Japanese Educational System And Religions

Back of Japan’s astonishing progress along material lines lies her amazing educational development. Fifty years ago but few of her people could read or write ; now considerably less than ten per cent would be classed as illiterate. It is difficult to conceive of such a transformation taking place almost within a generation. The prompt adoption of western methods and the rapid assimilation of western ideas give indubitable proof of the pre-existence of a vital national germ. A pebble dropped into soil, however rich, and cultivated, no matter how carefully, gives back no response to the rays of the springtime sun. Only the seed which has life within can be awakened and developed by light and warmth and care. Japan had within her the vital spark, and when the winter of her isolation was passed, her latent energies burst forth into strong and sturdy growth.

Her sons, ambitious to know the world, scattered themselves throughout Europe and America, and having laden themselves with new ideas, returned to apply them at home. In this way Japan constantly gained from every quarter and her educational system is modeled after the best that the ages have produced. She has her primary schools for boys and girls, attendance being compulsory, and below these in many places there are kindergarten schools. The middle schools, in which the boys and girls are separated, take up the course of instruction where the primary schools leave off.

Then follow the universities, of which there are seven under the control of the government. Besides these there are in the cities institutions known as higher commercial schools, which combine general instruction with such special studies as are taught in our commercial colleges. There are also a number of normal schools for the training of teachers. In addition to the schools and colleges established and conducted by the government, there are a number founded by individuals and societies. The largest of these is Waseda College, founded and still maintained by Count Okuma, the leader of the progressive party. It is adjoining the home of the count and is built upon land which he donated. Dr. Hatoyama, at one time speaker of the national house of representatives, who holds a degree from Yale College, is the official head of this institution ; in all of its departments it has some five thousand students.

I have referred in a former article to the Keio Gijuku, the college founded by Mr. Fukuzawa. The attendance here is not so large as at Waseda, but the institution has had an illustrious career and exerts a wide influence upon the country. I visited both of these colleges and never addressed more attentive or responsive audiences. As English is taught in all the middle schools, colleges and universities., the students are able to follow a speech in that language with-out an interpreter.

The state university at Tokyo includes six departments—law, medicine and engineering courses being provided, as well as courses in literature, science and agriculture. The total number of students enrolled at this university is about thirty-five hundred. The national university at Kyoto has three faculties—law, medicine and science—the last named including engineering; the attendance at this university is between six and seven hundred. In the states of Choshu and Satsuma there are higher schools supported by funds given by former feudal lords of those states.

The education of girls is not neglected, although as a rule the girls do not go as far in their studies as the boys. There are a number of normal schools and seventy-nine high schools for girls, besides the Peeresses’ school and several private institutions. The Woman’s University of Tokyo, situated near Waseda College and under the patronage of Count Okuma, has had a phenomenal career. Established only five years ago, it has now an enrollment of some seven hundred, and is putting up several new buildings.

There are also a number of missionary schools and colleges. The Presbyterians support three boarding schools for boys and eleven for girls, besides ten day schools; the total attendance at these schools is nearly twenty-three hundred.

The Congregationalists have a number of schools, the largest, Doshisha College at Kyoto, being the most influential Christian institution in Japan. I had the pleasure of visiting both this college and Kyoto University.

The Methodists have eighteen boarding schools and nineteen day schools with a total attendance of nearly five thousand. Their college at Kobe is a very promising institution.

The Baptists have a theological seminary, an academy, five boarding schools for girls and eight day schools, with a total attendance of nearly a thousand. The Episcopal Church has also taken an important part in educational work, while the Catholics (who were first on the ground) have over sixty seminaries, schools and orphanages, with an attendance of some six thousand.

The Japanese government supports more than twenty-five thou. sand primary schools, attended by over five million boys and girls; it supports more than two hundred and fifty middle schools, with an attendance of nearly one hundred thousand. While less than two per cent of the primary students enter the middle schools, more than ten per cent of the middle school students enter the higher colleges.

Although these figures give some idea of the interest taken in education, they do not furnish an adequate conception of the enthusiasm with which a large number of these students pursue their studies.

Nearly fifty young men called upon me or wrote to me asking to be taken to America that they might continue their studies. Many of the leading men in Japan to-day are graduates of American or European colleges. The physicians have shown a preference for German schools, while to engineers and politicians our universities have been more attractive. A part of the friendliness felt toward foreigners can be traced to the favors shown Japanese boys who left home in search of knowledge. Marquis Ito, one of the first of these, owes much to an elder of the Presbyterian Church in England in whose home he lived as a student, and the marquis has ever since been making returns in kindness to foreigners and Christians.

Marquis Ito’s case is not exceptional; all over Japan are men who hold in grateful remembrance Americans and Europeans to whom they are indebted for assistance. I met a man, now the publisher of an influential paper, who twenty years ago, at the age of sixteen, went to sea and in a shipwreck was cast upon one of the islands in the South Pacific. He became a retainer for the king of the islands and as such wore the scanty native dress, consisting of a loin cloth. He went with his king to Honolulu to pay a visit to the Hawaiian queen, and finding a Japanese settlement there, remained for two or three years. He then went to the United States and, making a friend of a professor in one of the universities, attended school there for several years. He now visits the United States every year or so on business, and one seeing him wearing a silk hat and a Prince Albert coat would hardly guess the experiences through which he has risen to his present position. If Japan, beginning fifty years ago with no educational system and scarcely any educated men or women,’ could accomplish what she has accomplished in half a century, what will she accomplish in the twentieth century, with the start which she now has and with the educational advantages which her people now enjoy?

