Throughout the history of Japan, the aim of every rebellious clan or general was first to get possession of the Emperor. Having done this, the possession of the Imperial authority was unquestioned. Whoever was opposed to the Emperor was technically called "Cho-teki," the enemy of the throne, a crime as heinous as treason in the West. The existence of this sentiment throughout the Empire is an interesting fact. For, at the very same time, there was the most intense loyalty to the local lord or "daimyo." This is a fine instance of a certain characteristic of the Japanese of which I must speak more fully in another connection, but which, for convenience, I term "nominality." It accepts and, apparently at least, is satisfied with a nominal state of affairs, which may be quite different from the real. The theoretical aspect of a question is accepted without reference to the actual facts. The real power may be in the hands of the general or of the daimyo, but if authority nominally proceeds from the throne, the theoretical demands are satisfied. The Japanese themselves describe this state as "yumei-mujitsu." In a sense, throughout the centuries there has been a genuine loyalty to the throne, but it has been of the "yumei-mujitsu" type, apparently satisfied with the name only. In recent times, however, there has been growing dissatisfaction with this state of affairs. Some decades before Admiral Perry appeared there were patriots secretly working against the Tokugawa Shogunate. Called in Japanese "Kinnoka," they may be properly termed in English "Imperialists." Their aim was to overthrow the Shogunate and restore full and direct authority to the Emperor. Not a few lost their lives because of their views, but these are now honored by the nation as patriots.
There is a tendency among scholars to-day to magnify the patriotism and loyalty of preceding ages, also to emphasize the dignity and Imperial authority of the Emperor. The patriotic spirit is now so strong that it blinds their eyes to many of the salient facts of their history. Their patriotism is more truly a passion than an idea. It is an emotion rather than a conception. It demands certain methods of treatment for their ancient history that Western scholarship cannot accept. It forbids any really critical research into the history of the past, since it might cast doubt on the divine descent of the Imperial line. It sums itself up in passionate admiration, not to say adoration, of the Emperor. In him all virtues and wisdom abound. No fault or lack in character can be attributed to him. I question if any rulers have ever been more truly apotheosized by any nation than the Emperors of Japan. The essence of patriotism to-day is devotion to the person of the Emperor. It seems impossible for the people to distinguish between the country and its ruler. He is the fountain of authority. Lower ranks gain their right and their power from him alone. Power belongs to the people only because, and in proportion as, he has conferred it upon them. Even the Constitution has its authority only because he has so determined. Should he at any time see fit to change or withdraw it, it is exceedingly doubtful whether one word of criticism or complaint would be publicly uttered, and as for forcible opposition, of such a thing no one would dream.
Japanese patriotism has had some unique and interesting features. In some marked respects it is different from that of lands in which democratic thought has held sway. For 1500 years, under the military social order, loyalty has consisted of personal attachment to the lord. It has ever striven to idealize that lord. The "yumei-mujitsu" characteristic has helped much in this idealizing process, by bridging the chasm between the prosaic fact and the ideal. Now that the old form of feudalism has been abruptly abolished, with its local lords and loyalty, the old sentiment of loyalty naturally fixes itself on the Emperor. Patriotism has perhaps gained intensity in proportion as it has become focalized. The Emperor is reported to be a man of commanding ability and good sense. It is at least true that he has shown wisdom in selecting his councilors. There is general agreement that he is not a mere puppet in the hands of his advisers, but that he exercises a real and direct influence on the government of the day. During the late war with China it was currently reported that from early morning until late at night, week after week and month after month, he worked upon the various matters of business that demanded his attention. No important move or decision was made without his careful consideration and final approval. These and other noble qualities of the present Emperor have, without doubt, done much toward transferring the loyalty of the people from the local daimyo to the national throne.
An event in the political world has recently occurred which illustrates pointedly the statements just made in regard to the enthusiastic loyalty of the people toward the Emperor. In spite of the fact that the national finances are in a distressing state of confusion, and notwithstanding the struggle which has been going on between successive cabinets and political parties, the former insisting on, and the latter refusing, any increase in the land tax, no sooner was it suggested by a small political party, to make a thank-offering to the Emperor of 20,000,000 yen out of the final payment of the war indemnity lately received, than the proposal was taken up with zeal by both of the great and utterly hostile political parties, and immediately by both houses of the Diet. The two reasons assigned were, "First, that the victory over China would never have been won, nor the indemnity obtained, had not the Emperor been the victorious, sagacious Sovereign that he is, and that, therefore, it is only right that a portion of the indemnity should be offered to him; secondly, that His Majesty is in need of money, the allowance granted by the state for the maintenance of the Imperial Household being insufficient, in view of the greatly enhanced prices of commodities and the large donations constantly made by His Majesty for charitable purposes."[Q] This act of the Diet appeals to the sentiment of the people as the prosaic, business-like method of the Occident would not do. The significance of the appropriation made by the Diet will be better realized if it is borne in mind that the post-bellum programme for naval and military expansion which was adopted in view of the large indemnity (being, by the way, 50,000,000 yen), already calls for an expenditure in excess of the indemnity. Either the grand programme must be reduced, or new funds be raised, yet the leading political parties have been absolutely opposed to any substantial increase of the land tax, which seems to be the only available source of increase even to meet the current expenses of the government, to say nothing of the post-bellum programme. So has a burst of sentiment buried all prudential considerations. This is a species of loyalty that Westerners find hard to appreciate. To them it would seem that the first manifestation of loyalty would be to provide the Emperor's Cabinet and executive officers with the necessary funds for current expenses; that the second would be to give the Emperor an allowance sufficient to meet his actual needs, and the third,—if the funds held out,—to make him a magnificent gift. This sentimental method of loyalty to the Emperor, however, is matched by many details of common life. A sentimental parting gift or speech will often be counted as more friendly than thoroughly business-like relations. The prosaic Occidental discounts all sentiment that has not first satisfied the demands of business and justice. Such a standard, however, seems to be repugnant to the average Japanese mind.
The theory that all authority resides in the Emperor is also enforced by recent history. For the constitution was not wrung from an unwilling ruler by an ambitious people, but was conferred by the Emperor of his own free will, under the advice of his enlightened and progressive councilors.
As an illustration of some of the preceding statements let me quote from a recent article by Mr. Yamaguchi, Professor of History in the Peeresses' School and Lecturer in the Imperial Military College. After speaking of the abolition of feudalism and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy, he goes on to say: "But we must not suppose that the sovereign power of the state has been transferred to the Imperial Diet. On the contrary, it is still in the hands of the Emperor as before.... The functions of the government are retained in the Emperor's own hands, who merely delegates them to the Diet, the Government (Cabinet), and the Judiciary, to exercise the same in his name. The present form of government is the result of the history of a country which has enjoyed an existence of many centuries. Each country has its own peculiar characteristics which differentiate it from others. Japan, too, has her history, different from that of other countries. Therefore we ought not to draw comparisons between Japan and other countries, as if the same principles applied to all indiscriminately. The Empire of Japan has a history of 3000 [!] years, which fact distinctly marks out our nationality as unique. The monarch, in the eyes of the people, is not merely on a par with an aristocratic oligarchy which rules over the inferior masses, or a few nobles who equally divide the sovereignty among themselves. According to our ideas, the monarch reigns over and governs the country in his own right, and not by virtue of rights conferred by the constitution.... Our Emperor possesses real sovereignty and also exercises it. He is quite different from other rulers who possess but a partial sovereignty.... He has inherited the rights of sovereignty from his ancestors. Thus it is quite legitimate to think that the rights of sovereignty exist in the Emperor himself.... The Empire of Japan shall be reigned over and governed by a line of Emperors unbroken for ages eternal. (Constitution, Art. LXXIII.) ... The sovereign power of the state cannot be dissociated from the Imperial Throne. It lasts forever, along with the Imperial line of succession, unbroken for ages eternal. If the Imperial house cease to exist, the Empire falls."
In a land where adopted sons are practically equivalent to lineal descendants (another instance of the "yumei-mujitsu" type of thought), and where marriage is essentially polygamous, and where the "yumei-mujitsu" spirit has allowed the sovereignty to be usurped in fact, though it may not be in name, it is not at all wonderful that the nation can boast of a longer line of Emperors than any other land. But when monogamy becomes the rule in Japan, as it doubtless will some day, and if lineal descent should be considered essential to inheritance, as in the Occident, it is not at all likely that the Imperial line will maintain itself unbroken from father to son indefinitely. Although the present Emperor has at least five concubines besides his wife, the Empress, and has had, prior to 1896, no less than thirteen children by them, only two of these are still living, both of them the offspring of his concubines; one of these is a son born in 1879, proclaimed the heir in 1887, elected Crown Prince in 1889, and married in 1900; he is said to be in delicate health; the second child is a daughter born in 1890. Since 1896 several children have been born to the Emperor and two or three have died, so that at present writing there are but four living children. These are all offspring of concubines.[R]
In speaking, however, of the Japanese apotheosis of their Emperor, we must not forget how the "divine right of kings" has been a popular doctrine, even in enlightened England, until the eighteenth century, and is not wholly unknown in other lands at the present day. Only in recent times has the real source of sovereignty been discovered by historical and political students. That the Japanese are not able to pass at one leap from the old to the new conception in regard to this fundamental element of national authority is not at all strange. Past history, together with that which is recent, furnishes a satisfactory explanation for the peculiar nature of Japanese patriotism. This is clearly due to the nature of the social order.
