Anthropology Friday: Japan pt 1

Sidney Lewis Guilick, 1919

Welcome to Anthropology Friday. Today we’ll be reading Sidney L. Gulick’s Evolution of the Japanese, Social and Psychic, published in 1903.

Gulick, son and grandson of missionaries, born in the Marshall Islands, received degrees from Dartmouth, Oberlin, and Yale, and was ordained as a Congregational (ie Puritan) minister. His own missionary work took him to Japan in 1888, where he lived for 25 years, observing first-hand many of the remarkable changes overtaking that nation.

In writing this book, Gulick doubtless had several objectives, among them describing and demystifying Japan–a nation about which very little reliable information existed and was undergoing an incredible transformation–and refuting the notion of an essential racial character of “Asians,” (an evolutionist notion that respectable American Christians have forcefully opposed.)

After returning to the US, Gulick campaigned for world peace and tried hard to improve American/Japanese relations. Unfortunately he died in 1945–he must have been very sad about the state of the world as he passed away. It’s a pity he didn’t live long enough to see America and Japan becomes friends.

Japan, in case you are unfamiliar with its history, was largely closed to the rest of the world from about 1635 through 1853. During this time it developed in relative isolation, cut off from trade and technological developments going on in the rest of the world. In 1853, the Japanese appeared “backward” to the rest of the world because of their relatively low level of technological development, but this was largely an illusion–once exposed to the outside world, Japan industrialized at an incredible rate. (Probably the fastest industrialization undertaken by a native population without an outside force telling them what to do.)

But let’s let Gulick tell the story (quotes are in “” instead of blockquotes, as usual):

“Seldom, perhaps never, has the civilized world so suddenly and completely reversed an estimate of a nation as it has that with reference to Japan. Before the recent war, to the majority even of fairly educated men, Japan was little more than a name for a few small islands somewhere near China, whose people were peculiar and interesting. To-day there is probably not a man, or woman, or child attending school in any part of the civilized world, who does not know the main facts about the recent war: how the small country and the men of small stature, sarcastically described by their foes as “Wojen,” pygmy, attacked the army and navy of a country ten times their size.

“Such a universal change of opinion regarding a nation, especially regarding one so remote from the centers of Western civilization as Japan, could not have taken place in any previous generation. The telegraph, the daily paper, the intelligent reporters and writers of books and magazine articles, the rapid steam travel and the many travelers—all these have made possible this sudden acquisition of knowledge and startling reversal of opinion. …

“In important ways, therefore, Japan seems to be contradicting our theories of national growth. We have thought that no “heathen” nation could possibly gain, much less wield, unaided by Westerners, the forces of civilized Christendom. We have likewise held that national growth is a slow process, a gradual evolution, extending over scores and centuries of years. In both respects our theories seem to be at fault. This “little nation of little people,” which we have been so ready to condemn as “heathen” and “uncivilized,” and thus to despise, or to ignore, has in a single generation leaped into the forefront of the world’s attention.”

History

“How many of the stories of the Kojiki (written in 712 A.D.) and Nihongi (720 A.D.) are to be accepted is still a matter of dispute among scholars. Certain it is, however, that Japanese early history is veiled in a mythology which seems to center about three prominent points: Kyushu, in the south; Yamato, in the east central, and Izumo in the west central region. This mythological history narrates the circumstances of the victory of the southern descendants of the gods over the two central regions. And it has been conjectured that these three centers represent three waves of migration that brought the ancestors of the present inhabitants of Japan to these shores. The supposition is that they came quite independently and began their conflicts only after long periods of residence and multiplication.

“Though this early record is largely mythological, tradition shows us the progenitors of the modern Japanese people as conquerors from the west and south who drove the aborigines before them and gradually took possession of the entire land. That these conquerors were not all of the same stock is proved by the physical appearance of the Japanese to-day, and by their language. Through these the student traces an early mixture of races—the Malay, the Mongolian, and the Ural-Altaic. Whether the early crossing of these races bears vital relation to the plasticity of the Japanese is a question which tempts the scholar. …

“The national governmental system was materially affected by the need, throughout many centuries, of systematic methods of defense against the Ainu. The rise of the Shogunate dates back to 883 A.D., when the chief of the forces opposing the Ainu was appointed by the Emperor and bore the official title, “The Barbarian-expelling Generalissimo.”

