No attempt will here be made to sketch the evolution of literature in New Japan, or to treat the present period as a chapter in the twelve centuries of the literary history of the nation. The former subject, dating as it does from about 1885, seems hardly to have acquired a sufficient perspective for historical treatment, while the latter is too vast for a single article. We shall aim to interpret some of the literary productions of the new era as a reflection of the remarkable transformation through which Japan’s social life is just passing; for in this sense the young literature, otherwise of too local interest, would seem to possess an important and even universal significance. From this point of view, however, it would be impossible to do justice to the relative importance to one another of the individual authors and works, and we could not even exhaust the list of those whose merit is greatest. We are even obliged to exclude a few great works by Roban and Shōyō for they touch themes of universal human interest rather than reveal the spirit of modern Japan. Our choice will be confessedly partial, but will include little that is not in some manner or other expressive of the society of the present day.
It might be thought necessary to define in simple words the meaning of the terms literature and society as here used. “Literature ” is intended to comprise all or any artistic, as opposed to scientific, writing on man and nature, but, in this article, is confined to such essays and novels as seem to reflect the social life of New Japan. “ Society ” does not lend itself to a precise definition; the common sense would scarcely include the physical surroundings, the institutions, and the domestic and foreign political relations of a nation, but would regard it rather as aggregate effects of all these things and of the nation’s collective life upon the daily habit, material and moral, of the individual. It is unnecessary for our purpose to go further and make scholastic improvements upon this crude definition, — it sufficiently indicates the complex and largely inexplicable nature of the question. Hence it is that literature delineates, rather than analyzes or explains, society. Literature is, therefore, a mirror — often a dim and uneven mirror — of society, and an attempt, like the present, to interpret the object through the image, must needs be seriously defective.
No impartial account of the literature of New Japan should fail to accord Tsubouchi Yūzō (pseudonyms, Shōyō and Haru-no-ya) a distinguished place in its history. No other writer has been so reflective and so modest, and yet so unceasingly and brilliantly growing, and so largely a leader of the literary tendencies of the nation, as this sage poet of Okubo. For a quarter of a century he has been engaged in training the youth at Waseda University, whence thousands saturated with the natural but profound influence of the conscientious master have spread over the land, and hundreds have established themselves in the literary world.
We much regret that our present purpose forbids us to follow, beyond its very first stage, the marvelous literary career of Dr. Tsubouchi, first as a novelist, then as an essayist, philosopher, educator, and dramatist; for, so far as his own literary works are concerned, they are too universal in import to be expressive merely of the Japanese society of to-day. His first appearance in 1885-86 as a novelist, however, should serve as the starting point of our account. The Tō-sei sho-sei katagi (The Modern Student) came as a bolt in a clear sky, caused consternation in the followers of the old literary forms, and powerfully turned the trend of thought of the novelists in a new direction. Hitherto most writers had been wont to assign different abstract qualities to different characters in the story, and arrange their acts and careers in such a way as to point toward some wholesome moral exhortation. Individual characters were often overshadowed either by inexorable Fate and unforeseen accidents or by the commanding power of the family or public institutions. The Tō-sei sho-sei katagi, except in the earlier portion of its story, completely ignored the worn-out conventions of fiction-making. A novel without a hero as it was, it revealed more than half a dozen young students with their different characteristics in full activity in the heart of bustling Tokyo. The student’s salute and the jinrikisha-man’s shout are heard on every hand; the society is new, crude, and bare; the virtues of the past feudal ages are not much in evidence, while the old vices remain and have gained force in the new age of egoistic hedonism. In this vigorous but unembellished society, each student is left amid temptations, and makes his own career according to his character and environment.
It is a decidedly transitional society that the rising novelist depicted in 1885 and that a host of others have since essayed to portray. It is a society in which old customs persist side by side with a new order of things, and old intellectual and moral habit obtains amid new laws and institutions. It is a society, what is more, in which the old social sanction has passed away, but the old social mind still subsists to a large extent, while a new social sanction and new social morals have hardly been developed. For although New Japan has, during the forty years of her existence, succeeded in rebuilding her legal, political, and educational organs upon new foundations, and pushing her economic life into the newest stage of the world’s material progress, her art, religion, and social life, which from their very nature cannot be artificially changed by laws or by individual self-interest, are still far from seeing the dawn of a new era. For many years to come, the old and the new elements in each of these fields must exist in inharmonious juxtaposition, and, quite naturally, this condition is nowhere more evident and more intimately felt than in the daily social life of the people. It would, of course, be beyond our power to unravel this confused state of society. All we may hope to accomplish would be to make an attempt to point out some of the more striking aspects of social life and show them reflected in a few notable literary productions.
