By Gareth Jones
fast few years we have heard much of the vices, which beset Japan, of the
ruthlessness with which she seizes all that she desires, of the
intolerance which animates her super-patriots, of the unfair methods which
characterise a part of her business competition and of the militarism
which is drenching her youth. Is that, however, the whole picture?
Are there no redeeming features in the nation, which is amazing the world?
many, and I have selected seven Japanese virtues in order that our
conception of Japan may be more balanced. I do not deny that many
accusations levelled against Japan are true. I merely wish give some
of my brighter impressions during a stay of five of weeks in Tokyo, in the
countryside near Fujiyama and in Kobe.
virtue I have chosen is courtesy. In the most remote villages while
I tramped though those rugged Japanese mountains or along the magnificent
coast of the Izu Peninsula, I was received with a charming politeness.
Fishermen who perhaps had never seen a white man before would go out of
their way to show kindness to me, while the children, far from being
terrified by the appearance of a stranger with white skin and eyes, would
approach me with friendliness and a complete absence of fear.
It is not
the average Japanese, but the pompous petty official who has been guilty
at treating foreigners with suspicion as potential spies. I found
more laughter than mistrust. Indeed. Japanese girls seem to spend
their time preparing to giggle, in the act of giggling, or having giggled.
second virtue is cleanliness, which for many Japanese is more than
godliness. During my first day in Tokyo I went walking through some
of the side streets when I saw a temple with curious gables. Men and
women in kimonos were entering its portals after taking off their
clattering wooden clogs. I approached the building, doffed my hat
reverently, sat down on the wooden stairway at the entrance, pulled off my
shoes and handed them to a temple servant. He gave me a stick, on
which were written Japanese letters: Ah! Obviously prayer-stick I
said to myself and expecting to see a great image of Buddha, I entered the
no smell of incense, there was no holy image, there were no dim lights;
what I saw was a number of naked men splashing about in great baths from
which the steam soared upwards in clouds.
‘prayer-stick’ was merely the number of the locker for my shoes; my
temple was one of the thousands of bathhouses scattered through out Japan.
is a religion for the Japanese,” I concluded after I had noticed
everywhere the spotless of the homes and the love of the people for hot
waters. It is a boon to the traveller who after walking all day may
enter a Japanese inn and wallow for hours in the luxurious warmth of the
volcanic hot spring baths before squatting on the floor to eat with chop
sticks fish, prawns and bamboo, while in one corner a delicately-arranged
flower lights up the simplicity of the surroundings.
Love of Nature
flower is a symbol of the-Japanese love of nature, the third virtue, with
which is closely linked the artistic richness of their country. On
holidays the railway stations of Japan resemble those of Germany, for they
are packed with ordinary folk who are going to spend a day in the
mountains or along the coast, or who are taking the boat to the “Isle of
Suicides,” where they may see someone in despair leaping into the
boiling cauldron of the crater. The beauty of views or the glories
of a garden easily move them.
went to see the former Foreign Minister of Japan, Baron Shidehara whose
life by the way, has been endangered many times by fanatics, he asked me
what had impressed me most in his country. I replied immediately:
“The fascinating trees with their grotesque and poetic shapes.”
As I enlarged upon the delight with which I had seen the trees of Japan I
noticed that his eyes become filled with tears and that for some minutes
he could not speak. Eventually he said: “I am moved by that.
If is curious also that Lord Grey said a similar thing when he came to see
me and when we looked out at those trees near this lake.”
later that tears of appreciation of nature come as easily to sensitive
Japanese as does laughter.
to the State is the fourth virtue, and in this the Japanese resembles the
Prussian soldier. So far does this virtue go that it sometimes
degenerates into a vice, for the claims of the nation are often followed
at the expense of the family. “Duty knows no family” is a
Japanese proverb and a friend of mine who has lived for years in Japan
commented in striking terms upon this: "I have many Japanese
friends,” he declared to me, “but there is not a single one I could
trust if any motive of patriotism came between us. There is not one
of them who would not poison me if their country were at stake. And,
what is more they would poison their families for their nation’s
loyalty is the fifth virtue, which I have chosen and that is
self-sacrifice. When I was in Tokyo a monument was unveiled to the
“Three Human Torpedoes”, the men who had sacrifice themselves by
placing themselves, during war operations, in torpedoes which they guided
until they were killed.
Japanese will tolerate an exceedingly low standard of living if they are
thus serving the State. There is also strong self-sacrifice among
the Communists in Japan, who well-know that their fate is a cruel one if
caught, but who still go on propagating the ideas of Karl Marx and know
that they are braving an attack from merciless patriotic societies
spirit of self-sacrifice breeds the sixth virtue physical courage.
In the character of the Japanese there is a strong element of
dare-devilry. Aviators have been known to take mad risks and even
kill themselves by their daring in order that their families might receive
a posthumous medal. Is there, however, moral courage, the courage to
brave the militarists among the middle classes and among the
seventh virtue, which is found among soldiers and among many young
idealists, but unfortunately not among a section of politicians many of
whom are corrupt - is a disdain for wealth, a respect for poverty, a
Spartan devotion to hardship.
visited the conqueror of Manchukuo, General Araki former War Minister and
a possible future Prime Minister. I found him living in a simple
cottage with a small garden at the end of an insignificant side-lane.
It was not the House of “His Excellency the Minister of War"; it
was the house of a simple soldier who despised the goods of this world.
that is the secret of Japan’s advance.