Japanese Customs And Hospitality

Every nation has its customs, its way of doing things, and a nation’s customs and ways are likely to be peculiar in proportion as the nation is isolated. In Japan, therefore, one would expect to see many strange things, and the expectation is more than realized. In some things their customs are exactly the opposite of ours. In writing they place their characters in vertical lines and move from right to left, while our letters are arranged on horizontal lines and read from left to right. Their books begin where ours end and end where ours begin. The Japanese carpenters pull the saw and plane toward them, while ours push them from them. The Japanese mounts his steed from the right, while the American mounts from the left; Japanese turn to the left, Americans to the right. Japanese write it “Smith John Mr.,” while we say “Mr. John Smith.” At dinners in Japan wine is served hot and soup cold, and the yard is generally at the back of the house instead of the front.

The Japanese wear white for mourning and often bury their dead in a sitting posture. The death is sometimes announced as occurring at the house when it actually occurred elsewhere, and the date of the death is fixed to suit the convenience of the family. This is partly due to the fact that the Japanese like to have the death appear as occurring at home. Sometimes funeral services are held over a part of the body. An American lady whose Japanese maid died while attending her mistress in the United States, reports an incident worth relating. The lady cabled her husband asking instructions in regard to the disposition of the body. He conferred with the family of the deceased and cabled back directing the wife to bring a lock of the hair and the false teeth of the departed. The instructions were followed and upon the delivery of these precious relics, they were interred with the usual ceremonies.

The handshake is uncommon even among Japanese politicians, except in their intercourse with foreigners. When Baron Komura returned from the peace conference in which he played so important a part, I was anxious to witness his landing, partly out of respect to the man and partly out of curiosity to see whether the threatened manifestations of disapproval would be made by the populace, it having been rumored that thousands of death lanterns were being pre-pared for a hostile parade. (It is needless to say that the threats did not materialize and that no expressions of disapproval were heard after his arrival.) I found it impossible to learn either the hour or the landing place, and, despairing of being present, started to visit a furniture factory to inspect some wood carving. Consul-General Jones of Dalney (near Port Arthur), then visiting in Yokohama, was my escort and, as good fortune would have it, we passed near the Detached Palace. Dr. Jones, hearing that the landing might be made there, obtained permission for us to await the peace commissioner’s coming. We found Marquis Ito there and a half dozen other officials. As Baron Komura did not arrive for half an hour, it gave me the best opportunity that I could have had to become acquainted with the Marquis, who is the most influential man in Japan at present. He is President of the Privy Council of Elder Statesmen and is credited with being the most potent factor in the shaping of Japan’s demands at Portsmouth.

When Baron Komura stepped from the launch upon the soil of his native land, he was met by Marquis Ito, and each greeted the other with a low bow. The baron then saluted the other officials in the same manner And, turning, bowed to a group of Japanese ladies representing the Woman’s Patriotic Association. Dr. Jones and I stood some feet in the rear of the officials and were greeted by the baron after he had saluted his own countrymen. He extended his hand to us. The incident is mentioned as illustrating the difference in the manner of greeting. For who would be more apt to clasp hands, if that were customary, than these two distinguished statesmen whose personalities are indissolubly linked together in the conclusion of a world renowned treaty?

