bad art in England. That man has no eyes--he can't see the really beautiful things. He comes to buy the old kakemono. He won't buy the new kakemono by the good man that lives now. He no understand if it good or bad; but it must be old. Well, we make him the old one;" and here Inchie gave me an exact description of how they make the old kakemonos. They first begin by making the paper look old, and every producer has his several methods of bringing about age. This is how Inchie does it. He has eight various stains in eight separate baths, in which he puts his paper, holding the two opposite corners and dashing it from one bath to another in one quick, dexterous sweep. Then the paper is left to dry, and out of about one hundred sheets stained in this way, in all probability only a dozen will be found sufficiently perfect to deceive the buyer. That is the beginning of the manufacture of an imitation old kakemono to be sold to the European connoisseur for hundreds of dollars, afterwards to find its resting-place in some celebrated museum.
MAKING UP ACCOUNTS
What chance has a European against a genius like this? and how can he detect deception in objects that have been the result of such minute care and consideration? The Japanese can imitate postage stamps so accurately that the only hope of discovering a fraud lies in analysing the gum at the back of a stamp. When we stain paper in coffee or beer to give it the effect of age, we consider that we have gone far in the art of imposition; but in this direction, as in many others, we are mere babies compared with the Japanese.
"But then, Inchie," I said, in reply to his statement that it was child's play to deceive the Westerner, "you too are sometimes deceived by us. I know of a gentleman in England who brought over to Japan a large collection of modern porcelain of English manufacture, and by clever handling he imposed the whole lot on an artist at Osaka in exchange for some rare old Satsuma." Then I enlarged on the hardship of the story. I explained how the Englishman had persuaded the Osaka painter to give up all the rare old Satsuma that he had collected during the course of a lifetime in exchange for this valueless English porcelain, remarking that it was wrong and almost cruel to take such a mean advantage of the poor Osaka merchant. "And what do you say to that for a clever fraud, Inchie?" I asked. Inchie only held his sides and laughed. At last he said, "Oh, he berry number one clever man, that at Osaka"; for, it seemed, he knew all about the Englishman and his porcelain, and also about the Satsuma. The painter, indeed, was known all over Japan by his clever imitations of old Satsuma, and it was also generally known that he had given this English gentleman a collection of imitations that he had painted himself in exchange for the English porcelain, which was interesting to him to study. The person to be pitied in Inchie's estimation was the biter bit; and he was "number one sorry for that Englishman."
Whenever any one fresh arrived in Tokio--young, old, pretty, or plain--I always sent him or her to Inchie's store to buy curios. Such streams of people besieged him, all so different and some so quaint, that, although they were good for trade, Inchie was very uncertain as to whether they were good for me, and was anxious to have the matter cleared up. "You have many friends," he would say, eyeing me suspiciously.
At length the crisis was reached which broke down the barriers of Inchie's reserve and thoroughly upset him, in the shape of a fair bulbous woman, who was a terror! I was sitting in the reading-room of the hotel one day, believing that I was alone, when a twangy voice broke in upon the silence. "Just fancy, he shot himself for love of me," mentioning a name in Yokohama. "Really," I observed, feeling embarrassed (he must have been mad, I thought). "Yes; he blew his brains out. Have a drink?" she went on, in an exuberance of generosity. I said, "I think not." She replied that if I would not she would, and she did. She wanted to buy curios. I at once suggested Inchie, which was a happy inspiration. Inchie came round, and I left them in the reading-room together discussing cloisonné umbrella handles. My companion was lost to me for three full days, being wholly occupied with the fair visitant. He turned up at last, but in a state of fever, his eyes sparkling and blinking indignantly. He handed me a letter that he had just written to his latest customer, my friend the bulbous fair, who had left for Shanghai that day. "You order me much porcelain; you order me many curios; I no can send. I think you better go porcelain Yokohama. Much cheaper you get Yokohama, more number one," Inchie's letter ran. "Yes; but, Inchie," I remonstrated, "why won't you serve her? She's a good customer for you." He was violent with rage. "I no like the lady," he said; "she no daimio lady. Tea-house lady, I think, with tea-coloured hair. She received me with not a proper dress on; she smoke and drink. I no want to serve lady like that. She no friend of yours?" he added, eagerly looking into my face with his piercing little eyes. "No, no, Inchie! of course not," I replied, for I wasn't going to claim her. "Ah, I thought she no friend of yours," and Inchie smiled, while I felt that I was respected once more and entered into his good graces--it turned out for ever.
