The Grass Roots Revolution in Japan

Japan with her ancient heritage so different from ours is now poised on the threshold of democracy. Will she turn our way or Russia’s? NORA WALN, author of The House of Exile and Reaching for the Stars, has been living in Japan for the past two years. With her disarming Quaker spirit, she has penetrated farther than most Americans in her understanding of the uncertainty and the aspiration of the Japanese people. Her findings will come to us in the form of a regular monthly article. Last month she described the indoctrination and hostility with which the Japanese prisoners returned from Russia: next month she will speak of the schools and the young refugees from Communism to whom Japan has given sanctuary.

by NORA WALN

1

QUAKER interpretation of Christ’s mission to earth is that he came to help people comprehend that we are everywhere kin. Across all political barriers, beneath every difference in skin color, under all strangeness of habit and custom, we have similarities of mind. My trip to Japan is an attempt to test, in one more foreign place, the soundness of the Quaker faith in which I was reared. Every visit in a Japanese home has helped me realize the fact of human unity.

When my companion-interpreter, Mrs. Masa Mukaibo, and I came from Tokyo, we had promised to be Yasuko’s house guests this visit. She sent her elder son, a young medical student, down to Komoro by foot and bus to meet our train and bring us up to the valley in the Komoro taxi. After a pleasant hour of conversation while we rode through well-formed country, we arrived at Shigahongo, the second of the string of hamlets jointly alled Shiga, where the Kozu clan have their country home.

Yasuko’s son told us how they came to live here. They have been in this valley a long time. Twentytwo generations ago Machida Kozu, a bow and arrow man from the south, first saw these beautiful hills in the army of Takeda Shingen, a warrior who overthrew Lord Shiga. It was the warrior’s practice to establish his rule in each place he invaded by leaving behind him trusted men whom he saw married to local women and to whom he gave responsibility for the production of rice. Machida Kozu was settled at Tanabata, on a small hill across the river from Shiga. His view was down the next valley. He had the task of promoting peace and prosperity.

For eight generations, his family carried out his assignment from this location. Their names are registered in the temple of Koya-snn at Yamato. They were able administrators who held their position during an era of civil war. The head of the clan in the eighth generation was Yozaemon Kozu, a man with four sons. When a new period of national government was set up, with the Emperor pushed into the background at Koyoto, the Kozu men were not dismissed. Their duly was enlarged. All four sons were given areas of responsibility for the growth of rice and the culture of silk. The third son was named Sakuemon. My friendship is with his descendants.

Sakuemon Kozu with his wife and children moved from Tanabata into the residence of the warrior priest Senkobo, an old man without sons or daughters, at Shiga-hongo in December of 1607, by order of Sengoku Echigen, who had recently become overlord of this part of Nagano. They were to learn from the priest as if he were their father, so as to be able to inherit his civic responsibilities. When his earthly life was finished, they were to perform the ceremonies of remembrance for him. That is how they came to live in the lovely house called Aka Kobe Goten — the Rose-walled Manor — and be in charge of farming in the Shiga valley.

This new era was the regime of military dictators the Tokugawa shoguns. It began with detailed instructions concerning exactly what was expected of those who tilled the soil, and of their overseers. Rice was counted the material foundation of the nation’s well-being. Revenues of rice were to be sent to Edo, as Tokyo was called. Famine was to be avoided. In times of good harvest, grain was to be stored locally in tight warehouses for distribution when the crop failed. Those who lived in the manor were to be ready at all times to house visiting government officials. This period ended in 1868, after two hundred and sixty-one years.

By then the Kozu clan were deeply rooted at Shiga-hongo. There is concord of character among them which keeps them a social unit even in time of political change. The next era was the period of private enterprise. People could change their positions. Sons did not have to follow their fathers’ trades —a carpenter could become a farmer, a merchant could marry into the nobility. Investors could own as much farm land as they could buy. The Kozu clan stayed on, owning rice paddies far up and down the valley and reaching over the hills into neighboring valleys. Strangers from the cities bought land and did not live on it. Some peasants acquired ownership of small farms. Hired laborers and tenant farmers —more free than the peasants were— produced crops for the large landowners.