A brief account of the reception of Admiral Togo may be interesting to those who read this article. While at Tokyo I visited the city hall, at the invitation of the mayor and city council. While there Mayor Ozaki informed me that he, in company with the mayors of the other cities, would tender Admiral Togo a reception on the following Tuesday, and invited me to be present. Of course I accepted, because it afforded a rare opportunity to observe Japanese customs as well as to see a large concourse of people. As I witnessed the naval review in Yokohama the day before and the illumination at night, I did not reach Tokyo until the morning of the reception, and this led me into considerable embarrassment. On the train I met a Japanese gentleman who could speak English. He was kind enough to find me a ‘rikisha man and a pusher and to instruct them to take me at once to Uyeno Park. He then left me and the ‘rikisha men followed his instructions to the letter. They had not proceeded far when I discovered that Admiral Togo had arrived on the same train and that a long procession had formed to conduct him to the park. Before I knew it, I was whisked past an escort of distinguished citizens who, clad in Prince Alberts and silk hats, followed the carriages, and then I found my ‘rikisha drawn into an open space between two carriages. Grabbing the ‘rikisha man in front of me, I told him by word and gesture to get out of the line of the procession. He could not understand English, and evidently thinking that I wanted to get nearer the front, he ran past a few carriages and then dropped into another opening. Again I got him out of the line, employing more emphasis than before, only to be carried still nearer the front. After repeated changes of position, all the time employing such sign language as I could command and attempting to convey by different tones of voice suggestions that I could not translate into language, I at last reached the head of the procession. And the ‘rikisha men, as if satisfied with the success of their efforts, paused to await the starting of the line. I tried to inform them that I was not a part of the procession; that I wanted to get on another street; that they should take me to the park by some other route and do so at once. They at last comprehended sufficiently to leave the carriages and take up a rapid gait, but get off of the street they would not. For three miles they drew me between two rows of expectant people, whose eyes peered down the street to catch a glimpse of the great admiral, who, as the commander of the Japanese navy, has won such signal victories over the Russians. I saw a million people; they represented every class, age and condition. I saw more people than I ever saw before in a single day. Old men and old women, feeble, but strengthened by their enthusiasm ; middle aged men and women whose sons had shared in the dangers and in the triumphs of the navy ; students from the boys’ schools and students from the girls’ schools with flags and banners, little children dressed in all the colors of the rainbow—all were there. And I could imagine that each one of them old enough to think, was wondering why a foreigner was intruding upon a street which the police had cleared for a triumphal procession. If some one had angrily caught my ‘rikisha men and thrust them through the crowd to a side street I should not have complained—I would even have felt relieved, but no one molested them or me and I reached the park some minutes ahead of the admiral. How glad I was to alight, and how willingly I rewarded the smiles of the ‘rikisha men with a bonus—for had they not done their duty as they under-stood it? And had they not also given me, in spite of my protests, such a view of the people of Tokyo as I could have obtained in no other way?

At the park I luckily fell in with some of the councilmen whom I had met before and they took me in hand. I saw the procession arrive, heard the banzais (the Japanese cheers) as they rolled along the street, keeping pace with Togo’s carriage, and I witnessed the earnest, yet always orderly, rejoicing of the crowd that had congregated at the end of the route. When the procession passed by us into the park the members of the city council fell in behind the carriages, and I with them. When we reached the stand, a seat was tendered me on the front row from which the extraordinary ceremonies attending the reception could be witnessed. Mayor Ozaki, the presiding officer, escorted Admiral Togo to a raised platform, and there the two took seats on little camp stools some ten feet apart, facing each other, with their sides to the audience and to those on the stand. After a moment’s delay, a priest, clad in his official robes, approached with cake and a teacup on a tray and, kneeling, placed them before the admiral. Tea was then brought in a long handled pot and poured into the cup. After the distinguished guest had partaken of these refreshments, the mayor arose and read an address of welcome. He has the reputation of being one of the best orators in the empire, and his part was doubly interesting to me. As he confined himself to his manuscript, I could not judge of his delivery, but his voice was pleasing and his manner natural. The address recited the exploits of Admiral Togo and gave expression to the gratitude of the people. At its conclusion the hero-admiral arose and modestly acknowledged the compliment paid to him and to his officers. Admiral Togo is short, even for the Japanese, and has a scanty beard. Neither in stature not in countenance does he give evidence of the stern courage and indomitable will which have raised him to the pinnacle of fame.

When he sat down the mayor proposed three times three banzais, and they were given with a will by the enormous crowd that stood in the open place before the stand. While writing this article, I am in receipt of information that Mayor Ozaki has secured for me one of the little camp stools above referred to and has had made for me a duplicate of the other. They will not only be interesting souvenirs of an historic occasion, and prized as such, but they will be interesting also because they contrast so sharply with the large and richly up-holstered chairs used in America on similar occasions.

From this public meeting the admiral and his officers were con-ducted to a neighboring hall where an elaborate luncheon was served. With the councilmen I went to this hall and was presented to the admiral and his associates, one of whom had been a student at Annapolis.

