A work on Japan which did not include some reference to the Army and Navy would manifestly be incomplete. It is hardly any exaggeration to assert that nothing in regard to the metamorphosis of Japan has so impressed the Western mind as the extraordinary progress of its naval and military forces. Both in this country and on the Continent it was, of course, known that Japan had been for years evolving both an Army and Navy, but I imagine most persons thought that this action on her part was merely a piece of childish extravagance, and that her land and sea forces would, if they were ever pitted against Europeans, prove as impotent as Orientals nearly always have proved. I am quite aware that naval and military experts of various nationalities who had studied matters on the spot were of a different opinion. They witnessed the high state of efficiency of both the Japanese Army and Navy, the patriotic spirit of the officers and men, their enthusiasm for their work, and that universal feeling of bravery, if it be bravery, which consists in an absolute contempt of life. Still I think, even to the experts, the splendid organisation and overwhelming superiority of Japan in her encounter with China came as somewhat of a surprise. The complete victory of the Island Nation in that struggle was, I know, to a certain extent discounted in some quarters by the stories that were published as to the wretched condition of both the Chinese Army and Navy, their utter unfitness and unpreparedness for war, the incompetence and corruption of the officers, and so on. There were many otherwise well informed persons who felt confident that though Japan had experienced little or no difficulty in mastering China, the case would be different when, if ever, she was involved in war with a European power. I do not think these doubts were prevalent or indeed present at all, in the minds of the naval and military authorities. No responsible statesman or official in Japan desired war. The Japanese are not in any sense a bellicose people. Still, the statesmen of the country were fully alive to the fact that it might be necessary to fight for the national existence. They had had experience in the past of the ambition of Russia to aggrandise herself at the expense of Japan. They saw, or thought they saw, that Russia had designs on Korea, and they were determined to frustrate those designs, and so perhaps obviate in the best manner possible future attempts on the independence of Japan itself. And hence it came about that serious efforts were directed to create an Army and Navy strong and efficient.
The creation, or perhaps it would be more correct to say the reorganisation, of the Army was entrusted, soon after the Revolution of 1868, to a few European officers, and it has proceeded throughout on European lines. The task was not so difficult as might have been expected. In old Japan the terms "soldier" and "Samurai" were synonymous, and the security of the territory of each of the great feudal princes depended on the strength of his army. The Continental system of conscription was adopted and still obtains. All Japanese males between the ages of 17 and 40 are liable to military service. The Service is divided into Active, Landwehr, Depôt, and Landsturn services. The Active service is divided into service with the colours and service with the first reserve. The former is obligatory for all who have reached the full age of 20 years, and such service is for a period of three years. Service in the first reserve is compulsory for all who have finished service with the colours, and lasts for a period of four years and four months. The Landwehr reserve is comprised of those who have finished the first reserve term, and it continues for a period of five years. The Depôt service is divided into two sections. The first, which lasts seven years and four months, is made up of those who have not been enlisted for Active service, while the second, extending over one year and four months, consists of those who have not been enlisted for first Depôt service. The Landsturn is in two divisions--one for those who have completed the term of Landwehr service and the first Depôt service, and the second for all who are not on the other services. This system of conscription, of course, lends itself to criticism, and it has been criticised by the military experts of great military nations, but on the whole it has been proved by the experience of the two wars in which Japan has been involved during the last twelve years to have worked well, and it probably answers as well as any system that could be devised, the needs of the country, and the characteristics of the people thereof. The Japanese are, as these recent wars amply demonstrated, patriotic to a degree. They not only have great powers of perseverance, but great capacities for assimilation and adaptation, and are considered by many military authorities probably the very best raw material in the world out of which to make soldiers. Conscription may not be an ideal system for any country. It is, of course, better from one point of view that the armed forces of a nation should voluntarily enlist rather than be pressed men. But conscription in Japan has never been, and is not likely to be, such a burden as is the case among some European nations. The Japanese idea of patriotism is something totally different to that which obtains in the West. The late war afforded ample evidence of that, were any needed.
The war with Russia has been so recently concluded that it is not necessary to enter at any length into a consideration of the Japanese Army. The history of that war gave ocular demonstration to the European nations, however incredulous they may previously have been on the subject, that Japan was in fact a great military Power. In the course of that war she put in the field somewhere about 700,000 men, conveyed them across the sea to a foreign country, and showed throughout the struggle a capacity for the most wonderful military organisation. The smallest details were most carefully attended to; there was an entire absence of that muddle so much in evidence when European nations are engaged in hostilities. Respecting the fighting qualities of the Japanese soldier it is hardly necessary to say anything. On the field of battle or during the long, arduous and monotonous work of a siege he has shown himself alike a model soldier. Perhaps he has shone most in the hour of victory by his moderation. Every foreign officer who saw the work done by the Japanese Army throughout the various incidents of the Russian War was lost in admiration. To me the most pleasing feature of that war was the ease with which the soldier, on coming back to Japan, returned to the peaceful pursuits of civil life. The bumptious braggadocio that European military nations have developed has no counterpart in Japan. The war was, in the estimation of the people, a sacred duty. The burdens which it entailed were cheerfully borne. The Japanese soldier bore his hardships or gave up his life equally cheerfully. At the same time the conclusion of the war came as a relief, and the mass of the soldiery gladly went through the Japanese equivalent of turning their swords into ploughshares. Japan has demonstrated that she is a great military nation, and the organisation of her Army is one that might well be studied by the military authorities of other countries.
