CHAPTER IV. RACE AND NATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS
IT is related of Napoleon that when the vexed question of his pedigree was once discussed, he cut the Gordian knot in his characteristic way by the naïve and pregnant affirmation, "Je suis moi-même un ancetre." To an egoist or the nouveau riche, this reply may be all-sufficient; to a race already possessed of a tall ancestral tree, the question of whence they came and how they came to be where they are, is a natural intellectual pursuit, replete with practical consequences, and when the cult of that race happens to consist largely in the veneration of its forebears, a knowledge of genealogy will free them from the charge of worshipping the "unknown gods."
In my last lecture, I hinted that among Asiatic peoples we are the youngest. We used to boast of a history of twenty-seven centuries, but it seems more probable that it is to be shortened to the space of twenty. This brings the birth of our nation to the time of the beginning of the Christian era, but even for four or five centuries after this, our history can hardly be called strictly authentic.
When documents so accurately compiled as that of the Hebrews, claiming moreover divine inspiration, are still constantly being improved and reconstructed, we may well expect no slight alterations in the rendering of our chronicles from the hand of future investigators.
Whatever the exact dates in the early records of Japan, this much is certain-that compared with Korea, China, or India, we are a young nation, and stand to these hoary peoples, as far as age is concerned, as did the Germanic folk to the Romans, or, more aptly, to the Phœnicians and Egyptians, and are thus the heir of all the ages of Asiatic tradition.
When our forefathers lived by the hunt or by crude agriculture-which can scarcely be called agriculture in the modern sense, being what Hahn calls Hackbau (hoe culture) as against Ackerbau,- without letters, without cities, the Koreans and the Chinese were in the enjoyment of a high civilisation. It is possible, as we have seen, that some adventurous spirits among these peoples braved the sea that separated Japan from their home. Aided by a favourable wind, a bark can cross these waters without much difficulty. Indeed, Japan is geographically quite accessible from many quarters. An intrusion-not in great hordes but in single files as it were-from the north is not impossible either from the Asiatic continent by way of Kamtchatka and Saghalien or from America by the stepping-stones of the Aleutian and Kurile Islands. The same is true of a passage from the South Sea Islands, there being an almost continuous stretch of archipelagoes.
A group of islands under a genial sky and with enchant ng scenery may well have allured races from the torrid south or from the frigid north, or from places of corresponding latitude on the continent, whence extremes of cold and heat or whence misgovernment or overpopulation might have driven the inhabitants.
The Chinese had from of old a pretty legend of three mountainous islands in the eastern sea, where the dwellers quaff the elixir of life and enjoy immortal bliss. It was in search of this place, Horai Mountain, as it was called, that a Chinese Emperor, Shi-Houang, sent a physician in the third century B.C. It is said that the envoy set out, taking with him three hundred youths and three hundred maidens, and, landing in Japan, was loath to return and settled permanently near Mount Fuji. Jofuku, for such was the name of the physician, did not pretend to be the discoverer of Japan, much less the founder of a new nation.
I give this legend as an instance of old-time intercourse between the continent and our islands, and as an illustration how our people may easily have come under Mongolian influence. Only there seems as yet little philological affinity established between the continental peoples and the Japanese. In this respect a relationship with the Malay races promises to be closer, though as yet no definite conclusion is reached.
But before the Malays or the Chinese reached the shore of Japan, a hairy race of Northern blood, large in numbers and known as the Ainu, seem to have held the entire country in possession.
Were the Ainu, then, the original inhabitants of the Japanese islands? According to their own tradition, when they came they found a people settled there, a description of whom suggests a race akin to the Lapps. Tradition and archæological remains are responsible for the hypothesis that the autochthons of our land were this pigmy race, fair of skin, gentle in spirit, and nocturnal in habits. It is said that they never made their appearance in the day-time. They were known as Korupounguri-Korupo being the name of a plant, the Nadosmia Japonica, and Unguri, like Ungarn (Hungary) meaning a man-so called because, according to their legend, they lived under the large, round leaves of this plant. They were superseded by the hirsute Ainu, but whence these came we do not know; though this much is certain, that they were once in possession of the whole of the islands, as is shown by the geographical names they left behind them. In the course of time the Ainu themselves were gradually driven northward, and only a handful of them, amounting to about eighteen thousand, still live in the northern island of Hokkaido (Yezo). As they are now found, they have not yet emerged from the Stone Age, possessing no art beyond a primitive form of horticulture, being ignorant even of the rudest pottery. Their fate resembles that of your American Indians, though they are much more docile in character. Who drove away these Ainu, is a question not clearly answered; but it is probable that tribes allied to the Koreans crossed the Sea of Japan and, being much more advanced in civilisation, made themselves masters of Ainu territory. There is some ground to believe that it is the traditions of Korean tribes which largely formed the beginnings of our chronicles. The headquarters of the early Korean colonists were in the province of Idzumo, which faces Korea across the sea, and where still linger the oldest historical legends; but these people, whoever they might have been, did not multiply and replenish the entire land, much less subdue it; for another race, stronger and more robust, seems to have occupied the southern part of Japan, where they formed a community quite independent of the Idzumo people. Were they Malays? No evidence can be drawn from legends or traditions. Indeed, there were no legends or traditions of Malay immigration; but the morphological characteristics of the occupiers of Idzumo and of Kyushu show marked divergence in the form of their skulls, the colour of the skin, and the shape of the face.