During the Isolation Period

“Of Old Japan little more needs to be said. Without external commerce, there was little need for internal trade; ships were small; roads were footpaths; education was limited to the samurai, or military class, retainers of the daimyo, “feudal lords”; inter-clan travel was limited and discouraged; Confucian ethics was the moral standard. From the beginning of the seventeenth century Christianity was forbidden by edict, and was popularly known as the “evil way”; Japan was thought to be especially sacred, and the coming of foreigners was supposed to pollute the land and to be the cause of physical evils. Education, as in China, was limited to the Chinese classics. Mathematics, general history, and science, in the modern sense, were of course wholly unknown. Guns and powder were brought from the West in the sixteenth century by Spaniards and Portuguese, but were never improved. Ship-building was the same in the middle of the nineteenth century as in the middle of the sixteenth, perhaps even less advanced. Architecture had received its great impulse from the introduction of Buddhism in the ninth and tenth centuries and had made no material improvement thereafter. …

“But while there was little progress in the external and mechanical elements of civilization, there was progress in other respects. During the “great peace,” first arose great scholars. Culture became more general throughout the nation. Education was esteemed. The corrupt lives of the priests were condemned and an effort was made to reform life through the revival of a certain school of Confucian teachers known as “Shin-Gaku”—”Heart-Knowledge.” Art also made progress, both pictorial and manual.”

The Transition from Clannishness to Nationalism

“A natural outcome of the Restoration is the exuberant patriotism that is so characteristic a feature of New Japan. The very term “ai-koku-shin” is a new creation, almost as new as the thing. This word is an incidental proof of the general correctness of the contention of this chapter that true nationality is a recent product in Japan. The term, literally translated, is “love-country heart”; but the point for us to notice particularly is the term for country, “koku”; this word has never before meant the country as a whole, but only the territory of a clan. If I wish to ask a Japanese what part of Japan is his native home, I must use this word. And if a Japanese wishes to ask me which of the foreign lands I am a native of, he must use the same word. The truth is that Old Japan did not have any common word corresponding to the English term, “My country.” In ancient times, this could only mean, “My clan-territory.” But with the passing away of the clans the old word has taken on a new significance. The new word, “ai-koku-shin,” refers not to love of clan, but to love of the whole nation. The conception of national unity has at last seized upon the national mind and heart, and is giving the people an enthusiasm for the nation, regardless of the parts, which they never before knew. Japanese patriotism has only in this generation come to self-consciousness. This leads it to many a strange freak. It is vociferous and imperious, and often very impractical and Chauvinistic. It frequently takes the form of uncompromising disdain for the foreigner, and the most absolute loyalty to the Emperor of Japan; it demands the utmost respect of expression in regard to him and the form of government he has graciously granted the nation.”

Flexibility:

“We naturally begin with that characteristic of Japanese nature which would seem to be more truly congenital than any other to be mentioned later. I refer to their sensitiveness to environment. More quickly than most races do the Japanese seem to perceive and adapt themselves to changed conditions.

“The history of the past thirty years is a prolonged illustration of this characteristic. The desire to imitate foreign nations was not a real reason for the overthrow of feudalism, but there was, rather, a more or less conscious feeling, rapidly pervading the whole people, that the feudal system would be unable to maintain the national integrity. As intimated, the matter was not so much reasoned out as felt. But such a vast illustration is more difficult to appreciate than some individual instances, of which I have noted several.

