Japan having taken on most of the characteristics and some of the idiosyncracies of Western civilisation, has naturally developed a newspaper press of its own. Of course newspapers in Japan are no new thing. Mr. Kumoto, editor of the Japan Times, claims for Japanese journalism an origin as far back as the early part of the seventeenth century. "Long before," he remarks, "our doors of seclusion were forced open by the impatient nations of the West, our ancestors had found a device by which they kept themselves in touch with current events and news. The news-sheets of those days were roughly got up, being printed from wooden blocks hastily purchased for each issue. They were meagre in news, uncouth in form, and quite irregular in appearance, there being no fixed date for publication. Neither were they issued by any particular and fixed publisher. Anybody could issue them, and at any time they pleased. These sheets were called Yomuri, which, being translated, means 'sold by hawking.'" These ancient newspapers had, however, palpably nothing in common with modern journalism, and anything in the shape of criticism or comment, or any attempt to guide or mould public opinion was, of course, not to be found therein. He would have been a bold man at the beginning of the seventeenth century, or indeed very much later, who would have ventured to print and publish anything tending to influence public opinion, or having the appearance of being a criticism on those in authority.
We may take it that for all practical purposes the rise of the native newspaper press of Japan did not take place till some time after the Revolution of 1868. If its rise has been recent its progress has certainly been rapid. There can be no question that both the rise and development of the vernacular press has been largely influenced by English journalism. There have always, since the opening of the country, been English newspapers in Japan, and very admirable newspapers too. One or more Englishmen have started papers printed in Japanese, and although these ventures were not commercially successful, they, at any rate, showed the way for Japanese journalism. Mr. Kumoto in his very interesting remarks published in Stead's "Japan and the Japanese," gives an amusing illustration of the somewhat amateur business lines on which the native Japanese newspapers were at first produced. He quotes the following notice which appeared in one of them: "The editors note with satisfaction the growing prosperity of their venture, and notify their subscribers that in view of the increased labour and trouble entailed on them by their increasing circulation, the gracious subscribers will kindly spare them the trouble by sending for their copies instead of having them delivered to them as before." There has certainly been a remarkable development in the Japanese newspaper press since this somewhat jejune announcement was published. Tokio at the present time possesses about forty daily newspapers, and there is hardly a town in the country of any importance that has not one or two papers of its own. There are now more than a thousand magazines and newspapers of various kinds published in the country--a number which yearly increases, and is certain to increase in the near future to a very much greater extent.
But besides newspapers, Japan possesses news agencies on somewhat similar lines to those that exist in this country, whose function it is to supply the press with the latest news on every matter of public and, I am afraid, sometimes of merely private importance. Whether these news agencies perform useful functions either in this country or in Japan, is a matter upon which I shall express no opinion. News acquired in a hurry in competition with other agencies which exist for a similar purpose, and purveyed to journals printed in a hurry and read in a hurry, does not often allow of discrimination being exercised in regard to its circulation. The sensational element in the native press in Japan is quite as much in evidence as in that of this country. In regard to this kind of literary fare, the appetite increases with feeding, if I may vary an old French proverb, and the sensational journals of the Japanese capital are increasing in demand from every part of the country.
As to the part which the press of Japan exercises in moulding public opinion, I confess I have not formed any clear idea; indeed, it is one upon which it is difficult to come to any conclusion. How far the press there moulds, and how far it follows public opinion is somewhat problematical. Be that as it may, many of the native papers are vigorously and effectively written, and indeed many eminent men in Japan have been either directly or indirectly connected with the press. The newspapers of Japan differ in this respect from those of this country--that there is a press law there, and newspapers are in theory, at any rate, somewhat more hampered in their criticisms and the publication of news than is the case here. This press law seems to have irritated the English more than the vernacular press of Japan, especially during the late war. Under the provisions of the law, a warning is always given to an offending newspaper before any official action is taken. The English journals in Japan have, perhaps not unnaturally, not so far been able to divest themselves of the idea that they have still extra-territorial rights, and are consequently justified in publishing any criticisms or news irrespective of the provisions of the press law.
