The Japanese Ball Game
( Originally Published 1915 )
When they arose the next morning the first thing was to make an investigation of the city, which they found to be most compactly built. The signs, many of them very picturesque, stared at them from all corners and angles.
Sometimes they would be merely the representation of some animal, or bird, where the nature of the business permitted it. They walked along some of the principal streets attracted by them, and several blocks from the hotel were surprised to see one sign that had American letters. It read:
"TIME PIECE SNOP."
"Now what does snop mean?" asked Winfield.
Gazing into the window they observed the watches and clocks, and laughed as they pointed out the error of the letter n, which was evidently put there by mistake.
Further along was another American sign. It was couched in these words:
"THE AMERICAN EAT IN PLACE," and below in smaller letters the satisfying assurance that they had "Reel United States Chop Sticks served."
"I am going to take down some of the signs in my book; they are too good to lose," said Stan-wood. "Keep a good watch out for them."
It was fun now to hunt the signs. Dozens of the most peculiar character and curious wording, were discovered before they returned to the hotel. We have room for only a few of them.
The plate glass before quite a respectable jeweler's show room had the announcement: "Buy you here Insurable watch." Another made the following announcement: "Saving within of hairs and clippings."
At a fancy fish stall a neatly painted board read as follows: "The fish you eat it not be beet." That was good, strong American poetry, according to Winfield's way of thinking; but Stanwood thought it was a silly couplet, because any one with sense knows that a fish couldn't be a beet.
But it would take too much time to put down all the striking signs that were found in this great city, designed to lure the unsophisticated citizens of America into their toils.
Will was on hand at ten o'clock, and the ma-chine, a little roadster, his own property, was greatly admired by the boys. He explained that he was interested in two enterprises there, and that he made frequent trips to the nearby cities.
"I didn't know there were so many big cities in Japan," said Stanwood.
"Yes, indeed; this is one of the most wonderful sections in the entire Empire. Besides Kioto to the north and Nara to the east, there is Kobe, not more than twenty miles to the west of this place, and that has a population of 300,000."
"But where is the great Inland Sea we have heard so much about?" asked Stanwood.
"You are now at the extreme eastern end of it, and it extends westward for over three hundred miles, and has only a narrow outlet at the western end of the mainland, where it connects with the ocean."
"A man at one of the hotels told us it was a wonderful place to visit."
"So it is; but it would be very inconvenient for you to go-by way of the sea. The better plan is to go along the railway which skirts the northern edge. Many of the hundreds of islands have never been visited by foreigners, but the people would receive you kindly everywhere. But you said you would like to see Nara. It would pay you if only to see the great statue of Buddha there," said Will.
The boys were delighted at the opportunity, and Will turned his machine to the east. An hour's run brought them in sight of the town, and standing out in prominence above everything else was the great structure which contained the colossal image of Buddha.
They entered the Daibouts Temple, as it called, and there on a throne was the statue which is the largest casting of bronze in existence, over 85 feet high, and which was erected nearly twelve hundred years ago.
The throne on which the figure sits is the symbolic lotus flower. The image has its right hand open, while the left lies extended and resting on the knees. The drapery about it is marvelous, of the finest silk, soft and light like a silvery spray.
The town itself contains at the present time less than 40,000 people, but the great buildings all about, which cover considerable ground, while low arid not imposing, are, nevertheless, of such a nature as to indicate that when it was the capital of Japan, it must have been a wonderful place.
After several hours of rambling they were again in the little car and speeding back to the great city, where they intended to remain for the night, and then make a new start for the western limit of Japan.
When they parted the next morning, Will said: "I would be glad to hear from you whenever you feel like writing. I envy you the trip."
The air was exhilarating when they strode out the narrow streets of the city, and they were on their way to Kobe, less than twenty miles distant, and although they had hoped long before this to reach the country, it seemed that they would never get rid of the city.
One little village after the other constantly appeared, and sometimes places more dignified than mere villages were passed through. How many times they had to partake of the tea offering, they had forgotten to count. In many places they passed by schools, but did not have the courage to enter any of the buildings.
