From Atlantic Unbound:
Flashbacks: "'Almost as Japanese as Haiku" (December 31, 2003)
A collection of articles by Lafcadio Hearn, who, at the end of the nineteenth
century, set off for Japan, never to return.
The Atlantic Monthly | October 1895
The Genius of Japanese Civilization
by Lafcadio Hearn
WITHOUT losing a single ship or a single battle, Japan has broken down the
power of China, made a new Korea, enlarged her own territory, and changed
the whole political face of the East. Astonishing as this has seemed politically, it is much more astonishing psychologically; for it represents the result of
a vast play of capacities with which the race had never been credited abroad, and
capacities of a very high order. The psychologist knows that the so-called "adoption of Western civilization" within a time of thirty years cannot mean the
addition to the Japanese brain of any organs or powers previously absent from
it. He knows that it cannot mean any sudden change in the mental or moral
character of the race. Such changes are not made in a generation. Transmitted
civilization works much more slowly, requiring even hundreds of years to produce certain permanent psychological results.
It is in this light that Japan appears the most extraordinary country in the
world; and the most wonderful thing in the whole episode of her "Occidentalization" is that the race brain could bear so heavy a shock. Nevertheless,
though the fact be unique in human history, what does it really mean? Nothing more than rearrangement of a part of the preexisting machinery of
thought. Even that, for thousands of brave young minds, was death. The
adoption of Western civilization was not nearly such an easy matter as unthinking persons imagined. And it is quite evident that the mental readjustments,
effected at a cost which remains to be told, have given good results only along
directions in which the race had always shown capacities of special kinds. Thus,
the appliances of Western industrial invention have worked admirably in Japanese hands, — have produced excellent
results in those crafts at which the nation had been skillful, in other and
quainter ways, for ages. There has been no transformation, — nothing more
than the turning of old abilities into new and larger channels. The scientific
professions tell the same story. For certain forms of science, such as medicine, surgery (there are no better surgeons in the world than the Japanese),
chemistry, microscopy, the Japanese genius is naturally adapted; and in all
these it has done work already heard of round the world. In war and state craft it has shown wonderful power; but throughout their history the Japanese have been characterized by great military and political capacity. Nothing remarkable has been done, however, in directions foreign to the national genius. In the study, for example,
of Western music, Western art, Western literature, time would seem to have been
simply wasted. These things make appeal extraordinary to emotional life with
us; they make no such appeal to Japanese emotional life. Every serious thinker knows that emotional transformation of the individual through education is
impossible. To imagine that the emotional character of an Oriental race could
be transformed in the short space of thirty years, by the contact of Occidental ideas, is absurd. Emotional life,
which is older than intellectual life, and deeper, can no more be altered suddenly
by a change of milieu than the surface of a mirror can be changed by passing
reflections. All that Japan has been able to do so miraculously well has been
done without any self-transformation; and those who imagine her emotionally
closer to us to-day than she may have been thirty years ago ignore facts of
science which admit of no argument.
Sympathy is limited by comprehension. We may sympathize to the same
degree that we understand. One may imagine that he sympathizes with a Japanese or a Chinese; but the sympathy
can never be real to more than a small extent outside of the simplest phases of common emotional life, — those phases in
which child and man are at one. The more complex feelings of the Oriental
have been composed by combinations of experiences, ancestral and individual,
which have had no really precise correspondence in Western life, and which we
can therefore not fully know. For converse reasons, the Japanese cannot, even
though they would, give Europeans their best sympathy.
But while it remains impossible for the man of the West to discern the true
color of Japanese life, either intellectual or emotional (since the one is woven into
the other), it is equally impossible for him to escape the conviction that, com-
pared with his own, it is very small. It is dainty; it holds delicate potentialities of
rarest interest and value; but it is otherwise so small that Western life, by contrast with it, seems almost supernatural.
For we must judge visible and measurable manifestations. So judging, what a
contrast between the emotional and intellectual worlds of West and East! Far
less striking that between the frail wooden streets of the Japanese capital and
the tremendous solidity of a thoroughfare in Paris or London. When one compares the utterances which West and East
have given to their dreams, their aspirations, their sensations, a Gothic cathedral with a Shinto temple, an opera by
Verdi or a trilogy by Wagner with a performance of geisha, a European epic with a Japanese poem, how incalculable
the difference in emotional volume, in imaginative power, in artistic synthesis!
