Some Reflections on New York Hospitality-And on the Hospitality of Japan-Letters of Introduction-Bowing- How Japanese Politeness is Sometimes Misunderstood- Entertaining Foreigners-Showing the Country at its Best- What is the Mysterious "Truth" About Japan?-Japanese versus Chinese-Leadership in the Far East-Will Japan Become a Moral Leader?-A "First-Class Power"-The New "Long Pants"-How to Treat Japan-The Wisdom of Roosevelt and Root.
A Vigorous and sustained display of hospitality must always be astonishing to one who calls New York his home; for New York is without doubt the most inhospitable city in the world. In the jaded hotel-clerk, the bored boxoffice man, and the fish-eyed head waiter, the spirit or its welcome is personified.
There is no dissimulation. The stranger is as welcome in New York as he feels. If there be a hotel room, a theatre seat, or a restaurant table disengaged, he may have it, at a price. If all are occupied he may, so far as New York cares, step outside and, with due regard to the season and the traffic regulations, die of sunstroke or perish in a snowdrift-whereupon his case comes automatically under the supervision of the Street-Cleaning Department-and whatever else that Department may leave lying around the New York streets, it does not leave them littered with defunct strangers. Space in our city is too valuable.
The visitor arriving in New York with a letter of introduction to some gentleman who is important, or who believes he is, may expect a few minutes' talk with the gentleman in his office, and may regard it as a delicate attention if his host refrains from fidgeting.
Should the stranger have some information which the New Yorker desires to possess, he may find himself invited out to lunch. They will lunch at a club in the top of a down-town skyscraper. Or if the letter of introduction has a social flavour, the outlander will presently receive by mail, at his hotel, a guest's card to a club up-town.
Let him make bold to visit this club and he will find there no one to speak to save a doorman and some waiters. The doorman will tell him coldly where to check his hat and coat. He will see a few members in the club, but will not know them, nor will they desire to know him. All New Yorkers know more people than they want to, anyway. The stranger with a guest's card to a New York club is as comfortable there as a cat in a cathedral.
In the West it is different.
And again it is different in Japan.
Those who go well introduced to Japan meet there an experience such as is hardly to be encountered in any other land. Japanese courtesy and hospitality are fairly stupefying to the average Anglo- Saxon. The Occidental mind is staggered by the mere externals.
You see two Japanese meet-two gentlemen, two ladies, or a lady and a gentleman. They face each other at fairly close range. Then, as though at some signal unperceived by the foreigner, they bow deeply from the waist, their heads passing with so small a space between that one half expects them to bump. Three times in succession they bow in this way, simultaneously, their hands slipping up and down their thighs, in front, like pistons attached to the walking-beam of a side-wheeler.
In conjunction with this profound and protracted bowing, especially when the bowers are Japanese of the old school, or are unaccustomed to associate with foreigners, the bystander will oftentimes hear a sibilant sound made by the drawing in of air through the lips. According to the Japanese idea, such sounds denote appreciation as of some delicious spiritual flavour. This ancient form of politeness is, however, being discarded by sophisticated young Japan for the reason that foreigners find it peculiar; and the practice of audibly sucking in food as an expression of gustatory ecstasy is also going out of fashion for the same reason. The old ways are, nevertheless, held to by many an aristocrat of middle age, or older.
The American, accustomed to regard hissing as a sign of disapproval, and noisy eating as ill-bred, is naturally startled on first encountering these manifestations. Japanese bowing, when directed at him, he finds disconcerting. He may wish to be as polite as the politest, but he has in his repertory nothing adequate to offer in return for such an obeisance.
In this country we have never taken to bowing as practised in some other lands. Our men look askance at Latin males when they lift their hats to one another in salutation, and it may be observed that some of us tend to slight the lifting of the hat a little bit even when saluting ladies, clutching furtively at the brim and perhaps loosening the hat upon the head, then hastily jamming it back in place.
The fact is that very few American men have polished manners. We rebel at anything resembling courtliness. It makes us feel "silly." The dancingschool bow we were compelled to practise in the days of our otherwise happy youth was a nightmare to us, and now in our maturity we have a sense of doing something utterly inane when, at a formal dinner party, it devolves upon us to present an arm to a lady, as if to assure her of protection through the perils of the voyage from drawing room to table. We much prefer to amble helter-skelter to the dining room.
In these matters, then, as in so many others, we find ourselves at the opposite pole from the Japanese; and though Americans of the class willing to appreciate merits of kinds they themselves do not possess feel nothing but admiration for Japanese courtesy in its perfection, it sometimes happens, lamentably enough, that others, less intelligent, going to the Orient, utterly misread the meaning of Japanese politeness, mistaking it for servility, which it most emphatically is not. Far from being servile it is a proud politeness-a politeness grounded upon custom, sensitiveness of nature, delicacy of feeling, which cause the possessor to expect in others a like sensitiveness and delicacy and to make him wish to outdo them in tact and consideration.