"Now, Inchie," I said to him one day, "I want to get a good porcelain man, the best in Tokio. Can you manage it?" There was nothing, so far as I knew, that Inchie could not manage, so that in a very short time he had found a little man, a pupil of the most eminent porcelain maker in Tokio, also celebrated for his remarkable glazes, who had just started a business of his own. We drove round to his store to ask him if he would undertake the painting of a dinner-service, and do other things for me. He was a young man, this particular painter, but with the face of a very old one, careworn and haggard, quite an enthusiast, full of interest in his art, and a craftsman of the highest order. When he found that I too was in the same ranks, his sympathies were aroused, and he devoted a whole month solely to the firing and painting of my porcelain. After a time I began to understand the man and his processes. He brought out little bits of choice Chinese-blue porcelain to show me. Whenever there was to be a three-days' firing he would come round to my hotel and inform me of it. Altogether he developed into quite a friend, almost to the dethronement of Inchie. He allowed me to sit among the men while they worked, and, seeing how interested I was, they gave me some clay to model and paint. I ended by painting a whole dinner-service in blue and white. It took me a week to do; but it was perhaps one of the most delightful experiences I have ever had, and I can safely say that I have never worked in a more congenial atmosphere than when sitting on a mat in that little porcelain shop surrounded by those twelve little artists. I shall never forget the anxious moments when my products were being fired. Sometimes I have gone on for twelve or fourteen hours, eating and resting with the men, taking my turn at keeping the furnace alight, and hanging about after the kilns had cooled to see my valuable porcelain dug out.
A BACK CANAL, OSAKA
Nothing can be more exciting than the first peep at porcelain after it has been fired. A mass of dead heavy-looking clay is put into the furnace and fired; you peep at it after some hours, and find, to your surprise, a rare paradise of glazed white and blue, so brilliant and sparkling that it seems almost impossible to have been made by mortal hands. But then, of course, it is not always so delightful; there are sometimes vexing surprises awaiting you as you open the oven door. Occasionally you will peep in and see a group of vases looking like drunken men lolling against one another in a disreputable manner, and lurching over at all angles. Surrounded by a series of failures such as these, the finest work is almost invariably found. Although the vases have all been painted by the same hand and fired in the same kiln, only one will be perfect, while the rest are worthless. This is probably brought about by some subtle influence to be found in the placing of the vase in the kiln. There is, however, a great deal of uncertainty in such operations, and it is almost impossible to foretell the fate of any piece of ware after it has been set in the firing kiln.
Inchie and I spent much of our time with the bronze-workers, and it amused me to see these artists carrying out designs for the European market, while to hear their comments upon the crude productions of Englishmen was sometimes very funny indeed.
The men who were thus engaged were at the same time carrying out exquisite work for me. They complained that the European market insisted upon everything being over-elaborated and very showy, and at the same time very old. This combination is quite impossible. The old Japanese bronze work was always very simple in design, depending for its beauty, not upon the flowery decorations surrounding it, but upon the exquisite proportions of the piece itself. To create the aged appearance necessary in the eyes of the faddy European, the bronzes have to be buried in the earth--in a special kind of earth--for a few days; after which they are dug up and sold to connoisseurs and English people, who are by way of understanding works of art, for fabulous sums.
I had occasion to employ many embroiderers; and here, as in every other branch of Japanese art work, I received a series of "eye-openers." Hitherto I had been envious of the many fine old bits of embroidery and temple hangings shown me by the different globe-trotters staying at the hotel. They had all come upon their treasures in some lucky and unexpected manner. By much good fortune every man had secured his own special piece of embroidery, and each by clever manipulation had outwitted the dealer from whom he had managed to wrest this one old temple hanging. But when I went to headquarters, and began to employ the men who actually made the fabric, my envy vanished. I soon found that none of these coveted treasures was old at all. Such large pieces of embroidery are not used in temples, nor have they ever been; they are quite modern introductions, and have been brought about simply to attract and make money out of the credulous strangers. I have spent hour after hour with the embroiderers, watching them manipulate old temple hangings, and have seen them when the task was over wash on gold stains with base metal. Here and there a few little touches would be of real gold, and it was all done so cleverly that none but a Jap could possibly detect that they were modern.
It is almost a depressing sight to watch these embroiderers at work--so different are they from the happy boisterous metal-workers talking and laughing amid the clanging of their little hammers. They are sad and silent. You will be in a roomful of these people for perhaps a whole morning, and not one of them will utter a word. They work on and on, with heads bent down, picking up thread after thread of the one piece of embroidery that they have been constantly working on for months, or perhaps for years. Never a word nor a smile; each peering into his own special work with painful red eyes, on which are large bone-rimmed spectacles. They all, as a rule, lose their sight early in thus poring incessantly over this difficult and dainty work.