A further fact in this connection is that, in a very real sense, the existence of Japan as a unified nation has depended on apotheosis. It is the method that all ancient nations have adopted at one stage of their social development for expressing their sense of national unity and the authority of national law. In that stage of social development when the common individual counts for nothing, the only possible conception of the authority of law is that it proceeds from a superior being—the highest ruler. And in order to secure the full advantage of authority, the supreme ruler must be raised to the highest possible pinnacle, must be apotheosized. That national laws should be the product of the unvalued units which compose the nation was unthinkable in an age when the worth of the individual was utterly unrecognized. The apotheosis of the Emperor was neither an unintelligible nor an unreasonable practice. But now that an individualistic, democratic organization of society has been introduced resting on a principle diametrically opposed to that of apotheosis, a struggle of most profound importance has been inaugurated. Does moral or even national authority really reside in the Emperor? The school-teachers are finding great difficulty in teaching morality as based exclusively on the Imperial Edict. The politicians of Japan are not content with leaving all political and state authority to the Emperor. Not long ago (June, 1898), for the first time in Japan, a Cabinet acknowledging responsibility to a political party took the place of one acknowledging responsibility only, to the Emperor. For this end the politicians have been working since the first meeting of the national Diet. Which principle is to succeed, apotheosis and absolute Imperial sovereignty, or individualism with democratic sovereignty? The two cannot permanently live together. The struggle is sure to be intense, for the question of authority, both political and moral, is inevitably involved.
The parallel between Japanese and Roman apotheosis is interesting. I can present it no better than by quoting from that valuable contribution to social and moral problems, "The Genesis of the Social Conscience," by Prof. H.S. Nash: "Yet Rome with all her greatness could not outgrow the tribal principle.... We find something that reveals a fundamental fault in the whole system. It is the apotheosis of the Emperors. The process of apotheosis was something far deeper than servility in the subject conspiring with vanity in the ruler. It was a necessity of the state. There was no means of insuring the existence of the state except religion. In the worship of the Caesars the Empire reverenced its own law. There was no other way in which pagan Rome could guarantee the gains she had made for civilization. Yet the very thing that was necessary to her was in logic her undoing.... The worship of the Emperor undid the definition of equality the logic of the Empire demanded. Again apotheosis violated the divine unity of humanity upon which alone the Empire could securely build."[S]
That the final issue of Japan's experience will be like that of Rome I do not believe. For her environment is totally different. But the same struggle of the two conflicting principles is already on. Few, even among the educated classes, realize its nature or profundity. The thinkers who adhere to the principle of apotheosis do so admittedly because they see no other way in which to secure authority for law, whether political or moral. Here we see the importance of those conceptions of God, of law, of man, which Christianity alone can give.
From patriotism we naturally pass to the consideration of courage. Nothing was more prized and praised in Old Japan. In those days it was the deliberate effort of parents and educators to develop courage in children. Many were their devices for training the young in bravery. Not content with mere precept, they were sent alone on dark stormy nights to cemeteries, to houses reputed to be haunted, to dangerous mountain peaks, and to execution grounds. Many deeds were required of the young whose sole aim was the development of courage and daring. The worst name you could give to a samurai was "koshinuke" (coward). Many a feud leading to a fatal end has resulted from the mere use of this most hated of all opprobrious epithets. The history of Japan is full of heroic deeds. I well remember a conversation with a son of the old samurai type, who told me, with the blood tingling in his veins, of bloody deeds of old and the courage they demanded. He remarked incidentally that, until one had slain his first foe, he was ever inclined to tremble. But once the deed had been done, and his sword had tasted the life blood of a man, fear was no more. He also told me how for the sake of becoming inured to ghastly sights under nerve-testing circumstances, the sons of samurai were sent at night to the execution grounds, there, by faint moonlight to see, stuck on poles, the heads of men who had been recently beheaded.
The Japanese emotion of courage is in some respects peculiar. At least it appears to differ from that of the Anglo-Saxon. A Japanese seems to lose all self-control when the supreme moment comes; he throws himself into the fray with a frenzied passion and a fearless madness allied to insanity. Such is the impression I have gathered from the descriptions I have heard and the pictures I have seen. Even the pictures of the late war with China give evidence of this.
But their courage is not limited to fearlessness in the face of death; it extends to complete indifference to pain. The honorable method by which a samurai who had transgressed some law or failed in some point of etiquette, might leave this world is well known to all, the "seppuku," the elegant name for the vulgar term "hara-kiri" or "belly-cutting." To one who is sensitive to tales of blood, unexpurgated Japanese history must be a dreadful thing. The vastness of the multitudes who died by their own hands would be incredible, were there not ample evidence of the most convincing nature. It may be said with truth that suicide became apotheosized, a condition that I suppose cannot be said to have prevailed in any other land.
In thus describing the Japanese sentiment in regard to "seppuku," there is, however, some danger of misrepresenting it. "Seppuku" itself was not honored, for in the vast majority of cases those who performed it were guilty of some crime or breach of etiquette. And not infrequently those who were condemned to commit "seppuku" were deficient in physical courage; in such cases, some friend took hold of the victim's hand and forced him to cut himself. Such cowards were always despised. To be condemned to commit "seppuku" was a disgrace, but it was much less of a disgrace than to be beheaded as a common man, for it permitted the samurai to show of what stuff he was made. It should be stated further that in the case of "seppuku," as soon as the act of cutting the abdomen had been completed, always by a single rapid stroke, someone from behind would, with a single blow, behead the victim. The physical agony of "seppuku" was, therefore, very brief, lasting but a few seconds.
I can do no better than quote in this connection a paragraph from the "Religions of Japan" by W.E. Griffis:
"From the prehistoric days when the custom of 'Junshi,' or dying with the master, required the interment of living retainers with their dead lord, down through all the ages to the Revolution of 1868, when at Sendai and Aidzu scores of men and boys opened their bowels, and mothers slew their infant sons and cut their own throats, there has been flowing a river of suicides' blood having its springs in devotion of retainers to masters, and of soldiers to a lost cause.... Not only a thousand, but thousands of thousands of soldiers hated their parents, wife, child, friend, in order to be disciples to the supreme loyalty. They sealed their creed by emptying their own veins.... The common Japanese novels read like records of slaughter-houses. No Molech or Shivas won more victims to his shrine than has this idea of Japanese loyalty, which is so beautiful in theory but so hideous in practice ... Could the statistics of the suicides during this long period be collected, their publication would excite in Christendom the utmost incredulity."[T]
I well remember the pride, which almost amounted to glee, with which a young blood gave me the account of a mere boy, perhaps ten or twelve years old, who cut his bowels in such a way that the deed was not quite complete, and then tying his "obi" or girdle over it, walked into the presence of his mother, explained the circumstances which made it a point of honor that he should commit "seppuku," and forthwith untied his "obi" and died in her presence.
These are the ideals of courage and loyalty that have been held up before Japanese youth for centuries. Little comment is needful. From the evolutionary standpoint, it is relatively easy to understand the rise of these ideas and practices. It is clear that they depend entirely on the social order. With the coming in of the Western social order, feudal lords and local loyalty and the carrying of swords were abolished. Are the Japanese any less courageous now than they were thirty years ago? The social order has changed and the ways of showing courage have likewise changed. That is all that need be said.
Are we to say that the Japanese are more courageous than other peoples? Although no other people have manifested such phenomena as the Japanese in regard to suicide for loyalty, yet any true appreciation of Western peoples will at once dispel the idea that they lack courage. Manifestations of courage differ according to the nature of the social order, but no nation could long maintain itself, to say nothing of coming into existence, without a high degree of this endowment.
But Japanese courage is not entirely of the physical order, although that is the form in which it has chiefly shown itself thus far. The courage of having and holding one's own convictions is known in Japan as elsewhere. There has been a long line of martyrs. During the decades after the introduction of Buddhism, there was such opposition that it required much courage for converts to hold to their beliefs. So, too, at the time of the rise of the new Buddhist sects, there was considerable persecution, especially with the rise of the Nichiren Shu. And when the testing time of Christianity came, under the edict of the Tokugawas by which it was suppressed, tens of thousands were found who preferred death to the surrender of their faith. In recent times, too, much courage has been shown by the native Christians.
