FOR months after the baby came my entire life centred around that one small bit of humanity. Wherever I went, and no matter who came to see me, the conversation was sure to drift to her; and my letters to my mother held little else than the information that a few ounces had been added to the baby’s weight, or a new accent to the little cooings and gurglings, or that she had developed a dimple when she smiled. My mother must have seen the germ of a too-selfish love in my devotion; for one day I received from her a set of Buddhist picture-books which had belonged to Father’s library. How familiar and dear they looked! There were no stories—only pictures—but as I turned the pages, I could hear again the gentle voice of Honourable Grandmother and see the old tales acted before my mind as plainly as in the days of my childhood. Mother had marked some of the pages with a dot of vermilion. On one of these was a scene from “The Mount of Spears.” The story is of a favourite disciple of Buddha who grieved so bitterly over the loss of his beloved mother that the pitying Master exerted his holy power and took the sorrowing son to a place from which the mother could be seen. The disciple was horrified to behold his precious mother climbing painfully over a hilly path made of sharp spears.

“Oh, good Master,” he cried, “you have brought me to the ‘Hell of Seven Hills.’ Why is my mother here? She never, throughout her life, did a wicked deed.”

“But she had a wicked thought,” sadly the Buddha replied. “When you were a baby, her only care was for you, and one day when she saw a little field-mouse happily playing, she so longed to have its gray, silky tail for a cord to tie your holiday coat, that her wish was thought murder.”

I closed the book with a half-smile, for I understood at once the wordless warning of my gentle, anxious mother; but my heart was full of loving gratitude as I bowed respectfully in the direction of Japan and resolved that my love for my baby should make me more thoughtful and tender toward all the world.

One of the first callers the baby had was our faithful black laundress, Minty. She had been washing for Mother for years, and, when I came, she accepted the additional burden of my queer clothes with kind good nature. She had never spoken of them as being different from others, but several times I noticed her examining them with interest, especially my white foot mittens. These were made of cotton or silk, with the great toe separated, as is the thumb of a hand mitten. When she came upstairs to see the baby, the nurse was holding the little one on her lap, and Minty squatted down by her side and began talking baby talk, cooing and clucking in the most motherly fashion.

Presently she looked up.

“Can I see her feet?” she asked.

“Certainly,” said the nurse, turning up the baby’s long dress and cuddling the little pink feet in her hand. “My lawsy me!” cried Minty in a tone of the greatest astonishment. “If they ain’t jus’ like ourn!”

“Of course,” said the surprised nurse. “What did you think?”

“Why, the stockin’s is double,” said Minty, almost in a tone of awe, “and I s’posed they wuz two-toed folks.”

When the nurse told my husband he shouted with merriment and finally said, “Well, Minty has struck back for the whole European race and got even with Japan.”

The nurse was puzzled, but I knew very well what he meant. When I was a child it was a general belief among the common people of Japan that Europeans had feet like horses’ hoofs, because they wore leather bags on their feet instead of sandals. That is why one of our old-fashioned names for foreigners was “one-toed fellows.”

Neither Mother nor I knew much about the latest theories of taking care of babies; so I rocked Hanano to sleep with a lullaby. Whether or not it was the influence of the foreign atmosphere which so entirely surrounded me I do not know, but it seemed more natural for me to sing “Hush-a-bye, baby!” than the old Japanese lullaby that Ishi used to croon as she swayed back and forth with me snuggled comfortably against her back.

Baby, sleep! Baby, sleep!
Where has thy nurse gone?
She went far away to Grandmother’s home
Over the hills and valleys.
Soon she will bring to thee
Fish and red rice,
Fish and red rice.”

It was not the foreign atmosphere, however, that was responsible for the prayer with which, as soon as she was old enough to lisp it, Hanano was tucked into her little bed at night. That dates back to the memory-stone day when my wonderful “Tales of the Western Seas” came to me. In one of the thin volumes of tough paper tied with silk cord was a musical little poem that I committed to memory, all unknowing that years after I would teach it, clothed in strange, foreign words, to my own little child. It was—

Ware ima inentosu.
Waga Kami waga tamashii wo mamoritamae.
Moshi ware mesamezushite shinaba,
Shu yo! waga tamashii wo sukuetamae.
Kore, ware Shu no nani yorite negotokoro nari.