Newspapers in Japan do not of course attain such large circulations as some of those in England. I do not think there is any paper in the country with a circulation exceeding 100,000, and there are only one or two which reach anything like that figure. Advertising in Japan in papers has not attained the same importance as in this country. Of course all the journals, whether daily or weekly, have a large number of advertisements, but the non-advertisement portion of the paper forms a greater portion of the whole than is the case here. It may interest some of my readers to know that poetry which has long been tabooed by the press of this country is still a feature in that of Japan, and that the novel "to be continued in our next," is also served up for the delectation of Japanese readers.
A free press in a free country is no doubt an admirable institution, but it has its disadvantages. I need not enumerate them, as my readers probably know them as well as I do myself. Indeed, both in England and America of late years we have had plenty of object-lessons, were any needed, in regard to these disadvantages. "The yellow press" is a phrase which has now come into general use to denote the certain kind of journalism which lives and thrives by pandering to the desire that so many persons in this world have for morbid sensationalism and the publication of nauseating and shocking details. People who have appetites of this kind are in need of having them perennially gratified, and accordingly it naturally comes about that the conductors of journals such as I have referred to, if they cannot provide a sufficient quantity of sensationalism true or partly true, have either to invent it or exaggerate some perhaps innocent or innocuous incident. I am sorry to say that yellow journalism is not only not unknown in Japan, but is apparently in a very flourishing condition there. I regret the fact all the more because the people of Japan are not yet sufficiently educated or enlightened to receive what they read in the newspaper in a sceptical spirit. That educational and enlightening process is only effected by a long course of newspaper reading. Even in this country we can remember the time when any statement was implicitly believed because it was "in the papers." Now some other and better evidence of the truth of any report is needed than the publication thereof in a newspaper. Young Japan will no doubt ere long assimilate this fact, and when it does the yellow press of Japan will probably find its clientéle a diminishing quantity. I hope my readers will not deduce from these remarks that I entertain, on the whole, a poor opinion of the native press of Japan. Considering the difficulties it has had to contend with, I consider that the progress it has made during the comparatively few years it has been in existence is as wonderful as anything in the country. And I am furthermore of opinion that the influence it exercises is, on the whole, a healthy one. It has done a great work in the education of the mass of the Japanese people in the direction of taking a broader view of life and teaching them that there is a world outside their own particular locality and beyond their own country. And while referring to the newspaper press I may also give a meed of praise to the large number of journals and magazines of a literary, scientific, and religious nature. The effect of these ably conducted periodicals as an educational influence must be immense. The number of them is gradually growing, and the support rendered to them serves to show, were any proof needed, how profoundly interested the Japan of to-day is in all those questions, whether political, scientific, religious, or literary, which are not the possession of or the subject of discussion among any particular nation but are exercising the minds and consciences of the civilised world.
One pleasing feature of the native press of Japan I cannot help referring to, and that is the friendly sentiments which it almost invariably expresses in regard to Great Britain. As I have before remarked, it was this country which in some degree influenced at first the Japanese press. I am pleased that of late at any rate, since the somewhat heated agitation in reference to the revision of the treaties has come to an end, its tone has been almost universally friendly to this country, and its approval of the alliance between Japan and Great Britain was not only unanimous but enthusiastic.