By the courtesy of Hon. Lloyd Griscom, the American minister, I had an audience with the emperor, these audiences being arranged through the minister representing the country from which the caller comes. Our minister, to whom I am indebted for much assistance and many kindnesses during my stay at the capital, accompanied me to the palace and instructed me, as they say in the fraternities, “in the secret work of the order.” Except where the caller wears a uniform; he is expected to appear in evening dress, although the hour fixed is in the day time. At the outer door stand men in livery, one of whom conducts the callers through long halls, beautifully decorated on ceilings and walls, to a spacious reception room where a halt is made until the summons comes from the emperor’s room. The emperor stands in the middle of the receiving room with an interpreter at his side. The caller on reaching the threshold bows ; he then advances half way to the emperor, pauses and bows again; he then proceeds and bows a third time as he takes the extended hand of the sovereign.

The conversation is brief and formal, consisting of answers to the questions asked by his majesty. The emperor is fifty-three years old, about five feet six inches in height, well built and wears a beard, although, as is the case with most Japanese, the growth is not heavy. On retiring the caller repeats the three bows.

We were shown through the palace, and having seen the old palace at Kyoto, which was the capital until the date of the restoration (1868), I was struck with the difference. The former was severely plain; the latter represents the best that Japanese art can produce.

No discussion of Japanese customs would be complete without mention of the tea ceremonial. One meets tea on his arrival; it is his constant companion during his stay and. it is mingled with the fare-wells that speed him on his departure. Whenever he enters a house he is offered tea and cake and they are never refused. This custom prevails in the larger stores and is scrupulously observed at public buildings and colleges. The tea is served in dainty cups and taken without sugar or cream. The tea drinking habit is universal here, the kettle of hot water sitting on the coals in the brazier most of the time. At each railroad station the boys sing out, “Cha i Cha I” (the Japanese word for tea) and for less than two cents in our money they will furnish the traveler with an earthen pot of hot tea, with pot and cup thrown in.

The use of tea at social gatherings dates back at least six hundred years. when a tea ceremonial was instituted by a Buddhist priest to soften the manners of the warriors. It partook of a religious character at first, but soon became a social form, and different schools of tea drinkers vied with each other in suggesting rules and methods of procedure. About three hundred years ago Hideyoshi, one of the greatest of the military rulers of Japan, gave what is described as the largest tea party on record, the invitations being in the form of an imperial edict. All lovers of tea were summoned to assemble at a given date in a pine grove near Kyoto, and they seem to have done so. The tea party lasted ten days and the emperor drank at every booth.

According to Chamberlain, tea drinking had reached the luxurious stage before the middle of the fourteenth century. The lords took part in the daily gatherings, reclining on tiger skins, the walls of the guest chamber being richly ornamented. One of the popular games of that day was the offering of a number of varieties of tea, the guests being required to guess where each variety was produced, the best guess winning a handsome prize.- The tea ceremony answered at least one useful purpose—it furnished an innocent way of killing time, and the lords of that day seem to have had an abundance of time on their hands. The daughters of the upper classes were trained to perform the ceremony and displayed much skill therein. Even to this day it is regarded as one of the accomplishments, and young ladies perfect themselves in it much as our daughters learn music and singing. At Kagoshima, Governor Chikami, one of the most scholarly men whom I have met here, had his daughter perform for my instruction a part of the ceremony, time not permitting more. With charming grace she prepared, poured and served this Japanese nectar, each motion being according to the rules of the most approved sect, for there are sects among tea drinkers.

The theatre is an ancient institution here, although until recently the actors were considered beneath even the mercantile class. Their social standing has been somewhat improved since the advent of west-ern ideas. The theatre building is very plain as compared with ours or even with the better class of homes here. They are always on the ground floor and have a circular, revolving stage within the larger stage which makes it possible to change the scenes instantly.

The plays are divided into two kinds—historical ones reproducing old Japan, and modern plays. The performance often lasts through the entire day and evening, some of the audience bringing their tea kettles and food. Lunches, fruit, cigarettes and tea are also on sale in the theatre. The people sit on the floor as they do in their homes and at public meetings. One of the side aisles is raised to the level of the stage and the actors use it for entrance and exit.