In not a single place, however, did they meet with any rudeness, and more frequently than otherwise, the boys would crowd around them, very politely, smiling and bowing, which courtesies the boys would return in like manner.
But as they were leaving one of these large villages they saw a sight that looked familiar. A half dozen boys were engaged in playing ball, and our young travelers stopped, took off their knapsacks, and sat down to observe the game.
Within a few minutes a dozen or more boys, probably their own ages, but, of course, much smaller, came up to them, and a few minutes later those actively engaged in the game came over to see the tourists.
"Gee, what do you think of that kind of pitching?" asked Stanwood.
Winfield was thinking the same thing. He was the pitcher for the home nine. How his hands itched to get hold of that ball.
"Wouldn't you like to try it?" inquired Stan-wood.
Winfield was so busy watching the game that he ignored the question, and when he saw the teams come over his eyes fairly sparkled at the idea.
Stanwood looked at the boy with the ball, and with eyes and hands motioned to the ball and pointed to Winfield, and then went up and ex-tended his hand. The boys responded, and the team shook hands, and without further words the pitcher threw the ball to Winfield.
Here was an amusing situation. The Japanese boys were chatting and laughing; they marched to the diamond, for they had one laid off in the regulation way, but Winfield and Stanwood quickly saw that it was much smaller than the ones on which they were accustomed to play.
Winfield looked around. "Did you understand what they said?" he asked, as he finally turned to Stanwood.
"Of course; they said you were to pitch," answered Stanwood, laughing.
The boys cheered as Winfield walked to the center of the diamond. The poor fellow behind the batter didn't have a mask, nor was he armed with a catcher's glove, and when the first ball was shot over the home plate, he caught it, but as he threw it to Winfield, he turned and walked back fifteen feet beyond the batter.
The manner in which the team handled that ball was child's play compared with the vigor which an American team puts into the game. Not a batter could touch the ball, and after a few trials at catching the man behind the bat shook his head.
This was Stanwood's chance. Swinging his knapsack, he opened it, and drew forth one of the caps, which they carried, and with this on his left hand, he walked to the place behind the batter, and smiled at the man who had been catching.
The latter quickly gave up his place, and then Winfield put a little steam into the ball. Nothing of the kind had ever before been witnessed in that community. When, however, Stanwood finally grasped a bat, and Winfield gave him the ball over the plate he sent it on a long fly to deep left field, that caused two hundred throats to cry out in a grand chorus of Ahs.
While this exciting scene was going on the boys had not noticed two grave and interested men who had approached and stood at a respectful distance. When the ball went sailing into a realm far beyond anything it had aspired to before, the elder of the two came over and accosted Stanwood.
"Do I have the pleasure of addressing an American boy?" he asked in perfect English.
Stanwood blushed, and responded: "Yes; we are on a trip around the world, and it made us feel good to see them playing our game here that we couldn't help ourselves."
The principal of the school, for such he was, turned to the pupils and made a speech, and then addressing the boys, continued: "I had the pleasure of introducing the game to my pupils. I learned it in a crude way while at school in your great country, but I see that my teaching has not been very good. They become fairly proficient in fielding and running bases, but it is hard to teach them to bat so well as do you American boys."
Winfield smiled, as he replied: "No, no; I think they are doing well, because it is a difficult thing to learn to bat against speed and curves, and they do not need to be discouraged. But we are glad to meet you, and only wish we could stay here fora time."
"But can you not do so for a day?"
"I am afraid not," answered Stanwood.
"Then you have not yet learned Tadaima?" he asked smiling.
"I am afraid we do not know what that means," answered Winfield.
"It is well you do not. But I think you have heard it frequently, have you not?"
"Oh, yes," answered Stanwood, "but we never knew its meaning."
"That is the Japanese word which means the same as the Spanish word Manana; tomorrow, wait, some other time; ah, that is one trouble here, it is always trying to put off things from one day to the next."
Then the boys recalled that they had been annoyed, frequently, when asking for things, by that selfsame word.
"I wish I could induce you to remain until to-morrow, because your skill has interested my pupils, and it would delight me to show you some curiosities and to introduce you to the people."