The English newspapers in Japan are still, as they have always been, ably conducted journals. Captain Brinkley, the editor of one of them, is a great authority on everything connected with Japan, and the paper he edits is worthy of all that is best in English journalism. At the same time it is hardly necessary to remark that the English press in Japan exercises little or no influence outside the immediate circle it represents. It very naturally looks at everything, or almost everything, not from the point of view of the Japanese but from that of the foreigner in Japan. It may be truthfully averred of the foreign press that, considered as a whole, it has never done anything or attempted to do anything to break down the barriers caused by racial differences. The European press in Japan has in tone always been distinctly anti-Japanese, and the sentiments which it has expressed and the vigorous, not to say violent, language in which those sentiments have been expressed has undoubtedly in the past occasioned much bitterness of feeling among the Japanese people or that portion of it which either read or heard of those sentiments. The characteristics or idiosyncracies of the people of Japan were either exaggerated or misrepresented, and there were not unnaturally reprisals quite as vigorous in the native newspapers. During the war with China, for example, the attitude of the European press was exasperating to a degree--that is, exasperating to the Japanese people. There were journals which avowedly took the part of China and expressed a desire for China's success. The victories of Japan in the course of the war were sneered at and at first belittled. Subsequently, when the success of Japan was self-evident, it was suggested by some of these newspapers that she was suffering from swelled head and was in need of being put in her place and kept there. And, accordingly, when certain of the European Powers stepped in and deprived Japan of the fruits of her victories, the action of those Powers was applauded, and the undoubted sympathy of the English people in England with Japan in the matter was derided by English editors in Japan as mere maudlin sentimentality. Language of this kind occasioned deep resentment among the people of the country. The foreign press is now, I am glad to say, saner, inasmuch as it to some extent recognises facts and the trend of events, but I fear it even still is for the most part representative of a community which regards the Japanese from the standpoint that most Europeans in the Far East regard the Eastern races with whom they are brought in contact. The position of the English papers in Japan has, I should say, been considerably affected of recent years by the development of the vernacular press. Twenty-five years or so ago they were practically the only organs that voiced public opinion of any kind in the country. Now they only voice the opinion of a section of the foreign community. A reference to a quarter of a century ago brings up memories of a gentleman connected to some extent with the newspaper press in Japan of those days. I refer to the late Mr. Wergman, who owned and edited and filled--I am not quite certain he did not print--that somewhat extraordinary journal, the Yokohama Punch. It appeared at uncertain intervals, and it dealt both in print and illustration with various members of the foreign community in Yokohama and its neighbourhood with a vigour and freedom, not to say licence, which would now hardly be tolerated. Its proprietor is long since dead, and so I believe is the journal which he owned and whose fitful appearances used to create such a mild excitement among the foreign community in Yokohama.
The functions of the press as a mirror of the times, as a censor of men and things, and as a guide and a leader of public opinion are of considerable importance. As I have before remarked the press of Japan is at present if not in its infancy at any rate in its youth. It is accordingly ebullient, energetic, optimistic. Time will no doubt correct many of its failings. Be that as it may, I certainly am of opinion that, considering everything, it has attained a wonderful degree of development, that it has reached a position of great importance in the country as an educational and enlightening influence, and that all who wish well to Japan may look upon its future with hope. It will no doubt play an important part as the years roll by in the development of the country and in the holding up before the people of worthy ideals in reference to economic conditions, material progress, and the conservation of the prestige and security of the Japanese Empire.
In the Preface I remarked that Japanese morality was a thorny subject. I use the word morality in its now generally accepted rather than in its absolutely correct meaning. Morality, strictly speaking, is the practice of moral duties apart from religion or doctrine; it treats of actions as being right or wrong--is, in brief, ethics. The old "morality" play, for example, was not, as some people seem to suppose, especially concerned with the relations of the sexes; it was a drama in which allegorical representations of all the virtues and vices were introduced as dramatis personæ. However, words, like everything else in this world, change their meaning, and, though the dictionary interpretation of morality is, as I have stated it, colloquially at any rate, the word has now come for the most part to signify sexual conduct, and it is in that sense, as I have said, I use it.
