Japan-Her History And Progress

As for the islands themselves, they are largely of volcanic origin, and a number of smoking peaks still give evidence of the mighty convulsions which piled up these masses of masonry. Asosan mountain, on the island of Kyushu, has the largest crater in the world.

Japan is the home of the earthquake. The Japanese Year Book of 1905 is authority for the statement that Japan was visited by 17,750 earthquakes during the thirteen years ending 1887—an aver-age of more than thirteen hundred a year, or three and a half each day. It is needless to say that a large majority of these were so trivial as to be unnoticed, except by those in charge of the delicate instrument which registers them.

If the average is as great at this time, there have been more. than seventy-five since we landed, but we have not been aware of them. The severe shocks have corne at periods averaging two and a half years, and the really disastrous ones have been something like fifty years apart. The country about Tokyo is most subject to earthquakes, the last severe one being in 1894. According to an ancient legend, Japan rests upon the back of a large fish and the earthquakes are caused by the moving of the fish. There is a Seismological society in Japan which has published a sixteen-volume work giving all that is scientifically known of the cause and recurrence of these disturbances.

Of the origin of the Japanese themselves nothing certain is known. The best authorities say that they came from the continent in an early Mongol invasion, while others believe that they came from the islands which stretch to the south. One writer announces the theory that they are the lost Israelites. It is quite certain that when the first Japanese landed on the islands they found an earlier race in possession. Some seventeen thousand of these, called Ainus, now occupy the northern extremity of the empire—an indication that the migration was from the southwest. The Ainus have remained distinct; where they, have intermarried with the Japanese, the half breeds have died out in the second or third generation. They are a hairy race and in physical characteristics quite different from the Japanese. Their religion is a sort of nature worship, and it is their custom to say a simple grace before eating.

The remoteness of the settlement of Japan is shown by the fact that the reigning family, which claims descent from the gods, has held undisputed sway for twenty-five hundred years, although the record of the first thousand years is so dependent upon verbal tradition that the official history cannot be verified. As concubinage has been practiced from time immemorial, the heir, the oldest son, has not always been born of the empress.

Soon after the beginning of the Christian era the influence of China and Korea began to be felt in Japan, the written characters of the language being quite like the Chinese. Koreans and Japanese do not agree as to the influence which the former have had upon the latter. A very intelligent Korean informs me that his is the mother country and that Japan was settled from Korea, but the Japanese do not take kindly to this theory.

The feudal system, of which I shall speak more at length in an-other article, was early established in Japan, and society was divided into well defined classes. First came the members of the royal family and those admitted to the circle by favor; next, the Shogun (of whom more will be heard under the subject of government) and his relatives.

Next in rank were the daimios, or lords, of varying degrees of importance-. Each daimio had a large number of retainers, who were called samurai, and below these were a still larger number of peas-ants who tilled the soil and did the manual labor. Some of the early pictures show the gorgeous dress of the daimios and portray the elaborate ceremony employed on state occasions.

The samurai were the warriors and had no other occupation than to defend their lords in the struggles between the clans. They corresponded to the knights in Europe during the days of chivalry, except that there were no romantic adventures over women—woman holding until recently a very subordinate place as compared with “her lord and master.”

The samurai were given an annual allowance for their subsistence, and felt that toil was far beneath their dignity. They wore lacquered armor and costly helmets and carried two swords—a long one for the enemy and a short one for themselves.

It was with this short sword that the famous hara-kiri was committed. This ancient form of suicide by disembowelment was considered au highly honorable death and has been practiced until within a generation. General Saigo, one of the great men of Japan and one of its popular heroes, was the last man of prominence to terminate his life in this way. He was one of the leaders in the movement to restore to the emperor the authority which the shoguns had usurped and was for a while close to the throne. In 1874, however, he organized an army for the invasion of Korea, and coming into conflict with the forces of the empire, which were called out to prevent the invasion, he was defeated. In his humiliation he committed hara-kiri. A few years ago the title of Marquis was conferred upon him by a posthumous decree and is now enjoyed by his eldest son. One of his sons is the present mayor of Kyoto and another a colonel in the Imperial Guard. A bronze monument of heroic size, the gift of admiring friends, has recently been placed in the principal park in Tokyo.

