Houses of Sleep
Willow Woman
East West
Decline of Taste
Note on Yeats
Oscar Wilde
Again on Hokku
On Poetry
Again on Poetry
Morning Fancy
Ink Slab 




MY antipathy to the Western stove, even to the old-fashioned English fireplace, may arise from its looking too clearly conscious of its own worth, ever so proudly assuming the first Place in a room (what an egoist, indeed, looking as if it felt all the responsibility of the universe). Then I reflect on a hibachi or Japanese wooden fire-box, whose single-minded humbleness is the creation of no other country but Japan. It makes its own lifework to follow gracefully wherever you go in the house as a heaven-born servant, serving most beautifully in its small capacity; its loyalty is almost a slavery when it creeps even into a quilt to warm your feet at night. What a dear little thing of the world it is! I have some reasons to hug it sentimentally, because it sweetly makes me dream on this and that, with many precious things which I must have lost long before if it had not kept them in a drawer for me. Isn't the Japanese fire-box foxy to have a secret side-pocket? Why, you must not take that out; that's merely a girl's [<53] hair. I would not tell you its history for the world. (I often smile to myself, thinking a little secret is rather cosy.) It is a charm which my old mother sent me quite long ago, when I was washing breakfast dishes from which drivers or milkmen had eaten, in the cellar of a country hotel in California, and I carried it even to London afterwards, as I was afraid to call at Carlyle's House alone. His hard face always terrified me. This is my clumsy copying of a page from dear Blake's fat book kept at the British Museum; you shouldn't mistake it for a sample of child's art. I always think it is only Blake among the other thousand English poets and writers whom I can associate with our hibachi, whose fairy-like flame would be his poetical aspiration. Certainly he would have been pleased with it. Isn't the intensiveness of burning charcoal the intensiveness of his work? There should be a close relation between the, modern writers in the West and the stove or fireplace, without whose help their sustaining work would not be half well done. How could Ibsen and Shaw become so thoroughly egoistic if they had not [<54] been comfortable by the side of a glorious fire ? And is not individualism a product of Western wealth, spiritual and unspiritual? It seems to me that the egoism of Ibsen, Shaw and many others is accidental, being a freak of a situation in which they found themselves; they might be a different sort of writers if they had only a little fire-box to make them look happy in winter, as in Japan. While. wealth is a Western weakness, poverty or want of comfort is the keynote of our Japanese civilisation, if we have any. It is our strength to let artistic appreciation make a balance in all the phases of Japanese life; art is the necessity with us, though it may be a luxury in the West.
    Japan, at least old Japan, succeeded in teaching to everything, human or unhuman, a proper amount of etiquette, the first principle of which is to understand your own place; the manner which the little Japanese fire-box is pleased to express is most admirable, It would not dare to step up on to a tokonoma or raised Place of art in the drawing-room, or even attempt to approach it too closely; I can imagine a gentle talk of Japanese women in [<55] the circumspect burning of its charcoals under the ashes silken-soft and grey. This is the Imperial Kingdom, where the spirit of class distinction reigns over even the hibachis; there are several kinds of them, aristocratic or plebeian. I always feel a pity for the fire-box called Nagahibachi, or long fire-box, which is ruled out from the drawing-room only from the fault of being too large. Bigness here is often regarded as inartistic. We are pleased to admire a dwarfed tree on the holy place of the tokonoma.
    However, this Nagahibachi, exiled to the sitting-room, where the lady of the house takes her queen's seat, would be one's sweetest memory; my reminiscence of my childhood days, perhaps like any other man's, always begins with it. I cannot forget the patient look of dear mother, who customarily sat by it; I often thought there was no greater confidante for her than that fire-box, one fool by two feet, who laughed and again cried with her in each change of her moods. Although every hibachi is feminine, that Nagahibachi is particularly so, with its own special tact of [<56] making one feel at home at once, comfortable and reflective like a wise woman. It was there that my mother often told me a story of Taro Urashima, who happened to marry the most beautiful lady under the depth of the seas, and set me on a sweet dreaming; again, it was there that she cried in denying my great desire to buy a Webster's dictionary, saying that poverty was inconvenient when I told her it was necessary for my learning the English language. My family, though it was not particularly poor, could not afford to spend much money for a little boy, as I was then; and what did I wish to make out from Webster when I had hardly finished my first Reader yet? I was quite an ambitious boy already, I think. How I wish to return again to my youngest days, and crawl into her sitting-room, a four mat and a half affair, and feel her tender breath as a real child in that safest citadel of her own creation, which would rise or fall with the long fire-box. Her own kingdom was small indeed. But is there any sweeter kingdom than that? [<57]

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