I ordered several pieces of cotton crêpe of a certain design that I had drawn myself, and it was during the execution of this commission that I was brought into touch with the stencil-workers and dyers of the country. Stencil-cutting is one of the most beautiful arts imaginable. To see the stencil-workers cutting fantastic designs from the hard polished cardboard beneath their instruments--so delicate that it is like the tracery of a spider's web in its tenuity--is a sight that one never forgets. Some of the designs are so cobweb-like that single human hairs are used in parts to keep them from breaking to pieces.
Dyeing is also an art that is brought to a high degree of perfection in Japan. Sometimes an elaborate design will need such a large number of plates and colours, as well as finishing touches by the hand of the operator, that in the end it looks almost like a water-colour, so closely do the colours mingle one with another.
Then there were the carpenters, and here a whole series of surprises awaited me. For example, I found that the teeth of their saws were set in what may be called the opposite direction, and that therefore, when a man pulled his instrument towards him, it cut the wood, rather than when he pushed. In this, as in everything else, the Japanese are perfectly right. One always has more strength to pull than to push, and with this method you are enabled to use saws made of such thin metal that if their teeth were set in the opposite direction they must needs cockle and break. When a carpenter wants to plane some tiny piece of wood, perhaps a portion of a miniature doll's house, he does not run a small plane over it, as we do, but uses a large heavy one, very sharp, and turned upside-down. In this way very delicate work can be achieved.
All the Japanese tools are designed with a view to their special fitness. The chisels work in a totally different way from that of our chisels, and lend themselves more readily to delicate work. As to their little wood-carving tools, they are perfect joys! I shall never forget the expressions on the faces of my British workmen as they unpacked the cases of goods that arrived from Japan, and came across saws as thin as tissue paper with their teeth set the wrong way; tiny chisels that almost broke as they handled them; hammers the size of a lady's hat-pin. My foreman's face was a study of disgusted contempt. "Now, how can a man turn out decent work with tools like that?" he exclaimed, looking round appealingly. And it did seem impossible. But not one of them complained when they came across the actual work accomplished by these ridiculously small instruments. The carpenters were loud in their admiration for the wood-carving, and the foreman merely sniffed. He knew that he himself could not approach it. And this was soon clearly proved, for if ever my hands tried to do a bit of patching it was always a failure. All their joining was as child's play when compared with this Japanese triumph.
There was a man in Osaka, a perfect genius in wood-carving--the king of carpenters. People journeyed from long distances to pay their respects to him, and he was the most independent person I ever saw in my life. He never dreamt of undertaking service for people unless they appreciated it and understood its value. Very rich Americans have tried to persuade him to engage for them; but, as he always demanded that would-be purchasers should be capable of appreciating his work as that of an accomplished artist, they rarely ever succeeded. Nearly all this man's work is done for his own people at a very low price, and Japanese wood-carvers are continually taking pilgrimages to see him and to buy specimens of his productions. He always demands to know what is going to become of them, and where they are going to be placed, before consenting to part with them. I had the wit not to ask him to sell anything to me, nor to execute anything for me, but simply admired his work as that of a unique artist.
Most prominent among the toilers of Japan are the workers in lacquer, clean and dainty beyond description, with whom a great portion of my time was taken up. The climate of the country is exactly suited to the making of lacquer, being sufficiently damp. The process is unusually elaborate, and is a tedious matter of painting on a very large number of coats of lacquer, rubbing them down always, and allowing them to dry. When we think of lacquer here in England, we think of it in connection with our tea-trays and like cheap goods which we complain of as being made of bad material that chips and breaks and becomes useless in a distressingly short space of time. "The Japanese have lost the art of creating the fine old lacquer that they used formerly," we say. But it is not so at all; it is purely a question of time. If the Japanese were allowed sufficient leisure, and were not rushed on so by the requirements of the European market, they would be able to turn out just as fine and just as durable lacquer as they did in the days when they worked for the love of their work alone for purchase by their fellow-countrymen. Practical proof of this can be found in the fact that all the doors in my London house, which are composed of the best lacquer, twenty or thirty coats thick, and have been in constant use for years, are still in perfect condition, and will be two hundred years hence. One has no idea before going to Japan of the extensive range of colours in the way of greens, blues, and reds that there is in lacquer, for most of the colours are entirely unknown in the West. There is undoubtedly no surface in the world that is as clear and as brilliant as lacquer, and I have often thought how advantageous it would be if one could only lacquer pictures over instead of varnishing them; it would give to the poorest work a brilliancy and crispness that would be simply invaluable. But this brilliant surface is only brought about by excessive care and cleanliness in its preparation--indeed, it needs almost as much attention as the making of a collotype plate.