Only a few years ago a young Japanese committed suicide in this way in order to emphasize his protest against the encroachments of the Russians, but a strong sentiment is developing against hara-kiri, and it will soon take its place among other obsolete customs.

The samurai represented the intellectual as well as the military strength of the nation. The daimios have furnished few of the men of prominence in modern Japan, nearly all of the leaders in government, education, literature and the professions having come from the samurai class. Now, however, that all social distinctions have been removed and the schools opened to the children of all, the old lines between the classes cannot so easily be traced.

The merchant class has always been looked down upon in Japan. In the social scale the members of this class were not only lower than the samurai, but lower than the tillers of the soil. It was probably because of the contempt in which they were held that so low a standard of integrity existed among them—at least this is the explanation usually given. Even now Japanese, as well as foreigners, complain that the merchants impose upon their customers, but here also a change is taking place and a new order of things being inaugurated. There are in every city merchants of honor and responsibility who are redeeming trade from the stigma which it so long bore. Still, unless the stranger knows with whom he is dealing, it is well to have a Japanese advisor, for we found by experience that the price named to foreigners was sometimes considerably above the regular price.

For centuries Japan lived an isolated life and developed herself according to her own ideas. Of her native religion, Shintoism, of the introduction of Buddhism and of the first Christian missionaries, I shall speak in a later article. She repelled an attack of the Mongols which might have been disastrous to her but for the fact that a timely storm destroyed the invading fleet, much as the Spanish Armada was destroyed. She has from time to time attempted the invasion of Korea, the last attempt being made about three hundred years ago. A little later the Shogun, Iemitsu, alarmed by the spread of the Christian religion, introduced by Catholic missionaries from Spain and Portugal, shut the country up, and for two and a half centuries no foreigner was admitted and no citizen of Japan was permitted to go abroad.

To more surely keep his people at home the Shogun prohibited the building of any but small sailing vessels. It is almost incredible that so large a group of people could have enjoyed the civilization which existed here and still concealed themselves so completely from the outside world and remained so ignorant of the mighty movements in Europe and America. In 1853 Commodore Perry arrived with an American fleet and a treaty was finally entered into which opened the country to foreign intercourse.

Japan was ripe for the change. While there was at first an anti-foreign sentiment which affected domestic politics and at one time resulted in an attack upon a foreign fleet, the assimilation of western civilization was rapid and constant. Young men began to go abroad, foreign teachers were sent for and the Japanese people began to manifest a wonderful aptitude for the adaptation of foreign ideas to local conditions. The army and navy were reconstructed upon the European models and a public school system largely like our own was established.

In most countries reforms have come up from the masses through more or less prolonged seasons of agitation, but in Japan the higher classes have been the leaders and have extended increasing social and governmental advantages to the whole people without a struggle. In every department of thought there has been progress, and in every line of work there have been leaders whose ambitions and ideals have been high and noble.

To illustrate the change that has taken place, Count Okuma cites the case of the famous military genius, the present Marshal Yamagata. When a very young man Yamagata was a spearman in the army organized by the daimios of Choshu to attack the foreign ships at the Shimonoseki Straits. He was so ignorant of modern warfare that he was confident of the ability of the Japanese to defeat the foreigners with spears. He thought that the Europeans and Americans would be at the mercy of the natives as soon as they landed. His surprise may be imagined when leaden missiles mowed down his comrades long before the spears could be brought into use. But this young man who attempted in 1864 to measure spear against rifle, betook himself to the study of the military methods of the foreigners, and in the recent war with Russia he has been chief of the general staff of the Japanese army—an army which in equipment, in preparation, and in provision for sick and wounded, as well as in its exploits upon the battlefield, has astonished the world. Count Okuma said that the progress made in the army and in the navy was paralleled by the progress made in other directions.

While there are here abundant preparations for war, there is a prevalent desire for peace. Notwithstanding Japan has a most efficient army and navy, and notwithstanding the natural exultation over their success at arms, the Japanese as I have met them are strongly inclined toward peace. Several times in introducing me the presiding officer has referred in terms of generous appreciation to the action of our president in bringing about the recent treaty of peace. The wars against China and Russia have been regarded by the people as defensive wars and it will be remembered that the civil war of 1874 was simply a suppression by the government of an attempt to invade Korea. General Saigo raised his army for the purpose of conquering Korea, but the government met the insurrectionists with an army large enough to completely overwhelm the forces of the famous general.