It is well known that Japan’s feudalism was abolished by law not more than forty years ago, and yet in this short space of time it has been replaced by the new order of things perhaps more completely than in England or Germany. The transformation is, however, more institutional than social. Let us first observe that Japan has hardly had time enough to outlive the psychic habit which she acquired during the seven centuries of her feudal régime. For the last two hundred and sixty years of this rule, particularly, the land was parceled into nearly three hundred fiefs, largely autonomous and in a measure exclusive and jealous of each other, and the people were bound fast by a rigid system of social classes, order, and etiquette. Moreover, the country was during this period almost entirely protected from foreign influences.
The universal rule of status held down the ambition and stifled the competition of the individual, while little stimulus came from abroad to kindle in the popular mind yearnings for a wider horizon. If the natural competition of the fiefs and a long period of peace resulted, as they did, in developing greatly diversified arts of life, in diffusing culture among the lower classes of society, and creating in the character of the average citizen a degree of both intelligence and chivalry, all of which have proved invaluable assets in the new career of the nation, the social conditions did not at the same time fail to circumscribe the range of the thought and feeling of the individual Japanese. It is the effects of this long process of limiting one’s mental operation that the nation has not yet succeeded in outgrowing.
Unfortunately, despite the sudden extension of the sphere of her activity since 1868, Japan’s economic difficulty of maintaining an increasing population with limited resources — a difficulty which is only beginning to be lessened by industrial openings abroad — seems to have retarded not a little the passing away of the cramped mental habit of old. The present Japan may indeed have so improved in this regard in recent years as to appear almost a strange land to the Japanese of half a century ago or to the Korean of to-day. An American who does not relish even the rather innocent gossip of the New England town, and feels at odds with the narrow-minded social thinking in some countries of the Old World, would be annoyed in Japan by the way in which every slight success excites unmerited applause from some and inevitable jealousies from others, by the readiness with which the native mind moves along small artificial channels of thought and feeling, and by the petty criticisms and intrigues by means of which not a few seek to climb the ladders of life. It would seem singular, but it is a natural result of their historic training, that the same people who have shown themselves to be capable at critical times of the utmost sacrifice and of an absolute national unity, should in their daily struggle of life allow their minds to run into old grooves that neutralize the growth of open coöperations and manly conflicts.
The Ukigumo (Floating Clouds) by Hasegawa (nom de plume, Niyōtei Shimei) appeared in 1887-88, and has been regarded as the first novel in which the development of individual characters is the theme. This plain story, told delicately in a simple prose style, may perhaps be cited as an illustration, though not quite as adequate as one would wish, of the points we have been discussing. Uchimi, a young official who early lost his parents and has, since he was fifteen, been living with his uncle in Tokyo, falls in love with the latter’s daughter, who is vain and light-hearted. He is, however, so reserved and so inflexible in his manners that the chief of the bureau under whom he has been serving places him on the list of men to be discharged. At once the aunt, who was formerly a professional singer, and has seemed kind enough to Uchimi, begins to make it manifest to him that his presence in the family is unwelcome and that he should not hope to become her son-in-law. One of his former colleagues, Honda, a smooth-tongued youth, who is a favorite of the chief official, now frequently visits the house, ingratiates himself in many ways with the aunt and her daughter, and skillfully plays upon the wounded feelings of Uchimi, who is dejected and growing pessimistic. One day the latter has a heated dialogue with the daughter. “ Oh, yes,” says she at last, “ I like Mr. Honda, but what is that to you ? ”
Side by side with the limited mental sweep of the people, one will discern the survival of some old customs and institutions. If the former may be considered a potentiality inherent in the average Japanese, the latter are organs through which the nation habitually performs its functions of life. Of these old survivals, the most persistent and powerful are perhaps those of the family. The framers of the new Civil Code of Japan, which has been largely derived from European laws, have shrunk from making as bold changes, or introducing as novel provisions, in the family law, as they have in other parts of the Code. Although every member of the family stands under the direct rule and protection of law, the Code still abstains from interfering with the old custom of the parents and their married children living under one roof, and with the moral pressure which the parent may bring to bear upon the child in the choice of the latter’s life companion. It is expedient that in these matters law should not precede, but follow, changes in popular usage. Old customs about the right of the family as against wishes of the individual still prevail to a large extent in Japan, while her younger generation often resists their tyranny. Perhaps it might be said that almost every educated youth has some personal experience of the conflicts of the old and new family ideas. The difficulty is either settled amicably by the gracious consent of the older relatives to the youth’s desires, or results in the latter’s revolt or acquiescence. Of these conflicts, the writers of fiction naturally delight in depicting those particularly relating to marriage. In this connection, reference may be made to two of Kōyō’s novels.
Ozaki Kōyō was a consummate master of prose style, and was so prolific a writer that during the seventeen years before 1903, when his lamented death occurred, he published not less than eighty-five novels and essays, a few of them running to several volumes each. His Iro-zange (Confessions of Love), published in 1889, is a story of a feudal age. The pathetic incidents would never occur in the actual life of to-day, but the customs described in it still remain operative, though in much feebler forms.
