Growing Tokyo-Architecture and Statuary-The Westernization of Japan-The Story of Costumes-Women's Dress Advantages of Standardized Styles-Selection and RejectionAS YOU reach the outskirts of Tokyo you think you are coming to another little town, but the town goes on and on, and finally as the train draws near the city's heart large buildings, bulking here and there above the general two-story tile roofline, inform you in some measure of the importance of the place. In 1917 Tokyo ranked fifth among the cities of the world, with a population almost equal to Berlin's, and it seems likely that when reliable statistics for the world become available again we shall find that the population of Berlin has at most remained stationary, while that of Tokyo has grown even more rapidly than usual, owing to exceptional industrial activity and to the influx of Russian refugees, whose presence in large numbers in Japan has created a housing problem. Nor shall I be surprised to hear that Tokyo has passed Chicago in the population race, becoming third city of the world.
The central railroad station exhibits the capital's modern architectural trend. It is conveniently arranged and impressive in its magnitude as seen across the open space on which it faces, but there its merit stops. Like most large foreign-style buildings in Japan, it is architecturally an ugly thing. Standing at the gate of Japan's chief city, it has about it nothing Japanese. Its façade is grandiose and meaningless, and as one turns one's back upon it and sees other large new public structures, one is saddened by the discovery that the Japanese, skilful at adaptation though they have often shown themselves, have signally failed to adapt the requirements, methods, and materials of modern building to their old national architectural lines. One thing is certain, however: there will be no new public buildings more unsightly than those already standing. This style of architecture in Japan has touched bottom.
In twenty years or so I believe the ugliness of these modern piles will have become apparent to the Japanese. It will dawn upon them that they need not go to Europe and America for architectural themes, but to the castle of Nagoya, the watchtowers above the moat of the Imperial Palace, the palace gates, and the temples and pagodas everywhere.
When this time comes the Japanese will also realize how very bad are most of the bronze statues of statesmen and military leaders throughout the world, and how particularly bad are their own adventures in this field of art.
Until I saw Tokyo I was under the impression that the world's worst bronzes were to be found in the region of the Mall in Central Park, New York; but there is in Tokyo a statue of a statesman in a frock coat, with a silk hat in his hand, which surpasses any other awfulness in bronze that I have ever seen.
Looking at such things one marvels that they can be created and tolerated in a land which has produced and still produces so much minute loveliness in pottery, ivory, and wood. How can these people, who still know flowing silken draperies, endure to see their heroes cast in Prince Albert coats and pantaloons? And how can they adopt the European style of statuary, when in so many places they have but to look at the roadside to see an ancient monument consisting of a single gigantic stone with unhewn edges and a flat face embellished only with an inscription-simple, dignified, impressive.
All nations, however, have their periods of innovation-worship, and if Japan has sometimes erred in her selections, her excuse is a good one. She did not take up Western ways because she wanted to. She wished to remain a hermit nation. She asked of the world nothing more than that it leave her alone. She even fired on foreign ships to drive them from her shores-which, far from accomplishing her purpose, only cost her a bombardment. Then, in 1853, came our Commodore Perry and, as we now politely phrase it, "knocked at Japan's door." To the Japanese this "knocking" backed by a fleet of "big black ships," had a loud and ominous sound.
The more astute of their statesmen saw that the summons was not to be ignored. Japan must become a part of the world, and if she would save herself from the world's rapacity she must quickly learn to play the world's game. Fourteen years after Perry's visit the Shogunate, which for seven centuries had suppressed the Imperial family, and itself ruled the land, fell, and the late Emperor, now known as Meiji Tenno-meaning "Emperor of Enlightenment "-came from his former capital in the lovely old city of Kyoto, the Boston of Japan, and took up the reins of government in Yedo-later renamed Tokyo, or "Eastern Capital "-occupying the former Shogun's palace which is the Imperial residence to day.
The Meiji Era will doubtless go down as the greatest of all eras in Japanese history, and as one of the greatest eras in the history of any nation. To Viscount Kaneko, who is in charge of the work of preparing the official record of the reign for publication, President Roosevelt wrote his opinion of what such a book should be.
"No other emperor in history," he declared, "saw his people pass through as extraordinary a transformation, and the account of the Emperor's part in this transformation, of his own life, of the public lives of his great statesmen who were his servants and of the people over whom he ruled, would be a work that would be a model for all time."
Under the Emperor Meiji, Japan made breathless haste to westernize herself, for she was determined to save herself from falling under foreign domination. Small wonder, then, if in her haste she snatched blindly at any innovation from abroad. Small wonder if she sometimes snatched the wrong thing. Small wonder if she sometimes does it to this day. For she is still a nation in a state of flux; you seem to feel her changing under your very feet.