I was anxious to get some really good cloisonné workers to make some things for me, and by very good luck I hit upon a man who had just discovered an entirely new method of handling gold. Coming across one of his samples at an exhibition in Tokio, I ferreted him out and persuaded him to engage for me. His cloisonné, unlike the ordinary slate-grey work that one must needs peer closely into before discovering its fine qualities, was bold in design, with flower patterns of cherry-blossom just traceable through a fine lacework of gold, and it looked like a brilliant rainbow-hued bubble. One is much inclined to fancy that cloisonné vases with elaborate designs must necessarily be expensive. That, however, is not the case. There are technical obstacles connected with making broad sweeps of colour in cloisonné that render simple designs much more expensive. Japan is the only place in the world that is capable of producing cloisonné, for the patience and skill required would overtax the workers of any other country, and such an attempt would necessarily end in failure. A cloisonné shop is every bit as depressing as the embroidery works. You will see men picking up on the end of their tiny instruments gold wire, which is so microscopic as to be like a grain of dust, and almost as invisible. This tiny morsel has to be placed on the metal vase and fixed there.
A CLOISONNÉ WORKER
Talking of the delicate and exquisite tools used by cloisonné workers reminds me of tools that are just as delicate, but used for quite another purpose--namely, those which the Japanese dentists handle so dexterously. However, the stock-in-trade of a Japanese dentist chiefly consists of the proper use of his finger and thumb. The most strongly-rooted tooth invariably gives way to this instrument. A Japanese dentist has only to apply his fingers to a tooth, and out that tooth comes on the instant. It is sometimes very amusing to see a group of dentists' assistants, all mere children, practising their trade by endeavouring to pull nails out of a board, beginning with tin tacks and ending with nails which are more firmly rooted than the real teeth themselves.
When I had gathered my team together by the help of my right-hand ally, Inchie, after having chosen the best of them from every branch of art, they continued to go on well and assiduously, and the decorations of my house were in full swing, when suddenly there was a break, a distinct break. I went round to the store early one lovely morning in May, as was my habit, and found, to my surprise, that the whole place was empty. Not a metal-worker or carpenter was to be seen. They had all mysteriously disappeared--where? To view the cherry-blossom! Inchie also, whom I had relied upon as a good steady colleague, had, on the first opportunity, and without any warning, drifted away into the open air with the whole band to view the blossom. The Japanese workmen, who are skilled, and want examples from Nature, evidently adhere to the principle that "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," and so, whether I liked it or not, when such a glorious day had presented itself, they were not going to miss the opportunity of enjoying it. It was a holiday, or rather the sunshine had declared it to be a holiday, and all Japan, rich and poor, employers and employed, had turned out to picnic in the parks, and feast their eyes upon the cherry-blossom. So universal was the holiday, and so persistently did Inchie implore that I should join them, that I soon found myself sitting under the trees in Uyeno Park, surrounded by my deserters, enjoying things as well as any one of them there.
It was on this day, out of the pure joy of the idea, that Inchie proposed to give me a real Japanese dinner, and at the same time show me some of the fine old classical dances of Japan. I remember that night so well! Inchie invited three other Japanese friends, and we all went down into the basement with rod and line, or, to be exact, with a net, to catch our own fish for dinner. It was to me novel sport chasing those lazy old goldfish round the tank. I secured a monster, which beat Inchie's out and out for size. Inchie was in splendid form on this occasion; it was a field-night for him, and he was quite at his best. He was an enormous eater; he ate anything you chose to give him, and he enjoyed the dinner that followed our half-hour spent below stairs, I must confess, far more than I did. For although the repast was of the very best quality, it was after all Japanese, which statement speaks for itself, as every one knows that Japanese food does not by any means commend itself to the British palate. There was our just-caught fish cooked with bamboo, meat of different sorts, and many varieties in the soup character, some of which were not bad. As for the Sake, it tasted like bad sherry; but it had a most exhilarating effect on Inchie, and in a very short time produced in him a most natural and joyous frame of mind which enabled me to see a side of his disposition that under ordinary conditions would never have come to the surface. One of the courses of this dinner of dinners was a chicken, provided out of deference to my European tastes, and Inchie carved it. It was a muscular bird; but Inchie carved it with a pair of large chopsticks as I have never seen a chicken carved before in any part of the globe. Not even Joseph of the Savoy with his flourish of fork and knife in mid-air could compete with Inchie and his pair of wooden chopsticks. No knives nor fingers were used; but the whole was limbed, cut up, and served in less than the period that Joseph would take in his skilled dexterity.
