the last few years we have heard much of the vices which beset
Japan, of the ruthlessness with which she seizes all that she
desires, of the intolerance which animates her super-patriots, of
the unfair methods which characterise a part of her business
competition, and of the militarism which is drenching her youth.
Is that, however, the whole picture? Are there no redeeming
features in the nation which is amazing the world?
are many, and I have selected seven Japanese virtues in order that
our conception of Japan may be more balanced. I do not deny that
many accusations levelled against Japan are true. I merely wish to
give some of my brighter impressions during a stay of five weeks
in Tokyo, in the countryside near Fujiyama and in Kobe.
first virtue which I have chosen is courtesy. In the most remote
villages while I tramped through those rugged Japanese mountains
or along the magnificent coast of the Izu Peninsula I was received
with a charming politeness. Fishermen who perhaps had never seen a
white man before would go out of their way to show kindness to me,
while the children, far from being terrified by the appearance of
a stranger with white skin and large eyes, would approach me with
friendliness and a complete absence of fear.
is not the average Japanese, but the pompous petty official, who
has been guilty of treating foreigners with suspicion as potential
spies. I found more laughter than mistrust. Indeed, Japanese girls
seem to spend their time preparing to giggle, in the act of
giggling, or having giggled. The second virtue is cleanliness,
which for many Japanese is more than godliness. During my first
stay in Tokyo I went walking through some of the side streets when
I saw a temple with curious gables. Men and women in kimonos were
entering its portals after taking off their clattering wooden
clogs. I approached the building, doffed my hat reverently, sat
down on the wooden stairway at the entrance, pulled off my shoes
and handed them to a temple servant. He gave me a stick on which
were written Japanese letters. “Ah, obviously a prayer-stick!
“ I said to myself, and expecting to see a great image of
Buddha, I entered the building. There was no smell of incense,
there was no holy image, there were no dim lights; what I saw was
a number of native men splashing about in great baths from which
the steam soared upwards in clouds.
“prayer-stick” was merely the number of the locker for my
shoes; my “temple” was one of the thousands of bath-houses
scattered throughout Japan.
is a religion for the Japanese,” I concluded, after I had
noticed everywhere the spotlessness of the homes and the love of
the people for hot water. It is a boon to the traveller, who,
after walking all day, may enter a Japanese inn and wallow for
hours in the luxurious warmth of the volcanlc hot spring baths
before squatting on the floor to eat with chop-sticks fish, prawns
and bamboo, while in one corner, a delicately-arranged flower
lights up the simplicity of the surroundings. This flower is a
symbol of the Japanese love of nature, the third virtue with which
is closely linked the artistic richness of their country. On
holidays the railway stations of Japan resemble those of Germany,
for they are packed with ordinary folk who are going to spend a
day in the mountains or along the coast, or who are taking the
boat to the “Isle of Suicides,” where they may see someone in
despair leaping into the boiling cauldron of the crater. They are
easily moved by the beauty of views or the glories of a garden.
I went to see the former Foreign Minister of Japan, Baron
Shidehara, whose life, by the way, has been endangered many times
by fanatics, he asked me what had impressed me most in his
country. I replied immediately, “The fascinating trees with
their grotesque and poetic shapes.”
I enlarged upon the delight with which I had seen the trees of
Japan I noticed that his eyes became filled with tears and that
for some minutes he could not speak. Eventually he said, “I am
moved by that. It is curious also that Lord Grey said a similar
thing when he came to see me and when we looked out at those trees
near the lake.”
learned later that tears of appreciation of nature come as easily
to sensitive Japanese as does laughter. Loyalty to the State is
the fourth virtue, and in this the Japanese resembles the Prussian
soldier. So far does this virtue go, that it sometimes degenerates
into a vice, for the claims of the nation are often followed at
the expense of the family.
knows no family,” states a Japanese proverb, and a friend of
mine who has lived for years in Japan commented in striking terms
upon this saying.
have many Japanese friends “ he declared to me, “but there is
not a single one 1 could trust if any motive of patriotism came
in. There is not one of them who would not poison me if their
country were at stake. And, what is more, they would poison their
families for their nation’s sake!
to loyalty is the fifth virtue which I have chosen, and that is
self-sacrifice. When I was in Tokyo a monument was unveiled to the
“Three Human Torpedoes “- the men who had sacrificed
themselves by placing themselves during war operation within
torpedoes which they guided until they were killed.
Japanese will tolerate an exceedingly low standard of living if
they are thus serving the State. There is also strong
self-sacrifice among the Communists in Japan, who, well-knowing
that their fate is a cruel one when caught and that they are
braving an attack from merciless patriotic societies, still go on
propagating the ideas of Karl Marx.
spirit of self-sacrifice breeds the sixth virtue, physical
courage. In the character of the Japanese there is a strong
element of dare-devilry. Aviators have been known to take mad
risks and even kill themselves by their daring in order that their
families might receive a posthumous medal.
there, however, moral courage, the courage to brave the
militarists, among the middle classes and among the
internationalist business men?
seventh virtue, which is found among soldiers and among many young
idealists - but, unfortunately, not among a section of
politicians, many of whom are corrupt - is a disdain for wealth, a
respect for poverty, a Spartan devotion to hardship.
I visited the conqueror of Manchuria, General Araki, former War
Minister, and a possible future Prime Minister, I found him living
in a simple cottage with a small garden, at the end of an
insignificant side-lane. It was not the house of “His Excellency
the Minister of War"; it was the house of a simple soldier
who despised the goods of this world.
that is the secret of Japan’s advance.