IX. THE REINCARNATIONPESSIMISTS declare that the Old Japan is no more. They hold that in her modernization she has lost her individuality and broken the thread of her historic unity. Eminent European writers have regarded the present condition of affairs in Japan as transient and impermanent, a strange freak of orientalism sooner or later doomed to disintegration. They image our mutability in the straw sandals which we change at every stage of a journey; our disregard of all permanence in the wooden houses that are daily swept away by conflagrations. To them everything Japanese lacks solidity and stability, from the constantly vibrating land in which we dwell to the philosophy of Buddhism teaching the evanescence of all things.
It is true that the imperative needs of our sudden transformation from the old to the new life have swept away many landmarks of Old Japan; yet in spite of changes, we have still been able to remain true to our former ideals; though our sandals be changed, our journey continues; though our houses be burnt, our cities remain; and the earthquake but shows the virility of the mighty fish that upholds our island empire.
It should be remembered that in Eastern philosophy the poetry of things is more real and vital than mere facts and events. Buddhism, which taught the transitory nature of the mundane, never for a moment ceased to teach the immutability of the soul. Since the earliest dawn of history our national patriotism and devotion to the Mikado show a consistent tenacity of ancient ideals, while the fact that we have preserved the arts and customs of ancient China and India long after they have become lost in the lands of their birth is sufficient testimony to our reverence for traditions. Our conservatism is well typified by the Shinto temple of Ise, where the Sun-goddess, founder of our imperial line, is forever worshiped. That holiest shrine of our ancestrism remains to-day as perfect in its pristine beauty as it was twenty centuries ago, being rebuilt every twenty years on an alternate site in its exact original form.
The world may, perhaps, laugh at our love of monotony, but can never accuse us of a lack of constancy. Our individuality has been preserved from submersion beneath the mighty tide of Western ideas by the same national characteristics which ever enabled us to remain true to ourselves in spite of repeated influxes of foreign thought. From time immemorial the civilizations of China and India have silted over Korea and the adjacent coasts of Japan. The Tang dynasty flooded us with its pantheism and harmonism, while under the Sung dynasty new elements of romanticism and individualism were carried to our shores. From the dualistic theories of the Hinayana to the ultramonistic doctrines of Bodhidharma, India has dowered us with a wealth of religion and philosophy. Different and conflicting as were these various schools of thought, Japan has welcomed them all and assimilated whatever ministered to her mental needs, incorporating the gift as an integral part of her thoughtinheritance. The hearth of our ancient ideals was ever guarded by a careful eclecticism, while the broad fields of our national life, enriched by the fertile deposits of each successive inundation, burst forth into fresher verdure. The expenditure of thought involved in synthesizing the different elements of Asiatic culture has given to Japanese philosophy and art a freedom and virility unknown to India and China. It is thus due to past training that we are able to comprehend and appreciate more easily than our neighbors those elements of Western civilization which it is desirable that we should acquire. Accustomed to accept the new without sacrificing the old, our adoption of Western methods has not so greatly affected the national life as is generally supposed. The same eclecticism which had chosen Buddha as the spiritual and Confucius as the moral guide, hailed modern science as the beacon of material progress. Our efforts to master certain phases of Western development have resulted in an increase of industrial activity and the introduction of scientific sanitation and surgery, while our methods of communication and transportation have been greatly improved and the ordinary comforts of life are much more universally enjoyed than ever before. Development along such lines, however, has but little effect on our national character beyond acting as a stimulus for further efforts.
Again, the adoption of Western political and social customs has not necessitated so great a change on our part as might at first seem apparent. Our past experience taught us to choose in Western institutions only what was consistent with our Eastern nature. It must be remembered that in spite of the seeming demarcation of the East and the West, all human development is fundamentally the same, and that in the vast range of Asiatic history there can be found almost every variety of social usage. We have already alluded to that ancient Confucian state which suggested democracy to the Unionists. The five grades of nobility from duke to baron were known in the Chow dynasty three thousand years ago. Slavery was abolished by the Hang dynasty during the first century of the Christian era. Socialistic theories concerning the equal distribution of property and government management of agricultural products, were carried into actual practice during the Hang and Sung dynasties. Modern German idealism was anticipated in India many ages ago, while Christianity has many parallelisms in Buddhism. The modern European tendency toward the demarcation of the church from the state, as well as the civil- service examination system, has existed in China since early days. It was on account of these and many other points of resemblance between Western and Asiatic civilizations that Japan was able to borrow much from Europe and America without violating her sense of tradition.