As an illustration is the following: When an eminent American teacher of Japanese youth returned to Japan after a long absence, his former pupils gathered around him with warm admiration. They had in the interval of his absence become leaders among the trustees and faculty of the most prosperous Christian college in Japan. He was accordingly invited to deliver a course of lectures in the Chapel. It was generally known that he was no longer the earnest Christian that he had once been, when, as teacher in an interior town, he had inspired a band of young men who became Christians under his teaching and a power for good throughout the land. But no one was prepared to hear such extreme denunciations of Christianity and Christian missions and missionaries as constituted the substance of his lectures. At first the matter was passed over in silence. But, by the end of the second lecture, the missionaries entered a protest, urging that the Christian Chapel should not again be used for such lectures. The faculty, however, were not ready to criticise their beloved teacher. The third lecture proved as abusive as the others; the speaker seemed to have no sense of propriety. A glimpse of his thought, and method of expression may be gained from a single sentence: "I have been commissioned, gentlemen, by Jesus Christ, to tell you that there is no such thing as a soul or a future life." Although the missionary members of the faculty urged it, the Japanese members, most of whom were his former pupils, were unwilling to take any steps whatever to prevent the continuation of the blasphemous lectures. The students of the institution accordingly held a mass-meeting, in which the matter was discussed, and it was decided to inform the speaker that the students did not care to hear any more such lectures. The question then arose as to who would deliver the resolution. There was general hesitancy, and anyone who has seen or known the lecturer, and has heard him speak, can easily understand this feeling; for he is a large man with a most impressive and imperious manner. The young man, however, who had perhaps been most active in agitating the matter, and who had presented the resolution to the meeting, volunteered to go. He is slight and rather small, even for a Japanese. Going to the home of the lecturer, he delivered calmly the resolution of the students. To the demand as to who had drawn up and presented the resolution to the meeting, the reply was: "I, sir." That ended the conversation, but not the matter. From that day the idolized teacher was gradually lowered from his pedestal. But the moral courage of the young man who could say in his enraged presence, "I, sir," has not been forgotten. Neither has that of the young man who had acted as interpreter for the first lecture; not only did he decline to act in that capacity any longer, but, taking the first public opportunity, at the chapel service the following day, which proved to be Sunday, he went to the platform and asked forgiveness of God and of men that he had uttered such language as he had been compelled to use in his translating. Here, too, was moral courage of no mean order.
A frequent criticism of the Japanese is that they are fickle; that they run from one fad to another, from one idea to another, quickly tiring of each in turn. They are said to lack persistence in their amusements no less than in the most serious matters of life.
None will deny the element of truth in this charge. In fact, the Japanese themselves recognize that of late their progress has been by "waves," and not a few lament it. A careful study of school attendance will show that it has been subject to alternate waves of popularity and disfavor. Private schools glorying in their hundreds of pupils have in a short time lost all but a few score. In 1873 there was a passion for rabbits, certain varieties of which were then for the first time introduced into Japan. For a few months these brought fabulous prices, and became a subject of the wildest speculation. In 1874-75 cock-fighting was all the rage. Foreign waltzing and gigantic funerals were the fashion one year, while wrestling was the fad at another time, even the then prime minister, Count Kuroda, taking the lead. But the point of our special interest is as to whether fickleness is an essential element of Japanese character, and so dominant that wherever the people may be and whatever their surroundings, they will always be fickle; or whether this trait is due to the conditions of their recent history. Let us see.
Prof. Basil H. Chamberlain says, "Japan stood still so long that she has to move quickly and often now to make up for lost time." This states the case pretty well. Had we known Japan only through her Tokugawa period, the idea of fickleness would not have occurred to us; on the contrary, the dominant impression would have been that of the permanence and fixity of her life and customs. This quality or appearance of fickleness is, then, a modern trait, due to the extraordinary circumstances in which Japan finds herself. The occurrence of wave after wave of fresh fashions and fads is neither strange nor indicative of an essentially fickle disposition. Glancing below the surface for a moment, we shall see that there is an earnestness of purpose which is the reverse of fickle.
What nation, for example, ever voluntarily set itself to learn the ways and thoughts and languages of foreign nations as persistently as Japan? That there has been fluctuation of intensity is not so surprising as that, through a period of thirty years, she has kept steadily at it. Tens of thousands of her young men are now, able to read the English language with some facility; thousands are also able to read German and French. Foreign languages are compulsory in all the advanced schools. A regulation going into force in September, 1900, requires the study of two foreign languages. This has been done at a cost of many hundred thousands of dollars. There has been a fairly permanent desire and effort to learn all that the West has to teach. The element of fickleness is to be found chiefly in connection with the methods rather than in connection with the ends to be secured. From the moment when Japan discovered that the West had sources of power unknown to herself, and indispensable if she expected to hold her own with the nations of the world, the aim and end of all her efforts has been to master the secrets of that power. She has seen that education is one important means. That she should stumble in the adoption of educational methods is not strange. The necessary experience is being secured. But for a lesson of this sort, more than one generation of experience is required of a nation. For some time to come Japan is sure to give signs of unsteadiness, of lack of perfect balance.
A pitiful sight in Japan is that of boys not more than five or six years of age pushing or pulling with all their might at heavily loaded hand-carts drawn by their parents. Yet this is typical of one aspect of Japanese civilization. The work is largely done by young people under thirty, and vast multitudes of the workers are under twenty years of age. This is true not only of menial labor, but also in regard to labor involving more or less responsibility. In the post offices, for instance, the great majority of the clerks are mere boys. In the stores one rarely sees a man past middle age conducting the business or acting as clerk. Why are the young so prominent? Partly because of the custom of "abdication." As "family abdication" is frequent, it has a perceptible effect on the general character of the nation, and accounts in part for rash business ventures and other signs of impetuosity and unbalanced judgment. Furthermore, under the new civilization, the older men have become unfitted to do the required work. The younger and more flexible members of the rising generation can quickly adjust themselves to the new conditions, as in the schools, where the older men, who had received only the regular training in Chinese classics, were utterly incompetent as teachers of science. Naturally, therefore, except for instruction in these classics, the common-school teachers, during the earlier decades, were almost wholly young boys. The extreme youthfulness of school-teachers has constantly surprised me. In the various branches of government this same phenomenon is equally common. Young men have been pushed forward into positions with a rapidity and in numbers unknown in the West, and perhaps unknown in any previous age in Japan.
The rise and decline of the Christian Church in Japan has been instanced as a sign of the fickleness of the people. It is a mistaken instance, for there are many other causes quite sufficient to account for the phenomenon in question. Let me illustrate by the experience of an elderly Christian. He had been brought to Christ through the teachings of a young man of great brilliancy, whose zeal was not tempered with full knowledge—which, however, was not strange, in view of his limited opportunities for learning. His instruction was therefore narrow, not to say bigoted. Still the elderly gentleman found the teachings of the young man sufficiently strong and clear thoroughly to upset all his old ideas of religion, his polytheism, his belief in charms, his worship of ancestors, and all kindred ideas. He accepted the New Testament in simple unquestioning faith. But, after six or eight years, the young instructor began to lose his own primitive and simple faith. He at once proceeded to attack that which before he had been defending and expounding. Soon his whole theological position was changed. Higher criticism and religious philosophy were now the center of his preaching and writing. The result was that this old gentleman was again in danger of being upset in his religious thinking. He felt that his new faith had been received in bulk, so to speak, and if a part of it were false, as his young teacher now asserted, how could he know that any of it was true? Yet his heart's experience told him that he had secured something in this faith that was real; he was loath to lose it; consequently, for some years now, he has systematically stayed away from church services, and refrained from reading magazines in which these new and destructive views have been discussed; he has preferred to read the Bible quietly at home, and to have direct communion with God, even though, in many matters of Biblical or theoretical science, he might hold his mistaken opinions. A surface view of this man's conduct might lead one to think of him as fickle; but a deeper consideration will lead to the opposite conclusion.
The fluctuating condition of the Christian churches is not cause for astonishment, nor is it to be wholly, if at all, attributed to the fickleness of the national character, but rather, in a large degree, to the peculiar conditions of Japanese life. The early Christians had much to learn. They knew, experimentally, but little of Christian truth. The whole course of Christian thought, the historical development of theology, with the various heresies, the recent discussions resting on the so-called "higher criticism" of the Bible, together with the still more recent investigations into the history and philosophy of religion in general, were of course wholly unknown to them. This was inevitable, and they were blameless. All could not be learned at once.
Nor is there any blame attached to the missionaries. It was as impossible for them to impart to young and inexperienced Christians a full knowledge of these matters as it was for the latter to receive such information. The primary interest of the missionaries was in the practical and everyday duties of the Christian life, in the great problem of getting men and women to put away the superstitions and narrowness and sins springing from polytheism or practical atheism, and getting them started in ways of godliness. The training schools for evangelists were designed to raise up practical workers rather than speculative theologians. Missionaries considered it their duty (and they were beyond question right) to teach religion rather than the science and philosophy of religion. When, therefore, the evangelists discovered that they had not been taught these advanced branches of knowledge, it is not strange that some should rush after them, and, in their zeal for that which they supposed to be important, hasten to criticise their former teachers. As a result, they undermined both their own faith and that of many who had become Christians through their teaching.