Thus the farther we trace our lineage, the more entangled grow the threads which as warp and woof went to weave our nationality. We are still on the hunt after our ancestor. With better reason than can usually be assigned for the proverbial dissensions of scholars, the latter are not yet agreed about our ancestral trunk, some of them even delighting in fantastic theories. To take a few examples;-the old Dutch scholar Kaempfer believed that the primeval Japanese were a scion of the people who built the Tower of Babel. Hyde- Clarke identifies them with Turano-Africans who have travelled eastward through Egypt, China, and Japan. Macleod took them to be one of the lost tribes of Israel. The presence of curly hair causes Siebold to believe they were related to the "Alfuros"-Melanesians and Caroline Islanders. Some years ago, a young man went to infinite pains to draw parallels between the language, customs, and institutions of the Hittites and of the Japan se-only our knowledge of the Hittites is not much greater than our knowledge of the canals in Mars. Whitney and Morton, and latterly Griffis, "do not hesitate in tracing us to a Caucasic ancestry.
In view of the fact that one's pedigree can be verified in more ways than one-anatomical, philological, religious, traditional, and what not-we may one day arrive at a solution from some most unexpected quarter.
Just here I may be allowed to make a digression which may throw some light on the race-affinity, hitherto unsuspected between Japan and Europe, whoever may have occupied the West of Europe contemporaneously with the beginnings of Japan. Excavations and documents point to the fact that the ancient method of burial in Japan was first in barrows and later in dolmens. The barrow is simply a mound of earth, such as the Chinese heap over their dead. The dolmen is an underground chamber of stone with the earth mounded over it. Now the interesting point is that no dolmen has hitherto been found in China or Korea. In fact, dolmens like those we have in Japan have thus far not been discovered in any part of Asia east of the Caspian Sea, and Western Europe alone offers exactly analogous types. Of course, similarity of this kind may be a chance coincidence and no more; but it is, nevertheless, interesting to learn that dolmens do not date from a period anterior to the third century B.C. Can it be possible, is the next question-can it be possible that the founder of our Empire, the leader of the last and the most powerful band of settlers migrating to our shores, had his home-he or his ancestors, somewhere in remote Western Europe? A caustic querist may ask,-Did the pre-historic progenitors of modern Japanese imitate the European mode of sepulture? We shall look forward with eagerness to further revelations which science may make to us.
Some years ago, when I was in Paris, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Hamy, one of the greatest craniologists o the day, who, as the result of his examination of several hundred Japanese skulls, told me that he had never found traces of a more extensive miscegenation than in the Japanese. When the fifty or sixty different nationalities that have come to the United States are more thoroughly amalgamated and make a more homogeneous race, his remark will more likely apply to America. To further elucidate his opinion, he added that "there is scarcely a race which has not contributed to make the Japanese nation, the Caucasian, the Mongolian, the Malay, and even, in the south, a slight tinge of Negrito from the islands of the Pacific."
A race so diversified in its origin must naturally present characteristics, physical and mental, that are widely divergent. Whether or not we can identify and call by their names our forefathers, one by one, the mere fact of a great mixture ought to be sufficient to explain the extremes of temperament, the wide range of selection, or what the biologists call the spontaneous variation, in one word plasticity, by virtue of which we adopt with ease foreign ideas and institutions,-all this in spite of the close homogeneity we have attained. It is not surprising that Japan has been dubbed topsy-turvydom. No less close an observer than Miss Scidmore calls it the land of paradoxes, in the same sense in which one of the latest and most careful students of American life, Mr. Muirhead, calls this country a "Land of Contrasts." I congratulate your country and mine on being paradoxical and inconsistent, for "consistency is," as Emerson says, "a hobgoblin of fools and little minds". Where man is given a field for the free play of his mind and body, what he does to-day can but be inconsistent, in a sense, with what he did yesterday and with what he will do to-morrow. It is no discredit to a nation to have some specimens very different from the type; on the contrary, it would argue a plentiful lack of wit, if a whole people were cast in a rigid mould of body and soul. The biogenetic law has been formulated that the individual organism, in its brief period of life, repeats the main stages of development through which the race has passed. Now, when a nation is not coterminous with a race-or, as the Germans have it, when the people do not form a strict Nationalstaat but only a Staatsnation-but embraces individuals of originally different races, one cannot expect much uniformity in physique or intellect. Composite phylogenesis will naturally allow a wide scope for recapitulation. Generalisation is risky; and I approach the subject of our race and national characteristics with fear lest I may not be just. Even as regards our somatic features, until a more exact measure of the average man, L'homme moyen of the statisticians, is established, we shall have to content ourselves with a more or less indefinite type.
