I was lying awake in my room in the Myako Hotel, the window looking out across the town below towards the eastern hills and framed with clusters of red maple. It was the clear stillness of a frosty morning before dawn, not motion enough in the autumn air to stir a ripe red maple leaf, and as I lay in bed suddenly the air itself seemed to heave a sigh of music mellow, soft, and yet full, gradual in its coming as in its going, all-pervading, strange and wonderful. Stillness again, and then it came again, or rather not so much came as was there, and then was not there; for it seemed to come from no whither, and to leave not even the footprint of an echo in the air behind. There was sanctity in the very sound itself. Its music was like vocal incense arising before the "awful rose of dawn," beyond those purple eastern hills. How unlike, I thought, the jar and clangour of our church bells in London on a Sunday morning rattling like a fire alarm, whose only possible religious suggestion is to tumble out of bed to escape the flames of hell. The musical summons of this bell was sufficient, however, to induce me to go out for a stroll through the temples in the morning twilight.
All on the crest of the hill behind the hotel is a row of temples crowning the height. One mounts a flight of steps and then comes on avenues with rows of ancient trees on either side that make the avenues look like great aisles of which the immense trees are the columns supporting the deep, blue roof. Nothing is more striking about these temples than the delightful harmony between their natural surroundings and the buildings themselves. They blend so perfectly that one loses sight of the meeting between nature and art. From the steps onward all seems a harmonious part of the sanctified whole. Trees, creepers, and natural flowers peep in and almost entwine themselves with the marvellously painted or carved foliage of the temple itself. The rich lichens and mosses of the tree-trunks vie in depth and beauty of colour with the inlaid traceries of the columns.
Early as the hour was I was not alone in the first temple I came to. With tinkling steps of wooden shoes a little woman pattered up the stone stairs to one of the shrines, pulled the heavy cord of the small bell above her head to awaken the attention of the Deity, and then with joined hands encircled with beads and with bowed head whispered her morning prayer. I just caught in soft, supplicatory accents the opening words, "Namu Amida Butsu"--"Hear me, compassionate Lord Buddha"--words that soon become familiar as one visits these temples; the great refrain of these people's prayers when they pray before the image of "Him, honoured, wisest, best, most pitiful, whose lips comfort the world." And then, having finished her prayers, the little woman pattered back to her home in the town below, while others come and make their devotions likewise, all leaving the temple as if that placid, inscrutable image had whispered in the ear of each some word of comfort.
In the courtyard beyond the great Temple of Kiomidyu I came upon a wonderful bell. There was room for over a dozen men to stand inside the great bronze shell. It was hung just above the ground between plain timber uprights, and the mellow softness of tone was accounted for by the way in which it was struck. Instead of metal striking against metal a great tree-trunk is suspended horizontally outside; this is swung backwards and forwards and then allowed to strike against the metal. Even when standing close to it there is nothing one would call noise, but a great, full, rich sound fills the air in a manner impossible to describe. I passed on to the latticed shrine dedicated to Kamnoshut No Kami, the goddess of lovers. As I waited there three little Japanese girls came up the steps. Each had a small piece of paper in her hand, and winding them up they deftly placed the papers in the lattice with the thumb and little finger of their hands. On these were written their petitions. One of them held a bunch of brilliant maple leaves in her hand, and judging from their faces--plain little faces all of them--it was easy to understand they wanted divine assistance in their love affairs. It was difficult to understand the goddess retaining any reputation for compassion if their prayers were not answered. After they had gone next came a dainty little geisha, a pretty girl, whose lover must have been a sad worry to her, judging by the look on her anxious little face, as she placed her petition between the bars.
All through these temples it was obvious that the agnosticism, or indifference, or attitude of "politeness towards possibilities," which has apparently taken possession of the upper classes in Japan, possibly as the result of contact with the West, is in no way prevalent among the masses. In all the country parts that I visited and in the large temples in the great cities there was everywhere evidence of faith as sincere and devout as can be found in the churches of the most Christian country in Europe. Unlike China, there was nowhere any sign of the temples falling into decay. Every temple in China looks like a neglected mausoleum decaying over the corpse of a dead religion, and the priests look like sextons of a neglected graveyard. But here in Kyoto two of the largest temples were undergoing elaborate repairs, and in Tokio an immense new temple is being erected in the heart of the city. In Kyoto at the Temple of Nishi Hong Wangi I was present at a great seven days' religious festival. From nine o'clock in the morning until six o'clock in the evening the temple was perpetually thronged with people. I visited it in the afternoon. In one large room a priest was preaching. His congregation was largely composed of country people from all the districts round, who had journeyed in with their wives and families. There had been an abundant harvest, it was over and stored, and the people had come to give thanks. A great part of the congregation were blue-clad peasants with white handkerchiefs around their heads. Many of them had brought their children with them.