The subject of the morality of the Japanese is one that has been much discussed for many years past, and accordingly is one in regard to which it may be urged that there is little or nothing more to be said. I am not of that opinion. In the first place, much of the discussion has been simply the mere assertions of men, or sometimes of women, who either did not have the opportunity, or else had not the inclination, to investigate matters for themselves, and were therefore largely dependent on the hearsay evidence of not always unprejudiced persons. Or they sometimes jumped to very pronounced and erroneous conclusions from extremely imperfect observation or information. Let me take as an example in point, a lady, now dead, who wrote many charming books of travel--the late Mrs. Bishop, better known as Miss Bird. In her journeyings through the country Miss Bird relates in "Unbeaten Tracks in Japan," that she passed through a wide street in which the houses were large and handsome and open in front. Their highly polished floors and passages, she remarks, looked like still water, the kakemonos, or wall pictures, on their side-walls were extremely beautiful, and their mats were very fine and white. There were large gardens at the back with fountains and flowers, and streams, crossed by light stone bridges, sometimes flowed through the houses. The lady, who was on the look-out for a resting-place, not unnaturally expressed a desire to put up at one of these delightful sylvan retreats, but her native attendant informed her that was impossible, as they were kashitsukeyas, or tea-houses of a disreputable character. Miss Bird, on the strength of this information, thought it incumbent upon herself to pronounce the somewhat sweeping judgment that "there is much even on the surface to indicate vices which degrade and enslave the manhood of Japan." Such a statement is, of course, the merest clap-trap, but even were it true, it might be permissible to remark that if vice exists it is surely better for it to be on than beneath the surface. Such vice as does exist in Japan is, in my opinion, distinctly on the surface, and I have no hesitation in describing the morals of the Japanese people to be, on the whole, greatly superior to those of Western nations.
There can, I think, be no question that a large number of European people have formed their estimate of Japanese women either from a visit to a comic opera such as "The Geisha," or from a perusal of a book like Pierre Loti's fascinating work, "Madame Chrysanthéme." This is in effect the story of a liaison between a man and a Japanese girl of the lower classes, with, of course, a large amount of local colouring, and rendered generally charming by the writer's brilliant literary style. Unfortunately, that large number of Europeans who have never visited Japan have taken the French academician's study of a girl of a certain class as a life picture of the typical Japanese woman who is, accordingly, deemed to be more or less, to use an accepted euphemism, a person of easy virtue. Nothing could, of course, be more erroneous, no conclusion further from the truth. The remarks of Mr. Arthur Diosy in his book, "The New Far East," on this head are so much to the point in reference to the utter misconception of even many visitors to Japan in the matter of the chastity of the average Japanese women that I venture to transcribe them: "Has it not been repeated to him (the globe-trotter) that these people have no conception of virtue or of modesty? So he frequently treats the maids at the inn, the charming human humming-birds who wait upon him at the tea-house, and the Geisha summoned to entertain him, with a cavalier familiarity that would infallibly lead to his summary expulsion from any well-regulated hotel or public-house, or other places of public entertainment at home, did he dare to show such want of respect to a chambermaid or to one of the haughty fair ones serving at a bar. He means no harm in nine cases out of ten; he has been told that Japanese girls don't mind what you say to them, and as to the tea-house girls, well, they are no better than they should be ... but they are good little women, as capable of guarding their virtue as any in the world, and it saddens one to think how often they endure, from a feeling of consideration for the foreigner who does not know any better, they pityingly think, cavalier treatment they would not submit to from a Japanese."
Having said so much I feel I am free to admit that a somewhat different standard of morality does obtain in Japan to that which exists, or is supposed to exist, among Occidental nations. After all, morality is to some extent a matter of convention, and a people must, I suggest, be judged rather by the way in which it lives up to its standard than by the standard itself, which among some Western nations is not always strictly observed. The whole subject of morality between the sexes is one upon which a portly volume might be written. The sexual relations have been affected by many circumstances, some of them entirely conventional and having little or nothing to do with morality as such, while poetry and romance and sentiment have been allowed to complicate, and still render difficult a dispassionate consideration of the whole matter. Macaulay in one of his essays has observed that "the moral principle of a woman is frequently more impaired by a single lapse from virtue than that of a man by twenty years of intrigue." He explains this seeming paradox by asserting that "a vice sanctioned by the general opinion is merely a vice, while a vice condemned by the general opinion produces a pernicious effect on the whole character." "One," says Macaulay, "is a local malady, the other is a constitutional taint." I have quoted the famous historian in this connection because his observations are, I think, illustrative of my contention, viz., that morality is largely a matter of convention, sanctioned or condemned by what Macaulay terms "the general opinion."
