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At each encroachment of the enemy those of the population who could not find refuge at once within the inner defenses were driven to choose between surrender and self-inflicted death. The unconquerable samurai spirit flamed out in the choice of hundreds of women and children as well as men, and whole families were wiped out of existence at once, the little ones, who were too young to understand the proper method of _hara-kiri_, kneeling calmly with bowed heads for the death-stroke from father or brother which should free them from the disgrace of defeat.
That the spirit of the samurai women is still a living force in j.a.pan, no one can doubt who listens to the stories of what the women did and bore in the j.a.pan-China war of 1895. The old self-sacrifice and devotion showed itself throughout the country in deeds of real, if sometimes mistaken, heroism. Husbands, sons, and brothers were sent out to danger and death with smiles and cheerful words, by women dependent upon them for everything in a way that can hardly be understood by Americans. Even tears of grief for the dear ones offered in the country's cause were suppressed as disloyal, and women learned with unmoved countenances of the death of those they loved best, and found the courage to express, in the first shock of bereavement, their sense of the honor conferred on the family by the death of one of its members in the cause of his country.
A few incidents quoted from an article by Miss Ume Tsuda that appeared in the New York "Independent" in 1895 will give my readers an idea of the forms that this devotion a.s.sumed:--
"One instance comes into my mind of an old lady who sent out cheerfully and with a smiling face her young and only son, the sole stay of her old age. Left a widow while young, she had lived a life of much sorrow and trouble, and had with almost superhuman efforts managed to give her son an education that would start him in life. It was only a few years ago that the son had begun to help in the family support, and to be able to repay to the mother her tender care of him. Her pride in her son and his young wife was a pleasure to see, and the little home they had together seemed a safe haven for the coming years of old age. Now, in a moment all this was changed,--the son must start off for the wars. Yet not for one instant was a cloud seen on the mother's face, as, smilingly and cheerfully, she a.s.sisted in the preparations for his departure. Not in public or in secret did one sigh or regret escape her; not even to the son did a word of anxiety pa.s.s her lips. Her face, beaming with joy, looked with pride on the manly strength of the young soldier as he started to fight for his country and win honor for himself,--honor which would surely come to him whether he lived or died.
"Another woman who is well on in years, and whose eldest son is a naval officer, furnishes an interesting example of mother love. Though never showing her anxiety on his account, or grief at his danger, she has taken upon herself, in spite of her old age and by no means vigorous health, to go on foot every morning to one of the temples and worship there before daylight, in order to propitiate the G.o.ds, that they may protect her son. She arises at four o'clock in the morning on the coldest of cold days, washes and purifies herself with ice-cold water, and then starts out before daylight for her three-mile walk to the temple. Thus through wind and storm and cold have the faith and love of this old woman upheld her, and one is happy to add that so far her prayers have been heard and no harm has come to the one she has called on her G.o.ds to protect.
"A touching story is told of the aged mother of Sakamoto, commander of the warship Akagi, who was killed in the thickest of the fight during the great naval battle of the Yellow Sea. Commander Sakamoto left an aged mother, a wife, and three children. As soon as his death was officially ascertained, a messenger was dispatched from the naval department to convey the sad tidings to his family. The communication was made duly to his wife, and before the messenger had left the house it reached the ears of the old mother, who, tottering into the room where the officer was, saluted and greeted him duly, and then, with dry eyes and a clear voice, said, 'So it seems by your tidings that my son has been of some service this time.'
"One reads pathetic stories in the newspapers daily in connection with the war. Not long ago a sad account was given of a young woman, just past her twentieth year, and only recently married to an army officer.
She had belonged by birth to a military family, and, as befitted the wife and daughter of a soldier, she resolved, on hearing of the death of her husband, that she would not survive him, but would follow him to the great unknown. Sending away her servant on some excuse, she remained alone in her home, which she put into perfect order. Then she arranged all her papers, wrote a number of letters, and made her last preparations for death. She dressed herself in full ceremonial dress as she had been dressed for her bridal, and seated herself before a large portrait of her husband. Then, with a short dirk, such as is owned by every samurai woman, she stabbed herself. In her last letters she gives as the reason for her death that, having no ties in the world, she would not survive her husband, but wished to remain faithful to him in death as she had been in life.