The priest preached sitting down, in a quiet conversational tone. From what a Japanese friend was kind enough to translate for me, there was nothing esoteric in the Buddhism he was teaching. It was simply plain lessons to the people, how to make good their simple lives interspersed with stories and anecdotes that occasionally amused his congregation. Following the crowd that kept streaming out from his hall towards the larger temple, I passed under a plain portico of huge wooden columns, severe and simple on the outside, but gorgeous with rich carvings of gold lacquer panels and hangings of richly wrought embroideries within. The entire floor of the great building was crowded, and the overflow of the congregation knelt upon the flags outside the door. With difficulty I picked my way inside. Two rows of priests in brilliantly coloured vestments were arranged on either side of the central figure of Buddha. Between them was the chief priest. Behind the altar screen was an invisible choir. In alternating numbers the solemn, supplicating chant was led by either row of priests. In a way it reminded one of the Gregorian chant one often hears in Catholic churches, but in this Buddhist chanting there was that curious Oriental strain of semi-tones that gave a strange and peculiar plaint to the chorus.
Faint blue columns of incense were streaming slowly from bronze censors towards the carved roof, and diffusing a delightful aromatic odour throughout the building. The congregation was composed of all sorts and conditions of the population, although the majority were peasants; there were a number of Japanese ladies who came accompanied by their maids, and here and there the brighter costume of a Geisha was to be seen among the crowd.
The series of services lasted for seven days. This was the fifth. Beginning at six o'clock in the morning, it went on till six o'clock in the evening. It was just at its conclusion while I was there. Mingling with the chorus from the priests and the choir ran a low murmur from the crowd. The old country men and women said their prayers aloud, and the refrain of "Namu Amida Butsu" seemed perpetually in one's ears. As the conclusion of the service approached, the voices of the choir, the priests, and the congregation increased in strength and volume, and ceased suddenly in a final chord of supplication. For a few moments there was stillness over the bowed heads of the congregation, and then the priests rose and the crowd began to stream down the great flight of steps. In the streets outside were rows of booths, where printed prayers and brightly embroidered triangular cloths, beads and images were being sold as mementoes of these services. The whole congregation, even old men and women, as they toddled down the steps at the base of which they put on their shoes, reminded one forcibly of a lot of children coming out from school. Laughing, chattering, and joking, there was a look of satisfaction and contentment on all their faces, returning homewards, as if they felt that in reply to their prayer, "Namu Amida Butsu," the compassionate Lord Buddha, had listened to their prayer, and whispered in answer to the heart of each, "Comfort ye, my people."
A book on Japan would be incomplete without some reference to the Ainos, that mysterious race found, and found only, in the northern island of Yesso. The Ainos have long been the puzzle of the ethnologist. Where the Ainos came from or to what other race they are akin are problems that have given occasion for much learned dissertation, but are still as far off solution as ever. Mr. Basil Chamberlain, all of whose writings upon Japan are replete with erudition and information, has observed that the Aino race deserves to be studied because "its domain once extended over the entire Japanese Archipelago," and also "because it is, so to speak, almost at its last gasp." Unfortunately the evidence for the latter fact is more conclusive than for the former. The Ainos are, it seems, to be no exception to that mysterious law of the survival of the fittest, which decrees that an inferior race shall go down before the superior, and in due course become merely a name. I have called this a mysterious law because such disappearance is not necessarily the result of conquest or of ruthless destruction. When the inferior race is brought into contact with the superior it seems, by some mysterious process, to be infected with the elements of decay, to be impregnated with the germs of annihilation. And, accordingly, it comes about, in accordance with the dictates of the law I have referred to, that although a society has been founded in Japan very much on the lines of our Aborigines Protection Society, an Aino Preservation Society, the Ainos seem doomed to extinction at no far-distant date.
Whether or not the Ainos once inhabited the whole of the Japanese islands and trekked north to get away from their conquerors, there can be no doubt of the fact that they are in almost every respect the very antithesis of the Japanese. The latter are a smooth-skinned race, the Ainos an extremely hairy one. The Japanese are essentially a clean, a scrupulously clean people, the Ainos just as essentially dirty. The long beards and general facial appearance of the latter are altogether in startling contrast to the physiognomy of the average Japanese.
When ethnology fails to place a race, philology often steps in with more or less of success. The Aino language has been profoundly studied by many eminent philologists, but I do not think the results have tended to throw much, if any, light on the mystery as to the origin and racial affinities of the Ainos. In general structure the language is not unlike that of the Japanese, but this might be expected as the result of centuries of intercourse between the two people.
The Ainos live almost solely by fishing and hunting. The Japanese laws, which have year by year been made more stringent, have somewhat interfered with the sporting proclivities of the people. Nets and fish traps are now forbidden, and fishing for the most part is effected by means of a spear or harpoon, either from the shore or from the somewhat primitive canoes used by the people. Poisoned arrows were once largely used for the purpose of capturing game, but they are now forbidden by law. Originally the modus operandi in hunting was to set a trap with one of these arrows placed in it, and drive the game on to the same. The head of the arrow was only loosely fastened, and broke, leaving the poison inside even if the animal managed to pull out the shaft. The bear is found in Yesso, and that animal has entered very largely into every phase of Aino life, somewhat circumscribed though this is. That animal was, or used to be, the objective point of Aino festivals, and seems, to some extent at any rate, to have had a part in their crude religious ideas. Bears, are, however, becoming rare in Yesso, and the Japanese Government, which is paternal even in regard to the fauna of the islands, has from time to time interfered with many venerable Aino customs.