Suppose we could obtain an average for the present generation, so unstable are human types -as Boas, Bolk, and other ethnographers have demonstrated,-that a few generations hence will show a marked difference in Japanese anatomy. From the extensive mixture and the large dynamic possibilities of anatomical qualities, it has long been, and probably still is, no easy task to assign a definite place to the Japanese in the general scheme of ethnic classification. We used to be dumped into the heap of linguistic non-conformity, under the name Turanian. A German ethnographer divides mankind into day-folk and night-folk, and finding us not conformable to the requirements for admittance to either, prepares a special seat in the gallery of the twilight folk (Dämerungsmenschen). The Japanese, as they are, according to the carefully compiled table of Professor Amos W. Butler, belong to what he calls the Sibiric branch of the Asiatic race, and with the Koreans constitute the Japanic stock, quite apart from the Chinese, Mongolic, and the Tartaric. Perhaps this classification is the most concise.
The most obvious morphological traits which first strike one in a foreigner are stature and pigmentation. We are a small race-five feet two inches being the general average height for men and five feet for women. Although this is the average, there are many men who outmeasure six feet. In the case of wrestlers, a height of six feet is not considered exceptional. I may remark in this connection that the average in the north is decidedly higher than that in the south. As stature is not a statical character of a race, its increase is being constantly retarded or accelerated, and though eugenics is not yet a fashion with us, there is shown a decided tendency towards increase of stature in the case of the growing generation, especially among girls. Without doubt, this is due to gymnastic exercises in the school, and to the fact that the use of chairs and benches during school-hours permits fuller development of the limbs than does our national custom of sitting with the leg folded back from the knee.
The limbs, both upper and lower, are small and delicately shaped. The legs are proportionately shorter in comparison with the length of the torso -a feature certainly not beautiful. Then, too, they are generally more or less bowed, perhaps from the posture in sitting, or, can it be possible that it is a characteristic inherited from one of our ancestors, the Mongolians, of whom Dr. Hehn says that their legs became bent from constant riding on the steppes of Central Asia!
The arms, too, are comparatively short, and in spite of the fact that the most beautiful Buddhist statues have arms reaching to the knee, we speak rather disparagingly of long arms, meaning thereby a propensity to violate the eighth commandment. In this scant proportion of trunk and limbs as well as in brachycephaly, Havelock Ellis notes an approach to the infantile condition of the human species. Lest the more sensitive of my compatriots feel insulted by so belittling a statement as this, let it be added for their consolation that the negroes and Australian savages are farthest removed from this infantile structure. If the hand, like the arm, is also small, the fingers are comparatively long and very often tapering. The delicacy of our hand explains the dexterity of our workmanship, a dexterity no doubt enhanced by the constant use of the brush in writing and of chopsticks in eating.
The pigmentation of the skin is typically light brown with a tinge of yellow, with variations from skins as fair as that of any Caucasian to those as dark as a red Indian. If the skin shows variation of hue, the hair is almost invariably black, and the chemical knowledge of our girls does not include the beautifying value of peroxide of hydrogen. I may remark in passing that our albino looks like an ultra type of your blonde. Our hair is straight, though quite often wavy, albeit curls are not enjoyed by the possessor. If frizzly hair is not abhorred, it is for the same reason that nobody is afraid of a snake in Ireland. Should nature play a prank on Japanese girls by covering the head with a woolly texture, I am afraid it would swell the army of female suicides. The beard and moustache of the men are as a rule not heavy. The race as a whole is the reverse of hirsute. Occasionally one meets with people who are remarkable for their hairiness, and this quality is ascribed to Ainu blood.
The head is relatively large, a fact that is attributed by some, though I am not prepared to admit the statement, to the large consumption of fish. The shape of the head is brachiocephalic, though dolicocephalic specimens are not at all rare. The eyes, as a rule black, though frequently light brown, are usually smaller than those of Europeans, and the smallness is made more conspicuous by puffy eyelids and veiled corners. The obliquity given to our eyes by artists, especially in popular colour prints, is decidedly exaggerated. A curious belief prevails among us that straight eyes and eyebrows, and, worse still, those that droop at the corners, are signs of weak character.
