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Emory Women Writers Resource Project

A Japanese Blossom, an electronic edition

by Onoto Watanna [Watanna, Onoto, 1879-1954]

date: 1906
source publisher: Harper & Brothers
collection: Genre Fiction

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WHEN the little Kurukawa family started for the shopping district the streets were bathed in the beautiful early winter sun. In a city where the distances are very great, where large parks and actual stretches of bare country exist in seemingly the centre of the town and where the streets zigzag in every direction, it is a matter often of hours to reach certain points. But the children enjoyed the long ride. They would have laughed aloud at the average foreigner's complaint against the "jerking jinrikisha." What child does not prefer a vehicle that bumps | | 167 page image : 167     A JAPANESE BLOSSOM up and down a bit to one that runs inanely and smoothly?

Taro and Billy occupied one jinrikisha, Marion and Plum Blossom another, while Iris rode with her mother. They called across merrily to each other. When one runner, swifter-footed for the moment than his fellows, sped on ahead, the pair in advance would cheer in delight.

The speed with which the jinriki-men ran, Billy thought wonderful.

"They would beat anybody at our Sunday-school picnic races," he told Taro.

It would be great fun, suggested Taro, if some time they could come to Tokio alone and apprentice themselves to jinriki-men. Then they would learn to run! The suggestion thrilled Billy. He saw in it glowing possibilities of easily earned | | 168 page image : 168     A JAPANESE BLOSSOM money; the opportunity to own a jinrikisha and learn to run like the wind. But, then, how would they be soldiers? Certainly their military ambitions came first.

At the end of two hours' running they drew up before a tea-house which stood within a little park of its own. Smiling and bowing the jinriki-men suggested that their patrons must be thirsty, as they, the runners, were. Would they not condescend to refresh themselves with tea and sweetmeats? The suggestion went to the hearts of the children. They had no idea how hungry they were, and so "mother" smilingly nodded to the little, begging faces. In a few moments they were within the teahouse. At that season of the year the tea-house is not well patronized, but as it was close to the noon hour, a number of Japanese business-men | | 169 page image : 169     A JAPANESE BLOSSOM sat at the various tables eating their luncheon.

A maiden with roguish black eyes came running over to the Kurukawas to help the children into their seats. Her rosy mouth slipped open as she saw that her visitors, despite their dress, were not all Japanese. For a moment she stood perfectly still staring at Marion, but when Mrs. Kurukawa addressed her she slipped to her knees, bowed very deeply, and inquired what they might command her to bring.

All of them wanted tea and sweetmeats except Billy, who insisted upon having a piece of rare steak with fried onions. When Taro translated this astonishing order the little maid shook her head and laughingly declared that they were too poor a house to serve such extraordinary luxuries.

| | 170 page image : 170     A JAPANESE BLOSSOM

"Well," said Billy, crossly, "I'm tired of rice-cakes and sweet things. I want something else. Do you keep chop-suey?" It was a dish he liked very much, having become acquainted with it through a Chinese cook lately employed. The little maid thought she might bring something resembling chop-suey. So she sped away to fill the orders. Soon she was back, followed by another maid carrying the luncheon on black lacquer trays. The omelets ordered by Mrs. Kurukawa were served in the most attractive shapes. Each omelet was formed in a different pattern, as a chrysanthemum, a twig of pine-tree, a plum blossom.

"They're too pretty to eat," said Marion, looking with delight at the flower form before her.

Billy's chop-suey was a chicken-stew, to which had been added

Illustration from Watanna's Japanese Blossom.
| | 171 page image : 171     A JAPANESE BLOSSOM mushrooms. As they ate the meal the little waitress brought her samisen, and, running her fingers lightly across it, she began to first play and then to sing:

"Oh, the soldiers march away,
See them march away.
The maids at home must stay,
Hush! do not weep, but pray,
Oh, the soldiers march away!
"Oh, how long now will they stay?
No one truth can say.
When soldiers march away,
List! often 'tis for aye,
Oh, the soldiers march away!"

Her queer little staccato voice felt mournfully at the end, and the samisen concluded her song in its lower keys.

Plum Blossom tried to explain to them what it was she sang, though both Billy and Marion now partially understood the language.

| | 172 page image : 172      A JAPANESE BLOSSOM

"The soldiers marching way, naever, naever come bag. All maidens must not cry, bud pray for them."

She threw a reproachful look at Marion, who had wept so often.

"Tell her to sing something happy," said Billy.

Mrs. Kurukawa addressed the girl, as she spoke Japanese with more than usual fluency.

"Whose songs do you sing?"

"My own, honored one."

"You make up your own songs?"

"Yes, gracious lady."

"The music, too?"

"Yes, augustness. By profession I am a geisha, but since the war our business is so poor we are obliged to become tea-waitresses also."

"And are geishas also poetesses and musicians?"

"Yes, gracious one. Shall I write my honorably foolish poetry for you, | | 173 page image : 173     A JAPANESE BLOSSOM and will you condescend to accept it?"

"I should be delighted. I should keep it always. But sing to us again."

She sang shrilly, to the high notes of her samisen:

"Look! the moon is peeping,
Little maid, take care!
Lovers trysts are keeping,
Little maid, take care!
"Lovers oft are weeping,
Little maid, take care!
When the moon is peeping,
Little maid, take care!
"Who is this comes creeping?
Little maid, take care!
Hah! the moon still peeping,
Little maid, take care!
"Oh, the heart upleaping!
Little maid, take care!
Lovers?--moon a-peeping!
No! It's brother there!
Little maid, take care!"
| | 174 page image : 174     A JAPANESE BLOSSOM

Still squatting on her heels, the little geisha-girl wrote her poems in Japanese characters for the American woman. Then bowing very deeply she presented them to her, saying sweetly:

"Two sen, highness, one sen for each poem."

Mrs. Kurukawa paid the price, and laughed as she did so.

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