The religion of this interesting race is almost as mysterious as everything else appertaining to it. The Ainos have no idols and no temples, and their religious rites are of a decidedly simple nature. They, however, seem to believe in an infinity of spirits inhabiting various and varied things, and their pantheon is seemingly a crowded one. I have said seemingly, because the beliefs of a people such as this are difficult to get at, and even when one has got at them almost impossible to comprehend. One writer has termed the religion of the Ainos, "a very primitive nature-worship," and their gods "invisible, formless conceptions." Such definitions do not convey much information. Nature-worship is a vague description and "invisible, formless conceptions" of the deity or deities are not confined to the Ainos. Possibly, like all peoples but little advanced or developed mentally, their religious conceptions are of the vaguest and have assumed no definite shape. A fear of the unknown, a blind groping in the dark are, mayhap, all that the Aino possesses in reference to the spiritual world.
Although the religion of the Aino when living is somewhat incomprehensible his religious ceremonies in reference to the dead are of a somewhat elaborate nature. After life has become extinct the first proceeding is to light an enormous fire in the house. The corpse is then dressed in its best clothes and laid beside the fire, where are also placed dishes, a drinking-cup, and the implements of the chase. In the case of a woman, instead of these, her beads and other ornaments are laid alongside of her; for both sexes a pipe and a tobacco-box, so greatly used during life, are considered essentials when dead. Cakes made of rice or millet and a cup of saké, are also put upon the floor. A kind of wake or funeral feast follows, at which the mourners throw some saké on the corpse as a libation to its departed spirit, break off pieces of the cake and bury it in the ashes. The body is covered with a mat slung upon a pole and carried to the grave, followed by the mourners, each of whom places something in the grave, which, it is believed, will be carried to the next world with the spirit of the deceased person. At the conclusion of the ceremony the mourners wash their hands in water which has been brought for the purpose. This is then thrown on the grave and the vessel which conveyed it is broken in pieces and also thrown on the grave. The widow of the deceased shaves her head, while the man cuts his beard and hair, as outward symbols of grief. Many of these ceremonies, it will be seen, are such as are more or less common to all primitive races. There is, indeed, a marked resemblance between the habit of the Ainos in burying articles with the deceased for his use in the next world and that of the North American Indians. But I am not inclined to deduce any theory in reference to the origin of the Ainos from the existence of these customs. Mankind, in every part of the world, seems to have evolved his religious beliefs in very much the same way. His conception of the hereafter appears to have proceeded on precisely similar lines. The higher his scale in civilisation the more spiritual and the less material his conception of the future. The lower his scale precisely the reverse is the fact. The savage, which of course the Aino really is, cannot imagine a future state where there is no eating and drinking and hunting, and he, accordingly, thinks it incumbent on him, in order to show his respect for the dead, to provide the corpse with those articles which he deems essential in that unknown world where, according to his conception, eating and drinking and hunting will be as prevalent as in this.
The Ainos have a great respect for the graves of their dead, and Japanese legislation has taken the necessary steps to prevent any tampering therewith. Some years ago a few scientists from Europe went on an expedition from Hakodate with a view of obtaining information respecting the manners and customs of the Ainos. In the course of this expedition some graves were broken into and skulls and limbs extracted therefrom for the purpose of being taken to Europe for scientific research. This proceeding occasioned an angry outburst on the part of this usually placid people, and the Japanese authorities gave the necessary instructions to prevent the possibility of such an occurrence in future. I suppose the scientists, in the ardour of their enthusiasm, are hardly to be blamed. Science too frequently overlooks sentiment, which is, after all, one of the most potent forces in the world.
The dwellings of the Japanese are supposed to have been evolved from those of the Ainos. Both build their houses roof first, making the framework and placing the supports with shorter pieces for rafters, all being tied together with a rope made of some kind of fibre. Poles, 5 or 6 feet high at regular intervals are then placed in the ground, each pole having a fork at the top and short horizontal pieces from one to the other, the roof frame is then erected on and secured to the poles and subsequently thatched with straw. The floor is of earth, with the fireplace in the centre. As in Japanese houses, mats are used for sitting and sleeping purposes. The utensils of the Ainos are much more primitive than those in use by the Japanese people, and generally it may be remarked of the Ainos that their wants are few and that the people are content to live their own life in their own way and only desire to be severely left alone.
The dress is very similar to that of the Japanese peasant. The men, however, wear at certain seasons thick rain-coats made of salmon skin, as also leggings made of a fibre peculiar to themselves, and high boots constructed of straw. I am sorry to have to relate that the Ainos have a fondness for saké, and there is a good deal of intoxication among them. The climate of the island of Yesso, as I have already remarked, is extremely severe in the winter-time, and there can be little doubt that many of the Ainos suffer extreme privations. There have been a few cases of intermarriage between the two races, but unions of this nature are not looked on with any favour by either.
