A Letter From Japan

TŌKYŌ, August 1, 1904.
HERE, in this quiet suburb, where the green peace is broken only by the voices of children at play and the shrilling of cicadæ, it is difficult to imagine that, a few hundred miles away, there is being carried on one of the most tremendous wars of modern times, between armies aggregating more than half a million of men, or that, on the intervening sea, a hundred ships of war have been battling. This contest, between the mightiest of Western powers and a people that began to study Western science only within the recollection of many persons still in vigorous life, is, on one side at least, a struggle for national existence. It was inevitable, this struggle, — might perhaps have been delayed, but certainly not averted. Japan has boldly challenged an empire capable of threatening simultaneously the civilizations of the East and the West, — a mediæval power that, unless vigorously checked, seems destined to absorb Scandinavia and to dominate China. For all industrial civilization the contest is one of vast moment; — for Japan it is probably the supreme crisis in her national life. As to what her fleets and her armies have been doing, the world is fully informed; but as to what her people are doing at home, little has been written.
To inexperienced observation they would appear to be doing nothing unusual; and this strange calm is worthy of record. At the beginning of hostilities an Imperial mandate was issued, bidding all non-combatants to pursue their avocations as usual, and to trouble themselves as little as possible about exterior events; — and this command has been obeyed to the letter. It would be natural to suppose that all the sacrifices, tragedies, and uncertainties of the contest had thrown their gloom over the life of the capital in especial; but there is really nothing whatever to indicate a condition of anxiety or depression. On the contrary, one is astonished by the joyous tone of public confidence, and the admirably restrained pride of the nation in its victories. Western tides have strewn the coast with Japanese corpses; regiments have been blown out of existence in the storming of positions defended by wire-entanglements; battleships have been lost: yet at no moment has there been the least public excitement. The people are following their daily occupations just as they did before the war; the cheery aspect of things is just the same; the theatres and flower displays are not less well patronized. The life of Tōkyō has been, to outward seeming, hardly more affected by the events of the war than the life of nature beyond it, where the flowers are blooming and the butterflies hovering as in other summers. Except after the news of some great victory, — celebrated with fireworks and lantern processions, — there are no signs of public emotion; and but for the frequent distribution of newspaper-extras, by runners ringing bells, you could almost persuade yourself that the whole story of the war is an evil dream.
Yet there has been, of necessity, a vast amount of suffering — viewless and voiceless suffering — repressed by that sense of social and patriotic duty which is Japanese religion. As a seventeen-syllable poem of the hour tells us, the news of every victory must bring pain as well as joy: —

Gōgwai no
Tabi teki mikata
Goké ga fué.

“ Each time that an extra is circulated the widows of foes and friends have increased in multitude.”

The great quiet and the smiling tearlessness testify to the more than Spartan discipline of the race. Anciently the people were trained, not only to conceal their emotions, but to speak in a cheerful voice and to show a pleasant face under any stress of moral suffering; and they are obedient to that teaching to-day. It would still be thought a shame to betray personal sorrow for the loss of those who die for Emperor and fatherland. The public seem to view the events of the war as they would watch the scenes of a popular play. They are interested without being excited ; and their extraordinary self - control is particularly shown in various manifestations of the “play-impulse.” Everywhere the theatres are producing war dramas (based upon actual fact); the newspapers and magazines are publishing war stories and novels; the cinematograph exhibits the monstrous methods of modern warfare; and numberless industries are turning out objects of art or utility designed to commemorate the Japanese triumphs.

But the present psychological condition, the cheerful and even playful tone of public feeling, can be indicated less by any general statement than by the mention of ordinary facts, — every-day matters recorded in the writer ’s diary.

Never before were the photographers so busy: it is said that they have not been able to fulfill half of the demands made upon them. The hundreds of thousands of men sent to the war wished to leave photographs with their families, and also to take with them portraits of parents, children, and other beloved persons. The nation was being photographed during the past six months.

