The Japanese Mystery




AT Geneva, where national traits are under the international microscope, if you ask, ‘What of the Japanese?’ you will be told, —

One, a smile,

Two, silence,

Three, a mystery,

and in that Delphic answer lies a deal of truth.

Japan wears a universal smile. That is the first impression and the last. The French smile — when you come to buy; the Italians smilingly return a salutation; but in pleasure or pain the Japanese meets your glance with a smile. Yet there is nothing stereotyped about a greeting so friendly and natural — halfway, but no more, to laughter. Part of ‘manners’ of course it is, an element in that ritual of courtesy taught in school and home. A smile hides the feelings and so is useful enough, and it is part of self-discipline as well. At a crisis in a ball game, a fielder muffs a fly. He smiles, and in that smile he crams a whole vocabulary of expletives. I have watched a thief caught and pinioned. In curiosity I ran to look at him. There was the smile, and the policeman paid him the courtesy of smiling in return.

The smile may be part of the code, but it answers to the disposition of the Japanese. They are a happy people, delighting in the common things the Lord gives us all.

It is the birthright of the American to contrast the straightforwardness of his character with the sinuosities of the Oriental, and Japan puzzles him for the convolutions he cannot find there. He seeks for complexity, and discovers simplicity. He looks for the stolidity of China, and finds a temperament nervous and emotional as his own. The keys are different, but the instrument is much the same. The mechanism is more delicate, the modulation more sensitive, the strings more tautly drawn. The American is a man of affairs. The Japanese is an artist.

Mighty is education. We begin life with the Ten Commandments, holding them in a respect unmitigated by intimacy. Here are the five virtues the Japanese hold as cardinal, and the basis of their ethical instruction: Jun, Ji, Lei, Chi, Sin — Mercy, Justice, Chivalrousness, Love of Learning, Loyalty. To turn Japanese virtue into vice you have only to prefix the syllable Fu. So Fu-Jun, Fu-Chi, and so forth, give you the lack of virtue which is vice. It is a positive creed. The Hebraism in ours bids us to avoid evil; theirs to be virtuous.

Copyright 1930, by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.

Somewhere amongst the shrines of Japan there should be an altar to the spirit of Thomas Carlyle, for the gospel of Heroes and Hero Worship which our builders rejected is in Japan the headstone of the corner. There in very truth the hero puts on immortality. The Maid of Orleans leading French battalions to victory in the Great War lived in the vision of an instant’s exaltation. In Japan communion with the spirits of the dead takes on almost the aspect of matter of fact. Every house has

— or had, for life grows ‘modern ’ there as here — its tiny shrine, where each morning children bow with reverence, and before their own breakfast make to their ancestors an offering of fruit and cakes. And in public places of the city troops of girls and boys, men and women, pilgrims of every class and rank, honor great men now with the Gods. All that Carlyle preached to deaf ears is here made manifest. Stand before the shrine of Nanko in Kobe, of Nogi in Kyoto, or of the Great Emperor himself in Tokyo, and watch the troops of worshipers. They are the lifeblood circulating in the arteries of Japan. From shrine to shrine they come and go in never ceasing procession. Young men from Chiba Prefecture, pilgrims from the northern island of Hokkaido, a girls’ school from Okayama, a band

— there must be hundreds in it — from Nagoya. Old and young, boys in baggy blues of government schools, women in bright kimonos, clop-clopping along, holding fast their wooden getas by some miraculous tension of the toes; now a gap, now a filter of stragglers, now in close order, endlessly they pass under the stately Torii, pause at the fountain which always marks the entrance to a shrine, pour from a wooden ladle water over both hands, rinse from the mouth all uncleanness, and then with clean hands and pure lips approach the shrine of god or hero, indissolubly one. Directly in front of it they stop. Tossing their penny offering into the mite chest, clapping their hands that the spirit may know who does it honor, and then thrice bowing, they offer their petition.

This is no worship of sticks and stones. It is the acceptance of an immortal inheritance.