The nasal index is of medium degree. Greek or Roman noses are not infrequently met with, nor is the Jewish type unfamiliar. Especially among the lower classes do we find very flat and broad noses. As for the mouth and the lips, there is no one type that requires particular mention. The teeth are more often than not well-formed and sound, for which one may thank plain living, which foregoes excessive indulgence in sweets, ice-cream, and beefsteak. The cheekbones have a decided tendency to be prominent, more conspicuously so among the peasantry.
There are two facial types, the long and the round, or the oval and the "pudding-face," as it has been termed. The aristocracy have generally the longer type of face, and this is believed by good authorities attributable to Korean blood; whereas the "pudding-face" may have been inherited from the Malays or the Ainu.
As regards our standard of beauty, naturally it is not in every respect uniform with the Greek or the Egyptian, or with the canons of the Renaissance; but only in a very few points are the different canons at direct variance; that is to say, what we deem beautiful will never be positively ugly to you and vice versa.
A woman, to be considered beautiful by us, need not be tall. Height may be divinely imposing, but not essential to human beauty. With us, about five feet would be considered the most desirable height, but if one must err, it is advisable to err by exceeding rather than by falling short of the mark. The figure should be slender without being bony, the waist long and the hips narrow. To secure grace, the body should be held slightly forward, not boldly erect. A very important feature is the neck, which should be long, white, slender, and gracefully curved. The hair should of course, be abundant, long, and perfectly straight, and while no deviation from black is tolerated, it should not be just black, but should be so glossy that it seems blue-black. The face should be oval and long, with a straight nose, which should also be high and narrow. As for the eyes, opinions are divided, one school of connoisseurs demanding that they should be large with a double line of the lid, while another school prefers that the eyes should be long and narrow and slightly slanting upwards at the outer corner. The colour of the eye should always be clear and deep brown; the lashes thick, long, and curved; the eyebrows black and distinct, their line long, and well arched; the mouth small; lips thin, curved, and red; teeth small, regular, and white. The ears must be evenly curved, with no angle, and in size not too small, for pinched lobes look poverty stricken. Large ears, like those of the probable inhabitants of Mars, lately described by Professor Perrier, if not exactly beautiful, are believed to be lucky. As for the shape of the forehead, there are four types. By the one termed "horned," we mean that in which the hair grows to a point in the middle of the forehead and high at the sides after the fashion called by the Germans Geheimraths- Ecke or the "Councillor's corners." Then there are the square and the round types; but the forehead most admired is high and narrow at the top, and obliquely slanting at the sides, suggesting the outline of our sacred mountain, Fuji.
As for the complexion, it should be fair, with a tint of the rose on the cheek, only, in our parlance, we would call it cherry-hued.
A figure combining all the points of the canon I have enumerated-and above all softened by eternally feminine modesty and gentleness of expression, and heightened by faultless refinement, and gracefulness of dress and manner-cannot fail to strike an alien critic as pleasant, agreeable and even charming; and as his eye gets more and more accustomed to this type of beauty, he may pronounce it quite enchanting.
It has often been remarked by foreigners that there are far more beautiful women in Japan than handsome men, the latter being a rare article.
From the general description of the physical characteristics of our race, you must have discovered, if you have not previously been aware of the fact, that the Japanese are by no means a beautiful race. To me, an ardent admirer of Greek civilisation, it has ever been a thorn in the flesh, because I have always believed that our people will in the future achieve the welding of two types of civilisation, as did the Hellenes in times past. When I expressed this, my disappointment, in the hearing of Dr. Rein, the well-known German geographer, he remarked;-
"I have travelled around the world and studied different peoples, and I will tell you of two great disappointments. One was in Spain, where the people are unusually handsome, but where I found them so incongruously inferior intellectually. The other experience was in Japan, where in secluded mountain districts and among peasants living an almost primitive life, and extremely unattractive in their appearance, I found surprising signs of intelligence; so setting intelligence over against homeliness, I think you may be comforted."
I flatter myself that the observations of such experienced travellers as Dr. Rein and Professor Hart, are more favorable than the judgment of a young Frenchman of twenty years, who concluded an account of his tour in Japan with this sweeping assertion-"Le Japonnais n'est pas intelligent." I know it is a flagrant breach of good form for me to say, "We are more clever than we look." Suppose for modesty's sake I reverse the proposition and say, "We look uglier than we deserve," we revert to the same idea, and I may just plainly and honestly confess that we are well aware of our own strength and weakness, and are bent upon adding, as our phraseology expresses it, "to whatever is short in us from whatever is long in others," and "to polish our gems with stones quarried in other lands."
