The Boy Travelers - Japan and China by Thomas W. Knox The Boy Travelers by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 9: Asakusa—First National Fair at Tokyo

All around the shrine of the temple there were prayers fastened, wherever there was a place for fastening them. On the left of the altar there was a large lattice, and this lattice had hundreds of prayers attached to it, some of them folded and others open. Several old men and women were leaning against this lattice, or kneeled on the floor in front of it, engaged in selling prayers, and they appeared to be doing a thriving business. The boys bought some of these prayers to send home as curiosities, and they also bought some charms and beads, the latter not unlike those used by Catholics, and having a prominent place in the Japanese worship.
Praying Machine

Then there were votive tablets on the walls, generally in the form of pictures painted on paper or silk, or cut out of thin paper, like silhouettes. One of them represents a ship on the water in the midst of a storm, and is probably the offering of a merchant who had a marine venture that he wished to have the goddess take under her protection. Shoes and top-knots of men and women were among the offerings, and the most of them were labelled with the names of the donors. These valueless articles are never disturbed, but remain in their places for years, while costly treasures of silver or gold are generally removed in a few days to the private sanctuary of the goddess for fear of accidents. Even in a temple, all the visitors cannot be trusted to keep their hands in check. It is intimated that the priests are sometimes guilty of appropriating valuable things to their own use.

There were more attractions outside the temple than in it for our young visitors, and, after a hasty glance at the shrines in the neighborhood of the great altar, they went again into the open air.

Not far from the entrance of the temple Frank came upon a stone wheel set in a post of the same material. He looked it over with the greatest care, and wondered what kind of labor-saving machine it was. A quantity of letters and figures on the sides of the post increased his thirst for knowledge, and he longed to be able to read Japanese, so that he might know the name of the inventor of this piece of mechanism, and what it was made for.

He turned to the Doctor and asked what was the use of the post, and how it was operated.

Just as he spoke, a man passed near the machine and gave the wheel a blow that sent it spinning around with great rapidity. The man gave a glance at it to see that it was turning well, and then moved on in the direction of the temple.

"I know what that is," said Fred, who came along at the moment Frank expressed his wonder to Doctor Bronson.

"Well, what is it?"

"It's a praying machine. I read about it the other day in a book on Japan."

"Quite right," responded the Doctor. "It is a machine used in every country where Buddhism is the religion."
Archery Attendant

Then he went on to explain that there is a formula of prayers on the sides of the post, and sometimes on the wheel, and that for each revolution of the wheel these prayers are supposed to be uttered. A devotee passes, and, as he does so, he revolves the wheel, and for each time it turns around a prayer is recorded in heaven to his credit. It follows that those with strong arms and possessing a knack of making the wheel spin around, can do great deal of petitioning to Heaven.

Fred thought that it would be a good thing to attach these prayer-wheels to mills propelled by water, wind, or steam, and thus secure a steady and continuous revolution. The Doctor told him that this was actually done in some of the Buddhist countries, and a good many of the pious people said their prayers by machinery.

They strolled along to where there were some black-eyed girls in charge of booths, where, for a small consideration, a visitor can practice shooting with bows and arrows. The bows were very small, and the arrows were blunt at the ends. The target was a drum, and consequently the marksman's ear, rather than the eye, told when a shot was successful. The drums were generally square, and in front of each there was a little block of wood. A click on the wood showed that a shot was of more value than when it was followed by the dull boom of the drum. The girls brought tea to the boys, and endeavored to engage them in conversation, but, as there was no common language in which they could talk, the dialogue was not particularly interesting. The boys patronized the archery business and tried a few shots with the Japanese equipment, but they found the little arrows rather difficult to handle, on account of their diminutive size. An arrow six inches long was hard for them to aim, and both of the youths declared they would prefer something weightier.