Nor does the failure of certain Americans to appreciate Japanese courtesy and hospitality for what it is, stop here. Our yellow press and organized Japanese-haters, aware that the higher hospitality of Japan has oftentimes an official or semi-official character, are not satisfied to seek a simple explanation for the fact, but prefer to discern in it something artful and sinister.
It is perfectly true that the stranger going to Japan with good letters of introduction meets a group composed almost entirely of government officials, big business men, and their families. It is also true that he is likely to meet a selected group of such men. The reason for this is simple. While English is the second language taught in Japanese schools, and while many Japanese can speak some broken English, there are still relatively few men, and still fewer women, who have been educated abroad and are sufficiently familiar with foreign languages, customs, and ideas to feel easy when entertaining foreigners. This class is, moreover, still further limited by the financial burden of extensive entertaining.
Thus it happens that there exists in Japan a social group which may be likened to a loosely organized entertainment committee, with the result that most Americans who are entertained in that, country meet, broadly speaking, the same set of people.
The Japanese are entirely frank in their desire to interest the world in Japan. The Government maintains a bureau for the purpose of encouraging tourists to visit the country and making travel easy for them. The great Japanese steamship companies, the Toyo Kisen Kaisha and Nippon Yusen Kaisha, are energetic in seeking passenger business. Journalists, authors, men of affairs and others likely to have influence at home, are especially encouraged to visit Japan. The feeling of the Japanese is that there exists in the United States a prejudice against them, and that the best way to overcome this is to show Japan to Americans and let them form their own conclusions. They are proud of their country and they believe that those who become acquainted with it will think well of it.
Some Americans charge them with endeavouring to show things at their best, as if to do that were a sly sin.
The attitude of the Japanese in this matter may be likened to that of a man who owns a home in some not very accessible region, the advantages of which are doubted by his friends. Being proud of his place the owner is hospitable. He urges those he knows to come and see it.
When his guests arrive he does not begin by taking them to look at the sick cow, or the corner behind the barn where refuse is dumped, but marches them to the west verandah-the verandah with the wonderful view.
To the average person such a procedure would seem entirely normal. Yet there are critics of Japan who do not see it in that light. Their attitude might be likened to that of' someone who, when taken to the verandah to see the view, declares that the view is being shown not on its own merits, but because the host has cut the butler's throat and does not wish his guests to notice the body lying under the parlour table.
Let an American of any influence go to Japan, be cordially received there, form his impressions, and return with a good word to say for the islands and the people, and the professional Japanesehaters have their answer ready. The man has been victimized by "propaganda." He has been flattered by social attentions, fuddled with food and drink, reduced to a state of idiocy, and in that state "personally conducted" through Japan in a manner so crafty as to prevent his stumbling upon the "Truth."
The precise nature of this "Truth" is never revealed. It is merely indicated as some vague awfulness behind a curtain carefully kept drawn.
Having so often heard these rumours I went to Japan in a supicious frame of mind. Arriving there, I made it my business to dive behind whatever looked like a veil of mystery. As the reader who has followed me thus far will be aware, I found a number of mysteries-the fascinating mysteries of an old and peculiar civilization, out of which an interesting modernism had rapidly grown.
I was considerably entertained in Japan; my sightseeing was oftentimes facilitated by Japanese friends; but the significant fact is that no one ever tried to prevent my seeing anything I wished to. And I wished to see everything, good and bad. I visited the lowest slums, a penitentiary, a poorhouse, a hospital, and some factories. I asked questions. Sometimes they were embarrassing questions-about militarism in Japan, about Shantung, about Korea and Formosa, about Manchuriaand Siberia. And though I do not expect any Japanese-hater to believe me, I wish to declare here, in justice to the Japanese, that they gave me the information I asked, even though to do so sometimes pained them.
I saw and learned things creditable to Japan and things discreditable, just as in other lands one sees and learns things in both categories. I found the Japanese neither angels nor devils. They are human beings like the rest of us, having their virtues and their defects.
I came away liking and respecting them as a people. This fact I proclaim with the full knowledge that those who do not like them will accept it, not as a sign of any merit in the Japanese, but as proof of my incompetence, or worse.
"But you have not been to China,"some of my friends say."You would like the Chinese better than the Japanese."
That may be true or it may not. I am inclined to believe that there is, on the surface, more natural sympathy and understanding between Americans and Chinamen than between Americans and Japanese. The Chinaman is more easily comprehensible to us. Also he is meek. We can talk down to him. He will do as we tell him to. He is not a contender-as the Japanese very definitely is- and is therefore easier to get along with. As an individual he has many qualities to recommend him, though neither patriotism nor cleanliness seems to be among them.
If I ever go to China I shall hope and expect not to fall into the mental grooves which lead travellers in the Orient generally to feel that if they like a Chinaman they cannot like a Japanese, and vice versa. I hereby reserve the right to like both.