If you would understand hero worship in Japan go to General Nogi’s house. Protected from the bustling Tokyo street by a high board fence, it stands in its tiny garden a monument to simplicity. Enter the rustic gateway. At the right a small shed divided into two stalls once provided shelter for the General’s horse of all work and for his charger Kotobuk, ‘Long Life’ — to Japanese ears the name must carry an ironic, sound. The little ‘Western’ house itself struck one visitor as pure New England; the pinched hallway, the narrow whitewashed parlor just large enough to hold four uncomfortable chairs and a table. In the rear are two ‘eight-mat’ rooms Japanese-fashion — one the General’s, one his wife’s. Not an ornament, not a kakemono even. On the floor a relief map of Port Arthur and in a corner of the General’s room a roll of bloodstained matting are the sole record that here the soldier gave his life for his Emperor. Cato might have lived in such a house, or the men to whom Jonathan Edwards preached the danger of worldly possession.

Nogi’s story is a hero tale to the world; to the Japanese it is a national testament. Entrusted with the investment of Port Arthur, it was required of him that not one hour be lost. Should the ships in the harbor escape to join Rozhestvensky’s fleet, the balance might be turned in favor of the Russians, while in Manchuria the army facing Kuropatkin was in dire need of reënforcement. Acting with precipitation, General Nogi directed his attack, not against the key forts in the chain surrounding Port Arthur, but against the citadel itself. The carnage was frightful. Day after day the General watched his men falling like ripe wheat. Thoughts oppressed him such as tortured the mind of Grant at Shiloh, and first from one messenger, then from another, like Job he learned of the death of his two sons. Undeflected, he kept his terrible course, and the slaughter continued until Kodama, Oyama’s chief of staff and the genius of the campaign, joined the army and redirected its strategy, striking immediately at 203-Metre Hill, which dominated the circle of forts and the harbor itself. By that decision the fight was won, but the dead, as Nogi thought, had died in vain, and from that moment, as once before in his early career, he held within his mind the thought of self-sacrifice. But all his ways were noble. When in one of the final escalades the Russian General Kondratenko, soul of the defense, was slain, and by his death made Nogi’s triumph certain, Nogi himself wrote this inscription for his monument : —


When the war was over and the impossible victory had been won, Nogi’s Emperor sent for him. What passed between them is not set down in history, but friends of the General have told me that Mutsuhito spoke after this fashion:—

‘It is said, General, that you wish to shorten your life on account of mistakes you have made. You may have made them, but you have won a victory indispensable for Japan and to me. I need you. You must live as long as I.’

To the letter the soldier obeyed. But when Mutsuhito passed into history and legend as the Great Emperor Meiji, his servant sat himself upon the mat in that small bare room, loosed his kimono, and, with steady hand ripping his body open, loosed his soul to join his master’s. His wife, a woman growing old, found him there and, kneeling opposite his body, cut her own almost in two.

There was in General Nogi’s death, beside his sorrow for the soldiers he had lost, beside his grief for the extinction of his race, beside his chivalrous wish to follow his Emperor in a new adventure, a deep desire to impress upon his countrymen the antique standard of life and death. New ways were abroad, ways of commerce, not always of honor. Nothing could reverse the current of that stream, but Nogi’s sacrifice was heeded. Men paused in wonder and admiration. To hundreds of thousands it pointed to a straiter and more difficult path. No life these hundred years has brought the Japanese what Nogi’s death has given them.


On these things I mused as I left the pinched and narrow house and walked through a pouring rain to the shrine below. A Japanese who had devoted himself to me on account of what he called an ancient kindness (I had done him a slight service forgotten years ago by me, but by him long remembered) introduced me at the shrine office to the priest, a tall and handsome young man marvelously dressed in sacerdotal hat, black as a beetle, a surtout of brown silk, and a robe below it exquisitely white. He invited me to enter. I doffed my shoes, and, after a cup of tea courteously proffered, I was led down long matted corridors to a well of bubbling water. Here, following the priest’s example, I laved my hands and lips and then followed my guide to the shrine itself. Behind the barrier which for the ordinary worshiper bounds the sacred limit I sat, while the priest conducted the ceremony, upon a camp stool white as wool, rising at intervals to make obeisance to the great spirit near and present to both of us. Removing his ceremonial shoes of polished lacquer, he ascended the steps of the inner shrine (usually by Shinto rule elevated above the outer). Always, I noticed, he placed his right foot on the higher tread and raised the left after it. At the top, thrice bowing very low, he undid with precise ritual the lock which secured the exquisitely fitted doors, withdrew the pin, paused for a final deep obeisance, and then, drawing the doors slowly open, retraced his steps backwards still facing the shrine and lowering his left foot first to the successive treads. At the lower level he again bowed thrice and, turning, withdrew for an instant to reappear bearing in both hands a spray of white blossoms of the shiro-tsubaki. This he handed me, and acting on his sign I stepped forward in my turn, bowed thrice toward the open doors, and placed the flowers reverently upon a low table at the foot of the steps.