The weak point of the Japanese Army is its cavalry. Whether cavalry in the warfare of the future will play the important part that it has played in that of the past is a matter upon which I do not care to dogmatically pronounce, especially as military authorities are by no means in agreement in regard thereto, or indeed as to the precise functions of cavalry in military warfare. The difficulties of Japan in regard to organising an efficient cavalry have been largely, if not altogether, owing to the lack of good horses in the country. The Japanese horses have not been conspicuous for quality, while the number available has not been anything like sufficient to enable the cavalry to be brought up to a proper condition of strength and efficiency. The Japanese military authorities have long been sensible of this fact, and the late war amply demonstrated it. With its usual thoroughness, the Government has, as soon as possible after the close of the war, taken steps to remedy this weak point in its military system, and quite recently two delegates of the Ministry of Agriculture have been despatched to Europe on a horse-purchase mission. Ten million yen have, I understand, been apportioned for the purpose of improving the national breed of horses, and the delegates have been instructed to purchase suitable animals for breeding. The Japanese Government has almost invariably been successful in anything it has undertaken, and I venture to predict--it is scarcely a hazardous prophesy--that the horse supply of the country will ere long be put on a satisfactory footing and the cavalry be rendered as efficient as every other branch of the Japanese Army.
There is no fear of a military autocracy in Japan. The recent war proved not only the bravery of the rank and file of the Army, but the high military talent of the officers. The art of war had evidently been studied from every point of view, and was diligently applied. The Japanese talent, in my opinion, consists not in a mere mechanical copying, but in a practical adaptation of all that is best in Western civilisation. The tactics and strategy displayed during the war with Russia showed originality in conception, brilliancy and daring. If that war did not discover a Napoleon among the Japanese generals, it can at least be said that Japan has no need of a Napoleon. As I have said, there is no fear of the development of a military autocracy in that country or the uprising of a general with Napoleonic ideas and ambition. The generals who justly earned distinction during the recent war are singularly modest men, with no capacity for self-advertising and no desire whatever for self-aggrandisement. They are not only content but anxious, now that the war is over, to sink into obscurity. History will, however, not permit of that. Their achievements in the recent campaign will long afford subject-matter for study and the instruction of the military students of the future. In this book I have as far as possible avoided mentioning names, otherwise I would gladly inscribe on its pages the names of those many generals who earned fame in the Russo-Japanese War. I feel perfectly certain that every endeavour will be made to maintain the Japanese Army in the high state of efficiency it has reached. At the same time I would emphasise the fact that that Army is intended solely for defence. Japan has, in a word, no military ambitions outside her own territory.
And as of the Army, so of the Navy. Perhaps the prowess of Japan's Fleet impressed the English people even more than the victories of her soldiers. Because the Navy, as it is to-day, is largely the outcome of English training and the application of English ideas. In the first instance Japan borrowed from the British Government the services of some of its best naval officers to develop the Japanese Navy. A naval college was established in the capital, modelled on the English system of training. A dockyard was also constructed at Yokosko under French guidance. It is, however, a mistake to suppose that Japan had no Navy or no ambitions in the direction of creating one prior to English naval officers being lent to the Japanese Government to assist in the reorganisation of the Navy. The determination to create a fleet on European lines was entertained by Japanese statesmen as far back as the 'fifties, when the European Powers and the United States of America were bringing pressure to bear on Japan with a view of obtaining trading facilities and the opening up of the country generally. The Japanese statesmen of those days were wise enough to see that unless Japan was to be permanently under the tutelage of the European Powers, it was necessary for her to construct a fleet and army on European lines. Soon afterwards a naval school, under Dutch instructors, was established at Nagasaki, and a certain number of selected officers and men were sent to Europe to undergo a course of instruction, and several war-vessels were ordered from Holland. In 1854 a two-masted ship was built in Japan from an English model, and subsequently two others. During the war between Russia and Great Britain a Russian sloop was wrecked on the Japanese coast, and permission was obtained for Japanese workmen to be employed in the repairs of the vessel, with a view of giving them an opportunity of gaining some practical knowledge of naval architecture. In 1855 the King of Holland presented a steam corvette to the Tycoon. In this year the now familiar Japanese ensign--a red ball on a white ground--was introduced, and has since remained the national flag.
On the arrival of Lord Elgin in Japan on a mission in 1857 a sailing vessel at Nagasaki was flying the flag of an Admiral of the Japanese Navy. In the same year a steam yacht was presented to the Tycoon by the late Queen Victoria, and was formally handed over to the Japanese Government by Lord Elgin. His secretary relates that the yacht got under way, commanded by a Japanese captain and manned by Japanese sailors, while her machinery was worked by Japanese engineers. The secretary, in his account of the incident, relates that "notwithstanding the horizontal cylinders and other latest improvements with which her engines were fitted, the men had learnt their lesson well, and were confident in their powers, and the yacht steamed gallantly through and round the Fleet, returning to her anchorage without a hitch." This authoritative statement ought to dispose of the absurd story which has long been a chestnut among the English community in Japan and the English naval officers on the China station, that when the old Confederate Ram, the Stonewall Jackson, was purchased in America and brought to Yokohama a somewhat ludicrous incident occurred. According to the story, which, I may observe, is one of the ben trovato order, when steam was got up in the vessel for trial purposes it had to steam round and about Yokohama Harbour, to the great danger of the foreign warships and merchant steamers there, until the steam was in due course exhausted and the machinery automatically stopped through the lack of any motive power to drive it, as the Japanese engineer in charge did not know how to shut off steam. The Stonewall Jackson, I may observe, did not take part in the now almost forgotten battle of Hakodate, which took place at the time of the Revolution, and may be regarded as the expiring effort of old Japan to stay the march of events in that country. In the battle of Hakodate the rebel fleet was totally destroyed, and the various clans in the country who possessed war-vessels of one kind or other presented them to the central Government. These vessels, it must be confessed, were not of much, if any, utility in the direction of forming a Navy, and I am not aware how many of them, or indeed whether any of them, were utilised for the purpose of inaugurating that Navy which has now become world-famous.