I remarked upon his skill in handling the chopsticks, and Inchie at once suggested that we should all have a competition to see who could pick up the greatest amount of peas with chopsticks in the shortest possible time. Each was given a lacquer tray with carefully numbered green peas, cold and cooked--the number according to the proficiency of the player. Inchie's plate was loaded; the guests and geishas had a fair amount; but I had only three, and the aim was to pick them up one by one and put them into our mouths, the competitor whose plate was empty first being declared the winner. We started, and I was so intent on the manipulation of my three green peas that I was only conscious of a whirl of hands, never having noticed that the rest had finished their pile before I had picked up my second pea. I never undertook such a task before, nor ever will again. The discouragement of it was final. My first pea, after no little exertion and much sleight of hand, I had raised to my lips on the points of the chopsticks, when just at the critical moment it abruptly left its moorings, went like a shot from a catapult across the room, and settled itself on the lap of one of the geishas, who was thereby promptly put out of the contest. I do not know what happened to the second pea, much less of the fate of the third; all I remember is that I came in a very bad last in the chopstick competition.
A SWEET-STUFF STALL
What with the Sake, the competition, and the dinner, Inchie became more and more brilliant, until at last an idea sparkled out that was worthy of his distinction. I was to have a piece of wood-carving in my London house that should be as it were the eye of the peacock--the first ever made in Japan! We should go to Osaka together, he remarked, the very next day, choose a great piece of wood 8 or 9 feet in length, 3 feet broad, and about 6 inches through, and have it carved in the most beautiful and magnificent chrysanthemum pattern ever seen--for the hall was of chrysanthemums. His eyes sparkled as he said, "You are going to have berry number one house; must have one big number one piece chrysanthemum carving--better than any other carving, better than temple carving." The Sake passed round, the geishas danced, and Inchie talked, while with every cup he grew brighter and brighter, and his eyes sparkled like jewels. I was beginning to see the real Inchie. Was this really the little man, the laughing-stock of the hotel, bullied and sworn at by every one? He talked of Hookosai, who, he asserted, was not the great master that he is universally considered to be in Europe. Hookosai was too realistic; many other artists were far finer. Yet another cup of Sake was passed round and drained. "I will demonstrate some Hookosai pictures," said little Inchie, in a tone of suppressed excitement; and, stepping behind a screen as he spoke, reappeared almost immediately with a handkerchief rolled round his head and his kimono tucked up, posing in the attitude of one of the most celebrated of Hookosai's pictures. Twenty or thirty pictures were represented, and in each he was a different man merely by changing the muscles of his face. Never have I seen such acting in my life; he was like a gallery of Hookosai's pictures rolled into one, with all their queer exaggeration.
More Sake was drunk, and later in the evening Inchie became so excited that, in order to work off his condition, he made the remarkable proposal that he should show me a devil dance. When he emerged from behind the screen, the geishas were frightened and drew back in alarm; for he was no longer the gentle little monkey merchant, but a real devil. As for the dancing, I never saw anything so superbly fine! It almost took my breath away. He seemed almost superhuman, an ethereal creature.
The evening ended up in the usual way. Next morning Inchie came round to my hotel, sat down on a chair looking amazingly sheepish, and blinked solemnly at me. "Well, what's up now, Inchie?" I inquired, seeing that he had something to say. "Berry number one bad night last night, Sir," moaned Inchie with a shake of his head. "I no want you to tell people I do the devil dance last night. They no understand and berry much talk. Please, I beg you not tell!" And poor little Inchie went about for days with a drooping head, looking the picture of misery. But in my opinion, he had no reason to be ashamed of his conduct; he had shown himself to be a versatile genius. He had acted as I never before have seen a man act; he had also danced as I have never seen a man dance; and he had drunk as I have never seen a man drink without becoming badly affected. Nevertheless, this was the man who had allowed himself, and was allowing himself, to be sworn at, bullied, and even kicked by the common sorts and by the vulgar globe-trotters.