The dullness of the church life, so conspicuous at present in many of the churches, is only partly due to the fact that the Christians are tired of the services. It is true that these services no longer afford them that mental and spiritual stimulus which they found at the first, and that, lacking this, they find little inducement to attend. But this is only a partial explanation. Looking over the experience of the past twenty-five years, we now see that the intense zeal of the first few years was a natural result of a certain narrowness of view. It is an interesting fact that, during one of the early revivals in the Doshisha, the young men were so intense and excited that the missionaries were compelled to restrain them. These young Christians felt and said that the missionaries were not filled with the Holy Spirit; they accordingly considered it their duty to exhort their foreign leaders, even to chide them for their lack of faith. The extraordinary expectations entertained by the young Japanese workers of those days and shared by the missionaries, that Japan was to become a Christian nation before the end of the century, was due in large measure to an ignorance alike of Christianity, of human nature, and of heathenism, but, under the peculiar conditions of life, this was well-nigh inevitable. And that great and sudden changes in feeling and thought have come over the infant churches, in consequence of the rapid acquisition of new light and new experience, is equally inevitable. These changes are not primarily attributable to fickleness of nature, but to the extraordinary additions to their knowledge.
There is good reason to think, however, that the period of these rapid fluctuations is passing away. All the various fads, fancies, and follies, together with the sciences, philosophies, ologies, and isms of the Western world, have already come to Japan, and are fairly well known. No essentially new and sudden experiences lie before the people.
Furthermore, the young men are year by year growing older. Experience and age together are giving a soberness and a steadiness otherwise unattainable. In the schools, in the government, in politics, and in the judiciary, and in the churches, men of years and of training in the new order are becoming relatively numerous, and erelong they will be in the majority. We may expect to see Japan gradually settling down to a steadiness and a regularity that have been lacking during the past few decades. The newcomer to Japan is much impressed with the expressionless character of so many Japanese faces. They appear like the images of Buddha, who is supposed to be so absorbed in profound meditation that the events of the passing world make no impression upon him. I have sometimes heard the expression "putty face" used to describe the appearance of the common Japanese face. This immobility of the Oriental is more conspicuous to a newcomer than to one who has seen much of the people and who has learned its significance. But though the "putty" effect wears off, there remains an impression of stoicism that never fades away. These two features, stolidity and stoicism, are so closely allied in appearance that they are easily mistaken, yet they are really distinct. The one arises from stupidity, from dullness of mind. The other is the product of elaborate education and patient drill. Yet it is often difficult to determine where the one ends and the other begins.
The stolidity of stupidity is, of course, commonest among the peasant class. For centuries they have been in closest contact with the soil; nothing has served to awaken their intellectual faculties. Reading and writing have remained to them profound mysteries. Their lives have been narrow in the extreme. But the Japanese peasant is not peculiar in this respect. Similar conditions in other lands produce similar results, as in France, according to Millet's famous painting, "The Man with the Hoe."
It is an interesting fact, however, that this stolidity of stupidity can be easily removed. I have often heard comments on the marked change in the facial expression of those adults who learn to read the Bible. Their minds are awakened; a new light is seen in their eyes as new ideas are started in their minds.
The impression of stolidity made on the foreigner is, due less, however, to stupidity than to a stoical education. For centuries the people have been taught to repress all expression of their emotions. It has been required of the inferior to listen quietly to his superior and to obey implicitly. The relations of superior and inferior have been drilled into the people for ages. The code of a military camp has been taught and enforced in all the homes. Talking in the presence of a superior, or laughter, or curious questions, or expressions of surprise, anything revealing the slightest emotion on the part of the inferior was considered a discourtesy.
Education in these matters was not confined to oral instruction; infringements were punished with great rigor. Whenever a daimyo traveled to Yedo, the capital, he was treated almost as a god by the people. They were required to fall on their knees and bow their faces to the ground, and the death penalty was freely awarded to those who failed to make such expressions of respect.
One source, then, of the systematic repression of emotional expression is the character of the feudal order of society that so long prevailed. The warrior who had best control of his facial expression, who could least expose to his foe or even to his ordinary friends the real state of his feelings, other things being equal, would come off the victor. In further explanation of this repression is the religion of Buddha. For 1200 years it has helped to mold the middle and the lower classes of the people. According to its doctrine, desire is the great evil; from it all other evils spring. For this reason, the aim of the religious life is to suppress all desire, and the most natural way to accomplish this is to suppress the manifestation of desire; to maintain passive features under all circumstances. The images of Buddha and of Buddhist saints are utterly devoid of expression. They indicate as nearly as possible the attainment of their desire, namely, freedom from all desire. This is the ambition of every earnest Buddhist. Being the ideal and the actual effort of life, it does affect the faces of the people. Lack of expression, however, does not prove absence of desire.
Every foreigner has had amusing proof of this. A common experience is the passing of a group of Japanese who, apparently, give no heed to the stranger. Neither by the turn of the head nor by the movement of a single facial muscle do they betray any curiosity, yet their eyes take in each detail, and involuntarily follow the receding form of the traveler. In the interior, where foreigners are still objects of curiosity, young men have often run up from behind, gone to a distance ahead of me, then turned abruptly, as though remembering something, and walked slowly back again, giving me, apparently, not the slightest attention. The motive was the desire to get a better look at the foreigner. They hoped to conceal it by a ruse, for there must be no manifestation of curiosity.
Phenomena which a foreigner may attribute to a lack of emotion of, at least, to its repression, may be due to some very different cause. Few things, for instance, are more astonishing to the Occidental than the silence on the part of the multitude when the Emperor, whom they all admire and love, appears on the street. Under circumstances which would call forth the most enthusiastic cheers from Western crowds, a Japanese crowd will maintain absolute silence. Is this from lack of emotion? By no means. Reverence dominates every breast. They would no more think of making noisy demonstrations of joy in the presence of the Emperor than a congregation of devout Christians would think of doing the same during a religious service. This idea of reverence for superiors has pervaded the social order—the intensity of the reverence varying with the rank of the superior. But a change has already begun. Silence is no longer enforced; no profound bowings to the ground are now demanded before the nobility; on at least one occasion during the recent China-Japan war the enthusiasm of the populace found audible expression when the Emperor made a public appearance. Even the stoical appearance of the people is passing away under the influence of the new order of society, with its new, dominant ideas. Education is bringing the nation into a large and throbbing life. Naturalness is taking the place of forced repression. A sense of the essential equality of man is springing up, especially among the young men, and is helping to create a new atmosphere in this land, where, for centuries, one chief effort has been to repress all natural expression of emotion.
While touring in Kyushu several years ago, I had an experience which showed me that the stolidity, or vivacity, of a people is largely dependent on the prevailing social order rather than on inherent nature. Those who have much to do with the Japanese have noted the extreme quiet and reserve of the women. It is a trait that has been lauded by both native and foreign writers. Because of this characteristic it is difficult for a stranger, to carry on conversation with them. They usually reply in monosyllables and in low tones. The very expression of their faces indicates a reticence, a calm stolidity, and a lack of response to the stimulus of social intercourse that is striking and oppressive to an Occidental. I have always found it a matter of no little difficulty to become acquainted with the women, and especially with the young women, in the church with which I have been connected. With the older women this reticence is not so marked. Now for my story:
One day I called on a family, expecting to meet the mother, with whom I was well acquainted. She proved to be out; but a daughter of whom I had not before heard was at home, and I began to talk with her. Contrary to all my previous experience, this young girl of less than twenty years looked me straight in the face with perfect composure, replied to my questions with clear voice and complete sentences, and asked questions in her turn without the slightest embarrassment. I was amazed. Here was a Japanese girl acting and talking with the freedom of an American. How was this to be explained? Difficult though it appeared, the problem was easily solved. The young lady had been in America, having spent several years in Radcliffe College. There it was that her Japanese demureness was dropped and the American frankness and vivacity of manner acquired. It was a matter simply of the prevailing social customs, and not of her inherent nature as a Japanese.
And this conclusion is enforced by the further fact that there is a marked increase in vivacity in those who become Christian. The repressive social restraints of the old social order are somewhat removed. A freedom is allowed to individuals of the Christian community, in social life, in conversation between men and women, in the holding of private opinions, which the non-Christian order of society did not permit. Sociability between the sexes was not allowed. The new freedom naturally results in greater vivacity and a far freer play of facial expression than the older order could produce. The vivacity and sociability of the geisha (dancing and singing girls), whose business it is to have social relations with the men, freely conversing with them, still further substantiates the view that the stolid, irrepressive features of the usual Japanese woman are social, not essential, characteristics. The very same girls exhibit alternately stolidity and vivacity according as they are acting as geisha or as respectable members of society.