True, our music is an essentially modern art; but in looking back through all our
past the difference in creative force is scarcely less marked, — not surely in the
period of Roman magnificence, of marble amphitheatres and of aqueducts spanning
provinces, nor in the Greek period of the divine in sculpture and of the supreme
in literary art.
And this leads to the subject of another wonderful fact in the sudden development of Japanese power. Where are
the outward material signs of that immense new force she has been showing both in productivity and in war? Nowhere! That which we miss in her emotional and intellectual life is missing also from her industrial and commercial life,
— largeness! The land remains what it was before; its face has scarcely been modified by all the changes of Meiji.
The miniature railways and telegraph poles, the bridges and tunnels, might almost escape notice in the ancient green
of the landscapes. In all the cities, with the exception of the open ports and
their little foreign settlements, there exists hardly a street vista suggesting the teaching of Western ideas. You might
journey two hundred miles through the interior of the country, looking in vain for large manifestations of the new civilization. In no place do you find commerce exhibiting its ambition in gigantic warehouses, or industry expanding its
machinery under acres of roofing. A Japanese city is still, as it was ten centuries ago, little more than a wilderness
of wooden sheds, — picturesque, indeed, as paper lanterns are, but scarcely less frail. And there is no great stir and
noise anywhere, — no heavy traffic, no booming and rumbling, no furious haste. In Tokyo itself you may enjoy, if you
wish, the peace of a country village. This want of visible or audible signs of
the new-found force which is now menacing the markets of the West and changing the maps of the far East gives one
a queer, I might even say a weird feeling. It is almost the sensation received
when, after climbing through miles of silence to reach some Shinto shrine, you
find voidness only and solitude, an elfish, empty little wooden structure, mouldering in shadows a thousand years old.
The strength of Japan, like the strength of her ancient faith, needs little material display: both exist where the deepest
real power of any great people exists,— in the Race Ghost.
As I muse, the remembrance of a great city comes back to me, — a city
walled up to the sky and roaring like the sea. The memory of that roar returns first; then the vision defines: a
chasm, which is a street, between mountains, which are houses. I am tired, because I have walked many miles between those precipices of masonry, and have trodden no earth, — only slabs of rock, — and have heard nothing but
thunder of tumult. Deep below those huge pavements, I know there is a cavernous world tremendous: systems underlying systems of ways contrived for water and steam and fire. On either hand tower facades pierced by scores of
tiers of windows, — cliffs of architecture shutting out the sun. Above, the pale blue streak of sky is cut by a maze
of spidery lines, — an infinite cobweb of electric wires. In that block on the
right there dwell nine thousand souls; the tenants of the edifice facing it pay the annual rent of a million dollars.
Seven millions scarcely covered the cost of those bulks overshadowing the square
beyond, — and there are miles of such. Stairways of steel and cement, of brass
and stone, with costliest balustrades, ascend through the decades and double decades of stories; but no foot treads
them. By water-power, by steam, by electricity, men go up and down; the heights are too dizzy, the distances too
great, for the use of the limbs. My friend who pays rent of five thousand dollars for his rooms in the fourteenth
story of a monstrosity not far off has never trodden his stairway. I am walking for curiosity alone; with a serious
purpose I should not walk, — the spaces are too broad, the time is too precious, for
such slow exertion; — men travel from district to district, from house to office,
by steam. Heights are too great for the voice to traverse; orders are given and
obeyed by machinery. By electricity faraway doors are opened; with one touch
a hundred rooms are lighted or heated.
And all this enormity is hard, grim, dumb; it is the enormity of mathematical power applied to utilitarian ends of
solidity and durability. These leagues of palaces, of warehouses, of business structures, of buildings describable and indescribable, are not beautiful, but sinister. One feels depressed by the mere sensation of the enormous life which created
them, life without sympathy; of their prodigious manifestation of power, power without pity. They are the architectural utterance of the new industrial age.
And there is no halt in the thunder of wheels, in the storming of hoofs and of human feet. To ask a question, one must
shout into the ear of the questioned; to see, to understand, to move in that high pressure medium, needs experience. The
unaccustomed feels the sensation of being in a panic, in a tempest, in a cyclone. Yet all this is order.
The monster streets leap rivers, span seaways, with bridges of stone, bridges of steel. Far as the eye can reach, a bewilderment of masts, a web-work of rigging, conceals the shores, which are cliffs of masonry. Trees in a forest stand less
thickly, branches in a forest mingle less closely, than the masts and spars of that
immeasurable maze. Yet all is order.