In 1858 the naval school, which, as I have already stated, had been established at Nagasaki, was transferred to Yeddo, and a few years later the Japanese Government determined to obtain the assistance of some English naval officers with a view of giving instruction in the school. Application was accordingly made to the British Government through the Minister in Yeddo, and the sanction of the Admiralty having been obtained, a number of English naval officers were selected, and despatched to Japan as instructors in the Yeddo Naval College. Amongst these officers, it may be interesting to state, was Admiral Sir A. K. Wilson, V.C., G.C.B., the late Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet. In the year 1873 a number of other naval officers were sent out from England, the previous staff having been withdrawn on the outbreak of the Civil War. This staff was in charge of Admiral Sir A. L. Douglas, till recently Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth, and for some years subsequently an English naval officer was at the head of the instructing staff of the college. Japan was fortunate in one respect--in the Englishmen she entrusted with the evolution of her Navy. She was fortunate in attracting the men best fitted for the work, and also in inspiring them with a high conception of their task. Some Englishmen are of opinion that Japan has somewhat forgotten her obligations in this matter. Young Japan, they suggest, desires to forget the influences to which the country mainly owes its present magnificent fleet. That fleet is undoubtedly, for the most part, the outcome of English conceptions and English training. There is one man whose name, I think, deserves to be recorded in connection therewith. I refer to the late Lieutenant A. G. S. Hawes, of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, who left the English Service and worked strenuously, enthusiastically, and earnestly to build up the personnel of the Japanese Navy in the early 'seventies. There were others whose efforts in the same direction assisted in that consummation, but Hawes's services were unique and splendid. He believed in Japan, and he threw himself into his work with a zeal and ardour which were beyond praise. His services were dispensed with, as were those of the other English officers and men, when it was felt that Japan had learnt sufficient to work out her own destiny as a naval Power. The labours of these men may not have been adequately recognised at the time, but their work remains, and is in evidence to-day. Hawes received a decoration from the Mikado, and the British Government gave him a consular appointment in some obscure quarter of the globe, where he died a disappointed man, fully sensible of the value of the work he had performed and inspired, a firm believer in the future of Japan as a great naval Power, but disgusted with the non-recognition of his labours.
The Navy of Japan as it is to-day is a triumph of organisation. Discussing a short time ago the question with an ex-officer of the Mercantile Marine who had, by a curious chance, served as a Naval Reserve officer in both the English and Japanese Navies, he explained to me the wonderful progress of the latter by pointing out that it had been, as it were, called instantaneously into existence. The Japanese Navy, he observed, had no past and no traditions to hamper its development; its officers and administrators had only one desire--to get the best of everything in modern naval science from anywhere. There was no cult of seamanship, no dead wall of prejudice to trammel modern naval developments. There was no prejudice at the Japanese Admiralty against anything--save stagnation. Progress was the keynote and watchword of the Japanese Navy. My friend assured me that it was, as regards equipment, organisation, and general efficiency, the finest fighting force the world has ever seen. So far as my own knowledge of the matter goes, and so far as I am competent to express an opinion on the subject, I fully endorse these observations. A visit to a Japanese vessel-of-war, however perfunctory the knowledge of the visitor may be on matters naval, very soon convinces him of the fact that the Japanese naval officers and men are filled not only with ardour but enthusiasm for their profession, that efficiency and proficiency are the watchwords, and that the desire of every one connected with the Navy, from the Admiral downwards, is to maintain the personnel and materiel of the Fleet in the highest possible condition of efficiency.
If, as some Englishmen imagine is the case, there is a tendency on the part of young Japan to be oblivious of the fact that the Navy of the country is greatly indebted for its present state of efficiency to the zeal and efforts of English naval officers in its early days, there is no question that the feeling of the officers and men of the Japanese Navy to their English comrades is of a very hearty nature. The formal alliance with Great Britain was highly popular in the Japanese Fleet, and I have never heard any officer connected therewith speak in any but the highest and most cordial terms of their English confréres.
It is not, I think, necessary for me to refer to the deeds of and the work done by the Japanese Navy in the course of the war with Russia; very much the same remarks that I have made in regard to the Army apply here. Nothing was lost sight of or omitted that could in the slightest degree tend to ensure or secure success. Everything seems to have been foreseen. Nothing was left to chance. The results were precisely what might have been expected, and what indeed were expected, by those who had an intimate knowledge of the manner in which the Japanese Navy was organised for war. I regard it especially in alliance with the English Fleet, as one of the greatest safeguards for the peace of the world. I trust the alliance between this country and Japan may be of a permanent nature. I may remark in respect of the Fleet, as I have of the Army, that Japan has no unworthy ambitions. Her desire is to conserve what she possesses and to render her Island Empire secure from invasion or molestation.
Closely connected with the development of Japan's Navy is that of her Mercantile Marine. A few words in regard to it may therefore not be out of place here. The insular position and the mountainous condition of the country, as well as its extent of seaboard, early impressed on the makers of new Japan the necessity for creating not only a great mercantile fleet but also for developing the shipbuilding industry. Both these ambitions have been largely realised. At first their consummation was attended with many difficulties. The Japanese, as I have already remarked in this book, were many centuries ago enterprising sailors, but when the country was closed voyages of discovery or trade automatically came to an end. With the awakening of Japan a change immediately took place, and steps were taken to create and develop the Mercantile Marine. A Japanese gentleman, Mr. Iwasaki, in 1872 started a line of steamers, subsidised by the Government, the well-known Mitsu Bishi Company. Shortly afterwards another company was formed to compete against it. This line was also subsidised by the Government, but as the rivalry did not prove profitable to either the two lines were amalgamated in 1885 under the title of Nippon Yusen Kaisha. Since then a number of other shipping companies have been formed in Japan, and the Nippon Yusen Kaisha has largely extended its operations, opening up communication with Bombay, England, and the Continent, Melbourne, &c. In fact, the Japanese flag is now seen in many parts of the world, while the Japanese Mercantile Marine has advanced by leaps and bounds, and is still annually increasing. At the end of 1904 there were about 240 steamers flying the Japanese flag, with a gross tonnage of over 790,000. Japan now ranks high among the maritime nations of the world, and her position therein, unless I am very much mistaken, will still further advance in the years to come.
There are, I know, a great number of worthy people, both in this country and Japan, who regard the expenditure on an Army and Navy as entirely unproductive, and look forward to the halcyon days when all such expenditure shall cease and the taxation now devoted to these purposes shall be diverted to more worthy objects. I am afraid, as the world is at present constituted, there is no prospect of such a, in some respects, desirable consummation being effected. Nowadays the most effective means a nation can possess in the direction of the maintenance and enjoyment of peace is to be well prepared for war. That is a fact of which I am sure the men responsible for the government of Japan are firmly convinced; and I believe they are right. I am certain, as I have said before, that the world has nothing to fear from the armed strength of Japan by land or sea.
JAPANESE ART--INTRODUCTORY--LACQUER WARE, POTTERY AND PORCELAIN
Japanese art is a subject which invites exhaustive treatment. To deal with it adequately in two or three chapters of a general work on Japan is obviously impossible. Still it is, I think, possible, within the limits at my disposal, to give my readers some conception of that art to which Japan is so greatly indebted for the extraordinary way in which she has impressed the world. The art of Japan is in a sense unique, and it may be that to some extent the Japanese atmosphere, so to speak, is essential in order to fully appreciate it. Mr. Chamberlain, in his "Things Japanese," has observed that "To show a really fine piece of lacquer to one of the uncultivated natives of Europe or America is, as the Japanese proverb says, like giving guineas to a cat." Much the same remark might, however, be made in reference to the art products of any country. Be that as it may, the Japanese people are now largely dependent on the foreigner for art patronage. It may be that this has resulted in art-artisans abandoning their old standard and devoting themselves to the manufacture of whatever pays best, prostituting the spirit of art to the promptings of gain, and compelling the native to cater for foreign taste rather than to adhere to Japanese canons of art. I am afraid that the commercial spirit is fatal to art of any kind. The true artist, like the poet, in an ideal state of existence would only work under inspiration, but, unfortunately, the artist, like the poet, is daily faced by that necessity which knows no law and demands the subsistence of the body as an essential for work of any kind.
Perhaps some of my readers might desire a definition of art. There are, I know, people in this world who can never approach the consideration of or deal with any subject unless the subject itself and every term in connection therewith is precisely defined. In reference to Japanese art I am inclined to employ the words of Mr. Walter Crane in opening, many years ago, the annual exhibition of the Arts and Crafts Society. He remarked: "The true root and basis of all art lies in the handicrafts. If there is no room or chance of recognition for really artistic power and feeling in design and craftsmanship--if art is not recognised in the humblest object and material, and felt to be as valuable, in its own way, as the more highly rewarded pictorial skill--the art cannot be in a sound condition. And if artists cease to be found among the crafts, there is great danger that they will vanish from the arts also, and become manufacturers and salesmen instead."
Japanese art is unquestionably of that kind which requires a certain educational process. It does not, for instance, at once appeal to that vague entity the "man in the street." There is a grotesqueness about some of it, a lack of perspective in much of it, which is caviare to a large number of persons. This much, however, can be said about Japanese art--that it is original. It is almost altogether the outcome of the artistic instincts of the people. Undoubtedly it has been to a large extent influenced by Buddhism, and, as we have seen, Buddhism is a foreign religion; but at the same time I think it may fairly be asserted that, though the Buddhist religion may have influenced and utilised Japanese art, it has never killed, or indeed affected to any degree, what I may term the individualistic artistic instincts of the nation. Japanese art requires to be closely studied. It is something that grows upon one, and the closer it is studied the greater its influence. To me one of its most pleasing features is what I have termed in the Preface its catholicity. It is not, as art is in so many European countries, the cult of a few, a sort of Eleusynian mystery into which a select number of persons have been initiated. It has, on the contrary, permeated, and exercised an influence upon, the whole nation, and been employed for even the most humble purposes. It is for this reason that, as I have previously observed, I am of opinion the Japanese may be considered and described as the most artistic people in the world.
I have referred to the grotesqueness and lack of perspective incidental to some descriptions of Japanese art. It certainly neglects chiaroscuro and linear perspective, and it displays an entire lack of form knowledge. The human figure and face have apparently never been studied at all. The colouring is frequently splendid, while the figures are for the most part anatomically incorrect. One would think that Japanese artists had never seen their own or any other human bodies. A rigid adherence to conventionality is, in my opinion, a defect of all Japanese art. By conventionality I do not, of course, mean what I may term the individuality of the art itself, but the fact that Japanese artists have felt themselves largely bound by the traditions of their art to treat the human and other figures not in accordance with nature, but altogether in accordance with the conventions of that art, and to entirely ignore perspective. I am quite aware that some enthusiastic lovers of things Japanese admire, or affect to admire, these defects. They have been described as a protest against the too rigid rules exacted in Western art. I suggest, however, that art in its highest form should seek to be true to nature, and in so far as Japanese art fails in this respect it is, I think, defective. At the same time I cordially admit that its defects are more than compensated by its splendid workmanship, its gorgeous colouring, and its striking originality.
It was only about forty or fifty years ago that Japanese art became known to any extent in Europe. Certainly the Portuguese missionaries introduced by Francis Xavier and the traders in the Dutch factory at Nagasaki were in the habit of exporting a few articles to Europe, chiefly porcelain ware made to order. I fear both missionaries and merchants regarded Japanese art, as we now know it, as barbaric, and never in the slightest degree realised either its beauties or its originality. Neither they nor the many millions of art-lovers in Europe dreamt that Japan was a country where art was universal, not esoteric--an art with schools, traditions, masters, and masterpieces. Probably the Paris Exhibition of 1867, to which the Prince of Satsuma sent a collection of Japanese artistic treasures, was the occasion when the true inwardness of Japanese art burst upon the Western world as a whole. It was a veritable revelation. It at once aroused enthusiasm and curiosity, and I fear cupidity, among European artists and art collectors. Europe was awakened to the possibilities of Japan as an art nation, and Japan, failing to realise or properly appreciate the artistic accumulated wealth it possessed, commenced to part with it in a truly reckless manner. The depletion of the art treasures of the country commenced about this time, and though that depletion has been largely arrested, it is nevertheless still, to some extent, going on.
Japanese art, as it has come under the cognisance of a foreigner, may be considered in connection with four or five purposes to which it has been employed or adapted. First amongst these I place lacquer, next pottery and porcelain, then carving in wood and iron, metal-work and painting. The lacquer industry has been in existence in Japan so long as we have any authoritative history of the country. If any credence is to be given to tradition, long before the Christian era there was an official whose sole duty it was to superintend the production of lacquer for the Imperial Court, and specimens over a thousand years old, though rare, still exist. The process of lacquering is a somewhat intricate one, and varies, of course, in accordance with the time and labour spent on the article to be lacquered, and the cost of the same. After the article has been carefully made from specially selected wood--in the case of the choicest specimens of lacquer work this is usually a pine-wood of fine grain--it is first coated with a preparation composed of clay and varnish, which, after being permitted to dry, is smoothed down with a whetstone. When this operation has been concluded, the article proposed to be lacquered is covered with some substance, either silk, cloth, or paper. It is then given from one to five coats of the foregoing mixture, each coat being permitted to dry before the next is applied. After this has been effected, the whetstone is again employed with a view of obtaining a perfectly smooth surface when the lacquering proper commences. This may be a perfunctory or it may be a very complicated operation, according to the value of the article, layer after layer of the varnish--from one to fifty coats--being laid upon the material at intervals. After the final coat has been applied, the smoothing process commences. The whole of these operations are, however, only the preliminaries to the scheme of decoration, which is often very elaborate. The dusts of powders used for this purpose are of various kinds and of varying cost. When the ornamentation which often consists in colouring the groundwork with particles of gold dust has been completed, sometimes as many as a dozen coatings of transparent lacquer are imposed upon the same.
The art of lacquering in Japan dates back at least 1,200 or 1,300 years, and tradition assigns it a period more ancient still. There are, however, few if any articles of lacquer ware now in the country, whose origin can be traced back so many years. At any rate, there is no satisfactory evidence in regard to the antiquity of any specimens of lacquer ware dating back more than seven or eight centuries. In old Japan the manufacturer of lacquer work was intimately associated with the domestic life of the upper classes. Griffis tells us that nearly every Daimio had his Court lacquerer, and that a set of household furniture and toilet utensils was part of the dowry of a noble lady. On the birth of a daughter, he relates, it was common for the lacquer artist to begin the making of a mirror case, a washing bowl, a cabinet, a clothes rack, or a chest of drawers, often occupying from one to five whole years on a single article. An inro, or pill-box, might require several years for perfection, though small enough to go into a fob. By the time the young lady was marriageable, her outfit of lacquer was superb.
The names of many of the great lacquer artists of Japan are still venerated. The masterpieces of Hoyami Koyetsu who flourished in the sixteenth century, are still, though rare, procurable. Japan numbers on her roll of fame twenty-eight great lacquer artists. There have, of course, been many hundreds, and indeed thousands, in the past centuries whose work was superb, but the twenty-eight are deemed to be the immortals of this particular art. One of these great men, Ogawa Ritsuo, is famous for the number and variety of the materials--mother-of-pearl, coral, tortoise-shell, &c. &c., he used in his work. A profuse richness is its chief characteristic. One of his pupils imitated in his work various materials--pottery and wood-carving, and bronzes. The last famous artist in lacquer, Watanobe Tosu, died about thirty years ago. Whether he is destined to have a successor or successors remains to be seen. These lacquer artists, as I have indicated, worked not for lucre, but for love. Attached to some Daimios household, they devoted their lives, their energies, their imagination, their artistic instincts to the devising of splendid work and the making of beautiful, ingenious, absolutely artistic and, at the same time, entirely useful articles.
