Building a Modern Nation

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Building a Modern Nation


which Japan is now notorious - had begun. Within a few decades

rush-hour commuting was already to become a problem. The Niroku

newspaper complained in its 23 March 1910 issue that 'Usually the peo-

ple at the end of the line and the next few stops are able somehow to get

aboard, but no-one waiting at stops further along the way has a chance

unless he fights like a madman.'23 And, like Japan today, some males took

advantage of the forced mixing of the sexes in crowded train carriages.24

At a less obvious level, thought patterns were also changing. Through

translations and an increasing ability to read English and other

languages, a whole wave of western writings by novelists, philosophers,

and scientists flooded into the country, from Goethe to Darwin to Mill to

Rousseau. This created a maelstrom of often contradictory and irrecon-

cilable ideas and influences that were not necessarily recognised as such.

Japanese literature of the day showed particular confusion, blurring

romanticism and naturalism, utilitarianism and escapism. But it also showed

the authority of things western. Just as - in time-honoured fashion - the

young leaders of the Restoration needed the authority of the emperor to

legitimise their acts, so too did many writers seek the authority of western

figures to add weight to their thoughts or justify their own circumstances.

Even fictional works of the day are littered with references to this and that

western writer or thinker. This was not only among authors who positively

promoted western models of one sort or another. Remarkably, western

models were also used to portray the frustrations and failures of those

Japanese unable to cope with the bustling dynamism of the westernisation

process itself. The Russian literary concept of the 'superfluous man'

appealed particularly to those Japanese who felt bewildered and left

behind by all the changes.25

The superfluous man in Japan was a loser in a tough world of winners

and losers, a world where people were suddenly left largely on their own

to succeed or fail on their own strengths. The rigidly prescribed ortho-

doxy of the Tokugawa era had at least meant that people had a fixed

place, and were told how to think and act. That security had now gone.

Freedom proved a two-edged sword.

Not surprisingly, the related ideas of 'survival of the fittest' and 'self

help' were very popular. Samuel Smiles' work Self Help (1859), on the

theme of 'Heaven helps those who help themselves', was one of the first

English works to be translated into Japanese, in 1871. It was a best-seller.

The self-help philosophy fitted perfectly with the sentiments of

Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901), one of Meiji Japan's most influential

educators and advocates of westernisation.26 In his work Gakumon no

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