The solitary hut of a young, beautiful nun, Wakaba, is visited one summer evening by another unknown nun of like age, who begs for lodging over the night. The latter is touched by a letter pasted on a wall, which the hostess in her lonely nights is wont to read and ponder. It is addressed to Wakaba by her former husband, she explains, whom she had married only a few days before he departed for a battlefield, and states in affectionate terms that he is obliged to divorce her, and counsels second marriage to a suitable person. The visitor in return narrates her pathetic life-story, which the novelist puts in his own graphic words. A little away from the scene of a fierce battle, a wounded young warrior meets his uncle, who brought up the nephew in his childhood, after he had lost his parents, but who is now on the enemy’s side. The lad is exhausted, and otherwise dares not raise his hand against his fosterfather, who challenges him to fight. The bleeding Koshirō is carried away by his servant to the uncle’s home, where he is attended on his sick-bed by the latter’s daughter Yoshino, to whom he was once betrothed. When he regains consciousness, she gently torments him by such questions as these: “ Do I hear aright that constancy is the greatest virtue for the woman ? ” “ Pray tell me whether a gentleman may have more than one lover, while a lady should not marry twice ? ” She has been constant in her tender love for Koshirō, but he has married another.
He married another in order not to stain the name of his ancestry by marrying an enemy’s daughter, but has also divorced his wife and set out for the war, with the full intention of falling in battle and thus atoning with death for his forced ingratitude toward his unde. He has been ignobly saved by this very uncle in a moment of incapacity. Hearing now, however, that his lord has died in the war, he quietly commits suicide. When this narrative of the visiting nun is ended, the hostess exclaims, “ Then you are the betrothed of my late husband.” “And you are his wife,” replies Yoshino. As they marvel at each other’s destiny so deftly interwoven, the night slowly recedes and a new day dawns.
Kōyō’s Futari nyōbō (Two Wives) is a modern story of the plebeian sort. An old official has two daughters, the elder pretty and lively and the younger homely but reliable. The former becomes the second wife of a high official. She bears no children, and constantly worries about her fastidious mother-in-law. The trouble is increased when his sister, with her husband, an army officer, comes from Kumamoto to live with the family. Critical eyes watch over the conduct of the poor mistress of the house. The motherin-law is so dissatisfied with things in general that she moves into the new home of the officer, who has lately established his own quarters, and receives her purse-money from her son. Soon she is at odds with the new people. In the mean time, the high official loses his position, and his mother, now receiving from him less money than before, returns to his home. The younger daughter, who is less pretty and more business-like than the elder, is married to an honest friend of her childhood who now earns modest wages at the government arsenal, and is happy and contented. There is no mother-in-law to harass her; she loves her husband, and has a baby, in whom she can forget the ills of life.
Let us now turn to certain peculiarities of the social mind of the Japanese people which differentiate it from that of the Anglo-Saxons. Seriously as one may doubt the oft-repeated assertion that the Japanese have a low esteem for human life, he cannot be blind to the fact that they have hardly attained to the full power of the conception of the dignity of the individual person which is felt among the more enlightened Britons and Americans. Here, it is true, one deals with a question of degrees; but of high significance is whatever little difference that exists between the Anglo-Saxon and the Japanese in regard to their ideas as to the worth of the individual relative to the institutions about him, to the manner in which the Eastern and Western societies view and discuss the conduct of their respective members, to the esteem in which their press holds the honor of the average citizen, and to the independence of thought, not necessarily its correctness or depth, of the masses about moral questions and public affairs. Behind this difference, however slight, there must be historic lessons of the greatest import.
Another no less important peculiarity of the Japanese social mind is its comparative weakness in the idea of service, — service to one’s fellowmen as distinguished from loyalty to one’s superiors. It may be said that here again is a question of difference of small degrees, for, on the one hand, Japan’s annals contain noble stories of persons devoting their lives to the welfare of society, and, on the other, there is perhaps no civilized country on earth where the universal and practical acceptance of the idea of service would not cause a veritable social revolution. A nation, however, whose masses have inherited the notion at least as an ideal or a watchword, and whose few actually build their lives upon it and are never tired of reminding their fellowcitizens of its importance, may be said to be morally far richer than a people in whom the idea is well known but not so well as to form a predominant part of their collective ethical consciousness. The latter is the case with Japan.