This brings me to the subject of the mental traits of our people, and in treating of them I shall first of all give a very brief account of our language. Philologically Japanese is a forlorn and solitary orphan, that can claim no relationship, either lateral or collateral, with any other languages. Like poor little Mignon in Wilhelm Meister, its face is turned vaguely to the south (Malayasia?), yearning for the land where lemons bloom; but not a few scholars have traced the trails along which Japanese travelled from the foot of the Altai Mountains. A philological student went farther than that and tried to demonstrate the linguistic affinity between Japanese and Hittite; but in the present state of Hittite-perhaps it sounds more erudite to say Alarodian or Armenoid-researches, we may just as well identify our language with that in which the sons of God made love to the daughters of men, or even with that in which Adam wrote that wonderful diary so faithfully translated into English by Mark Twain!
Usually Japanese is put in the group of those agglutinative languages under the general name of Turanian. But among them, as I have said, it stands by itself. Still, it is not to be denied that in the course of centuries it has appropriated words and expressions from Korean and Chinese, much as the English tongue has been enriched by the free use of Norman, Latin, Greek, and what not; and just as you pronounce words of alien origin in your own way, or attach new meaning and value to them, so have we also drawn heavily upon Chinese sources for a vocabulary, pronouncing monosyllabic Chinese words as suits our orthography. Moreover, we borrowed Chinese letters, which are pictographs or ideographs, simply as signs to express the same ideas, but pronounce them entirely differently. To illustrate, take the first syllable of my own name, Ni. In writing it, we use a certain Chinese character which every Chinese will pronounce shin, but which the Japanese will read ni. Linguistically there is no relation between shin and ni, however closely they may be related in the American vocabulary! The Chinese character for man is written with two strokes (λ), and we use it in the same sense, only it is propronounced in Chinese lun, and in Japanese hito. This rather complicated relationship between Japanese and Chinese may be easily exemplified by the case of the Arabic or rather Indian numerals. All the nations of Europe and now of the world have adopted the use of figures; but each nation pronounces numbers differently. To take another illustration, the Latin abbreviation "i.e." is freely used in all European languages; but instead of pronouncing it "id est," the English read it "that is," the French "c'est-à-dire," the Germans "das heisst," &c. This last abbreviation might serve as another good illustration.
One great drawback in the use of Chinese characters is their unlimited number. A man of ordinary education must be acquainted with two or three thousand, and a dictionary in common use gives about forty to fifty thousand. There is no greater drain or strain on our school children than to learn by heart, to simply memorise, some thousands of these characters.
I must add now that the Japanese, while they make free use of Chinese ideography, have invented an alphabet of their own. It is not an alphabet in the strict sense of the term, as it does not consist of letters on the phonetic system. It is properly a syllabary, and contains forty-seven syllables (including the five vowels which are purely phonetic) called i-ro-ha from the first three characters. It was the invention of an ingenious Buddhist priest of the ninth century.
The forty-seven syllabic signs do not express all the sounds in our language, of which there are about seventy. By the use of diacritical marks, certain characters are made to represent other but allied sounds. In the synopsis of sixty-eight sounds there are a number which one greatly misses when one attempts to transcribe a European word. Entirely absent are the sounds of l, v, the English th, and the German ch. In the case of l, we force r to do its work, and as to v, its burden is borne by b; that is to say, only ears or lips accustomed to English can distinguish between lime and rime, van and ban. No very serious issues are involved in a schoolroom when a mistake is made between vile and bile, or between light and right; but the solemnity of a church service is dangerously threatened when hallowed is pronounced harrowed, or benison, venison. Far worse and unpardonable is it, of course, when the errors are carried into writing and v-a-l-e is spelt b-a-r-e; l-i-f-e, r-i-f-e; , l-a-w, r-a-w; and l-o-v-e, r-o-b-e!
With all of its deficiencies, disadvantages, and cumbersome syntax, our language can express, if sometimes somewhat awkwardly, all the ideas that the human mind anywhere has conceived or human heart has felt. We have already in our own tongue some of the works of Plato, Schopenhauer, Darwin, and Carlyle. The Bible was translated long ago, and a new version has been attempted. Of poetry, Homer is partly translated and also several plays of Shakespeare, and quite recently Faust. Classics are the common property of the world. They are masterpieces in any tongue.
Japanese classics, too, may be gradually introduced into the Western world of letters.
The same patriotism which makes us proud of our national literature, teaches us the necessity of learning foreign languages and of introducing reforms in the written and spoken vernacular. A linguistic commission has been appointed by the Government; language teaching has been improved in the schools; English has been the principal study in high schools; German is obligatory in colleges and universities; transliteration societies- whose aim is to displace the Chinese ideographs by adopting Roman script-have been preaching the need of radical reform for the sake of the next generation.