Generally speaking, we construct for endurance, the Japanese for impermanency. Few things for common use are
made in Japan with a view to durability. The straw sandals worn out and replaced at each stage of a journey; the robe
consisting of a few simple widths loosely stitched together for wearing, and unstitched again for washing; the fresh
chopsticks served to each new guest at a hotel; the light shoji frames serving at once for windows and walls, and repapered twice a year; the mattings renewed every autumn, — all these are but random illustrations of countless small things
in daily life that illustrate the national contentment with impermanency.
What is the story of a common Japanese dwelling? Leaving my home in the morning, I observe, as I pass the corner
of the next street crossing mine, some men setting up bamboo poles on a vacant lot there. Returning after five hours' absence, I find on the same lot the skeleton of a two-story house. Next forenoon I see that the walls are nearly finished
already, — mud and wattles. By sundown the roof has been completely tiled. On the following morning I observe that the mattings have been put down, and the
inside plastering has been finished. In five days the house is completed. This, of course, is a cheap building; a fine one would take much longer to put up and
finish. But Japanese cities are for the most part composed of such common buildings. They are as cheap as they
I cannot now remember where I first met with the observation that the curve of the Chinese roof might preserve the memory of the nomad tent. The idea haunted me long after I had ungratefully forgotten the book in which I found
it; and when I first saw, in Izumo, the singular structure of the old Shinto temples, with queer cross-projections at their gable-ends and upon their roof-ridges,the suggestion of the forgotten essayist about the possible origin of much less ancient forms returned to me with great force. But there is much in Japan besides primitive architectural traditions to indicate a nomadic ancestry for the race. Always and everywhere there is a total absence of what we would call solidity, and the characteristics of impermanence seem to mark almost everything in the exterior life of the people, except, indeed, the immemorial costume of the peasant, and the shape of the implements of his toil. Not to dwell upon the fact that even during the comparatively brief period of her written history Japan has had more than sixty capitals, of which the greater number have completely disappeared, it may be broadly stated that every Japanese city is rebuilt within the time of a generation. Some temples and a few colossal fortresses offer exceptions; but, as a general rule, the Japanese city changes its substance, if not its form, in the lifetime of a man. Fires, earthquakes, and many other causes partly account for this; the chief reason, however, is that houses are not built to last. The common people have no ancestral homes. The dearest spot to all is, not the place of birth, but the place of burial; and there is little that is permanent save the resting-places of the dead and the sites of the ancient shrines.
The land itself is a land of impermanence. Rivers shift their courses, coasts their outline, plains their level; volcanic peaks heighten or crumble; valleys are blocked by lava-floods or landslides; lakes appear and disappear. Even the matchless shape of Fuji, that snowy miracle which has been the inspiration of innumerable artists for centuries, has been
changed since my advent to the country, and not a few other mountains have in the same short time been changed much
more. Only the general lines of the land, the general aspects of its nature,
the general character of the seasons, remain fixed. Even the very beauty of the landscapes is largely illusive, — a beauty of shifting colors and moving mists. Only he to whom those landscapes are familiar can know how their mountain
vapors make mockery of real changes which have been, and ghostly predictions of other changes yet to be, in the history of the archipelago.
The gods, indeed, remain, — haunt their homes upon the hills, diffuse a soft religious awe through the twilight
of their groves, perhaps because they are without form and substance. Their shrines seldom pass utterly into oblivion,
like the dwellings of men. But every Shinto temple is necessarily rebuilt at more or less brief intervals; and the holiest, — the shrine of Ise, — in obedience to immemorial custom, must be demolished every twenty years, and its
timbers cut into thousands of tiny charms, which are distributed to pilgrims.
From Aryan India, through China, came Buddhism, with its vast doctrine of impermanency. The builders of the first Buddhist temples in Japan — architects of another race — built well; witness the Chinese structures at Kamakura that have survived so many centuries, while of the great city which once surrounded them not a trace remains. But
the psychical influence of Buddhism could in no land impel minds to the love of material stability. The teaching that
the universe is an illusion; that life is but one momentary halt upon an infinite journey; that all attachment to persons,
to places, or to things must be fraught with sorrow; that only through suppression of every desire — even the desire of Nirvana itself — can humanity reach the eternal peace, certainly harmonized with the older racial feeling. Though the people never much occupied themselves with the profounder philosophy of the foreign faith, its doctrine of impermanency must, in course of time, have profoundly influenced national character. It explained and consoled; it imparted new capacity to bear all things bravely; it strengthened that patience which is a trait of the race. Even in Japanese art — developed, if not actually created, under Buddhist influence —
the doctrine of impermanency has left its traces. Buddhism taught that nature was a dream, an illusion, a phantasmagoria; but it also taught men how to seize the fleeting impressions of that dream, and how to interpret them in relation to the highest truth. And they learned well. In the flushed splendor of the blossom-bursts of spring, in the coming and the going of the cicadae, in the dying crimson of autumn foliage, in the ghostly beauty of snow, in the delusive motion of wave or cloud, they saw old parables of perpetual meaning. Even their calamities — fire, flood, earthquake, pestilence — interpreted to them unceasingly the doctrine of the eternal Vanishing.