“During a conversation with Drs. Forsythe and Dale, of Cambridge, England, I asked particularly as to their experience with the Japanese students who had been there to study. They both remarked on the fact that all Japanese students were easily influenced by those with whom they customarily associated; so much so that, within a short time, they acquired not only the cut of coats and trousers, but also the manner and accent, of those with whom they lived. It was amusing, they said, to see what transformations were wrought in those who went to the Continent for their long vacations. From France they returned with marked French manners and tones and clothes, while from Germany they brought the distinctive marks of German stiffness in manner and general bearing. It was noted as still more curious that the same student would illustrate both variations, provided he spent one summer in Germany and another in France.

“Japanese sensitiveness is manifested in many unexpected ways. An observant missionary lady once remarked that she had often wondered how such unruly, self-willed children as grow up under Japanese training, or its lack, finally become such respectable members of society. She concluded that instead of being punished out of their misbehaviors they were laughed out of them. The children are constantly told that if they do so and so they will be laughed at—a terrible thing. …

“The Japanese young man who is making a typewritten copy of these pages for me says that, when still young, he heard an address to children which he still remembers. The speaker asked what the most fearful thing in the world was. Many replies were given by the children—”snakes,” “wild beasts,” “fathers,” “gods,” “ghosts,” “demons,” “Satan,” “hell,” etc. These were admitted to be fearful, but the speaker told the children that one other thing was to be more feared than all else, namely, “to be laughed at.” This speech, with its vivid illustrations, made a lasting impression on the mind of the boy, and on reading what I had written he realized how powerful a motive fear of ridicule had been in his own life; also how large a part it plays in the moral education of the young in Japan. …

“Closely connected with this sensitiveness to environment are other qualities which make it effective. They are: great flexibility, adjustability, agility (both mental and physical), and the powers of keen attention to details and of exact imitation.

“As opposed to all this is the Chinese lack of flexibility. Contrast a Chinaman and a Japanese after each has been in America a year. The one to all appearances is an American; his hat, his clothing, his manner, seem so like those of an American that were it not for his small size, Mongolian type of face, and defective English, he could easily be mistaken for one. How different is it with the Chinaman! He retains his curious cue with a tenacity that is as intense as it is characteristic. His hat is the conventional one adopted by all Chinese immigrants. His clothing likewise, though far from Chinese, is nevertheless entirely un-American. …

“The Japanese desire to conform to the customs and appearances of those about him is due to what I have called sensitiveness; his success is due to the flexibility of his mental constitution.”

Gulick’s explanation for these differences:

“The difference between Japanese imitation and that of other nations lies in the fact that whereas the latter, as a rule, despise foreign races, and do not admit the superiority of alien civilizations as a whole, imitating only a detail here and there, often without acknowledgment and sometimes even without knowledge, the Japanese, on the other hand, have repeatedly been placed in such circumstances as to see the superiority of foreign civilizations as a whole, and to desire their general adoption. This has produced a spirit of imitation among all the individuals of the race. It has become a part of their social inheritance. … The Japanese go to the West in order to acquire all the West can give. The Chinaman goes steeled against its influences. … Under special circumstances, when a Chinaman has been liberated from the prepossession of his social inheritance, he has shown himself as capable of Occidentalization in clothing, speech, manner, and thought as a Japanese.”

EvX: Remember, Gulick is responding to the idea that there exists a singular “racial character” particular to Asians by contrasting Japanese and Chinese, and claiming that the social and environmental conditions in each country result in their differences.

“But a still more effective factor in the development of the characteristics under consideration is the nature of Japanese feudalism. Its emphasis on the complete subordination of the inferior to the superior was one of its conspicuous features. This was a factor always and everywhere at work in Japan. No individual was beyond its potent influence. Attention to details, absolute obedience, constant, conscious imitation, secretiveness, suspiciousness, were all highly developed by this social system. Each of these traits is a special form of sensitiveness to environment. From the most ancient times the initiative of superiors was essential to the wide adoption by the people of any new idea or custom. …

“Susceptibility to slight changes in the feelings of lords and masters and corresponding flexibility were important social traits, necessary products of the old social order. Those deficient in these regards would inevitably lose in the struggle for social precedence, if not in the actual struggle for existence. These characteristics would, accordingly, be highly developed.”