I frankly admit that prostitution has never been regarded in Japan as it is, or is affected to be, in this and other European countries. In ancient days the public women of the capital and the large towns were as famous as in Athens of old, and were regarded as amongst the best educated and best mannered of their sex. The Japanese have ever looked upon prostitution as what is termed a necessary evil, and they have always sought to regulate and supervise it with a view of obviating those evils, terrible in their consequences, which are frequently the result of permitting it to go unchecked. And accordingly the Yoshiwara has long been a recognised institution in every considerable town in the country, the Yoshiwara being that particular portion of the town in which prostitutes are alone permitted to reside. There is, so far as I know, no prostitution outside the Yoshiwara, and the inmates thereof are subject to a rigorous supervision and inspection, medical and otherwise, which has produced excellent results. The inmates of the Yoshiwara are not recruited as are the similar class in the West. Here the "unfortunate" usually plies her trade as a dernier ressort. In a moment of temptation she has "gone wrong," as the phrase goes, the fact becomes public, she is too often cold-shouldered and hustled even by her immediate relations, and her downward progress is swift and certain. Nor is there for her, except in rare cases, any chance of rehabilitation. She is too hopeless to exclaim "Resurgam!" and if in an optimistic frame of mind she did so purpose she would find the consummation difficult if not impossible. She is, in a word, on the way to irretrievable ruin and a shameful end, and she knows it.
Such is, as I have said, not the case in Japan. The lot of the prostitute there has never been regarded with the loathing which it excites in this country. Houses of ill-fame were, and are still, recruited not from those whose previous lapse from virtue has rendered no other mode of livelihood possible than that from immorality, but by those whom stern necessity has driven to the step as a means either of supporting themselves or of assisting parents or their near relatives. Such a sacrifice--a terrible sacrifice, I admit--has in Japan never been regarded with horror, but as in a sense laudable. The finger of scorn must not be pointed at a woman who has voluntarily sacrificed what women hold most dear, not from lust or from the desire of leading a gay life or pampering or adorning the body, but perhaps to save father or kin from ruin or starvation. The Yoshiwara has, of course, other recruits, but in the main its inmates are not the victims of lust but of self-sacrifice. There is too often a whole tragedy in the story of a Japanese girl of this kind, and it is deplorable when the self-righteous European comes along and points the finger of scorn at her. I am aware that though not despised, as in this country, the lot of the inmate of the Yoshiwara is often, if not always, a horrible one. She is, as a rule, sold, or sells herself, for a lump sum of money to which amount is added the cost of her outfit, usually as much as the price paid to the woman or her relatives. Until this amount was worked off--and the accounts were, of course, not over accurately kept--the woman was to all intents the chattel of her master. This has, undoubtedly, for many centuries been the custom of the country. I am glad, however, to be able to state that quite recently the highest court in Japan has decided that, whatever custom may have decreed, the law gives, and will give, no sanction to any such custom. A girl confined in the Yoshiwara was forcibly taken away therefrom. The owner of the house in which she resided, as her debt had not been liquidated, considered he had a lien upon her, and he invoked the aid of the law to assist him to assert what he considered to be his rights and retake possession of the girl. The case was strenuously fought and taken to several courts, with the result I have stated. This decision will probably have far-reaching effects and declaring, as it does, that the inmates of the Yoshiwara are not slaves or chattels, it is to be cordially welcomed.
The assertion of Miss Bird, already referred to, that the manhood of Japan is enslaved and degraded by vice is one which I have no hesitation in describing as gross exaggeration. Vice, of course, there is in Japan, vice of various kinds and degrees, but the ordinary Japanese man is not, in my opinion, nearly so immoral as the average European. The chastity of the Japanese woman I place still higher. The fact, already stated, that the inmates of the Yoshiwara are not generally recruited from those who have lapsed from virtue might be urged in proof of this. Nor is the fact that prostitution is not in Japan regarded with the same loathing as in this country, in my opinion, to be taken as any evidence of an immoral tone. The ideas that obtain on the matter, in Japan at any rate, hold out the possibility of moral redemption for the inmates of the Yoshiwara, and as a matter of fact many women in Japan who, through the force of compulsion, have entered this place, frequently marry, and marry well, and subsequently live absolutely chaste lives. The standard of morality among the married women of Japan is, I may remark, high, and is rarely lowered.
