The following article was written in the summer of 1903, but as other sections of the projected book were not then ready it was returned to the writer to be kept up to date until required for publication, and remained in his hands until late in 1906, an interval which has covered the whole period of the Japanese-Russian War.
Upon consideration, it has seemed better to leave it in its original form, only adding footnotes dated 1906, in preference to either rewriting or extensively revising it; and this for several reasons. In the first place, rewritten work is apt to lose something of its freshness and singleness of aim; then, the amount of correction which has proved necessary in consequence of the recent momentous events affords a certain measure of test of the writer's judgment in what was written before; and thirdly, this method allows the reader to form his opinion upon data not of a single time only, but of two epochs, separated, it is true, by only three years, but by a great gulf if we consider the different position and influence which Japan holds among the nations of the world.
The paper is, therefore, left exactly as it was written in 1903, with the exception of some slight changes made on purely literary grounds, and a few corrections of errors in regard to details of Japanese laws and early history for which the writer has to thank the Rev. J. T. Imai, who has kindly looked through the whole.
Personal appearance--Mental and moral characteristics--Position of women--Family council--Loyalty to institutions--Insufficient sense 'of responsibility--Geographical position-Climate and agriculture--Isolation.
It is difficult to write about the future characteristics of a race when it will, by the hypothesis, have been profoundly modified by the operation of external causes, such as long contact with foreign civilization and ideas, and the gradual adoption, for gradual it must be, of many of them, and notably of those religious usages and ideas which are the most profound of all. Such writing may seem presumptuous, for it is in the nature of prophecy, and prophecy of a peculiarly difficult kind. It needs must content itself with broad outlines and generalities; and must acknowledge that apparently small deviations from what is anticipated may alter the whole of the probable outcome.
In the case of Japan the uncertainty is even greater than usual, because of the extraordinary rapidity with which the Japanese have achieved far more than a veneer of Western ideas and customs, while they remain very inscrutable to foreigners in their inward thoughts, because of their unusual capacity for adapting themselves to the ways of the persons among whom they are living; so that a Japanese in the West may be just like a Western, [138/139] but may return quite as a matter of course to the ideas and customs of his own country. Yet even under these conditions some measure of prophecy may be worth attempting.
Like the inhabitants of the British Isles, the Japanese are a people of very mixed blood, so that several types are more or less distinguishable amongst them. They are, or seem to our Western eyes, more alike than ourselves, only because the blonde and the sandy freckled complexions, the blue and light grey eyes, and the curly hair of Celt, Teuton, and Scandinavian are entirely wanting; so that in complexion they do not vary very much, however diverse they are in feature. About 15,000 of the aboriginal Ainu remain in the northern island, speaking their own language and keeping up, to some extent, their primitive habits; but as they will surely either die out or be assimilated to the dominant race, they do not concern us.
The main Japanese stock would seem to have come across from Northern Asia, but there is a blend of Malay, probably drifted northward by the ocean currents, and carried beyond Japan to the Kurile and Aleutian Isles and the north-west coast of America, where the build and features of the so-called "Indians" strongly remind us of the Japanese and not at all of the Red Indian further east and south. There is no doubt a small admixture of Southern Chinese blood, and one would have expected the Ainu, who must formerly have been spread over the country, to be as strongly represented as the Celt in England, but to judge from build and feature it is not so. The abundant curly hair of the Ainu could hardly have failed to be apparent if there was much Ainu blood in the race, whereas any trace of it is so rare that it is conspicuous whenever it occurs.
 The hair of the Japanese is almost always black, sometimes, especially in the higher class, suggesting through its intense blackness almost an undertone of blue instead of the undertone of red or brown with which we are familiar in the West. It is generally thick on the head, scant in the beard, rather coarse, and if not straight only very slightly wavy. The eyes are almost always very dark, and often prominent. There is often a puffy look round the eyes, due partly to this prominence. They do not open so wide as ours, and in some, but by no means in the majority, the opening is not horizontal.
The bridge of the nose is almost always low, and sometimes, especially in children of the lower classes, it seems to be absent altogether; but the actual form of the nose in the adult is not what we should call a snub, and in many of the upper rank it is more or less aquiline, but with a rather depressed look. High-class faces are often oval, especially in women, but not with the weak beauty of the regular oval which is characteristic of the Corean nobility. In fact, the Corean type does not seem to be much marked, though it is historically known that there has been some Corean immigration into Japan.
The mouths of women seem generally very small, but with men this is not so. Perhaps prominent teeth which are very common in men may be artificially reduced in women of the higher class, thus making the difference of appearance. The lower lip is often prominent, and though well-shaped chins are not uncommon, especially so far as I have observed towards the southwest, a chin so receding as almost to obliterate its characteristic form is often found under a prominent lip. The cheek-bones are often, but by no means always, prominent.
The hands and feet are usually small and very shapely till altered by rough use. The leg from knee to foot is [140/141] very short, and rather short in the thigh also, while the body is much nearer to the ordinary length of that of an Englishman. The whole frame is short as compared with ours, but broad, and with proper food and exercise is well knit, strong, and capable of endurance. Mediaeval armour bears witness to a decrease of size in the Japanese within the last few centuries, as in our own country it bears witness to an increase; but it seems plain that under better sanitary conditions an increase has begun in Japan in these last few years. We are told that the brain capacity is fully equal to that of Western races, judging by the size of the skull.
I would notice amongst mental and moral characteristics especially versatility and power of imitation; absence of habitual tension of the mind and will, leading to an easy acquiescence and giving up of effort in face of temporary difficulties; and in close connection with this an absence of despair, discontent, or disgust at failure or disappointment, leading to a ready resumption of steady work at the old task as soon as the difficulty is past; an almost childish curiosity and love of prettiness and of romance; intense patriotism and loyalty and obedience to law and custom; patient, uncomplaining endurance, except where an injustice, or rather an inequality or irregularity of treatment, is supposed; not a little suspiciousness behind a childlike simplicity; very widespread natural eloquence, coupled [141/142] with diplomatic power of keeping a secret by word and bearing; an apparent lack of sensitiveness to pain, which is surprising when considered with their acute observation, accurate imitation, vivacity of mind, and almost exaggerated sentiment for honour according to their national ideals, and love for beauty in flower, landscape, and feature. One would have supposed that these various forms of sensitiveness to pleasure could hardly have grown up without bringing a corresponding sensitiveness to pain of every kind, but perhaps the key may lie in the fact that their ideals are conventional rather than spontaneous, and their courtesy has its roots in ceremonious custom rather than in sympathy; while their remarkable kindness to children and to other living creatures, unless some definite occasion leads them to an opposite line of conduct, seems rather to arise from natural happiness and an easy-going and kindly disposition, which likes to live in a happy world and sees no reason to interfere with other people's whims and wishes, than to be connected in any way with the idea of duty. Some of these characteristics will appear contradictory. I can only say that they are national characteristics, and that they co-exist. [The past ten years, and especially the past three, have made a great change in this. The whole look of the common people is more alert than it was. They appear to be observing the things that pass before them with greater interest and more keenness. The lips, that used often to hang apart, are now generally closed. They began perceptibly to close in the early weeks of the Russian War. There is a far greater appearance both of decision and of sense of responsibility in face and bearing. Universal education has much to do with this, but the greatest educator has been the war (1906).]
We must note also the position of women in the thoughts of the Japanese, and the ideas and usages in regard to marriage. These are partly peculiar to them, and partly common to them with all the East, and they can often be illustrated from the West also. Any one who knows what marriage was among navvies before the "Navvy Mission" took the matter in hand will not be surprised at a condition of things in which, along with monogamy, a vast number of "marriages" are socially recognized, and on a very different moral level from mere cohabitation, but are not legally valid and are broken off almost as easily as made, the separation often implying [142/143] little or no fault and leaving little or no stigma on either part, so that it constitutes no bar to a second, third, or even a fourth marriage; though this kind of lightness is not approved by society.
Monogamy is a reality in Japan, so that the offspring of the one wife could not be set aside without very grave offence to the relations and to public opinion, unless there were strong and valid reasons. Yet concubinage as well as fornication of married men is very common. The former till 1899 was recognized by law, and though the new Civil Code does not exactly recognize it, yet there are marks of it there, due to the probability that a man who has no son by his wife will adopt his son (if he has one) by a concubine in preference to any one else, and make him by adoption his wife's son to be his heir, rather than look elsewhere for some one to carry on the family. ["Shoshi," concubine's child, is distinguished from legitimate and natural son in the code, but the concubine is not mentioned.] The Japanese wife is expected to receive courteously her husband's concubine if he brings her to his house as a guest, but he would be thought inconsiderate in doing so; and it does not seem that it would ever be considered right for a concubine to live in the home.
As regards fornication in married men, it is a thing which ought not to be. It meets with some social disapproval. But perhaps the most radical change which our Lord introduced into the conception of marriage was when He said, "He (the husband) committeth adultery against her (the wife)." In Japan, as almost everywhere outside Christendom, marriage is not as between the sexes on equal terms. The sin of the unfaithful husband (if indeed he can be called exactly unfaithful for it) is not the same as that of the unfaithful wife. Indulgence of a married man with an unmarried woman is not regarded as adultery. Indulgence with a married woman [143/144] is adultery, but against her husband, not against either of the wives.
Again, in Japan, as in the East generally, adoption is exactly equivalent to birth. There is no difference whatever between adoption and lineal descent; so that, for example, it never enters into the mind of an ordinary Japanese to consider whether any of the links through which the present emperor is the direct descendant of the founder of the dynasty, Jimmu Tenno, in B.C. 660, and so of the gods, were made by adoption or not. But in this case it is felt to be certain that the adoption has always been from among those of imperial lineage.
Yet the position of women in Japan is better than elsewhere in the East. Disregarding for the moment the humbler classes, in which the wife as a breadwinner is fairly on a level with the husband, and protected from his caprice by her value to him and by the ease of separation; in the higher classes also a woman has valuable rights. She cannot, under ordinary circumstances, be married or divorced without her consent, and that of her "witness" or "sponsor," and though this is rendered partly nugatory by the early age at which girls are betrothed (fifteen being the minimum age for legal marriage), and the sense of duty not to go against the will of the father or of the family council, yet there are cases, not infrequent, of refusal, and if the proposed husband were very unsuitable in rank, age, means, character, etc., the family council would support the refusal.
It is true that parents are accounted nearer relations to their children than husbands to their wives, and that a man does not "leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife," but brings his wife home to his father and mother; and from this important consequences follow inevitably. The mother-in-law is queen of the home, [144/145] brings up the children, and can use the wife as a drudge if she chooses. And under these conditions it stands to reason that if the wife cannot got on with the mother it is the wife that goes, the artificial giving way to the natural relationship.
It may seem a small compensation, but it is something, as helping to secure the wife from being driven to seek separation, that she takes away with her all that is left of what she brought to her husband, and that her own kinsfolk have a recognized right to interfere, and may even be able to bring about a divorce, if she is ill-treated.
Nor is she secluded, nor when she goes out does she veil her face, though she usually is very domestic, and lives almost entirely in the house, going out to the theatre or to call a few times in the year, very quiet, expecting and claiming little or nothing of her husband's company, always ready to welcome him with a smile and wait upon him. She does not usually eat with him, or walk with him in the street. Men do not call on women, so that at home she has very little society but that of women and of those intimates who frequent the house. [These customs are giving way rapidly in the classes which associate with foreigners (1906).]
Obviously, the condition is very different from that of women in China, or India, or among Mohammedan peoples, and there is a starting-point in it for further freedom through education and the positions as teachers, nurses, etc., which are open already and daily opening more and more to women in Japan. The highest classes also have an increasing intercourse with the West, which makes it important that their wives should be able to take their place in Western society. For this the exquisite graces of the Japanese lady who keeps herself [145/146] simply for her husband when he comes home, and is shy and silent in general society, are insufficient; and if this is to be changed, the wife must be educated in such a way as to be more of a companion for the thoughts of her husband and his friends and guests than she has been hitherto. [The independent action of women of the higher classes has been immensely stimulated by the Russian War. They made a practice of visiting among the poorer soldiers' families, a thing quite unknown before, and are now conducting large works of charity, and even sometimes speaking in public for charitable and national causes (1906).]
We have mentioned the "Family Council." This is an institution recognized by law, with great influence, but rather indefinite powers. It is closely connected with some of the most striking racial characteristics of the Japanese--characteristics which may prove perhaps to have more to do with the special subject of this chapter than any others.
The family council consists of persons appointed by a court of law from among the members of a family. The Civil Code determines what members of the family have a right to summon it, or to state their opinions before it; and its decisions may be appealed against to a court of law. Such matters as the placing of an imbecile or lunatic under restraint, the appointment of a guardian to family property, care of the property and business of a minor, etc., would come under its cognizance; and it will sometimes have to take entire charge when the head of the family is in any way incapacitated.
Thus the family is a unit, and the family means something wider than the married man and his children, or the members of his household. Other members of the family group have a right to be consulted, to expostulate, in some cases even to control what the head proposes to do, so far as it affects the family honour or interest. This [146/147] power would come into play in case of an unsuitable marriage, especially of the heir to the headship, of a divorce, of disinheriting a son, of an adoption in case of childlessness, perhaps also of putting a son into a line of life unsuitable to his station, and many such things. Probably the head of the family could in almost all cases override the objections of the council, but at least they have a locus standi, and he must hear them. In some cases the family council could take the matter before a judicial tribunal for arbitration or decision.
The feeling for taking counsel with those who have an interest in the matter before acting is very strong in Japan, and our methods often seem to them convenient perhaps, but rude and arbitrary. Nor is this confined to family matters. The feudal lord had a group of persons round him who had a right to be heard. He might overrule them, and their loyalty was unshaken; but he must hear what they had to say.
Another matter in which the family as a unit is involved has an important bearing on the marriage law. If there are several sons, one will be chosen to carry on the father's family, while the others, if they marry and are separately registered at the public office, will found fresh families of their own. If there are daughters but no son, some one will be adopted to marry the daughter and take her name, and with her become the heir to the headship of her family. His position is not a very enviable one, because, though he is nominally the head, his wife and her relatives have large undefined rights, and it would seem that divorces are frequent in such cases, the man being divorced by the woman and her family.
But obviously, if a man who is prospective head of his family marries a woman who is prospective head of hers, on the death of the two fathers the two families would be merged, and thus one of them would disappear. [147/148] This cannot be without public sanction. Hence it becomes necessary at once that the woman should renounce the headship and an heir be adopted, else the marriage would become null.
This sounds so strange to us that it is worth while to give a concrete case. A Christian Japanese was married to a Christian woman. He was heir to his father, and, I presume, the only son. The wife's only brother became a prodigal, and it was necessary to disinherit him and to find some one else to be the heir; she was the obvious person, and was so chosen by the family. At this stage the question was brought to me to know what must be done from the Christian point of view, for a divorce would become almost inevitable. I answered that such a position was impossible, and that either he or she should arrange for some one else to take over the headship of the family; and this was approved and done.
The extent to which adoptions, and changes of name, and arrangements for finding or changing the heir, occur in Japan is quite amazing to us, and is a symptom of very different fundamental ideas on social questions.
All this has a further bearing. To the Japanese the institution is more than the individual; and, provided it is clear that there is no differentiating against the individual, his undeserved suffering, amounting to practical injustice under the law, is borne with perfect equanimity by him and by his friends for him. It is the law, and there is nothing more to be said. It may need amending, but while it stands there is complete acquiescence and no resentment against it. Even in things so new and unofficial as Church matters, there will arise a ferment, and business cannot go forward at all, if it is supposed that So-and-so has been unjustly treated, often simply because not exactly the same has been given to all who were doing the same work. We refer to chapter and [148/149] clause of our canons which rule the case, and the whole calms down without a word, and business goes forward as if nothing had happened.
The institution of institutions is the emperor and the country, then the father and the family; formerly there was the feudal nobleman among his retainers. Bound the institutions all the national ideals took shape with a very high degree of romance and chivalry; and though bushido, "the way of the knight" (which was the name for this national idea of loyalty and chivalry), has gone out as a system, with the fall of feudalism and the introduction of matter-of-fact business ideas from the West, yet it remains a subject of all the best national legends, rousing the Japanese to enthusiasm and devotion as nothing else does, and colouring all their ideals. It may have been Quixotic, histrionic, tending in lower men to make swashbucklers, but it was generous to a fault and prodigal in self-sacrifice. Hundreds, if not thousands, would not survive their lord when he had fallen. His whole band of retainers would avenge him in an illegal way and die by their own hands unbidden, perfectly content to do so, because they knew that their act was a breach of law which demanded their death. Neither they nor others would disapprove the law or wish it altered, yet these men would be honoured as demigods for their act by law-abiding citizens; and to this day fresh incense is burning at the tombs of many such men whom the nation delights to honour.
These irregular outbursts have almost disappeared, but little as the Japanese likes army life, and bitterly sorry as he is when the lot falls on him for the conscription, in time of war not only does he show unfailing loyalty, courage, and devotion, but I have no doubt that the old romance of loyalty has such a hold still upon the people as to make many hope that death for their [149/150] emperor and their country may fall to their lot. [General Nogi, a typical specimen of the noblest of the old Japanese spirit, in reporting to the emperor the affairs of the army before Port Arthur, blamed himself, we are told, for the great sacrifice of life in that siege. We have not heard of a single Japanese who criticized him on this account (1906).] In the relief of the Legations at Peking in 1900, the British troops came in first, for the gate opposite them was open. The Japanese did not follow through, but stormed the gate opposite them at a cost of 250 lives. This waste of life may have been bad soldiery, and will not be repeated, but we have never heard a murmur on account of it from the Japanese, either soldier or civilian. They would not have liked their general not to have given them that chance of death for their country. [The Russian War has shown to all the world that this is a true account of the Japanese spirit, while at the same time the value set on life has increased on practical grounds. It is interesting to add that in the war with China in 1894 families said to their soldier members, "Go and kill;" this time they said, "Go and die" (1906).]
From this regard for the institution rather than the individual come many good things, such as readiness to obey law acting through its constituted authorities, judges, policemen, tax-gatherers, and the rest. The people discuss everything in and out of parliament with extreme freedom, yet there is no sedition; they may attempt monster deputations to make a petition which would be terrorizing in the West, yet they are quietly led home again by a few policemen. [This is less true than it was three years ago, as the democratic spirit is advancing (1906).] Assassination even now may occur in the spirit of bushido, with an idea of the country's good; and if so, the doer will probably not attempt or wish to escape. The country is served. How should it matter what becomes of him, the individual?
For if care for the institution, or at least submission [150/151] and loyalty to it, is a subject on which the Japanese have much to teach the selfish Western man, want of sufficient value set on the individual is one of their greatest national defects.
Part, at least, of the cause of this insufficient appreciation of the individual will become clearer when we come to treat of the religions of Japan; but the fact and the racial phenomena connected with it concern us now, and some of the ablest missionaries of longest experience in the country point out an insufficient sense of individual personality as the most serious defect in Japanese character. If such a statement came only from the diplomatic and mercantile community, it might be supposed to mean no more than that more care for power or wealth, more selfishness, in fact, was needed to rouse steady ambition, to stimulate in the race of progress, and call out the energies of the people. But when missionaries not merely endorse the verdict of others, but urge it as in their opinion a point which needs most earnest attention, it is plain that they view it not merely as a check upon national efficiency and success, but as a radical defect of individual character which stands in the way of the man becoming, as a man, all that he ought to be.
The truth is that we in the West greatly overrate the importance of the individual as compared with the body of which he is a member; we encourage self-seeking, because it is the most powerful inducement to energy; we separate the man as a unit, because that develops his power of will and helps him to stand alone. Must we not also add we think so much of accumulation of wealth as a chief element of power, that the qualities which tend to win in the race for wealth come to have a wholly fictitious value in our estimate of character? But exactly the opposite is the case in the Oriental, and perhaps especially in the Japanese. Peacefulness of life, not [151/152] energy, is what he both enjoys and admires. Self-assertion and pushing are to him the ugliest of vices. A profession of humility, of his own utter unimportance as compared with others, is the habit of his talk. Time is not regarded as money, and is unimportant in his eyes He sees no reason for pushing his business beyond what his needs require.
At the cost of rather breaking the thread, it may be well to illustrate these opposite defects of East and West from our own experience in Japan. An English merchant indignantly argued with me against the laziness of the Japanese, contending that a trader's business was to make money, and that as whatsoever a man's hand finds to do he should do it with all his might, he ought, as a Christian duty, to make money with all his might. In contrast with this, the only Japanese shopkeeper in a place in the mountains frequented in summer by foreigners, had got hold of something so much approved that it was all bought up within a few days. On people coming to inquire whether he had yet got any more of it, he replied, "No. What is the use? It would all be gone directly." In short, such hurried trade was more bother than it was worth. He had quite enough to live upon.
In another case a missionary who (be it said) is doing very good work, took us to see an interesting and ingenious man, to whose workshop every curious and ingenious machine that needed explanation or repair in his country town was taken. My guide, missionary though he was, could not get out of his head, nor out of the expressions that he instinctively used, the idea that this clever tradesman and mechanician was to be pitied, "poor fellow," because he did not "get on." Yet, in fact, the man was evidently supremely happy, provided only there was something interesting on which to exercise his [152/153] wits at leisure, not working against time. Would that this type were more common in the West! In Japan, however, where it seems to be the rule, except where Western influences have come in, that shopkeepers are in no hurry to sell their goods, and would certainly prefer being passed by to being hustled, this, though in itself anything but a fault, indicates the side on which a very widespread national defect of character is to be found.