"Many such stories might be cited, but enough has been given to show the spirit that exists in j.a.pan. With such women and such teachings in their homes, can it be wondered at that j.a.pan is a brave nation, and that her soldiers are winning battles? Certainly some of the honor and credit must be given to these wives and mothers scattered throughout j.a.pan, who are surely, in some cases, the inspirers of that courage and spirit which is just now surprising the world."
Much surprise is evinced by foreigners visiting j.a.pan at the lack of taste shown by the j.a.panese in the imitation of foreign styles. And yet, for these same foreigners, who condemn so patronizingly the j.a.panese lack of taste in foreign things, the j.a.panese manufacture pottery, fans, scrolls, screens, etc., that are most excruciating to their sense of beauty, and export them to markets in which they find a ready sale, their manufacturers wondering, the while, why foreigners want such ugly things. The fact is that neither civilization has as yet come into any understanding of the other's aesthetic side, and the sense of beauty of the one is a sealed book to the other. The j.a.panese nation, in its efforts to adopt foreign ways, has been, up to the present time, blindly imitating, with little or no comprehension of underlying principles. As a result there is an absolute crudeness in foreign things as attempted in j.a.pan that grates on the nerves of travelers fresh from the best to be found in Europe or America.
There are signs, however, that the stage of imitation is past and that adaptation has begun. Here and there in Tokyo may be seen buildings in which the solidity of foreign architecture has been grafted upon the j.a.panese type. Ten years ago, j.a.panese men who adopted foreign dress went about in misfitting garments, soiled linen, untidy shoes, and hats that had been discarded by the civilization for which they were made many seasons before they reached j.a.pan. They wore Turkish towels about their necks and red blankets over their shoulders at the desire of unscrupulous importers, who persuaded them that towels for neck-cloths and blankets for overcoats were the latest styles of London and Paris.
To-day one sees no such eccentricities of costume in the purely j.a.panese city of Tokyo. Men who wear foreign dress wear it made correctly in every particular by j.a.panese tailors, shoemakers, and hatters. The standard has been attained, for men at least, and in foreign dress as well as in j.a.panese, the natural good taste of the people has begun to a.s.sert itself. So it will be in time with other new things adopted. As no single element of the Chinese civilization secured a permanent footing in j.a.pan except such as could be adapted, not only to the national life, but to the national taste as well, so it will be with European things. All things that are adopted will be adapted, and whatever is adapted is likely in time to be improved and made more beautiful by the national instinct for beauty. During the transition, enormities are omitted and monstrosities are constructed, but when the standard is at last attained, we may expect that the genius of the race will triumph over the difficulties that it is now encountering.
Individual j.a.panese who have lived long in Europe or America show the same nice discrimination in regard to foreign things that they do in their j.a.panese surroundings, and are rarely at fault in their taste.
What is true of the individual now will be true of the nation when European standards have become common property.