The hermit kingdom was open. The Emperor was restored to power. Japanese could go out of their native islands and return. Then it was that some of the family went abroad to study in England, the United States, France, and Germany. They built houses in Tokyo, spent summers by the sea at Kamakura, traveled in Asia; and several settled in China. But the Rose-walled Manor continued to be their central home.

Now change has come again, after a war of aggression and defeat. Today the Kozu family have their small share of rice paddies in the Shiga valley. They have just what they can till. Our narrator told us that the Land Reform Law, enacted by the Japanese Diet since the American occupation, is a wise measure. Without it there could have been grave social unrest and serious agrarian uprisings. He says this law is a success and that the quiet peacefulness of the country people is due to it.

The law is dedicated primarily to creating owner farmers, but the land reform program allows farm tenancy provided there is a written lease with the arrangements clearly stated: cash payment of rent by the tenant, and, for the owner, a ceiling of 25 per cent of the production from rice paddies and 15 per cent from upland fields. The Kozu family knew conditions in their neighborhood too well to continue tenant farming. In Akita and other prefectures, the small farmers have been owners for three centuries and longer. In these Nagano valleys, peasants were kept down. The tillers of the soil wanted ownership of the land. If conquest had succeeded, they could have gone abroad. Now they wanted it at home.

There could be violence. Then came the reform laws inspired by the United States. All the large owners put their paddies up for sale. Farmers were ready to buy. The deeds to ownership changed hands last year at a local ceremony in Shiga-hongo which lasted all day. In the morning there were speeches, music, and the signing of names; then a community dinner; and in the afternoon a historical play. Shiga valley now belongs to those who work their own fields. The headmaster of the school farms his paddy. The Kozu family plant and reap their rice.

The seven children who live in the Rose-walled Manor are the fourteenth generation since Sakuemon, the twenty-second since Machida. Halfway up the wooded hill behind their house is the family temple where clan services are held. They are Zen Buddhists. Near the stone steps that lead to the temple is the well-tended grave of the warrior priest into whose home they came.

When the clan were prosperous they were builders. They added wings and garden courts to the manor until it grew to forty rooms. In some generations they gave younger sons branch homes when they married, placing them on the same side of the highway as the manor—the south side. Sons of branch houses were given homes on the north side of the road. These were called twig houses. Yasuko is wife in a branch house.

2

WE ARE nearly there,” said our young host. “I hope that I have not bored you with too much talk about us.” He paused. “You know that I plan to be a doctor in this valley. The place and its people mean much to me. I belong to them. What happens here concerns me. The land reform is good.” His eyes were shining. “There is no doctor now. They have been coming to me ever since I started to study. I watch the health of this one and that one. Ownership of land has given them happiness. It has made their health better.”

The clan were gathered on the open space in front of his parents’ house. They waved when they saw the taxi coming and our driver put forth a spurt of speed. Soon we were on the grass beside them, bowing to them and they to us. They made me feel really wanted.

While the Kozu clan were greeting us, others who live in Shiga-hongo came from their homes and places of work to help welcome us —the village clerks, the postmaster and his wife, several schoolteachers, neighbor women, the shoemaker and his partner son, and children. It always gives me a feeling that the times we live in are rich and great when I find that those who were our foes have become our friends.

Once, the shoemaker’s son told me, he hated Americans. He wanted to kill as many as he could. Then he was taken prisoner. He does not know exactly how it happened, but he found that he liked us. He is glad that Americans are in Japan so that we can get acquainted.

“Glad to see you.” Uncle Shukusuke Kozu’s words were short but his eyes smiled. He was at Cambridge University in England more than fifty years ago. Usually he wears a kimono; to welcome us he wore a tailored suit of Scots tweed. He is a genial man with white hair and a white beard. Nearly eighty, he is alert and active. He used to have a house in Tokyo but it was bombed and burned. He lives up here and goes down once a month to give lectures at the University in Tokyo. He told us that his wife and he had planned to take us up the hills to the ruins of Lord Shiga’s castle, if we would like to come along. We accepted. His date depended on the weather.

All the women were in beautiful kimonos with lovely obis girdling their waists. Everyone had changed out of work clothes for our coming. Some of the men wore kimonos, others suits. The little children were shyly proud of their new clothes — styled by American patterns — made of cotton cloth in pretty colors. The boys and girls of school age wore their school uniforms — jackets and trousers, middy blouses and pleated skirts.

