On both sides of the great wide street leading to Asakusa, in old Yedo,
were shops full of toys of all kinds. At certain seasons of the year
booths were hastily put up, and stocked with the curiosities of the
season. For a few days before New-Year's one could buy ferns, lobsters,
oranges, evergreens, and rice-straw festoons. In the second month
appeared seeds, roots, bulbs, and gardeners' tools. Dolls and girls'
toys came on in the third month, ready for the Feast of Dolls. Images of
heroes, banners, toy horses, and boys' playthings, for the Feast of
Flags, were out in the fifth month. Bamboo and streamers, in the seventh
month, celebrated the meeting of the star-lovers. Chrysanthemums in
autumn, and camellias in winter, could be bought, all having their
special use and meaning. Thus throughout the different months Asakusa
was gay with new things of all colors, and bustling with ten thousand
people of all ages. Besides the shops and booths, a constant street fair
was held by people whose counter was the pavement, and whose stock in
trade, spread out on the street, must run the risk of dust, rain, and
the accidents from passers-by.
Among these jolly peddlers was one Umé, a little rosy-cheeked maid of
twelve years, who sold wine-flowers.
"Wine-flowers; what are they?"
If we open the boxes or paper bags sold by Umé, we see a pack of what
seem to be tiny colored jackstraws or fine shavings. They are made by
cutting out very thin slices of pith in the shape of men, women, birds,
flowers, fishes, bats, tortoises, tools, and many other things. These
are gummed, folded up, and pinched tightly, until each one looks like
nothing but a shred of linen or a tiny chip of frayed wood. If you drop
one of them into a bowl of hot water, it will open and unfold like a
flower. They blossom slowly in cold water, but hot water makes them jump
up and open at once.
Umé's blind grandfather and her mother made these wine-flowers for a
living, and she went out daily and sat on the Asakusa street to sell
Sometimes they made "shell-surprises."
Out of a hard paste made from moss they cut the shapes of roses,
camellias, lilies, daisies, etc., of real size, which they painted to a
natural color. Then folding them in a ball, and squeezing them into a
cockle-shell, they were ready for sale. They looked just like common
white shells; but when dropped into hot water they opened at once, and
the ball of gum inside, rising to the surface, blossomed into a flower
of true size and tint.
"But why are they called wine-flowers?"
The reason is this. The Japanese drink their "wine" (saké or rice-beer)
hot, and in tiny cups about the size of a small half orange. When one
friend is about to offer the cup to another, he drops one of these pith
chips on the surface of the wine. It blossoms instantly before their
eyes, and is the "flower of friendship."
A GAME OF SURPRISES.
The artist Ozawa has sketched the inside of a home in Japan, where the
children are merrily enjoying the game of surprises. A Japanese mother
has bought a few boxes of the pith toys from Umé. They have a lacquered
tub half full of warm water. Every few minutes the fat-cheeked
servant-girl brings in a fresh steaming kettleful to keep it hot. They
all kneel on the matting, and it being summer, they are in bare feet,
which they like. The elder one of the two little girls, named O-Kin
(Little Gold), has a box already half empty.
"Guess what this one is," says she to her little brother Kozo, who sits
in the centre.
"It's a lily, or a pot of flowers—I know it is," cries Kozo: "I know
it, because it's a long one."
O-Kin drops it. It flutters like a feather in the air, then it touches
the water, squirms a moment, jumps about as if alive, unfolds, and
instead of a long-stemmed flower, it is a young lady carrying a lantern,
all dressed for an evening call. "Ha! ha! ha!" laugh they all.
"You didn't guess it.—You try," said O-Kin, to O-Haya (Little Wave),
her sister; "it's a short one."
"I think it's either a drum or a tai," (red fish), said O-Haya, looking
It opened slowly, and a bright red fish floated to the top and swam for
a second. Its eye, mouth, and tail were perfect. "I guessed it," said
O-Haya, clapping her hands.
"Look, mamma," cried Kozo, to his mother, "here are two heavenly rats
[bats], but they can't fly; two of Fuji Mountain; two musŭmé [young
ladies], a maple leaf, a plum blossom, a 'love-bird,' a cherry blossom,
a paper swallow, and a kiku [chrysanthemum flower]. They have all opened
Then mamma dropped in a few from her box. They were longer and finer
than O-Kin's, and as they unfolded, the children screamed with delight.
A man in a boat, with a pole and line, was catching a fish; a rice
mortar floated alongside a wine-cup; the Mikado's crest bumped the
Tycoon's; a tortoise swam; a stork unfolded its wings; a candle, a fan,
a gourd, an axe, a frog, a rat, a sprig of bamboo, and pots full of
many-colored flowers sprung open before their eyes. By this time the
water was tinged with several colors, chiefly red.
After the fun was over, the children carefully picked out the spent
tricks with a flat bit of bamboo, and spread them to dry on a sheet of
white paper; but they never could be used again.
Sometimes only flower tricks are used, and then the blossoms open in all
colors, until the water contains a real floating garden or "water