This completes our direct study of the various elements characterizing the emotional nature of the Japanese. It is universally admitted that the people are conspicuously emotional. We have shown, however, that their feelings are subject to certain remarkable suppressions.
It remains to be asked why the Japanese are more emotional than other races? One reason doubtless is that the social conditions were such as to stimulate their emotional rather than their intellectual powers. The military system upon which the social structure rested kept the nation in its mental infancy. Twenty-eight millions of farmers and a million and a half of soldiers was the proportion during the middle of the nineteenth century. Education was limited to the soldiers. But although they cultivated their minds somewhat, their very occupation as soldiers required them to obey rather than to think; their hand-to-hand conflicts served mightily to stimulate the emotions. The entire feudal order likewise was calculated to have the same effect. The intellectual life being low, its inhibitions were correspondingly weak. When, in the future, the entire population shall have become fairly educated, and taught to think independently; and when government by the people shall have become much more universal, throwing responsibility on the people as never before, and stimulating discussion of the general principles of life, of government, and of law, then must the emotional features of the nation become less conspicuous.
It is a question of relative development. As children run to extremes of thought and action on the slightest occasion, simply because their intellects have not come into full activity, weeping at one moment and laughing at the next, so it is with national life. Where the general intellectual development of a people is retarded, the emotional manifestations are of necessity correspondingly conspicuous.
Even so fundamental a racial trait, then, as the emotional, is seen to be profoundly influenced by the prevailing social order. The emotional characteristics which distinguish the Japanese from other races are due, in the last analysis, to the nature of their social order rather than to their inherent nature or brain structure.
In certain directions, the Japanese reveal a development of aesthetic taste which no other nation has reached. The general appreciation of landscape-views well illustrates this point. The home and garden of the average workman are far superior artistically to those of the same class in the West. There is hardly a home without at least a diminutive garden laid out in artistic style with miniature lake and hills and winding walks. And this garden exists solely for the delight of the eye.
The general taste displayed in many little ways is a constant delight to the Western "barbarian" when he first comes to Japan. Nor does this delight vanish with time and familiarity, though it is tempered by a later perception of certain other features. Indeed, the more one knows of the details of their artistic taste, the more does he appreciate it. The "toko-no-ma," for example, is a variety of alcove usually occupying half of one side of a room. It indicates the place of honor, and guests are always urged to sit in front of it. The floor of the "toko-no-ma" is raised four or five inches above the level of the room and should never be stepped upon. In this "toko-no-ma" is usually placed some work of art, or a vase with flowers, and on the wall is hung a picture or a few Chinese characters, written by some famous calligraphist, which are changed with the seasons. The woodwork and the coloring of this part of the room is of the choicest. The "toko-no-ma" of the main room of the house is always restful to the eye; this "honorable spot" is found in at least one room in every house; and if the owner has moderate means, there are two or three such rooms. Only the homes of the poorest of the poor are without this ornament.
The Japanese show a refined taste in the coloring and decoration of rooms; natural woods, painted and polished, are common; every post and board standing erect must stand in the position in which it grew. A Japanese knows at once whether a board or post is upside down, though it would often puzzle a Westerner to decide the matter. The natural wood ceilings and the soft yellows and blues of the walls are all that the best trained Occidental eye could ask. Dainty decorations called the "ramma," over the neat "fusuma," consist of delicate shapes and quaint designs cut in thin boards, and serve at once as picture and ventilator. The drawings, too, on the "fusuma" (solid thick paper sliding doors separating adjacent rooms or shutting off the closet) are simple and neat, as is all Japanese pictorial art.
Japanese love for flowers reveals a high aesthetic development. Not only are there various flower festivals at which times the people flock to suburban gardens and parks, but sprays, budding branches, and even large boughs are invariably arranged in the homes and public halls. Every church has an immense vase for the purpose. The proper arrangement of flowers and of flowering sprays and boughs is a highly developed art. It is often one of the required studies in girls' schools. I have known two or three men who made their entire living by teaching this art. Miniature flowering trees are reared with consummate skill. An acquaintance of mine glories in 230 varieties of the plum tree, all in pots, some of them between two and three hundred years old. Shinto and Buddhist temples also reveal artistic qualities most pleasing to the eye.
But the main point of our interest lies in the explanation of this characteristic. Is the aesthetic sense more highly developed in Japan than in the West? Is it more general? Is it a matter of inherent nature, or of civilization?
In trying to meet these problems, I note, first of all, that the development of the Japanese aesthetic taste is one-sided; though advanced in certain respects it is belated in others. In illustration is the sense of smell. It will not do to say that "the Japanese have no use for the nose," and that the love of sweet smells is unknown. Sir Rutherford Alcock's off-quoted sentence that "in one of the most beautiful and fertile countries in the whole world the flowers have no scent, the birds no song, and the fruit and vegetables no flavor," is quite misleading, for it has only enough truth to make it the more deceptive. It is true that the cherry blossom has little or no odor, and that its beauty lies in its exquisite coloring and abounding luxuriance, but most of the native flowers are praised and prized by the Japanese for their odors, as well as for their colors, as the plum, the chrysanthemum, the lotus, and the rose. The fragrance of flowers is a frequent theme in Japanese poetry. Japanese ladies, like those of every land, are fond of delicate scents. Cologne and kindred wares find wide sale in Japan, and I am told that expensive musk is not infrequently packed away with the clothing of the wealthy.
But in contrast to this appreciation is a remarkable indifference to certain foul odors. It is amazing what horrid smells the cultivated Japanese will endure in his home. What we conceal in the rear and out of the way, he very commonly places in the front yard; though this is, of course, more true of the country than of large towns or cities. It would seem as if a high aesthetic development should long ago have banished such sights and smells. As a matter of fact, however, the aesthetics of the subject does not seem to have entered the national mind, any more than have the hygienics of the same subject.
In explanation of these facts, may it not be that the Japanese method of agriculture has been a potent hindrance to the aesthetic development of the sense of smell? In primitive times, when wealth was small, the only easy method which the people had of preserving the fertilizing properties of that which is removed from our cities by the sewer-system was such as we still find in use in Japan to-day. Perhaps the necessities of the case have toughened the mental, if not the physical, sense of the people. Perhaps the unaesthetic character of the sights and smells has been submerged in the great value of fertilizing materials. Then, too, with the Occidental, the thought is common that such odors are indications of seriously unhealthful conditions. We are accordingly offended not simply by the odor itself, but also by the associations of sickness and death which it suggests. Not so the unsophisticated Oriental. Such a correlation of ideas is only now arising in Japan, and changes are beginning to be made, as a consequence.
I cannot leave this point without drawing attention to the fact that the development of the sense of smell in these directions is relatively recent, even in the West. Of all the non-European nations and races, I have no doubt Japan is most free from horrid smells and putrid odors. And in view of our own recent emancipation it is not for us to marvel that others have made little progress. Rather is it marvelous that we should so easily forget the hole from which we have been so recently digged.
In turning to study certain features of Japanese pictorial art, we notice that a leading characteristic is that of simplicity. The greatest results are secured with the fewest possible strokes. This general feature is in part due to the character of the instrument used, the "fude," "brush." This same brush answers for writing. It admits of strong, bold outlines; and a large brush allows the exhibition of no slight degree of skill. As a result, "writing" is a fine art in Japan. Hardly a family that makes any pretense at culture but owns one or more framed specimens of writing. In Japan these rank as pictures do or mottoes in the West, and are prized not merely for the sentiment expressed, but also for the skill displayed in the use of the brush. Skillful writers become famous, often receiving large sums for small "pictures" which consist of but two or three Chinese characters.
No doubt the higher development of appreciation for natural scenery among the people in general is largely due to the character of the scenery itself. Steep hills and narrow valleys adjoin nearly every city in the land. Seas, bays, lakes, and rivers are numerous; reflected mountain scenes are common; the colors are varied and marked. Flowering trees of striking beauty are abundant. Any people living under these physical conditions, and sufficiently advanced in civilization to have leisure and culture, can hardly fail to be impressed with such wealth of beauty in the scenery itself.
In the artistic reproduction of this scenery, however, Japanese artists are generally supposed to be inferior to those of the West.
As often remarked, Japanese art has directed its chief endeavor to animals and to nature, thus failing to give to man his share of attention. This curious one-sidedness shows itself particularly in painting and in sculpture. In the former, when human beings are the subject, the aim has apparently been to extol certain characteristics; in warriors, the military or heroic spirit; in wise men, their wisdom; in monks and priests, their mastery over the passions and complete attainment of peace; in a god, the moral character which he is supposed to represent. Art has consequently been directed to bringing into prominence certain ideal features which must be over-accentuated in order to secure recognition; caricatures, rather than lifelike forms, are the frequent results. The images of multitudes of gods are frightful to behold; the aim being to show the character of the emotion of the god in the presence of evil. These idols are easily misunderstood, for we argue that the more frightful he is, the more vicious must be the god in his real character; not so the Oriental. To him the more frightful the image, the more noble the character. Really evil gods, such as demons, are always represented, I think, as deformed creatures, partly human and partly beast. It is to be remembered, in this connection, that idols are an imported feature of Japanese religion; Shinto to this day has no "graven image." All idols are Buddhistic. Moreover, they are but copies of the hideous idols of India; the Japanese artistic genius has added nothing to their grotesque appearance. But the point of interest for us is that the aesthetic taste which can revel in flowers and natural scenery has never delivered Japanese art from truly unaesthetic representations of human beings and of gods.
