WHEN I go to Japan I talk to many Japanese from many walks of life.
A sojourn in Japan before I went to Siberia and a stay of some weeks in Tokyo on my re-turn journey filled my ears with arguments from the Japanese standpoint on the question of whether or not Japan should send her troops to Harbin, to Vladivostok, along the Trans-Siberian Railway as far west as Irkutsk, or even farther to the westward.
As all the world has discussed what England, France, and America think of such action by Japan, and the effect on the mind and temper of the Russian that would be the immediate result of a Japanese army on Siberian soil, the opinions and ideas of the Japanese themselves should not be left out of consideration.
I went to Siberia with the full knowledge that the Russians in the Pri-Amur country held very decided views about Japan. The Japanese were unpopular in the Russian Far East.
I discovered the extent of the feeling, its causes and how it has been fostered.
When I returned to Japan I was an advocate of Japanese troops, under certain circumstances, being sent to Harbin.
I lost no opportunity to get the right perspective in Tokyo. I left Yokohama for Van-couver with the confirmed belief that before the smart little soldiers of Japan’s army were landed in Vladivostok or placed in the towns along the Trans-Siberian Railway the situation must be so serious that such action was recognised as inevitable. Conditions in Russia must needs first be well-nigh hopeless.
Of that, however, more anon. First, what did my friends in Japan think of all these things?
To begin with, my friends in Japan, with rare exceptions, were somewhat less interested in the war than you might think.
Japan went into the war without any rush of fine, high enthusiasm. The man in the street in Japan knew little about the whole business. The Government did it all. All Japan knew that the country had gone into the war out of loyalty to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. But Japan was a long way from the fighting in Europe, and the fighting in the Orient, the fighting with which the Japanese had to do,was of little consequence, after all, and was soon over.
Japanese editors, of whom I know many, always reminded me of the restricted extent to which Japan had pledged her help. “Our war zone, it must be remembered,” they would say, “is bounded on the west by the Indian Ocean. Read the terms of the Alliance and you will see that. Further to the west the British Government does not want us to go. We have always been told that our part in this war is to guard the Orient. We have done that. The sending of some of our fleet to the Mediterranean was an exception, and naturally was discussed as such by Japan. On all sides was criticism of the Government for taking such a stepevery one wanted to know what reward Japan would get.”
Sooner or later it comes to that in Japan, I’m afraid.
“What will we get out of it?” That question is at the back of all the arguments about the war. And naturally so, perhaps, in Japan.
This is a war, we say, for democracy. Japan is not a democracy. Count Terauchi, the able Premier of Japan, said not long ago that democracy is one of the greatest dangers of the age. Terauchi, whom I admire sincerely and who has proved himself to be a strong man indeed during the past year and a half, is no democrat. He might be an even stronger man if he was a democrat, but he could not, then, be Premier of Japan.
Thus, if Japan is not a democracy and wants none of democracy, so far as its own Government is concerned, why should the Japanese not look carefully into the possible gain that may come to them before they take a further step toward war-real war, fighting and bloodshed and casualty and loss?
“We took Kiao-chow from the Germans, and our fleet not only convoyed the Australian troop-ships, but kept the Pacific clean of Ger-man raiders. Germany’s islands in the Southern Seas, too, we occupied,” said Mr. Tsushima to me one day. Mr. Tsushima is the editor of the Tokyo Nichi Nichi, which I have heard called the Daily Mail of Japan.
“You see, Japan has been doing everything in her power, seen and unseen, to assist the Allies,” he continued. “Yet the Japanese are called selfish by many of you, because Japan has made a great economic advancement.”
I confess I had called the Japanese selfish. They may have no monopoly of that virtue, but they are selfish. I had told Mr. Tsushima, further, that I thought Japan too indifferent to the warthat Japan did not pay the sort of serious attention to the war she should do.
“What would you have Japan dot” queried Mr. Tsushima. “Are the Western Allies in a round-about way urging Japan to mobilise her soldiers and send them to Europe?”