The ceremony was over, and as I prepared to leave the building I quickly perceived that what had been done for me was not done for money. Might I not then make a small donation toward the expenses of the shrine? That was permissible, and enclosing a bank note in the whitest paper at my disposal I handed it to the priest, shod myself once more, and went out into the rain, wondering how fared the spirits of my own great dead.

General Nogi’s will is in Japan a memorable document. It was written on September 12, 1912, after the news of the Emperor’s death had reached him.

For the strong light it casts on the national character, the opening paragraph is quoted here: —

First. It is with profound regret that I thus take my life in order to follow H. I. M. the late Emperor Meiji to the other world. All these years I have been seeking for a suitable occasion to cast away my humble life, since I committed the most disgraceful act as a soldier of allowing the rebels to snatch away the Imperial colors of my regiment in the Kashiginan Rebellion in 1877. Despite my inner resolution, I have unduly survived under the fathomlessly profound Imperial benevolence and grace up to this day, when I find myself so agestricken, being no longer of much use in the service of His Majesty. The sad demise of the Emperor at such a time has naturally prompted me to make this last resolution.

What a gulf is here between our heroes and this ancient Roman!

While in Tokyo it was my privilege to dine with a gentleman who had been honored with General Nogi’s friendship. I spoke of the shrine where I had been that morning, and, marking my interest, he sent for a kakemono which bore the beautiful characters of Nogi’s hand. The General had an admirable gift with the brush, and his ideographs, invariably given for charity, bring high prices. One day, it seems, he had called on my host, who had likewise done his Emperor important service, and said he should like to write something. In that quiet household a visit from General Nogi made the history of years. In haste a strip of silk was brought, and, sitting there before the open shoji looking into the quiet garden where a tiny fishpond caught the faint rays of a rising moon, he wrote in the traditional thirty-one syllables a poem which my host translated for me:—

The thoughts in my heart I swore
Never to utter in words. How can I hide them from thy beams, O moon?

Whether he was thinking of his lost boys, of the soldiers he had sent to their death, or of the self-immolation on which he had determined, is a secret hidden in that translunar land where he now dwells.

I have spoken much of Nogi, for his was the perfect spirit of that Japan which grew great under the stern precepts of her ancient faith. New hopes and new ambitions are in the air. The vane shifts to a fresh quarter. Sitting somewhere at his desk in his shapeless blue uniform is the boy who will some day be the Hero of the New Era, worshiped reverently by his schoolmates’ sons.


To the visitor in Japan the miracle of miracles is the newness of it all. I am not completely gray, yet Japan as we know it is hardly older than I. Feudalism in Europe died before Columbus sailed. In Japan it was abolished not two years before I was born. I was a freshman when constitutional government, man’s most precious gift to men, was bestowed on the people as the free and personal offering of their sovereign. Like a modern Athena, Japan sprang full-panoplied from the head of Jove. To me the suddenness of it all was brought home through a conversation with a European friend, who years ago had married the daughter of a samurai. He told me that his wife’s father, enlisting under Mutsuhito’s banner in the First Rebellion against the modernization of the Empire, fought in full armor with sword and shield. And this same samurai, although he gave absolute obedience to his Emperor, was utterly out of sympathy with his Western policies and for years was unreconciled to his own daughter’s marriage with a foreigner. Eventually the old gentleman came round, and presented his son-in-law with two of the family swords, the most honorable present a samurai can give. The delicately tempered blades were there in their chased scabbards — all but the guards. Why these were denied the son-in-law was long ignorant, for even he did not know that a samurai’s family keeps an unbroken record of its swords, and to prevent a gap in the list the guards were withheld.

Mutsuhito, posthumously known as Meiji or Enlightened Ruler, ascended the throne in 1868. His counselors, few in number, but all alike impregnated with Western ideas, forged so united a policy, sloughing off gradually those who disagreed, that it will be impossible for the historian to apportion to each his deserved meed of praise. There is plenty of glory to go round, for no body of comparable political genius has sat in discussion since our own Constitution was framed. All are gone now into the mists of history, save old Prince Saionji; but with his help a modern painter has reconstructed the scene of that momentous council when, kneeling before the spirits of his ancestors, the young Emperor took the charter oath. What a scene! There knelt the boy of sixteen, one hundred and twentythird Mikado, direct descendant of the Sun Goddess, swearing by the ashes of his forefathers reverently and firmly that their ways should no longer be his ways. Kneeling on his cushion in the centre was the Chancellor Okubo, and in front the group of remarkable men from which in the fullness of history the Genro or council of elders was recruited.