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
This I ask for Jesus’ sake.

There is a saying in Japan, “Only the fingers of a babe can tie a uniting knot that will pull two families together.” As the Japanese marriage is not an affair of individuals I had never applied the saying to Matsuo and myself, but one day some Mysterious Power twisted this bit of truth into an incident that played an unsuspected and important part in my life and in that of my husband.

Matsuo was a man who had always been vitally interested in his business. I think that, before the baby came, there had been nothing in his life to which it was second. He and I were very good friends, but we seldom talked freely to each other except in the presence of others. Indeed, we had no common topic of conversation; for he was interested in his own plans, and my mind was taken up with my home and my new friends. But from the day the baby came, everything was changed. Now we had many things to talk about, and for the first time I began to feel acquainted with my husband.

But always, deep in my heart, was the feeling that the baby was mine. I did not trace any likeness to Matsuo; nor did I want to. I do not mean that I objected to her resembling him, but that I never thought of her as really belonging to any one but myself and my own family.

One day when I was in the city I stopped for a few moments at my husband’s store. He happened to be busy and I waited in the office. His desk looked to me in great disorder, and right in front, in a wide pigeon-hole, was an odd thing to be in a cluttered-up office. It was a little lacquer box of exquisite workmanship and bearing a crest that is rarely seen outside a museum. I lifted the lid, and there, before my startled eyes, were three strange objects—a green paper whirligig, some little pieces of clay the baby’s fingers had pressed into crude shapes, and a collapsed balloon.

I stood still, my heart beating quickly; then I turned away, feeling as if I had taken an unbidden glance into the heart of a stranger. In that moment came the realization that there was another claim on my baby as tender and as strong as my own, and with a throb of remorse my heart turned toward my husband with a strange new feeling.

Among the strong influences in Hanano’s life were the frequent calls and unfailing kindness of our good friend Mrs. Wilson. She seldom came that she did not bring flowers for Mother, and on Easter and family anniversaries our parlours were bowers of bloom from her generous conservatory.

One day, when Hanano was about a year old, she was sitting on Mother’s lap by the window when she saw the familiar carriage coming up the driveway. It stopped and Mrs. Wilson stepped out. Glancing up and sees the baby she waved a white-gloved hand and smiled. The sun was shining on her stately figure in its gown of soft heliotrope shade, with flowers in her arms.

“Oh, oh!” cried the baby, joyfully clapping her hands. “Pretty Flower Lady! Pretty Flower Lady!”

Thus was she christened in the baby’s heart, and “Flower Lady” she has been to us all ever since. May the many blossoms which her generous hands have scattered far and wide bloom anew for her in all their symbolism of happiness and peace when she reaches the beautiful gardens across the river.

From the time when Hanano first recognized her father as a separate individual, he brought her toys, and she was no sooner toddling about and beginning to prattle than he spent most his leisure time in playing with her, carrying her about or even taking her to call on the neighbours.

One Sunday afternoon just after Matsuo had started off somewhere with her, Mother said: “I have never known a more devoted father than Matsuo. Are all Japanese men as unselfish with their children?”

“Why, I—don’t—know,” I replied slowly. “Aren’t American men fond of their children?”

“Oh, yes,” she answered quickly, “but Matsuo comes home early every evening to play with Hanano, and the other day he closed his store for the entire afternoon just to take her to the zoo.”

My mind went back to my father—and Mr. Toda—and other fathers; and suddenly I saw Japanese men in a new light. “They have no chance!” I thought, a little bitterly. “An American man can show his feelings without shame, but convention chains a Japanese man. It pulls a mask over his face, closes his lips, and numbs his actions. However a husband many feel toward his wife, he cannot in public show her affection, or even respect; nor does she wish him to. It is not good form. The only time a man of dignity dares betray his heart is when he is with a little child—either his own or another’s. Then he has the only outlet that etiquette allows; and even then he must guide his actions by rule. A father becomes his little son’s comrade. He wrestles with him, races with him, and acts with him scenes of samurai daring, but he love his little daughter with a great tenderness and accepts her gentle caresses with a heart hunger that is such pathos it is tragedy.

