Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

man, a writer of lucid sentences and also something of a poet. He encouraged us greatly in polishing our Japanese-Chinese composition. It was his custom to select the best composition from the class, on a given subject, copy it on the blackboard and point out before the class what elegant epithets could be substituted for vulgar ones. It was a pleasure with him to do this, whereas in mathematics he did not show much zeal. Above all, he inherited from his father the art of fine penmanship. His brother, too, had a well-formed hand quite like our teacher's; evidently it was a case of hereditary genius.

At times our beloved master voluntarily offered to recite to us records of famous battles and heroes that adorn the pages of Japanese history. He did this from the love of telling them; the boys were as fond of hearing as he was of telling. He had in hand no book to help him; the gallant exploits of the brave and handsome, the rescuing of the virtuous fair, the crash, dash and rush of horses, lances and swords he called up from memory and decked with his teeming imagination. On such an occasion his language was prolific, his voice modulated according to the shifting shades of the subject matter; in short, his whole man, heart and soul, went to the making of the story. His eyes and expression! they often told half his story. Many a time the bells surprised us at the midst of his soul-stirring recital, and suddenly called us back to the unromantic light of modern day and to the homely exercises of school. The stories were told to us serially, in the hours of intermission and

[ocr errors]

were a sort of optional course. They were so popular that very few were found playing about the grounds when the eloquent romancer proceeded in his narrative.

Yet he was not a man of weak indulgence toward the boys; his sense of duty was equally strong. If a youngster was seen undertaking to do anything naughty he would give him a stern look, his cheeks were inflated, his eyes showed the white plainly. The whole room was then silent as a tomb. But if a fun-loving fellow ventured, perhaps, to thrust out his little tongue roguishly or let out a giggle behind his hand, then the teacher irresistibly relaxed the corners of his mouth, and in another moment the hall rang with the hilarious laughter of reconciliation and good-fellowship.

Later I came under the instruction of different masters, but he it was who led me in infancy so carefully by the hand, as it were, to the first step of the ladder of knowledge, and he it will be who shall remain the longest in my memory.

At school the common mode of punishment was to let the culprit stand erect a whole hour together, facing his own class or a class in an adjoining room. Although no dunce-cap was on his head, a roomful of staring eyes struck a burning shame into his soul. Nevertheless, urchins there were who considered it a supreme delight to be taken off the troublesome exercises and carried to the next room on a visit, where they had made many acquaintances at a previous banishment. Indeed, they had become so inured to it that they thought nothing of it afterward.

Once the whole school, except a few good children, incurred the teachers' displeasure. I have forgotten what the offence was; all were prevented from going home after school and ordered to stand up till dark, each with a bowl full of water. There they stood like a regiment of begging saints with the bowls in the outstretched arms, which if they moved the water ran over the brim, and the delinquents would have been whipped. At first we thought it capital fun, because so many were in company to commiserate; we laughed aloud, bobbed and courtesied to the teachers in mockery; but in time we had to change our minds. The result of standing still like a statue began to tell upon us; our limbs began to ache and feel stiff; the jolliest member gave a cowardly sob; and the patient fellow in the corner, hitherto unnoticed, attracted public attention by dropping the burden. The china went to pieces. He blubbered out, as if that was sufficient apology. Through the intercession of some kindly folk we finally came home to supper and comfort.

We were continually threatened with another method of punishment, though I doubt if the teachers would have inflicted it on us. It was an intolerably cruel one: the offender was compelled to stand up with a lighted bundle of senkoes until it burned down close to his hand. The senko is a slender incense stick burned before the shrine of Buddha and of our ances rs, and manufactured by kneading a certain aromatic powder to a paste and squeezing it out into innumerable very slim, extremely fragile, brownish rods. When dry, these

are gathered into good-sized bundles and put in the market. A few cents will buy you more senkoes than you need. As the bundle burns away slowly -slowly to prolong the agony, the fire encroaches on the skin and the flesh. Unless the offender surrenders himself to the heartless will of his pedagogue he must suffer injury from the heat. This punishment was actually in practice in old days when the tyrannical masters had their way, but went out of fashion at the dawn of civilization.

Our teachers carried flexible sticks, which they played with while teaching, or used in pointing at the maps; they never whipped anybody with them to my knowledge; but in going their rounds among the pupils, if any were engaged in conversation or in any way inattentive, flogged the table before them in such a manner as to cause the poor fellows to jump into the air.

[ocr errors]


WHEN the close of a day called me home from school, and my father's work was done, a sense of contentment and repose brooded over our household. A vigorous scrub at a public bath often gave our tired bodies a renewed muscular tone. I accompanied my father to this resort; when I was very young, my mother carried me thither. The bath-house is a private establishment of its proprietor, and public in the sense that townspeople betake themselves to it without restraint. The charge is only a few mills for the adult, half the amount for the child and nothing for the suckling. If a number of checks (branded, flat pieces of wood) be purchased at one time, the average charge is still less. In Imabari, there are a dozen or more of these baths; they mostly occupy the corners of the streets like American drug stores. They are opened from late in the afternoon till late at night; on holidays accommodation baths are ready at early daybreak. As soon as a bath is in readiness, its keeper places a flag at the eaves, in the daytime, and a square, paper lantern after dusk. At the entrance is a stand, where you deposit your fare, and exchange a word on the weather with the keeper if you are neighborly. Advancing a

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »