To have lived through the transition stage of modern Japan makes a man feel preternaturally old; for here he is in modern times, with the air full of talk about bicycles and bacilli and "spheres of influence," and yet he can himself distinctly remember the Middle Ages. The dear old Samurai who first initiated the present writer into the mysteries of the Japanese language, wore a queue and two swords. This relic of feudalism now sleeps in Nirvana. His modern successor, fairly fluent in English, and dressed in a serviceable suit of dittos, might almost be a European, save for a certain obliqueness of the eyes and scantiness of beard. Old things pass away between a night and a morning. The Japanese boast that they have done in thirty or forty years what it took Europe half as many centuries to accomplish. Some even go further, and twit us Westerns with falling behind in the race. It is waste of time to go to Germany to study philosophy, said a Japanese savant recently returned from Berlin:-the lectures there are elementary, the subject is better taught at Tōkyō.
Thus does it come about that, having arrived in Japan in 1873, we ourselves feel well-nigh four hundred years old, and assume without more ado the two well-known privileges of olp age,-garrulity and an authoritative air. We are perpetually being asked questions about Japan. Here then are the answers, put into the shape of a dictionary, not of words but of things,- or shall we rather say a guide-book, less to places than to subjects?-not an encyclopædia, mind you, not the vain attempt by one man to treat exhaustively of all things, but only sketches of many things. The old and the new will be found cheek by jowl. What will not be found is padding; for padding is unpardonable in any book on Japan, where the material is so plentiful that the chief difficulty is to know what to omit.
In order to enable the reader to supply deficiencies and to form his own opinions, if haply he should be of so unusual a turn of mind as to desire so to do, we have, at the end of almost every article, indicated the names of trustworthy works bearing on the subject treated in that article. For the rest, this book explains itself. Any reader who detects errors or omissions in it will render the author an invaluable service by writing to him to point them out. As a little encouragement in this direction, we will ourselves lead the way by presuming to give each reader, especially each globe-trotting reader, a small piece of advice. We take it for granted, of course, that there are no Japanese listening, and the advice is this:-Whatever you do, don't expatiate, in the presence of Japanese of the new school, on those old, quaint, and beautiful things Japanese which rouse your most genuine admiration. Antiquated persons do doubtless exist here and there to whom Buddhist piety is precious; others may still secretly cherish the swords bequeathed to them by their knightly forefathers; quite a little coterie has taken up with art; and there are those who practise the tea ceremonies, arrange flowers according to the traditional esthetic rules, and even perform the mediæval lyric dramas. But all this is merely a backwater. Speaking generally, the educated Japanese have done with their past. They want to be somebody else and something else than what they have been and still partly are.
When Sir Edwin Arnold came to Tokyo, he was entertained at a banquet by a distinguished company including officials, journalists, and professors, in fact, representative modern Japanese of the best class. In returning thanks for this hospitality, Sir Edwin made a speech in which he lauded Japan to the skies-and lauded it justly -as the nearest earthly approach to Paradise or to Lotus-land,- so fairy-like, said he, is its scenery, so exquisite its art, so much more lovely still that almost divine sweetness of disposition, that charm of demeanour, that politeness humble without servility and elaborate without affectation, which place Japan high above all other countries in nearly all those things that make life worth living. (We do not give his exact words, but we give the general drift.)-Now, do you think that the Japanese were satisfied with this meed of praise? Not a bit of it. Out comes an article next morning in the chief paper which had been represented at the banquet,-an article acknowledging, indeed, the truth of Sir Edwin's description, but pointing out that it conveyed, not praise, but pitiless condemnation. Art forsooth, scenery, sweetness of disposition! cries this editor. Why did not Sir Edwin praise us for huge industrial enterprises, for commercial talent, for wealth, political sagacity, powerful armaments? Of course it is because he could not honestly do so. He has gauged us at our true value, and tells us in effect that we are only pretty weaklings.
