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Essays - Japan



THE astonishing victories of Japan both by sea and land, in the wart just ended, have given a shock to the conceit of Europe such as it has not felt for centuries. It is true both English (Fortnightly) and German [report of German Staff] military experts have criticised the strategy of the Japanese generals as lacking in breadth and boldness, but all with one accord praise the rank and file as constituting a military machine for which, as to morale and efficiency, history affords scarce parallel. Against the most impregnable fortifications and the most intricate and impenetrable field defences her troops have marched to victory after victory; to use the well-known words of Macaulay, "with the precision of machines, the enthusiasm of Crusaders"; and, let us add, with incomparably greater recklessness and in-difference to death.

The capacity for complete secrecy both on the part of commanders of armies on land and sea navies, and of the civil officers as well, charged with preparations for the war, has been not only a provocation to the war correspondents, but an object-lesson causing surprise and ill-concealed concern to the western world in general. For ten years Japan was steadily preparing for her war with Russia, and not only Russia but no other European or world power had the faintest conception of the quality or extent of the war material she had so quietly and unobservedly accumulated. The thoroughness of their medical and sanitary arrangements has been the wonder of the world. It was said of Welling-ton that he put but little emphasis upon courage in the make-up of a good soldier. It was discipline he counted upon. It was, he maintained, not so much the private soldier's business to be brave as it was to be obedient. It is acknowledged on all hands that the Japanese soldier exhibits the very perfection of discipline.

He has but one fear: it is not death, much less the enemy; but only and solely the displeasure of his commanding officer.

"Under other colors except that of the round sun of Japan, men are expected to do what is possible for the human to do. Something more is expected of the Nippon soldier."

"The secret of Japanese valor is the almost incredible intensity of their patriotism. With us patriotism rests upon an abstraction, with Japan its object is incarnate in the person of their Divine Emperor, over whom bends in transcendent purity the glory of a succession unbroken for eternity."

"Even religion, in the minds of some, must yield to patriotism, could they ever conflict. One of Japan's profoundest teachers of Buddhism and Confucianism, in replying to the question, 'What would you do, you with your overpowering love and devotion to Buddha and Confucius, if an army were to invade Japan and threaten the throne with Buddha as Generalissimo and Confucius as Lieutenant?' the great scholar made reply, without hesitation: 'Strike off the head of Sakyahumi and steep the flesh of Confucius in brine."'

Japan stands forth confessedly the Sumurai of nations.

Will not Japan, in consequence of her astounding success, develop vast military ambitions? If so, what direction will they most probably take? That she has already practically annexed Corea we all know. That a Protectorate something more than a Protectorate, over China will inevitably follow in no long time, not a few careful students of the Eastern field are fully convinced will be asserted and assured. Chinese students by the hundreds are flocking to Japan. Chinese papers in rapidly increasing numbers are passing under the control of Japanese editors. All Asia is vibrating with the shock of Japan's surprising victories. The gigantic "boycott" of all and every product of English manufacture now rapidly spreading in India is evidence that the Japanese leaven is working there also. It is the conviction of an English writer, Mr. Townsend, that the " Japanese victories will give new heart and energy to all Asiatic nations and to tribes which now fret under European rule, will inspire in them a new confidence in their own powers to resist, and will spread through them a strong impulse to avail themselves of Japanese instruction."

"The sacred duty is incumbent upon us as the leading state of Asia-tic progress to stretch a helping hand to China, India, Corea, to all the Asiatics who are capable of civilization. As their more powerful friend, we desire them all to be free from the yoke which Europe has placed upon them, and that they may thereby prove to the world that the Orient is capable of measuring swords with the Occident on any field of battle."

With Japan as the commanding genius, with the millions of Asia at her back, with the Oriental indifference to or rather con-tempt for death as the foundation quality of the soldiery; on top of that the modern discipline and equipment that none better than Japan knows how to supply, will Europe or America retain any foothold in Asia for long? Some are ready to say, be it so, Asia for the Asiatics. But will triumphant Asia remain content with Asia? She has not always done so in the past.

Baron Kaneko's adroit use of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, April 28, 1904, claims:

" Japan was thus the savior of Europe (from further Mongolian invasion in the thirteenth century) when Europe did not even know who had saved her"

Baron Kaneko, Professor White, and Professor Okakura labor insistently in recently published works to picture Japan as eminently, not to say invincibly, disposed to peace when her existence is not at stake, that her victories will not unduly elate her.

But army and navy officers recently returned from Japan, the Philippines, and the Chinese stations report quite the contrary. A military officer of high rank in our army, just returned from the East, told me last September in Boston: "It is my firm conviction that if Japan is victorious over Russia, either America or England will be compelled to fight her within five years. Their successes, their implicit belief in the invincibility of their army and navy, have made them so cocky and egotistical that they have not a friend in the East among mercantile, military, or naval men of white extraction."