It is impossible within the space at my disposal to deal in detail with the large variety of lacquer work produced in Japan with the various kinds of lacquer, or with what I may term the artistic idiosyncrasies of Japanese lacquer work. One can now hardly believe that until the opening up of Japan half a century or so ago, few specimens of lacquer found their way to Europe, although Japanese porcelain had been largely imported and was highly prized. Even at the present time I do not think that the artistic beauties of Japanese lacquer work have been appreciated in this country to anything like the extent they deserve to be. I have heard people remark, for example, that they failed to understand the perpetual reproduction of the great snow-covered mountain Fusi-Yama in Japanese designs, while they could see nothing in these storks, bewildering landscapes, and grotesque figures. Perhaps the best explanation of the constant appearance of Fusi-Yama in all Japanese work is that which De Fonblanque gives. He says: "If there is one sentiment universal amongst all Japanese, it is a deep and earnest reverence for their sacred mountain. It is their ideal of the beautiful in nature, and they never tire of admiring, glorifying, and reproducing it. It is painted, embossed, carved, engraved, modelled in all their wares. The mass of the people regard it not only as the shrine of their dearest gods, but the certain panacea for their worst evils, from impending bankruptcy or cutaneous diseases to unrequited love or ill-luck at play. It is annually visited by thousands and thousands of pilgrims." The Japanese artist in constantly reproducing Fusi-Yama has merely voiced national sentiment and feeling.
[Illustration: VIEW OF FUSI-YAMA FROM A TEA HOUSE FROM A PRINT BY HIROSHIGE]
The substance applied to wood to produce what is called lacquer, is not what is generally known in England as varnish. It is really the sap of the rhus vernicifera which contains, among other ingredients, about 3 per cent. of a gum soluble in water. It has to undergo various refining processes before being mixed with the colouring matter, while the greatest care is exercised throughout with a view of obviating the possibility of dust or any other foreign matter finding its way into the mixture. The fine polish usually seen on lacquer work is not actually the result of the composition applied, but is produced by incessant polishing. The lacquered articles in old Japan were used for various purposes--mirror cases, fans, letter-carriers, the inro, which was at one time a necessary part of every Japanese gentleman's attire; it was secured to the sash, and utilised to hold medicine powders, for perfumes, as a seal-box, &c., seals being at one time, as indeed they are to some extent still, in use in place of a signature. But the amount of ancient lacquer ware now in Japan, or, indeed, of artistic articles made solely for use and not merely to sell, is, as I have said, small. European collectors have denuded the country; the treasures of the Daimios, which were almost recklessly sold when they were disestablished, and to a large extent disendowed, have been distributed all over the globe, and a large quantity, perhaps the largest quantity, of the lacquer work now made in the country is manufactured solely for the purpose of being sold as curios either at home or abroad. That this fact has largely lowered the artistic ideals and debased the artistic taste in Japan appears to be the general opinion. Much of the present-day work of Japan in lacquer, as in other articles, is certainly to my mind artistic and beautiful in the extreme, but obviously, men working almost against time to turn out "curios," for which there is a persistent demand on the part of visitors who are not always by temperament or training fitted to appreciate the artistic or the beautiful, are unlikely to produce such fine or original work as the artisan of old leisurely employed at his craft and pluming himself, not on the amount of his earnings or the extent of his output, but on the quality and artistic merits of his work.
Next to lacquer in importance amongst the Japanese arts, I think, comes ceramic ware, which has long had a great vogue in Europe, and indeed was highly prized here many years before the artistic skill of the Japanese in lacquer was generally known. That decorative art, as expressed in the pottery and porcelain of Japan, has been largely influenced by China and Korea seems to be unquestionable. The Japanese have nevertheless imparted to it a peculiar charm of their own, the outcome of originality in ideas, while the art has, through many centuries, been fortunate enough to have been fostered and encouraged by the great and powerful of the land. As a people the Japanese are entirely free from anything that savours of ostentation, and this fact is emphasised in their art just as it is in their homes. The charm of the ceramic ware of Japan, in my opinion, consists in the beauty of its colouring rather than in its figuring. This ceramic ware, as my readers probably know, differs greatly in appearance, quality, and, I may add, in price according to the particular part of the country in which it is produced. It is not necessary to be an art connoisseur to grasp the fact that, say, the famous Satsuma ware is distinct in almost every respect from that of Imari, Kaga, Ise, Raku, Kyoto, &c. All these different wares have charms peculiar to each. It is really marvellous to think that a country with such a comparatively small area as Japan should have produced so many different kinds of ceramic ware, each possessing distinct and pronounced characteristics, and having indeed little affinity with each other save in regard to the general excellence of the workmanship and the artistic completeness of the whole.