I quote the official rescript, translated with literalness for me by a Japanese friend.

The Emperor collected dignitaries and took oath before the spirits of his ancestors to act upon five principles: —

1. Widely to convoke an assembly and to decide all policies according to public opinion.

2. The upper and the lower (classes) shall with one heart practise economic policies.

3. Civil and military officials as well as the common people should all accomplish their desire, and no one should be made to feel fatigue. (This singular clause presumably means that prosperity should become so general that the people should never be allowed to feel discomfort, and so wish to return to feudalism and the paternal care of their own Daimyos.)

4. Harmful customs must be abolished, and hallowed be the universal way of Heaven and Earth. (In which cryptic words may be traced the warning of Consul-General Harris and Secretary Hamilton Fish, who first imparted to the Japanese the astonishing intelligence that a universal law of nations was in actual existence.)

5. Seek knowledge the world over in order to exalt the foundations of the Imperial Throne.

Take note how tentatively the final clause suggests the importation of Western ideas and the initiation of new modes of life and thought. Rebellion was rife. The warlike clans of Satsuma and Choshu threatened the existence of the Empire — men’s minds turned slowly from loyalty to their Daimyos to obedience to the Lord of Lords, from their mountaingirt provinces to the Empire which embraced them. It was not well that phrases be too definite or that new interpretations might not always be evolved to meet new situations. When the diverse loyalties in Japan became a single loyalty, and what was in effect a confederation of discordant elements coalesced into a nation, there was a sudden liberation of national energy not unlike that which slowly followed the union of Norman and Saxon in the Western world. But when we remember that this oath is the Magna Charta of the Japanese, this their Bill of Rights, how vast the difference ! How illuminating the contrast!


Of all World Powers, Japan has purchased most cheaply her seat at the Centre Table, and the consciousness of that important fact has sunk deep into the mind of the people. The credentials are fixed by custom. What of your army and navy, your mills, your mines, your wealth? That her armed forces are of world strength LiaoYang and Tsushima bear historic witness; but, speaking in the large, Japan won her place on nerve. Her coal she imports from Manchuria, and it is poor enough in quality, when it comes. She buys her oil, her iron, her cotton, and her wool. Her factories do not reach our standard. Her machines are made in England, Germany, and America. Forty millions of her people cultivate an ungenerous soil with primitive tools. The sickle which our gardeners employ for ‘trimming up’ there reaps the harvest, and its crescent blade is not more bent than the toiler’s back as with delicate strokes he slices the thin rows of sturdy wheat with care lest he injure the stubble of rice plants or the beans planted between the bearded files. Not only is Japan lacking in natural wealth, but the energy which shapes her resources is the brawn and bone of her people.

Of these deficiencies the Japanese is acutely aware. The attitude of the people is quite definitely defensive. Of that assertiveness and truculence of which much has been heard, little can be seen. In the first outbreak of nationalization which followed the Chinese War, when little Japanese Jack climbed the Russian beanstalk and beat the giant to his knees, and when the World War made the country of a sudden rich beyond the dreams of her avarice, there were outbursts of jingoistic vainglory. We who recall the Spanish War — our own war, as Mr. Roosevelt loved to call it — remember that Manila and Santiago brought shriller outbursts for lesser cause. But earthquake and fire, and the long painful process of deflation, have taken from Japan her falser patriotism. Military adventure — I speak advisedly—has lost its charm. The army has long since ceased to be the boast of the people. This year has witnessed the last of the annual celebrations for Togo’s victory. The competition of world commerce is keen, and Japan knows she must husband her strength.

Of nothing will a Japanese boast except Japan herself. Japan with her cherry and plum, her wisteria and her maples, her mountains of infinitely shaded green, her snowy waterfalls, her groves of cryptomeria and camphor, her bold and noble coasts, the limpidity of her waters and the perfection of her rice fields. Of these alone will a Japanese confess his admiration. ‘Of course we love our country,’ said a lady to me. ‘It is so beautiful!’