Standing recently before a toy store and looking at the numberless dolls offered for sale, I was impressed afresh with the lack of taste displayed, both in coloring and in form; their conventionality was exceedingly tiresome; their one attractive feature was their absurdity. But the moment I turned away from the imitations of human beings to look at the imitations of nature, the whole impression was changed. I was pleased with the artistic taste displayed in the perfectly imitated, delicately colored flowers. They were beautiful indeed.
Why has Japanese art made so little of man as man? Is it due to the "impersonality" of the Orient, as urged by some? This suggests, but does not give, the correct interpretation of the phenomenon in question. The reason lies in the nature of the ruling ideas of Oriental civilization. Man, as man, has not been honored or highly esteemed. As a warrior he has been honored; consequently, when pictured or sculptured as a warrior, he has worn his armor; his face, if visible, is not the natural face of a man, but rather that of a passionate victor, slaying his foe or planning for the same. And so with the priests and the teachers, the emperors and the generals; all have been depicted, not for what they are in themselves, but for the rank which they have attained; they are accordingly represented with their accouterments and robes and the characteristic attitudes of their rank. The effort to preserve their actual appearance is relatively rare. Manhood and womanhood, apart from social rank, have hardly been recognized, much less extolled by art. This feature, then, corresponds to the nature of the Japanese social order. The art of a land necessarily reveals the ruling ideals of its civilization. As Japan failed to discover the inherent nature and value of manhood and womanhood, estimating them only on a utilitarian basis, so has her art reflected this failure.
Apparently it has never attempted to depict the nude human form. This is partly explained, perhaps, by the fact that the development of a perfect physical form through exercise and training has not been a part of Oriental thought. Labor of every sort has been regarded as degrading. Training for military skill and prowess has indeed been common among the military classes; but the skill and strength themselves have been the objects of thought, rather than the beauty of the muscular development which they produce. When we recall the prominent place which the games of Greece took in her civilization previous to her development of art, and the stress then laid on perfect bodily form, we shall better understand why there should be such difference in the development of the art of these two lands. I have never seen a Japanese man or youth bare his arm to show with pride the development of his biceps; and so far as I have observed, the pride which students in the United States feel over well-developed calves has no counterpart in Japan—this, despite the fact that the average Japanese has calves which would turn the American youth green with envy.
From the absence of the nude in Japanese art it has been urged that Japan herself is far more morally pure than the West. Did the moral life of the people correspond to their art in this respect, the argument would have force. Unfortunately, such does not seem to be the case. It is further suggested as a reason that the bodily form of Oriental peoples is essentially unaesthetic; that the men are either too fat or too lean, and the women too plump when in the bloom of youth and too wrinkled and flabby when the first bloom is over. The absurdity of this suggestion raises a smile, and a query as to the experience which its author must have had. For any person who has lived in Japan must have seen individuals of both sexes, whom the most fastidious painter or sculptor would rejoice to secure as models.
It might be thought that a truly artistic people, who are also somewhat immoral, would have developed much skill in the portrayal of the nude female form. But such an attempt does not seem to have been made until recent times, and in imitation of Western art. At least such attempts have not been recognized as art nor have they been preserved as such. I have never seen either statue or picture of a nude Japanese woman. Even the pictures of famous prostitutes are always faultlessly attired. The number and size of the conventional hairpins, and the gaudy coloring of the clothing, alone indicate the immoral character of the woman represented.
It is not to be inferred, however, that immoral pictures have been unknown in Japan, for the reverse is true. Until forcibly suppressed by the government under the incentive of Western criticism, there was perfect freedom to produce and sell licentious and lascivious pictures. The older foreign residents in Japan testify to the frequency with which immoral scenes were depicted and exposed for sale. Here I merely say that these were not considered works of art; they were reproduced not in the interests of the aesthetic sense, but wholly to stimulate the taste for immoral things.
The absence of the nude from Japanese art is due to the same causes that led to the relative absence of all distinctively human nature from art. Manhood and womanhood, as such, were not the themes they strove to depict.
A curious feature of the artistic taste of the people is the marked fondness for caricature. It revels in absurd accentuations of special features. Children with protruding foreheads; enormously fat little men; grotesque dwarf figures in laughable positions; these are a few common examples. Nearly all of the small drawings and sculpturings of human figures are intentionally grotesque. But the Japanese love of the grotesque is not confined to its manifestation in art. It also reveals itself in other surprising ways. It is difficult to realize that a people who revel in the beauties of nature can also delight in deformed nature; yet such is the case. Stunted and dwarfed trees, trees whose branches have been distorted into shapes and proportions that nature would scorn—these are sights that the Japanese seem to enjoy, as well as "natural" nature. Throughout the land, in the gardens of the middle and higher classes, may be found specimens of dwarfed and stunted trees which have required decades to raise. The branches, too, of most garden shrubs and trees are trimmed in fantastic shapes. What is the charm in these distortions? First, perhaps, the universal human interest in anything requiring skill. Think of the patience and persistence and experimentation necessary to rear a dwarf pear tree twelve or fifteen inches high, growing its full number of years and bearing full-size fruit in its season! And second is the no less universal human interest in the strange and abnormal. All primitive people have this interest. It shows itself in their religions. Abnormal stones are often objects of religious devotion. Although I cannot affirm that such objects are worshiped in Japan to-day, yet I can say that they are frequently set up in temple grounds and dedicated with suitable inscriptions. Where nature can be made to produce the abnormal, there the interest is still greater. It is a living miracle. Witness the cocks of Tosa, distinguished by their two or three tail feathers reaching the extraordinary length of ten or even fifteen feet, the product of ages of special breeding.
According to the ordinary use of the term, aesthetics has to do with art alone. Yet it also has intimate relations with both speech and conduct. Poetry depends for its very existence on aesthetic considerations. Although little conscious regard is paid to aesthetic claims in ordinary conversation, yet people of culture do, as a matter of fact, pay it much unconscious attention. In conduct too, aesthetic ideas are often more dominant than we suppose. The objection of the cultured to the ways of the boorish rests on aesthetic grounds. This is true in every land. In the matter of conduct it is sometimes hard to draw the line between aesthetics and ethics, for they shade imperceptibly into one another; so much so that they are seen to be complementary rather than contradictory. Though it is doubtless true that conduct aesthetically defective may not be defective ethically, still is it not quite as true that conduct bad from the ethical is bad also from the aesthetical standpoint?
In no land have aesthetic considerations had more force in molding both speech and conduct than in Japan. Not a sentence is uttered by a Japanese but has the characteristic marks of aestheticism woven into its very structure. By means of "honorifics" it is seldom necessary for a speaker to be so pointedly vulgar as even to mention self. There are few points in the language so difficult for a foreigner to master, whether in speaking himself, or in listening to others, as the use of these honorific words. The most delicate shades of courtesy and discourtesy may be expressed by them. Some writers have attributed the relative absence of the personal pronouns from the language to the dominating force of impersonal pantheism. I am unable to take this view for reasons stated in the later chapters on personality.
Though the honorific characteristics of the language seem to indicate a high degree of aesthetic development, a certain lack of delicacy in referring to subjects that are ruled out of conversation by cultivated people in the West make the contrary impression upon the uninitiated. Such language in Japan cannot be counted impure, for no such idea accompanies the words. They must be described simply as aesthetically defective. Far be it from me to imply that there is no impure conversation in Japan. I only say that the particular usages to which I refer are not necessarily a proof of moral tendency. A realistic baldness prevails that makes no effort to conceal even that which is in its nature unpleasant and unaesthetic. A spade is called a spade without the slightest hesitation. Of course specific illustrations of such a point as this are out of place. AEsthetic considerations forbid.
And how explain these unaesthetic phenomena? By the fact that Japan has long remained in a state of primitive development. Speech is but the verbal expression of life. Every primitive society is characterized by a bald literalism shocking to the aesthetic sense of societies which represent a higher stage of culture. In Japan, until recently, little effort has been made to keep out of sight objects and acts which we of the West have considered disagreeable and repulsive. Language alters more slowly than acts. Laws are making changes in the latter, and they in time will take effect in the former. But many decades will doubtless pass before the cultivated classes of Japan will reach, in this respect, the standard of the corresponding classes of the West.