As I have said, both Korea and China have had a marked influence on the manufacture of pottery and porcelain in Japan. Korean potters appear to have settled there prior to the Christian era, and to have imparted to the Japanese the first rudiments of knowledge in regard to working in clay, but the development of the process was greatly due to Chinese influences. During the thirteenth century, one Toshiro paid a visit to China, where he exhaustively studied everything relating to the potter's art. On his return to his own country he introduced great improvements, both in manufacture and decoration, and made, it is believed, for the first time, glazed pottery. Soon afterwards household utensils of lacquer began to go out of use, being replaced by those made of clay, and a great impetus was accordingly given to the trade of the potter. Tea, which is believed to have been introduced into Japan from China in the year 800 does not appear to have come into general use till the sixteenth century. The "tea ceremonies" known as the Cha-no-yu came into vogue about the same time, and undoubtedly had an immense influence on the ceramic art. The articles used in the "tea ceremonies" included an iron kettle resting on a stand; a table or stand of mulberry wood 2 feet high; two tea-jars containing the tea; a vessel containing fresh water; a tea-bowl. It is not my purpose to describe the many interesting details of these "tea ceremonies." Suffice it to observe that they gave a great impetus to the manufacture of costly and elaborate china. The leaders of society, as we should term them, who took part in these ceremonies exercised a judicious and enlightened patronage of the ceramic art. They encouraged rising talent, and welcomed new developments. There can, I think, be no doubt that Japan, in an artistic sense, owes much to the frequenters of these "tea ceremonies." Tea-jars and tea-bowls especially became, under the patronage and guidance of these men, choice works of art, and were bestowed by the great and powerful on their friends, by whom they were greatly cherished and handed down as heirlooms. Some of these treasures still remain in the country, a large number have been purchased by art connoisseurs and taken to various parts of the world, while many, of course, have from various causes perished. Under the conditions of life which obtained in old Japan the ceramic art reached a pitch of excellence, not to say glory, which it is never likely to attain either in Japan or elsewhere. It was emphatically a period of art for art's sake. The patronage, if I may use a word perhaps not strictly accurate, of the great artists of those days was exercised in such a manner as to enable them to employ all their talents, artistic ideals, and enthusiasm in the direction of producing masterpieces of their craft.
The secrets of porcelain manufacture are believed to have been brought to Japan from China about the beginning of the sixteenth century. In the year 1513, Gorodayu, Shonsui, of Ise, returned from China and settled in Arita, in the province of Hizen, which at once became and still remains the headquarters of the famous Imari ware. The porcelain produced here is chiefly, but not altogether, the blue and white combination, but Arita also makes porcelain ware decorated in various colours and exceedingly ornate in appearance. It is, however, stated that this ornate Imari ware was first made for exportation to China to supply the Portuguese market at Macao, and that it was afterwards fostered by the Dutch at Nagasaki, whose exportations of the ware to Europe were on a considerable scale. This peculiar style of decoration is believed to have been due to the demands of the Dutch, whose patrons in Europe would have none other. One remark I may make in this connection, viz., that those enormous vases and other similar articles of Japanese ware which have long been so greatly prized in Europe, and many of which are magnificent specimens of decorative art, are not, in one sense, characteristically Japanese. The Japanese has always, if I may so express it, used art as the handmaiden of utilitarianism. Every article intended for the Japanese home had to be not merely a thing of beauty but a thing for use. It never entered the minds of the Japanese to hang beautiful specimens of their porcelain ware on their walls, or what did duty for walls, to collect dust. They used vases certainly of a moderate size to hold flowers, tea-pots and tea-cups for the purpose of making and drinking tea, water-bottles and various other articles for domestic use; everything in fact was, as I have said, designed not only from an artistic but a utilitarian standpoint, and hence it is, I think, that art, as I have already remarked, has permeated the whole people. Even in the poorest house in Japan it is possible to see, in the ordinary articles in domestic use, some attempt at art, and, I may add, some appreciation of it on the part of the users of those articles. In my opinion when art is not applied to articles of general utility but is confined to articles not intended for use, art becomes, as is largely the case in this country, either the cult of a class or the affectation of a class, and its beauties and inward meaning cease to have any effect upon, just because they are not understood by, the great mass of the people.
Satsuma ware is probably the most widely known, and the most esteemed among foreigners, of Japanese porcelain. Its soft, cream-like colour is now known in every part of the world, while the delicate colour decorations imposed upon the cream-like background, certainly give a most effective appearance. I question however whether, from a purely artistic standpoint, Satsuma is worthy of being compared with many of the other porcelains in Japan. Much of it as seen in Europe was specially made for Europe, and having been so is, I suggest, not in the true sense artistic. As a matter of fact Satsuma ware was introduced from Korea, and was made in the first instance solely for the use of the Prince of Satsuma and his friends. The kilns were originally built on Korean models, and the potters in Satsuma remained a class apart, not being allowed to marry with the outside world.
Kaga ware is well known to all art connoisseurs. This porcelain is rare. The masters of the art of Kaga ware, with its exquisite colouring and elaborate ornamentation in gold and silver, have left no successors, while their output was small. The ware is of course still made, and as the clay of the district is of a dark red colour, the ware has a uniform tint.
Bizen ware reached the apotheosis of its perfection just before the Revolution. It is made in the province of Bizen. The better kind is made of a white or light bluish clay, and well baked in order to receive the red-brown colour, whereas the commoner kind is of a red clay.
The various Kyoto wares are remarkable for their quaint forms, and some of them are highly prized.
