James Augustin Brown Scherer.

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What Is Japanese
Morality ?

By James A. B. Scherer

President of Newberry College. Author of

"Young Japan" "Japan To-Day"

"Four Princes" etc.



Copyright, 1906, by

63V/ 7



For auld lang syne




Modern Japanese Progress. Previous
Educational Training. -Ancient Military
Discipline. The Chief Shrine of Japa-
nese Morality 3


Bushido and Loyalty. Japanese Chiv-
alry. Loyalty and Parental Affection.
An Exceptional Example of Al-
truism 23


Suicide and Patriotism. The Benefits
of Bushido. Its Defective Harshness.
Truthfulness and Honesty. The

Treatment of Women 37



viii Contents


Religion in Japan. Booddhism, Theo-
retical and Practical. The Booddhist
and the Bushi. Frivolity. ... 59



A Modern Theocracy. Externalized
Ethics. Bushi do and Christianity.
Points of Preparation for the Gospel. . 73


The Shrines of Japanese Morality . . . Frontispiece
A Knight of BushidO facing page 62


"Shall a nation be born in a day?"
The ancient Hebrew prophet asked this
question with a strong inflection of doubt,
but the marvel of modern Japan has
seemed to answer, Yes! Contrast Japan
with Russia. Two centuries ago, when
the Colossus of the North began that
determined southward advance to find an
outlet for vast Siberian possessions in un-
frozen southern seas, Japan lay in the
limbo of oblivion. Russian diplomacy
concerned itself with obstacles that were
really worth while. China was hood-
winked and muzzled; Europe was held
in sullen silence by a terrifying show of
power; but Japan was ignored so com-
pletely as to argue itself unknown. Was


4 What Is Japanese Morality?

it not only a miniature empire, one-fiftieth
the size of Russia, inhabited by a race
of "monkey-faced dwarfs"? And these
dwarfs were the sworn enemies of prog-
ress. A hundred and fifty years after
Peter the Great had commanded his stal-
wart subjects to put on the garments of
modern civilization, the stupid little Japa-
nese were wearing cumbersome medieval
armor into their innumerable internecine
feuds, under the leadership of generals
who waved fans in the air instead of
swords, while the island gates were
boldly shut to modern progress. Then,
a half century ago the gates were
opened, but Russia took no heed. The
great southward advance continued, with
unswerving and apparently resistless per-

Forty years of Japanese progress passed
by. Ten years ago, the pygmies forced
the giant to take notice of them, as they

What Is Japanese Morality? 5

seized the Regent's Sword 1 from befud-
dled China, and flung it athwart Russia's
pathway. But Russia deigned to take
notice only long enough to grasp the
Regent's Sword and possess it; Japan's
interference with China had but hastened
the southward advance, which now went
forward with unabashed seven-league
strides. All Europe wondered and waited,
afraid to intervene in the plans of "the
greatest of world-powers ; " only the Eng-
lish, Russia's traditional foes, were wise
enough to pay some slight attention to
Japan. These wrought a nominal alli-
ance with the little people who had
brandished for a day the Regent's Sword
in Russia's face. Meanwhile, the Japa-
nese were politely asking the Russians to
define the bounds of the southward ad-

1 A name often applied to the Liaotung Peninsula, ceded
to Japan after the war with China, but given back under
the coercion of Russia, who then " leased " it.

6 What Is Japanese Morality?

vance, seeing that their own national ex-
istence was involved; but the Russians
delayed answering upon pretexts incredi-
bly contemptuous and exasperating, 1 while
constantly augmenting their armament;
when at last, after six months of vain
parleying, the pygmies struck swiftly and
hard. That was on the eighth of Feb-
ruary, 1904. Since that day the world has
been wonder-struck. The dwarfs who but

1 Japan attempted to open negotiations July 28, 1903,
and persisted continuously in the attempt. On November
27, the Japanese representative in St. Petersburg tele-
graphed to his government that the emperor still delayed
attention to the matter, " on account of the sickness of the
empress. Interior inflammation of her right ear." On
December 4, he telegraphed that Count Lamsdorff, in reply
to his urgent request that the Count should confer imme-
diately with the emperor, made answer that " Saturday is
the fete of Crown Prince, no business is transacted on
Sunday, and he will be occupied with other affairs on
Monday." These are examples of the Russian excuses,
quoted from " Correspondence Regarding the Negotia-
tions between Japan and Russia, Presented to the Imperial
(Japanese) Diet, March, 1904."