That they really resent our occupation of the Philippines is an open secret, it is said, among those officials familiar at first hand with Eastern affairs. That they supplied the Philippine insurgents with munitions of war on conditions that made them practically a gift; that Japanese officers were given leave of absence so opportunely as to enable them to serve under Aguinaldo, are facts beyond question in the minds of some of our best-informed officials. Mr. Meredith Townsend ("Asia and Europe") gives it as his carefully formed opinion that Japan's early military expansion will be the conquest and settlement of the great system of islands stretching down from Nagasaki to Australia. That there are apprehensions also concerning the safety of Australia itself, not only Mr. Townsend confesses, but an able article in the Contemporary Review some months ago, from a native of that continent, voices the same note of alarm.

Japan (to quote Mr. Townsend) though naturally an expanding power, because its people are too numerous and because they are vain, has, like Great Britain, a strong commercial instinct. Her people may seek first in consequence to gain rather in commerce and manufacture than in territorial acquisitions. To control the commerce of China, to fill the ports of Asia with her merchantmen and her traders, may be her first ambition. One of the war cries of Japan by which she has sought and secured the friendly interest of the western nations has been "the open door in Asia for the commerce of the world." But what does it mean? An open door is no better than a closed door if there are conditions which make it inevitable that your rivals will crowd the entrance before you, making your own passage impossible.

"On the balcony of the Astor House in Tientsin, clearing-house for northern China," says Gordon Smith, correspondent of the London Morning Post, "I asked the merchants of five countries which nation they would rather see victorious, Russia or Japan. They were British, American, German, Austrian, Dutch; their answer was unanimous: 'Russia.' Their sympathy," he adds, "was a 'dollar sympathy' but it was none the less significant."

With Russian occupation the foreigners in Northern China had a market for their wares; with the Japanese in possession they will have none. Save the export of flour, and possibly of corn and steel for a time, the trade of the United States and Canada will be shortly insignificant if not nil. The Japanese, notorious imitators of the manufactures of the various nations which sell in the East, with their cheaply made and inferior productions, will undersell the manufacturers of other nations; for the purchasers in Manchuria and Corea are not discriminating. Imitations of American drills and sheetings are now turned out with counterfeit American trade-marks. In the past ten years (1895-1905) more than 14,000 trade-marks stolen from Europe and America have been registered by Japanese citizens in Tokyo. Machinery, printing presses, and telephones have been imitated even to the name plates of the American makers. French brandy; Colgate's "best white tooth powder" (made in New York); St. Julian claret, bottled by M. Bordeau; best English beer, the label on the latter declaring that the "efficacy of this beer is especially for health and strength of stomach, the flavor so sweet and simple will not inspire for much drink" all these and innumerable other imitations are now for sale in Manchuria and Corea at less than one third for what they could be profitably imported from this country or Europe.

In view of these and other examples, a British merchant of many years' experience may be forgiven for the sweeping condemnation:

" Japan has no conscience in trade. The Japanese are past masters in commercial deviltry compared with any other or all other Oriental nations. No other country but Japan has built its prosperity almost in a national way upon business dishonor. Our commercial interests would prompt us to affiliation with Russia rather than Japan, for with the latter victorious there lies before us, I am firmly convinced, a severe and bitter contest to preserve even the most moderate share of the trade of the East."

To not a few reflective minds, however, the sudden revelation and recognition of Japan as a first-class world power has its chief significance in the changes, not to say reconstruction, it may effect in our western systems of morals and religion.

The Bishop of Carlyle writes in the Guardian that the whole career of government, and army and navy, the self-restraint and self-sacrifice of the people as a whole, have been a magnificent object-lesson to Western Christendom, placing Japan in the very forefront among ethical nations.

"Not for her guns alone," says a distinguished foreign writer, "not for her guns alone, nor the way she handles them; not alone for her ingenuity, her imitativeness, her vast patience of detail in the sphere of manufacturing and commercial rivalry, is she to be feared. The 'yellow peril' is above all an ethical phenomenon. Far more significant than the efficiency of Japanese arms and industry is the advent into the world's history of a whole people, possessed of a disciplined will, combined with the highest order of intelligence. In the minds of a thoughtful few already the conviction is shaping itself that outside the pale of Christendom there has arisen the type and example of a saner, simpler, more rational, more joyous, more humane, more self-controlled way of life than Western Christianity has so far achieved. This is a fact that should alarm our self-sufficiency and ethical pride."

"Our Western Christianity is more western than Christian, more racial than religious. In fact, the claim of Christianity to be supreme must assuredly fail unless it finds its exponent and justification in renovated national life. The plain duty of Christendom is to recognize that her hold on the moral supremacy of the world is no longer so secure as many of us imagine. For centuries past nothing has occurred to shake the confidence of Christians in the effective moral superiority of their own to all other forms of morals and religion. We say 'effective moral' superiority,' for it is not a question of moral ideal simply (here the Christian ideal as a whole is confessedly the superior), but as to the degree in which (taking human nature as we find it) it can and does realize itself in national and private life."

