Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

The ceremony of ablution is chiefly observed by Shinto priests. (Shinto is the native faith, holding up the sun for the center figure of worship and eight millions of spirits besides.) The way they observe it in my province consists in setting up in the temple-yard three large hoops of the sasaki tree (sacred to Shintoism) and inviting the people to pass through them. The hoops are supposed to take up the people's sins and transgressions, leaving them clean and fit for the further grace of the gods. Thus loaded with the earthly corruptions and loathsome pollutions of man, the round bands of the fresh, green trees, thickly stuck with zigzag white paper hangings, at the end of the day are taken to running water and washed thoroughly or more commonly committed to the sea.

At about the same time Buddhist priests hold mass for dead sinners. The different sects have different notions. My family were formerly parishioners to a temple of the Hokké sect; therefore, I best remember the mass as observed by that particular denomination. The church society and its officers meet in the vestry to take action in the preparation of floating lanterns. These are hasty, rude contrivances which the active of the parishioners volunteer in getting up; it does not require much skill in carpentry to make them, but it takes time to make so many. Look at one: an odd piece of board for the bottom, two split bamboos bent and stuck on it like the handle of a basket one across the other, and a hood of paper glued round the whole; a nail in the center holds a penny

[ocr errors]

candle. All very inartistic indeed, as befits their use, as we shall see presently.

On the mass day all about the temple are strung up an untold number of the lanterns. Now, devout old folks and young come in streams all day to put up prayers for their beloved dead, and those so inclined buy the lanterns for the purpose of lighting the way for the departed. The goods when paid for are handed over by the presiding elders, who have charge of the sale, to the priest and assistant priests; they write sûtra verses on them and order them to be left before the altar. If business is good, by the latter part of the evening the entire stock is disposed of; the till rattles with money, and the priests are in good cheer. Then follows a great chanting and beating of drums, and after prayers have been said once for all, the lanterns are put on board several boats and the drums and cymbals also carried to enliven the next scene; the priests and committee walk down to the shore slowly. Things being placed aright, out they pull on the heaving sea-the incoming tide having been looked to beforehand, so that at high tide the lighted lanterns may be set afloat and go drifting at their will with the falling flood.

Ah, they are gone, the skiffs! We discern them no more. I want you to understand that it is a dark night, otherwise my picture isn't so good, although in point of fact the moon does often chance to look up on the occasion. And the moonlight on the swelling tide is not very bad, I acknowledge, yet, you see, I wish to preserve the grand

[ocr errors][merged small]


effect of " 'fire and darkness." So, pray, reader, indulge my fancy this time; I won't always ask this. Well, it's a dark night then: as the boats slip out of our sight we can hear the lapping noise that comes of their swaying from side to side caused by the queer Japanese mode of sculling. Ere long we cease to hear it; the vessels are well out in the obscurity. Do we not see anything of them? Not quite. The lights they convey show us their whereabouts. We are all this while on shore, mind you. The onset of water seems to take uncommon delight in driving us up, chuckling to itself along the beach, until at last we are crowded into a narrow strip of sand with the rest of the spectators. There! it's up to the high-watermark; we won't be annoyed any longer. Let's sit down.

While we watch, ten thousand points of light dot the expanse; no finer illumination, I for one, ever expect to see on earth; and soon there blazes out a great ruddy flame from the chief priest's boat, amid the confused echoes of prayers on all the vessels. That is the end of it, friends; sit still and look on, if you choose,-many indeed do so-and observe the lights recede and drift away, or die out. Of these some never return and are believed to have gone where they were bidden, others and a majority, to be frank with you, are washed ashore next morning shattered into fragments.


It is wonderful how the memory brings up, as I write, ten thousand irrelevant trivialities,-delightful to me, nevertheless,-many of which have no claim to be placed here, except that they are more or less related to the temple. Verily, the faculty of memory is a godsent gift, a boon of solitary hours.

Our temple was the nearest to the sea of the row on Temple street, which I referred to in the earlier portion of this sketch. The head-priest was an amiable, gentle person, very learned they say, though giving no indication of being such. He did his duty, to be sure, in sermons, but never cared much to distinguish himself in eloquence; he would rather read or entertain visitors in the quiet of his tastefully upholstered zashiki (guest room), sipping the excellent Uji tea and viewing the artistic beds of chrysanthemum laid out with great formality. He cultivated exquisite flowers; the slender stems bent under the large flaunting heads, and the priest-gardener took pity and provided them with firm props; he was as attached to them as a father to his children. If a storm by night passed over them and he discovered them in the morning sagged, matted, and drenched with rain, his compassion knew no bounds.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

It must be confessed that at times his fine taste shaded into squeamishness; he could not help being captious about his servitor's slipshod management of business, and yet extremely averse was he to giving his own opinion utterance, always turning aside in silent disgust. He suffered little children, however, nay, loved them; he took quite a fancy to me, calling me pet names, gladdening me on my visits with goodies and a bunch of chrysanthemum flowers from his garden, and always sending me home safely by a boy-priest. This last, found vegetating in almost every temple, is a young lad of poor parentage sent thither to be taken care of out of charity. The specimen I found here was a poor boy, hence happy; he was sure of dinner now and more full of fun than well became his cloth.

Once he frightened me half to death. It happened in this way: I accompanied some one of my relatives to our family burying ground in the temple yard, on the eve of the annual memorial day for the dead, when every family sends a delegate to the tombs and invites the spirits home. The delegate delivers the oral message with profound respect and formality, bowing low to the ground before the ancestral tombstones as in an august presence. Then he turns about and asks the invisible to get on his back, secures him with both hands behind and gravely walks homeward. At home, in the yard on a bed of sand taken from the sea-shore a fire is built of flax stems, according to religious custom. This is called the "reception fire." The spirits are next requested to alight carefully at the

[ocr errors]
« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »