THE COUNTRY--ITS PHYSICAL FEATURES--PRODUCTS--FAUNA--FLORA, ETC.
The Empire of Japan (a corruption of Nippon, the native name) is composed of four large islands--Honshiu, Shikoku, Kiushiu, and Yesso, besides some thousands of smaller isles. The Kurile Isles, north of Yesso, and in the neighbourhood of Kamschatka, have been incorporated in the Empire since 1875, and the Loo-Choo Islands, some 500 miles south-west of Japan's southern extremity, since 1876. The great island of Formosa, situated off the coast of China, was ceded to Japan as the outcome of the Chino-Japanese War in 1895, while as the result of the recent conflict with Russia, Japan has obtained back the southern half of the large island of Sakhalin, which formerly entirely belonged to her, as well as Port Arthur and Dalny on the mainland, not to speak of the preponderating influence she has obtained in Korea, which is now practically under the suzerainty of Japan. The population of the Empire according to the last census was about forty-seven millions, and, like that of Great Britain, it is annually increasing. The proximity of Japan to the Asiatic Continent, despite the lessons in geography which the late war afforded, is not, I think, generally understood. The nearest point of the Japanese coast is only 100 miles distant from Korea, while between the two lies the important island of Tsu-shima, which Japan found so useful as a strategic position during the war with Russia. The island of Sakhalin, the southern portion of which, as I have said, has lately passed into the possession of Japan, is about 20 miles distant from the northern part of Yesso, while at some places the island is only separated from the Russian mainland by 5 or 6 miles of water. The distance between Hakodate, in Yesso, and the great Russian port of Vladivostock is somewhere about 200 miles. This contiguity of Japan to the Asiatic Continent has already had a marked effect on the politics of the world, and in the future, if I mistake not, is likely to be a preponderating factor therein. The area of Japan is about half as large again as that of the United Kingdom. The southern extremity of the country is in latitude 31° N., the northern in latitude 45½° N.
The Japanese islands are undoubtedly of volcanic origin, and many of the volcanoes in the country are still more or less active. The general conformation of the land leads one to suppose that the islands are the summits of mountain ranges which some thousands of years back had their bases submerged by the rising of the sea or else had by degrees settled down beneath the surface of the ocean. The general characteristic of the country is mountainous, and only about one-sixth of the total area is in cultivation. Fuji-yama, the loftiest mountain, for which the Japanese have a peculiar veneration and which has been immortalised in the art of the country, has an altitude of 12,730 feet. The next in height, Mount Mitake, ascends some 9,000 feet, and there are many others of 5,000 feet or more. Japan has from time to time been ravaged by, and indeed still is subject to, terrible earthquakes. These dire calamities seem to recur at regular intervals. The Japanese islands appear to be in the centre of great volcanic disturbances--a fact which probably accounts for those seismic outbreaks which periodically devastate considerable tracts of the country and cause tremendous havoc to life and property. The written records, extending back some 1,400 or 1,500 years, clearly prove that earthquakes even more terrible in their effects than any that have taken place in recent times were of frequent occurrence. It is, of course, possible that these records may be inaccurate or have been largely exaggerated, but they at any rate tend to show that those great cosmic forces which are popularly termed earthquakes have been constantly at work in Japan ever since any written records have been preserved and no doubt long anterior to that time.
As the islands are narrow and mountainous there are no great rivers and none available for important navigation. None of the rivers exceed 200 miles in length. Although Japan is situated much further south than Great Britain, its northern extremity being in about the same latitude as Cornwall, its climate is, on the whole, not unlike that of this country. Of course the climate of such a mountainous country and one extending over 14 degrees of latitude varies considerably. That of the island of Yesso, for example, is in winter rigorous to a degree, a fact in some measure caused by a cold current which flows down its eastern shores from the Sea of Okohotsk. Professor Rein, who has given great attention to the matter of the Japanese climate, has remarked in reference thereto: "The climate of Japan reflects the characteristics of that of the neighbouring continent, and exhibits like that two great annual contrasts--a hot, damp summer and a cold relatively dry winter; these two seasons lie under the sway of the monsoons, but the neighbouring seas weaken the effects of these winds and mitigate their extremes in such a manner that neither the summer heat nor the cold of winter attain the same height in Japan as in China at the same latitudes. Spring and autumn are extremely agreeable seasons; the oppressive summer heat does not last long, and in winter the contrast between the nightly frosts and the midday heat, produced by considerable insulation but still more by the raw northerly winds, causes frequent chills, though the prevailing bright sky makes the season of the year much more endurable than in many other regions where the winter cold is equal. As a fact the climate of Japan agrees very well with most Europeans, so that people have already begun to look upon certain localities as climatic watering-places where the inhabitant of Hong Kong and Shanghai can find refuge from the oppressive heat of summer and invigorate his health."
The mean annual temperature of Tokio is about 56°. The lowest temperature is in January or February, when the thermometer seldom falls below 25°, the highest in August, when it sometimes rises to 95° or 100° in the shade, the average being 82°. The Japanese suffer a good deal from the effects of the wintry weather, bronchial, chest, and rheumatic affections being prevalent. The dwellings of the people, somewhat flimsy in construction as they are, are not well adapted to withstand the effects of a low temperature. On the whole the people must be pronounced to be extremely healthy--a fact probably due to their scrupulous cleanliness, to the excellent ventilation of their houses, and, as regards those living in the towns, to the wide and well-kept streets where nothing offensive is allowed to remain. The country has, however, from time to time been subject to epidemics introduced from without, cholera and the plague having more than once carried death throughout the length and breadth of the land.
Those circular storms known as cyclones in the Indian Ocean and typhoons in further Eastern seas have from time to time wrought great devastation in Japan. Fortunately these revolving storms are of brief duration, and in the neighbourhood of Japan they do not so frequently occur as in the China Sea.
Japan is well provided with good harbours, that of Nagasaki in especial being one of the finest in the world. Sheltered completely by lofty and beautiful hills, with deep water throughout, it is an ideal anchorage. Until recently foreign trade was confined to the treaty ports; but as the country has now been completely thrown open, there is no doubt that the many fine harbours which Japan possesses, and which so far have hardly been utilised at all, will in due course become the centres of great commercial activity. The Inland Sea--the beautiful Mediterranean of Japan--abounds with excellent anchorages, most of which have hitherto been only entered by an occasional junk.
Regarding the mineral wealth of the country, it is impossible to speak with any precision. It was not until after the Revolution of 1868 that the mining industry assumed importance in Japan. At first the Government itself owned several mines, but these were not financially successful, and they were after a time disposed of to private owners. The old mining regulations have recently been superseded by a new mining law. In accordance with this the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce is the official who permits, approves, cancels, or suspends the right of mining, whether permanently or on trial. I may, however, at once remark that the Japanese Government has not up to the present held out much encouragement to the speculative prospector. Gold is believed to exist in considerable quantities in Yesso, and as a matter of fact, although the amount mined is still small, it is annually increasing. Coal is abundant in various parts of the country and the mines are extensively worked. In 1903 there were over ten million tons of coal produced, and the quantity is at the present time assuredly very much greater. The coal is not of such a good quality as either Welsh or North Country, but there is a large and growing demand for it in the East, and coal is undoubtedly a highly important part of Japan's latent wealth. Copper, a metal which is in increasing demand, exists in Japan in enormous quantities, and she promises at no very far-distant date to be the chief copper-producing country of the world. Iron and sulphur are also found, and there are many other minerals, some of which are more or less worked. The Japanese Mining Law, it may be interesting to relate, recognises the following minerals and mineral ores, which may accordingly be taken as existing in the country: Gold, silver, copper, lead, tin, hematite, antimony, quicksilver, zinc, iron, manganese and arsenic, plumbago, coal, kerosene, sulphur, bismuth, phosphorus, peat.
Whatever the mineral wealth of Japan--and the extent and variety thereof are probably yet not fully realised--there can be no question as to the value of its arboreal products. The lacquer-tree (rhus vernicifera), which furnishes the well-known Japanese lacquer, the paper mulberry, the elm, oak, maple, bamboo, camphor, and many other descriptions of trees, grow in abundance. The forests of Japan cover nearly 60 per cent. of the land. For some years after the Revolution there was a reduction in the wooded area, nearly four million acres having been cleared for occupation. Of late years, however, forestry has been scientifically taken in hand, and about one and a half million acres have been replanted in districts which have not been found suitable for farming. The climate of Japan varies so greatly that there is a corresponding variety in its trees. About eight hundred kinds of forest trees are suitable for cultivation in Japan, varying from the palm and the bamboo to the fir and many other trees with which we are familiar in this country.
The Japanese are above all things an agricultural people. The tobacco plant, the tea shrub, potatoes, rice, wheat, barley, millet, cotton, rape, and many cereals other than those I have mentioned are extensively cultivated. The great mass of the people of Japan live on the land, and though I think the tendency, as in Great Britain, is for the large towns to magnetically draw the dwellers in the country, nevertheless agriculture is still held in high esteem, and the peasant is content to dwell on the land and live by it. Rice is the staple food of the people, and it is grown everywhere; indeed the yearly harvest of it affects the Japanese economy quite as much as, if not even more than, the wheat crop does that of Europe. The Japanese peasant is almost as dependent on rice as the Irish peasant used to be on potatoes. The water, so necessary for irrigating the land, is supplied by the streams and rivulets which are plentiful in the country. The Japanese agriculturist has long been famous for the admirable manner in which he keeps and tills his farm. The fields are clean as regards weeds, and order and neatness are perceptible everywhere. The labour is almost entirely manual, and men, women, and children all take part in the work.
Fruit is abundant in Japan, but it is for the most part of an inferior quality. Grapes, apples, pears, plums, peaches, chestnuts, persimmons, oranges, figs, lemons, citrons, melons, and wild strawberries are all grown, but except as regards the grapes I cannot speak in laudatory terms of Japanese fruit. The flowers of many fruit trees seem more appreciated than the fruit itself.
The floral kingdom is rich, beautiful and varied. Probably in no other part of the world are flowers so greatly appreciated as in Japan. They enter largely into various popular festivals. The Japanese, as most people know, excel in the art of gardening and the dwarfing of trees and shrubs. The flower vendor is a familiar sight, and there is never any lack of buyers. The poorest householder will do without anything almost rather than deprive himself of flowers. These enter largely into the religious services of the people, and are also extensively placed on the graves of the departed. Flowers, indeed, play an important part in the lives of the Japanese. Japan has long been famous for the great number of its evergreens. A large number of the plants growing wild are of this class, so that even in winter the land has not the bare appearance characteristic of European countries at that time of the year. Coniferous plants are abundant, many of them being peculiar to Japan.
The coasts abound with fish of an excellent quality, and this, with rice, forms the staple diet of the people. Tea is, as I have said, largely cultivated, and indeed may be regarded as the national beverage. It has been cultivated in the country for over two thousand years. It is an article of faith in Japan that tea strengthens the body. It is drunk everywhere and at all times, without either milk or sugar--the true way, I think, in which to appreciate its flavour. The tea-house in Japan occupies the same position as the public-house in this country, but it has many advantages over the latter. In the towns and some other parts of Japan, saké--a spirit distilled from rice--is drunk, and when the Japanese has to any extent been Europeanised or brought into contact with Europeans, he affects a taste for European varieties of alcohol. On the whole, however, the people are distinctly a sober race.
The principal towns are Tokio, the capital, with a population of about one and half millions, Osaka, having a population nearly as great, Kyoto, the ancient capital, Nagoya, Kobé, Yokohama, and Nagasaki. Yokohama may be regarded as the European headquarters; indeed it is largely a European town, while Nagasaki has more than any other been under European influences, the Dutch having, as I have already stated, had a factory there, in the suburb of Decima, continuously ever since the expulsion of foreigners from the country in the sixteenth century.
Railway communication in Japan is a subject upon which much might be written. For many years there was only one line in the country--that between Yokohama and Tokio, about 22 miles in length. At the present time there are some 4,500 miles of railway open, and extensions are either in progress or in contemplation. Of the lines now being worked, about one-third are the property of the Government, the rest having been constructed by private enterprise. This dual system of ownership has its disadvantages, and it will doubtless not be permitted to last. Railway construction has already had a considerable effect on the opening up of the country, and as the construction is extended the development of Japan will doubtless proceed in an increasing ratio.
The scenery of Japan has provided a theme for so many pens that I do not feel inclined to do more than refer to it in passing. Much of the scenery is sublime but, truth to tell, its beauty, or perhaps it would be more correct to say the effect thereof on the sightseer, has been somewhat marred of recent years by the influx of those persons colloquially known as "globe trotters," the railway extensions to which I have referred, and the erection of large hotels run on European lines. Nikko, the incomparable, with its glorious scenery and its still more glorious temples, the meandering Daynogawa, the beauteous Lake Chiuzenji, on which a quarter of a century or so ago a European provided with a passport and having his headquarters at a neighbouring tea-house might gaze at his leisure, and meditate in a glorious silence broken only by the sound of the ripples of the water or the cry of the birds from the neighbouring woods, all are now vulgarised. The personally conducted tourist is there and very much in evidence. He wanders carelessly, often contemptuously, through the ancient temples, regarding temples, scenery, river, lakes, merely as "something to be done." The change was, I suppose, inevitable, but the change is one that I think is in some respects to be regretted. The tourist brings money and spends it freely, and the country no doubt reaps the advantage thereof, but the effect on the Japanese brought into contact with the European under such conditions is not, in my opinion, always, or often, beneficial.
I have not much to remark in regard to the fauna of Japan. The domestic animals are comparatively few. The fact of the inhabitants not eating animal food has led to their paying little or no attention to the breeding of those animals which are largely in request in foreign countries. Horses, however, are fairly plentiful, though small. Japan, as I have elsewhere remarked, has been handicapped in the organisation of her cavalry by the lack of a proper supply of suitable horses, and she has recently despatched a commission to Europe to effect purchases with a view of putting this matter right, and improving the breed of horses in the county. Oxen and cows were till recently entirely, and are still largely, used for purposes of draught only. Sheep and pigs have been introduced from abroad, but they have not been generally distributed, and in many parts of Japan have never been seen.
The wild animals of Japan are neither numerous nor important. The black bear and the wolf still exist, chiefly in the Northern Island, but it is certain that at no far-distant date they will, unless artificially preserved, go the way of all wild animals in civilised countries. The red-faced monkey is there, the only kind found in Japan, and snakes exist, but they are for the most part harmless. The art of the country will have familiarised Europeans with the presence of the crane and the stork, which play such a prominent part therein. Indeed the wild birds of the country are more numerous than the animals. I am not aware whether geological research in Japan has been sufficiently extensive or systematic to ascertain whether, and if so what, any species of animals have ever existed there other than those at present found in the country. It certainly is in some respects extraordinary that a country so close to the Asiatic Continent and possessing such a variety of climates should, as regards the animal kingdom from the standpoint of the zoologist, be put down as distinctly poor. The fact, or supposed fact, to which I have previously referred, that the Japanese islands are the summits of mountain ranges which many thousand years ago had their bases submerged by the rising of the sea or had gradually settled down beneath the surface of the ocean, may, of course, account for the poverty of Japan in regard to the animals therein. I must leave other pens than mine to descant on that interesting if highly speculative matter. Be that as it may, if the fauna of Japan is poor, the country certainly makes up for it by the variety and magnificence of its flora--a flora which deserves to be studied, and which has done so much to brighten not only the appearance of the country but the lives of its inhabitants.
THE JAPANESE RACE AND ITS LANGUAGE
There are, I have always thought, two ways in which any race should be considered if it is desired to form a correct idea in regard to it, viz., from an ethnological and philological standpoint. No race deserves to be closer studied in these matters than the Japanese. Indeed, I am of opinion that it is impossible to arrive at any clear or correct opinion concerning it without having, however slightly, investigated its racial descent and the language which, among Eastern dialects, has so long been as great a puzzle to the philologist as has Basque among the European languages. Respecting the origin of the Japanese we know practically nothing--at any rate nothing authentic. The native legends and histories afford us neither guide nor clue in the matter. These legends and histories tell us that the Japanese are descended from the gods, but I am quite certain that the modern Japanese receives that fact (?) with something more than the proverbial grain of salt. According to the old legend Ninigi-no-Nikoto was a god despatched by his grandmother the Sun-goddess to take possession of Japan, and the land was peopled by him and his entourage. This god-man, it is stated, lived over 300,000 years; his son, Hohoderni, attained to twice that period of longevity, while a grandchild, Ugaya by name, reached the respectable old age of 836,042 years. Ugaya was, it is stated, the father of Jimmu, the first Emperor. It is not necessary to seriously notice fables or legends or poetic imagery, or whatever these tales may be deemed to be, although I may remark that the divine descent of the sovereign of Japan has, so far as I know, never been formally repudiated, and it is still explicitly, if not implicitly, held.
Dr. Kaemfer, whose great work I have already referred to, propounded therein the somewhat fanciful theory that the Japanese are really the direct descendants of the ancient Babylonians, and that their language "is one of those which Sacred Writ mentions the all-wise Providence thought fit to infuse into the minds of the vain builders of the Babylonian Tower." According to his theory, which to me seems absolutely ludicrous, the Japanese came through Persia, then along the shores of the Caspian Sea and by the bank of the Oxus to its source. From there, he suggests, they crossed China, descended the Amoor, proceeded southwards to Korea, and found their way across the intervening sea to the Japanese islands. Another theory, which has found many supporters, is that the Japanese are descended from the Ainos, the hairy race still to be found in the island of Yesso. An advocate of this view seeks to bolster up his faith by the evidences of an aboriginal race still to be found in the relics of the Stone Age in Japan. "Flint arrows and spear-heads," he remarks, "hammers, chisels, scrapers, kitchen refuse, and various other trophies are frequently excavated, or may be found in the museum or in homes of private persons. Though covered with the soil for centuries, they seem as though freshly brought from an Aino hut in Yesso. In scores of striking instances the very peculiar ideas, customs, and superstitions of both Japanese and Aino are the same, or but slightly modified."
[Illustration: THE SWEET SCENT OF THE CHERRY BLOSSOM FROM A PRINT BY HIROSHIGE]
This seems to me to be no evidence at all. Flint arrows, spear-heads, hammers, and so on are to be found in every part of the world. Mankind all over the globe seems to have evolved its civilisation, or what passes for it, in very much the same way, viz., by process of experiment. Another authority has asserted that the short, round skull, the oblique eyes, the prominent cheek-bones, the dark, black hair, and the scanty beard all proclaim the Manchus and Koreans as the nearest congeners of the Japanese. This authority considers it positive that the latter are a Tungusic race, and that their own traditions and the whole course of their history are incompatible with any other conclusion than that Korea is the route by which the immigrant tribes made their entry into Kiushiu from their original Manchurian home. While accepting this theory with some reservations, I may remark that I altogether fail to see what the "whole course" of Japanese history has to do with the matter. Japanese history, as I have previously observed, is almost altogether legendary, and proves nothing except the credulity of those who have accepted it as statements of fact. Ethnology, I admit, is a most interesting field for speculation. It is one in which the mind can positively run riot and the imagination revel. The wildest theories have been put forward in regard to many of the world's races, and philological arguments of the thinnest possible kind have been used to bolster them up. For example, one very able writer on this matter has broached a theory respecting the origin of the Japanese, and supported it by what seems to be very plausible evidence. He assumes, on what grounds I know not, that there was a white race earlier in the field of history than the Aryans, and that the seat of this white race was in High Africa. That it was from Africa that migrations were made to North, Central, and South America, as well as to Egypt, and subsequently to Babylonia and, apparently, to India. In due course, according to this authority, Syria and Babylonia were conquered by the Semites, while the Aryans became masters of Europe, Asia Minor, and India. The suggestion is that the conquerors of the Japanese islands and the founders of the Japanese language and mythology were of the Turano-African type. That these invaders intermarried with a mixed short race, and that the new dominating Japanese race maintained and propagated their dialect of the language and their sect of the religion, and displaced the pure natives. The same authority suggests that when the Pacific route to America was closed by the weakness of the Turano Africans and the rising of cannibals and other savages (where did they rise from?) the Japanese were isolated on the east. On their west the Turano-African dynasties in China and Korea fell, and were replaced by natives, the same series of events taking place as in Egypt, Peru, Mexico, &c. The principal evidence in support of this somewhat startling theory is the similarity between the words in use in Japanese and in certain African languages. But if evidence of that nature is to be accepted in proof of somewhat improbable theories, it will be possible to prove almost anything in regard to the origin of races. I utterly reject all these far-fetched theories. Any unprejudiced man looking at the Japanese, the Chinaman, and the Korean will have no doubt whatever in his own mind as to their racial affinity. Differences there most certainly are, just as there are between the Frenchman and the Englishman, or even the Englishman and the Scotchman, but what I may term the pronounced characteristics are the same--the colour of the skin, the oblique eyes, the dark hair, and the contour of the skull. These people, whatever the present difference in their mental, moral, and physical characteristics, have quite evidently all come from the same stock. They are, in a word, Mongolians, and any attempt to prove that one particular portion of this stock is Turano-African, or something else equally absurd from an ethnological point of view, seems to me to be positively childish. There was probably originally a mixture of races, Malay as well as others, which has had its effect on the peculiar temperament of the Japanese as he is to-day compared with the Chinaman.
Of course language cannot be left out of account in the question of the racial origin of any people, and the Japanese language has, as I have said, long been a puzzle for the philologist. In the early times we are told the Japanese had no written language. The language in use before the opening up of communications with Korea and China stood alone. Indeed there is only one language outside Japan which has any affinity therewith, that is the language of the inhabitants of the Loo-Choo Islands. Philologists have excluded the language from the Aryan and Semitic tongues, and included it in the Turanian group. It is said to possess all the characteristics of the Turanian family being agglutinated, that is to say, maintaining its roots in their integrity without formative prefixes, poor in conjunctions, and copious in the use of participles. It is uncertain when alphabetical characters were introduced into Japan, but it is believed to have happened when intercourse with Korea was first opened about the commencement of the Christian Era. The warrior Empress, Jungu-kogo, is said to have carried away from Korea as many books as possible after the successful invasion of that country. In the third century the son of the Emperor Ojin learned to read Chinese works, and henceforward the Chinese language and literature seem to have been introduced into Japan. A great impetus was given to the spread of Chinese literature by the introduction of Buddhism and Buddhist writings in the sixth century, and the effect thereof is now apparent in the number of Chinese words in the Japanese language. The question as to the origin of the earliest written characters employed in Japan is one that has produced, and probably will continue to produce, much controversy. These are known as Shinji letters of the God Age, but they have left no traces in the existing alphabet. There is a remarkable difference between the written and spoken dialects of Japan. The grammars of the two are entirely different, and it is possible to speak the language colloquially and yet not be able to read a newspaper, book, or letter; while, on the other hand, it is possible to know the written language thoroughly, and yet be unable to carry on a conversation with a Japanese. The spoken language, as a matter of fact, is not difficult except in regard to the complicated construction of the words. The difficulty is in reference to the written language. There are really three modes or systems of writing: the first consists of the use of the Chinese characters, the second and third of two different alphabets. Although the Japanese have adopted the Chinese characters and learned to attach to them the same meaning as obtains in China, the construction of sentences is sometimes so totally different that it is difficult for a Chinaman to read a book written by a Japanese in the Chinese characters, while the Japanese cannot read Chinese books unless he has specially studied Chinese. It is evident from what I have said that it is difficult to obtain a complete knowledge of the written language of Japan in its Chinese form. There is a certain school of thought in Japan which is enthusiastic for the replacement of the present complicated system by the introduction of a Roman alphabet, but I feel bound to say that this school has not made much progress, and it is not likely to be successful. Although the present system has its disadvantages, it has its advantages likewise. The written characters are those common to about 450 millions of the world's people, and I think that the use of the Chinese characters in Japan will be a factor of considerable importance in the future history of the world, because I am convinced that Japan is destined to exercise a preponderating influence in and over China, and that the exercise of that influence will be greatly facilitated by the written characters which both nations have in common.