A fact of sociological interest is that photography has added something new to the poetry of the domestic faith. From the time of its first introduction, photography became popular in Japan; and none of those superstitions, which inspire fear of the camera among less civilized races, offered any obstacle to the rapid development of a new industry. It is true that there exist some queer folk-beliefs about photographs, — ideas of mysterious relation between the sun-picture and the person imaged. For example: if, in the photograph of a group, one figure appear indistinct or blurred, that is thought to be an omen of sickness or death. But this superstition has its industrial value: it has compelled photographers to be careful about their work, — especially in these days of war, when everybody wants to have a good clear portrait, because the portrait might be needed for another purpose than preservation in an album.

During the last twenty years there has gradually come into existence the custom of placing the photograph of a dead parent, brother, husband, or child, beside the mortuary tablet kept in the Buddhist household shrine. For this reason, also, the departing soldier wishes to leave at home a good likeness of himself.

The rites of domestic affection, in old samurai families, are not confined to the cult of the dead. On certain occasions, the picture of the absent parent, husband, brother, or betrothed, is placed in the alcove of the guest-room, and a feast laid out before it. The photograph, in such cases, is fixed upon a little stand (dai); and the feast is served as if the person were present. This pretty custom of preparing a meal for the absent is probably more ancient than any art of portraiture; but the modern photograph adds to the human poetry of the rite. In feudal time it was the rule to set the repast facing the direction in which the absent person had gone — north, south, east, or west. After a brief interval the covers of the vessels containing the cooked food were lifted and examined. If the lacquered inner surface was thickly beaded with vapor, all was well; but if the surface was dry, that was an omen of death, a sign that the disembodied spirit had returned to absorb the essence of the offerings.

As might have been expected, in a country where the “play-impulse” is stronger, perhaps, than in any other part of the world, the Zeitgeist found manifestation in the flower displays of the year. I visited those in my neighborhood, which is the Quarter of the Gardeners. This quarter is famous for its azaleas (tsutsuJi); and every spring the azalea gardens attract thousands of visitors, — not only by the wonderful exhibition then made of shrubs which look like solid masses of blossom (ranging up from snowy white, through all shades of pink, to a flamboyant purple), but also by displays of effigies: groups of figures ingeniously formed with living leaves and flowers. These figures, life-size, usually represent famous incidents of history or drama. In many cases — though not in all — the bodies and the costumes are composed of foliage and flowers trained to grow about a framework; while the faces, feet, and hands are represented by some kind of fleshcolored composition.

This year, however, a majority of the displays represented scenes of the war, — such as an engagement between Japanese infantry and mounted Cossacks, a night attack by torpedo boats, the sinking of a battleship. In the last-mentioned display, Russian bluejackets appeared, swimming for their lives in a rough sea; — the pasteboard waves and the swimming figures being made to rise and fall by the pulling of a string; while the crackling of quick-firing guns was imitated by a mechanism contrived with sheets of zinc.

It is said that Admiral Tōgō sent to Tōkyō for some flowering-trees in pots, — inasmuch as his responsibilities allowed him no chance of seeing the cherry-flowers and the plum-blossoms in their season, — and that the gardeners responded even too generously.

Almost immediately after the beginning of hostilities, thousands of “war pictures ” — mostly cheap lithographs — were published. The drawing and coloring were better than those of the prints issued at the time of the war with China; but the details were to a great extent imaginary, — altogether imaginary as to the appearance of Russian troops. Pictures of the engagements with the Russian fleet were effective, despite some lurid exaggeration. The most startling things were pictures of Russian defeats in Korea, published before a single military engagement had taken place; — the artist had “flushed to anticipate the scene.” In these prints the Russians were depicted as fleeing in utter rout, leaving their officers — very fine-looking officers — dead upon the field; while the Japanese infantry, with dreadfully determined faces, were coming up at a double. The propriety and the wisdom of thus pictorially predicting victory, and easy victory to boot, may be questioned. But I am told that the custom of so doing is an old one; and it is thought that to realize the common hope thus imaginatively is lucky. At all events, there is no attempt at deception in these pictorial undertakings; — they help to keep up the public courage, and they ought to be pleasing to the gods.