Near the archery grounds there was a collection of so-called waxworks, and the Doctor paid the entrance fees for the party to the show. These waxworks consist of thirty-six tableaux with life-size figures, and are intended to represent miracles wrought by Ku-wanon, the goddess of the temple. They are the production of one artist, who had visited the temples devoted to Ku-wanon in various parts of Japan, and determined to represent her miracles in such a way as to instruct those who were unable to make the pilgrimage, as he had done. One of the tableaux shows the goddess restoring to health a young lady who has prayed to her. Another shows a woman saved from shipwreck, in consequence of having prayed to the goddess. In another a woman is falling from a ladder, but the goddess saves her from injury. In another a pious man is saved from robbers by his dog, and in another a true believer is overcoming and killing a serpent that sought to do him harm. Several of the groups represent demons and fairies, and the Japanese skill in depicting the frightening is well illustrated. One of them shows a robber desecrating the temple of the goddess, and the result of his action is hinted at by a group of demons who are about to carry him away in a cart of iron, which has been heated red-hot, and has wheels and axles of flaming fire. He does not appear overjoyed with the free ride that is in prospect for him. These figures are considered the most remarkable in all Japan, and many foreign visitors have pronounced them superior to the celebrated collection of Madame Tussaud in London. Ku-wanon is represented as a beautiful lady, and in some of the figures there is a wonderfully gentle expression to her features.
A Japanese Flower Show at Night

Asakusa is famous for its flower shows, which occur at frequent intervals, and, luckily for our visitors, one was in progress at the time of their pilgrimage to the temple. The Japanese are great lovers of flowers, and frequently a man will deprive himself of things of which he stands in actual need in order to purchase his favorite blossoms. Many of these exhibitions are held at night, as a great portion of the public are unable to come in the daytime on account of their occupations. At night the place is lighted up by means of torches stuck in the ground among the flowers, and the scene is quite picturesque.

Frank and Fred were greatly interested to find the love which the Japanese have for dwarfed plants and for plants in fantastic shapes. The native florists are wonderfully skillful in this kind of work, and some of their accomplishments would seem impossible to American gardeners. For example, they will make representations of mountains, houses, men, women, cats, dogs, boats, carts, ships under full sail, and a hundred other things, all in plants growing in pots or in the ground. To do this they take a frame of wire or bamboo in the shape of the article they wish to represent, and then compel the plant to grow around it. Day by day the plant is trained, bent a little here and a little there, and in course of time it assumes the desired form and is ready for the market. If an animal is represented, it is made more life-like by the addition of a pair of porcelain eyes, but there is rarely any other part of his figure that is formed of anything else than the living green. Our boys had a merry time among the treasures of the gardener in picking out the animate and inanimate forms that were represented, and both regretted that they could not send home some of the curious things that they found. Frank discovered a model of a house that he knew would please his sister, and he was quite sure that Miss Effie would dance with delight if she could feast her eyes on a figure of a dog, with the short nose for which the dogs of Japan are famous, and with sharp little eyes of porcelain.
A Japanese Ceremony

Fred cared less for the models in green than he did for some dwarf trees that seemed to strike his fancy particularly. There were pines, oaks, and other trees familiar to our eyes, only an inch or two in height, but as perfectly formed as though they were of the natural size in which we see them in their native forests. Then there were bamboo, cactus, and a great many other plants that grow in Japan, but with which we are not familiar. There was such a quantity of them as to leave no doubt that the dwarfing of plants is thoroughly understood in Japan and has received much attention. Doctor Bronson told the boys that the profession of florist, like many other professions and trades, was hereditary, and that the knowledge descended from father to son. The dwarfing of plants, and their training into unnatural shapes and forms, have been practiced for thousands of years, and the present state of the florist's art is the result of centuries of development.

In the flower show and among the tea booths the party remained at their leisure until it was time to think of going away from Asakusa and seeing something else. As they came out of the temple grounds they met a wedding party going in, and a few paces farther on they encountered a christening party proceeding in the same direction. The wedding procession consisted of three persons, and the other of four, but the principal member of the latter group was so young that he was carried in the arms of one of his companions, and had very little to say of the performances in which he was to take a prominent part. Frank observed that he did not cry, as any well-regulated baby would have done in America, and remarked upon the oddity of the circumstance. The Doctor informed him that it was not the fashion for babies to cry in Japan, unless they belonged to foreign parents.

Frank opened his eyes with astonishment. Fred did likewise.

"And is it really the case," said Frank, "that a Japanese baby never cries?"

"I could hardly say that," the Doctor answered. "But you may live a long time in Japan, and see lots of babies without hearing a cry from one of them. An American or English baby will make more noise and trouble than fifty Japanese ones. You have seen a great many small children since you landed in Japan, and now stop and think if you have heard one of them cry."
A Japanese Wedding

The boys considered a moment, and were forced to admit that, as Frank expressed it, they hadn't heard a whimper from a native infant. And they added that they were not anxious to hear any either.

