CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTORY-THE POINT OF VIEWOUR neighbours on the west, separated from us by the widest ocean, are separated from us also most completely by race, environment, and history. It becomes an axiom, repeated by travellers and enforced by scholars, that the Occidental cannot understand the Oriental. How, then, shall we of the extreme West understand the farthest East? The current phrase in Japan has it that the longer one is there the less does he know of the land and the people, the old resident confessing ignorance and leaving confident judgments to the newcomer. The confession may be the modest expression of the scholar who with growing knowledge is increasingly aware that he is master of only a fraction of his subject, or more likely it is the outcome of indolence and impatience, an indolence which, finding first impressions wrong, is unwilling to take the pains necessary to master the data for a mature and correct opinion, and the impatience which arises from disappointment as the charm of the beginning yields to the disillusionment of a prolonged residence. Thus is created a belief that an inherent unlikeness in psychology differentiates European from Asiatic.
The axiom is supported by wide experience, the differences in judgment being extraordinary, and seemingly permanent. Japan, for example, is the delight of tourists; its art, its customs, its scenery, its people have a charm to which all but the exceptionally unresponsive traveller yield. When after its long seclusion it was once more accessible it was like the apparition of another world. Even now, when so much is changed, the novelty remains, and besides, the very transformation affects us like a fairy tale. The novelty, and mystery, and romance are the joy of the traveller, and he has no wish that the fairy tale be translated into the language of every day, nor that Japan be shown to be only a portion of our prosaic and commonplace world.
When, however, he decides to dwell in Japan his point of view changes. The picturesque ceases to fascinate, the novelty wears off, the climate is enervating and productive of discomfort and disease; the beauty of mountain and plain no longer so appeal to him as he thinks them the product of a ceaseless seismic activity (the more one knows of earthquakes the less one likes them); the politeness appears superficial and insincere, and business relations leave everything to be desired. He prefers China, where one can trust the merchants, or almost any land east or west. He lives, in the foreign settlements, in an atmosphere charged with hostility to the "natives," and the longer he remains the less can he sympathise with the enthusiasm of travellers. He thinks them mere visitors at an elaborate play, while he lives behind the scenes.
Of course the difference is in the point of view. Japan is strikingly unlike the West, and this constitutes its charm to the tourist and its offence to the resident. Its standards of life differ from our own as does its scenery from that of our American plains, and the differences in etiquette, in ethics, in business methods, in religion, and in general in views of life, cause clashes which are unpleasant and may be disastrous. Hence, if one would hear the most unflattering account of the Japanese, he should listen to residents of long standing who may be supposed to speak with authority.
Nor is public opinion among foreign residents much influenced by the convictions of a few who have gone over completely to the Japanese ways of life, and use, with the zeal of proselytes, their views of the superiority of Japanese art, morality, women, and religion to disparage the civilisation they have renounced. To the average resident such men live in a dreamland of their own, and not in the real Japan of broken contracts, trials, constant disappointments, endless postponements, and general disillusionment. The few in their turn retort that they only penetrate the heart of things, and that if the majority does not agree the fact is immaterial, and merely shows an inability to see and an incapacity to understand.
A fourth opinion is possible, when Japan is no longer judged by its possibilities for furnishing new sensations, nor by our standards and its capacity to minister to our gain and needs, nor as an Oriental paradise where artistic and poetic fancies are realised, but as a part of our common humanity; or better, when it is not judged at all, but is studied that it may be understood. Such a purpose can be formed only as we surrender our axiom, for if the West cannot understand the East that is the end of it; but at least the axiom can be accepted only when it is proved, and we may better begin with the more ancient phrase that nothing human is foreign to us.
There was a time when Japan was enveloped in mystery and when ignorance was pardonable. For a decade and more after the "open ports" were thronged with foreigners, and the Powers had their representatives diplomatic and consular, and the missionary societies were numerously represented, all - merchants, diplomatists, and missionaries-were dealing with unknown quantities. Naturally grotesque blunders and serious errors were made, the Japanese understanding us as little as we understood them. But a generation has passed and the puzzles have been solved. The language is known in all its forms, in its literary development and in its relation to its cognates; the literature has been read, the philosophy studied, and the history investigated; the religion in its various forms is understood, the art has been sympathetically appreciated and assigned its place; the social organisation, the political formation, the multitudinous facts bearing upon the life of the people have been set forth, discussed, tested, and, more or less, submitted to the methods of modern science. Moreover, men of intelligence have lived for years in intimate association with representative members of all classes of society and have reported their observations. As a result, Japan is known to those who would study it as it has never been known to its own people in the past. It would seem then an affected humility to profess that the West cannot understand the East, for in all these results there is nothing inscrutable, nothing even mysterious, nothing to lead us to conclude that the Japanese are other than men of like passions with ourselves but formed in a different environment and educated in a different atmosphere.