Yasuko waited until everyone, young and old, had a chance to speak with us and then she said, “Otsukare desho?" meaning “Are you not tired?” Before we could answer she went on, “Come with me. The bath is ready and waiting.”

“They are staying in your house this time,” remarked Choyiko, the widowed mother of the clan, speaking to Yasuko, “but the author’s rooms in the main house are the place for writing. Everything is prepared. We will take the typewriter and the package of paper to the Rose-walled Manor.”

“I’ll work there,” I promised.

“It’s best to work regular hours. We will expect you early tomorrow.”

Temporary good-byes were said. Masa and I went with Yasuko into her house, where everything was fresh and clean — simple, plain, and lovely. The wing she had ready for us looks inlo its own courtyard. She had put beautifully arranged flowers grown in her own garden below the scroll that hung in the shallow alcove in each room. I had sweet peas and a scroll which read: —

If the soul be pure
and the chosen way
be unselfish
Without conscious prayer
the gods will guide.

“This verse has often been a comfort to me when the way was dark ahead,”explained Yasuko. “It’s called a tanka and is from a poet who lived eleven centuries ago. I felt that you might like to learn it by heart. That’s why I hung it here. Now have your bath.” She left me.

Cleanliness is a virtue in this country. In every home where I have been, no matter how poor or humble, the people have bathed every evening. One is offered a bath at the end of each journey. I called to Masa. She insisted that I go first. In robe and the wooden sandals called geta, I went through the yard to the bathhouse, which is a little house beyond the kitchen.

Geta are always left at the bottom of the steps that lead up to the door. Just inside the door is a bare strip of natural-colored wood polished with soya-bean oil so that the grain shows, and beyond this is a pale green mailing covering that part of the room which is used for undressing and dressing. The dressing table is only about six inches high and has a tall mirror above it. There is a silk cushion, with a morning-glory pattern in blue and white, to kneel on while doing one’s face and hair after the bath. The same silk lines a padded reed basket to lay underwear in. Another basket holds clean towels. It has a tray for soap, sponge, and nail brush. And there is a kimono rack of silvery bamboo. The sliding windows have paper panes which let in light and cannot be seen through. To use when the weather is hot, there are reed blinds of the same pale green as the matting.

Three broad steps go down to the stone-paved washing place. It is furnished with a movable wooden floor to stand on because the stones would be uncomfortable, a low wooden stool on which to sit, several small wooden tubs and long-handled dippers. There are a natural spring of cold water and a big tub of hot. water, heated from underneath by fire in a firebox which is stoked outside the bathhouse. One washes before getting into the hot tub, using water from the hot and cold supply to throw over the body, soap, and rinse well. Water flows away on the slanting stones. The water in the bathtub is for resting and relaxing in after one is clean. It is cooled by dipping in well water. There are debated ways of getting in — plunging or gradually. At first it seems very hot. Sitting there in water up to one’s neck does take away stiffness and fatigue.

3

WHEN I had bathed, I dressed in a kimono as American clothes are not comfortable in a home where one sits on the floor. Supper was nearly ready. Yasuko had made wheat flour noodles, which are locally known as ohoto. Salted water was boiling on the stove and into it her younger son was grating bonito, a tasty dried fish. Peas had been shelled and onion chopped. The vegetables and noodles were put in to cook. She then made tamago-yaki by beating four eggs and frying them in a very thin pancake on an iron griddle, folding, and slicing to add to the stew at the last minute. The string beans that were simmering on a charcoal brazier were tested, seasoned with sesame seeds, and covered again to cook the flavor in. I was given tomatoes to slice and green peppers to grate over them. This was our supper, with two melons, which had been hung to cool in the deep well, for dessert.

When Masa had bathed and dressed we sat down in the room that adjoins the kitchen — six of us on door cushions round a low table. We ate from bowls with chopsticks. We were Ikuzo, the father; Yasuko, the mother; Masa and I, the guests; Tadshiko, the elder son, who plans to be a doctor and practice with office and clinic in this house where he was born; and Shoei, the younger son, who is to go into the grandfather’s business office when he graduates from Keio University. The boys were home for their summer vacation. When they are at their studies in Tokyo they save money by looking after themselves—the younger does the cooking. They take turns coming home, one each fortnight, to see their parents, get their laundry done, and collect food that their mother has for them. The father has great pride in his self-reliant sons. In his day, he went to Keio University in luxury with a servant to take care of him.

