The Tar Baby and the Tomahawk: Race and Ethnic Images in American Children's Literature, 1880-1939


Totsi and the Cherry-bough

WITHIN the far-off Sunrise Land,
The country where the day begins,—
About whose shores the morning mist
A shining web of wonder spins,
Long, long ago, a little lad
Once lived by Kinni-goyoto,
A little lad of gentle guise,
With yellow skin and almond eyes,
The son of good Yoshigo San;
Nor will you find in all Japan
A bonnier boy, or braver, than
The little Totsi-Toyoto:
In Yokohama, Tokio,
Nagasaki, Hakodate,
Kobe, Kioto.
He seldom laughed, he never cried,
In his mama's kimono curled,
But smiled his bland, mysterious smile,
As babies will, upon the world.
And, as he grew, sedate and sweet
With more than boyish gravity,
He ne'er was known to romp or shout
Or throw his paper toys about;
He never frowned, this little Jap,
But smiled and smiled and took his hap,
The philosophic little chap,
With Oriental sauvity.
His parents, poor but honest folk,
Beheld with pride their little boy;
And for his sake they ate their rice,
Content, with but a dash of soy.
They let him wear a lovely gown,
As you might well be glad to do;
They gave him baths, all boiling hot
(He much preferred them so than not),
And cooked him seaweed, snails, and fish,
With many another dainty dish
Which you, perhaps, against your wish
Might taste, and find it sad to do!
They taught him how to make his bow,
To use his fan in ways polite;
And, best of all, they gave to him,
A little mirror, round and bright.
For you must know, on Nippon's isle
In days of great antiquity,
Each little Shinto boy was taught
The glass would show his every thought.
And ere he slept (if sleep he could, upon a pillow made of wood!)
Each night he looked in trembling doubt,
And smiled, his foolish fears to flout,
If clear the mirror shown, without
A shadow of iniquity.
So Totsi lived,— a model child,—
Until one fatal April day,

[illustration - "And there temptation did befall!"]
When home from school along the road
He smiling took his peaceful way.
In proud O Haru's garden grand
What was there to be scared about?—
Alas! Her favorite cherry-tree
Beside the wall he chanced to see;
And there temptation did befall!
He paused— he gazed— he climbed the wall,—
To steal the cherries? Not at all,
'Twas not the fruit he cared about!
But oh, the blossoms pink and white,
A cloud, a wealth of bloom untold!
What little Jap without a thrill
That dazzling vision could behold—
In Yokohama, Tokio,
Nagasaki, Hakodate,
Kobe, Kioto.
Not he; for in those ancient days
The gentle Japanese, you know,
Had plants for pets,— a peach, a plum,
A lily or chrysanthemum
And Totsi— not a pet had he!
He looked— he longed— he climbed the tree,
One bloomy bough he broke— ah me,
'Twas such a little piece, you know!
Yet as he fled, he dared not look
At Fusiyama, stern and high
(Though next, I think, to his mama
He loved the mountain in the sky!),
And fearing in his glass to peep,
That night, when he was sent to bed,
What Japanese hobgoblins came
To scare his dreams with eyes of flame,
What horrid imps and dragons fell,
I will not try, indeed, to tell.
But ere the rosy morning broke,
Resolved, the hapless boy awkoke;
Confession should those goblins choke
Ere back he stole, content, to bed!
Now, in her pretty paper house,
Not far away, O Haru San
Beside her paper window sat,
Just like a lady on a fan.
Red rose the moon behind a screen
Of purple-bright wistaria;
Within, a scroll upon the wall,
A vase or two, and that was all,
Except the honorable mat
Whereon the lovely lady sat.
A sweet kimono, primrose-hued,
She wore, with storks and lilies stewed,
And thus all night the moon she viewed,
Regardless of malaria.
To her, absorbed in tea and thought,
Did Totsi come to pay his call.
(He left his shoes, and not his hat
Within the honorable hall.)
He bowed and bowed and bowed and bowed,
He smiled and smiled and smiled again;
His heart—he did not stop for that—
Went Japanese for pit-a-pat.
He told his tale with touching grace;
Alas, how cold he lovely face!
Could she, but for a moment's space,
Have felt herself a child again!

[illustration - "Yet as he fled, he dared not look at Fusiyama, stern and high."]
"Who steals," she said, "he must restore.
You are forgiven,"— how stern her brow!—
Low Totsi knelt (he smiled, of course,)
And sought the outer room again;
Where, tumbling blindly through the wall
('Twas only paper, after all!),
As in a dream he homeward sped,
The dawn above him deepening red:
All wilted was the bough, and dead,—
How could he make it bloom again!"
He thought all day, he dreamed all night;
The smile grew wan about his lips.
He listless watched his good papa,
Who worked with busy finger-tips.
For lovely lacquer bowls he made,
And jars of priceless pottery,
And painted— Totsi's eyes grew wide—
He, too, the gentle craft had tried.
To-day— at once— he would begin!
(And, oh, what fun it must have been
That pretty clay to dabble in,
All soft and terra-cotta-ry!)
The storks went flying day by day
About the groves of tall bamboo
(I wonder if they really looked
As on the teapots now they do!)
Afar the great Mikado reigned
In solitude imperial,
O'er Yokohama, Tokio,
Nagasaki, Hakodate,
Kobe, Kioto.
The careless world swung high, swung low,
And still by Kinni-goyoto
A little lad, all pale with thought
With cunning skill and patience wrought,
By Nature's self divinely taught,
A work of art ethereal.
Then dawned at last a joyous day,
When proud O Haru dressed her hair,
And gave a garden-party, gay
With sports polite and debonair.
The prettiest girls in all Japan
They flocked from near and far to her.
And shone, beneath the smiling skies,
Like many-tinted butterflies,
Then, treading softly, as before,
Came Totsi to the garden door.
His treasure bore he on his knee:
"Will Her Augustness deign to see
The worthless gift I bring?" said he,
And, trembling, gave the jar to her.

[illustration - "Beside her paper window sat, just like a lady on a fan."]
Oh, miracle of loving skill!
Oh, marvel of the potter's art!
O Haru dropped her samiesen
And gazed with wondering lips apart.
For, fresh as first its blossoms burst,
She saw her stolen cherry-bough;
Each airy twig, each petal pure,
Portrayed with touch so fine and sure
That none may paint its like, mayhap,—
Except another little Jap!
"Now yours," she cried, "and fairly earned,
The grace that once to give I spurned!
For what you took you have returned—
It is the same, the very bough!"
With laughter low and soft amaze
They flew the gift to celebrate;
They drank the honorable wine,
The honorable cake they ate;

[illustration - "'Will Her Augustness deign to see the worthless gift I bring?' said he."]
And what they could not finish (though it may not seem polite to you!)
In sleeve and sash they tucked away
To carry home and eat next day!
So, swift the festive hours they sped,
And when the moon was rising red,
Their "Sayonaras" sweet they said
(The Japanese "Good night to you!")
And Totsi— never was a child
So glad as he, that happy night!
For once again he smiling saw
His face withing the mirror bright.
And by his side, O Haru's gift,
There stood— oh, vision beautiful!—
Instead of cake or sugar-plum,
A darling whie chrysanthemum!
So ends the tale.
Ah long ago,
He lived by Kinni-goyoto;
Yet in the land of far Japan
Still may you read, on vase or fan,
The tale of proud O Haru San
And Totsi, dear and dutiful:
In Yokohama, Tokio
Nagasaki, Hakodate,
Kobe, Kioto.