Gareth Jones

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Gareth Jones

IN the last 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?

There are 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 to give some of my brighter impressions during a stay of five weeks in Tokyo, in the countryside near Fujiyama and in Kobe.

The first virtue which I have chosen is courtesy. In the most remote villages while I tramped through 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 large 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 of 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. The second virtue is cleanliness, which for many Japanese is more than godliness. During my first stay 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 a prayer-stick! “ I said to myself, and expecting to see a great image of Buddha, I entered the building. There was no smell of incense, there was no holy image, there were no dim lights; what I saw was a number of native men splashing about in great baths from which the steam soared upwards in clouds.

My “prayer-stick” was merely the number of the locker for my shoes; my “temple” was one of the thousands of bath-houses scattered throughout Japan.

“Cleanliness is a religion for the Japanese,” I concluded, after I had noticed everywhere the spotlessness of the homes and the love of the people for hot water. 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 volcanlc 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. This 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. They are easily moved by the beauty of views or the glories of a garden.

When I 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 became filled with tears and that for some minutes he could not speak. Eventually he said, “I am moved by that. It 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 the lake.”

I learned later that tears of appreciation of nature come as easily to sensitive Japanese as does laughter. Loyalty 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,” states a Japanese proverb, and a friend of mine who has lived for years in Japan commented in striking terms upon this saying.

“I have many Japanese friends “ he declared to me, “but there is not a single one 1 could trust if any motive of patriotism came in. 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 sake! 

Akin to 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 sacrificed themselves by placing themselves during war operation within torpedoes which they guided until they were killed. 

The 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-knowing that their fate is a cruel one when caught and that they are braving an attack from merciless patriotic societies, still go on propagating the ideas of Karl Marx. 

This 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 internationalist business men? 

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. 

When I visited the conqueror of Manchuria, 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.

Perhaps that is the secret of Japan’s advance.

 August 6th, 1935  

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