In the remote mountain regions, where the majesty and uncertainty of the great natural forces impress themselves constantly upon the minds of the peasantry, one finds a simple nature worship, and a desire to propitiate all the unseen powers, that is not so evident in the daily life of the dwellers in more populous and progressive parts of the country. As the mountains close in about the road that runs up from the plains below, a great stone, on which is deeply carved "To the G.o.d of the Mountains,"
calls the attention of the traveler to the fact that the supernatural is a recognized power among the mountaineers. In such regions one finds the stated offerings at the shrines which stand near the wayside kept constantly renewed. Nearly every house is protected by some slip of paper pasted above the door, a charm obtained by toilsome pilgrimage to some noted temple. Behind or near the village temple one may see rude wigwams of straw, each sheltering a _gohei_,--witnesses to the vows of devotees who hope, sooner or later, to erect small wooden shrines and so win favor from the unknown rulers of human destinies. In places where pack-horses form a large part of the wealth of the people, stones to the horses' spirits are erected, and the halters of all the horses that die are left upon these stones. Prayers, too, are offered to the guardian spirits of the living horses, before stones on which are carved sometimes the image of a horse bearing a _gohei_ on his back, sometimes a rough figure of the horse-headed Kwannon. To such stones or shrines are brought horses suffering from sickness of any kind, and the hand is rubbed first on the stone and then on the part of the animal supposed to be affected. In one district, when a horse epidemic broke out, its rapid spread was attributed by the authorities to this custom, and all persons were warned of the danger, with what effect in breaking up the ancient habit the newspaper reports failed to say. It is in such regions as this that the _oni_ and the _tengu_ still live in the every-day thought of the people; it is here, too, that the old custom of offering flowers and fruit to the spirits of the dead at the midsummer festival is most conscientiously kept up. All possible spirits are included in these offerings, so that even by the roadside one finds bunches of flowers set up in the clefts of the rock, to the spirits of travelers who have died on the way.
 _Gohei_, a piece of white paper, cut and folded in a peculiar manner, one of the sacred symbols of the Shinto faith.
 _Tengu_, a winged, long-nosed or beak-mouthed monster, supposed to inhabit the mountain regions of j.a.pan. It was from a _tengu_ that Yos.h.i.tsune, one of the greatest of j.a.panese heroes, learned to fence, and so became a swordsman of almost miraculous expertness. _Oni_, a demon or goblin.
In one little mountain resort, far from the railroad but in touch with the outside world through the hundreds of visitors that seek its hot baths during the summer, it was my good fortune to spend a few weeks recently. Our walks were rather limited in variety, as the village lay in an almost inaccessible mountain valley through which a carefully engineered road ran along the edge of the river gorge. About half a mile out of the village, close to the road and overhanging the waters of the river at a spot where the rocks were so worn and carved by the rushing torrent as to have gained the appropriate t.i.tle of the "Screen Rocks,"
was a little shop and a tea-house. It was a pleasant resting-place after a warm and dusty walk, and almost daily we would halt there for a cup of tea and a slice of _yokan_, or bean marmalade, before returning to our rooms in the hotel. The managers of the place were an old man and his wife, who divided their labor between the shop and the tea-house. The old man was an artist in roots. His life was devoted to searching out grotesquely shaped roots on the forest-covered hills, and whittling, turning, and tr.i.m.m.i.n.g them into the semblance of animal or human forms.
_Tengu_ and goblins, long-legged birds and short-legged beasts, all manner of weird products of his imagination and his handiwork, peopled the interior of the little shop, and he was always ready to welcome us and show us his latest work, with the pride of an artist in his masterpiece.
His wife, a cheery old woman, attended to the tea-house, and as soon as we had seated ourselves, bustled about to bring us cool water from the spring that bubbled out of the rocks across the road, and to set before us the tiny cups of straw-colored tea and the delicious slices of _yokan_ which we soon learned was the specialty of the place. She was glad to have a little gossip as we sipped and nibbled, telling us many interesting bits of folklore about the immediate locality. It was from her that we learned that the pinnacle of rock that dominated the village was built by _tengu_ long ago, though now they were all gone from the woods, for she had looked for them often at night when she went out to shut the house, but she had never seen one,--and even the monkeys were becoming scarce. She it was, too, who sent us to look for the mysterious draught of cold air that crossed the road near the base of the great rock, colder on hot days than on cool ones, and at all times astonishing,--the "Tengu's Wind Hole." We learned through her about the snakes to be found in the woods, and of the wonderful tonic virtues of the _mamushi_ (the one poisonous snake of j.a.pan), if caught and bottled with a sufficient quant.i.ty of _sake_. The _sake_ may be renewed again and again, and the longer the snake has been bottled the more medicinal does it become, so that one _mamushi_ may, if used perseveringly, medicate several casks of _sake_. We had opportunity later to verify her statements, for we found at a small grocery store, where we stopped to add a few delicacies to our somewhat scanty bill of fare, two snakes, neatly coiled in quart bottles and pickled in _sake_, one of which could be obtained for the sum of seventy-five sen, though the other, who in his rage at being bottled had buried his fangs in his own body, commanded a higher price because of his courage. We did not feel in need of a tonic that day, so left the _mamushi_ on the grocery shelves, but it is probable that their disintegrating remains are being industriously quaffed to-day by some elderly j.a.panese whose failing strength demands an unfailing remedy.