"All things which exist in Time must perish. The forests, the mountains, — all things thus exist. In Time are born all things having desire.
"The Sun and Moon, Sakra himself, with all the multitude of his attendants,
will all, without exception, perish; there is not one that will endure.
"In the beginning things were fixed; in the end again they separate: different combinations cause other substance;
for in nature there is no uniform and constant principle.
"All component things must grow old; impermanent are all component
things. Even unto a grain of sesamum seed there is no such thing as a compound which is permanent. All are
transient; all have the inherent quality of dissolution.
"All component things, without exception, are impermanent, unstable, despicable, sure to depart, disintegrating;
all are temporary as a mirage, as a phantom, or as foam... Even as all earthen vessels made by the potter end
in being broken, so end the lives of men.
"And a belief in matter itself is unmentionable and inexpressible, — it is
neither a thing nor nothing: and this is known even by children and ignorant
Now it is worth while to inquire if there be not some compensatory value
attaching to this impermanency and this smallness in the national life.
Nothing is more characteristic of that life than its extreme fluidity. The Japanese population represents a medium whose particles are in perpetual circulation. The motion is in itself peculiar. It is larger and more eccentric than the motion of Occidental populations, though feebler between points. It is also much more natural, — so natural that it could not exist in Western civilization. The relative mobility of a European population and the Japanese population might be expressed by a comparison between certain high velocities
of vibration and certain low ones. But the high velocities would represent, in such a comparison, the consequence of artificial force applied ; the slower vibrations would not. And this difference of kind would mean more than surface indications could announce. In one sense, Americans may be right in thinking themselves great travelers. In another, they are certainly wrong; the man
of the people in America cannot compare, as a traveler, with the man of the
people in Japan. And of course, in considering relative mobility of populations, one must consider chiefly the great masses, the workers, — not merely the small class of wealth. In their own country, the Japanese are the greatest travelers of any civilized people. They are the greatest travelers because, even in a land composed mainly of mountain chains, they recognize no obstacles to travel. The Japanese who travels most is not the man who needs railways or steamers to carry him.
Now, with us, the common worker is incomparably less free than the common worker in Japan. He is less free because of the more complicated mechanism of Occidental societies, whose forces tend to agglomeration and solid integration. He is less free because the social and industrial machinery on which he must depend reshapes him to its own particular requirements, and always so as to evolve some special and artificial capacity at the cost of other inherent
capacity. He is less free because he must live at a standard making it impossible for him to win financial independence by mere thrift. To achieve any
such independence, he must possess exceptional character and exceptional faculties greater than those of thousands of exceptional competitors equally eager to escape from the same thralldom. In brief, then, he is less independent because the special character of his civilization numbs his natural power to live without the help of machinery or large capital. To live thus artificially means to lose, sooner or later, the power of independent movement. Before a Western man can move he has many things to consider. Before a Japanese moves he has nothing to consider. He simply leaves the place he dislikes, and goes to the place he wishes, without any trouble.
There is nothing to prevent him. Poverty is not an obstacle, but a stimulus.
Impedimenta he has none, or only such as he can dispose of in a few minutes.
Distances have no significance for him. Nature has given him perfect feet that
can spring him over fifty miles a day without pain; a stomach whose chemistry can extract ample nourishment from
food on which no European could live; and a constitution that scorns heat, cold, and damp alike, because still unimpaired
by unhealthy clothing, by superfluous comforts, by the habit of seeking warmth from grates and stoves, and by the habit
of wearing leather shoes.
It seems to me that the character of our footgear signifies more than is commonly supposed. That footgear represents in itself a check upon individual
freedom. It signifies this even in costliness; but in form it signifies infinitely
more. It has distorted the Western foot out of the original shape, and rendered it
incapable of the work for which it was evolved. The physical results are not
limited to the foot. Whatever acts as a check, directly or indirectly, upon the
organs of locomotion must extend its effects to the whole physical constitution.