If men think of themselves as ripples on the surface of a lake, which die out, leaving no result and having no continued existence, to be succeeded by other ripples equally transitory and unimportant, why should character be cultivated? What use is there in any strenuous effort after good? What becomes of personal responsibility beyond the narrowest limits? How natural is it that Shikata ga nai ("It cannot be helped") and Kamaimasen ("It does not matter"), condoning respectively the easy dropping of a purpose and ready acquiescence in evil, are among the commonest phrases on the lips of the people! What a vast difference the ingrained belief in personal identity, personal immortality, the responsibility arising from free will, and the eternal consequences of our smallest actions, would make to an intelligent people such as the Japanese!
It is just because the resulting change in their character would be so radical, that any prophecy as to what of their present characteristics would survive the change is so difficult and precarious. Yet it may be hoped that they would not wholly fall into the common Western mistake that "gain is godliness," and worldly success is a sort of virtue, and the power of making great expenditure entitles a man to great respect, especially if he does give a large sum (amounting to a small fraction of his property) to some good object, which so distorts popular estimates of value and character throughout the West. Here perhaps we have a clue to the contribution that Japan, [153/154] when Christian, may make to the perfect lineaments' of Jesus Christ as reproduced in His Universal Church. [Since the above was written in 1903, the change in the Japanese is amazing. I will not say the advance, for in some respects I do not think it is an advance. Energy in trade, the value set on wealth, the association of accumulating capital with patriotism, the economy of time, the development of a more expensive style of living, the wide extension of the sense of individual responsibility, and the dropping out from common talk of Shikata ga nai and Kamaimasen, are all conspicuous. Yet in these things, too, the lead is given to national thought by the emperor--the suggestion of what should be comes from above; and loyalty thus is part of the foundation of national money-making as well as of personal sacrifice. Two striking facts are worth recording in illustration. About the middle of the war, the emperor issued an edict summoning to the colours the time-served men. Many of these men were not merely past the age at which they might be called out under the ordinary law for military service, but had actually done their service for the full term, served in the Chinese War, and received their discharge. They were just the barristers, doctors, etc., who had secured practices that would be broken up by their departure, the heads of business firms, the fathers of families whose children were coming on for education; yet not one single complaint of arbitrariness or inconsiderateness in such an order, not one claim of personal right as against the public need have I heard of, either from the press or from the individuals who suffered by it. (And yet, in these last years, one seems to be seeing the beginning of a tendency in individuals to make claims for themselves as against the state in a way hardly known in former times--a tendency to think more of the individual grievance and a disposition to side with the individual against the public authority, as though the latter were probably wrong.) Again, at the close of the war, when the army was beginning to return, a proclamation was issued in which the emperor pointed out that the industries of the country had been fully maintained, during the absence of a very large percentage of the most able-bodied men of the nation, by those who remained behind; and it was urged upon the people that in the interest of the country those who returned from the war should not simply be merged in the nation, doing just what they had done before, but that their industry should become an additional source of national wealth and power by their taking up fresh work, industrial or commercial (1906).]
 Not much need be said on the environment of the Japanese, but that little is interesting, at least to Englishmen.
Dai Nippon ("Great Japan") is the phrase used for the group of Japanese islands as a whole, almost exactly as "Great Britain" is used among ourselves. If we omit the northern island of Yezo, or Hokkaido, which is not yet fully occupied or developed, having about one million inhabitants on an area larger than Ireland, the group is nearly the same size (106,000 square miles) and has nearly the same population (43,000,000) as that of the British Isles. [Now 46,000,000 (1906).]
It lies at nearly the same distance from Corea, on the continent of Asia, as England lies from France. The harbours, and inland waters, and fisheries, with the thousands of hardy sea-going men which that industry produces, are very closely comparable to our own.
The inland scenery, indeed, and the cultivation depending on it, are very different. The conical peak of Fujiyama, in full sight of which we are writing, rising from the sea to its height of 12,365 feet, is the highest and most famous; but half a dozen peaks of the ranges which lie inland from it exceed 10,000 feet. There is no hill in Japan from which real mountains of some kind are not visible on a moderately clear day, and the hillsides are so steep and the mountain valleys so narrow that, while no pasture in our English sense of the word exists, the cultivable area is estimated to be no more than one-sixth of the whole. Yet off this small area and their fisheries the people have fed themselves, exporting till within the last ten years as much grain as they imported, besides not a little of the harvest of their seas. Nothing but the most patient persevering industry in a tillage, much of which is exceedingly disagreeable and laborious, [155/156] could produce such a result; and it can hardly be maintained, as higher wages and a brighter life attract the vigorous young people more and more to the towns.