But because Japan has accepted a thing it does not mean that she has accepted it for ever. In great affairs and small, her history illustrates this fact. A case in point is the story of European dress.
More than thirty years ago, when the craze for everything foreign was at its height, when the whole fabric of social life in the upper world was in process of radical change, European dress became fashionable not only for men but for women. When great ladies had worn it for a time their humbler sisters took it up, and one might have thought that the national costume, which is so charming, was destined entirely to disappear.
Men attached to government offices, banks, and institutions tending to the European style in the construction and equipment of their buildings, had some excuse for the change, since the fine silks of Japan do not wear so well as tough woollen fabrics, and the loose sleeves tend to catch on door-knobs and other projections not to be found in the Japanese style of building.
But in Japan more than in any other country, "woman's place is in the home," and just as the Japanese costume is not well suited to the European style of building, so the European costume is not well suited to the Japanese house and its customs. For in the Japanese house instead of sitting on a chair one squats upon a cushion, and corsets, stockings and tight skirts were not designed to squat in. Equally important, clogs and shoes are left outside the door of the Japanese house in winter and summer, and as in the winter the house is often very cold, having no cellar and only small braziers, called hibachi, to give warmth, the covering afforded the feet by the skirts of a Japanese costume is very comforting. Moreover, the Japanese themselves declare that European dress is not becoming to their women, being neither suited to their figures nor to the little pigeon-toed shuffle which is so fetching beneath the skirts of a kimono.
What was the result of all this?
The men who found foreign dress useful continued to wear it for business, although those who could afford to do so kept a Japanese wardrobe as well. But the women, to whom European dress was only an encumbrance, discarded it completely, so that to-day no sight is rarer in Japan than that of a Japanese woman dressed in other than the native costume.
If a Japanese lady be cursed with atrocious taste, there is practically no way to find it out, no matter how much money she may spend on personal adornment. The worst that she may do is to carry her clothes less prettily than other women of her class. The lines she cannot change. The fabrics are prescribed. The colours are restricted in accordance with her age. Her dress, like almost every other detail of her daily life, is regulated by a rigid code. If she be middleaged and fat she cannot make herself absurd by dressing as a débutante. If she be thin she cannot wear an evening gown cut down in back to show a spinal column like a string of wooden beads. Nor can she spend a fortune upon earrings, bracelets, necklaces. She may have some pretty ornamental combs for her black lacquer hair, a bar pin for her obi, a watch, and perhaps, if she be very much Americanized, a ring and a mesh bag. A hairdresser she must have, both to accomplish that amazing and effective coif she wears, and to tell her all the latest gossip (for in Japan, as elsewhere, the hairdresser is famed as a medium for the transmission of spicy items which ought not to be transmitted); but her pocketbook is free from the assaults of milliners; hats she has none; only a draped hood when the cold weather comes.
The feminine costume is regulated by three things: first, by the age of the wearer; second, by the season; third, by the requirements of the occasion. The brightest colours are worn by children; the best kimonos of children of prosperous families are of silk in brilliant flowered patterns. Their pendant sleeves are very long. Young unmarried women also wear bright colours and sleeves a yard in length. But the young wife, though not denied the use of colour, uses it more sparingly and in shades relatively subdued; and the pocket-like pendants of her sleeves are but half the length of those of her younger unmarried sister. The older she grows the shorter the sleeve pendants become, and the darker and plainer grows her dress.
In hot weather a kimono of light silk, often white with a coloured pattern, is worn by well-dressed women. Beneath this there will be another light kimono which is considered underwear-though other underwear is worn beneath it. Japanese underwear is not at all like ours, but one notices that many gentlemen in the national costume adopt the Occidental flannel undershirt, wearing it beneath their silks when the weather is cold-a fact revealed by a glimpse of the useful but unlovely garment rising up into the V-shaped opening formed by the collar of the kimono where it folds over at the throat.
As with us, the temperature is not the thing that marks the time for changing from the attire of one season to that of another. Summer arrives on June first, whatever the weather may be. On that date the Tokyo policeman blossoms out in white trousers and a white cap, and on June fifteenth he confirms the arrival of summer by changing his blue coat for a white one. So with ladies of fashion. Their summer is from June first to September thirtieth; their autumn from October first to November thirtieth; their winter from December first to March thirty-first; their spring from April first to May thirty-first. In spring the brightest colours are worn. Those for autumn and winter are generally more subdued.
