AFTER Hanano had learned that the moon was a friend she could depend upon wherever she might travel, she became intensely interested in moon stories. I postponed telling her the legend of the white rabbit who is fated for all time to pound rice dough in a great wooden bowl, for it is his shadow which Japanese children see in every full moon; and I thought I would allow her to drift gradually from her idealization of the American legend. But I told her of our moon-gazing parties where families or groups of friends gather in some beautiful open spot and write poems praising the brilliant leaves of the moon vine which causes the glow of autumn that in America is called Indian summer.

We were sitting on the doorstep of the back parlour one evening, looking out across the porch at the moon sailing round and clear in a cloudless sky, and I told her how in Japan, on that very night, every house, from the palace of the Emperor to the hut of his humblest subject, would have on the porch or in the garden where it could catch the glow of the full moon a small table with fruits and vegetables—everything round—arranged in a certain manner, in honour of the goddess of the moon.

“Oh, how pretty!” cried Hanano. “I wish I could be there to see!”

There was the rustling of a newspaper behind us.

“Etsu,” called Matsuo, “there is some kind of a child’s story about that celebration. I remember once when my elder sister and I had been teasing our little sister, who was a timid child, that my aunt told us a story of gentle Lady Moon and naughty Rain and Wind who tried to spoil her pleasure on an August full-moon night.”

“Oh, tell me!” cried Hanano, clapping her hands and running to her father.

“I’m not much on stories,” said Matsuo, taking up his paper again, “but your mother will know it. Etsu, you tell it to her.”

So Hanano came back to the doorstep, and I tried to recall the half-forgotten story of


One pleasant evening in August the beautiful Lady Moon was sitting in front of her toilet stand. As she lifted the powder puff to clear and soften her bright colouring she said to herself:

“I must not disappoint the Earth people to-night. Of all the nights of the year they look forward to the ‘Honourable Fifteenth,’ for this is the time when my beauty is at the crown of its glory.”

Turning the mirror a trifle, she carefully arranged her fluffy collar.

“It seems a poor sort of life—to do just nothing but smile and look happy! But that is my only way to gladden the world, so to-night I will shine my brightest and best. And,” she added, as she peeped over the edge of her balcony and saw the Earth beneath, “after all, it is a pleasant duty—especially to-night!”

It was no wonder she smiled with pleasure, for the whole world was decorated in her honour. Every city and town, every little village, every lonely hut on the mountain-side, and every humble fisher cot on the shore had upon its porch or placed in front where it could be seen by the eye of the Lady Moon a tiny table laden with treasure balls. There were rice dumplings, chestnuts, potatoes, persimmons, peas, and plums, and, standing in their midst, two circular sake vases, holding, stiff and upright, their folded white papers. Everything had been carefully selected as being the nearest a perfect round in shape that could be obtained, for “round” is the symbol of perfection, and on this night only the very best of everything was considered worthy to be shown to the pure and perfect “Lady of the Sky.”

Mistress Rain, who lived near Lady Moon, peered through her misty windows with envious eyes. She saw the Earth houses decorated in honour of her neighbour, and caught the breath of the messages floating upward from the lips of young girls: “Great Mysterious! Make my heart as pure as the moonbeams and my life as perfect as the bright and round Lady Moon above!”

As Mistress Rain listened she swished her skirts so viciously that all the umbrellas which decorated them suddenly flew open, and she had to clutch them quickly to keep the water with which they were filled from spilling over the Earth. Even as it was, a shower of drops fell sparkling through the moonlight, and the Earth people looked up in surprise.

“I haven’t seen the like since last August,” continued the angry Mistress Rain. “Every flower vase on the earth appears to be filled with August moon-flowers, and all the porches are newly polished and spread with finest cushions, so the honourable aged ones may be seated where they can behold the glory of Lady Moon. It is not fair!”

There was another swish, and again a shower of rain drops went sparkling through the moonlight.

Just then the Wind god sailed by, holding tight in his hands the ends of his bag of breezes. Mistress Rain noticed the dark scowl on his brow, and called:

“Good evening, Kase no kami San! I am glad to see you passing this way. You look as if you are searching for unexpected work.”