Since Sir Edwin Arnold's time, doubtless, more than one war has been fought and won, and has proved to an astonished world and to the Japanese themselves that they are no weaklings, but extremely plucky, practical men. Since his time, too, Japan's sunny towns and even her green valleys have been darkened by the smoke of factory chimneys, and the flag of her merchant marine has been seen in every sea. Nevertheless, the feeling above alluded to persists, and to us it appears perfectly natural under the circumstances. For, after all, Japan must continue ever more and more to modernise herself if the basis of her new departure is to remain solid, if her swiftly growing ambition is to be gratified, and if her minister of finance is to be able to make both ends meet. Besides which, our European world of thought, of enterprise, of colossal scientific achievement, has been as much a wonder-world to the Japanese as Old Japan could ever be to us. There is this difference, however. Old Japan was to us a delicate little wonder-world of sylphs and fairies. Europe and America, with their railways, their telegraphs, their gigantic commerce, their gigantic armies and navies, their endless applied arts founded on chemistry and mathematics, were to the Japanese a wonder-world of irresistible genii and magicians. The Japanese have, it is true, evinced less appreciation of our literature. They esteem us whimsical for attaching so much importance as we do to poetry, to music, to religion, to speculative disquisitions. Our material greatness has completely dazzled them, as well it might. They know also well enough-for every Eastern nation knows it- that our Christian and humanitarian professions are really nothing but bunkum. The history of India, of Egypt, of Turkey, is no secret to them. More familiar still, because fought out at their very gates, is the great and instructive case of the West versus China,- six or seven young tigers against one old cow. The Japanese would be blind indeed, did they not see that their best security for continued safety and success lies in the determination to be strong, and in the endeavour not to be too different from the rest of mankind; for the mob of Western nations will tolerate eccentricity of appearance no more than will a mob of roughs.
Indeed, scarcely any even among those who implore the Japanese to remain as they are, refrain, as a matter of fact, from urging them to make all sorts of changes. "Japanese dress for ladies is simply perfection," we hear one of these persons cry; "only don't you think that gloves might be added with advantage? And then, too, ought not something to be done with the skirt to prevent it from opening in front, just for the sake of decency, you know?"-Says another, whose special vanity is Japanese music (there is considerable distinction about this taste, for it is a rare one)-says he-"Now please keep your music from perishing. Keep it just as it is, so curious to the archaeologist, so beautiful, for all that the jeerers may say.
There is only one small thing which I would advise you to do, and that is to harmonise it. Of course that would change its character a little. But no one would notice it, and the general effect would be improved."-Yet another, an enthusiast for faience, wishes Japanese decorative methods to be retained, but to be applied to French forms, because no cup or plate made in Japan is so perfectly round as are the products of French kilns. A fourth delights in Japanese brocade, but suggests new breadths, in order to suit making up into European dresses. A fifth wants to keep Japanese painting exactly as it is, but with the trivial addition of perspective. A sixth-but a truce to the quoting of these self-confuting absurdities. Put into plain English, they mean, "Do so-and-so, only don't do it. Walk north, and at the same time take care to proceed in a southerly direction."
Meanwhile the Japanese go their own way. Who could expect that either their social conditions or their arts should remain unaltered when all the causes which produced the Old Japan of our dreams have vanished? Feudalism has gone, isolation has gone, beliefs have been shattered, new idols have been set up, new and pressing needs have arisen. In the place of chivalry there is industrialism, in the place of a small class of aristocratic native connoisseurs there is a huge and hugely ignorant foreign public to satisfy. All the causes have changed, and yet it is expected that the effects will remain as heretofore!
No. Old Japan is dead, and the only decent thing to do with the corpse is to bury it. Then you can set up a monument over it, and, if you like, come and worship from time to time at the grave; for that would be quite "Japanesey." This unpretentious book is intended to be, as it were, the epitaph recording the many and extraordinary virtues of the deceased, -his virtues, but also his frailties. For, more careful of fact than the generality of epitaphists, we have ventured to speak out our whole mind on almost every subject, and to call things by their right names, being persuaded that true appreciation is always critical as well as kindly.