Some of the earlier pictures have now been realized in grim fact. The victories in China had been similarly foreshadowed: they amply justified the faith of the artist. . . . To-day the war pictures continue to multiply; but they have changed character. The inexorable truth of the photograph, and the sketches of the war correspondent, now bring all the vividness and violence of fact to help the artist’s imagination. There was something naïve and theatrical in the drawings of anticipation; but the pictures of the hour represent most tragic reality, — always becoming more terrible. At this writing, Japan has yet lost no single battle; but not a few of her victories have been dearly won.

To enumerate even a tenth of the various articles ornamented with designs inspired by the war — articles such as combs, clasps, fans, brooches, cardcases, purses — would require a volume. Even cakes and confectionery are stamped with naval or military designs; and the glass or paper windows of shops — not to mention the signboards — have pictures of Japanese victories painted upon them. At night the shop lanterns proclaim the pride of the nation in its fleets and armies; and a whole chapter might easily be written about the new designs in transparencies and toy lanterns. A new revolving lantern — turned by the air-current which its own flame creates — has become very popular. It represents a charge of Japanese infantry upon Russian defenses; and holes pierced in the colored paper, so as to produce a continuous vivid flashing while the transparency revolves, suggest the exploding of shells and the volleying of machine guns.

Some displays of the art-impulse, as inspired by the war, have been made in directions entirely unfamiliar to Western experience, — in the manufacture, for example, of women’s hair ornaments and dress materials. Dress goods decorated with war pictures have actually become a fashion, — especially crêpe silks for underwear, and figured silk linings for cloaks and sleeves. More remarkable than these are the new hairpins; — by hairpins I mean those long double-pronged ornaments of flexible metal which are called kamzashi, and are more or less ornamented according to the age of the wearer. (The kanzashi made for young girls are highly decorative; those worn by older folk are plain, or adorned only with a ball of coral or polished stone.) The new hairpins might be called commemorative: one, of which the decoration represents a British and a Japanese flag intercrossed, celebrates the Anglo-Japanese alliance; another represents an officer’s cap and sword; and the best of all is surmounted by a tiny metal model of abattleship. The battleship-pin is not merely fantastic: it is actually pretty!

As might have been expected, military and naval subjects occupy a large place among the year’s designs for toweling. The towel designs celebrating naval victories have been particularly successful: they are mostly in white, on a blue ground; or in black, on a white ground. One of the best — blue and white — represented only a flock of gulls wheeling about the masthead of a sunken ironclad, and, far away, the silhouettes of Japanese battleships passing to the horizon. . . . What especially struck me in this, and in several other designs, was the original manner in which the Japanese artist had seized upon the traits of the modern battleship, — the powerful and sinister lines of its shape, — just as he would have caught for us the typical character of a beetle or a lobster. The lines have been just enough exaggerated to convey, at one glance, the real impression made by the aspect of these iron monsters, — a vague impression of bulk and force and menace, very difficult to express by ordinary methods of drawing.

Besides towels decorated with artistic sketches of this sort, there have been placed upon the market many kinds of towels bearing comic war pictures, — caricatures or cartoons which are amusing without being malignant. It will be remembered that at the time of the first attack made upon the Port Arthur squadron, several of the Russian officers were in the Dalny theatre, — never dreaming that the Japanese would dare to strike the first blow. This incident has been made the subject of a towel design. At one end of the towel is a comic study of the faces of the Russians, delightedly watching the gyrations of a ballet dancer. At the other end is a study of the faces of the same commanders when they find, on returning to the port, only the masts of their battleships above water. Another towel shows a procession of fish in front of a surgeon’s office — waiting their turns to be relieved of sundry bayonets, swords, revolvers, and rifles, which have stuck in their throats. A third towel picture represents a Russian diver examining, with a prodigious magnifying-glass, the holes made by torpedoes in the hull of a sunken cruiser. Comic verses or legends, in cursive text, are printed beside these pictures.