Attempts have been made by some of the missionaries in Japan to convert the Ainos to Christianity, but I fear the attempts made in this direction have been attended with a very scant measure of success. A people such as this possesses minds of childlike simplicity, and to endeavour to get it to comprehend the abstruse doctrines and dogmas of Christianity is an almost hopeless task. The climate of Yesso is such as to render it possible for missionary efforts to take place only at certain seasons of the year, and I do not think there has been, so far as my information goes, any systematic propaganda of Christianity among this interesting race.
It is certainly a somewhat extraordinary fact that while the other islands of Japan have been rapidly assimilating and are being steadily influenced by the civilisation of Europe and America, the northern island appears to be, except possibly at Hakodate, in a state of complete isolation from all these influences and effects. Whether the Ainos have any conception of the influences at work in and the progress being made by the Empire of which they are subjects, I do not know, but to me it is both interesting and curious to regard this ancient and decaying race, either indifferent to or ignorant of all the bustle and hurry and worry of modern civilisation so close to them and yet so far removed from their childlike minds and ideas.
The question may be asked, How comes it that a highly civilised people such as the Japanese have been for many hundreds of years, have exercised practically no influence upon this subject race inhabiting a portion of their territory? A nation such as Japan, with a literature and an art of its own, with two highly developed religious systems, and with many of those other characteristics which are included in the term civilisation? How is it that neither art nor literature nor religion, nor any other characteristic of civilisation has, in the slightest degree, influenced this aboriginal race? Indeed, if the theories of ethnologists in regard to the Ainos be correct, and we are to judge by the ancient remains that have been found throughout Japan, the Ainos, when they were in undisputed possession of the Japanese Archipelago, were in a much more advanced condition of civilisation than they are to-day. The questions that I have put afford food for reflection, but they are difficult, if not impossible, to answer. I am certain, however, that the Japanese Government desires to, if possible, preserve the Aino race from extinction, and that it aspires to give this ancient people all the advantages of education and civilisation generally. Unfortunately the Ainos themselves are the obstacle to the carrying into effect of this project. They desire to live their own life in their own way. They have not only no wish to be, but they resent any effort to make them, either educated or civilised. They are what some people would term children of nature, out of place decidedly in a modern go-ahead eclectic Power like Japan, but an interesting survival of the past, and likewise an interesting reminder that the highly civilised races of to-day have, in their time, been evolved from very similar children of nature.
"In the Japan of to-day the world has before it a unique example of an Eastern people displaying the power to assimilate and to adopt the civilisation of the West, while preserving its own national dignity unimpaired," aptly remarks a modern writer. It is, indeed, in its powers of assimilation and adaptation that Japan, I think, stands unique among not only the nations of the world at the present time, but amongst the nations of whom we have any historical record. In one of his books on Japan--books which I may, in passing, remark give a more vivid insight into the life of the Japanese people than the works of any other writer--Mr. Lafcadio Hearn remarks that the so-called adoption of Western civilisation within a term of comparatively few years cannot mean the addition to the Japanese brain of any organs or powers previously absent from her, nor any sudden change in the mental or moral character of the race. Changes of that kind cannot be made in a generation. The Europeanising of Japan, Mr. Hearn in fact suggests, means nothing more than the rearrangement of a part of the pre-existing machinery of thought, while the mental readjustments effected by taking on Western civilisation, or what passes for it, have given good results only along directions in which the Japanese people have always shown special capacity. There has, in a word, he asserts, been no transformation--nothing more than the turning of old abilities into new and larger channels. Indeed the tendency of the people of Japan, when dispassionately investigated, will be seen to have been always moving in the same direction. A slight retrospect will, I think, clearly prove the truth of this assertion.
It is now about fifty years since Japan was first awakened, perhaps rudely awakened, from her slumber of two and a half centuries. When the European Powers and the United States of America knocked, perhaps somewhat rudely, at her door, it turned slowly on its hinges and creaked owing to the rust of many long years. How came it that a country which had imported its art, literature, religion, and civilisation, a country which until 1868 had a mediæval feudalism for its social basis, a country which until then was notorious for the practice of hara-kiri and the fierceness of its two-sworded Samurai should so suddenly take on Western attributes and become a seat of liberty and the exponent of Western civilisation in the Far East? All this is to some persons a rather perplexing problem. But the reasons are not, I think, far to seek. If we go back many centuries we shall find that Japan, though always tenacious of her national characteristics, never evinced any indisposition to mingle with or adopt what was good in other races. The national character for many hundreds of years has always displayed what I may term the germs of liberalism, and has not been influenced by narrow and petty national ideals concerning the customs, religion, art, or literature of other countries. As against this statement may be urged the action of Japan in expelling the Portuguese missionaries, destroying thoroughly Christianity, both buildings and converts, and effectually and effectively shutting the country against all intercourse with Europe and America for over two centuries. The answer of the Japanese of to-day to this question is simple enough. They point out that, although the object of St. Francis Xavier and his missionaries was essentially spiritual, viz., to convert Japan to Christianity, that of many of the foreigners who accompanied or succeeded him was not in any sense spiritual, but on the contrary was grossly and wickedly material. Accordingly Japan, having rightly or wrongly concluded that not only her civilisation but her national life, her independent existence, were menaced by the presence and the increasing number of these foreigners, she decided, on the principle that desperate diseases require desperate remedies, to expel them and to effectually seal her country against any possibility of future foreign invasions. I am not, I may remark, defending her action in the matter; I am only putting forward the views of Japanese men of light and leading of to-day in regard thereto.