Matsuo was more demonstrative to me than would have been polite had we been living in Japan, but we both respected formality, and it was years before I realized how deep were his feelings for his family.

After that remark of Mother’s and the thoughts that it aroused I delayed Hanano’s bedtime, and she had many a romp with her father after the hour when children are supposed to be asleep. One moonlight evening I came down and found them running around the lawn, chasing each other and dodging this way and that, while Mother sat on the porch laughing and applauding. They were playing, “Shadow catch Shadow.”

“I used to play that on moonlight nights when I was a little girl,” I said

“Why, is there a moon in Japan?” asked Hanano in great surprise.

“This very same one,” her father replied. “Wherever you go, all your life, you will see it above you in the sky.”

“Then it walks with me,” said Hanano with satisfaction, “and when I go to Japan, God can see my Japanese grandma.”

Matsuo and I glanced at each other, a little puzzled. Hanano had always associated the Man in the Moon with the face of God, but I did not know until afterward that she had heard a lady who was calling on Mother that afternoon express regret that “beautiful Japan is a country without God.”

Hanano’s odd idea was somewhat startling, but it was a pleasant one to her and I did not correct it. “She will learn soon enough in this practical country,” I thought with a sigh. In Japan children are saved many a puzzling heartache, for most of our people retain sympathy for childish illusions even to old age; thus poetic fancies are less apt to be too suddenly shattered. Daily life over there is full of mystic thought. To the masses of people, nothing in the active life about us is more real than the unseen forces which people the earth and air; and no day passes that does not bring to almost everyone some suggestion of the presence of kindly spirits. Most of the gods we look upon as friendly comrades, and the simple duties we owe them we perform with calm and pleasant feelings of gratitude and courtesy. There is little fear of penalty for neglect other than humiliation for a lack of politeness, which weighs a good deal with a Japanese. The house shrines remind us that relatives are watching over us, and we show our appreciation with incense and prayer. The fire goddess is the helpful ruler of the kitchen, whose thanks are the slender ends of a weave of cloth hung beside the kitchen fire-box. The goodly god of rice asks that we keep the fire beneath the rice-kettle free from rubbish. The water goddess, who blesses the streams and rivers, demands that the wells be clean. The seven gods of fortune—Industry, Wealth, Wisdom, Strength, Beauty, Happiness, and Long Life—are seen everywhere and always greeted with a smiling welcome; and the two especially honoured by tradesmen, Industry and Wealth, are perched on a prominent shelf in every store, from which their faces look down, giving to the master the comfortable assurance that friends are near. The hideous gods beside temple doors are not hideous to us, for they are the fierce watch-dogs who protect us from danger, and the gods of the air—Thunder, Wind, and Rain—are guardians for our good. Above all these lesser gods the Sun goddess, ancestress of our Imperial line, watches over the entire land with kindly, helpful light.

These various gods are a confused mixture of Shinto and Buddhist; for the religion of the masses vaguely combines both beliefs. As a rule this is not a religion of fear, although the evil spirits of the hells, if seriously accepted as pictured in ancient Buddhist books, are fearful indeed; but even they allow two days in each year when the repentant may climb to a higher plane. Thus, to the Japanese, even the sad and puzzling path of transmigration, into which unconscious footsteps so often wander, leads at last, after the long period of helplessness and gloom, to a final hope.

Buddhism, on its ages-long journey from India to Japan, seems to have dropped many of its original elements of terror; or else they were softened and lost in the goodly company of our jolly and helpful Shinto gods. Not one of these do we dread, for, in Shintoism, even Death is only a floating cloud through which we pass on our journey in the sunshine of Nature’s eternal life.

Our man-made laws of convention have had more power in moulding the lives of the people and have left a more lasting stamp on their souls than have our gods. Our complex religion arouses the interest of the intellectual, and it teaches genuine resignation; but it does not guide the ignorant with a comprehending wisdom, nor does it give to the brooding and the sorrowful the immediate comfort of cheerfulness and hope that comes with a belief in the peasant priest of Nazareth.


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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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