The great house of Mitsui, which placed the best of these designs on the market, also produced some beautiful souvenirs of the war, in the shape of fukusa. (A fukusa is an ornamental silk covering, or wrapper, put over presents sent to friends on certain occasions, and returned after the present has been received.) These are made of the heaviest and costliest silk, and inclosed within appropriately decorated covers. Upon one fukusa is a colored picture of the cruisers Nisshin and Kasuga, under full steam; and upon another has been printed, in beautiful Chinese characters, the full text of the Imperial Declaration of War.

But the strangest things that I have seen in this line of production were silk dresses for baby girls, — figured stuffs which, when looked at from a little distance, appeared incomparably pretty, owing to the masterly juxtaposition of tints and colors. On closer inspection the charming design proved to be composed entirely of war pictures, — or, rather, fragments of pictures, blended into one astonishing combination: naval battles; burning warships; submarine mines exploding; torpedo boats attacking; charges of Cossacks repulsed by Japanese infantry; artillery rushing into position; storming of forts; long lines of soldiery advancing through mist. Here were colors of blood and fire, tints of morning haze and evening glow, noonblue and starred night-purple, sea-gray and field-green, — most wonderful thing! ... I suppose that the child of a military or naval officer might, without impropriety, be clad in such a robe. But then — the unspeakable pity of things!

The war toys are innumerable: I can attempt to mention only a few of the more remarkable kinds.

Japanese children play many sorts of card games, some of which are old, others quite new. There are poetical card games, for example, played with a pack of which each card bears the text of a poem, or part of a poem; and the player should be able to remember the name of the author of any quotation in the set. Then there are geographical card games, in which each of the cards used bears the name, and perhaps a little picture, of some famous site, town, or temple; and the player should be able to remember the district and province in which the mentioned place is situated. The latest novelty in this line is a pack of cards with pictures upon them of the Russian war vessels; and the player should be able to state what has become of every vessel named, — whether sunk, disabled, or confined in Port Arthur.

There is another card game in which the battleships, cruisers, and torpedo craft of both Japan and Russia are represented. The winner in this game destroys his “captures” by tearing the cards taken. But the shops keep packages of each class of warship cards in stock; and when all the destroyers or cruisers of one country have been put hors de combat, the defeated party can purchase new vessels abroad. One torpedo boat costs about one farthing; but five torpedo boats can be bought for a penny.

The toy - shops are crammed with models of battleships, — in wood, clay, porcelain, lead, and tin, — of many sizes and prices. Some of the larger ones, moved by clockwork, are named after Japanese battleships: Shikishima, Fuji, Mikasa. One mechanical toy represents the sinking of a Russian vessel by a Japanese torpedo boat.

Among cheaper things of this class is a box of colored sand, for the representation of naval engagements. Children arrange the sand so as to resemble waves; and with each box of sand are sold two fleets of tiny leaden vessels. The Japanese ships are white, and the Russian black; and explosions of torpedoes are to be figured by small cuttings of vermilion paper, planted in the sand.

The children of the poorest classes make their own war toys; and I have been wondering whether those ancient feudal laws (translated by Professor Wigmore), which fixed the cost and quality of toys to be given to children, did not help to develop that ingenuity which the little folk display. Recently I saw a group of children in our neighborhood playing at the siege of Port Arthur, with fleets improvised out of scraps of wood and some rusty nails. A tub of water represented Port Arthur. Battleships were figured by bits of plank, into which chopsticks had been fixed to represent masts, and rolls of paper to represent funnels. Little flags, appropriately colored, were fastened to the masts with rice paste. Torpedo boats were imaged by splinters, into each of which a short thick nail had been planted to indicate a smokestack. Stationary submarine mines were represented by small squares of wood, each having one long nail driven into it; and these little things, when dropped into water with the nail-head downwards, would keep up a curious bobbing motion for a long time. Other squares of wood, having clusters of short nails driven into them, represented floating mines: and the mimic battleships were made to drag for these, with lines of thread. The pictures in the Japanese papers had doubtless helped the children to imagine the events of the war with tolerable accuracy.