We had started eating when the grandfather, Tohei, who is the strong businessman of the clan, surprised everyone by arriving from Nagano City, where he has his office and a town house. When he was young, he felt that they must strike out from dependence on the land; and although he had difficulties with his father and others of the clan concerning this, he went into ventures they considered risky. He has built two small electric railways, the Shiga Heights Hotel (now used by our U.S, Army as a recreation center), one factory where noodles are made by the family recipe and another using their secret blend for soya sauce, and has other enterprises in which his younger sons, cousins, nephews, and grandchildren work. He has set his widowed daughter up in Nagano City with a school for teaching girls American dressmaking. She would not return to the homestead to keep silkworms and make homespun, using local helpers, even after he put up a modern building for this. The building stands empty. He is an energetic elderly man. He bathed quickly. We were seven when we went on with the meal.

There was no rice for supper. This led to talk of the Kozu family laws. As the production of rice in this valley was the foundation of their settlement here, they have made regulations within their clan to remind them that rice is precious. Rice is not served in a Kozu home more than once a day. All Kozu clan members, wherever they live — if they keep the clan law — eat noodles for supper. White rice is for festivals, but it is not eaten the first three days of the New Year, when there is general Japanese extravagance with rice — not until the fourth day are the family allowed to eat omochi, which is the New Year pounded rice cake. They have unhulled rice (brown rice) on ordinary days — or, when crops are poor, rice with wheat or barley cooked in it. But at all family and village festivals they have white rice.

Very early they enacted a clan law which helps them now. Every man in the family has to be able to take seed rice and produce a crop. During the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was slackness about this, and in some instances no more than a ceremony was made of it. The uncle who went to Cambridge came in as we were being told these things. He recalled that while there was slackness, nevertheless, when he wanted to go to England as a young man, he was made to toil in the rice paddies all spring and summer and help with the threshing before the clan would give him money to go. He appreciates the sweat of the men and women of the clan who grow the rice they all have at present.

In his boyhood, they owned so much land that the children used to climb up on the high ruins of Lord Shiga’s hilltop castle to watch the wagons bringing in the harvest. Every road as far as they could see would be filled with wagons, pushed or dragged by men, piled high with sheaves coming to the Rose-walled Manor and the branch and twig houses. Part of the rice was stored in fireproofdampproof granaries and much was sold to city buyers who took it from the threshing floors.

“The hired men and the tenants got very little for their toil, in the time of free enterprise,” the two elderly brothers agreed. “And the peasants of the earlier period got even less. The Rose-walled Manor was besieged more than once. There are marks of fire where rioters held torches to the house while they bargained. No century passed without trouble over the workers’ share. Back as far as the time of the warrior priest, there is record of trouble. In the early generations, we had the duty to hold rice for use in time of crop failure and then judge when famine was near before giving out rice that belonged to the state — not to us.”

4

IN Japan, as in China, I am interested in family laws. Even when national laws outlaw them, these laws are kept in some clans. In Japan today a person can refuse to obey a family law if he wants. For instance — if the family law be kept — no woman or servant would sweep the walk from the house to the outer gate in a Kozu home. As a constant reminder that Machida rose from humble birth by merit and industry, the head of the house — or his heir if the head is sick or absent — should sweep this path daily. Again, when there is special need for economy, the clan drink tea from half-sized cups. These cups were made for them six generations ago. The custom of small tea drinking started after a head of the family had given so lavishly to temples that it took two generations of close thrift to repair their fortune. The cups were used again when a clan head started a bank that failed and they had to repay money he lost by giving up rice paddies and family treasures. Today they are trying, by every possible economy in other things, to give every boy and girl in the family an education with which to earn a living and be a useful citizen in the new democracy. They have no household helpers and no field workers, and they use the hallsize teacups.