The day following the night of the never-to-be-forgotten dinner, Inchie and I went, as we had intended, to Osaka to choose a fine and sufficiently well-seasoned piece of wood for this famous and all-important wood-carving, the eye of the peacock. I think we must have visited every timber-yard in Osaka in search of a fitting plank, and it was too funny to see the way Inchie would crawl over a piece of wood, like the small monkey that he was, scratching, rubbing, picking it with his nail, and even putting his tongue upon it to test its quality. At last a plank was found that was declared to be "berry number one," and the great undertaking, the work of carving it, began. Five men were at work on it for five months. And now that it is completed and fixed in my chrysanthemum hall, it is a triumph! It is a joy--it is a possession! At the same time, when we were in Osaka, Inchie was struck with another brilliant idea. I must have a gong, he said, a superb gong; and as Inchie himself had once been a metal-worker, he was an excellent judge of gongs and undertook to choose one for me. Before that day I had no notion that there could be such a vast difference in gongs. We went to about twenty or thirty stores in Osaka, at each of which several gongs were produced for our inspection. And Inchie bounded about the shop like a cat or a leopard, from one corner of the room to the other, crouching down on the ground with his hand over his ear, striking each in turn, and listening to its vibration. "No berry good that," he would whisper to me, and then, talking charmingly to the merchant,--for Inchie was always charming--he would bow himself gracefully out of the shop. At each store in turn the same thing happened, until at last we reached a shop which seemed to me still more improbable than the rest, for it was a dirty little hole of a place, with no such thing as a gong in sight. In reply to our usual question the proprietor dived into a tangled bit of garden at the back, and presently reappeared with an old rusty gong, very thin with age and use and exposure to all weathers, and looking not worth twopence. Inchie struck it, and the expression on his face was extraordinary as he looked round at me. The tone was superb. This was the gong of gongs! "That berry number one," he exclaimed in a stage whisper. We secured the gong for a few cents. "Big-pockety man no berry clever, I think," remarked Inchie pensively.
It was on the day of my last visit to his store before sailing for England, and Inchie was very sad, very earnest, and very anxious to give me the best possible advice as to what to do in the way of selling when I arrived at my "store," as he termed it, in England. "When big-pocket man come to Japan, every merchant know, and all wait for him," said Inchie, by way of demonstrating to me how very easy it was to entrap a rich man into buying one's goods. Inchie also told me the following story of how two big-pockety men once fared at the hands of a very subtle merchant. He was a Tokio merchant, and directly he heard of their probable arrival he sent experienced guides to almost every port in Japan to waylay these arrivals. They were eventually caught at Kobe, and were led all over Japan by a remarkably efficient guide, in due course reaching Tokio. After visiting many curio stores they were safely landed at the store of the master exactor. Then the trickery developed. The merchant began to flatter and compliment the richer of the two, and knowing that they were anxious to buy gold lacquer he said: "You are a great connoisseur on gold lacquer, I believe. They tell me that you have a quick eye for fine work, and I have heard much of your appreciation of Japanese art." The big-pockety man was thus won over into a limp and restful condition, for no one can flatter to such good advantage as the Japanese.
A CANAL IN OSAKA
Meantime the guide was walking about the shop with his mouth wide open and looking silly. He was there to protect the two men, and the keenest observer could never have guessed that he was in reality the agent of this merchant. "I want your guide to take you round to all the gold lacquer shops you can, for I know that that is what you appreciate and love so much. After you have seen all that the merchants can show you, come back to me and see what you think of my specimens." All this time he was toying with a little insignificant-looking gold lacquer tray, turning it about under the rich man's very nose in such a way that he was bound to notice it. "We Japanese are so clever, you know, and we are such good imitators of lacquer that even I, a Japanese, am liable at times to be misled by some of the deceptions. But," continued the merchant in an off-hand manner, "there is one sure test of real gold lacquer, and that is the fire test." So saying he carelessly lit a match and allowed it to play all over the gold lacquer tray; then quietly and without any demonstration he handed it to the rich man and begged him to observe that it was not harmed in any way, taking it for granted that he, the rich man, naturally knew of the fire test.
The big-pocket man puckered his fat brow critically--he really knew nothing about it--and rubbed his greasy palm over the surface of the lacquer. The difference between the hands of the two men was a characteristic study--one big and flabby, the other slim and sinuous with fingers that almost turned back in their energy. After examining the tray closely the visitor admitted that it was in truth untouched. The master exactor smiled, and, like the rogue he was, never referred to it again. The two rich men went away with their guide and visited half a dozen other stores in Tokio, trying the fire test on all the gold lacquer they could find, with disastrous consequences.