Of late years mulberry plantations for silk have been creeping more and more up the hillsides wherever the slope is not too steep for soil to lie. If a rather more gradual slope will allow of it, the hillside is terraced to carry wheat or barley. Wherever water can be laid over it in valley or plain, it is more perfectly terraced to carry rice, with a subsidiary crop of wheat, barley, rape for oil, or something else, to be grown in winter and spring. Sugar-cane is a permanent grass and a more exhausting crop to the soil, yet in the little sheltered district between Mount Fuji and the sea, wheat or barley is sown in rows between the roots of the sugar-cane, and reaped at the beginning of June, about the time when the new shoots of the sugar reach the height of the corn.
But by far the most important crop is rice, sown in April, planted out by hand in May or June, and reaped in November. As rice is a marsh plant, it can only be grown where a few inches of water can lie over its roots. Hence, from June till November the whole cultivable area of the country must, if possible, be under still water. One result of this is that there are hardly any moderate slopes or undulating hillsides in Japan, as in this condition the land is almost useless. The plains and the bottoms of the valleys are flattened artificially wherever it is possible, and laid out in absolutely level terraces to the very foot of the mountains. The mountains drop abruptly into the dead level. The foot of the mountains is skirted with villages for miles together, and where the plain is too wide for the farmers to live at its edge, the wooden villages stand flat on artificial terraces of earth barely two feet above the almost stagnant water which is all round them. The temple with its grove, often of beautiful [156/157] old trees, and the gardens of the farmhouses, redeem these villages from ugliness; but the effect on scenery, on average health, and on the character of the people and their labour, is, of course, very considerable. They spend, for example, a large proportion of their days labouring halfway up to their knees in mud and water under a blazing sun; and these men and women, except for some famous temple festival, rarely go beyond their village. Yet they do all this in full sight of glorious mountains, and with a strong patriotic sense of the beauty of their country, and with no small enjoyment of its gentler beauties, its flowers and trees, affecting their lives and arousing genuine emotion and sentiment.
As regards climate, rain may come at any season, as in England, but speaking generally, the three summer months are hot and very damp, so that everything becomes intensely green. So damp is it that shoes, books, etc., become white with mould in a single night. The autumn is fine, fresh, and sunny. The winter is like a typical English March, but the north-west winds of Japan are even more piercing and parching than English north-easters. During the winter the grass and everything that is not evergreen is dry, brown or grey, and brittle. Spring, beginning somewhere in April, is charming, but even more showery than an English April. Where all houses are of wood, and especially where stoves and fireplaces are used, as they are by foreigners in Japan, some disagreeable effects follow from the dryness of the winter and the damp heat of the summer. A door or window that will shut at all in summer shrinks in winter till the draughts come in freely all round it. No seasoning of the wood will obviate this. The Japanese themselves therefore depend on clothing more than on fire for winter warmth, even in their houses.
But the climate is not really unhealthy. There is, and [157/158] must be, an aguish kind of malarial fever, but it is not severe. Dysentery in summer and consumption all the year round are the great scourges, and it is difficult to see how they are to be avoided, with the rice cultivation, on which the country depends, and the damp heat. The average level of health and vigour strikes one as low, but this is largely due to poor food, for the hard-working, out-of-door jinrikisha men, exposed to every climatic evil of heat and cold, feet wet with snow, bodies dripping with wet, sometimes from within and sometimes from without, but earning fair wages and spending them largely on food, are a stalwart and much-enduring class of men, always ready for work, or lark, or rest.
Epidemics such as plague and cholera threaten, and the climate would no doubt give them a good chance, but the care of the authorities and the stringent sanitary measures they adopt have as yet kept them at bay. On occurrence, for instance, of a case of plague, a cordon is drawn round the infected spot, and when things are ready the house, with all that can have been infected, is burnt and compensation given. In cases of less virulent infection, such as dysentery or typhoid fever, the person is removed to hospital at whatever inconvenience, the individual being sacrificed to the community, and not as with us, the community to the individual. It is better for all that one should be risked, and if only a small sum is available, and that is enough either to remove the public danger, or to give really good attendance to the patient, but not both, Japanese will all acknowledge that the interest of all is to be preferred to the interest of each.