The Anglo-Japanese alliance is everywhere defended as a guarantee of peace. I met yesterday a Japanese of some local prominence who has issued a plea for universal peace. He proposes the establishment of an international peace society and in earnest language sets forth the horrors of war and the material, as well as the moral, arguments in favor of peace.

Upon no element of Japanese society has the rising sun of a higher civilization shed its rays more benignantly than upon woman. The position of the mother was an honored one when she became the head of the family, but while the children cared for both parents with a generous filial devotion, the wife and daughter were under the almost absolute power of the husband and father. Marriages were arranged by the parents and the young people were allowed to see each other after the match was agreed upon. Theoretically, each had a right to protest if dissatisfied, but practically the girl’s protest amounted to nothing.

The wife was not only the servant of the husband, but might also be the servant of the mother-in-law—the mother-in-law joke being here on the daughter-in-law instead of the son-in-law. The fact that the husband was permitted to keep as many concubines as he desired still further lowered the status of woman. The daughters were often sold into prostitution to relieve the indebtedness of the father, and while this custom is on the decline, there are still thousands of Japanese girls whose virtue is made a matter of merchandise in accordance with this ancient custom. There is recorded among the decisions of Ooka, sometimes called the Japanese Solomon, who lived three centuries ago, a case in which the release of a young woman from a house of ill-fame was the central feature. The report of the judge’s decree shows a discriminating mind as well as devotion to justice. Incidentally, the record reveals the fact that there were Shylocks in those days who loaned on short time at high rates and exacted the pound of flesh. In this case, the usurer compelled the sale of the daughter in extinguishment of a debt of fifteen yen, which by rapidly accumulating interest, had reached the, to them, enormous sum of thirty-five yen (or $17.50). The righteous judge confiscated the house of the extortioner and with the proceeds redeemed the woman. By the aid of the missionaries, under the leadership of Rev. Murphy, of Nagoya, legislation has been secured making it unlawful for a girl to be retained in one of these houses against her will, and many have already been rescued. As the taking of a concubine is a matter of record it is possible for the newspapers to acquaint themselves with the domestic relations of prominent men, and some of the papers have assisted in creating a public opinion against concubines. This custom is certain to give way before the advance of western ideas.

One of the foremost leaders in the elevation of woman was Yukichi Fukuzawa, one of the greatest, as well as one of the most influential, of the men who have appeared in Japan. He was a journalist, n educator, an orator and a philosopher. He refused to accept any titles or decorations and was called “The Great Commoner.” He founded a college, the Keio-Gijuku, to which many of the public men trace their ideals and their interest in national and social problems. He delivered the first public speech made in Japan for, strange as it may seem, the habit of public speaking does not reach farther back than twenty-three years. Until constitutional government was formed there was no place for the forum. Shortly before his death, Mr. Fukuzawa reduced his philosophy to the form of a code of morals which has made a profound impression up-on the thought of his country. He presented “in-dependence and self respect,” as he defined them, as the “cardinal tenet of personal morals and living.” He insisted upon the care of the body, the training of the mind and the cultivation of the moral nature. He was one of the first to raise his voice against hara-kiri and in his code of morals he says : “To complete the natural. span of life is to discharge a duty incumbent on man. Therefore, any person who, be the cause what it may or the circumstances what they may, deprives himself by violence of his own life, must be said to be guilty of an act inexcusable and cowardly, as well as mean, and entirely opposed to the principle of independence and self respect.”

Concerning woman his code of morals says : “The custom of regarding women as the inferiors of men is a vicious relic of barbarism. Men and women of any enlightened country’ must treat and love each other on a basis of equality, so that each may develop his or her own independence and self respect.”

When this great man died in 1901 his widow was in receipt of letters from many women expressing their appreciation of his labors in behalf of the women of Japan. Some of these are reproduced in a life of Mr. Fukuzawa, recently issued, and show the deep gratitude which the women feel toward him. It is also interesting to know that Mr. Fukuzawa believed in the dignity of labor and taught that each person should be “an independent worker beside being his own bread-winner.” While he taught patriotism, he also taught that the people of all nations “are brethren” and that “no discrimination should be made in dealing with them.”

