Friday, 5 June 2015

The Amè-ya

Further to Blossoms from a Japanese Garden (5 June 2015), I just had to check the context on this one. What exactly was an Amè-ya, the vendor celebrated in the first poem in Mary Fenollosa's 1913 illustrated collection of poems for children, Blossoms from a Japanese garden: A Book of Child-Verses? I'll quote first.

Blossoms from a Japanese garden
A Book of Child-Verses (1913)
by Mary Fenollosa
out of US copyright


Down the narrow streets of Yeddo
    Comes a peddler old and gray,
On his back a wondrous outfit,
    In his mouth a pipe of clay.
Loud he whistles, and the children.
    Crowding, haste from near and far.
Clasp their little hands for pleasure,
    "Yonder comes the Amè-ya!"

Gently down he sets the work-shop.
    On whose lacquered shelves is laid
Rice-flour paste in lacquered vessels.
    Tinted every different shade.
Marvellous are the things he fashions,
    Birds and beasts and moon and star.
"Now what will you, bright-eyed youngsters?"
    Gaily asks the Amè-ya.

"First a dragon." Soft and pliant
    Swells the red and yellow dough.
Like a curious twisted bubble
    From his pipe they watch it blow.
Eyes of bead, and fins of silver.
    There, 'tis finished, naught to mar.
"Ah, it's mine!" the children clamor,
    "Give it to me, Amè-ya!"

"Bring your rin, and bring your tempo,
    Cheap the price for such a sight.
Every child shall have a wonder
    If I blow and blow till night."
Fruit and flower, see them growing
    Planted in a tiny jar.
'Tis no marvel that the children
    Love the kindly Amè-ya.

- THE AMÈ-YA, Blossoms from a Japanese garden: A Book of Child-Verses (Mary Fenollosa, New York: Frederick A.Stokes, 1913, Internet Archive cu31924023417839).

Rin. One-tenth of a cent. [A coin of the Meiji era - see Currency Wiki]
Tempo. Eight cents, a long, oval copper coin with a square hole in the middle. [See British Museum]

The poem had previously appeared elsewhere, including an 1894 edition (Vol. 67, page 245) of The Youth's Companion children's magazine; and the 1902 spinoff compilation The Wide World (Youth's Companion Series, Boston: Ginn & Company / Athenaeum Press, 1902, page 39), with a monochrome illustration.

The Amè-ya
Google Books scan of
The Wide World (1902)

As might be broadly guessed from the poem and images, an Amè-ya was a traditional vendor of inflated sugar/gluten novelties, a food-based version of animal balloons that could either be eaten or allowed to dry and used as ornaments/toys. (Gluten is the sticky protein left after you wash the starch away from cereal flour, although some accounts call it "dough", it's not dough in the usual sense, but more rubbery in texture).
... the amè-ya, or jelly-man, who, from barley-gluten, will blow you, by a reed, rats, rabbits, or monkeys; ...
- Japonica (Edward Arnold, illus. Robert Blum, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1891, page 66, Internet Archive japonica00arnoiala).
There are a number of more detailed accounts of the specifics:
Google Books scan
"Our Neighbourhood" (1874)
The Améya is really a genius of a higher order. He combines painting and modelling together. He carries about with him his studio and appliances, and is prepared to execute any order, be it never so difficult. He'll stick you a bit of his tenacious barley gluten on a bamboo joint, and, puff-f-f-f—it's a white glistening balloon—pinch it in at the middle, fashion off the mouth, draw out a bit for a cord, wind it quickly twice round, and back again, tie it into a bow knot, and you have as well-shaped a gourd in a few moments as nature ever took months to produce. "Please, Sir! I want a couple of rats nibbling a bag of barley." Ah ! My chubby little master, that'll surely puzzle him you think. Not a bit of it. He does not even stop to consider how it is to be set about, but takes in a twinkling out of drawer No. 2, a lump of his plastic material of just the proper size. This he kneads, and rolls, and pulls out into long glistening threads, and rolls up again, and when of the right consistency dusts it with rice flour, to prevent it clinging to his fingers, and then, giving it a pyramidal shape, pinches out a bit at each side of the apex, snips out with scissors a pair of ears, lengthens out the snout, pulls out a tail a-piece, fashions the cone in the middle into a bag, a couple of dots for the eyes of the rats, a streak of red paint underneath them, a bar of blue below that again, a putf of gold dust and—"Now my little boy, where's your coin? Your rats are finished.
    "To try and puzzle the old Artist by devising difficult commissions for him to execute, is a favorite game with the youngsters. He's equal to any call on his ingenuity, however, whether he be required to fashion a monkey swinging by one hand from a branch, whilst it encircles a little one with its disengaged arm—a pair of rats in deadly combat with their tails for weapons,—or a frog on his hind legs, daintily pointing his toes and shading himself from the sun under a mushroom which he uses as an umbrella :—no flight of imagination seems too high for him. The thought once conceived, his execution of it is marvellously rapid. He's a rare old fellow, with his high bald forehead and twinkling eye, his face well bronzed by exposure to sun and wind, and the lines and curves about his mouth deepened by the ready smile, which he has for all comers. He's a great favorite with the little folks—most of whom he knows by name—and has a merry word for all whilst his fingers nimbly ply their trade.
- "Our Neighbourhood": Or, Sketches in the Suburbs of Yedo ("T.A.P." [Theobald Andrew Purcell], Yokohama: 1874 - originally published in Japanese Weekly Mail, page 26).
Fig. 6.The Travelling Ame-Ya.
Google Books scan from Sladen,
The Windsor Magazine (1895)
The very little children seem to like the dough toys, blown out as glass is blown by the travelling ameya, shown in Fig. 6. He sets up his wooden stall and with a little pipe blows out and moulds from flour paste gourds, cocks and hens, and flowers, and Japanese cupids, and what not, while the children stand round the stall in silent, stolid Asiatic expectation.
      In Fig. 6 the ameya has made a few of his toys and impaled them on the wooden spikes of his stand. On the right are seen the bamboo on which he slings the stand to carry it away, and the flour drawers and kneading tub, which he slings at the other end to balance it. The high kiri-wood clogs the Japanese use for wet weather show very clearly on the feet of the big boy. They are held in position by a looped thong, which passes between the first and second toes. Theatre Street, where we saw the ameya on our first visit to it, is naturally much frequented by him.
- Odd Scenes in Japanese Streets, Douglas Sladen, Illustrated with Photographs by the Author, Windsor Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly for Men and Women, Vol. 1, May 1895, page 524, Internet Archive
I also found a couple of related children's stories
The Spending of Two Sen.