Mr. Frederick Harrison in the Positivist Review writes that the churches and their political allies are forever telling us that nothing but their prayers, their doctrine of individual immortality and a personal God, can inspire and sustain the highest degrees of courage, duty, virtue, and honor among nations. The rise and revelation of Japan is a knock down blow to such contentions. No God, no Heaven, no Priests, led the Japanese soldiers to battle. All the intricate machinery of our theology is to them alike useless, irrational, and absurd. They fight and die for their Mikado, for their ancestors, for Bushito, for Japan.

Hear a Buddhistic note from Professor James:

"I have said nothing in these lectures about immortality, for to me it seems a secondary point. If our ideals are only cared for in 'eternity' I do not see why we might not be willing to resign their care to other hands than ours."

Deeper and stronger than any other argument or evidence for the supremacy of our Western Christianity, for her claim to be of right the universal teacher of mankind, has been the conviction that our firm religion, Christianity as we hold it, produces morally the best nations and morally the best men. Has the sudden revelation of Japan, a Buddhist nation, given the challenge direct and definite to this assumption? We will answer that it certainly has, in the minds of not a few profound thinkers and observers. Let this belief now entertained by the few filter down and become the conviction of the many, and all the united zeal and ingenuity of all the doctors of Christendom could not secure Christendom against the shock and consequences of the discovery that another religion produced better nations and stronger men. All differences between us, points of doctrine, over which the ages have resounded with the world's debate, would be instantly merged in a common insignificance. A mood would possess the general mind quite other and different than the philosophical calm of Omar in his lines:

"Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about; but evermore
Came out by the same door wherein I went."

As the wild creatures of the prairie suspend their wars when they scent the fumes of the oncoming fire, so would it be with Western Christendom and its controversies when this conviction had become general. Reason and authority, Christian metaphysics and Christian evidence, dogma and apology, Catholic and Protestant, Churchman and Dissenter of what consequence would these distinctions be in face of the advent of another religion, another moral discipline, which was found to produce better disciplined wills and greater eagerness for self-sacrifice in the name of Duty? The Dean of Canterbury would forget his appeal to the first six centuries; Harnack, like Othello, would find his occupation gone; a mightier force would put M. Loisy to silence; foreign missions would collapse; Doctor Beet, of London, and Doctor Crapsey, of Rochester, would be left unmolested; and the Reverend Messrs. Lowry and Alexander would have to close for want of business. No one would trouble about the last end of St. Mark's Gospel whether Abraham stood for an individual or a tribe, or, as Professor Chene now thinks, for a constellation. Works of Newman and of Matthew Arnold would alike become obsolete, and even the cheap edition of Haeckel would cease to sell.

But, be it said in passing, this dismay would have short duration. Soon the question would be asked, "What has Christ Himself to say to these new conditions, and how does He bid us greet their appearance?" Then for the first time in her long history would flash upon the Church the real meaning of those long-neglected words:

"Neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem shall men worship the Father."

It would be recognized that the rise of this new ethical and powerful nation with its religion of deed rather than of dogma was a providential challenge and warning to our Western Christianity to return to the Christianity of Christ, our Western Christianity, which, in the mind of Professor Browne, has become "more Western than Christian, more racial than religious."

Fears would eventually give place to rejoicing, frowns to the look of welcome; the faithful would resume their labors. The spirit of exclusiveness would vanish, and a Christian religion worthy of its name, a genuine Open Brotherhood of the Children of the Spirit, might at last appear in the world.

Do they then but dream or do they prophesy, who claim to see already a light upon the horizon, the light of a new and vaster hope for the betterment of the race, the prospect of the union of the forces of Christianity with the forces of Buddhism, the latter five hundred million strong, for the moral and spiritual uplift of mankind? Are these two religions entirely different but naturally exclusive of each other? Let us hear a final word of testimony from Professor Anesaki.

"We Buddhists are ready to accept essential Christianity. Nay, more, our faith in Buddha is faith in Christ. We see Christ because we see Buddha. The one came to release us from the fetters of egoism, passion, and avarice, by convincing us of an ideal higher than any worldly good. The other came as the Son of Man, to redeem us from sin and to reveal the pattern of perfect humanity, and to recover us to the Ark of our Father. Where there is faith in Buddha there may grow, and grow readily, the faith in Christ."

"Far down below the noises of the warring creeds, the clash of words and forms, the differences of peoples, of claims, of civilizations, of ideals, far down below all these lies the essence, the soul of universal religion. For him that hath ears to hear its testimony is ever the same. The faiths in their deepest depths are all brothers, all born of the same mystery, some younger and some older; somebabble in strange tongues different from your finer speech. Are they less the children of the Great Father for that? Surely, if there be the unforgivable offense, the sin against the Holy Ghost, it is this: to deny the truth that lies in all the faiths."

( Originally Published 1914 )

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Essays - Japan

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