The spread of foreign languages and foreign literature is synonymous with the dissemination of European ideas. Can the Japanese long bear the weight of foreign thought? Can they really grasp Western sentiment, not only understand but enjoy it?
The rich variety of races and of tongues that have come to be our heritage, explains without further demonstration our quickness in adopting foreign ideas and institutions, and in adapting ourselves to changing conditions of life. This process of selective accommodation has been called by various names-imitation, mimicry, love of novelties, fickleness.
Hardly a book is written by an outsider without mention of Japanese imitativeness,-often quali- fied with such an adjective as blind, apish, childish, slavish. The same criticism is also expressed in another form, namely, lack of originality.
This characterization of our mental trait cannot be gainsaid. If there were only two kinds of men, the imitative and the original, the Japanese, together with the Greeks, Romans, and Normans, would certainly belong to the former. We borrowed (imitation is borrowing) Buddhism from India, Confucianism and some few other isms from China. Our much boasted arts are largely of continental origin. Our modern institutions have been learned chiefly from the West.
We take pride in our imitative faculty. When in the Charter Oath with which our Emperor opened his auspicious reign, he plainly gave out an injunction to seek knowledge all over the world, he expressed the nation's willingness to follow the Biblical command-"Prove all things and hold to that which is good."
Imitation is education, and education consists mainly in imitation. Whether it turns out to be apish mimicry or not, depends on the judicious choice of the model. Imitation is voluntary adjustment persistently followed by the use of the criterion of fitness or of utility. It is essentially a power with which one subdues all things -even one's own self. An obscure recluse named Thomas, in the small village of Kempen, made it his life-work to imitate his Master and we all know what he attained in holiness and in literature.
Moreover, is it never possible to excel one's master? What of Raphael? For whether in religions or ethics, in art or literature, though they all originally came from China and India, we have transformed them to our own taste. We have not only adopted but adapted them. Assimilation of foreign ideas is impossible unless the receptive people are prepared for them. As Monsieur Tarde enunciates in one of his laws of imitation, international, collective imitation can proceed only from within outwards, otherwise it is only apish mimicry. Thus we console ourselves in the charge of imitativeness, accepting it, first, as a sign of our plastic, mobile youth; secondly, in the hope of one day returning with interest the capital we are borrowing at present; thirdly, because we have made of it a deliberate and organized instrument of great cultural and political efficiency.
As for originality, what does it mean any way, in the face of Emerson's assertion that great genial power consists in not being original at all, but rather in being altogether receptive? If originality means inventions and discoveries, we are achieving something in these directions too. Our army is supplied with rifles of our own invention, and they have done some service; our gun-powder was invented by our compatriot, Shimosé, and it has not been altogether useless. To science, too, especially in bacteriology, we have made a few contributions and expect to make more. Grant a little time to an imitative child, and he may some day amount to something.
As for fickleness, which is closely connected with the imitative faculty-being a product of quickness of perception and alertness of action-this is a charge that can hardly be brought against a people who have lived under the same dynasty for twenty centuries. There is, however, some reason for taking as proofs of fickleness, the many experiments we have made in order to "prove all things." When Luther Burbank takes a hundred new plants, cultivates them for a season, compares and examines them, and then throws away ninety- nine ss unfit for his use, he shows intelligence, judgment, and decision, but not fickleness. No one thinks of calling a lady who is always dressed comme il faut, a fickle ape for being modish; and yet, is not fashion every inch imitation? If so, the people among whom fashion changes oftenest must be the most fickle. This may be one of the simplest reasons why Americans and Japanese are like-minded.
In seeking the best from abroad, the mental trait which has served us most has been quickness of perception, an intuitive recognition of the fit; for the Japanese imagination can sweep a wide (I dare not say a deep or lofty) range of space, and discern at a glance all that there is within its view. This is the vision of the artist, and the soul of woman.
It seems to me that there is at the bottom of Japanese character a feminine trait. In the upbringing of a child by its parents, the mother plays a larger part by far than does the father- much more so than in the West. As a child grows up, the intimacy between him and his father lessens and the relation between them assumes a respectful and polite distance. Not so with the mother. Between her and the child, intimacy never stiffens into formality; she is ever the mother. The child's soul is moulded by her influence and her spirit, and it partakes of feminine qualities, both good and bad. The undercurrent of sadness, of kindliness, of tenderness, of pity, of compassion that is moving deep down in the Japanese soul comes from the mother's bosom, but there is another undercurrent equally deep and equally strong-of jealousy, envy, revenge, and vanity, which should be traced to the same source. These two currents, flowing from the two maternal breasts, feed the Japanese soul, and it would be quite feminine if the mother, in bringing up the child, did not keep before it for admiration manly deeds and virile virtues. The child whose soul is moulded in womanly qualities, is made to admire masculine strength. The result is:-in his temperament he remains feminine, but his character grows masculine. He feels like a woman and thinks like a man; and when he acts, his action is like a woman's, when it is prompted by temperament, or is like a man's, when urged to it by the force of his character.