The child that they saw was probably an urchin of about four weeks, as it is the custom to shave the head of an infant on the thirtieth day, or very near that date, and take him to the temple. There the priest performs a ceremonial very much like a christening with us, and for the same object. The party in the present instance consisted of a nurse carrying the child, a servant holding an umbrella to shield the nurse and child from the sun, and lastly the father of the youngster. The mother does not accompany the infant on this journey.

The wedding procession that our boys encountered consisted of the bride and her mother, with a servant to hold an umbrella to protect them from the sun. Mother and daughter were richly attired, and their heads were covered with heavily embroidered shawls. Weddings in Japan do not take place in the temples, as might naturally be expected, but a part of the ceremonial is performed at the house of the bride, and the remainder at that of the bridegroom. After the wedding the bride accompanies her mother to the temple to say her prayers for a happy life, and this was the occasion which our young adventurers happened to witness.

There are many other temples in Tokyo besides Asakusa, and the stranger who wishes to devote his time to the study of Japanese temples can have his wishes gratified to the fullest degree. After our party had finished the sights of Asakusa, they went to another quarter where they spent an hour among temples that were less popular, though more elegant, than those of the locality we have just described. The beauty of the architecture and the general elegance of the interior of the structures captivated them, and they unhesitatingly pronounced the religious edifices of Japan the finest they had ever seen.

They were hungry, and the Doctor suggested Uyeno. The boys did not know what Uyeno was, but concluded they would like some. Fred asked if it was really good.

The Doctor told them that Uyeno was excellent, and Frank asked how it was prepared. He was somewhat taken aback when he learned that Uyeno was not an article of food, but a place where food was to be obtained.
View from Suruga Dai in Tokyo

They went there and found a pretty park on a hill that overlooked a considerable portion of the city. At one side of the park there was an enclosure containing several tombs of the shogoons, or tycoons, of Japan, and there was a neat little temple that is held in great reverence, and receives annually many thousands of visitors. On an edge of the hill, where a wide view was to be had over the houses of the great capital, an enterprising Japanese person had erected a restaurant, which was managed after the European manner, and was driving a profitable business. The restaurant was patronized by the foreign visitors and residents, and also by many of the Japanese officials, who had learned to like foreign cookery and customs during their journeys abroad, or were endeavoring to familiarize themselves with its peculiarities. Our friends found the restaurant quite satisfactory, and complimented the proprietor on the success of the restaurant. It is no easy matter for a native to introduce foreign customs into his hotel in such a way as to give satisfaction to the people of the country from which the customs are taken.

Uyeno is not by any means the only elevation in Tokyo from which a good view can be had of the city and surrounding country. There are several elevations where such views are obtainable, and in nearly all of them the holy mountain, Mount Fuji, has a prominent place. A famous view is that of Atago Yama, and another is from Suruga Dai. Both these places are popular resorts, and abound in teahouses, refreshment booths, swings, and other public attractions. On pleasant afternoons there is always a large attendance of the populace, and it is interesting to see them amusing themselves. There are old people, middle-aged people, youths, and infants, the latter on the backs of their nurses, where they hang patiently on, and seem to enjoy their share of the fun. The quantity of tea that the natives consume in one of these afternoon entertainments is something prodigious, but they do not seem to suffer any injury from what some of us would consider a wild dissipation.
Nurse and Child

Not far from where the Doctor and his young friends were seated was an enclosure where was held the First National Fair of Tokyo in 1877. The enclosure was still standing, and it was the intention of the government to hold a fair there annually, as it fully recognized the advantages of these exhibitions as educators of the people. The Japanese are generally less informed as to the products of their own country outside of the provinces where they happen to live. A native can tell you what his own district or province produces, but they may not be aware of the resources of other parts of the country. It is to enhance awareness and stimulate improvements in the various industries, that these national fairs have been established.

As the description of the First National Fair at Tokyo may not be uninteresting, we will copy from a letter to a New York paper, by one of its correspondents who was in Japan at the time. After describing the opening ceremonies, which were attended by the emperor and empress, together with many high dignitaries of the government, he wrote as follows:

"The buildings are arranged to enclose an octagonal space, and consequently a visitor finds himself at the starting point when he has made the rounds. The affair is in the hands of the gentlemen who controlled the Japanese department of the Philadelphia Exhibition in 1876, and many of the features of our Centennial have been reproduced. They have Agricultural Hall, Machinery Hall, Horticultural Hall, and Fine Arts Gallery, as at the Centennial, and then they have Eastern Hall and Western Hall, which the Quaker City did not have. They have restaurants and refreshment booths, and likewise stands for the sale of small articles, such as are most likely to tempt strangers. In many respects the exhibition is quite similar to an affair of the same kind in America, and with a few changes of costume, language, and articles displayed, it might pass for a state or county fair in Maine or Minnesota.