Of her serious defects in this respect, at least one manifest cause is discernible in history. The two and a half centuries of the Tokugawa’s feudal rule inculcated the idea of loyalty to the lord, and of the preponderance of each upper class of society over the lower. On the other hand, the ancient Chinese notion of the ruler’s duty to the people lacked elements in both China and Japan to make it more than a rhetorical declaration. The idea that the official is a master, instead of a servant of the people seems, despite the clamorous arguments of the political theorists to the contrary, intact among the uneducated multitudes, and is naturally taken advantage of by the lesser or local officials in the present bureaucratic system of Japan. It would be difficult to discover among them many who regard their posts as a trust from or a service to the common people. For similar reasons, perhaps, the official is as meek to his superior as he is overbearing to his inferior. His position, too, is so shifting that his conception of governmental duty is often remarkably mechanical and insincere. One visits the public office with an instinctive sense of its cold formalism and ponderous irresponsibility. It is little wonder that the average official seems soon to become an old, care-worn person. The lack of the sense of service is, however, not limited to his class, for an unconscious copy of the bureaucratic system and its clannish selfishness has the tendency to develop in any organization of power or wealth, or even of knowledge.
How to check this general spirit which dampens the cheer of society and hinders wholesome competition among the ambitious, is the serious problem that faces the otherwise gifted nation. As for the permanent introduction among the nation of the larger idea of service, as well as of the value of the individual person, perhaps nothing would aid it better than a powerful spiritual impulse.
Between these two great ideas we need not assume any historical relation, but it is not difficult to find a logical connection between them. For the sense of service, whatever its origin, implies relations to a group of persons each one of whom is an individual entity. The case of feudal Japan suggests that in a community where fixed status prevents the development of social and economic competition among its members, the whole fabric of its moral customs is apt to be founded upon the relation of the person to the institutions controlling him, — upon the exact grading of the classes and other social relationships,—rather than upon his relations to his fellow-beings, each one of whom has rights to enjoy, duties to perform, a career to make, and a personality to realize. For the sake of convenience, let us call the former the old and the latter the new view of social morals.
That this seemingly theoretical difference has a tremendous significance in the practical daily life of a society, seems well borne out in a careful comparison of some of the Protestant communities with Japan, where the old view dies hard and the new principle is far from having taken hold of society. The very fact that the old view has partly died makes the absence of a new all the more evident. The old social system which brought its moral habit into existence has been nearly swept away during the last four decades, so that the latter subsists as a psychic potentiality, and does not coöperate with parts of the new social order. It is, for example, totally absent outside of organizations, official or otherwise, where any distinction of classes or other relationship is possible. A young man who is deferential to his father or his professor throws down his mask at the class banquet, where if the father or the professor were present his dignity would be scantily recognized.
The loss of the old principle and the absence of a new is painfully conspicuous in all places — in the House of Representatives, public meetings, debates, banquets, hotels, electric and steam cars, — where people meet on the basis of equality. There each person seems eager to enforce his sense of individual comfort, and seems to forget his neighbor; or else he puts so little restraint on his speech and conduct that one would wonder where is the dignity of their author and of the many persons who are compelled to hear and see them. Compared with the chaotic individualism seen in the second-class railway car in Japan, the busiest streets of Chicago present a picture of order. It would seem almost impossible to realize that the same individual who is so gentle to his elders and so loyal to his ruler should, as he does, as soon as he touches elbow with the rank and file, behave as if he had lost his moral sanity.
A natural effect of this state of things is the want, or else the weak immaturity, of recognized social customs regarding certain relations of life. In these matters, particularly in courtship and marriage, the social vagaries are often incongruous and ludicrous. Let us in this connection sketch two stories by Kōyō, which seem rather too unreal even in New Japan, but yet which could have been produced nowhere else.
In the Nen-ge bi-shō, one reads of a young petty official, who, as he walks every morning to his office, meets on the street a beautiful maiden going to school in a jinrikisha. After a few months, they begin to bow to each other with a smile. One day he goes to see chrysanthemum shows at Dango-zaka with his mother and sister, and finds the young lady walking among the flowers with her mother, two maid-servants, and a gentleman. The last individual the official concludes to be the husband of the person he has silently loved. It is unknown what has offended her on his part, but after this incident she no longer bows to the young official at their usual meetings on the street, and he is compelled to pretend not to see her as she is passing. He is later told by his colleagues that the head of the bureau in which he serves had two daughters, the elder of whom was married against her wishes to a person of high position and soon afterwards died. Taking lesson from this sad experience, he sought to marry the younger daughter to any person she loved, and learned that a young official whom she saw daily on her way to school had taken her fancy. While the father was endeavoring to find out who the young man might be, the daughter saw him one day at Dangozaka with his mother and wife. She was thereafter married to a young doctor who had just returned from Germany, and to whom she offered no particular objection.