When, many centuries ago, the Koreans brought to Japan the religion, laws, literature, and art of China, these were adopted and assimilated. Both Buddhism and Confucianism existed side by side in the country with the old Shinto religion. And, accordingly, during the many centuries which have elapsed since the religion of China and the ethical doctrines of her great teacher were introduced into Japan, there has never been a violent conflict between them and the ancient religion of the country. Had the Portuguese invaders confined themselves to a religious propaganda only, the Christian converts they made would not have been interfered with and the Christian religion, strong and vigorous, would have existed uninterruptedly in Japan until to-day side by side with Buddhism and Shintoism. When St. Francis Xavier came to Japan Buddhism was the prevailing religion, and it undoubtedly had, as it still has, a great hold upon the people. But the preaching of the intrepid Jesuit and the missionaries he brought with him had an enormous success. The Christian religion was embraced by representatives of every class. In the year 1550 St. Francis, writing to Goa, placed on record for all time his opinion of the Japanese. "The nation," writes he, "with which we have to deal here surpasses in goodness any of the nations ever discovered. They are of a kindly disposition, wonderfully desirous of honour, which is placed above everything else. They listen with great avidity to discourse about God and divine things. In the native place of Paul they received us very kindly, the Governor, the chief citizens, and indeed the whole populace. Give thanks to God therefore that a very wide and promising field is open to you for your well-roused piety to spend its energies in." It certainly was a remarkable fact that a nation which had for so many centuries been under the influences of Buddhism should have welcomed these Portuguese missionaries. But it must be remembered that Japan had not that prejudice against foreigners which is very often the outcome of foreign conquest and foreign oppression. No foreign Power had ever conquered or indeed set its foot in the land. Both China and Korea had made various attempts on the independence of Japan, but unsuccessfully. Japan had never had to endure any humiliation at the hands of foreign invaders, consequently her nationalism had no narrow, selfish meaning, and accordingly she saw no reason for putting any obstacle in the way of St. Francis Xavier and his followers until she concluded, however much or little reason there may have been for her conclusions, that the incoming of these foreigners in some measure menaced her national existence. Before she arrived at that conclusion she was apparently prepared to welcome all that was good in the ethical teaching of the Portuguese missionaries, and, if a section of her population desired to embrace a religion to whose ethical teaching she had no objection; there was no reason, in her opinion, why that religion should not exist side by side with those more ancient religions which had lived amicably together during many centuries.
For nearly two hundred and fifty years Japan resolved to remain in a state of isolation. Then, as I have said, European Powers and the great Republic of the West came knocking and knocking loudly at her doors, and as a result thereof her thinking men came to realise that in a state of isolation a continued civilised existence is impossible. Accordingly Japan, tentatively at first, opened certain portions of her country to European intercourse, and as an inevitable consequence thereof found it necessary to adopt European ideas--and European armaments. The country had kept out the aggressor for some two thousand years or thereabouts, and Japan clearly saw that if the aggressor was to be kept out in the future, the near future, she would probably have to fight to maintain her national existence. The war with China was the outcome of the feeling that Korea under the suzerainty of China was a constant menace to not only the prosperity but the existence of the Empire. The same feeling undoubtedly led to the war with Russia, as Japan considered, and rightly in my opinion, that the possession of Korea by Russia meant the loss of national independence. That war was not as so many wars have been, the result of a racial hatred, the outcome of a spirit of revenge, or waged for aggressive designs. It was forced upon Japan, and was in every sense purely defensive. Japan waged it confident in her own strength from the fact that in the two thousand years of her history she had, in all the conflicts in which she had engaged, kept in view the one ideal--the conservation of the national existence, an ideal which she has consistently realised.
The position of Japan at the present moment is not only extremely interesting but extraordinary in a degree. She is the cynosure for the eyes of the civilised world, and for some years she has been subjected at the hands of experts and amateurs of all descriptions to the most minute investigation. Every phase of her national life has been rigidly scrutinised and exhaustively written about. The national character and characteristics have undergone the most intricate psychological examination, and if the world does not now know the real Japan it is certainly not from lack of material, literary material, whereon to form a judgment. Indeed the attention Japan has received has been sufficient to turn the head of any people. I am not sure that this large output of literature on matters Japanese has effected very much in the direction of enabling a sound judgment to be formed regarding the country and the people. Many writers who have dissertated upon Japan during the past couple of decades seem to have imagined that they had discovered it, and their impressions have been penned from that standpoint.
