This nation is the delight of my soul

Download 0.68 Mb.
Size0.68 Mb.
1   ...   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15



In every nation which aspires to be regarded as civilised the supremacy of the law and the maintenance of order are matters of supreme importance. The most perfect code of law ever devised is quite evidently of no importance unless adequate means exist for enforcing its provisions, and although justice may be lauded as a most admirable object of attainment, yet, unless the courts of the country are independent, hold the scales evenly and use the sword with impartiality, justice will remain merely a sentiment, and there will be no practical exemplification of it. I have considered in this book as tersely as possible most of the factors of civilisation in Japan. Let me briefly deal with this matter of law and order.

When the Revolution was effected in 1868 the whole legal procedure of the country was thrown more or less into a condition of disorganisation. Prior to 1868, as my readers will have seen, feudal principles prevailed in Japan. The feudal lords, or Daimios, administered justice, or what passed for it, within their own territories, and they were answerable to the central authority. In theory the feudal lords were commissioners of the ruling sovereign from whom they derived their authority; in practice they were very largely a law unto themselves, and their subjects had little or no practical chance of redress in the event of their suffering any injustice. It is very difficult to ascertain whether there was in reality a legal code of any kind in existence and under the ken of these feudal lords. The legal system then in vogue appears to have been based for the most part on custom and usage. A writer on the subject has remarked that the few written laws were of a thoroughly practical character. Unfortunately I have not had an opportunity of acquainting myself with the nature of these laws. They were probably, like everything else in the country, imported from China, and indeed the Chinese legal system has been supreme in Japan until recently, and even now I am not quite certain that much of its influence does not remain. I have read that the fundamental principle underlying the written laws referred to was that: "The people should obey the law, but should not know the law." The code was accordingly a secret one. I have not space, nor indeed have I any inclination, to deal with what is, after all, an academical question as to the law prevalent in Japan prior to the Revolution. It was probably for the most part, just as in other countries when feudalism existed, a kind of rough-and-ready justice, which perhaps served its purpose well at the time, and depended more as regards the matter of justice upon the administrator of it than upon the code itself. Though the Revolution took place in 1868, it was not until 1871 that the Daimios were deprived of all their administrative authority. The whole of the country was then divided into districts under the control of the central Government, and all relics of feudalism and class privileges, which had been numerous, were ruthlessly swept away. In due course a civil code, commercial code, code of civil procedure, and code of criminal procedure were issued. One or two of these codes were found not to work well in practice, and they have been submitted to and revised by committees specially appointed for that purpose.

As I stated in the chapter on the Constitution the independence of the judges is recognised and provided for. The legal system of Japan at the present time is eclectic. As I have said, the Chinese system of legal procedure long obtained, and its influences may perhaps to some extent still remain. Nevertheless Japan has gone to various countries and selected what she deemed good in each for her present legal system. The jurisprudence of both France and England have been largely drawn on. In reference to the civil law custom is, as might have been expected in view of the circumstances of the country, still strongly relied on. There has often been a difficulty in ascertaining custom owing to the changed and changing conditions of the nation, and in reference thereto very much the same procedure has followed as in this country where the question of custom is so frequently pleaded in the courts of law. Some of the German system of jurisprudence has also been included in the Japanese legal system. As I have elsewhere observed, the suggestion to abolish extra-territoriality, and with it the foreign courts in Japan, met with a considerable amount of opposition from the foreign community there who believed that they would not be able to obtain justice in the Japanese courts. These fears have been shown to be groundless, and it is now generally recognised that the foreigner in Japan need have no fear of going into a Japanese court where he is, whether it be a civil or criminal matter, certain to obtain a perfectly fair trial.

Closely connected with law is the matter of police. In Japan the police of the country are entirely under the control of the State, just as are the constabulary in Ireland. The police are under the orders of the Minister of the Interior, who has a special office for dealing with the matter. The cost of the force is, however, paid by each prefecture, the State granting a small subsidy. According to the latest statistics, the police force of Japan amounted to something under 35,000 officers and men. When we consider that this body of men is responsible for the enforcement of the law and the preservation of order among some 47,000,000 people, it will, I think, be admitted that the number is not excessive. The social condition of the Japanese police, if I may use such a term, is higher than that of the police in this and other countries. In Japan the police force had its genesis after the abolition of feudalism, and, as a matter of fact, a large proportion of the first members thereof belonged to the Samurai class. The social position and intellectual attainment of these young men gave what I may term a standing to the police force in Japan which it has not yet lost. Of course, nothing like the same class of men is now attracted to it, the salaries are comparatively small and the work is not over-congenial for people whose ideas are such as those of the Japanese.

I may mention, as an interesting feature in this connection, that the Government have established a police and prison college in Tokio, where both police and prison officials are effectively trained for the discharge of their duties. This college was established when extra-territoriality was abolished, with the view of ensuring a higher training in view of the additional responsibilities that would devolve upon the police and prison officials.

From police I naturally come to some consideration of prisons. There are a large number of people in this country who have the idea in their mind that prisons are a weak point in all foreign countries, and that it is only in England that these regrettable institutions are properly managed. In fact the idea now seems to be prevalent here that we have gone too far in the direction of making prisons comfortable, and that excellent alliteration "Coddled Criminals" has more than once done duty in print in this connection. I consider that the present prison system in Japan is regulated and administered on sounder principles than those that obtain in this country. There are in all about 140 prisons in Japan. All the old prisons in the country were constructed of wood and arranged on the associate system. A separate cell system is, however, specially provided for foreign criminals, who are given clothes, bedding, and other articles to which they are used. The Government, a few years ago, commenced the construction of a number of new prisons, for the most part built of brick, in which a mixed system of separation and association, according to the offences of the prisoners, will be employed. The windows of these prisons were directed to be made especially large, so that the prisoners might have plenty of light and air. This is a matter in which some foreign Governments, that of this country included, might well take a lesson from Japan.

It is pleasing to be able to state that since 1899 the inmates of the prisons have been decreasing in number. There is nothing quite analogous to the ticket-of-leave system in this country. Parole is suggested by a prison governor to the Minister of Justice in reference to any prisoner whom he may deem worthy of the privilege, provided that prisoner has completed three-fourths of the sentence imposed upon him and has shown a disposition to live more worthily. I do not quite know how this latter fact is made plain in gaol, but at any rate the prison governor has to be convinced of it. A prisoner thus released remains under police supervision during the remainder of his sentence.

In Japan the death penalty is not confined to murder. It may be inflicted for robbery with violence, homicide, wounds inflicted by children upon their fathers, mothers, and grand-parents, as well as for arson. This sounds a somewhat drastic blood code, but when I state that the average number of persons executed in Japan does not exceed thirty a year, it will be seen that either the crimes mentioned are infrequent or that the punishment of death is only inflicted in extreme cases.

One interesting feature of the Japanese prison system is the granting of medals to criminals who have shown an amendment of their lives by good conduct and diligence at their work. The privileges enjoyed by persons possessing these medals are so interesting that I will transcribe them here:--

1. All medallists are supplied with superior kinds of garments and other articles.

2. Each medallist is allowed to send out two letters per month.

3. Medallists enjoy the privilege of bathing prior to other prisoners, hot water being used in accordance with the general custom of the Japanese people.

4. The supply of accessories is increased in quantity every week for medallists, according to the number of medals granted, to the extent of an increased expense of two sen or less for one meal per person. This increase is granted once a week to the possessor of two medals, and three times a week for each possessor of three medals.

5. The allotment of earnings is made in the following proportion, the remainder being applied to prison expenses:--

Three-tenths to each felon to whom one medal has been granted.

Four-tenths to each misdemeanant to whom one medal has been awarded.

Four-tenths to each felon having been granted two medals.

Five-tenths to each felon possessing three medals.

Six-tenths to each misdemeanant granted three medals.

There is no need for me to deal with the question of punishment of criminals in Japanese prisons. I may, however, remark that in respect of foreign criminals every effort is made to treat them in accordance with their conditions of national life in regard to bathing, food, &c. In reference to the question of prison labour, which has become somewhat of a vexed economic problem in this country, the Japanese authorities do not appear to experience much difficulty. The object of the prison system of labour is to give the prisoners a careful training, and to encourage diligence, so that on their return to the world they may not experience difficulty in obtaining employment. The labour is of two kinds--Government, and for private individuals. In the latter case the necessary labour is obtained from the prisons direct, the employers supplying the material. I think this part of the system is perhaps open to question, as it has been found in other countries productive of grave abuses.

The discharged prisoner in Japan, as in other countries, finds a difficulty in obtaining employment, and several societies similar to those in existence here have been established with a view of assisting discharged prisoners. I have not sufficient information to enable me to say what measure of success these societies have achieved. In a country like Japan, which is endeavouring to perfect all her institutions, I hope that the discharged prisoner problem will be solved otherwise than by philanthropic societies. The criminal who has completed his sentence ought to be deemed to have purged his offence, and has a right to return to the community and obtain work until, if ever, he again misconducts himself.

I hope my few remarks on the subject of the means taken in Japan to maintain law and order will tend to convince my readers that in every detail of her administration Japan has shown a capacity for adapting what is good in foreign nations and moulding it for her own purposes. The foreign community in Japan has long since got over its state of panic in regard to the danger of suing and being sued in Japanese courts, and the possibility of being an inmate of a Japanese gaol. The years that have elapsed since the treaties were revised have demonstrated clearly that, if anything, extra consideration is shown to the foreigner in all the details of the administration of the law in Japan. I remarked at the beginning of this chapter that the supremacy of the law and the maintenance of order are matters of supreme importance in every civilised country. Japan has recognised this fact, and she has acted upon the recognition thereof with most admirable results.



The literature of Japan is a somewhat recondite subject, while the Japanese drama is at present, like many other things in the country, to a great extent in a state of transition. Still, some remarks on these two matters are, I consider, absolutely essential in order that my readers may form some idea of two important phases of Japanese life. The literature of Japan is indeed largely mixed up with the national life through many centuries--a reflection, in fact, of it. The late Sir Edwin Arnold, whose great authority on everything connected with Japan is generally admitted, has observed in reference to the literature of that country: "The time will come when Japan, safe, famous, and glad with the promise of peaceful years to follow and to reward this present period of life and death conflict, will engage once again the attraction of the Western nations on the side of her artistic and intellectual gifts. Already in this part of the globe persons of culture have become well aware how high and subtle is her artistic genius; and by and by it will be discovered that there are real treasures to be found in her literature. Moreover, England, beyond any other European country, is likely to be attracted to this branch, at present naturally neglected, of what may be called the spiritual side of Japanese life."

The drawback to the fulfilment of the somewhat optimistic forecast of Sir Edwin Arnold is the great difficulty experienced by the Western nations in acquiring a sufficient knowledge of the language in which the treasures of Japanese literature are embedded if not entombed. No man can ever grasp the beauties of a literature, and especially an Oriental literature, through the medium of a translation, however well done. A translation is like a diamond with the brilliancy removed, if we can imagine such a thing. It may be faultlessly correct in its rendering, and yet absolutely misleading in its interpretation of the original.

Japanese literature embraces poetry, history, fiction, books of ceremony and travel, as well as many works of an ethical nature. Poetry is supposed to have reached its most brilliant period in Japan a long way back--long even before Geoffrey Chaucer took up his pen to write those immortal lines which I fear but comparatively few Englishmen now read. In reference to this poetry of twelve hundred years ago, Mr. Aston--perhaps the greatest authority on the subject--remarks: "While the eighth century has left us little or no prose literature of importance, it was emphatically the golden age of poetry. Japan has now outgrown the artless effusions described in the preceding chapter, and during this period produced a body of verse of an excellence which has never since been surpassed. The reader who expects to find this poetry of a nation just emerging from the barbaric stage of culture characterised by rude, untutored vigour, will be surprised to learn that, on the contrary, it is distinguished by polish rather than power. It is delicate in sentiment and refined in language, and displays exquisite skill of phrase with a careful adherence to certain canons of composition of its own."

I confess my knowledge of the language is insufficient to enable me to read Japan's literary treasures in the original, and as I have remarked, no man through the medium of a translation can adequately form a correct opinion respecting any description of foreign literature. I fear, however, that modern Japan is as little concerned with its eighth-century poetry as the modern Englishman is with that of Chaucer, not to speak of those great poets, most of whom are now forgotten, who lived long before Chaucer and whose verses were not only read but sung throughout the length and breadth of the land.

In a much later period of the history of the country, literature was undoubtedly greatly in vogue. There was evolved what I may term a distinct literary class, the language and literature of China were diligently studied, and very much of the literature of this time is written in Chinese. That language, indeed, seems to have been at one period regarded in Japan very much as Latin was, and in some quarters is even still, regarded in Europe as the appropriate medium for expressing the most sublime thoughts of the brightest intellects. The fiction of this period, usually termed the Heian--and there is plenty of it still in existence--was for the most part written by women, so that it will be seen the female novelist is not, as some persons appear to imagine, a comparatively modern development. After the twelfth century--and most of the literature I have referred to is anterior to that--petty wars between the feudal princes appear to have been incessant, and the whole country was for a great number of years more concerned with fighting than with literature. History or historical romance seems to have been the favourite literary exercitation during this period. A good deal of the literature thereof is still, I understand, read in Japan, especially by its youth, for whom the stirring episodes embodied in the history and historical romances of these bellicose times seem to have an especial fascination.

The Tokugawa period, covering the 270 years during which the Government of the Tycoon was installed in Yeddo, was one during which literature made great progress in Japan. Those years were a time of profound peace; the country was cut off from the rest of the world, thrown in upon itself, and accordingly had ample leisure, and possibly much inclination, to develop its artistic side, especially in literature. The study of books was prevalent everywhere, and quite a band of teachers arose in the land whose mission it was to expound its ancient literature, and exhume for public edification and delectation many of the buried literary treasures of the past. These teachers were not content with mere oral description; they wrote what would now be termed treatises or commentaries, many of which show great depth of learning, by way of expounding and explaining the classics of Japan with a view of bringing them within the ken of the great mass of the people. This period (the Tokugawa) also had its works of fiction; it produced many dramas and, I believe, some, if not much, poetry. The romances of this time are, I am told, written principally for or down to the level of the common people. The classics of Japan were, and probably still are, like the classics of Greece and Rome in respect of the mass of the people of this country, not understood, and most likely were they, would not be appreciated. And hence in the Tokugawa period what I may term the popular writer was evolved, and he turned out, under a nom-de-plume for the most part, books for the lower orders. These works are now regarded as somewhat vulgar, but they are in many respects a mirror of the age in which they were written, and it is doubtful if they are much coarser in style than some of the novels published in England in the eighteenth century. Vulgarity, it must be remembered, is largely a matter of opinion, and because either the Japanese of to-day or the foreigner who has perused, perhaps in a translation, this fiction of a couple of centuries back, dubs it according to the opinion of to-day vulgar, it by no means follows that it was so considered in Japan two hundred years back.

Since the Revolution of 1868 it is doubtful if Japan has produced any distinctive literature. The whole country and all the national modes of thought have been in a state of transition, a condition of unrest--circumstances not conducive to the production of classical literature; moreover, literary ideas and conceptions have changed and are still changing--changing rapidly. The development of a powerful newspaper press must have a marked and far-reaching effect on Japanese literature. So also must the study of Western literature by the educated classes--a study which is both extensive and increasing. Japanese literature is now undoubtedly in the melting-pot, so to speak, and what will be the precise result it is impossible to determine. It must be confessed that the modern Japanese who has been educated according to Western methods, and is adequately acquainted with the languages and literature of Europe, is infrequently an admirer of the peculiar literature of his own country. Possibly it suffers by comparison. Japan has produced no Dante, or Shakespeare, or Milton. The moods of her people, and probably the limitations and peculiarities of the language, have prevented the possibility of the appearance of such divine geniuses. There is, its critics declare, an absence of sustained power and sublimity in Japanese literature generally, while the didactic and philosophical, if not altogether lacking, is extremely rare therein. But it seems to me the height of absurdity to compare the literature of a country like Japan with the literature of some other land where everything is, and always has been, essentially different. To properly comprehend, and probably to be able to appreciate Japanese literature, it would be necessary to get, so to speak, into the atmosphere in which it was produced. To judge it by twentieth-century standards and canons of criticism and from European standpoints is not only unfair but must create a totally false impression.