I may at once candidly confess that I have no theory to broach in respect of the origin of the Japanese people or the language that they speak. In such matters theorising appears to me to be a pure waste of time. One has only to look round the world as it is to-day, or for the matter of that within the confines of one's own country, to see how rapidly the people living for long periods in a certain part of the country develop distinct characteristics not only in physiognomy but in dialect. It is only the existence of the printing press which has, so to speak, stereotyped the languages of nations and prevented variations becoming fixed, variations and dialects which in days prior to the existence of printing presses were evolved into distinct languages. Take the British Isles for example, any part of them, Yorkshire, Scotland, Ireland, London, and note the difference between the spoken language of certain classes and the language as printed in newspapers and books. Given a nation isolated, or comparatively isolated, for many hundreds of years, it is difficult to say to what extent its language might be evolved or in what degree the few chance visitors thereto may introduce words which are readily adapted to or adopted in the language and influence it for all time. Take, for example, a word which any visitor to China or Japan must have heard over and over again, viz., "Joss," as applied to God. This is, as most people know, simply a corruption of the Portuguese name for the deity. I hope some philologist a few thousand years hence who may trace that word to its original source will not adduce therefrom that either the Chinese or the Japanese sprang from a Latin race.
The most ancient Japanese writings date from the eighth century. These are Japanese written in Chinese characters, but the Chinese written language as also its literature and the teachings of the great Chinese philosopher, Confucius, are believed to have been introduced several hundreds of years previously. This contact with and importation from China undoubtedly had a marked effect in inducing what I may term atrophy in the development of the Japanese language as also the growth of its own literature, that is a literature entirely devoid of Chinese influences. Indeed it is impossible to speculate on what might have been the development of Japan and in what direction that development would have proceeded had she never come under the influence of the Chinese language, literature, religion, and artistic principles.
I have not the slightest doubt myself, as I have said before, that the Japanese are of the same stock as the Chinese and Koreans. I have no theory in regard to the origin of the Ainos, who are most likely the aboriginal inhabitants. They are quite evidently a distinct race from the Japanese proper, although of course there has been some interbreeding between them.
The language of Japan naturally suggests some reference to its literature, of which there is no lack, either ancient or modern. I have dealt with this matter in some detail in a subsequent chapter. The old literature of Japan is but little known to Europeans, and probably most Europeans would be incapable of appreciating or understanding it. It abounds in verbal artifices, and the whole habits of life and modes of thought and conception of things, material and spiritual, of the Japanese of those days were so totally different to those of the European as to render it almost unintelligible to the latter. There are, however, scholars who have waded through this literature as also through the poetry of Japan and have found great delight therein. In the process of translating an Oriental language, full of depths of subtlety of thought and expressing Oriental ideas in an Oriental manner, much, if not most, of its beauty and charm must be lost. That is, I think, why the Japanese prose and poetry when translated into English seem so bald and lifeless. We know by experience that even a European language loses in the process of translation which is, except in very rare instances, a purely mechanical art. How much more so must be the case in regard to an Oriental language with its depths of hyperbole and replete with imagery, idealism, and flowery illustrations.
I have referred to the literature of modern Japan, the ephemeral literature, in a chapter on its newspaper press. The modern literature, whether ephemeral or otherwise, is distinctly not on Oriental lines. The influence of the West permeates it. Distinctive Japanese literature is, I imagine, a thing of the past, and I fear it will be less and less studied as time goes on. Young Japan is a "hustler," to use a modern word, and it has no time and mayhap not much inclination for what it perhaps regards as somewhat effete matter. It thinks hurriedly and acts rapidly, and it, accordingly, aspires to express its thoughts and ideas through a medium which shall do so concisely and effectively.
Whatever the origin of the Japanese race or the Japanese language, whether the former came from the plains of Babylon, the heights of Africa, or from some part of the American Continent, or was evolved on the spot, one thing is certain--that the Japanese race and the Japanese language have been indelibly stamped on the world's history. The ethnologist may still puzzle himself as to the origin of these forty-seven millions of people and feel annoyed because he cannot classify them to his own satisfaction. The philologist may feel an equal or even a greater puzzle in reference to their language. These are merely speculative matters which may interest or amuse the man who has the time for such pursuits, but they are, after all, of no great practical importance. The future of a race is of more concern than its past, and, whatever the origin of a language may have been, if that language serves in the processes of development to give expression to noble thoughts, whether in prose or poetry, to voice the wisdom of the people, to preach the gospel of human brotherhood, it matters little how it was evolved or whence it came. It is because I believe that the Japanese race and the Japanese language have a great future before them in the directions I have indicated that I have dealt but lightly, I hope none of my readers will think contemptuously, with the theories that have been put forward in reference to the origin of both.