The Wind god stopped and seated himself upon a cloud, still holding tight to the ends of the bag.

“Earth beings are the queerest of creatures!” he complained. “Lady Moon lives in the world of Sky, and so do we; yet they think only of her! She has an honourable title given to her, and not a single month of the year passes that the fifteenth day is not observed in her honour. Even on the third day, when she climbs out of her cellar, they welcome her face as she peeps over the wall with such joy that one would think they had never expected to see her again!”

“Yes, yes!” excitedly cried Mistress Rain, “and especially this August night! They always look with anxious eyes for fear that you or I may appear, although uninvited and unwelcome.”

“This August night!” exclaimed the Wind god with great scorn. “Yes, this very night I’d like to show those Earth creatures what I could do!”

“It would be such fun,” said sly Mistress Rain, “to go with a rush and upset all the things displayed in honour of Lady Moon.”

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” laughed the Wind god, so pleased with the idea that he loosened his hold on one end of the bag, and a sudden gust of wind swept through the sky, causing consternation among the Earth people.

Lady Moon was quietly and calmly smiling upon the world, her mind busy with gentle and unselfish thoughts, when the Wind god and Mistress Rain silently slipped behind the mountains and journeyed a long way so that they could come unexpectedly from the side of the sea. But Lady Moon saw them, and, sad and disappointed, she hid behind a curtain while her triumphant enemies swept on over the world.

Oh, it was a terrific whirl of angry Wind and Rain! On rushed the god, pushing his big bag before him with loosened ends, and close behind whirled Mistress Rain with a loud “swish!—swish!” as torrents of water poured from the hundreds of wide-open umbrellas on her skirts.

But, ah, what disappointment was theirs! The rollicking laugh of the Wind god, which had loosened for an instant his hold on the end of the bag, had been warning enough, even if the sharp-eyed Earth people had not seen the clouds of mist sweeping around the mountains. Every house was prepared for the storm. The beautiful little tables had disappeared, and the wild rushes of Wind and Rain were met by closed wooden doors. They howled and shrieked and darted and whirled until both were exhausted; then, with the god muttering and Mistress Rain weeping, they hurried across the valley to their homes.

When all was once more quiet the sorrowful Lady Moon lifted her head.

“My pleasure is spoiled!” she sighed. “The beautiful decorations of the Earth houses are now hidden, and the people have closed their eyes in sleep.”

Suddenly a brilliant smile spread over her face, and she said bravely:

“But I will do my duty! Even though no one sees me, I will smile my brightest and best!”

She pushed aside her curtain and looked down upon the world. Her gentle, unselfish sweetness received its reward, for all the doors of the Earth houses were open wide, and the people were gathered on the porches watching for her face. When it appeared songs of welcome floated upward.

“Oh, see the beautiful Lady Moon!” the voices cried. “Again she smiles upon us! After a storm she is always doubly beautiful, and all the world is doubly glad!”

“That’s a very moral story,” said Hanano thoughtfully. “I feel kind of sorry for Mr. Wind and Mrs. Rain, but I love Lady Moon. Let us fix a table like they have in Japan. Clara will give us the things and the moonshine is beautiful on our porch edge.”

“I have something just as good,” said Matsuo, starting for the stairway. “Wait a moment.”

He brought a small wooden box and put it on the table. It was a phonograph with records on spools of wax and with a little horn attached, into which we could talk and make records of our own voices. Matsuo was to start to Japan in a few days on a business trip and he had selected the phonograph as a gift for my mother, that it might carry to her the voice of her little granddaughter. We called Mother, and all of us had quite an exciting time watching Matsuo arrange the machine. Then he took his seat before it, with Hanano on his lap, and they had a rehearsal. Not until she began to prattle away in her sweet, childish English did it dawn upon us that her puzzled grandmother would not be able to understand a word that she said.

This made us realize what a little American we had in our Japanese nest, and brought directly before us one of the great problems of Japan.

“If our daughter were a boy,” Matsuo said that night, “we might have reason to look serious. I should not want to prepare my son to live in a country where, if capable, he would not be welcome to occupy the highest position his country has to offer its citizens.”