There used some years ago to be an advertisement of a "Popular Educator" in which a youth with a curly head of hair and a face of delightful innocence was depicted. Underneath the portrait the inquiry was printed, "What will he become?" And there was then given an illustrated alternative as to the appearance of this innocent youth at different ages in his career according to the path he trod in life. One alternative eventuated in the final evolution of an ancient and, from his appearance, very palpable villain, the other of a benevolent-looking old gentleman who quite evidently only lived to do good. It seems to me that a large number of persons in various parts of the world are to-day, as they have been for some time past, asking the question in reference to Japan, "What will she become?" It is without doubt a highly interesting inquiry, but the answer to it, so far as my knowledge goes, is not like the advertisement I have referred to, one of two courses--the one leading to perdition, the other to prosperity. On the contrary, the answers seem to be as numerous and varied as the answerers, and most of the answers would appear to have been arrived at simply and merely by the false premises and very often the entirely erroneous "facts" of the inquirers.
A favourite and fallacious method of dealing with Japan is that of regarding it as an Oriental nation, essentially Oriental with a thin veneer of Occidentalism. People who so reason, or occasionally do not reason at all but confine themselves to mere assertions, suggest that the difference between the Oriental and the Occidental is such that not a few years of perfunctory contact but centuries of time are necessary to bring about a real transmogrification. Persons who so think point not only to the difference in everything material in respect of East and West, but to a radical difference in psychology, an entire distinction in the mental outlook of each. They accordingly conclude that the differences so evident on all sides are not mere accidentals but fundamental, ineradicable. Scratch the Japanese, they in effect say, and beneath his veneer of civilisation you will find the barbarian, barbarism and Orientalism being with these persons synonymous terms. And if any incredulity in the matter be expressed they will triumphantly point to the recurrence of hara-kiri among the soldiers and sailors in the late war. A well-known writer on racial psychology has expressed himself dogmatically on this very point. I will quote two or three of his pronouncements in the matter.
[Illustration: FIREWORKS IN TOKIO (SUMMER) FROM A PRINT BY HIROSHIGE]
"Each race possesses a constitution as unvarying as its anatomical constitution. There seems to be no doubt that the former corresponds to a certain special structure of the brain.
"A negro or a Japanese may easily take a university degree or become a lawyer; the sort of varnish he thus acquires is, however, quite superficial, and has no influence on his mental constitution.... What no education can give him because they are created by heredity alone, are the forms of thought, the logic, and, above all, the character of the Western man.
"Cross-breeding constitutes the only infallible means at our disposal of transforming in a fundamental manner the character of a people, heredity being the only force powerful enough to contend with heredity. Cross-breeding allows of the creation of a new race, possessing new physical and psychological characteristics."
Now, whether these views be correct in the main or partially correct as regards other races, I have no hesitation in describing them as inaccurate to a degree in reference to the Japanese. Not peculiar brain formation, but social evolution, environment, education are responsible for the traits which distinguish the Japanese from other Eastern nations. To assert, as do some psychological experts, that the mental constitution of races is as distinct and unchangeable as their physiological or anatomical characteristics is, to my mind, a fact not borne out by the history of the world. Physiological or anatomical distinctions are apparent, and can be classified; mental idiosyncrasies do not lend themselves to cataloguing. It is, I know, possible to draw up at any particular period a list of what I may term the idiosyncrasies of any race at that period. A writer in a London newspaper some little time back attempted to do so in reference to Oriental races generally. He enumerated the degraded position of women, the licentiousness of the men, the recognition and prevalence of prostitution, the non-desire of the youth for play, contempt for Western civilisation, and general hatred of foreigners. Admitting these charges to be correct, the characteristics detailed are, I may point out, merely ephemeral incidents. A contempt for Western civilisation and hatred of the foreigner, for example, which was certainly at one time pronounced in Japan, are rapidly passing away. The position of women in that country has also greatly improved, just as it has improved in Europe, while as regards prostitution and licentiousness Europe has, in my opinion, no need to throw stones.
There are undoubtedly a large number of persons who are convinced, or have been convinced, by the arguments of others, that the progress of Japan is a mere mushroom growth which cannot last. A few years ago one of the leading English papers in Japan attempted, to some extent, to voice this opinion in an article striking the note of warning for the benefit of the West against putting too much faith in those writers who had intimately studied Japan from within, and whose works were in general appreciation not only for their literary style, but for the vivid insight they gave into everything respecting the country. Quoth the journal in question:--
"In the case of such writers as Sir Edwin Arnold and Mr. Lafcadio Hearn, it is quite apparent that the logical faculty is in abeyance. Imagination reigns supreme. As poetic flights or outbursts the works of these authors on Japan are delightful reading. But no one who has studied the Japanese in a deeper manner, by more intimate daily intercourse with all classes of the people than either of these writers pretends to have had, can possibly regard a large part of their description as anything more than pleasing fancy. Both have given rein to the poetic fancy, and thus have, from a purely literary point of view, scored a success granted to few.... But as exponents of Japanese life and thought they are unreliable.... They have given form and beauty to much that never existed, except in vague outline or in undeveloped germs in the Japanese mind. In doing this they have unavoidably been guilty of misrepresentation.... The Japanese nation of Arnold and Hearn is not the nation we have known for a quarter of a century, but a purely ideal one manufactured out of the author's brains. It is high time that this was pointed out. For while such works please a certain section of the English public, they do a great deal of harm among a section of the Japanese public, as could be easily shown in detail did space allow."