This will explain why sentiment obtains such a powerful dynamic inertia. Japanese heroism is more frequently actuated by sentiment than impelled by judgment and character. Where from a flash of noble emotion a hundred men may jump into fire, there will be only ten who will bear the slings and arrows of outraged fortune, and only one who will endure taunts and scorn for the sake of his principles.
In a word, the Japanese is the child of his mother, trained in the school of his father.
Modern psychology has confirmed the ancient belief that temperament is largely a matter of physiology. The great rapidity of response to external impression, and the quick transmission of nervous impulses among our people, can be explained by neurology, and will in turn explain many a so-called race trait. "The quick sympathy, the wide outlook, the rapid accomplishment," have ever been the advantages which a composite race has enjoyed over one of simpler extraction.
Susceptibility to outside influences is largely what makes the Japanese delight and excel in art; for outside influences in their surroundings cannot fail to produce in the dullest a spark of love for the beautiful. The art instinct has become the subconscious property of the race. While Europeans admire nature and love to analyse its beauty, the Japanese, in their feminine soul, feel it and enjoy it tout ensemble. To us nature is a complete whole in itself, and we make no attempt to force or even direct our mind above or beyond it. It distracts nature's child in his ecstacy to soar "from nature up to nature's God." Among Japanese poets the water-fowl is a favourite subject of inspiration, and they feel and sing much as Bryant, with the omission of the last stanza. I am not comparing Eastern and Western minds with a critical or didactic intent, but only to show how tastes-tastes and not minds-differ.
Professor Ladd, in his study of our national psychology, says that the Japanese temperament is that which Lotze has so happily called the "sentimental temperament," which characterises youth in all races, and is marked by great susceptibility to a variety of influences, with a tendency to a will, impulsive and alas! liable to collapse.
When I speak of the alertness with which our brains and nerves work, I do not say this altogether in praise of ourselves, for I am well aware of the shortcomings of a quick brain. I know its temptation to form hasty judgments, to become hypercritical, to be suspicious, to be affected by variations of temper. It is not now my purpose to justify or to criticise the race characteristics of my people. All that I attempt is candidly to present what I believe to be facts. Perhaps our alertness is most clearly evinced by this, that of all the foreign games that have been introduced into Japan, baseball has become the most popular sport. Not only are we quick to receive impressions from without, but we are also keen in observing things and events.
Before I leave the subject of our art and sensory acuity, I must make mention, however cursory, of our music. Years ago, a German musician of note made an interesting remark that island life is not conducive to voice or music. Whether it is upon the geographical location or upon a racial trait that we should lay the blame for the stunted growth of our music, I am in no position to say definitely. It is the branch of art which has developed least in the East. It has been cultivated assiduously by the Court for ceremony, by religion for rite, by the aristocracy for festivity, and by the populace for amusement. In the Court and the Shinto shrine, music is from the very nature of its object, open to little change, and they are, in a peculiar sense, its conservatory. But in the case of the aristocracy and more especially in the sphere of the popular ballads, dances, and recitals, one might have expected more progress. As a matter of fact, Japanese music was confined to a few stringed instruments and flutes and drums of all kinds-most of them of ancient Chinese origin. The typical Japanese instrument, invented in the seventeenth century, is the thirteen stringed koto, a sort of lyre, which is learned by every well-bred young lady; but the more plebeian and popular samisen, a banjo introduced from Manila, is a ubiquitous instrument of three strings, which produces a sound characterised by Mr. Piggott as "a mixture between a thrumming and a tinkling," to be called "thrinkling." The fiddle, originally introduced from India, fills by no means the same position that it does in Europe, neither does the biwa, a kind of guitar, which was one of the earliest instruments that came into Japan, in the tenth century, and which has been the mother of several other instruments.
As far as the varieties of musical instruments are concerned, our people had-say in the fifteenth, or perhaps as late as the eighteenth century- an assortment very nearly as great as that of the Europeans. I wonder-and this is only a crude surmise of mine-whether the legal measure which made the teaching of music a monopoly, together with a few other social and economic advantages, of the blind (a piece of protective legislation for this unfortunate class), did not in the end have a disastrous effect on the progress of music, excluding, as it did, the possibility of writing music. Whenever acquired talent cannot be committed to writing, however partially and poorly, it is practically lost to future generations, and growth is arrested.