The emperor sent him, just before his death, fifty thousand yen as a recognition of his eminent services, but he immediately turned the sum over to the Keio-Gijuku.

The Jiji Shimpo, the newspaper established by Mr. Fukuzawa, is still conducted by one of his sons, with whom we had the pleasure of dining. Another son is an instructor in the Keio-Gijuku.

Newspaper development has kept pace with the development in other directions. Tokyo, the capital, has sixteen daily papers with sufficient circulation to make them known as large papers. Besides these, there are magazines, periodicals and papers published in English. The Kokumin Shimbun is known as the government organ while most of the others are regarded as independent. The Tokyo Times is an excellent paper published in English. There is a weekly publication called the Economist, with a circulation of five thousand, which deals with commercial, financial and economic questions. Yokohama has papers published in both languages and the same is true of the other large seaport towns.

All the cities are supplied with daily papers published in Japanese. At Kagoshima, a city of about fifty thousand, situated at the southern extremity of Kyushu Island, I found a prosperous daily paper called the Kagoshima Shimbun. (Shimbun means daily newspaper.) It has a circulation of nine thousand six hundred, six thousand being in the city.

At Osaka I noticed a building elaborately decorated. In front were large flags on bamboo poles and smaller flags strung on cords, while Japanese lanterns were present in profusion. As none of the buildings around were decorated, I inquired and found that the decorated building was the office of the Osaka Asahi News and that the paper was celebrating the withdrawal of the governmental order which for two weeks had suspended its publication. The issue for that day contained a large sized picture of the Goddess of Liberty. When rioting occurred at Tokyo just after the treaty of peace with Russia, an order was issued authorizing the arbitrary suspension of any newspaper containing utterances deemed incendiary. Under this order the Asahi News received notice to suspend publication until permission was granted to resume. The withdrawal of the notice was duly celebrated and the paper announced that its readers, rather than the paper, had reason to complain of the suspension. This paper has the largest circulation of any in Japan, about two hundred thousand, and the order suspending it has been the subject of much editorial criticism.

Besides the newspapers which are conducted as business propositions, there are papers supported by associations formed for the propagation of various reforms. For instance, a paper called Romaji is published monthly at Tokyo—Japanese words being spelled with Roman fetters, in the place of the present Japanese characters. A society was formed some twenty years ago for the purpose of urging this reform and a paper advocating it was published for three years, but finally suspended from lack of support. This fall the Romaji was established and hopes for a better fate. While this reform would be very acceptable to foreigners who are trying to learn the language, the movement does not seem to have gathered much momentum.

In one of the leading papers, the Hocho Shimbun, Mr. Gensai Murai, a novelist of distinction, published a continued story running daily through six years. It is not yet completed, having been suspended during the war. In this story the writer presents a large amount of information on national, political, economic and social questions, at the same time putting in enough fiction to sustain the interest.

Progress along some other lines Will be treated under special heads. I find that there is some tendency here to resent the statement that Japan has borrowed largely from other nations. Some native writers insist that New Japan is but the natural development of Old Japan. There is a measure of truth in this, because there is no growth except from a living germ; and yet it can not be denied that Japan has appropriated to her own great advantage many foreign ideas, and it is not to her discredit that she has done so. Both individuals and nations borrow; imitation, not originality, is the rule. It will humble the pride of anyone to attempt to separate that which he, has learned from others from that which he can claim as his own by right of discovery.

Steam is the same to-day that it was ages ago, and yet millions watched it escaping from the kettle with no thought of its latent power. One man showed mankind the use to which it could be put and all the rest profited by the idea. Shall we refuse to ride upon the railroad or cross the waters in an ocean greyhound for fear of employing the conception of another? Electricity is not a new agency. The lightnings have illumined the sky from the dawn of creation, and the people saw in them only cause for fear. A few decades ago one man thought out a method by which it could be imprisoned in a wire, and now widely separated lands are united by telegraph lines, while cables traverse the ocean’s bed. Shall we refuse 1:o read the news that the current carries or reject a message from home because we must employ an idea which sprang from another’s brain? He is stupid who rejects truth, no matter from what source it comes; that nation is blind which does not welcome light from anywhere and everywhere. It is to the glory, not to the shame, of the land of the Rising Sun that her people have been quick to obey the injunction, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”