Japan has several religions, although Shintoism has been, since 1868, the state religion. As a matter of fact, however, Shintoism can hardly be called a religion for it has no creed, no priesthood and no code of morals. It is really ancestor worship and comes down from time immemorial. It implies a belief in immortality, for the ancestral spirits are invoked and vows are paid to them at the numberless shrines that dot the country. These shrines are not usually in temples, although sometimes Shintoism and Buddhism have been mixed together and one temple employed for both shrines; as a rule, however, the Shinto shrine is in some secluded spot on the top of a hill or on a mountain side where a bit of natural scenery awakens a spirit of reverence. A gate of simple but beautiful design is placed at the point where the pathway to the shrine departs from the main road. We had read of these Shinto gates and had seen pictures of them, but we first saw one at Honolulu, itself the gateway to the Orient. No description can convey to the reader the impression which this gate makes upon the traveler; its outlines are so graceful and yet so strong that it seems an appropriate portal to a holy place.

The moral code of Confucius has also influenced the thought of Japan.

About fourteen hundred years ago the Buddhist religion was introduced into Japan by Chinese priests, and it spread rapidly through-out the islands. Its temples were imposing, its ceremonies impressive and the garb of its priests costly and elaborate. It did not root out Shintoism, it simply overwhelmed and absorbed it. The Buddhist temples, though not as popular as they once were, are still visited by millions of believers and are objects of interest to the tourist. Most of them are old, one at Nara having been built about the year 700. It is in such an excellent state of preservation that one can hardly believe that it has stood the storms of twelve centuries.

In the center of the temple is an image of Buddha, and on either side the figure of a huge warrior. There is also in this temple a God of War to which the Japanese were wont to pay their vows before going to battle. The devout Buddhist, approaching the image of the founder of his religion, bows and mutters a prayer, half audibly, and, throwing his mite in a box or on the floor before the shrine, departs. There is usually a bell, or sometimes only a chain, hanging above the place where prayers are said, and the suppliant swings a rope against the bell or shakes the chain before his prayer and claps his hands two or three times at its close. We inquired about the bell and received two answers : One, that it was to attract the attention of the god, and the other that it was to awaken the conscience of the one about to present his petition.

Near the temple at Nara stands an ugly image which never fails to attract the attention of the visitor. It is literally covered with paper wads which have been thrown against it by worshipers at the temple in the belief that their prayers would be answered if the wads adhered to the image. There is also at Nara a huge bell, almost as old as the temple. This bell is about thirteen feet high, nine feet in diameter and eight inches thick. It hangs in a pagoda quite near the ground, and when struck upon the side by a swinging log gives forth a sound of wonderful depth and richness. It was rung for us, and as its mellow tones reverberated along the hills we were awed by the thought that a thousand years before our Declaration of Independence was written, eight hundred years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, yes, even seven hundred years before America was discovered, this old bell was calling people to worship.

There is at Nara an immense bronze image of Buddha, even larger than the famous one at Kamokura, though not so finely proportioned. The smaller one is forty-nine feet in height and nearly one hundred feet in circumference (both represent Buddha, seated tailor-fashion, on a lotus flower) and the larger one is almost twice as large as the smaller one. The lantern of stone or bronze seems to be as necessary an adjunct to a Buddhist temple as the Shinto gate is to that form of religion. At Nara there are twenty-nine hundred stone lanterns of various sizes along the walks that lead from one temple to another, and they are found in abundance in other cities. The Korean lions are also identified with Buddhistic worship, these animals wrought in bronze or carved in stone guarding all temple doors. They are not as ferocious in appearance as the Numidian lion, and they illustrate an idea. One has his mouth open and the other has his mouth tightly shut, and they together represent the affirmative and the negative, or, in other words, the eternal conflict between the positive and the negative—one says yes, the other no.

Nara has an additional attraction in the form of a beautiful park containing some seven hundred deer, which are here regarded as sacred animals. They are so gentle that they will come, old and young, and eat from the hand.

Next to Nara, in our opinion, and in the opinion of many even before Nara, comes Nikko in beauty and interest. The spot was wisely chosen for a temple, a foaming stream, rugged mountains and stately trees adding to the attractiveness of the place. There is a shaded avenue twenty-five miles long leading from the lowlands to the temple, and it is said that when other feudal lords were bringing stone lanterns, one poor daimio, unable to make so large a gift, offered to plant little trees along the way; these, now three hundred years old, furnish a grateful shade for the pilgrims who visit this Mecca, and the poor tree planter is now known as “The Wise Daimio who went into partnership with Nature.”