The boys looked at each other for a moment, and finally consented. The pupils marched into the building, without the sound of a bell or a command, and ranged themselves in groups over the floor, and as though a part of a machine each boy took up his book and writing pad, and busied him-self in the lesson.
When a class was called there was the utmost precision in the way they arose; the book was held in a fashion that reminded the young Americans of a military drill. The eyes were fixed straight ahead, and at the same instant and without a command, the feet were lifted and they marched to the side wall in exact order.
It was then the turn for our boys to give a look of astonishment, and when the principal momentarily glanced at them they both involuntarily smiled and nodded their heads in approval, which he Acknowledged with a grave bow.
Under the guidance of the principal the boys had a most enjoyable treat that night. Each one of their hosts vied with the other in that town to make the event a pleasant one, and the travelers ate and drank until they could hold no more.
One of the delightful little things, which all the children carried were large, round peppermint balls. These were good to eat, carried a nice per-fume, and livened the scene all about, for they fluttered everywhere. Then the confections, most of them strange, and of peculiar, but delicious flavor, were constantly handed them until their pockets were literally stuffed.
They were housed in a dream of a room, and it was here they had the pleasure of sleeping on a really soft bed. The principal, knowing the nature of an American bed, had planned out its de-tails, and each of the boys had four tatanis placed under the top mattress, and with such an arrangement no springs were necessary.
It was almost a cruelty to leave that delightful spot, and it still remains in their memory.
But the crowning act of generosity, the true significance of which was not understood by them at that time, was reserved when they were about to depart the next morning. Two jinrickishas stood before their inn when they were about to start. The boys of the school filed along and gave them an individual good-by, and they were directed to the two vehicles.
"They will convey you to Oko," said the principal, "and our regards go with you."
The boys protested, but unavailingly, and with the cheers of all their late friends they were wafted on their way.
"This seems to be getting better and better," said Stanwood, musingly, as he thought of the treat the night before, and pressed his hands over the pockets which were still bulging.
During the first hour of this delightful trip, both seemed unusually quiet, as they were too full of happy thoughts to feel like talking.
"How can we ever let our people know all these things by letter?" asked Winfield, after a long silence.
"Well, we can tell about it, for I know I can never forget them," answered Stanwood.
After the second hour out, they were passing alongside a stream, and at frequent intervals saw diminutive water wheels, slowly turning. They tried to question the drivers but the answers were not satisfactory.
More and more of these wheels came into view as they journeyed along. They were generally located near small buildings, and reminded the boys of the silk weavers above Noyama.
"Suppose we go over and take a look," said Winfield. With a gesture of the hand the men were directed to one of the cottages, near a group of the turning wheels.
Then the mystery was explained; the wheels turned the primitive reels for winding .the silk from the cocoons.
Oko was reached at three in the afternoon, and the men immediately wheeled the vehicle around in order to go back. Winfield was the first to place his hand on the cart, and he motioned that they should remain and have refreshments.
But they shook their heads and smiled pleasantly. Then Stanwood drew out his purse and offered to pay them, or to give them a tip, but this was refused with such a gentle dignity, that he felt ashamed of himself.
As the boys strolled off down the street, and turned to inquire for an inn, they were addressed in English by a man who wore the garb of a minister. "Your uniforms are very familiar. I hope we are fellow countrymen?" he said.
"Well, we're from the United States," said Stanwood.
"You said that as though you were proud of it," Ile remarked, with a half audible chuckle. "I like that spirit."
"Yes; we are proud of it," responded Winfield. "But I tell you," he continued, "when a fellow meets the kind of people we have been with for the last day, he shouldn't be too much stuck up over being an American."
" Ah, I dare say you will find some nice people here; but have you been especially well treated?"
And the boys told their experience, and the fact that they had been transported from the town by the jinrickishas that were only then disappearing over the hill in the distance.
"That was indeed a compliment," observed their new acquaintance, reflectively.
"Do you think so?" asked Stanwood.
"Indeed it was. Do you not know that the Japanese don't encourage the use of that vehicle?" "No; we never hard of that."
"It is true nevertheless."
"Do you know why'?"
"They think it is degrading; and the more so because they say that foreigners would never stoop so low as to push a Japanese around on a cart."