UMBRELLAS AND COMMERCE
They had to pay for damages wherever they went, and wherever they went the merchants were indignant, for real gold lacquer, as every one knows, will not stand such treatment unless it happens to be a flat tray. But the rich men only chuckled at their superior knowledge and paid the damages without a murmur. Then they went back to the store of the evil prompter and did exactly as he expected they would do; they bought ten thousand pounds' worth of gold lacquer, all of which was "berry number one imitation gold lacquer," as Inchie remarked. "Well, but, Inchie, I couldn't treat people like that." I told the little man "I shouldn't know how." "But I will show you how to sell," quoth Inchie: "I show you how to sell two-cent blue porcelain pot in your store for two hundred dollars to big-pockety man"; whereupon Inchie proceeded to give me a lesson in the art of selling. He first brought out a nest of six lacquer boxes that fitted one into the other; then he held up the two-cent porcelain pot,--and the way he handled it made it already begin to appear valuable in my eyes. I truly believe that Inchie could stroke out a piece of newspaper and make it seem as rare as a bank-note. Then this little genius wrapped the worthless blue porcelain in yellow silk, and placed it in the smallest lacquer box, which with its lid he secured inside a larger box, and so on until the entire six boxes and their lids encased his gem. Placing it upon the table, he began to explain how I should sell it, and in order to describe the subtlety of the transaction I must give it in Inchie's own words: "Big-pockety man come your store in England and he say, 'Mr. Menpes, you bought number one curio in Japan?' You say, 'No buy curio in Japan,' but you talk much to him of all the beautiful things you see in Japan. After a time you look on the ground and think--much you show you think. Big-pockety man look at you and he no talk. You look up quick and you say, 'Oh, number one curio I buy Japan, I remember!' He say, 'Please show me curio.' 'Never I show curio,' you tell him. 'I buy number one curio, but I no want to show.' Then you talk to him about Japan, all the streets and the theatres you see in Japan; but all the time he talk of curio--'I ber-ry much want to see,' he say. You say, 'You friend, you number one friend? Very well, I show.'" After having thus given way you must go upstairs and look for the curio, and--Inchie laid a stress upon this last statement--"you must be a long time finding it. When you come back you place the large lacquer box containing the five smaller boxes and the Buddha's eye--the Holy of Holies--upon the table, and much you begin to talk about Japan, berry like American lady talk I think; you no talk to him then about porcelain. After much talk about beautiful blossom you take out one box; then you talk more and take out another box--gentleman he ber-ry much want to see. When you come to final piecee box he berry much excited, and when you take out the porcelain and yellow silk you berry berry quiet--no artistic to talk now. Then you drop the corners of the silk and look at the porcelain. You no talk, big-pockety man no talk; he no understand this--berry funny. Somebody must talk, all quiet; you rest long time no talk, and big-pockety man say, 'Berry much number one curio that I think--how much you sell?' You say, 'I no sell. Berry much money that costee me Japan, much ricksha, much hotel. Number one Chinese porcelain that. Number one glaze. I no sell,'" And to cut the story short I must explain that "the big-pockety man"--that is the millionaire--is by this time in a perfect fever to possess my priceless blue porcelain, and, Inchie says, here I must weaken, and after asking him if he is "daimio gentleman number one," I must allow him to buy my two-cent vase for two hundred dollars.
In giving me this important lesson in the art of selling, Inchie considered that he had shown me the truest mark of friendship, and that he had given me the most valuable present in his power, and far more useful than any jewel could be.
Towards the end of the work, when the house was nearly completed, and I had entertained mentally almost every friend I knew, and had missed nothing from the door-mat to the red lacquer soup-bowls on the dining-room table, I suddenly remembered the door-knocker. There was no door-knocker! I immediately interviewed Inchie and asked him to help me to design a door-knocker. Seeing that the only doors they have in Japan are sliding ones made of tissue paper, it was some time before Inchie could comprehend my meaning. "I no understand why you want to knock at the door. Very funny that!" he said. I explained that in England it was necessary to have very strong doors which one could not leave open lest people should come in and steal. He blinked his little eyes and looked up at me intelligently: "I understand!" he exclaimed, "berry number one bad Chinaman come and steal." "No," I said, "not Chinaman, but Englishman." "I no understand," he repeated. After much pantomime and talk I at last conveyed to him a fairly good idea of what was needed in the way of a door-knocker, and sent him home to work out some suitable design. Three days after he came back carrying under his arm a huge roll of drawings, which he proceeded to unfold on the floor. A glance was enough to show me that the little fellow had not got hold of the kind of door-knocker I required, and I watched him with a limp and hopeless feeling. "Go on, Inchie: explain it," I said. He was in very good condition this morning--pleased with himself and the world in general, and more especially with his door-knocker design. Drawing in his breath with a little satisfied hiss, he began: "Now, you see, you first put on the door a large chrysanthemum in bronze," and Inchie went through the performance in pantomime. "In the centre of this chrysanthemum a rod of steel must be fixed five inches in length. Suspended from the rod of steel must be a silk cord about five inches in length, and attached to the cord a marble about the size of a child's playing marble. Underneath the large chrysanthemum, and in line with the marble, should be placed another chrysanthemum with a miniature gong in the centre three-quarters of an inch in diameter." "Wait a bit, Inchie," I cried, for this description was too much for me--I must digest it more slowly. I pictured to myself the strings of children that pass and repass my house in Cadogan Gardens on their way to and from school, and their feelings concerning this small metal ball waving in the soft wind of a summer's afternoon on its apple-green cord. It would be too gorgeous an attraction by far! No child could have the heart to destroy so rare a thing at once, it would be far too great a joy; they would save it at least until their return journey from school before even touching it. Seeing that the small man was becoming a little offended, I said, "Fire away, Inchie,--what next?" "Well, when you come home after dinner, you take the marble and hold it five inches from the gong. You shut one eye and take aim; then you let go, and he goes ping! ping! and gentleman he come and open the door." "No, he doesn't, Inchie," I shouted: "you're wrong there--the gentleman doesn't open the door." "I no understand," said little Inchie, his face falling,--"why he no open the door?" "Because," I explained, "when you come home late at night after dinner you must have very sure habits of taking aim in order to strike that miniature gong three-quarters of an inch in diameter." Inchie looked up at me with bright pathetic little eyes, and said, "Berry fine daimio door-knocker this, and it is not difficult for you to strike. I no understand!" Then I took him on one side, not wanting to hurt his feelings, and explained to him how almost impossible it would be for a man coming home after dinner, having walked hurriedly and all that, to take aim at his miniature gong. "You told me you could shoot a rifle," was Inchie's reply. After that there was no more to be said, for I realised that one must necessarily be a rifle shot before you could get home at nights.