From this point of view indeed one may hesitate to express confident opinions about "the Japanese," for the people are no longer seen en masse, and among individuals there are differences as among ourselves. We are often asked, "Do you like the Japanese ?" and the answer can be only,"Yes and no. Some we like and some we dislike.""Are they trustworthy?""Yes and
no. As with other folk, some we trust and some
we doubt.""Are they true friends?""Again,
yes and no. As everywhere, we have many acquaintances and a few true friends." Who can answer such questions in truthful generalisations?
How we differ in our judgments of Americans or Englishmen, and how insufficient in all cases are our data as we attempt on the basis of our narrow experience to describe the characteristics of a
Of course no foreigner sees a people as they see themselves. He remains on the outside after all and carries a double standard. Let him be as sympathetic as he will, still he is not full participator in it all, but remains to some extent a spectator, his centre of reality not quite coincident with theirs, so that an element of illusion remains. Possibly this is less of a disturbing element in our judgment of the Japanese , since they for a generation have sought foreign criticism and judge their own performances by their reflection in foreign minds.
Common opinion seems to have decided certain points, and a brief reference should be made to them. It is agreed that the Chinese excel in commercial honesty, and that the Japanese excel in patriotism and in soldierly qualities. The difference is incontestable and the reason is not far to seek. China has been for milleninums a peace-loving, commercial nation, and it has developed a corresponding ethical and social code. Japan up to our own days has been feudal, disdaining trade, with the loyalty, sense of honour, and morality of mediaeval Europe, of communities everywhere in which war is normal and the soldier chief in position and repute. Would we judge the Japanese we should look at them through the eyes of a Scottish clansman of two hundred years ago. The feudal constitution has passed away, but not the habits and the morals which were associated with it, so much more easy is it to change the outward form than the inner life. So our merchants praise the Chinese and our soldiers admire the Japanese. Again, all agree that the relations between the sexes do not conform to high ideals, that is, to our ideals. Neither Confucianism nor Buddhism did for woman what Christianity has accomplished for her, nor does there appear in the Japanese a strain of blood like the German or the Hebrew. The whole development has been profoundly different, so that to find a parallel we must go quite outside our historic line and turn, say, to ancient Greece. Then we shall have a truer standard and our judgment will be, if no less severe, yet more in accordance with all the facts.
The conflict with Russia has brought Japan into the centre of Occidental attention. In our superficial way we have classed Asiatics together, and we have assumed our own superiority. It has seemed a fact, proved by centuries of inter. course and generations of conquest, that the East lacks the power of organisation, of attention to details, and of mastery over complicated machinery. Japan upsets our deduction by showing its equality in these matters, and, on the final appeal, by putting itself into the first rank of nations. For the time, the judgment of tourists and merchants seems at fault, and we ask the explanation of the phenomenon. Here is a people, undoubtedly Asiatic, which shows that it can master the science and the methods of the West. Can it be that we are less able to understand them, and to set forth the reason why they have proved themselves our equals in fields we had thought exclusively our own?
Of this we are assured, we can see them as they are only as we know the sources of their life, their history, the ideals which have ruled them, and the discipline which has trained them. In a study of European nations we can take these things for granted, as they are of our race, with the same traditions, social order, religion, and, in part, literature. Our differences are superficial, so that we can begin at once with the conditions and expression of ordinary life. But in Japan all is different, and we must go deeper if we would understand the things we see. We must learn the formative influences of the past, glancing at the history, traditions, social organisation, ethical codes, and religious spirit which constitute so largely man's experience. With this knowledge of the people we shall understand them as we mingle with them in the intercourse of every day; without it we shall simply add further proof to the misleading statement that the West can never understand the Fast.
Let us begin then with a review of the traditions and the history, although thus we repeat a more than thrice-told tale.