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TEA-HOUSES AND TEMPLES (continued)
The Japanese are very fond of their temples, and visit them constantly. They do this not only to pray to their gods, but to enjoy themselves as well, for the temple grounds are the scene of great fairs and festivals. If you visit a temple on the day of some great function, you will find its steps outside packed with rows upon rows of clogs and umbrellas, placed there by the worshippers inside. You enter, and find the latter seated on the floor, and if the service is not going on at the moment they are smoking and chatting together, and the children are crawling about in the crowd.
When the service is over the worshippers disperse to find a cool spot in the temple grounds to eat their simple meal. In front of the temple stands a wooden arch, called a torii. Sometimes the temple is approached through a whole avenue of them of various sizes. The building is of wood, sometimes small, sometimes very large, and is usually surrounded by booths and tea-houses. At many of the booths may be purchased the figures of the more popular gods. Everywhere may be seen the fat figures of the Seven Gods of Wealth, the deities most beloved in every Japanese household. Then there are the God and Goddess of Rice, who protect the crops, and who are attended by the figures of foxes quaintly carved in wood or moulded in white plaster. The Goddess of Mercy, with her many hands to help and save, is also a favourite idol.
At another spot you find peep-shows, stalls at which hairpins, paints, and powder-boxes, and a thousand other trifles, are sold; archery galleries, where you may fire twenty arrows at a target for a halfpenny; booths, where acrobats, conjurers, and jugglers are performing, and tea-houses without number, where the faithful are sipping their tea or saké and puffing at their tiny pipes.
The young girls are fond of purchasing sacred beans and peas and rice at a stall set up under the eaves of the temple. With these they feed the temple pigeons, who come swooping down from the great wooden roof, or the sacred white pony with the blue eyes which belongs to the holy place. On the steps sit rows of licensed beggars, who will pray for those who will present them with the tenth part of a farthing. But prayers may also be bought from the priests, prayers written upon a scrap of paper, which scrap is afterwards fastened to the bars of the grating in front of the figure of a god. A favourite god will have many thousand scraps of paper fluttering before it at one time.
Many of the temple gardens are of very great beauty and interest. There can be seen many of the marvels of Japanese gardening--tiny dwarf trees, hundreds of years old, and yet only a few inches high, or tall shrubberies cut and trained to represent a great junk in full sail, or the figure of a god or hero.
At certain times of the year when the temple orchards are in blossom, great throngs visit them simply to enjoy the delicate beauty of the scene. The plum-blossom appears in February, and the cherry-blossom in April or May. Later in the year the purple iris is followed by the golden chrysanthemum. High and low, all crowd to see the beauty of a vast sweep of lovely blossom. A poor Japanese thinks nothing of walking a hundred miles or more to see some famous orchard or garden in its full flowering splendour.
From his earliest years this love of natural beauty has been a part of his education. As a child he has taken many a trip with his father and mother to admire the acres of plum or cherry blossom in a park or temple-garden; as a man he lays his work aside and goes to see the same spectacle with redoubled delight.