As for the aesthetics of conduct in Japan, enough is indicated by what has been said already concerning the aesthetics of speech. Speech and conduct are but diverse expressions of the same inner life. Japanese etiquette has been fashioned on the feudalistic theory of society, with its numberless gradations of inferior and superior. Assertive individualism, while allowed a certain range among the samurai, always had its well-marked limits. The mass of the people were compelled to walk a narrow line of respectful obedience and deference both in form and speech. The constant aim of the inferior was to please the superior. That individuals of an inferior rank had any inherent rights, as opposed to those of a superior rank, seldom occurred to them. Furthermore, this whole feudal system, with its characteristic etiquette of conduct and speech, was authoritatively taught by moralists and religious leaders, and devoutly believed by the noblest of the land. Ethical considerations, therefore, combined powerfully with those that were social and aesthetic to produce "the most polite race on the face of the globe." Recent developments of rudeness and discourtesy among themselves and toward foreigners have emphasized my general contention that these characteristics are not due to inherent race nature, but rather to the social order.
How are we to account for the wide aesthetic development of all classes of the Japanese? As already suggested, the beautiful scenery explains much. But I pass at once to the significant fact that although the classes of Japanese society were widely differentiated in social rank, yet they lived in close proximity to each other. There was no spatial gulf of separation preventing the lower from knowing fully and freely the thoughts, ideals, and customs of the upper classes. The transmission of culture was thus an easy matter, in spite of social gradations.
Moreover, the character of the building materials, and the methods of construction used by the more prosperous among the people, were easily imitated in kind, if not in costliness, by the less prosperous. Take, for example, the structure of the room; it is always of certain fixed proportions, that the uniform mats may be easily fitted to it. The mats themselves are always made of a straw "toko," "bed," and an "omote," "surface," of woven straw; they vary greatly in value, but, of whatever grade, may always be kept neat and fresh at comparatively small cost. The walls of the average houses are made of mud wattles. The outer layers of plaster consist of selected earth and tinted lime. Whether put up at large or small expense, these walls may be neat and attractive. So, too, with other parts of the house.
The utter lack of independent thinking throughout the middle and lower classes, and the constant desire of the inferior to imitate the superior, have also helped to make the culture of the classes the possession of the masses. This subserviency and spirit of imitation has been further stimulated by the enforced courtesy and deference and obedience of the common people.
In this connection it should be noted, however, that the universality of culture in Japan is more apparent than real. The appearance is due in part to the lack of furniture in the homes. Without chairs or tables, bedsteads or washstands, and the multitude of other things invariably found in the home of the Occidental, it is easy for the Japanese housewife to keep her home in perfect order. No special culture is needful for this.
How it came about that the Japanese people adopted their own method of sitting on the feet, I cannot say; neither have I heard any plausible explanation of the practice. Yet this habit has relieved them of all necessity for heavy furniture. Given the custom of sitting on the feet, and a large part of the furniture of the house will be useless. Already is the introduction of furniture after Western patterns producing changes in the homes of the people; and it will be interesting to see whether the aesthetic sense of the Japanese will be able to assimilate and harmonize with itself these useful, but bulky and unaesthetic, elements of Occidental civilization.
That no part of the fine taste of the Japanese is due to the general civilization, rather than to the individual possession of the aesthetic faculty, may be inferred from many little signs. In spite of the fact that, following the long-established social fashions, the women usually display good taste in the choice of colors for their clothing, it sometimes happens that they also manifest not the slightest sense of the harmony of colors. Daughters of wealthy families will array themselves in brilliant discordant hues, yet apparently without causing the wearers or their friends the slightest aesthetic discomfort. Little children are arrayed in clothing that would doubtless put Joseph's coat of many colors quite out of countenance. Combinations and brilliancy that to the Western eye of culture seem crude and gaudy, typical of barbaric splendor, are in constant use, and are apparently thought to be fine. The Japanese display both taste and its lack in the choice of colors for clothing; this contradiction is the more striking in view of the taste manifest in the decorations of the homes of all classes of the people. Few sights are more ludicrously unaesthetic than the red, yellow, and blue worsted crocheted caps and shawls for infants, which shock all our ideas of aesthetic harmony.
In connection with Western ways or articles of clothing, the native aesthetic faculty often seems to take its flight. In a foreign house many a Japanese seems to lose his sense of fitness. I have had schoolboys, and even gentlemen, enter my home with hobnailed muddied boots, without wiping their feet on the conspicuous door mat, which is the more remarkable since, in their own homes, they invariably take off their shoes on entering. I have frequently noticed that in railway cars the first comers monopolize the seats, and the later ones receive not the slightest notice, being often compelled to stand for an hour at a time, although, with a little moving, there would be abundant room for all. I have noticed this so often that I cannot think it an exceptional occurrence. I do not believe it to be intentional rudeness, but to be due simply to a lack of real heart politeness. Yet a true and deep aesthetic development, so far at least as relates to conduct, to say nothing of the spirit of altruism, would not permit such indifference to another's discomfort.
My explanation for this, and for all similar defects in etiquette, is somewhat as follows. Etiquette is popularly conceived as consisting of rules of conduct, rather than as the outward expression of the state of the heart. From time immemorial rules for the ordinary affairs of life have been formulated by superiors and have been taught the people. In all usual and conventional relations, therefore, the average farmer and peasant know how to express perfect courtesy. But in certain situations, as in foreign houses and the railroad car, where there are no precedents to follow, or rules to obey, all evidence of politeness takes its flight. The old rules do not fit the new conditions. Not being grounded on the inner principles of etiquette, the people are not able to formulate new rules for new conditions. To the Westerner, on the other hand, these seem to follow from the simplest principles of common sense and kindliness. The general collapse of etiquette in Japan, which native writers note and deplore, is due, therefore, not only to the withdrawal of feudal pressure, but also to introduction of strange circumstances for which the people have no rules, and to the fact that the people have not been taught those underlying principles of high courtesy which are applicable on all occasions.
An impression seems to have gained currency in the United States that the unaesthetic features seen in Japan to-day are due to the debasing influences of Western art and Occidental intercourse. There can be no doubt that a certain type of tourist, ignorant of Japanese art, by greedily buying strange, gaudy things at high prices, has stimulated a morbid production of truly unaesthetic pseudo-Japanese art. But this accounts for only a small part of the grossly inartistic features of Japan. The instances given of hideous worsted bibs for babes and collars for dogs, combining in the closest proximity the most uncomplementary and mutually repellent colors, has nothing whatever to do with foreign art or foreign intercourse. What foreigner ever decorated a little lapdog with a red-green-yellow-blue-and purple crocheted collar, four or five inches wide?
Westerners have been charmed with the exquisite colored photographs produced in Japan. It is strange, yet true, that the same artistic hand that produces these beautiful effects will also, by a slight change of tints, produce the most unnatural and spectral views. Yet the strangest thing is, not that he produces them, but that he does not seem conscious of the defect, for he will put them on sale in his own shop or send them to purchasers in America, without the slightest apparent hesitation. The constant care of the purchaser in selection and his insistence on having only truly artistic work are what keep the Japanese artist up to the standard.
If other evidence is needed of aesthetic defect in the still unoccidentalized Japanese taste let the doubter go to any popular second-grade Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple. Here unaesthetic objects and sights abound. Hideous idols, painted and unpainted, big and little, often decorated with soiled bibs; decaying to-rii; ruined sub-shrines; conglomerate piles of cast-off paraphernalia, consisting of broken idols, old lanterns, stones, etc., filthy towels at the holy-water basins, piously offered to the gods and piously used by hundreds of dusty pilgrims; equally filthy bell-ropes hung in front of the main shrines, pulled by ten thousand hands to call the attention of the deity; travel-stained hands, each of which has left its mark on the once beautiful enormous tasselated cord; ex-voto tufts of human hair; scores of pictures, where the few may be counted works of art while the rest are hideous beyond belief; frightful faces of tengu, with their long noses and menacing teeth, decorated with scores of spit-balls or even with mud-balls; these are some of the more conspicuous unaesthetic features of multitudes of popular shrines and temples. And none of these can be attributed to the debasing influence of Western art. And these inartistic features will be found accompanying scrupulous neatness in well-swept walks, new sub-shrines, floral decorations, and much that pleases the eye—a strange compound of the beautiful and the ugly. Truly the aesthetic development of the Japanese is curiously one-sided.
A survey of Japanese musical history leads to the conclusion that while the people are fairly developed in certain aspects of the aesthetics of music, such as rhythm, they are certainly undeveloped in other directions—in melody, for example, and in harmony. Their instrumental music is primitive and meager. They have no system of musical notation. The love of music, such as it is, is well-nigh universal. Their solo-vocal music, a semi-chanting in minors, has impressive elements; but these are due to the passionate outbursts and plaintive wails, rather than to the musically aesthetic character of the melodies. The universal twanging samisen, a species of guitar, accompanied by the shrill, hard voices of the geisha (singing girls), marks at once the universality of the love of music and the undeveloped quality of the musical taste, both vocal and instrumental. But in comparing the musical development of Japan with that of the West, we must not forget how recent is that of the former.