Modesty is enjoined by precept and example. The very language bears witness to it. The grammar is without personal pronouns, and the ‘I, I, I’ of our Western discourse is unknown to them. Again, their vocabulary for tuum is flatteringly eulogistic, while for meum it is deprecatory in the extreme. The accomplished wife and desirable children paint, sing, and play with admirable talent, while in a poor house the koto is thrummed by an untrained wife and hobbledehoy children twang the samisen indifferent well. In such a conversation it is possible to apportion wives and children correctly only by the degree of estimation in which each speaker appears to hold them. The precepts of Confucius and Mencius, the philosophy of Gautama, the teachings of Shinto, alike inculcate modesty — a virtue which shines less effulgently in the Great Republic of the West. Everything impresses upon the Japanese that he has his own way to make, and that it ill becomes him to boast or even to acknowledge the blessings which are his.

Tapestry has its seamy side and modesty its essential weakness. If you would dominate a Japanese, don’t try to bawl him down. You will waste your breath. Don’t insult him, or it may go ill with you. Simply try to make him ridiculous. If you succeed, victory is yours. For the Japanese is sensitive as he is proud. In affairs he is not quite certain of himself. He listens too eagerly to the voice of Western criticism. English is for him printed in italics. He is forever asking for comment and wondering what you really think of him. A manufacturer tells me that on going to his works one morning he noticed on each lapel a button of a new company union. In Japan unions have no legal status and are suspect, as workers’ combinations invariably are. Confronted with what might become an emergency, my friend determined to nip it in the bud. He summoned his superintendent. ‘Make for me,’ he said, ‘two union buttons big as saucers. We will wear them in our lapels so that everyone can see how ridiculous they are.’ Next day owner and superintendent made a tour of inspection, each wearing the preposterous badge. The day after, not a button was to be seen.

This sense of insecurity will pass, of course. There was a time when America winced at any criticism, writhed when Dickens used his scalpel, and shrieked back at Mrs. Trollope. Now our national hide is tanned, and even fair and helpful criticism is passed over with a shrug. The pendulum of the democratic clock pauses only at extremes.

A frequent charge against the Japanese is want of truth. It would be easier to convict, I think, if the indictment were altered to want of candor. A Japanese will show his body, but not his mind. He will tell the truth, but the whole truth is not always essential. Newman remarks that it is almost a definition of a gentleman that he will not needlessly cause pain. This is the spirit of Bushido, and this Japan believes. Here we touch a nerve below the skin of Japanese psychology. Not that we tell the truth unreservedly ourselves, or that tergiversation is almost unpractised in the West, but still our code is ‘Tell the truth.’ ‘Out with it,’ we bid our children, ‘and let consequences look after themselves.’ But to the Japanese, consequences are much. If they wound the feelings, is it not well to consider how important the truth really is? I have known many cases where Japanese have told the truth to their own hindrance, and many others when they have been wanting in candor for the sake of the susceptibilities of others.

If the question be of money, then plain honesty comes into play, and you meet with treatment just and fair. I have never been overcharged in Japan, and, what is of infinitely more consequence to the traveler, I have never been pestered for tips. An apple woman, eager to return the overpayment of two coppers, pursues you through a crowd. I have had bell boys and waiters decline the proffer of a yen, bowing their thanks in the grand manner. I would not pretend that the Japanese are indifferent to money. That can hardly be said even of Bostonians. But the universal custom of wrapping any gift of money in paper before presenting it accentuates an ancient and noble tradition. Even at a bank your change will invariably be placed upon a tray. You will not receive it direct from a cashier.


Not since old Greece has Beauty been adored as by the Japanese. The French affect it, but for them Art outranks Nature. They prefer a hat to a blossom, and an instep to either. The Italians once worshiped the work of genius, but landscape and flowers were but the setting which enhanced the nobleness of the human figure. To the Japanese nothing is too insignificant to be beautiful. I have stood fascinated in a schoolroom while tiny girls with heads like polished lacquer made one up and one down stroke interpreting the resiliency of a blade of grass. Again and again, in place of pothooks, the little hands would shape the wavy line. Stiff as wire at first, it would grow in grace and flexibility till it fairly waved in the wind. I have seen old women toil up a flight of 222 steps (Reader, I counted them) simply for the joy of squatting for an hour in contemplation of the Inland Sea. The owner of a charming house will wait for seven years standing his turn for the slightest sketch of Takeuchi Seiho. As the newspaper readers of America are called in to ballot for the most popular school-teacher or the Queen of the Bathing Beauties of Atlantic City, so Japanese editors will invite their subscribers to vote on the comparative loveliness of famous views. And any Japanese schoolboy will tell you that nothing excels the loveliness of the lovely trio, Matsushima, Amanahoshidate, and Miyajima. ‘But,’ you query, ‘Fuji?’ ‘Ah, but you can’t compare the incomparable.’ Fuji indeed is hors concours.