I admitted I could not say that. Pichon in France had long wanted the army of Japan on the Western Front, but few supporters of such a policy stood with him.
“Only a small section of Japanese favoured M. Pichon’s proposal,” continued Mr. Tsushima. “No general interest was aroused in Japan by it, but it always crops up when there is a reverse for the Entente in the war situation. I think no Japanese statesmen of common sense have considered the matter seriously. If the Entente armies reach a point where they really require reënforcement by the Japanese army, Japan may not shirk her duty, but be-fore the Allies request Japan’s mobilisation let them review the reasons why Japan joined in the war, and what material assistance she has rendered. Then let them make up their minds as to what Japan will gain.”
He had reached the moot point at last. Most of them come to it, in Japan, if you give them time.
One of the most astute of Japan’s political leaders became very frank with me after dinner one evening. We were discussing the steel embargo. America was stopping the shipment of steel to Japan and Japan was very much upset in consequence.
I held that Japan was not pulling her fair share of the war-load. She could well release much of her shipping to assist the Atlantic freight fleets. She could, without entailing actual hardship in Japan, send ships where bottoms were badly needed by the Allies, where the shortage of ships was the most vital point of weakness in the Allies’ armour.
My Japanese friend commenced his argument in reply with the keynoteWhat would Japan gain? He asked me to put myself in the place of the average Japanesethe man of average intelligence. This is how he thought I would then view the proposal that Japan should make further sacrifice in the war: The Japanese are not a popular race. If they are to believe what they hear and what they read, Canadians, Americans of the Pacific Coast, Australians, and the English and Americans in the Far East in short, those of the English-speaking races with whom they are in a sense neighbours and with whom they sometimes come in touch, are not imbued with love for the Japanese. Quite the contrary. Russians do not love the Japanese.
When the war ends, all agree that a great commercial struggle will commence in the Orient. A combination of interests may or may not be made between nations, but who will look after the interests of Japan l Who beside herself? Will friendly hands be stretched out to her to assist her industrially and commercially? Never. If combinations are made, they will not include Japan. She will have to fight alone. She is less powerful financially than her big competitors, too. She has less wealth, less industrial capacity as yet, less commercial ability. She is a baby in business with few years of experience of organised business effort or combined commercial action behind her.
What is her wisest course? To keep her ships and foster her growing industries l To increase as best she may and while she may her growing hold on the commerce of China, taking ad-vantage of the absence of her competitors from many a field in which she has none too much time to gain great advantage before they return to fight her with better weapons and undeniable inherent advantages of more than one kind? Or should Japan give freely her help to the Allies, reduce her shipping fleets, hamper her export trade, cut down the raw material that is coming in to feed her mills and factories? For what? To beat Germany? Then what? What of the aftermath? Will her sacrifice be rewarded? How?
Do you catch the drift? Do you see the point of view from the Japanese side? I did. I not only saw it then, but I kept rubbing shoulders with it all the time I was in Japan. The Oriental is not usually so outspoken as my friend the political leader. He camouflages. But he is no more inscrutable than are many Western men. When he has an idea in the back of his head, a fundamental idea that sticks there and on which his theories are based and his house of argument and reasoning is built, it can be found, usually, if one gets under the surface.
The same thing applied with relation to talk about sending Japanese soldiers away from Japan to fight for the Allied Cause. Japan has had a habit of getting some quid pro quo when she fights. Her war with China in 1894 found her too young and weak to insist on the benefits she craved. In 1900 she lost nothing in the Peace Negotiations that followed the Boxer Trouble in China. In 1904, when she defeated Russia, her ambitions were clipped somewhat by watchful Powers. Still, Japan has been gaining, gaining gradually. Formosa, Korea, the railway zone in Manchuria, and now Kiaochow (not to mention other parts of China where she is gaining gradually, too), have fallen under her protecting mantle.