Oto had been busy all the morning. There was much work to be done in the Japanese home. The vase with the fox image on it must be dusted. Oto could dust very care. fill; Then the rice for dinner had to be dated. Oto helped with that, too.
      Now mother might rest. She gave Oto two sen. He held them tightly in his little brown fist. What should he buy with his money?
      We went to the door of the low house. Along the narrow street the sunshine lay on the doorsteps of other low houses. Our sun thines on the Japanese children, too. The wind brought the sweet smell of the cherrybloom.
      Far off some one was singing. The sound came nearer. It was the good Ameya. Oto danced with delight. The Ameya made sugar toys for children who had sen to spend.
      The Ameya wore a red and blue obi. He carried a wooden bench. On the front of the bench was a frame. The frame held many long sticks, with a toy on the end of each. Oh, to see the gay colors! Fish there were! Monkeys, flowers, everything!
      He stopped by Oto's door. He set down his bench. Little Isuna ran out from his house across the street. He looked with big eyes at the toys. Isuna had no money. Isuna's father was ill.
      The Ameya bowed low. “What will the little gentleman have?” he said.
      “Oh, a fish," shouted Isuna.
      “For two sen I make a fish,”—said the Ameya—“a yellow fish.”
      Isuna’s eyes filled with tears. He had not one sen.
      "I like fishes,” said Oto. “You may make me one.”
      The Ameya had barley sugar. He mixed water with it, and made a paste. He dipped a yellow bamboo-stick into the paste. He blew through the stick. A fish began to grow. Soom the Ameya used his finger. Now a head, fins and tail appear. There were cakes of paint in the drawer of the bench. The Ameya picked out one, yellow, like gold. He found a long-handled brush. He painted the fish with big spots of yellow.
      There never was such a beautiful fish. The Ameya put it, still soft, in Oto's hand. Isuna was watching. Oto might do many things with his fish. He could eat it now. He would lay it away. It would be hard in a few days. Then he would play with it. Isuna had no playthings. They had not enough rice, even.
      Isuna was going home now. Oto ran after him.
      “You may have my fish, Isuna,” he said. Then Oto went back, and sat down on his doorstep. He had spent his two sen. He could see Isuna showing the fish to his mother. Isuna was laughing.
      Far away, again, the Ameya was singing his wares. And the sun shone on everything.—Exchange.
- The Spending of Two Sen, The Christian Register (Christian Register Association weekly from Boston, Mass.), February 9th, 1899, page 159.
There's a longer fictionalised scene of an ameya at work in The Golden Lotus, and Other Legends of Japan (Edward Greey, Boston: Lee and Shepard / New York: Charles T. Dillingham, 1883, Internet Archive goldenlotusother00gree). See pages 89-93.

 - Ray

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