I quite admit the fact that many Japanese themselves are quite convinced that there is a great gulf fixed between the ideas and the philosophy of Europe and those of the East, their own country included. In a book dealing particularly with the art of Japan, written in English by a Japanese, he attempts to emphasise this matter. He remarks: "Asia is one. The Himalayas divide only to accentuate two mighty civilisations--the Chinese, with its communism of Confucius, and the Indian, with its individualism of the Vedas. But not even the snowy barriers can interrupt for one moment that broad expanse of love for the Ultimate and Universal which is the common-thought inheritance of every Asiatic race, enabling them to produce all the great religions of the world, and distinguishing them from those maritime people of the Mediterranean and the Baltic who loved to dwell on the particular, and to search out the means not the end of life." Indeed, the writer of this book appears to be in a condition of transcendentalism in reference to the East. In another portion of it he waxes eloquent in regard to what he terms the glory of Asia, in language which I will briefly quote. He remarks:--
"But the glory of Asia is something more positive than these. It lies in that vibration of peace that beats in every heart; that harmony which brings together emperor and peasant; that sublime intuition of oneness which commands all sympathy, all courtesy, to be its fruits, making Takakura, Emperor of Japan, remove his sleeping robes on a winter night because the frost lay cold on the hearths of his poor; or Taiso of Tang forego food because his people were feeling the pinch of famine; ... it lies in that worship of feeling which casts around poverty the halo of greatness, impresses his stern simplicity of apparel on the Indian prince, and sets up in China a throne whose imperial occupant--alone amongst the great secular rulers of the world--never wears a sword."
It were unkind to criticise eloquence of this description too seriously. The fact, if it be a fact, that the Emperor of China never wears a sword is in one sense interesting but it proves nothing. It is well to get down from eloquence of this kind to concrete facts, to come back to the point whence we started, viz., What will Japan become? What is her present condition? Any one who compares the Japan of to-day with the Japan of, say, thirty or forty years ago will, I think, impatiently sweep aside some of the absurd theories to which I have referred, psychological and otherwise. The unprejudiced man, letting his mind indulge in retrospect, and comparing that retrospective view with the present actuality, will, I believe, have no difficulty in determining that though Japan is and must remain an Oriental nation, what she has acquired of recent years is neither veneer or varnish, but has been assimilated into the very system of the people. Very probably Japan will never become thoroughly Occidentalised. There are many of us who hope she never may. I believe, however, that in adopting many Occidental customs and habits she will adapt and modify them to her own needs, and in due course evolve a race neither distinctly Occidental nor Oriental while retaining many of her past customs and her ancient characteristics. She will, in a word, be as far as possible an eclectic nation, and it is, so far as I know, the first time in the history of the world that an attempt has been made to develop such.
There are, I know, many people in Europe as well as in Japan who feel and express some apprehension in regard to what they term young Japan. This term, like many other terms, has never been accurately defined, but I take it to mean that portion of the country consisting of the young or younger men who have been educated according to Western ideas, have acquired Western modes of thought, and have developed--I do not use the word in an opprobrious sense--a bumptiousness. It is assumed, on what grounds I know not, that this section--it must after all be a small section--of the population of the country has aspirations to make things "hum," if I may use an expressive bit of American slang. Young Japan, we are led to believe, is intensely ambitious and extremely cocksure. It cannot and will not go slow; on the contrary, it is in a fearful hurry, and is in reference to every matter political, commercial, religious, a hustler. It has no doubts upon any subject, and no difficulty in regard to making up its mind on any matter. This is what we hear and read. How much of it all is true I know not. I am very largely of opinion that this representation of young Japan is altogether a caricature. Youth we know in every clime is impulsive and impetuous. There is no need to go to Japan to convince ourselves of that fact. But youth, if it have these defects, also possesses enthusiasm, and I should be inclined to describe that as one of the most pleasing characteristics of the youth of Japan. After all, time will cure Young Japan of some of its defects. Young Japan will grow old, and if it loses its enthusiasm it will gain experience. I not only have no fear of these vivacious young men who love their country and are proud of it. I regard them not as a danger, but as a pleasing feature in the progress of Japan, and a potent factor in its future prosperity.