In this connection a word should be said in regard to the Geisha girls who have furnished such ample material for the artist and the decorator. They are selected for their beauty and trained in what is called a dance, although it differs so much from the American dance as scarcely to be describable by that term. It is rather a series of graceful poses in which gay costumes, dainty fans, flags, scarfs and sometimes parasols, play a part. The faces of the dancers are expressionless and there is no exposure of the limbs. The Geisha girls are often called in to entertain guests at a private dinner, the performance being before, not after, the meal.

Our first introduction to this national amusement was at the Maple Club dinner given at Tokyo by a society composed of Japanese men who had studied in the United States. The name of the society is a Japanese phrase which means the “Friends of America.” The Maple Club is the most famous restaurant in Japan, and the Geisha girls employed there stand at the head of their profession. During the dancing there is music on stringed instruments, which resembles the banjo in tone, and sometimes singing. At the Maple Club the Geisha girls displayed American and Japanese flags. We saw the dancing again at an elaborate dinner given by Mr. Fukuzawa, editor of the Jiji Shimpo. Here also the flags of both nations were used.

In what words can I adequately describe the hospitality of the Japanese? I have read, and even heard, that among the more ignorant classes there is a decided anti-foreign feeling, and it is not unnatural that those who refuse to reconcile themselves to Japan’s new attitude should blame the foreigner for the change, but we did not encounter this sentiment anywhere. Never in our own country have we been the recipients of more constant kindness or more considerate attention. From Marquis Ito down through all the ranks of official life we found everyone friendly to America, and to us as representatives of America. At the dinner given by Minister Griscom there were present, besides Marquis Ito, the leader of the liberal party, Count Okuma, the leader of the progressive party (the opposition party), and a number of other prominent Japanese politicians.

At the dinner given by Consul General Miller at Yokohama, Governor Sufu and Mayor Ichihara were present. The state and city officials wherever we have been have done everything possible to make our stay pleasant. The college and school authorities have opened their institutions to us and many without official position have in unmistakable ways shown themselves friendly. We will carry away with us a number of handsome presents bestowed by municipalities, colleges, societies and individuals.

We were entertained by Count Okuma soon after our arrival and met there, among others, Mr. Kato, of the state department, and President Hatoyama, of the Waseda University, and their wives. The count’s house is half European and half Japanese, and his garden is celebrated for its beauty. At Viscount Kana’s we saw a delightful bit of home life. He is one of the few daimios, or feudal lords, who has become conspicuous in the politics of Japan, and we soon discovered the secret of his success. He has devoted himself to the interests of agriculture and spent his time in an earnest and intelligent effort to improve the condition of the rural population. He is known as “The Farmer’s Friend.” His house is at the top of a beautifully terraced hill, which was once a part of his feudal estate. He and his wife and six children met us at the bottom of the hill on our arrival and escorted us to the bottom on our departure. The children assisted in serving the dinner and afterward sang for us the American national air as well as their own national hymn. The hospitality was so genuine and so heartily entered into by all the family that we could hardly realize that we were in a foreign land and entertained by hosts to whom we had to speak through an interpreter.

In the country, fifteen miles from Kagoshima, I was a guest at the home of Mr. Yamashita, the father of the young man, who, when a student in America, made his home with us for more than five years. Mr. Yamashita was of the samurai class, and. since the abolition of feudalism has been engaged in farming. He had invited his relatives and also the postmaster and the principal of the district school to the noon meal. He could not have been more thoughtful of my comfort or more kindly in his manner. The little country school which stood near by turned out to bid us welcome. The children were massed at a bridge over which large flags of the two nations floated from bamboo poles. Each child also held a flag, the Japanese and American flags alternating. As young Yamashita and I rode between the lines they waved their flags and shouted “Banzai.” And so it was at other schools. Older people may be diplomatic and feign good will, but children speak from their hearts. There is no mistaking their meaning, and in my memory the echo of the voices of the children, mingling with the assurances of the men and women, convinces me that Japan entertains nothing but good will toward our nation. Steam has narrowed the Pacific and made us neighbors; let Justice keep us friends.