Yes, we repeat it, Old Japan is dead and gone, and Young Japan reigns in its stead, as opposed in appearance and in aims to its predecessor as history shows many a youthful prince to have been to the late king, his father. The steam-whistle, the newspaper, the voting-paper, the pillar-post at every street-corner and even in remote villages, the clerk in shop or bank or public office hastily summoned from our side to answer the ring of the telephone bell, the railway replacing the palanquin, the iron-clad replacing the war-junk,-these and a thousand other startling changes testify that Japan is transported ten thousand miles away from her former moorings. She is transported out of her patriarchal calm into the tumult of Western competition,-a competition active right along the line, in diplomacy and war, in industries, in shipping, possibly even in colonisation. Nevertheless, as Madcap Hal, when once seated on the throne, showed plainly, despite all individual difference, that the blood of prudent Henry IV. ran in his veins, so is it abundantly clear to those who have dived beneath the surface of the modern Japanese upheaval that more' of the past has been retained than has been let go. It is not merely that the revolution itself was an extremely slow growth, a gradual movement taking a century and a half to mature. It is that the national character persists intact, manifesting no change in essentials. Circumstances have deflected it into new channels, that is all. The arduous intellectual training of the Japanese gentry of former days-the committing to memory of the Confucian classics-fostered a mental habit at once docile, retentive, apt for detail. With these very same qualities their sons sit to-day at the feet of the science of the West. The devotion of the Samurai to his Daimyö and his clan was unsurpassed; for them, at any time, he would offer up his life, his all. This same loyal flame glows still at a white heat; only, the horizon having been widened by the removal of provincial barriers and the fall of petty feudal thrones, the one Emperor, the united nation have focused all its rays into a single burning-point. The Japanese of former days, even when political combination for any purpose was penal, always moved in families, in clans, in wards of townsmen, in posses of peasants, in any corporate way rather than as individuals. The boycotts, the combines, the sudden fashions and gusts of feeling before which the whole nation bends like grass, manifest exactly the same trait in a novel guise. To take a more radical characteristic, the ingrained tendency of the national mind towards the imitation of foreign models does but repeat to-day, and on an equally large scale, its exploit of twelve centuries ago. At that early period it flung itself on Chinese civilisation as it has now flung itself on ours; and in both cases alike certain reservations have been made. The old national religion, for instance, was not abolished then, neither has it been abolished now, though in both cases full latitude has been accorded by this nation of thoroughgoing latitudinarians to the alien religious and philosophical ideas.
Having absorbed all the manifestly useful elements of our culture, Young Japan's eager wish is to communicate them to her neighbours. To act as broker between West and East is her self-imposed mission. We cannot help thinking that Japan's precept and example will more rapidly leaven the Chinese lump with the leaven of Europeanism than Europe has been able to do in her own person,-and this for the simple reason that though Japan and her continental neighbours heartily despise each other, as the manner of neighbours is, they nevertheless understand each other in a way in which we can never hope to understand any of them. Europe's illusions about the Far East are truly crude. Who would dream of coupling together New-Englanders and Patagonians, simply because arbitrary custom has affixed the single name of "America" to the two widely separated regions which these two peoples inhabit? Yet persons not otherwise undiscerning continue to class, not only the Chinese, but even the Japanese, with Arabs and Persians, on the ground that all are equally "Orientals," "Asiatics," though they dwell thousands of miles apart in space, and tens of thousands of miles apart in culture. Such is the power over us of words which we have ourselves coined. Then a further step is taken:-on a basis of mere words a fantastic structure is raised of mere notions, among which the "Yellow Peril" has had most vogue of late. When a new power, or an old one in new shape, arises on soil which we have labelled "Western,"-for instance, Germany or Italy during the lifetime of men still living, the United States or Russia at an earlier date,-no one descries any special menace in such an event; it is recognised as one of the familiar processes of history. But let the word "Asia" be sounded, and at once a spectre is conjured up. In fact, we find ourselves back in that strange limbo of contradictions already noticed; for the very same folks blow hot and cold, raving about Japan's perfections at one moment, fearing her possible excesses at another.
It might be interesting to push these considerations further. But Japan herself is our theme, not Europe's fancies concerning her. We have merely alluded to these last in pursuance of our general plan, which is to indicate lines of thought for the reader himself to follow out. He will find leisure for such meditations as he speeds along in his jinrikisha, or else at some wayside resthouse among the blossom-strewn hills, while waiting for the dainty handmaiden to bring him his thimbleful of tea.