“Even for our daughter,” I replied, “there is no permanent place in this country; nor in Japan either, with only an American education.”

The result of this conversation was that when Matsuo returned from Japan he brought an entire set of school readers, from kindergarten to high school; also the five steps of articles for the Doll Festival. This festival is ages old and educational in character. Any one who understands it thoroughly has a nearly complete knowledge of Japanese folklore, history, customs, and ideals. Every girl has a doll festival set, and when she marries, takes it with her to her new home. The set Matsuo brought to Hanano was mine—the one which Brother objected to my bringing with me to America.

When the set came we all went out to the big, light carriage house, and after William had opened the rough board box, Matsuo and he carefully lifted out the smooth, various-sized whitewood boxes, each holding a doll. My eyes fell on a long, flat package wrapped in purple crêpe bearing the Inagaki crest.

“Why, Mother has sent the Komoro kamibina!” I cried in astonishment, lifting the package respectfully to my forehead.

“I thought all the Komoro dolls were gone except the two that you used to play with,” said Mother.

“The kamibina are different,” said Matsuo.

“Yes,” I said slowly, “the kamibina are different. They belong to the family. They can never be sold, or given away, or disposed of in any way. My mother must have had these put away for years—and now she has sent them to me.”

I was touched, for it brought forcibly before me the truth that I was the last of the “honourable inside” of the house of Inagaki. A doll festival set belonged to the daughter; the master of the house having no control over the home department.

No doll festival set, however elaborate, is complete without these two long, odd-shaped dolls. In olden time they were always of paper. Later, extravagant families sometimes made them of brocade or crêpe, but however rich the material, they were called paper dolls and were always folded in the same crude shape of the primitive originals. When the set is arranged for the celebration, these dolls have no fixed place, as all the others have, but may be put anywhere, except on the top shelf reserved for the Emperor and Empress.

The origin of the Doll Festival reaches back to the crude days of Shintoism. At that time a sinful person would seek purification by bathing in a stream. As time passed, and power or riches brought independent thought, it became customary for the lazy and the luxurious to send a substitute. Still later, an inanimate sacrifice in human form was considered satisfactory, and from anything near and dear as a part of one’s own self the two images were made. There were tiny wooden spools, two cocoons or simply shaped bunches of floss, the most valued possession of weaving villages; even crudely cut vegetables in farming districts. There were always two, supposed to be male and female, thus representing the entire family—both men and women members. Gradually, dolls rudely cut from paper—a precious material in those days—came to be universally used and were called kamibina which means “paper dolls.”

In time one fixed date was decided upon for universal atonement, and the “First Serpent Day of Spring” was chosen, because the time of the dragon’s change of skin is symbolic of the slipping from winter’s darkness of sin into the light and hope of spring. That date is the one still observed.

In the days of shogun power, when the Emperor was considered too sacred to be seen, this festival represented an annual visit from the invisible ruler to show his personal interest in his people; thus it encouraged loyalty to the loved and unseen Emperor. In feudal times, when, in the samurai class, a wife’s duties became those of her absent husband, and children were necessarily left to the care of high-bred attendants, this festival became, in those families, the only opportunity for girls to be trained in the domestic duties which were such an essential part of every Japanese girl’s education.

The lunar calendar advanced “First Serpent Day” to March 3d, and after Hanano’s set came, we celebrated that day each year just as it is done in Japan. Five steps were put up in the parlour and covered with red cloth. On these we arranged the miniature Emperor and Empress with court ladies, musicians, and various attendants. There were also doll furniture and household implements. On the lowest steps were tiny tables with food prepared by Hanano herself, with some help from me, and served by her to the playmates who were always invited to join her. And so “Third Day of Third Month” came to be looked forward to by Hanano’s little American friends just as it has been by little Japanese girls for almost a thousand years.

One of these celebrations, when Hanano was almost five years old, was an especially busy day for her, as, in addition to her duties as hostess, she received several telephone messages of congratulation, to which, with a feeling of great importance, she replied in person. Her happy day was made more so because her best friend, Susan, brought her little sister, a delicate-faced, golden-haired child who was just learning to walk. Hanano was a gracious hostess to all, but she was especially attentive to the dainty little toddler. That night when she was ready for her usual evening prayer she looked up at me very seriously.