On any holiday you will see troops of boys ascending every famous hilltop with what we call ‘only a view’ to reward the long day’s hike. In February and March the plum (symbol of heroes, because it blossoms through the snow), in April the cherry, in May the peony, that ‘ King of Flowers,’ the wisteria and the azalea, are the goals of countless pilgrimages.

Always in Japan I sought for the just word which should describe the taste in beauty distinctively Japanese. Like all transcendent qualities it eludes definition, but when a Japanese speaks of those externals which soothe and satisfy the spirit, the word shibumi rises to his lips. These things are instinctive, not shaped by reason and not easily to be put into speech, but shibumi suggests an excellent refinement. ‘Nothing too much’ is in it, and the word is in itself a protest against ostentation. There is in it, too, something of conformity to the traditional, something the antithesis of bizarre. And if I mistake not, shibui (to use the adjective from the same stem) is not without its sense of moral worth. To be beautiful a thing must be fitting. The parts must be related to the whole, and the whole must be seemly to place and circumstance. Quick as thought the Greek would have understood it, and though for his primitive philosophy he might have contemned the Japanese, for his understanding of things which lie deeper than expression he would have ranked him apart from the Barbarians.

And how they love their landscapes! When they contemplate the fantastical escarpments of their mountains, their peaks like drop curtains for an Arabian Nights’ entertainment, or the feathery fronds of bamboo that drape their sides,

one wonders whether they see them through their artists’ eyes or through their own. Had Hiroshige and Hokusai been born New Englanders, in exchange for our Homer and our Benson, should we perhaps have exchanged landscapes, too? Certainly it is astonishing to note with what precision the countryside follows the lines of their painters. More remarkable still, take my word for it, those flat-planed faces and angular features recorded on our grandmothers’ fans and screens are almost photographic presentments of the characters on the Japanese stage. In all their romantic art there is a note of punctilious accuracy, and the contented traveler returning with a handful of prints can see again the place and people precisely as they look.

Most perfect of Japanese arts is the art of courtesy — the delicate appraisal of your feelings, the sensitive response to your attitude of mind. How pleasant to be everywhere welcomed by bows and smiles! How comforting to self-consequence! How sweet Sayonara in the ears of the departing guest!

But watch two ladies meeting: a deep bow deeply returned, another almost as low, then a third and the shy engaging smile. Two men are introduced. The swiftest glance of mutual appraisal tells which should stop bowing first, though sometimes it seems doubtful whether either will stop at all. And I have often conjured up the impossibility of introducing strangers when a train is about to start.


Beneath the gateway which frames the approach to the Great Buddha of Kamakura the visitor reads this admonition: ‘Stranger, whosoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. This is the Temple of Buddha — the gate of the Eternal. Enter it with reverence.’

Well might this inscription mark the gateway to Japan. For the Japanese their country is indeed hallowed ground. La Patrie is sacred to Frenchmen, the German cherishes his Fatherland, the little Isle set in Shakespeare’s Silver Sea is dear as heart’s blood to Englishmen. We are not indifferent to our own rocks and rills. Yet in the patriotic devotion of the Japanese there is a fiercer and more primitive instinct. Theirs is a pride of race as well as of nation, a tribal brotherhood direct inheritance of the feudal times of their fathers, the instinct of a hive of bees for its queen. The Japanese may differ on any subject in heaven or earth but one — their Emperor. Through him they reach back to the Gods themselves. He is the Universal Father, the quintessence of the race. He is their protector, their salvation, their religion. He is the richest source of wisdom. To him alone is ascribed the unique merit of reform. No statue is erected even to Meiji. No inscription is written in his honor, but his Shrine calls the people to worship: the gray smooth-swept walks; the majestic Torii, the gateway perfect in its simplicity; the open shrine. At its barrier the worshiper pauses, claps his hands to call the mighty spirit, bows thrice in wordless prayer, and gazes toward the Inner Shrine, Holy of Holies, with the sixteen-petaled chrysanthemum its only ornament, and the white curtain of purity draped before the altar. That is the spirit of Japan.