In every country which has attained any degree of civilisation, and even in some countries whose civilisation is still imperfect, the drama has played an important part, and Japan has been no exception to the rule. Its dramatic literature is, I believe, of considerable extent, and to understand, much less appreciate it properly would require very profound study. Many of the more or less ancient dramas are works not only containing the dialogue of the play but much descriptive matter. They were, as a matter of fact, written for theatres in which there were to be not actors but marionettes, singers being engaged to sing the lines out of sight while the puppets depicted the characters. Some of these dramas have, since they were written, been adapted for the ordinary stage and the characters portrayed by Japan's most famous actors. The theatre was long looked down upon and it is only of comparatively recent years that it has been looking up. A large number of persons in this country still appear to be under the impression that there are no actresses on the Japanese stage. This is, of course, a mistake, caused no doubt by the fact that in Japanese theatres the female characters in a play are so often impersonated by men. Some two or three centuries back actors and actresses used, as in Europe, to play in the same piece, but this was for some reason or other interdicted, and ever since there have been companies composed of men and women respectively. In the male companies some of the female parts naturally fell to men and in the female companies the male parts were of necessity depicted by women. Of recent years the tendency is to revert to the ancient practice and to come into line with the custom of European countries in this matter, and ere long, no doubt in Japanese theatres the female characters will be taken by women and the male characters by men.

The theatre has always been a popular institution in Japan, and the pieces usually played have very much the same motif as the dramas formerly so popular in this country--the discomfiture of the villain and the triumph of virtue. The Japanese theatre does not appeal to the ordinary European visitor, or indeed to many Europeans living in the country. In the first place, the performance is too long for the European taste, and in the next, most Japanese plays are of one kind, and concerned with one period--the feudal. There is, moreover, a plethora of by-play--sword exercise and acrobatic performances--which have nothing whatever to do with the plot of the piece. In fact, irrelevancy appears to the European the chief characteristic of what he sees on the stage of a Japanese theatre. Nor does the play, as is usual in serious dramas in this country, revolve round one character, the hero or heroine. Indeed it is not always easy to earmark, so to speak, the leading character, and it is occasionally doubtful in many Japanese plays whether there is any hero or heroine. But the same remark may be made here as in reference to the literature of the country. It is probably essential to get into the Japanese atmosphere in order to properly appreciate a Japanese play. The drama in Japan at any rate serves, and so far as I have had an opportunity of forming an opinion in the matter, serves well, its purpose to interest and amuse the frequenters of the theatres, besides which the lessons it inculcates are for the most part of a moral nature.

The high art of the Japanese theatre is represented by the "Nô," which I suppose fills much the same position as does the Italian opera in this country. The "Nô" is, I believe, very ancient. The written text is sung; there is a principal and a secondary character and a chorus. The dialogue is as ancient, some critics say as archaic, as the time in which the play was written, and I understand it requires being educated up to it in order to fully appreciate the "Nô." The ordinary Japanese would probably just as much fail to comprehend or like it as would the Englishman from Mile End, were he taken to Covent Garden, and invited to go into raptures over one of Mozart's or Meyerbeer's masterpieces. A performance of the "Nô" would probably interest those who find excitement in a representation of "Oedipus Tyrannus," or some Greek play. Still, the "Nô" is appreciated by a large number of the intellectual classes in Japan, who find an interest in the representation of this Japanese opera, as I suppose it may be termed.

As I have already said, very much the same remarks made in reference to the literature of Japan apply to its drama. That country is still in the transition stage, and both its drama and its literature will undoubtedly be profoundly modified in future years. Western literature and Western dramatic art have already exercised considerable influence, and there are movements on foot whose object is to replace the old ideas and methods, especially in the matter of the representation of dramatic works by those which obtain in Europe and America. Whether these movements will be successful or not remains to be seen. There is certainly a large body of public opinion not only opposed but antagonistic to them. In spite of the rapid development of Japan in recent years, there is a very strong conservative party in the country--a party which, though it recognises or acquiesces in the desirability of change in many directions, is not prepared to throw overboard everything because it is old. I sincerely hope that the distinctive literature and dramatic art of the country will not be allowed to die out. Japan cannot afford to forget the past with its influences on the national life and character, influences at work for many ages which have assuredly had a material effect in elevating her to the position she at present occupies.

Share with your friends:
1   ...   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page