When our little friend had learned of our interest in snakes, she was on the lookout for snake stories of all kinds. One day she stopped us as we came by rather later than usual, hurrying home before a threatening shower, to tell us that we ought to have come a little sooner, for the great black snake who was the messenger of the G.o.d that lived on the mountain had just been by, and we might have been interested to see him.
She had seen him before, herself, so he was no novelty to her, but she was sure that the matter would interest us. Poor little old lady, with her kindly face and pleasant ways, and her friendly cracked voice. Her firm belief in all the uncanny and supernatural things that wiser people have outgrown brought us face to face with the childhood of our race, and drew us into sympathy with a phase of culture in which all nature is wrapped in inscrutable mystery.
Each year that pa.s.ses sees a few more stores adopting the habit of fixed prices, not to be altered by haggling.
On another occasion the good offices of the fortune-teller were sought concerning a marriage, and the powerful arranger of human destinies discovered that though everything else was favorable, the bride contracted for was to come from a quarter quite opposed to the luck of the bridegroom. This was no laughing matter, as the bride was of a n.o.ble family and the breaking of the engagement would be attended with much talk and trouble on both sides; but, on the other hand, the family of the bridegroom dared not face the danger so mysteriously prophesied by the fortune-teller. In this predicament, there was nothing to do but to pull the wool over the eyes of the G.o.ds as best they might. For this purpose the bride with all her belongings was sent the day before the wedding from her father's house to that of an uncle living in another part of the city, and on the morning of the wedding-day she came to her husband from a quarter quite favorable to his fortunes. It seems quite probable that the G.o.ds were taken in by this somewhat transparent subterfuge, for no serious evil has befallen the young couple in three years of married life.
To the American mind this method of terminating relations is always irritating and frequently embarra.s.sing, but in j.a.pan any discomfort is to be endured rather than the slightest suspicion of bad manners. If the foreign visitor is trying to learn to be a good j.a.panese, she must submit patiently when the servant solemnly engaged fails to appear at the appointed hour, sending a letter instead to say that she is ill; or when the woman upon whom she is depending to travel with her the next day to the country receives a telegram calling her to the bedside of a mythical son, and departs, bag and baggage, at a moment's notice, leaving her quondam mistress to shift for herself as best she may.
Among the many changes that have come over j.a.pan in the transition from feudalism to the conditions of modern life, there is none that j.a.panese ladies regard with greater regret than the change in the servant question. As the years go by and new employments open to women, it becomes increasingly difficult to engage and keep servants of the old-time, faithful, intelligent sort. Notwithstanding increased pay, and the still existing conditions of considerate treatment, comfortable homes, and light work, it is hard to fill places vacated, even in n.o.ble households: and there is almost as much shaking of heads and despondent talk over the servant question in j.a.pan to-day as there is in America.
It is interesting to note that it is to the quickness and courage of a jinrikisha man who interposed between him and his would-be a.s.sa.s.sin that the present Czar of Russia owes his escape from death at Otsu, near Kyoto, in 1891.
My task is ended. One half of j.a.pan, with its virtues and its frailties, its privileges and its wrongs, has been brought, so far as my pen can bring it, within the knowledge of the American public. If, through this work, one person setting forth for the Land of the Rising Sun goes better prepared to comprehend the thoughts, the needs, and the virtues of the n.o.ble, gentle, self-sacrificing women who make up one half the population of the Island Empire, my labor will not have been in vain.