The mists of mystery disappear in the rays of the modern sun. The Emperor’s picture appears in the newspaper. More and more frequently he appears on state occasions. Prince Chichibu, the heir presumptive, plays well the dual and difficult rôles of Son of Heaven and Prince of Wales. A prince of good fellows, he is a good fellow among princes, but, should it be his lot to ascend the throne, how difficult will be concealment within the barriers of awful isolation!

Chancing to be in Kyoto on the Emperor’s birthday, I went early to one of the large colleges to listen to the annual reading of the Imperial Rescript on Education. I chose the junior department and the girls’ division. Although the hour was early and attendance on a holiday wholly optional, some twelve hundred young women filled the hall. In black school gowns they sat in quiet rows while President and Dean faced them from the platform. After an invocation from the Dean, which in honor of the holiday lasted thirty round minutes, the President rose and walked with measured step to the edge of the platform. Below him an official held aloft a receptacle covered with a cloth of pure white silk. This, with such respect as though the very Host were elevated, he gave into the President’s hand. Obviously every motion of the ritual was prescribed, and as I watched, fascinated, it seemed as if the Grail itself would be disclosed. But below the cloth was a simple box beautifully fashioned of the same pale cypress one associates with shrines. Holding the box in his left hand, the President drew from it with his right a roll of silk. From within the silk, with the same measured motion, he took a parchment, and in slow cadence he read from the illuminated text the sonorous charter of Japanese education.

‘Know ye, our subjects:

‘Our Imperial ancestors have founded our Empire on a basis broad and everlasting, and have deeply and truly implanted virtue. Our subjects, ever united in loyalty and filial piety, have from generation to generation illustrated the beauty thereof. . . . Ye, our subjects, be filial to your parents, affectionate to your brothers and sisters, as husbands and wives be harmonious, as friends true. Bear yourselves in modesty and moderation. Pursue learning and cultivate art. . . . The way here set forth is indeed the teaching bequeathed by our Imperial Ancestors to be observed alike by their Descendants and the Subjects infallible in all ages and true in all places. . . . ’ The majestic sentences, which I followed from the translation I had procured, fell on the hearers like as the Word of God. They felt the thrill and I caught it as at the close they sang in unison the national invocation to the Emperor:

‘Ten thousand years roll on
Till pebbles to great rocks shall grow
And be with moss o’ergrown.’


The Way of Salvation taught by the Lord Buddha to India, by Indians to Chinese, and from China brought to Japan, has played its quintessential part in Japanese history. It has fostered learning and holiness, encouraged contemplation and wisdom, and contributed to that deep reserve which is so potent an element in Japanese character. But, like Christianity, Buddhism is an imported religion — alien, as I think (though the learned will disagree with me), to a race where instinct rather than reason controls the will. It is rather the religion which is not a religion, Shinto, defined by Imperial Rescript as fundamentally a culture, which, if it does not control Japanese character, effectively symbolizes it. Stand quietly before a shrine. You will see there the man of intellect and culture bow before the past which made him, and highly resolve that what has been shall not have been in vain. You will see the coolie imploring the god of his village for protection and food. You will see the woman praying for the children she has borne or the child her heart desires. To each according to his need Shinto gives the bread of life.

The history of our Anglo-Saxon race has been the story of the long fight against superstition. Lecky has told it to us, triumphantly reciting the fall of each bastion and tower held by the dark forces of Mystery and Dread. In our generation the Keep itself is falling. The shouts of triumph are about us, but while we pick and shovel under the last ramparts we are dimly aware that with mystery goes religion itself. Superstition is an evil word, but in the heart and kernel of it is Faith itself. Rationalize the soul, and there is no soul. Cast superstition utterly away, and there is void and emptiness. It is the gap in Nature.

So thinking, I bowed my head before the silent shrine, and looking up caught my reflection in the mirror, sole image of the Shinto faith. There was the ancient symbol, Greek, but eternal and universal: ‘Know Thyself.’ The Japanese have caught its meaning. There dwell the heart and soul of the mystery that is Japan.

(A second paper on life and travel in Japan will appear in the October issue)