The last I ever saw of poor little Inchie was when he came on board the P. and O. steamer at Yokohama to see me off on my journey to England. The authorities would not allow him to lunch with me in the saloon, and the poor little fellow, who was far more refined and certainly had far more intelligence than any one on board, captain and officers included, was compelled to eat his luncheon standing up in the steward's pantry, which hurt his feelings terribly. The only figure that I seemed to see in the mist that enwrapped Yokohama wharf was poor little Inchie standing there in his blue kimono and quaint bowler hat, watching me with eager blinking eyes that had a suspicion of moisture about them, and lips that twitched slightly; and the last thing I heard was, "I think when you go to England you send me berry many letters--often you send me." And I felt as the steamer moved away that I had lost a good and a true friend.
When the decorations for my house arrived in London, the next and all important question to be considered was how to put them up. Everything was finished and ready to fix in its place without nails, and the only thing left to be completed by the British workmen was the slight wooden beams and square framework in which the carved panels were to be fixed. I secured five or six good workmen, and literally taught them how to handle this material, but it took them two years to put up what my Japanese craftsmen had produced in one year. It was all straightforward clean design, and there was no artistic effort needed for it; but the obstacle was that they always struggled to make the woodwork a little thicker than necessary. Their inclinations were always to strengthen things, and it took a great deal of perseverance and patience to uproot their fixed ideas. Then I had a great deal of trouble with the painters. At first they almost refused to put distemper on my walls. Strings upon strings of painters I was compelled to dismiss because they would persist in putting what they called "body" into the paint. Sometimes they would slip it in behind my back; but I always detected it and dismissed the men on the instant. It was the only way. "Well, I've been in the trade for thirty years and I've always used body"--they all said that, and every workman I have ever employed, or is yet to be employed, always says the same. No matter how young or how old they may be, they have always been in the trade for thirty years. One painter I educated sufficiently to allow of him going so far against his principles as to leave out "body," but when I ordered him to mix oil and water by beating them together in a tub he declined and left. The only men whom I was able to persuade to do this for me were my foreman and one of the carpenters. The foreman was a very intelligent little man, whom I had educated to such an extent that his views of life and of workmen in general were entirely changed. He sneered at them, and was altogether so won over to my ideas that I am afraid I totally destroyed him for any other work. The painter, on the other hand, had no intelligence at all, but was equally devoted, and I feel quite sure that those two poor operatives are drifting about now doing anything but their respective trades of carpentry and painting. They undertook the beating of the oil and water very energetically, and kept it up for days, relieved occasionally by the caretaker. Eventually the oil did mix, and the experiment was a great success. Towards the end of their training these men became so accustomed to looking at things, if not feeling them, from the decorative standpoint, that it was no unusual occurrence to overhear such remarks as the following. The foreman would say to his pal as he caught sight of the reflection of his grimy face in a mirror: "I say, Bill, my flesh tone looks well against this lemon yellow, don't it?" or "I suppose I must start and wash off this toney"--toney meaning dirt, but to call it dirt would be to their enlightened minds vulgar in the extreme. Everything with them was "tone."
A few days before they left for good I overheard a conversation between Bill and his mate, who had begun to feel the hopelessness of attempting work of a different nature. "What shall we do, Bill, when this blooming job's over?" said the foreman. "I suppose we shall go a-'opping!" replied Bill. It was then just about the hopping season.