It would, of course, be impossible for me to attempt in detail a description of the other very numerous ceramic wares of Japan. Undoubtedly, as I have said, Satsuma is the most popular with Europeans, but it is not, and I do not think it deserves to be, the most highly prized by art connoisseurs. The ceramic wares of Japan may be classified under three headings: (1) Pottery, ornamented by scoring and glazing; (2) A cream-coloured faience with a glaze often crackled and delicately painted; (3) Hard porcelain. Under the first of these classifications may be included Bizen, Seto, Raku, and some other wares. Under the second I place Satsuma and some less important similar products. Among the porcelains the most famous are those of Kutania, Hizen, and Kyoto. In regard to decorations, the Japanese have utilised the seven gods of good fortune, many landscapes, a few of the domestic animals--the dragon, phoenix, an animal with the body and hoofs of a deer, the tail of a bull, and with a horn on its forehead, a monster lion, and the sacred tortoise. Trees, plants, grasses, and flowers of various kinds, and some of the badges in Japanese heraldry are also largely made use of. However grotesque some of these objects may be, or however grotesque the representations of animals and even landscapes may be, no one who has closely studied it can deny the fact that the effect of Japanese decorative art as applied to the ceramic ware of the country is, on the whole, magnificent. The more one studies it the more impressed one is with its marvellous beauty and the originality which has been brought to bear upon it. I defy any man or woman, who possesses the artistic sensibilities, even in a latent degree, to visit a gallery containing the masterpieces of Japanese ceramic art, closely study them in all their details, and minutely examine the attention which the artist has given to even the smallest of those details without being impressed by its power. It is, I consider, a liberal education to any person who has the slightest prepossession for art to wander through such a gallery and admire the masterpieces of these wonderful art-workers of Japan.
The demand for the various art products of Japan in both Europe and America has had its perhaps inevitable result in not only the manufacture of articles simply and solely for the foreign market, but in the what I may term faking of modern to represent ancient art productions. "Old" Satsuma, for example, is a case in point. The genuine old Satsuma ware, by constant use, obtained, like meerschaum, a delightful tint. Modern Satsuma is comparatively white, and so, in order to pander to the taste of the European collector of the ancient article, the modern is stained to the required shade. The article itself is genuine, and indeed beautiful, but this "faking" of it to meet European and American tastes is one of the results, I fear, of Western influences. What the precise effect of European influences may be on the old porcelain art of Japan it is impossible to say. So far as I am concerned, I have no hesitation in expressing my own opinion that it will not be a healthy influence. Art for art's sake is, I admit, difficult when the plutocrats of the West, with a craze or a fad for Eastern art, are pouring out their wealth in order to obtain specimens thereof. Demand usually induces supply, and the Japanese artisan of to-day would be more than human did he not respond to the demand of the West for "Old Satsuma" and other specimens of the artistic treasures in pottery and porcelain of Japan. The spirit of commercialism is, as I have said before, fatal to art. If the artist is forced to work quickly and cheaply he quite evidently cannot bring his individuality into play. He must transform his studio into a workshop, and ponder only, or chiefly, upon the possibility of his output. I have been much struck in this connection with the remarks of a writer in regard to orders for art work sent from New York to Japan. "I can remember," he said, "one of our great New York dealers marking on his samples the colours that pleased most of his buyers, who themselves were to place the goods. All other colours or patterns were tabooed in his instructions to the makers in Japan. This was the rude mechanism of the change, the coming down to the worst public taste, which must be that of the greatest number at any time."
[Illustration: KUTANI EARTHENWARE, DECORATED WITH POLYCHROME ENAMELS EARLY EIGHTEENTH CENTURY]
As regards the modern porcelain of Japan I need say but little. Originality is apparently dead, and the makers of to-day are content to copy the past. No doubt the purely mechanical processes of manufacture have been greatly improved, and much, if not most, of the modern ceramic ware of Japan is extremely beautiful. At the same time some of it, especially that which is made solely for the foreign market, is to my mind neither artistic nor beautiful. It is decorated, if I may use such a term, in most of the colours of the rainbow, and rendered more gaudy still by a plethora of very poor gilding.
There is in Japan a certain school of progressive ideas in reference to the art of the country. This school is of opinion that Japanese art should not, so to speak, remain stereotyped, but that it should assimilate and adapt and apply all that is good and beautiful in Western art. The objects that this school has in view are no doubt laudable, but I confess I hope with all my heart that those objects will fail of accomplishment. There has been already far too much Europeanising of Japanese art, and the result, so far as I have been able to judge, is not encouraging in respect of any further advance or development in that direction. Japanese art, and especially the ceramic art, possesses, as I have before said, an individuality which can only be spoiled, even if it be not destroyed, by adding on to or mixing up with it the totally distinct art and art methods of Western civilisation. Were this done it would become a bastard or a mongrel art, and, as history affords abundant evidence, would in due course lapse into a condition of utter decadence.
Quite a volume might be written on the subject of marks on Japanese pottery and porcelain. These have long interested and frequently misled the collector. They are of various kinds. Sometimes there is a mark signifying the reign or part of the reign of an emperor, or the name of a place at which the article was made, or, more frequently still, the name of the particular potter whose handicraft it was. Sometimes Chinese dates are found impressed on the article without any regard to chronological correctness. Indeed, Chinese dates are to be found on Japanese porcelain indicating a period long anterior to that in which the manufacture of porcelain was known in Japan. These spurious dates have proved pitfalls for collectors. The mark is sometimes impressed with a seal or painted; occasionally it is merely scratched. The investigation of these marks is a recondite study assuredly full of interest, but, as I have said, prolific in pitfalls for the unwary or the too-credulous.