Nippon-American: Idealism and Idiom

We had a Japanese in my class in college; and when, in the annual Record, a pertinently disrespectful quotation was sought for each member of the class, the editors went to Tennyson for Nakamura’s tag. It ran, —

Would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me!

Since those days, life in a university of the Pacific coast has often brought the verses to mind, as there has passed through the classroom a succession of delightfully eager and quick-witted students from Japan, whose expression has been frustrated — now pathetically, now with splendid, striving joy — by the mysteries of the English tongue. They know what the struggle means, and buckle on their armor for it valiantly. Witness the following composition, called by the writer

STUDY OF ENGLISH (FOR JAPANESE)

No Japanese will ever say that English is easy. The language is not easy at all for us as an American or an Englishman, as they learn French or German. The most of Japanese are very anxious to learn or to know. But the English is hard although they are learning, and on that they are not so happy than they are working. If they worked, they can take a money, and can do anything which they can in their mind as they think. So the most of Japanese does n’t understand the English well, even their own things. What a pity! According to their grow they will know their-selves about them, the language is necessary, and were not right. Then the ages comes much upon them; the time is late to learn the English. What a pity! Not pity, it is the shame of Japanese. So I must study the English within the youth, with my best.

It is hard to define a certain quality of temperamental attractiveness which marks the great number of these students from Nippon. A part of it would seem to be the unashamed admission of that joy in being alive, and in sharing that joy with others, which is normal for youth, but which young America does not care to confess. This is well represented in the two following essays, of which the first is concerned with the experiences of a newly arrived freshman at the students’ club maintained by his countrymen. No hazing here, it will be seen!

FIRST IMPRESSIONS AT COLLEGE

The first impression which I have received in my home here is the inexpressible friendship and love among the students. This impression I have received on the first night I arrived here. The older students were sitting around the dinner-table at my arrival, as it was the dinner-time, and took me by the hand, some stretching their hands over the table from the opposite side. I was a little hesitating on that moment, because every student looked at me so intently, laying their nives and hooks on the table; but in a while I learned that every body was kind and hospitable toward me, as their joyous, smiling faces showed, and I was so comfortable in my chair.

A beautiful flower was smiling at the centre of the table, and a red-faced tomatosalad waiting for me with a beautiful, sweet and fresh odor. George Washington’s portrait was looking down upon us from the wall, and a Holy Bible half opened on the desk beneath the portrait of Washington. The white cloth pictured me the clean, unspotted hearts of students and their warm shake-hands interwoven in my heart the kind friendship among us.

I really wish that I could tell you how beautifully the moon shone upon us when we went out into the yard after our dinner. We sat down in our chairs under this moonlight and told a funny stories from each one’s hospitable heart.

MONDAY MORNING

The fresh bright sunlight refracting through the window in my room, on the September morning shining upon my face and the books on the desk which is placed near my bed. The birds singing a sweet song outside on a tree in garden. It is unusual things as it is this morning; the blind of the window was up, and the birds are singing outside at so early morning.

These sudden occurrences broke my soundless asleep, on the morning of the second Monday of instant. ’Oh,’ I said to myself, ‘it is the Monday. On this day, at the earliest of the morning, my plan for this week must be established; otherwise I am a-conquered by the things with which I am going to encounter.’ As, for a while, I was thinking of last week, and of this week, forming a program for the day and of the week, the second disturbance on the faint mind is performed by an alarm-clock which, as I set it up during the preceding evening, started his noisy music from seven o’clock. Instantly I had jumped out from the bed and changed the clothes, then, after shaving and washing the face, I set the things on the table in order. With cheerful, cloudless, and rejoicing heart, I sitting myself to the table, and put the program on a paper as well as stamped in the bottom of my mind.

I think it will be agreed that there is something contagiously heartening in such a remedy for ‘blue Monday’ affections as the nature of this writer reveals.

The next selections reveal Shakespeare as seen through Japanese eyes and displayed in an examination-paper. They may leave something to be desired, yet they at least convey the dramatic movement of the tragedies which the writer is analyzing.

OTHELLO

Othello a Moor and a brave general marries with Desdemona a fair angelic maiden. Now Othello’s fellow general Iago a villain became jealous with the matter and tries to destroy Othello. In consequence Othello kills his innocent devoted wife Desdemona. And says Othello, ‘ Oh, misery, now I have lost my wife!’ He stubs himself, fall down. Emilia (wife of Iago): ‘Oh, what a devil thou art! she is innocent!’ Desdemona dies in saying something faintly, ‘Othello! I am innocent!’ Othello dies also. End. It is a villain play.

HAMLET

Hamlet a prince of Denmark; his father killed by his uncle, and who became the king, and to whom mother of Hamlet marries. Hamlet a prince, a skeptical philosopher, knows the situation very well. Polonius (an aged subject to the king) whose daughter Ophilia, a pretty innocent maiden, fell in love with Hamlet long since. Hamlet kills Polonius by mistake. Before that time Hamlet pretended as a crazed person in the purpose of revenge. Now he left home. Ophilia lost her father and her lover, in consequence she became a broken heart, in singing: —

‘He is dead and gone;
His fluxen hair is white as snow;
Cockle hat on his head, and oh!’ etc.

She drowned and dies. Finally Hamlet and Leartice (son of Polonius) make a duel fencing; Leartice stubs slightly Hamlet, and he himself fall down and says: ‘Dear Hamlet, revenge! Revenge the king!’ Then Hamlet stubs the king, the king fall and dies. Hamlet: ‘Helecio, my friend, revenge is done!’ Hamlet fall and dies. The end.

The Japanese student is of course highly poetical in his way of looking at things, but does not often attempt to express himself in English verse. When he does, the results are by no means always contemptible. The following little lyric seems to me, quite apart from its struggle with idiom, to be not only highsouled, but structurally a true work of art.

SELF-RELIANCE

I have my hands to work,
Which my mother brought them up;
They are my only reliance.
Whatever may it be,
I fear not.
I have my feet to walk,
Which my father strengthened them;
They are my only standpoint.
Whatever may it be,
I evade not.
I have my mind to think,
Which my Lord gifted me;
This is my only guidance.
Whatever may it be,
I stray not.

I shall conclude with a pretty piece of adjective description which came in a personal letter from a student who had lately, for the first time, made his way still farther from home, across the continent to the Atlantic shore. Writing of his impressions of the journey, he said, ‘Chicago I did not like at all; it seemed like a wild beast, ready to devour me; but Boston is tame and genteel.’