The story of the Ko no nushi by the same author, published also in 1890, is as follows. Ono Shunkichi, twenty-five years of age, a student in the Imperial University, has no parents, and lives in Tokyo with his younger brother, Shunji, thirteen years old, and an old servant. The residents of the next house are wealthy and have a daughter, named Tatsu, who secretly feels an ardent love for the student. The latter, however, is a stolid character who believes in celibacy. In spite of his strenuous obstruction, however, Tatsu succeeds at last in befriending his younger brother, whom she would use as a lever to move the elder. When Shunji is confined in his house from the wound inflicted by a mad dog belonging to her family, the maiden sees a splendid opportunity to visit Ono’s home and inquire after the condition of her little friend. Her visits on seven successive days, however, fail to bring enough sense of gratitude to the student to meet and thank her in person. Shunji recovers from the bite, and secretly visits the kind fair friend. She hands him a letter to his brother, who, on receiving it, is so offended as to forbid him to go out except to school. During his forced confinement the lad plays the game of fukiya, which consists in blowing a needle through a pipe, aiming at some birds in the neighbors’ garden. His brother joins him, and the needle accidentally hits Tatsu above the eye, and causes her to fall from momentary surprise. In his confusion the young man rushes to her, and raises her from the ground, when she declares her love for him and asks for a promise. “ I will marry you! ” exclaims Shunkichi, in great emotion, “ you will be Mrs. Ono.” “ Banzai! banzai!” cries Shunji.
Perhaps no civilized society of modern times is, or should be, so sufficient unto itself as to present an appearance of a complete organic unity. There would be little progress where there were no new forces continually remodeling old customs and institutions. This is so true that if one should ask individual Americans or Germans what their social morals and social sanction were, he would probably get conflicting answers. Yet we venture to say that a society is rarely so inorganic, so indeterminate, and so full of friction, as in New Japan. A reason for this circumstance we have already found in the transitional character of the society. Another cause may be the smallness of national resources and opportunities in proportion to the population, a condition under which success is not guaranteed to all worthy aspirants, and which necessitates a reduction of their numbers. Still another cause may be the inadequacy, especially in education, of the apparatus for the training, discipline, and application of individual talents. Too often a person fails to develop what is in him, and, moreover, his efforts do not always bring commensurate recognition from others, society being either excessively appreciative or totally unresponsive, or perhaps both at the same time. These irregularities are undoubtedly being removed by the growing wealth and enlarging opportunities of the nation, but are still potent and hinder the development of the individual citizen.
Under these circumstances it is little wonder that one cannot point out any such thing as the social morals and the social sanction of New Japan. Every man of strong will and few scruples is his own master, so long as he does not perpetrate crimes explicitly defined by law. Types of this character are occasionally found among the new wealthy classes, whose lowly forefathers were perhaps never subject to the rigorous feudal code of honor, and who themselves have worked hard to wrest wealth from the world, and would now find compensation in an unlimited satisfaction of their physical wants. No one, they would say, is entitled to a word regarding the manner of spending the money which they themselves have made. It is not only some plutocrats who avail themselves of the want of a social sanction, but all classes of people exhibit the same untidiness of social conscience. Observe the ridiculous conceit of the educated and the dignified, yet irresponsible, bureaucrats. A student, a merchant, or a soldier is a double-faced being; he may be highly conscientious individually and in relations wherein the old morals obtain, but be socially vicious where no common censure is heard, and be none the less honorable. The press, which has little regard for the individual person, is glad to expose social wrongs; but the offender sustains a comparatively slight wound from the taunt, and soon recovers from it, for society does not judge and has a short memory.
We select one out of several novels which reflect these social traits. Tokutomi Kenjirō’s Hototogisu (Nightingale), for the comparatively sound morals of its contents and also for the lovable character of its author, went through many editions within a few years after its publication in 1900, and has even been translated into English under the title Namiko.
Nami, eldest daughter of LieutenantGeneral Kataoka, lost her mother when eight years old, and has been brought up by a stepmother, who has studied many years in England, and who does not feel a deep affection for her. Nami at last leaves her beloved father, and marries Second Lieutenant Kawashima, who tenderly loves his young bride. She is, however, under the constant circumspection of the old mother-in-law, in whose conservative mind family succession is an absorbingly sacred duty.
Young Chichi-iwa, First Lieutenant of the General Staff, was brought up as an orphan in the Kawashima family, and has always wished to make Nami his own, and so utilize the favor of her great father in his self-advancement. Inured from childhood to a cynical view of life, he hates the world and conceives an enmity for Second Lieutenant Kawashima, his successful rival in love. The latter knows it not. The First Lieutenant, in collusion with one Yamaki, a wealthy merchant, makes use of certain official secrets for speculative purposes. Kawashima, on his return from his honeymoon, is ordered to go on a cruise for half a year. During his absence, Chichi-iwa forges a document with Kawashima as surety, and borrows three thousand yen.
As the Second Lieutenant returns, Yamaki tries in vain to persuade him to invest twenty or thirty thousand in what he claims to be a profitable enterprise. On Kawashima’s refusal, Chichi-iwa, who is present at the interview and does not know that the former has already discovered his forgery, requests him to loan him three thousand, and Yamaki promptly puts his seal as surety on the legal paper which his friend produces. This money is intended for the payment of the other debt for which the very name and seal of Kawashima have been illegally used. The latter not only declines to accede to the bold-faced request, but denounces the evil principles of Chichiiwa, and declares that he will from this day sever his friendship with him. Soon afterwards, his illegal collusion with Yamaki having been discovered, the young officer is transferred from the General Staff to a regiment.