Naval caps for children have become, of course, more in vogue than ever before. Some of the caps bear, in Chinese characters of burnished metal, the name of a battleship, or the words Nippon Teikoku (Empire of Japan), — disposed like the characters upon the cap of a blue-jacket. On some caps, however, the ship’s name appears in English letters,— Yashima, Fuji, etc.

The play-impulse, I had almost forgotten to say, is shared by the soldiers themselves,—though most of those called to the front do not expect to return in the body. They ask only to be remembered at the Spirit-Invoking Shrine (Shokonska), where the shades of all who die for Emperor and country are believed to gather. The men of the regiments temporarily quartered in our suburb, on their way to the war, found time to play at mimic war with the small folk of the neighborhood. (At all times Japanese soldiers are very kind to children; and the children here march with them, join in their military songs, and correctly salute their officers, feeling sure that the gravest officer will return the salute of a little child.) When the last regiment went away, the men distributed toys among the children assembled at the station to give them a parting cheer, — hairpins, with military symbols for ornament, to the girls; wooden infantry and tin cavalry to the boys. The oddest present was a small clay model of a Russian soldier’s head, presented with the jocose promise: “If we come back, we shall bring you some real ones.” In the top of the head there is a small wire loop, to which a rubber string can be attached. At the time of the war with China, little clay models of Chinese heads, with very long queues, were favorite toys.

The war has also suggested a variety of new designs for that charming object, the toko-niwa. Few of my readers know what a toko-niwa, or “alcove-garden,” is. It is a miniature garden — perhaps less than two feet square — contrived within an ornamental shallow basin of porcelain or other material, and placed in the alcove of a guest-room by way of decoration. You may see there a tiny pond; a streamlet crossed by humped bridges of Chinese pattern; dwarf trees forming a grove, and shading the model of a Shinto temple; imitations in baked clay of stone lanterns, — perhaps even the appearance of a hamlet of thatched cottages. If the tokoniwa be not too small, you may see real fish swimming in the pond, or a pet tortoise crawling among the rockwork. Sometimes the miniature garden represents Horai. and the palace of the DragonKing.

Two new varieties have come into fashion. One is a model of Port Arthur, showing the harbor and the forts; and with the materials for the display there is sold a little map, showing how to place certain tiny battleships, representing the imprisoned and the investing fleets. The other toko-niwa represents a Korean or Chinese landscape, with hill ranges and rivers and woods; and the appearance of a battle is created by masses of toy soldiers — cavalry, infantry, and artillery— in all positions of attack and defense. Minute forts of baked clay, bristling with cannon about the size of small pins, occupy elevated positions. When properly arranged the effect is panoramic. The soldiers in the foreground are about an inch long; those a little farther away about half as long; and those upon the hills are no larger than flies.

But the most remarkable novelty of this sort yet produced is a kind of tokoniwa recently on display at a famous shop in Ginza. A label bearing the inscription, Kaï-téï no Ikken (View of the OceanBed) sufficiently explained the design. The suïbon, or “water-tray,” containing the display was half filled with rocks and sand so as to resemble a sea-bottom; and little fishes appeared swarming in the foreground. A little farther back, upon an elevation, stood Otohimé, the DragonKing’s daughter, surrounded by her maiden attendants, and gazing, with just the shadow of a smile, at two men in naval uniform who were shaking hands, — dead heroes of the war: Admiral Makaroff and Commander Hirosé! These had esteemed each other in life; and it was a happy thought to thus represent their friendly meeting in the world of Spirits.