One who looks beneath the surface of things can see, in spite of her modern garb, that the heart of Old Japan is still beating strongly. Our Civil Code, which embodies the spirit of Western law, incorporates to a great extent the customs and usages of our past. Our Constitution, though it may seem similar to many Western constitutions, is founded on our ancient system of government, and even finds its prototype in the days of the gods. The Japanese Renaissance, which began in the eighteenth century, has never stayed its course. Armed with more systematic methods, our scholars still pursue their research into ancient art and literature. The Historical Bureau of Tokio University has already collected an immense quantity of material for the reconstruction of our annals. The Imperial Archæological Commission has, in the last fifteen years, ransacked the monasteries throughout the whole extent of the empire, and confuted many of the traditions of the Tokugawa critics. Rare Chinese books are eagerly sought after, an extremely valuable collection being recently acquired from the imperial archives of Peking. An interest in Sanskrit literature has also arisen, and the Max Müller library has been recently purchased and brought to Tokio, while Buddhism and Confucianism are studied with even greater zest than they were at the outset of the Restoration. Old customs and ceremonies are being revived, and a knowledge of our ancient etiquette forms as much a part of a gentleman's training as ever it did, the tendency of democracy being only to make it more universal than before. The tea-ceremony and flower-arrangement have again become common features in the life of our ladies. Classic music and drama are widely studied even by people of European education. It may not, perhaps, be generally known that the ancient ceremonial functions of the court are kept up to-day without any alteration in form. As a notable instance of this, we may call attention to the fact that the declaration of war with Russia was announced to the Sun-goddess by a distinguished envoy from the Mikado, and a special guard was detailed for service at the shrine in Ise during the continuance of hostilities.
As Hakuraku discerned the real horse, so may he who perceives the real spirit of things see in current events the reincarnation of Old Japan. In the thoroughness and minutiæ of our preparations for war, he will recognize the same hands whose untiring patience gave its exquisite finish to our lacquer. In the tender care bestowed upon our stricken adversary of the battle-field will be found the ancient courtesy of the. samurai, who knew "the sadness of things" and looked to his enemy's wound before his own. The ardor that leads our sailors into daring enterprises is inspired by the Neo-Confucian doctrine which teaches that to know is to do. The calmness with which our people have met the exigencies of a national crisis is a heritage from those disciples of Buddha who in the silence of the monastery meditated on change.
All that is vital and representative in our contemporary art and literature is the revivified expression of the national school, not imitation of European models. The brilliant creations of our leading novelists, Koda-Rohan and the late Ozaki-Koyo, are based on a revival of the style of the seventeenth century. The name of the lamented Danjuro, one of the greatest actors that the world has ever seen, is inseparably connected with our historical drama. The well-known ceramists, Takemoto-Hayata, Makuzu- Kozan, and Seifu-Yohei, may be considered as wonderful as the old Chinese masters whose secrets they have discovered. Natsuo, Zesshin, Hogai, and Gaho illustriously prove that the spirit of our ancient art still lives. We do not mean to say that the study of European art and literature is in any way injurious or even undesirable, but that so far its results can in no way compare with the achievements of the native school.
It is a matter of no small wonder that our national art should have survived amid the adverse surroundings in which it found itself. The philistine nature of industrialism and the restlessness of material progress are inimical to Eastern art. The machinery of competition imposes the monotony of fashion instead of the variety of life. The cheap is worshiped in place of the beautiful, while the rush and struggle of modern existence give no opportunity for the leisure required for the crystallization of ideals. Patronage is no longer even the sign of individual bad taste. Music is criticized through the eye, a picture through the ear.
The possibility that Japanese art may become a thing of the past is a matter of sympathetic concern to the esthetic community of the West. It should be known that our art is suffering not merely from the purely utilitarian trend of modern life, but also from an inroad of Western ideas. The demand of the Western market for dubious art goods, together with the constant criticism of our standard of taste, has told upon our individuality. Our difficulty lies in the fact that Japanese art stands alone in the world, without immediate possibility of any accession or reinforcement from kindred ideals or technique. We no longer have the benefit of a living art in China to excite our rivalry and urge us on to fresh endeavors. On the other hand, the unfortunately contemptuous attitude which the average Westerner assumes toward everything connected with Oriental civilization tends to destroy our self-confidence in regard to our canons of art. Those European and American connoisseurs who appreciate our efforts may not realize that the West, as a whole, is constantly preaching the superiority of its own culture and art to those of the East. Japan stands alone against all the world. It is but natural that the weak-spirited among us follow the trend of worldopinion and desert the ranks of conservative upholders of our national school. The delight of some of our gilded youths in the latest cut of a London tailor or the last novelty from Paris is one of the pathetic indications of an attempted protective coloring against the universal condemnation of Eastern customs.
Japanese art has done wonders in remaining true to itself in spite of the odds it has had to face. We trust and hope that the tenacious vitality which it has evinced, in spite of the overwhelming occidentalism of the last four decades, will keep Japanese art intact in the future. Every accession to our national self-confidence is a strong incentive to the preservation of national ideals. A great reaction toward native customs and art has been manifested since our victory over China ten years ago. We hope that our success over a stronger adversary than China will give us a still deeper self-confidence. We shall be ready more than ever to learn and assimilate what the West has to offer, but we must remember that our claim to respect lies in remaining faithful to our own ideals.