Meanwhile, Nami is taken with consumption, the disease which killed her mother, and moves with her husband to Dzushi on the seashore. During their absence, Chichi-iwa frequently visits Kawashima’s mother, and with villainous cleverness brings her mind to the conviction that the welfare of the Kawashima family forbids the continued presence in it of a consumptive bride. When her son visits her on the eve of another cruise, she gently broaches the question of divorce. The shocked son pleads that the divorce would kill Nami, and that, if she must die, she should be allowed to die as his wife. “ Sacrifice the small to save the great,” says the mother. “ There are many cases like this in the world. There are divorces of wives who do not suit the customs of the families, or who bear no children, or who have bad diseases. This is the rule in the world — there is no injustice and no inhumanity in it.” “ If that is the rule in the present world,” says the son, “ the present world may be destroyed, and should be.”
He argues that if he, instead of Nami, fell ill, and if on that account she was recalled by her parents, the mother would not like it. “ That is a different matter,” replies she. “ Is not a man different from a woman ? ” “ Do you command me,” cries the excited son at last, “ to bring death to Nami ? ” The mother brings out the mortuary tablet of the father, and calls her son unfilial. “ But human nature —,” begins he. “ Nature and justice again? Do you think that the wife is more important than the parent? Which is the more important, the wife or the parent? What? The family?” The son at length makes the painful compromise of accepting the principle, but entreats the old lady to do nothing about the matter till his return from the cruise. He then goes to see Nami, and their parting scene is touching.
Nami is now as good as divorced. Yamaki, who has always wished, for his interest, to marry his silly daughter to Lieutenant Kawashima, succeeds in finding a place for her in the old Madame Kawashima’s home as pupil of household etiquette. The advice the father gives the daughter on parting is instructive. When she marries the young officer, as he expects she will on Nami’s divorce, the displeasure of the mother-in-law is to be warded off by not seeming to live on too intimate terms with the husband. “ You ought to make her feel,” says he, “ that you are her daughter-in-law, rather than the wife of her son. The quarrel between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law usually arises from the too great intimacy of the young couple, which gives a solitary feeling to the old lady.”
Despite the parting entreaty of her son, Madame Kawashima is so worked upon by Chichi-iwa as to divorce Nami. Finding out the fact on his return, the son at once responds to a call for going to war, and, fighting gallantly at the naval battle in the Yellow Sea, in 1894, sustains a severe wound. At the hospital, he receives an anonymous present, and writes brief letters to Nami. “ There is not a day,” says one of the letters, “ when I do not think of you.” The worn-out Nami, who has been so recently wounded by the divorce, sees before her nothing but darkness and misery, and is saved from a desperate attempt to drown herself, by a Christian woman. From the latter’s sympathetic exhortations she begins to feel the dawn of her spiritual life.
Chichi-iwa has laid down his life like a true soldier in one of the battles of the war. Kawashima again goes to war, on recovering from his wound, and accidentally rescues Lieutenant-General Kataoka, his former father-in-law, from the hands of a Chinese assassin. No sooner does he return home than he is called to Formosa. At Yamashina, near Kyōto, from a train passing by, Nami perceives him in another train, and throws on his lap a violet silk handkerchief.
Soon afterwards she passes away, leaving for her absent lover a ring and a letter written in tremulous hand. Her last utterance was: “ I shall return, I shall return, shall I not, dear ? — Mother, I am coming, I am coming. — O, are you still— here ?”
Returning from Formosa, Kawashima visits the tomb of the deceased, and there finds the Lieutenant-General, her father. “ Lieutenant,” says the latter, “ Nami is dead, but I am still a sort of father to you. Be of good cheer — you have a long career before you. Everything is given for the training of a man. O, it is a long time since we were together, Lieutenant. Come, let me hear your stories of Formosa.”
It should not be forgotten for a moment that, aside from the question of social morals, Japan possesses distinct national or ethnic morals which set her apart as a striking example of an absolute unity of national mind. One has not learned the greatest thing about her who fails to discern the overmastering trait of her psychic life which even so late as during the recent war with Russia enabled her entire population of forty-six millions to think and act like one man. This trait has thus far manifested itself as patriotism and loyalty, but we think that, potentially, its substance is an intensely chivalrous sentiment, which may change its mode of expression at different times and in different persons. The absorbing passion seems to be too universal among the nation and too deeply rooted in the heart of the individual to have yet been adequately pictured in the novels.