Young ladies wear brilliant kimonos for ceremonial dress, but ceremonial dress for married women consists of three kimonos, the outer one of black, though those beneath, revealed only where they show a V-shaped margin at the neck, may be of lighter coloured silk. On the exterior kimono the family crest-some emblem generally circular in form, such as a conventionalized flower or leaf design, about an inch in diameter-appears five times in white: on the breast at either side, on the back of either sleeve at a point near the elbow, and at the centre of the back, between the shoulderblades. Because of these crests the goods from which the kimono is made have to be dyed to order, the crests being blocked out in wax on the original white silk so that the dye fails to penetrate. Even the under-kimonos of fashionable ladies will have crests made in this way.
With the kimono a Japanese lady always wears a neck-piece called an eri (pronounced "airy"), a long straight band revealed in a narrow V-shaped margin inside the neck of the inner kimono. The eri varies in colour, material, and design according to the wearer's age, the occasion and the season, and it may be remarked that embroidered or stencilled eri in bright colourings make attractive souvenirs to be brought home as gifts to ladies, who can wear them as belts or as bands for summer hats.
If the weather be cold the haori, an interlined silk coat hanging to the knees or a little below, is worn over the kimono. This is black, with crests, or of some solid colour, not too gay. A young lady's haori is sometimes made of flowered silk. Men also wear the haori, but the man's haori is always black; and while a man will wear a crested haori on the most formal occasions, a woman en grande tenue will avoid wearing hers whenever possible for the reason that it conceals all but a tiny portion of the article of raiment which is her chief pride: namely the sash or obi.
The best obi of a fashionable woman consists of a strip of heavy brocaded or hand-embroidered silk, folded lengthwise and sewn at the edges making a stiff double band about thirteen inches wide and three and one third yards long. This is wrapped twice around the waist and tied in a large flat knot in back, the mode of tying varying in accordance with the age of the wearer, and differing somewhat in divers localities. The average cost of a fine new obi is, I believe, about two hundred dollars, and I have heard of obi costing as much as a thousand dollars. Some of the less expensive ones are very pretty also, and many a poor woman will have as her chief treasure an obi worth forty or fifty dollars which she will wear only on great occasions, with her best silk kimono.
A Tokyo lady notable for the invariable loveliness of her costumes gives me the following information in response to an inquiry as to the cost of dressing.
"As our style never changes," she writes, "we don't have to buy new dresses every season, as our American sisters do. When a girl marries, her parents supply her, according to their means, with complete costumes for all seasons. Sometimes these sets will include several hundred kimonos, and they may cost anywhere from two thousand to twenty thousand yen. [A yen is about equal to half a dollar.]
"So if a girl is well fitted out she need not spend a great deal on dress after her marriage. A couple of hundred yen may represent her whole year's outlay for dress, though of course if she is rich and cares a great deal for dress, she may spend several thousand.
"Our fashions vary only in colour and such figures as may be displayed in the goods. Therefore they are not nearly so 'busy' as your fashions. And we can always rip a kimono to pieces, dye it, and make it over."
Some other items I get from this lady: When a Japanese girl is married it is customary for the bride's family to present obi to the ladies of the groom's family. For a funeral the entire costume including the obi, is black, save for the white crests. Ladies of the family of the deceased wear white silk kimonos without crests, and white silk obi. The Japanese ladies' costume, put on to the best advantage, is not so comfortable as it looks. It is fitted as tight as possible over the chest, to give a flat appearance, and is also bound tight at the waist to hold it in position. The obi, moreover, is very stiff, and to look well must also be tight.
The more select geisha are said to attain the greatest perfection of style; which probably means merely that, being professional entertainers whose sole business it is to please men, they make more of a study of dress, and spend more time before their mirrors than other women do.
The speed with which women reverted to the lovely kimono after their brief experiment with foreign fashions, may have been due in part to a lurking fear in Japanese male minds that along with the costume their women might adopt pernicious foreign ways, becoming aggressive and intractable, like American women who, according to the Japanese idea, are spoiled by their men- precisely as, according to our idea, Japanese men are spoiled by their women.
But whatever the reasons, the fact remains that the Japanese revealed good practical judgment. They kept what they needed and discarded the rest. It is their avowed purpose to follow this rule in all situations involving the acceptance or rejection of western innovations, their object being to preserve the national customs wherever these do not conflict with the requirements of the hideous urge we are pleased to term "modern progress." This is a good rule to follow, and if we but knew the story of the period when Chinese civilization was brought to Japan, nearly fourteen centuries ago, we might perhaps find interesting parallels between the two eras of change.