“Mamma, may I say to God just what I please?” she asked.

“Yes, dear,” I replied, but I was startled when, from the little bowed figure with clasped hands, came a sudden, “Hello, God!”

I reached out my hand to check her. Then I remembered that I had always taught her to respect her father next to God, and that was the greeting she used to him when he was too far away to be seen. I softly withdrew my hand. Then again I was startled by the solemn little voice, whispering, “Please give me a little sister like Susan’s.”

I was too much surprised to speak, and she went on with “Now I lay me” to the end.

As I tucked her into bed I said, “How did you happen to ask God for a little sister, Hanano?”

“That’s how Susan got her sister,” she replied. “She prayed for her a long time, and now she’s here.”

I went away a little awed, for I knew her prayer would be answered.

The March festival was long past, and May almost gone, when one morning Hanano’s father told her that she had a little sister and led her into the room where the baby was. Hanano gazed with wide-open, astonished eyes upon black-haired, pink-faced little Chiyo. She said not a word but walked straight down the stairs to Grandma.

“I didn’t pray for that,” she told Mother, with a troubled look. “I wanted a baby with yellow hair like Susan’s little sister.”

Clara happened to be in the room, and with the freedom of an American servant, said, “Yellow hair on a Japanese baby would be a funny sight!” and burst out laughing.

“It’s not a Japanese baby!” Hanano indignantly cried. “I didn’t ask for a Japanese baby! I don’t want a Japanese baby!”

Mother took the child on her lap and told her how proud we all were to have two little Japanese girls in our home, and so brought a slow comfort to the disappointed little heart.

That afternoon Mother saw Hanano sitting a long time very quietly in front of the big mirror that stood between the two front windows of the parlour.

“What is it you see, dear?” Mother asked.

“I s’pose I’m a Japanese girl, too,” Hanano answered slowly. “I don’t look like Susan or Alice.”

She winked several times very fast, then, with a choking gulp, her loyalty to blue eyes and yellow hair succumbed to loyalty to love, and she added, “But Mamma is pretty! I’m going to be like her!” and climbed down from the chair.

No one can sound the depths of a child’s thoughts, but from that day Hanano developed an interest in Japanese things. Matsuo was fond of listening to her prattle and of playing with her, but she depended upon me for stories; and so, night after night, I would talk of our heroes and repeat to her the songs and fairy lore which had been part of my child life. Best of all she liked to have me talk of the pretty black-haired children—I always said they were pretty—who made chains of cherry blossoms or played games in a garden with a stone lantern and a curving bridge that spanned a pond set in the midst of flowers and tiny trees. I almost grew homesick as I painted these word pictures for her, or sat in the twilight singing a plaintive Japanese lullaby to the baby, while Hanano stood beside me, humming softly beneath her breath.

Was this sudden love for the land she had never seen an inheritance, or—for children sometimes seem to be uncannily endowed with insight—was it premonition?

One day the old familiar world ended for me, leaving me with memories—comforting ones and regretful ones—all closely wrapped in a whirl of anxious, frightened questioning, for no longer had I a husband or my children a father. Matsuo, with a last merry word and a sleepy smile, had quickly and painlessly slipped over the border into the old-new country beyond our ken.

And now, for my children and myself, nothing was left but farewells and a long, lonely journey. The country that had reached out so pleasant a welcome to me, that had so willingly pardoned my ignorance and my mistakes, the country where my children were born and where I had received kindness greater than words can express—this wonderful, busy, practical country had no need of, nor did it want, anything that I could give. It had been a broad, kindly, loving home for me and mine, but a place for the present only. It held no promise of usefulness for my growing children and had no need of my old age. And what is life if one can only learn, and of what one learns give nothing?

The past years were like a dream. From a land of misty, poetic ideas I had drifted through a puzzling tangle of practical deeds, gathering valuable thoughts as I floated easily along, and now—back to the land of mist and poesy. What was ahead of me? I wondered.


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Women's Autobiography Copyright © by dixonk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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