We have reserved until now our discussion of some of the tendencies of a class of people which requires a separate treatment, as it is a species by itself, — the young men, especially the students, of New Japan. Their well-known zeal for knowledge, aided by the universal faith which the modern world has in the efficacy of education, has tended to put unusually large numbers of young people into the higher schools. These students, forming by themselves the most susceptible but least responsible class of society, reflect in an exaggerated form some of the social traits that have already been noted. Being naturally rather idealistic, and some of them gifted with keen moral sensibilities, the students feel, perhaps many of them unconsciously but all of them none the less deeply, the pangs of the moral desolation of society. Add to this the effect upon their minds of the merciless conduct of the government so insistently to encourage education in its own schools, as distinguished from private institutions, and at the same time to offer so few of these schools, that a vast majority of the applicants for entrance — perhaps as many as threefourths of the total number — are thrust aside to shift for themselves. Moreover, the supply of school bred men is considerably larger than the demand of society for them. This material difficulty, the universal moral famine, and the unknown fate which so imminently awaits them at the gate of a higher public school, casts a sort of unconscious gloom upon the students even as early as in their preparatory grade. A tinge of blind pessimism — it may be cynicism — seems to be creeping over the mass of the poor students. Into this dangerous state they have been gradually led during the past few years, and will be further impelled in the new age of peace.
From this state, also, no great man nor any great religion has so far been able effectively to rescue the best of the youth, nor has there appeared a Werther to express the common sorrow and awaken the young society to the realization of its malady. A worse time is probably yet to come. How serious, however, this dissatisfaction already appears to be may be illustrated by the marvelous fact that some of the young men were not diverted from their reflection even by the stirring events of the late war, and do not feel the least concerned with the commanding position which their empire has assumed in the East and with their greatly added responsibility to the fatherland. When one stands in the midst of a society in which a moral and spiritual chaos reigns, they would say, what leisure has he to burden his mind with such an artificial organization as the state? This is, of course, an extreme case, and should not be taken as typical. Another and the lowest extreme of the effects of the common discontent is the cheap sentimentalism among certain classes of students, who find a feeble justification of their irresponsible conduct in the words of some European poems and fiction. We should not, however, be detained by these rather exceptional manifestations of the moral unrest of the students, but remember its fundamental causes and its general nature, and look for some of the more normal modes of its expression.
If one may classify the intellectual attitude of man in general into three parts, that which studies the truth of things, that which judges their value, and that which makes new things, or, more briefly, investigation, criticism, and creation, it is the second attitude that appears to have largely characterized the thinkers and scholars of Old Japan, particularly of the Confucian schools, and to be deeply affecting the mental activity of the new students. Outside of such matter-of-fact studies as the natural sciences and medicine, a continual tendency of the Japanese student is to criticise things before learning their full truth. How often the young man eagerly takes up a book or a subject of study, and is in its first stages so deeply impressed by its importance or apparent unimportance that he is unable to go forward to complete it! He takes, as it were, less interest in the subject than in the impression it gives him. His attitude seems to be essentially modal: he seeks more adjectives than substantives. In some respects, students of few countries perceive more quickly than he the general perspective of a complex subject, or are able to speak more wisely and display a readier appreciation of its value, although in a life-long competition of research the premature Japanese might probably fall behind his slow but steady foreign rivals. His propensity to criticise is by no means limited to his intellectual activity, but pervades his whole mental life.
Naturally and unfailingly the young man determines in his mind the greatness or smallness of a new instructor or a new acquaintance at the first meeting, and judges with great facility the value of a new course of study or a new literary or artistic production. All the magazines which he reads are thoroughly critical in their nature, as are the clever short stories he may himself write. If he goes abroad, his mind is occupied every moment with criticisms of men and things about him, an objectified picture of which would astonish the American with their precocious, intricate, and stunted character.
This sort of mental practice, which we have for lack of a better term called criticism, should be strictly distinguished from criticism in the scientific sense, for it does not consist in seeking and weighing evidence and judging the value of one’s conclusion from the standpoint of objective truthfulness. On the contrary, it is the process of estimating the worth of things by a largely subjective standard, which may in some cases consist of certain philosophic principles that the student has learned from some source, or a set of moral ideas which controls his conduct and moulds his point of view, or, not indeed infrequently, bold notions with which he unconsciously justifies his own temperament or that of his community. Critical habit in this sense has, it is not too much to say, taken hold of the student world of New Japan.
It is not implied either that the Japanese student is naturally dogmatic or that he is immovably bound to his opinions, for it seems he really possesses to a remarkable degree that fairness and catholicity of mind which frankly succumbs to evidence, and which might be, as it very often has been, trained into a transparent scientific attitude. We only refer to the interesting fact that the otherwise susceptible mind is extremely busy in passing judgments on matters and personalities from the throne of its limited knowledge and sentiment.
