Notwithstanding the industrious habits
of the Japanese, they are great lovers of pleasure,
and much addicted to sight-seeing; theatres and wax-work
exhibitions are very numerous, and jugglers, top-spinners,
and tumblers, are regular habitues of the streets.
Though they do not allow pleasure
to come before business, they do not hesitate to associate
it with religious observances; and on solemn festival
occasions, the vicinity of even the most sacred temples
is occupied by a variety of shows and common stalls,
for the sale of sweetmeats, toys, and coloured pictures.
Their principal athletic amusement
is wrestling, which may he regarded as the national
game of the country. It is very generally practised,
and pairs of ‘brawny fellows’ are to be
frequently met with of an evening in the outskirts
of towns and villages, either crouched down in the
preliminary attitude, which resembles that of angry
fighting-cocks, or dragging one another to and fro
like frogs struggling over a choice morsel. The
game is necessarily a dragging and pulling one, its
grand object being to force the opponent beyond a
So popular is it, that in addition
to public performers, who travel about the country
exhibiting their prowess, the Daïmios keep private
bands: each district has some especial champion;
and every Japanese a favourite ‘smoo’
as they term the wrestlers, whose exploits are canvassed
with an enthusiasm totally at variance with the stolid
indifference which usually characterises the people,
when any subject is broached that does not directly
concern their ordinary vocations.
The professional wrestlers are generally
men of herculean proportions. From constant practice
they attain a muscular development that would eclipse
that of our prize-ring champions; but their paunchy
figures and sluggish movements render any further
comparison impossible, as they neither practise nor
appreciate what we call training. Size and weight
are prized more than activity in the limited arena
to which their performances are confined: so,
instead of walking down superabundant flesh, they
endeavour to increase it, dieting themselves on rice
and fish, which is far from productive of any Bantingite
result. The illustration of the Great Wrestling
Amphitheatre at Yeddo conveys a fair idea of the estimation
in which athletic games are held by the Japanese.
The enclosure is capable of containing several thousand
spectators, and is always filled when a match of importance
In the centre is the ‘docho,’
or ‘boundary-ring,’ which is about eighteen
feet in diameter. The game is generally decided
by one or other of the combatants being forced against
this boundary; for, although a fair throw counts,
it rarely decides the mastery, as the great weight
and the crouching position of the wrestlers necessitate
dragging, pushing, and even carrying; and the tenacity
of their grasp is such, that any other results are
The price of admission to these exhibitions
is very low; and, like everything else of a public
nature, is regulated by the government Officials are
appointed to superintend the arrangements, and to see
that no accidents arise from overcrowding. For
this purpose they are provided with a box that overlooks
the whole building.
The lofty scaffolding outside the
enclosure is a time stage, from which the commencement
and duration of each match are intimated to the audience
by a certain number of strokes on the drum that surmounts
Before each wrestling-match commences,
the ‘geogee,’ or ‘judge,’ who
superintends it, shouts out the names and exploits
of the contenders, who, after kowtowing very ceremoniously
to one another, rise to the preliminary attitude.
At a signal from the judge the combatants
commence. At first they move cautiously about
the centre of the ring, watching a favourable opportunity
to close, which they presently do with deep guttural
exclamations. Then great working of muscle and
tugging and straining follow, the spectators cheering
on their respective favourites, until the fall of
the geogee’s fan which is the moment
depicted by the artist proclaims the victor.
Thundering plaudits greet the hero
of the occasion, who presently strolls about among
the assembled multitude, attended by his ‘coegi,’
or ‘servant,’ who collects the offerings
with which they liberally reward his exertions.
When money fails, articles of clothing are frequently
bestowed and sometimes too freely, as it
is by no means unusual for both sexes to half denude
themselves at these exhibitions; and it is a favourite
joke with the women to send their male friends to
redeem the articles from the wrestler.
Although fencing is a military exercise,
it is so commonly practised by the Japanese ‘yaconinierie,’
or ‘soldiery,’ who comprise a large portion
of the population, and is entered into by them in so
spirited a manner, that it deserves to be classed
as an amusement.
The woodcut is a very faithful representation
of yaconins fencing. The masks cover the whole
of the head; and the arms, breast, and hips, are protected
by cuirass, petticoat, &c. of leather ribbed with bamboo.
The fencing sticks are of the same
length as the ‘obi-todee-auf-catana,’
or ‘great fighting-sword.’ They are
made of split canes, bound tightly together, and are
used with both hands.
The Japanese fence well, and deliver
their points with great precision, especially an awkward
downward thrust at the breast.
They deliver their cuts and points
with fierce guttural exclamations, which are peculiarly
disagreeable to European ears; especially when the
listener is located in the vicinity of a guard-house,
whose occupants notify their employment at daybreak
with such cries as ‘Hie-e! Ah-h! Atturah-h!’
(’That’s at! that’s into you!’)
and continue this information, accompanied by the
clashing of their sticks, and occasional chuckles,
until late in the afternoon.
The Japanese are great frequenters
of the theatres, of the interior of one of which the
illustration is a very good representation the
exterior is generally very like that of the temples;
and in some, the ground-floor is laid out with miniature
lakes and bridges, the audience looking down on the
performance from lateral and opposite galleries.
The stage is a little smaller than
ours, but sometimes has a promenade through the centre
of the theatre, which facilitates by-play, to which
the Japanese attach great importance. The body
of the house is divided into boxes, which are generally
taken by family parties, who bring their provisions
with them and remain all day, as the performances
begin about 10 A.M. and last until late in the evening.
Their plays are very tedious, although enlivened by
a good deal of smart repartee and telling jokes,
but the morality even of the most correct is very
questionable. Love, of course, is the prevailing
feature; and the adventures of the principal heroes
contain enough bloodshed and murder to satisfy the
most ardent admirer of sensation dramas. In their
hand-to-hand encounters they cut and slash at one
another with naked swords, which they manage very skilfully,
never permitting the blades to come into contact.
The female parts are performed by boys and young men,
who, with the assistance of paint and powder, make
admirable substitutes for women, though singing and
dancing-girls are frequently introduced as divertissements.
Kite-flying is also a favourite amusement;
and old age and childhood may frequently be seen side-by-side,
tugging at soaring monsters, in the construction of
which great ingenuity is displayed.
The Japanese often play with cards,
which are about a quarter of the size of ours; and
they are much given to gambling, although it is strictly
prohibited, and, when detected, severely punished.
But the most popular in-door game is & sort of combination
of draughts and chess, which frequently engrosses
the players for hours at a time.