There is another small prospective gain that comes to mind in these days of tortured, disintegrated, groaning Russia. Before the Great War, Manchuria, that province of China in which China has so little authority, was under a sort of dual protection. At the end of the Russo-Japanese war the Russians administered the Chinese Eastern Railway zone from Harbin south to Chang-chun. There Japanese administration commenced, and ran down the railway to Mukden, then south to Port Arthur and Dairen, as well as eastward to Antung, on the road to Korea. The Japanese had worked hard to make the district along the railway productive. From Mukden north to Chang-chun the soya bean was being grown in increasing quantities. On to the north, from Chang-chun to Harbin, lay the most fertile lands of all. Not only along the railway but beside the River Sungari was untouched, virgin soil that Russian supervision bade fair to leave untouched for all time. So Japan began negotiations with Russia to ex-tend her sphere of influence to Harbin, and take over the administration of the railway zone from Harbin south. The rights of navigation on the upper reaches of the Sungari; hitherto exclusively Russian, were also to go to Japan.
I was in Tokyo in 1916 when Viscount Mo-tono, now Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Terauchi Government, came back from his position as Ambassador to Petrograd to take his new folio. Before he left Russia he had tried a diplomatic fall with his friends there. He had won out. The bit of railway south of Harbin was to go to Japan. It was settled. Just when the change was to be made I could not discover. After the war, surely, but possibly be-fore. I imagined that the chaotic state of affairs in Russia toward the end of 1917 would shelve all such deals indefinitely, but not long ago in Peking, Baron Hayashi, Japan’s able Minister to China, told me he hoped the final steps would shortly be taken whereby the transfer would be consummated.
Russian maladministration in Manchuria will bear one sure result. Wherever Japan may send her soldiers before the war is done, whatever reward she may expect or gain for the part she plays, her coveted line to Harbin will be hers inevitably and irrevocably. That will put her soldiers in Harbin, as railway guards, in such numbers as she deems necessary.
En passant, it won’t be such a bad thing for the Manchurian farmer, after all. He will benefit all along that strip of railway from Harbin to Chang-chun, just as his brother agriculturalist has benefited further south. The Japanese farmer cannot compete with him. He is one of the best intensive farmers going, is the Manchurian. He can do more work and live more cheaply than any Japanese immigrant who may be induced to brave the rigours of the Manchurian climate. Few Japanese will come, and those who come will either drift back to the towns or go away. The Manchurian farmer is safe. It’s disappointing in some ways, to some Japanese, but it can’t be helped. The overflow population of Japan, if it finds it has to move out to make room for more overflow population some day, will not come to Manchuria not in sufficient numbers to cut much figure.
While on the subject of the way Japan looks upon rewards for effort, I frequently discussed the question of the future of Tsing-tau.
The rights Germany enjoyed in Shan-tung and her towns of Tsing-tau and Kiao-chow were appropriated by the Japanese when they defeated the Boche in China in 1914. Japan made a sort of an agreement to evacuate Tsing-tau and go home one day, but the document is open to many an interpretation and the man who hopes to live until Shan-tang is free of Japanese control is planning a longevity which would be as extraordinary as the evacuation itself.
Not long ago I probed into this subject with a Japanese gentleman of sufficiently high official standing so that I was placed under a promise not to give his name. He said that the declaration of war by China against Germany and the cancellation of all the treaties and agreements with Germany left China and Japan free to discuss the disposition of the rights Ger-many had enjoyed in Shan-tung until Japan took them over.
After Japan had taken possession of Tsingtau and ousted the Germans, she made a treaty with China in which she agreed to take the question up with Germany at the Peace Conference which would follow the Great War, and subsequently tell China all about it. That is not the phraseology used, but a study of the documents brings one to that sort of feeling. China’s declaration of war against Germany, then, according to my official Japanese friend, rendered that Chino-Japanese agreement null and void. “What is going to happen?” I asked.
“We will make an altogether new treaty with China about Shan-tung,” was the reply. “Will Japan leave Shan-tung?”
“I think not,” he said frankly.
I knew, and he knew that I knew. So why not be frank?