This critical habit of the young man has several times since the beginning of New Japan changed its forms of expression, according to changes in the social conditions. During the eighties of the last century, for example, when the difference of political views between the conservative government and the radicals absorbed the attention of society, many of the students applied their critical faculty to things political, protesting against the insufficient popular rights granted by the authorities, and severely condemning their behavior from the standpoint of the political theories they had learned from Europe. Champions of liberty, such as Kōno, Suehiro, and Ozaki, were acclaimed, and novels describing the persecution and the ultimate triumph of imaginary heroes of popular freedom, enlivened with a modicum of romance used to lend color to the narrative, enjoyed a large circulation among the students. Since that time, social conditions have altered, and the young critics have changed their visual angle more than once. What is of special interest to us is the latest development, which is becoming manifest under the general social tendencies already discussed in preceding paragraphs.
Several educated Japanese, some of them from sincere motives, have become professed socialists, and their generalizing arguments have found an incredible number of sympathizers among the students and even among pupils in the secondary schools. The practice of judging the iniquity of the existing social conditions in a brilliant, sweeping manner must indeed seem fascinating to the young man whose eye is ever turned outward and whose lips are always ready to denounce others. The apparent sincerity of the call, too, adds much to its strength. The students, who have once cursed the political injustice of the government, and devoured the novels by Suehiro and Shiba, now find the object of their reproach in the economic wrongs of society, and hence applaud the doings of Tanaka Shōzō and the writings of Kinoshita Shōkō, interpreting them in the light of their socialistic understanding of whatever kind.
Another set of young men is interested in the more refined work of the “ criticism of civilization.” Being untrained in economics and law, but inclined to literature, and having tasted the rudiments of philosophy, they readily, though superficially, appreciate the ideas of Nietzsche, Zola, Ibsen, Tolstoy, and other modern writers who have in different ways criticised the value of our civilization. Works of these writers and those of great living authors in Europe, it is strange to note, seem to be more extensively read and more quickly taken up in Japan than in America. Even more strange is the prevailing tone of the current literature among the young Japanese, which criticises phases of modern civilization in an extremely clever but petty and immodest manner that is to the foreigner almost bewildering.
Of this general tendency, an embodiment was found in the late Takayama Rinjirō, whose premature death took place in 1903. Highly intelligent and susceptible by nature, the young Takayama, after graduation from the Imperial University of Tokyo, perhaps in 1896 had already established his fame as a charming writer of philosophic and æthetic criticism. From that time till his death, his ideas underwent the great change from those of an extreme advocate of nationalism to those of the most irresponsible individualist, declaring in 1901 that his earlier notions were but an expression of the superficial part of his true nature. This change, however, as was evident to any one who had followed his career, was a gradual unfolding of his temperament, the traits of which were discernible even before his entrance into the university.
During the last two or three years of his life, he was avowedly a subjective critic, and his standpoint that of “a species of individualism,” as he himself termed it, “ tinged with Romanticism.” “If I were a poet,” said he, “I would be a Körner, a Byron, or a Heine.” He designated as “critics of civilization” Whitman and Nietzsche, the latter of whom he was at particular pains to introduce to the nation. He boldly denounced morals as self-contradictory, for, argued he, anything that ignored “ the natural desires of man ” obstructed the aim of human life. Human knowledge was foolish, and moral worth of things was dubious, the only absolute, intrinsic, and positive value being the “æsthetic.” Of the purest æsthetic value was the gratification of the instincts, and the most perfect æsthetic life was love.
He bent his whole energy and his great talent as a writer to the exposition of this irresponsible doctrine of “ the sesthetic life,” and was enthusiastically received by the students. It is not difficult to see the reason for his immense popularity with them. The visibly sad undertone of his writings, due probably in part to his incurable disease, appealed to the corresponding undertone among a large part of the young men. His theory of the gratification of the instincts found response among both the morally depraved and the over-literary classes, while his noble sensibility, which gave a certain elevation to his words, attracted even the more spiritual. His general attitude of doubting the fundamental nature of civilization was representative of the tendency among a large body of young people. He was thus hailed as the exponent of the student world, and his popularity, together with his remarkable susceptibility, led him onward in the chosen path, until his death intervened. From a certain point of view, however, he might be deemed a victim of the critical tendency of the student of the new age. He was caught and swallowed by it, and his high intellectual power, which might otherwise have been productive of permanent contributions to truth or poetry, was enlisted in the service, it is regrettable to say, of subjective criticism.
In no less real sense are many of the young men in the danger of falling moral victims to the general conditions of society. New Japan presents a picture of striking contrasts within herself. Politically and economically, on the one hand, the issues of the nation are growing larger and clearer, and its outlook brighter and more cheerful. In the same ratio, on the other hand, is becoming apparent the want of a new moral order of society. Fortunately, the brightness of the former is far too great to be visibly eclipsed by the darkness of the latter. The disparity between the two would, however, seem none the less interesting to the observer and dangerous to the nation.