Does the evil stop even there? Perhaps we submit to conventions the most absurd of any existing in any civilization because we have too long submitted to
the tyranny of shoemakers. There maybe defects in our politics, in our social
ethics, in our religious system, more or less related to the habit of wearing leather shoes. Submission to the cramping of the body must certainly aid in
developing submission to the cramping of the mind.
The Japanese man of the people —the skilled laborer able to underbid without effort any Western artisan in the same line of industry — remains happily independent of both shoemakers and tailors. His feet are good to look at, his body is healthy, and his heart is free. If he desire to travel a thousand miles, he can get ready for his journey in five minutes. His whole outfit need not cost seventy-five cents; and all his baggage can be put into a handkerchief. On ten dollars he can travel for a year without
work, or he can travel simply on his ability to work, or he can travel as a
pilgrim. You may reply that any savage can do the same thing. Yes, but
any civilized man cannot; and the Japanese has been a highly civilized man
for at least a thousand years. Hence his present capacity to threaten Western
We have been too much accustomed to associate this kind of independent
mobility with the life of our own beggars and tramps, to have any just conception of its intrinsic meaning. We have thought of it also in connection
with unpleasant things, — uncleanliness and bad smells. But, as Professor Chamberlain has well said, "a Japanese crowd is the sweetest in the world." Your
Japanese tramp takes his hot bath daily, if he has a fraction of a cent to pay for
it, or his cold bath, if he has not. In his little bundle, there are combs, toothpicks, razors, toothbrushes. He never allows himself to become unpleasant.
Reaching his destination, he can transform himself into a visitor of very nice
manners, and faultless though simple attire.
Ability to live without furniture, without impedimenta, with the least possible amount of neat clothing, shows more than the advantage held by this Japanese race in the struggle of life; it shows also the real character of some weaknesses in our own civilization. It forces reflection upon the useless multiplicity of our daily wants. We must have meat and bread and butter; glass windows and fire; hats, white shirts, and woolen underwear; boots and shoes; trunks, bags, and boxes; bedsteads, mattresses, sheets, and blankets: all of which a Japanese can do without, and is really better off without. Think for a moment how important an article of Occidental attire is the single costly item of white shirts! Yet even the linen shirt, the so-called "badge of a gentleman," is in itself a useless garment. It gives neither warmth nor comfort. It represents in our fashions the survival of something
once a luxurious class distinction, but today meaningless and useless as the buttons sewn on the outside of coat-sleeves.
The absence of any huge signs of the really huge things that Japan has done
bears witness to the very peculiar way in which her civilization has been working. It cannot forever so work; but it
has so worked thus far with amazing success. Japan is producing without capital, in our grim sense of the word.
She has become industrial without becoming essentially mechanical and artificial. The vast rice crop is raised upon
millions of tiny, tiny farms; the silk crop, in millions of small poor homes; the tea crop, on countless little patches of soil.
If you visit Kyoto to order something from one of the greatest porcelain-makers in the world, one whose products are
known better in London and in Paris than even in Japan, you will find the factory to be a wooden cottage, in which
no American farmer would live. The greatest maker of cloisonne vases, who may ask you two hundred dollars for
something five inches high, produces his miracles behind a two-story frame dwelling containing perhaps six small rooms.
The best girdles of silk made in Japan, and famous throughout the Empire, are woven in a house that cost scarcely five
hundred dollars to build. The work is, of course, hand-woven. But the factories weaving by machinery — and weaving so well as to ruin foreign industries of far vaster capacity — are hardly
more imposing, with very few exceptions. Long, light, low one-story or two-story
sheds they are, about as costly to erect as a row of wooden stables with us. Yet
sheds like these turn out silks that sell all round the world. Sometimes only by
inquiry, or by the humming of the machinery, can you distinguish a factory from an old yashiki, or an old-fashioned
Japanese school building, unless indeed you can read the Chinese characters over the garden gate. Some big brick factories and breweries exist; but they are
very few, and even when close to the foreign settlements they seem incongruities in the landscape.
Our own architectural monstrosities and our Babels of machinery have been brought into existence by vast integrations of industrial capital. But such integrations do not exist in the Far East; indeed, the capital to make them does
not exist. And supposing that in the course of a few generations there should form in Japan corresponding combinations of money power, it is not easy to suppose correspondences in architectural construction. Even two-story edifices of brick have given bad results in the leading commercial centre; and earthquakes seem to condemn Japan to perpetual simplicity in building. The very land revolts against the imposition of Western architecture, and occasionally even opposes the new course of traffic by pushing railroad lines out of level and out of shape.