As to music proper, I confess my utter ignorance on the subject. All I can do is to repeat from the opinions of experts that our scale consists of only five notes of the harmonic minor scale, the fourth and seventh being wanting. What lends an outlandish character to our music is the introduction of a semi-tone above the tonic. Moreover, there is very little harmony. The whole effect of our music is, therefore, not at all pleasing to foreign ears, and the Japanese themselves are far from professing themselves a musical people.
Has the Japanese then no music in himself? Is he not "moved with concord of sweet sounds?" Is he not, then, "fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils," and are "the motions of his spirit dull as night and his affections dark as Erebus"?
Whatever may be implied in this famous aphorism, the Oriental moralists from Confucius down have always insisted upon "the concord of sweet sounds" as subsidiary and subservient to the music in one's own self, the harmony of all one's thoughts and emotions with the rhythmic beat of the heart. If harmony, in the narrower technical sense, was but meagrely developed in our music, harmony of sounds on a large scale was not passed unnoticed. The frogs that croak in the pool, the birds warbling among the swaying boughs, the insects humming in the dewy grass, the zephyr blowing through groves of pine, never failed to catch a listening ear, and were translated into articulate songs.
Our poetical composition proper, the uta, consists of only thirty-one syllables. Our long poem is an alternating repetition of long and short lines -seven and five syllables each, or sometimes reversed in the order of five and seven. There is even a shorter form of versification, called haiku, consisting of but seventeen syllables. If the uta proper savours of aristocratic refinement, the haiku is the more plebeian and popular form of poetic expression. Both usually take for their theme the simplest natural object and only hint at the emotions stirred by it.
These pithy, short lines suggest more thought than they express. They leave so much unsaid. The Japanese do not accept the definition usually credited to Talleyrand but previously used by Goldsmith, who himself derived it from Dr. Young, that "speech is a means of concealing thought"; but I admit that they do not wholly comply with the usual English definition that it "is a means of expressing thought"; for among us the highest use of speech is to evoke thought. Ars est celare artem-"True art is to conceal art": to which one ought to add-"and explicitly or implicitly to reveal truth." In our drama, for instance, a Hamlet would not take the trouble to make a long soliloquy, but would let his audience have a glimpse of his soul struggle by a few suggestive phrases.
A suspicion may have arisen in your mind that speech and language may not have developed sufficiently among us to express deepest thoughts and emotions. I have already stated that some of the greatest works in European languages have been translated into our tongue.
Yet, I admit, though with reluctance, that our thought-world-our word-world-suffers from paucity of great ideas. I have said in a former lecture that our leading ideas are importations- Buddhism from India, Confucianism from China. So it is with literature and philosophy. I do not think that we are of the stuff of which great meta- physicians and philosophers are made. Our minds are too practical and terrestrial. As for myself- and my patriotic countrymen will not thank me for my plain speaking-I doubt very much whether we shall make any notable contributions to world- literature in the next generation or two; but in the domain, the ever widening domain, of scientific researches and attainments, we may stand on equal terms with the most advanced peoples of the world.
As he is his mother's son, though disciplined by his father, so is the Japanese an Oriental, fortified in sentiment with the conviction of an Occidental. Poetry lurks within him to burst forth when feeling is stirred; but prose controls his daily round of care. He attends to the menial chores of the shrines sacred to the Muses. Have you seen those quiescent volcanoes that abound in the land, with fire hidden in their bosom; the peasants tilling the terraces and the very crater itself, to raise kitchen vegetables? How unbecoming and incongruous! If in a museum of folk-psychology, the different races were arranged in two opposing groups, of which one is theoretical, religious, emotional, communistic, and the other practical, scientific, intellectual, individual, and if the two groups were respectively labelled Eastern and Western, the Japanese should be classed with the latter, perhaps on the same shelf with the Italians and Austrians.
I believe that our plasticity is such that we can understand the West as we do the East, and can sympathise with both. Emotionally and traditionally allied to the latter, by intelligence and conviction we belong to the former. Now and then we hear of anti-foreign feelings; but if their sight and sound deceive me not, they are simply a phase of contra-imitation, which always accompanies social transformation.
The occidentalisation of Japan is a process psychological and ethological, as well as social and political. And as Monsieur Tarde has pointed out, the permeation of society by foreign ideas works from the upper to the lower classes. Before community of sentiment can become general between the East and the West, the intellectual leaders must own to a common brotherhood. The light of science and of advanced ideas, as it rises above the dim horizon, will first gild the highest peaks, and only as it illumines the plains, will the toilers in the fields recognise each other face to face. If the full dawn has not yet enlightened our peasant and your labourer, it behooves us to whom the early beams of the morning have brought clearer vision, to open the way for better understanding and a closer bond.