Japan and the Japanese (A narrative of the US Government Expedition to Japan Under Commodore Perry by Matthew Calbraith Perry, Robert Tomes)

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p. 336  (515 words)

The Japanese are great readers, and popular romances issue from their presses with the frequency of cheap novels with us. Their books are printed by means of wooden blocks, and it is said that they have separate type of the same material ; while printing in colors, which is an art just beginning with us, has been long practised in Japan. Their paper is made of the bark of the mulberry and of other woods, and presents a good surface for the reception of the type, but is of so thin a texture that the printing is confined to one side only. The leaf of each book is accordingly double, with two blank surfaces enclosed within.  A general system of public instruction extends its influence throughout the empire, and the commonest people can read and write.

The Japanese are hard workers, but they have occasional holidays, and vary the evenings and hours of leisure with games and amusements. They have a game called *Sho-lio-ye, which corresponds with our chess, and another like our cards, played with flat pieces of horn, ivory, or bone. These are about an inch and two-thirds long and little more than an inch wide. There are forty-nine pieces, marked by three different colors, blue, red, and white, to indicate the suites, and also by lines and dots to signify the value of the piece. The games played with these are numerous, and are generally played for money. The Japanese shuffle and cut them precisely as is done with us, sometimes by lifting off a part of the pack, and at others expressing satisfaction with them as they are, by tapping the knuckle on the top of the heap. Another common game is played with small black and white stones, and seems to be somewhat of the character of loto, so much played in the gardens and estaminets of Paris and Hamburgh, frequented by the lower classes. It was a cheerful reminder of one's childhood, and another bond of sympathy between the various branches of the human race, however remotely separated from each other, to find the little shaven-pated lads playing ball in the streets of Hakodadi, and jackstraws within the domestic circle at  home.

The prevailing religions of the Japanese are Buddhism and Sintooism. The former, however, is the favorite form of worship, and all its ceremonies are carefully observed. The higher classes of the Japanese are supposed to be imbued with a wide philosophical skepticism, and to regard the religion of their country merely as  a state institution. They are tolerant of all forms of worship but that of the Christian, which, since the interference of the Portuguese Jesuit missionaries, two hundred and fifty years ago, with the policy of the government, has been strictly excluded from Japan. The Americans, however, regularly performed the Christian worship on board their ships, while floating within Japanese waters, and several of the sailors who died were buried in Japan with the usual ceremonies of our religion. The authorities, in fact, appropriated, both at Simoda and Hakodadi, places of interment for the American Christians.


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