Not industry alone still remains thus unintegrated; government itself exhibits a like condition. Nothing is fixed except the Throne. Perpetual change is identical with state policy. Ministers, governors, superintendents, inspectors, all high civil and military officials, are shifted at irregular and surprisingly short intervals, and hosts of smaller officials scatter each time with the whirl. The province in which I passed the first twelvemonth of my residence in Japan
has had four different governors in five years. During my stay at Kumamoto, and before the war had begun, the military command of that important post was three times changed. The government college had in three years three
directors. In educational circles, especially, the rapidity of such changes has been phenomenal. There have been five
different ministers of education in my own time, and more than five different educational policies. The twenty-six
thousand public schools are so related in their management to the local assemblies that, even were no other influences at
work, constant change would be inevitable because of the changes in the assemblies. Directors and teachers keep circling from post to post; there are men little more than thirty years old who have taught in almost every province of the
country. That any educational system could have produced any grand results under these conditions seems nothing
short of miraculous.
We are accustomed to think that some degree of stability is necessary to all real progress, all great development. But Japan has given proof irrefutable
that enormous development is possible without any stability at all. The explanation is in the race character, — a race character in more ways than one the very opposite of our own. Uniformly mobile, and thus uniformly impressionable, the nation has moved unitedly in the direction of great ends; submitting the whole volume of its forty millions to be moulded by the ideas of its rulers, even as sand or as water is
shaped by wind. And this submissiveness to reshaping belongs to the old conditions of its soul life, — old conditions
of rare unselfishness and perfect faith.
The relative absence from the national character of egotistical individualism
has been the saving of an empire; has
enabled a great people to preserve its
independence against prodigious odds.
Wherefore Japan may well be grateful
to her two great religions, the creators
and the preservers of her moral power:
to Shinto, which taught the individual to
think of his Emperor and of his country
before thinking either of his own family
or of himself; and to Buddhism, which
trained him to master regret, to endure
pain, and to accept as eternal law the
vanishing of things loved and the tyranny of things hated.
To-day there is visible a tendency to hardening, — a danger of changes leading to the integration of just such an
officialism as that which has proved the
curse and the weakness of China. The
moral results of the new education have
not been worthy of the material results.
The charge of want of "individuality,"
in the accepted sense of pure selfishness, will scarcely be made against the Japanese of the next generation. Even the
compositions of students already reflect
the new conception of intellectual strength
only as a weapon of offense, and the new
sentiment of aggressive egotism. "Impermanency," writes one, with a fading
memory of Buddhism in his mind, "is the nature of our life. We see often
persons who were rich yesterday, and are
poor to-day. This is the result of human
competition, according to the law of evolution. We are exposed to that competition. We must fight each other, even if
we are not inclined to do so. With what
sword shall we fight? With the sword
of knowledge, forged by education."
Well, there are two forms of the cultivation of Self. One leads to the exceptional development of the qualities
which are noble, and the other signifies
something about which the less said the
better. But it is not the former which
the New Japan is now beginning to
study. I confess to being one of those
who believe that the human heart, even
in the history of a race, may be worth
infinitely more than the human intellect,
and that it will sooner or later prove
itself infinitely better able to answer all
the cruel enigmas of the weird Sphinx
of Life. I still believe that the old Japanese were nearer to the solution of
those enigmas than are we, just because
they recognized moral beauty as greater
than intellectual beauty. And, by way
of conclusion, I may venture to quote
from an article on education by Ferdinand Brunetiere, which I found in the
Revue des Deux Mondes : —
"All our educational measures will
prove vain, if there be no effort to
force into the mind, and to deeply impress upon it, the sense of those fine
words of Lamennais: 'Human society
is based upon mutual giving, or upon
the sacrifice of man for man, or of each
man for all other men; and sacrifice
is the very essence of all true society.'
It is this that we have been unlearning
for nearly a century; and if we have
to put ourselves to school afresh, it will
be in order that we may learn it again.
Without such knowledge there can be
no society and no education, — not, at
least, if the object of education be to
form man for society. Individualism
is to-day the enemy of education, as it
is also the enemy of social order. It
has not been so always; but it has so
become. It will not be so forever; but
it is so now. And without striving to
destroy it — which would mean to fall
from one extreme into another — we
must recognize that, no matter what we
wish to do for the family, for society,
for education, and for the country, it is
against individualism that the work will
have to be done."
Copyright © 2003 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; October 1895; The Genius of Japanese Civilization; Volume 76, No. 456. Pages 449-458.