Though his name is perhaps unfamiliar to English readers, Commander Takeo Hirosé has become, deservedly, one of Japan’s national heroes. On the 27th of March, during the second attempt made to block the entrance to Port Arthur, he was killed while endeavoring to help a comrade, — a comrade who had formerly saved him from death. For five years Hirosé had been a naval attaché at St, Petersburg, and had made many friends in Russian naval and military circles. From boyhood his life had been devoted to study and duty; and it was commonly said of him that he had no particle of selfishness in his nature. Unlike most of his brother officers he remained unmarried, — holding that no man who might be called on at any moment to lay down his life for his country had a moral right to marry. The only amusements in which he was ever known to indulge were physical exercises; and he was acknowledged one of the best jūjutsu (wrestlers) in the empire. The heroism of his death, at the age of thirty-six, had much less to do with the honors paid to his memory than the self-denying heroism of his life.

Now his picture is in thousands of homes, and his name is celebrated in every village. It is celebrated also by the manufacture of various souvenirs, which are sold by myriads. For example, there is a new fashion in sleeve-buttons, called Kinen-botan, or “Commemoration-buttons.” Each button bears a miniature portrait of the commander, with the inscription, Shichi-shō hōkoku, “Even in seven successive lives — for love of country.” It is recorded that Hirosé often cited, to friends who criticised his ascetic devotion to duty, the famous utterance of Kusunoki Masashige, who declared, ere laying down his life for the Emperor GoDaigo, that he desired to die for his sovereign in seven successive existences.

But the highest honor paid to the memory of Hirosé is of a sort now possible only in the East, though once possible also in the West, when the Greek or Roman patriot-hero might be raised, by the common love of his people, to the place of the Immortals. . . . Wine-cups of porcelain have been made, decorated with his portrait; and beneath the portrait appears, in ideographs of gold, the inscription, Gunshin Ilirose Chusa. The character “gun” signifies war; the character “shin,” a god, — either in the sense of dimes or deus, according to circumstances; and the Chinese text, read in the Japanese way, is Ikusa no Kami. Whether that stern and valiant spirit is really invoked by the millions who believe that no brave soul is doomed to extinction, no well-spent life laid down in vain, no heroism cast away, i do not know. But, in any event, human affection and gratitude can go no farther than this; and it must be confessed that Old Japan is still able to confer honors worth dying for.

Boys and girls in all the children’s schools are now singing the Song of Hirosé Chūsa, —which is a marching song. The words and the music are published in a little booklet, with a portrait of the late commander upon the cover. Everywhere, and at all hours of the day, one hears this song being sung: —

He whose every word and deed gave to men an example of what the war-folk of the Empire of Nippon should be, — Commander HirosS: is he really dead ?

Though the body die, the spirit dies not. He who wished to bereborn seven times into this world, for the sake of serving his country, for the sake of requiting the Imperial favor, — Commander Hirosé : has he really died ?

Since I am a son of the Country of the Gods, the fire, of the evil-hearted Russians cannot touch me ! ” — The sturdy Takeo who spoke thus : can he really be dead ? . . .

Nay ! that glorious war-death meant undying fame;—beyond a thousand years the valiant heart shall live ; — as to a god of war shall reverence be paid to him. . . .

Observing the playful confidence of this wonderful people in their struggle for existence against the mightiest power of the West, — their perfect trust in the wisdom of their leaders and the valor of their armies, — the good humor of their irony when mocking the enemy’s blunders, — their strange capacity to find, in the world-stirring events of the hour, the same amusement that they would find in watching a melodrama, — one is tempted to ask: “What would be the moral consequence of a national defeat?” ... It would depend, I think, upon circumstances. Were Kuropatkin able to fulfill his rash threat of invading Japan, the nation would probably rise as one man. But otherwise the knowledge of any great disaster would be bravely borne. From time unknown Japan has been a land of cataclysms, — earthquakes that ruin cities in the space of a moment; tidal waves, two hundred miles long, sweeping whole coast populations out of existence; floods submerging hundreds of leagues of well-tilled fields; eruptions burying provinces. Calamities like this have disciplined the race in resignation and in patience; and it has been well trained also to bear with courage all the misfortunes of war. Even by the foreign peoples that have been most closely in contact with her, the capacities of Japan remained unguessed. Perhaps her power to resist aggression is far surpassed by her power to endure.