China appears to be an amiable, flaccid, sleepy giant who has long allowed himself to be bullied, victimized, and robbed. Japan, on the other hand, is a small, well-knit, pugnacious individual, well able to look after himself, and profoundly engaged in doing so. Naturally the two do not get on well together, and equally naturally the impotent giant comes off the worse. One is, to that extent, sorry for him, but one can hardly respect him as one would were he to rise up and assert himself. One may, on the other hand, wish the little Japanese less ob- streperous, but one is bound to respect him for his prowess. Physically and materially he has earned for himself the undisputed leadership of the Far East. There remains, however, the question whether he is spiritually great enough to become, as well, a moral leader. In that question is bound up the future of the Orient. Some signs are hopeful, some are not. The answer is locked in the vaults of time to come.
It is not surprising that the Japanese are proud of the leadership they have already attained. Being relatively new members of the hair-pulling, hobnailed family we call the Family of Nations, and. having rapidly become important members, they are inclined to harp more than necessary upon this importance, so novel and so gratifying to them. They like to talk about it. They delight in proclaiming themselves a "first-class power." They rejoice exceedingly in their alliance with Great Britain, not because the alliance itself has any very real importance (in view of the attitude of Australia and Canada toward Japan, and of Britain's regard for American sentiment, it cannot have), but because of the flattering association. Japan likes to be seen walking with the big fellows. In this she reminds one somewhat of a youth in all the pride and self-consciousness of his first pair of "long pants."
Now there is this to be remembered about a youth in his first "long pants": he requires careful handling. If you treat him like a child, either patronizing or ignoring him, you will offend him mortally, and not impossibly drive him to some furious action in assertion of his manhood. But if, on the other hand, you are misled by his appearance of maturity, and expect of him all that you would expect of a thoroughly ripened man, then you are very likely to find yourself disappointed.
There is but one course to be pursued with a youth in this intermediate stage. He must be managed with tact, firmness, and patience. In dealing with the young, many adults fail to understand this, and in dealing with a nation in a corresponding state of evolution, other nations are as a rule even stupider than adult individuals. Britain, wisest of all the world in international affairs, has not made this mistake in her relations with Japan. The alliance is one proof of it. The visit of the Crown Prince of Japan to England in the spring of 1921, is another. Nor was the tact of Britain in this situation ever better displayed than in King George's speech, when, toasting the Imperial guest, he said:
"Because he is our friend we are not afraid for him to see our troubles. We know his sympathy is with us and that he will understand."
Would that the United States might draw the simple lesson from these two short sentences spoken by England's king. Would that we might learn to take that amiable tone. Would that Americans might understand how instantly the Japanese-yes, and all other nations-respond to such approaches.
The problem of maintaining friendly relations with this neighbour on the other side of the Pacific is not, in truth, nearly so difficult as many of our other problems. It has been rendered difficult chiefly by our own incredible bungling.
Among men a bungler is oftentimes feared and disliked exactly as if he were malevolent, and among nations the situation is the same. No nation, however strong, can afford to give offence unnecessarily to other great powers; and the United States can least of all afford to irritate needlessly those powers with which her front yard and her back yard are shared: namely, Britainand Japan. Yet we are constantly annoying these two nations without accomplishing any counterbalancing good purpose.
Britain, feeling, as we do, the tie of consanguinity, and having, moreover, a shrewd eye to her own interest, forgives us, or at least appears to. But in the case of Japan we are dealing with a very different situation. There is no blood relationship to ease the strain; nor is there always in Tokyothe calm, phlegmatic, self-interested statesmanship of London. Tokyois sometimes temperamental.
If we continue to bungle we shall ultimately gain the lasting ill-will of Japan, and if we do that we shall almost certainly find ourselves looking out of our back window not merely at a frowning Nippon, but at a coalition between Japan, Russia, and Germany-a coalition into which we ourselves, by our attitude, shall have driven Japan.
It is for us to decide whether we wish to encourage such an alliance.
With Mr. Hughesin the State Department we have, it appears, good reason to be hopeful, but Mr. Hughes has not as yet had time to accomplish much of an improvement in American-Japanese relations. If he does so he will be the first American statesman to have made headway in the matter since Roosevelt was in the White House and Elihu Rootin the State Department; for not since their time has there been evident in our dealings with Japan a definite and understanding policy. The failure of our diplomacy is all too plainly reflected in the steady diminution of the good feeling which then existed.
Though he never visited Japan, Roosevelt, with his amazing understanding of people, managed to sense the Japanese perfectly. He knew their virtues and their failings. He realized precisely the state they had attained in their evolution from mediævalism to modernity. He knew their samurai loyalty and pride, their sensitiveness, their love of courtesy.
"Speak softly and carry a big stick,"he used to say. In those words is summed up a large part of his foreign policy. He knew when to send a bearskin to the Emperor, and when to send a fleet.
Even when he sent that fleet of sixteen battleships, the visit paid was one of courtesy. And courtesy, as I have tried to show, is never, never lost upon Japan.