The temple at Nikko is only about three centuries old and its decorations are the richest and most costly to be found in -Japan. As the Buddhists and Shintoists worship together here, the temple is kept in repair by the government and one can see the best in architecture and ornamentation that the temples exhibit. So famous are this temple and its environment that the Japanese have a phrase which when translated means, “You cannot say beautiful (kekko) until you have seen Nikko.”

The most modern of the large temples is that at Kyoto. It was erected about thirty years ago on the site of one which had burned. It is not so large as the original, but is a reproduction in other respects and is one of the thirty-three temples to which pilgrimages are made. Some estimate can be formed of the ardor of those who worship here when it is known that the immense timbers used in the construction of the building were dragged through the streets and lifted into place by cables. made of human hair contributed by Japanese women for that purpose. One of these cables, nearly three inches in diameter and several hundred feet long, is still kept in a. room adjacent to the temple, the others having been destroyed by fire. Japanese women pride themselves upon their hair and arrange it with great care. What a poem of piety—what a strong sacrifice in these myriad strands of mingled black and grey !

All of the Buddhist temples stand within a walled enclosure, entered through a gorgeous gate which contrasts sharply with the simplicity of the Shinto gate. The Buddhist gate has a roof resembling a temple roof and is often ornamented with animals, birds and fantastic figures carved in wood. As an illustration of the superstition to be found among the ignorant, the following incident is given: An American, Mr. Frederick W. Horne, who lives at Yokohama and who has built up a large importing business in American machinery, has a handsome new home modeled after a Buddhist temple. At one gable he put a devil’s head. The servants of the man living next door threatened to leave because the devil looked over into that yard. But they were quieted when the neighbor put two brass cannon on his roof and pointed them at the devil’s head. The story seems too absurd to believe, but we were shown the cannons when we called at Mr. Horne’s.

But Buddhism is losing its hold upon the Japanese; its temples are not crowded as they once were; its ceremonies do not interest and its teachings do not satisfy the new generation. Christianity will appeal more and more to the educated element of the Japanese population. Already favor is taking the place of toleration, as toleration thirty years ago supplanted persecution.

The Catholics, who have been the pioneers of the Cross in so many lands, brought Christianity to Japan through their missionaries about the middle of the sixteenth century. The success of the Jesuits was so pronounced that in thirty years they estimated their converts at one hundred and fifty thousand. In fact, the adherents to Christianity became so numerous and so influential that the Shogun, Hideyoshi, began to fear for his temporal power, and, having absolute authority, he expelled the foreigners, closed the ports and established the policy of non-intercourse with other nations—a policy which was followed until 1853. When the country was again opened to Christian missionaries it was found that some ten thousand men and women were still worshiping according to the forms of the Catholic Church, although for two and a half centuries there had been no communication between them and the church outside. Even after the opening of the country to foreign commerce there was some persecution of Christians and several thousand were imprisoned. But in 1873 the prisoners were set at liberty and the exiles allowed to return ; since that time there has been absolute religious freedom and many men prominent in official life have been devoted Christians. The most noted of these native Christians was Mr. Kataoka, who was four times chosen speaker of the popular branch of the Japanese congress, or diet. He was an elder in the Presbyterian Church, and when it was suggested that it would advance his political chances to resign his eldership, he replied that if compelled to choose between them he would rather be an elder than speaker.

The Catholic population of Japan numbered fifty-eight thousand in 1903; at the last report the Protestant communicants numbered nearly fifty-one thousand. There are among the natives four hundred and forty-two ordained ministers, five hundred and fifty-nine unordained ministers and helpers, and one hundred and eighty-six theological students. I met a number of Japanese Christians and was profoundly, impressed by their earnestness and devotion. There is a large Y. M. C. A. at Tokyo and a smaller one at Kyoto; at Kagoshima I found a Women’s Christian Association. While I have met American missionaries everywhere, I have tried to gather information from Japanese sources as well and have been gratified to find such cordial co-operation between foreign and native Christians. A physician in the navy introduced himself and volunteered the in-formation that one American woman had undertaken the establishment of Christian clubs at the various naval stations, and within five years had gathered together more than five hundred members. He said that she met with opposition from the authorities at first, but now has their hearty support. The war with Russia, while retarding the work of the Greek Church among the Japanese, has been utilized by other denominations to reach a large number of sailors with Bibles and pamphlets.

Japan needs the Christian religion; a nation must have some religion and she has outgrown Buddhism. The ideals presented by these two systems are in many respects diametrically opposed to each other. One looks forward, the other backward; one regards life as a blessing to be enjoyed and an opportunity to be improved, the other sees in it only evil from which escape should be sought; one crowns this life with immortality, the other adds to a gloomy existence the darker night of annihilation; one offers faith as the inspiration to noble deeds, the other presents a plan for the perfecting of self with no sense of responsibility to God to prompt it or promise of reward to encourage it; one enlarges the sympathies and links each individual with all other human beings, the other turns the thought inward in search of perpetual calm.

Christianity dominates Europe and the western hemisphere, while Buddhism still holds the Orient under its drowsy spell. On the islands of Japan a struggle is now going on between these two great religious systems, and the triumph of the Gospel of Love and of consecrated activity in the Land of the Rising Sun will open the way to a still larger triumph in Asia.