Windows into Japan 4. Nowadays Tokyo is know for being a very busy city, but even in the 19th Century travellers from abroad were already remarking on the contrast between this highly populated city and the quiet rural areas of Japan. One such travel writer was Edmund Gregory Holtham, who wrote Eight Years in Japan, 1873-1881, published in 1883:
The first few days of 1878 were by no means such as the Japanese love to find about the new year. The last two days of December and the first three of January are official holidays; the 4th is appointed for a commencement of business, which means merely attendance for half an hour; the 5th is another holiday, and so on. The closing days of the year are supposed to be devoted to settling one’s private affairs and providing for festivities, and the opening days of the new year are devoted to socialities, such as complimentary calls and receptions…
A walk through the streets of any large town, on a fine day at the commencement of a year, is rather an amusing experience. The good people pervade the streets in holiday garments, on calling expeditions; or, in the case of women, armed with battledore, they occupy any available space near their own doors and fill the air with shuttle-cocks, while children and servants fly kites. One’s progress has to be warily conducted, unless it is a joy to be beaten on the back and smitten on the nose (always with profuse apologies), or harried by whirring things, or entangled in strings, or butted in the chest by smiling persons whose eyes are fixed upon some acquaintance who is returning their bow from the other side of the road. The babies, carried on the back, are the only beings who don’t come to grief in some way, for the occasional delivery of them on to the roadway, over their mothers’ shoulders, like coals, is of course merely so much practice for them against they are big enough to butt the stranger.
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