I hope I shall not shock my readers if I remark that I consider the stringent regulations that exist in Japan as to the supervision of the Yoshiwara in many respects admirable. It will probably surprise many persons to learn that the high state of organisation in regard to everything connected with the superintendence of these places, as also the development of lock hospitals, is largely due to the zeal and exertions of the late Dr. G. Birnie Hill, of the Royal Navy, who was for many years lent by the Admiralty to the Japanese Government for that purpose. Under his auspices a stringent system of medical supervision was organised, which has been attended with excellent results in the direction of stamping out and obviating diseases which, I may observe, are of foreign importation. I know that the existence of any system of medical inspection will, in the estimate of a large number of estimable men and women in this country, be regarded as proof positive of the immorality of the Japanese. "We mustn't recognise vice," is their contention. I am of opinion, on the contrary, that we should either recognise vice and restrict, restrain, and regulate it, or else make vice illegal, as the Puritans did, and fine or imprison both men and women addicted to it. I could understand either of these two courses, but I must confess that I altogether fail to fathom the state of mind of those persons who adopt neither opinion, but either assert or infer that in the name of religion, morality, modesty, and many other commendable things, we should permit our streets and thoroughfares to be infested by women plying their immoral trade with all the resultant consequences.
[Illustration: THE ETERNAL FEMININE FROM A PRINT BY TOSHIKATA]
As I stated at the commencement of this chapter, a nation should be judged not only by its standard of morality but by the degree in which it lives up to or falls short of that standard. Judged by this, surely the fairest, the only fair, rule, Japan has every reason to be considered a moral country. Those shocking crimes which appear to be the outcome of either the aberration or the inversion of the sexual instincts are almost unknown there. Nor do I consider that the public estimate of prostitution on the whole makes for immorality. If an evil exist, and prostitution is undoubtedly an evil, it is surely better to regulate it than to affect to be oblivious of it. The Japanese attitude towards prostitution at any rate leaves a door open for the woman who has, from whatever the reason, lapsed from the paths of virtue to return thereto. This appears to my mind to be a more satisfactory state of things than the continual harrying and worrying of prostitutes in the name of indignant virtue and the driving of them on the streets. The aspect of the great thoroughfares of London, especially by night, does not give the Oriental visitor thereto a high idea of English morality. It is, nevertheless, an extraordinary fact that the Englishman or the Englishwoman who has mayhap lived in London most of his or her life, when he or she visits Japan in the course of, perhaps, "a round the world trip" in ninety days, and learns that there is in each Japanese town a Yoshiwara, the inmates of which are subject to supervision and regulation, lifts up his or her hands in holy horror, returns home with a virtuous indignation, and has no hesitation in henceforth declaring, whether in speech or writing, that the Japanese are a grossly immoral people.
The average Japanese is, very rightly in my opinion, indignant at the constant assertions of writers, well or ill-informed, that his country is essentially immoral. He is not only indignant but astounded. He has, if he has been to this country, seen here much that has not tended to impress him with the belief that the English people are themselves in a position to dogmatise on this vexed question of morality. He is, if he has visited the great cities and towns of Great Britain, by no means convinced that the action of Japan in establishing a Yoshiwara whose inmates are under proper supervision, medical and otherwise, is not better from every point of view, that of morality included, than turning loose women into the streets to accost every passer-by and place temptations in the way of youth. On the other hand, the Japanese who has not left his own country, but is of an observant nature and of a logical disposition, fails to comprehend why the European in Europe should dogmatise upon and affect to be disgusted with what he terms the immorality of the Japanese. The Japanese who has lived all his life in his own country has had ample opportunities for studying the Europeans resident there, and I fear he has not always been impressed by their high moral tone or their ultra-moral conduct. I might say much more upon that head, but I shall refrain.
I conclude this chapter by reiterating the expression of my belief that the Japanese are, when rightly considered, a moral people. They have their own code of morals, and they act up to it. There are few nations of whom as much could be said.