On the first day of the new moon in the eighth month, the Kozu clan gather in Shiga-hongo to keep the memory of their ancestors. A straw matting dyed red is unrolled from the Rose-walled Manor through the inner courts and out the gate to the family cemetery and on up the long stone stairway to the temple. The services last all day and until late in the evening. On the fifteenth day of every moon, the head of every branch and twig house must call at the Rose-walled Manor and be received as a son. When a member of the family has been away from Shiga-hongo and returns, he or she should call promptly at ihe main house. Tohei, who had come from Nagano City, went to the Rose-walled Manor after supper.

I was sleepy. Yasuko slipped away to make my bed ready while I was listening to the family laws. As is done in most homes in summer, she filled the room with a tentlike mosquito net fastened to the corners of the ceiling by loops put over pegs that are there for that purpose. The net is white bound with red. On the soft matting covered floor, she spread a silk pad filled with cocoon fluff, then white sheets, and a light silk quilt. I slept well until wakened by a heavy shower.

The hills and the valley were freshened for the first morning of our visit. The river ran full. The red maples were a ruby red, the fir trees a glossy green. One could almost hear the rice grow. We made our arrival calls at the main house and at the branch and twig homes before noon. That afternoon I worked at the Rose-walled Manor in the room which was built for Toson Shimazaki, whose novels and sketches have in them compassion for people and animals. I am privileged to have been given this room which was once his. After the first day, I began writing in the mornings and learning from the family by doing whatever they planned for the remainder of the day.

The Rose-walled Manor is a lovely house. It has the precious and charming quality of peace, although energetic people live in it. The curve of the eaves and the slope of the gray slate roof are gentle. The parts built in different generations belong together. The wood, the stone, and the clay used in construction are their natural colors. The wood is a blend from many different kinds of trees. At places inside the rooms and in the frame of the house, bamboo has been beautifully used. Ihe stones are native to Shiga and help make the house belong to the landscape. When the family inherited the house, a mountain a mile away was included in their inheritance. I was taken on an excursion to sec the seam of red clay in this mountain.

Clay from this seam was used in the original building of the warrior priest’s house, storehouses, side buildings, and the high wall surrounding the compound. The clay weathers to a soft rose. It has been used in all extensions and repairs. The paper in the sliding walls, which can be opened between the rooms and to the outdoors in summer, the screens, the low tables, the sitting cushions, the bedding, the trays and dishes, and other furnishings have always been chosen to harmonize with the rose clay of the outer walls. The Kozu homes are all beautiful, all built of native materials, all sparsely furnished. They all have walls that slide back in summer, opening the house to the garden courtyards, and outer walls which go up in winter to keep out the cold. Every house with its gardens, courts, and outbuildings is surrounded by a high compound wall which makes the residence a unit by itself although it is part of a hamlet. The branch and twig houses and the manor of the homestead are much alike except that the manor is much the largest and the rose clay is reserved for use in its buildings.

We have had pleasant days here. Nothing of great importance has happened. Two afternoons we went with the children to an Athletic Meet. On the first day they all took part in footraces, high jumps, discus throwing, and folk dancing; on the second day came the big event — a baseball game which Shiga-hongo, by a close score, won from a neighboring hamlet. Wc walked three miles to the Horse Fair where colts wore exhibited, won prizes, and were put up for sale. And a mile beyond the Fair, we saw the Mating Meadows, a place of fine pasture grass surrounded by hills, where the farmers turn their mares out with stallions that belong to the community.

Wc attended a village meeting called at the request of the thirty-three repatriates who have returned to Shiga-hongo since the end of the war. The subject they wished to take up was diet. The speaking was opened by a man who said that the children have too many spots on their faces and take cold too easily, and gave it as his opinion that they eat too much starch — rice and grain —and not enough protein. He wanted dams made and stocked with carp. Others took part in the discussion, among them Fumio, the third son of the Rosewalled Manor, who is back from Manchuria; and a cousin from one of the twig homes, who was a prisoner in Siberia. A committee was appointed to go into the matter more fully.

Several afternoons have been spent in showing me how to take silk from a cocoon and make it into thread, dye it, and weave it into cloth. I am slow at learning. They are courteous, patient, and persistent with me even when I am lazy.

It is easy to obey Christ’s commandment to love our neighbors — even in faraway, strange countries — after one has acquaintance with them.