"The display of manufactured articles is much like that in the Japanese section at Philadelphia, but is not nearly so large, the reason being that the merchants do not see as good chances for business as they did at the Centennial, and consequently they have not taken so much trouble to come in. Many of the articles shown were actually at Philadelphia, but did not find a market, and have been brought out again in the hope that they may have better luck. The bronzes are magnificent, and some of them surpass anything that was shown at the Centennial, or has ever been publicly exhibited outside of Japan. The Japanese seem determined to maintain their reputation of being the foremost workers of bronze in the world. They have also some beautiful work in lacquered ware, but their old lacquer is better than the new.

"In their Machinery Hall they have a very creditable exhibit, considering how recently they have opened the country to the Western world, and how little they had before the opening in the way of Western ideas. There is a small steam-engine of Japanese make. There are two or three looms, some rice mills, winnowing machines, an apparatus for winding and spinning silk, some pumps, a hay cutter, and a fire engine worked by hand. Then there are several agricultural machines, platform scales, pumps, and a woodworking apparatus from American makers, and there are two or three of English production. In the Agricultural Hall there are horse-rakes, mowers, reapers, and plows from America, and there are also some well-made plows from Japanese hands. In the Eastern Hall there are some delicate balances for weighing coin and the precious metals. They were made for the mint at Osaka, and look wonderfully like the best French or German balances. The Japanese have been quite successful in copying these instruments, more so than in imitating the heavier scales from America. Fairbanks's scales have been adopted as the standard of the Japanese postal and customs departments.
A Grass Overcoat

"There is an interesting display of the natural products of Japan, and it is exceedingly instructive to a stranger. The Japanese are studying these things with great attention, and the fair will undoubtedly prove an excellent school for the people by adding to their stock of information about themselves. Each section bears over its entrance the name of the city, province, or district it represents, and as these names are displayed in English as well as in Japanese. A stranger has no difficulty in finding out the products of the different parts of the empire. The result is that many articles are repeated in the exhibition, and you meet with them again and again. Such, for example, are raw silks, which come from various localities, as likewise do articles of leather, wood, and iron. Porcelain of various kinds appears repeatedly, and so do the woods used for making furniture. There is an excellent show of porcelain, and some of the pieces are of enormous size. Kaga, Satsuma, Hizen, Kyoto, Nagasaki, and other wares are in abundance, and a student of ceramics will find enough to interest him for many hours.

"In cordage and material for ship building there is a good exhibit, and there are two well-made models of gunboats. Wheat, rice, millet, and other grains are represented by numerous samples, and there are several specimens of Indian corn, or maize, grown on Japanese soil. There is a goodly array of canned fruits and meats, mostly the former, some in tin and the rest in glass. Vinegars, rice whiskey, soy, and the like are abundant, and so is dried fish of several kinds. There is a good display of tea and tobacco, the former being in every form, from the tea plant up to the prepared article ready for shipment. One has only to come here to see the many uses to which the Japanese put fibrous grasses in making mats, overcoats, and similar things, and there are like displays of the serviceability of bamboo. From the north of Japan there are otter and other skins, and from various points there are models of boats and nets to illustrate the fishing business. The engineering department shows some fine models of bridges and dams, and has evidently made good progress since its organization."

    The Boy Travelers - Japan and China by Thomas W. Knox The Boy Travelers by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 9: Asakusa—First National Fair at Tokyo


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Prayer: A practice of communicating with one's God.
Lattice: A flat panel constructed with widely-spaced crossed thin strips of wood or other material.
Buddhism: The religion or philosophy which emphasizes the virtues of wisdom, kindness, patience, generosity, and compassion.
Buddha: Buddha Shakyamuni, spiritual and philosophical teacher and founder of Buddhism; Siddhartha Gautama.
Praying Machine (Prayer Wheel): A rotating cylinder either inscribed with or containing prayers, mainly used by Tibetan Buddhists.
Archery: The practice or sport of shooting arrows with a bow.
Waxworks: An exhibition of waxwork figures.
Asakusa: A district within the city of Tokyo, Japan.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the chapter setting in modern times: The city of Tokyo, Japan.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

  • Find the country of Japan on the map of the world.
  • Find the Japanese capital city of Tokyo.

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.