The conditions which have served to develop musical taste in the West have but recently come to Japan. Sufficient time has not yet elapsed for the nation to make much visible progress in the lines of Occidental music. But it has already done something. The popularity of brass bands, the wide introduction of organs, their manufacture in this land, their use in all public schools, the exclusive use of Occidental music in Christian churches, the ability of trained individuals in foreign vocal and instrumental music—all these facts go to show that in time we may expect great musical evolution in Japan. Those who doubt this on the ground of inherent race nature may be reminded of the evolution which has taken place among the Hawaiians during the past two generations. From being a race manifesting marked deficiency in music they have developed astonishing musical taste and ability. During a recent visit to these islands after an absence of twenty-seven years, I attended a Sunday-school exhibition, which was largely a musical contest; the voices were sweet and rich; and the difficulty of the part songs, easily carried through by children and adults, revealed a musical sense that surpasses any ordinary Sunday school of the United States or England with which I am acquainted.
The development of Japanese literature likewise conspicuously reflects the ruling ideas of the social order, and reveals the dependence of literary taste on the order. As in other aspects in Japanese aesthetic development, so in this do we see marked lack of balance. "It is wonderful what felicity of phrase, melody of versification, and true sentiment can be compressed within the narrow limits (of the Tanka). In their way nothing can be more perfect than some of these little poems."[U] The deficiencies of Japanese poetry have been remarked by the foreigners most competent to judge. The following general characterization from the volume just quoted merits attention.
"Narrow in its scope and resources, it is chiefly remarkable for its limitations—for what it has not, rather than what it has. In the first place there are no long poems. There is nothing which even remotely resembles an epic—no Iliad or Divina Commedia—not even a Nibelungen Lied or Chevy Chase. Indeed, narrative poems of any kind are short and very few, the only ones which I have met with being two or three ballads of a sentimental cast. Didactic, philosophical, political, and satirical poems are also conspicuously absent. The Japanese muse does not meddle with such subjects, and it is doubtful whether, if it did, the native Pegasus possesses sufficient staying power for them to be dealt with adequately. For dramatic poetry we have to wait until the fourteenth century. Even then there are no complete dramatic poems, but only dramas containing a certain poetical element.
"Japanese poetry is, in short, confined to lyrics, and what, for want of a better word, may be called epigrams. It is primarily an expression of emotion. We have amatory verse poems of longing for home and absent dear ones, praise of love and wine, elegies on the dead, laments over the uncertainty of life. A chief place is given to the seasons, the sound of purling streams, the snow of Mount Fuji, waves breaking on the beach, seaweed drifting to the shore, the song of birds, the hum of insects, even the croaking of frogs, the leaping of trout in a mountain stream, the young shoots of fern in spring, the belling of deer in autumn, the red tints of the maple, the moon, flowers, rain, wind, mist; these are among the favorite subjects which the Japanese poets delight to dwell upon. If we add some courtly and patriotic effusions, a vast number of conceits more or less pretty, and a very few poems of a religious cast, the enumeration is tolerably complete. But, as Mr. Chamberlain has observed, there are curious omissions. War songs—strange to say—are almost wholly absent. Fighting and bloodshed are apparently not considered fit themes for poetry."[V]
The drama and the novel have both achieved considerable development, yet judged from Occidental standards, they are comparatively weak and insipid. They, of course, conspicuously reflect the characteristics of the social order to which they belong. Critics call repeated attention to the lack of sublimity in Japanese literature, and ascribe it to their inherent race nature. While the lack of sublimity in Japanese scenery may in fact account for the characteristic in question, still a more conclusive explanation would seem to be that in the older social order man, as such, was not known. The hidden glories of the soul, its temptations and struggles, its defects and victories, could not be the themes of a literature arising in a completely communal social order, even though it possessed individualism of the Buddhistic type.[W] These are the themes that give Western literature—poetic, dramatic, and narrative—its opportunity for sustained power and sublimity. They portray the inner life of the spirit.
The poverty of poetic form is another point of Western criticism. Mr. Aston has shown how this poverty is directly due to the phonetic characteristics of the language. Diversities of both rhyme and rhythm are practically excluded from Japanese poetry by the nature of the language. And this in turn has led to the "preference of the national genius for short poems." But language is manifestly the combined product of linguistic heredity and the social order, and can in no sense be ascribed to inherent race nature. Thus directly are social heredity and social order determinative of the literary characteristics and aesthetic tastes of a nation.
Even more manifestly may Japanese architectural development be traced to the social heredity derived from China and India. The needs of the developing internal civilization have determined its external manifestation. So far as Japanese differs from Chinese architecture, it may be attributed to Japan's isolation, to the different demands of her social order, to the difference of accessible building materials, and to the different social heredity handed down from prehistoric times. That the distinguishing characteristics of Japanese architecture are due to the inherent race nature cannot for a moment be admitted.
We conclude that the Japanese are not possessed of a unique and inherent aesthetic taste. In some respects they are as certainly ahead of the Occidental as they are behind him in other respects. But this, too, is a matter of social development and social heredity, rather than of inherent race character, of brain structure. If aesthetic nature were a matter of inherited brain structure, it would be impossible to account for rapid fluctuations in aesthetic judgment, for the great inequality of aesthetic development in the different departments of life, or for the ease of acquiring the aesthetic development of alien races.[X]
The differences which separate the Oriental from the Occidental mind are infinitesimal as compared with the likenesses which unite them. This is a fact that needs to be emphasized, for many writers on Japan seem to ignore it. They marvel at the differences. The real marvel is that the differences are so few and so superficial. The Japanese are a race whose ancestors were separated from their early home nearly three thousand years ago; during this period they have been absolutely prevented from intermarriage with the parent stock. Furthermore, that original stock was not the Indo-European race. And no one has ventured to suggest how long before the migration of the ancestors of the Japanese to Japan their ancestors parted from those who finally became the progenitors of modern Occidental peoples. For thousands of years, certainly, the Japanese and Anglo-Saxon races have had no ancestry in common. Yet so similar is the entire structure and working of their minds that the psychological textbooks of the Anglo-Saxon are adopted and perfectly understood by competent psychological students among the Japanese. I once asked a professor of psychology in the Matsuyama Normal School if he had no difficulty in teaching his classes the psychological system of Anglo-Saxon thinkers, if there were not peculiarities of the Anglo-Saxon mind which a Japanese could not understand, and if there were not psychological phenomena of the Japanese mind which were ignored in Anglo-Saxon psychological text-books. The very questions surprised him; to each he gave a negative reply. The mental differences that characterize races so dissimilar as the Japanese and the Anglo-Saxon, I venture to repeat, are insignificant as compared with their resemblances.
Our discussions shall have reference, not to those general psychological characteristics which all races have in common, but only to those which may seem to stamp the Japanese people as peculiar. We wish to understand the distinguishing features of the Japanese mind. We wish to know whether they are due to brain structure, to inherent race nature, or whether they are simply the result of education, of social heredity. This is our ever-recurring question.
First, in regard to Japanese brain development. Travelers have often been impressed with the unusual size of the Japanese head. It has sometimes been thought, however, that the size is more apparent than real, and the appearance has been attributed to the relatively short limbs of the people and to the unusual proportion of round heads which one sees everywhere. It may also be due to the shape of the head. But, after all has been said, it remains true that the Japanese head, as related to his body, is unexpectedly large.
Prof. Marsh of Yale University is reported to have said that, on the basis of brain size, the Japanese is the race best fitted to survive in the struggle for existence, or at least in the struggle for pre-eminence.
Statements have been widely circulated to the effect that not only relatively to the body, but even absolutely, the Japanese possess larger brains than the European, but craniological statistics do not verify the assertion. The matter has been somewhat discussed in Japanese magazines of late, to which, through the assistance of a Japanese friend, I am indebted for the following figures. They are given in Japanese measurements, but are, on this account, however, none the less satisfactory for comparative purposes.
According to Dr. Davis, the average European male brain weighs 36,498 momme, and the Australian, 22,413, while the Japanese, according to Dr. Taguchi weighs 36,205. Taking the extremes, the largest English male brain weighs 38,100 momme and the smallest 35,377, whereas the corresponding figures for Japan are 43,919 and 30,304, respectively, showing an astonishing range between extremes. According to Dr. E. Baelz of the Imperial University of Tokyo, the lower classes of Japan have a larger skull circumference than either the middle or upper classes (1.8414, 1.7905, and 1.8051 feet, respectively), and the Ainu (1.8579) exceed the Japanese. From these facts it might almost appear that brain size and civilizational development are in inverse ratio. Were the Japanese brain larger, then, than that of the European, it might plausibly be argued that they are therefore inferior in brain power. This would be in accord with certain of De Quatrefages's investigations. He has shown that negroes born in America have smaller brains, but are intellectually superior to their African brothers. "With them, therefore, intelligence increases, while the cranial capacity diminishes."[Y]