But when speaking of the environment of the Japanese, the most crucial fact in that environment is the "silver streak" which has isolated and protected them, allowing them to live their own life, and develop their own national character, along the lines of their own choice, [158/159] or corresponding to their own natural endowments, without pressure from outside. In this they resemble the inhabitants of our British Isles, but their isolation has been more complete. There has been no such event in their history for more than two thousand years as the ravages of the Danes, or the victory of William the Conqueror, or the successful revolution by the welcome from abroad given to William III. There has been the bringing of the wild north of the islands under the sway of the Japanese Government, but it was not, as with us, through the king of the north succeeding to the throne of the south. Most curious of all is the coincidence that they, like us, were attacked by an "invincible armada" from China, and with the same result. It was the famous Kublai Khan who, having conquered the Chinese and established himself in Peking, built a vast fleet to subdue the adjoining islanders some two and a half centuries before Philip of Spain made his attempt on England. His ships tried to land troops at several places, but were everywhere beaten back, and the stormy seas that wash Japan did all the rest.
There is, however, one vital point of difference between the position of England and that of Japan which, if it accounts for even greater immunity from attack and independence of national development, accounts also for even greater insularity and isolation, and for a comparative backwardness in material progress, alike in the accumulation of capital and in the matter of the useful as distinguished from the ornamental arts and industries.
The seas which wash the shore of England have from Roman times been a highway of the advanced or advancing nations; and the British Isles, through their Church, the alliances matrimonial and other of their sovereigns, and still more through the entanglements caused during a long period by their possessions on the continent of [159/160] Europe, have been mixed up in the affairs, and have shared the growing knowledge, and have been exposed to the keen competition, of foreign nations. Those nations, too, were various. Frenchman, and Spaniard, and Italian, Dutchman, German, and Scandinavian were all well known to us, our rivals or our allies by sea or by land. The sea prevented their landing troops on our coast, but it did not prevent our landing troops on theirs, while in more peaceful ways we were in constant contact.
But omitting Corea, which has in the last two thousand five hundred years been three times invaded by Japan, and has never been sufficiently vigorous for any reprisal, there was absolutely no nation, except the Chinese, with any civilization at all within a month's sail of Japan; and China, unless we account the Tartar Kublai Khan as a Chinaman, has never been aggressive by sea.
Hence, Japan has hardly needed till the present generation to give any thought to dangers from abroad. Even in knowledge and art and religion nothing has come to Japan till A.D. 1853, except during the short period from 1549 to about 1620, which it did not invite. There was no country but China from which Japan could invite anything, and when anything did thus reach the islands there was ample leisure and opportunity for working it out along the lines of the national genius, but no need to work it out unless they were themselves disposed to do so. This leisure, this self-contained condition, and this total absence of foreign competition, are elements in the development of a clever nation which have gone to make the Japanese what they are found in the present generation: in some ways better, in some ways worse, but in almost all ways different from other nations. Industrious, yet not strenuous; a nation of artists, yet not reaching after large or high artistic ideals; remarkably obedient [160/161] to law and authority, yet ready for every change; the pupils of the most stolid and immovable people of the world, yet themselves vivacious and volatile, romantic and fantastic in their ideas; they certainly offer a most interesting field for conjecture as to what they will become now that they travel in all countries, revel in every kind of new idea and invention, and enter with zest into every branch of that world-wide competition which is the most striking feature of our time.
China is left lagging behind in all but commercial business by her lively pupil, and it may well be that the pupil, which cannot quite despise her one agelong teacher, may do more than any other power, or than all put together, to take her by the hand and lead her into the path of progress, teaching those poor old joints to run once more. [The process seems to be beginning with some vigour (1906).] For the joints are very, very old; but at the time of their prime they were at least as good as any then in the world. They were in their prime rather before the time of Solon in Greece, of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, at about the latest date assigned to Gautama Buddha in India. About the same is the traditional date of the beginning of Japanese history, the date of Jimmu Tenno, the first human Emperor of Japan. The early emperors are assigned such long reigns that we may pretty safely say that the beginnings in Japan were really a few centuries later than the culmination of China. What makes the culmination of China for our purpose is the teaching of Confucius, of whom more must be said in the next chapter.