The writers and critics to whom I have referred in this chapter seem to be oblivious of the fact that progress is the law of nature. It has nothing to do with either climate or race. I admit that it may be affected by environment or other causes of a temporary nature. The Occidental visiting the East sees things that are strange to him--a people, the colour of whose skin and the contour of whose features are different to his own; costume, style of architecture, and many other matters entirely dissimilar to what he has viewed in his own country. He accordingly jumps to the absolutely erroneous conclusion that these people are uncivilised, and that their lack of civilisation is due to some mental warp or some defect in either the structure or the size of their brain. Of course such a conception is entirely erroneous, and yet it is marvellous to what an extent it prevails. These people are for all practical purposes the same as himself, except that they have been affected by various matters and circumstances that I have called ephemeral. What a nation, like an individual, needs is the formation of a distinct character. Now, the character of a nation depends, in my opinion, on the high or low estimate it has formed as to the meaning and purpose of life, and also the extent to which it adheres to the unwritten moral law, which is, after all, something superior to, because higher than, mere legal enactments. I confess that as I wander about this marvellous country of Japan, as I mingle with its common people and see them in various phases of their lives I say to myself, as St. Francis Xavier said of them more than three hundred years ago, "This nation is the delight of my soul." The critic, the hypercritic, is everywhere. He suspects everybody and everything. He can find occult motives and psychological reasons for everything. I confess I am a trifle tired of the critic, especially the psychological critic, in reference to Japan. I view the people there as they are to-day, and I have satisfied myself that we can see at work in Japan the formation of a nation with a character. I care not to investigate the mental processes at work, or the difference between the brain of the Japanese and the brain of the European. I do see this, however, that the leaders of the people, the educated and cultured classes of the land, are intent on cutting out of the national character anything which is indefensible, or has been found unserviceable, and equally intent on adopting and adapting from any and every nation such qualities as it is considered would the better enable Japan to advance on the paths of progress and freedom, illuminating her way as a nation and as a people by a shining illustration of all that is best in the world, having sloughed off voluntarily and readily every characteristic, however ancient, which reason and justice and experience had shown to be unworthy of a power aspiring to stand out prominently before the world.
In Sir Rutherford Alcock's work on Japan, "The Capital of the Tycoon," published some forty-four years ago, a work which, as I have elsewhere said, is of undoubted value though somewhat marred by the prejudices of the author, he attempted a forecast of the future of the country, but, like so many prophets, his vaticinations have proved highly inaccurate. "Japan," he remarked, "is on the great highway of nations, the coveted of Russia, the most absorbing, if not the most aggressive of all the Powers; and a perpetual temptation alike to merchant and to missionary, who, each in different directions, finding the feudalism and spirit of isolation barriers to their path, will not cease to batter them in breach, or undermine them to their downfall. Such seems to be the probable fate of Japan, and its consummation is little more than a question of time. When all is accomplished, whether the civilising process will make them as a people wiser, better, or happier, is a problem of more doubtful solution. One thing is quite certain, that the obstructive principle which tends to the rejection of all Western innovations and proselytism as abominations, is much too active and vigorous in the Japanese mind to leave a hope that there will not be violent and obstinate resistance; and this inevitably leading to corresponding violence in the assault, there must be a period of convulsion and disorder before the change can be effected, and new foundations laid for another social edifice." Whether the civilising process will make the Japanese people wiser, better, or happier is the problem the answer to which can only be given in the future. Obviously we are not in a position to completely answer this question to-day. Indeed, before answering it at any time it might be advisable to invite the definition of wisdom and happiness. There were wisdom and happiness long prior to the time when the merchant and the missionary to whom Sir Rutherford Alcock refers battered and undermined Japan's feudalism and spirit of isolation. But, mirable dictu, Japan, instead of developing that obstructive principle which Sir Rutherford considered was so active and vigorous in the Japanese mind has, on the contrary, developed a spirit of adaptation and assimilation of Western innovations, and in so doing has in all probability saved herself from the cupidity not only of Russia, but of other Western Powers. Sir Rutherford Alcock was not a psychologist, but quite evidently he too misread the Japanese mind and its workings.
Truth to tell, Japan as it is to-day gives the lie to nearly all the prophets, and demonstrates that the psychologist is merely a charlatan. Her development, her evolution has proceeded along no particular lines. The fearful and awful rocks in the way, mediævalism and feudalism, were got rid of almost with a stroke of the pen, and everybody in Japan, from the Emperor to the peasant, has adapted himself to the changed order of things. It is the most wonderful transformation scene in the history of the world, and it is still in progress. What the end of it all will be I have, bearing the dangers of prophecy well in mind, attempted to show in a final chapter. But I may remark that nothing in regard to the forces at work in Japan of recent years, and the outcome of the same so far gives me at any rate more unmixed pleasure than the way in which the theorists have been confounded, those men who cut and carve and label human beings, whether individually or in the aggregate, as if they were mere blocks of wood. The Oriental mind, we have been told, cannot do this; Oriental prejudices and idiosyncrasies and modes of thought and hereditary influences will not admit of that; the traditions of the Far East, that mysterious thing, will prevent the other--we have been told all this, I repeat, and told it ad nauseam. Japan as it is to-day refutes these prophecies, these dogmatic pronouncements, psychical and ethnological. The Japanese race, when regarded from what I deem to be the only correct standpoint for forming a sound judgment as to the position it holds among the races of the world, namely, in respect of the size and convolution of the brain, occupies in my opinion a high, a very high place. All other factors, often given such undue prominence in forming an estimate as to the character of any people I regard as mere accidentals. The story of Japan during the last thirty or forty years affords ample proof of what I have said; the position of the country to-day offers visible demonstration of it. Japan has reached and will keep the position of a great Power, and the Japanese that of a great people, just because of the preponderating mental abilities of the population of the country, its capacity for assimilation, its desire for knowledge, its pertinacity, strenuousness, and aspirations to possess and acquire by the process of selection the very best the world can give it.