What Is Japanese Morality? 7

yesterday were shut up in medieval bar-
barism have used unaccustomed Western
weapons to such tremendous effect that the
mightiest of world-powers is humbled in
dust and blood, while Japan, dictator of
imperial destinies, is changing the map of
the world. It is the marvel of modern

It is marvelous, but after all it is not
magical ; it is in reality the result of a pro-
longed and peculiar process of national
education. The Japanese secluded them-
selves so perfectly for two and a quarter
centuries that the world had no oppor-
tunity of finding out what use they were
making of their time. In reality, they
were educating themselves. lyeyasu, the
de facto ruler of Japan for many years
(born 1542, died 1616), and the greatest
figure in Japanese history, accomplished
his most important work when he set the
whole nation to studying, after having first

8 What Is Japanese Morality?

shut out all disturbing foreign influences.
He became the father of a revival of letters
comparable in its way with that which had
begun in Europe a hundred years earlier.
In this case, the Chinese or Confucian
classics were revived, but, as in Europe,
classical studies prepared the way for the
development of a vigorous native litera-
ture. Schools were established broadcast
for the warrior-class, or samurai, where
literature was diligently taught, together
with caligraphy, history, and geography.
So well did this system eventually accom-
plish its object that Commodore Perry was
vastly astonished in 1853 when he found that
this nation of hermits, after more than two
centuries of insulation, was familiar with
the geography and importance of New York
City and Washington, even inquiring about
the construction of the Panama Canal!
We learn from the Perry Narrative that
" they seemed to acquire rapidly some in-

What Is Japanese Morality? 9

sight into the nature of steam, and the
mode with which it was applied to put into
action the great engine, and move by its
power the wheels of the steamers. Their
questions were of the most intelligent

But the principal branches of the old-
time samurai system of education were not
so much intellectual as martial; being of
a distinctly military nature, such as tactics,
fencing, archery, horsemanship, the use of
the spear, and jiu-jutsu (incorrectly spelled
jiu-jitsu), that unique physical science which
teaches the weak to cope successfully with
the strong. Above all, we must not forget
that in all of the teaching, supreme em-
phasis was laid on the virtue of loyalty,
which has been called the chief feature of
Japanese feudalism, as it remains the secret
spring of the country's military strength to
this day. It is impossible to exaggerate
the importance of loyalty in the develop-

io What Is Japanese Morality?

ment of Japanese ethics. Every ray of
education has been focused upon this as
its object. Even religion has been made a
mere tool for the development of patriot-
ism, through the doctrine that the emperor
is God. Morality has not been treated
after the Western conception, as including
a variety of virtues, but as finding its
absolute expression in devotion to the
prince, who is above wife, above children,
above father and mother, above right, be-
cause he is no other than the literal " son
of heaven/' The folk-lore of the people,
the religious fables taught to the children,
and the parables of the always patriotic
preachers, have all converged in the one
conclusion that to fear the emperor and
to keep his commandments constitutes the
whole duty of man. In consequence, there
sprang up that strangest of human institu-
tions, the fatal drill known as hara-kiri,
which added practise to precept through

What Is Japanese Morality f 1 1

the proof of loyalty by the test of the
supreme surrender. That is to say, the
young men in the ancient schools were
daily instructed in all of the tragic details
of suicide, having it "impressed on their
youthful imaginations with such force and
vividness that, when the time for its actual
enactment came, they were able to meet
the bloody reality without a tremor and
with perfect composure." Readiness to
surrender the life to one's lord was thus
drilled into the very marrow of the na-
tion, for jigai y or throat-cutting, among the
women corresponded to the hara-kiri, or
bowel-piercing, of the men.

The most classic and popular illustration
of Japanese ethical standards is the true
story of the Forty-seven Ronin, whose
sacred tomb in Tokyo is the ever fre-
quented Mecca of Japanese patriotism.
The word ronin means "wave-men," being
anciently applied to such warriors as had,

12 What Is Japanese Morality?

for some reason or other, become detached
from their rightful lord, to be tossed by
the winds of adventure like turbulent bil-
lows about the face of the earth. This
group of forty-seven men had become
ronin in consequence of the self-inflicted
death of their master, Lord Takumi, which
is the pivot around which the tragic tale

At the beginning of the eighteenth cen-
tury, Takumi, by command of the highest
authorities, was in service at the court of
Tokyo, then called Yedo, learning the arts
of the courtier under a rude and greedy
master of ceremonies named Kotsuke,
whose disfavor he incurred because his
gifts to this majordomo were not sufficient
to appease his greed. Kotsuke, who was
of a mean and spiteful disposition, lost no
opportunity to affront Takumi, whose long-
suffering self-control he foolishly mistook
for cowardice. One day, however, he over-

What Is Japanese Morality? 13

stepped the mark. Having ordered Takumi
to perform one of the most menial of orien-
tal services to fasten the latchet of his
shoe he then showed his contempt for the
abasement of his proud disciple by a sneer.
"Why," he exclaimed, "this country bump-
kin cannot even tie a sandal!" With this,
the pent-up wrath of Takumi finally gave
way, and he flung himself with murderous
dirk upon his insolent instructor, who,
however, escaped. Takumi, realizing that
he had been disloyal to his temporary mas-
ter, and had also violated the rules of deco-
rum, calmly repaired his fault as best he
might by the immediate commission of

To avenge their master's self-inflicted
death now became the prime obligation of
his forty-seven retainers, according to the
fundamental Confucian axiom, " Thou shalt
not live under the same heaven nor tread
the same earth with the enemy of thy

14 What Is Japanese Morality?

father or lord." Accepting the leadership
of the chief retainer, Kuranosuke, they
bided their time as wave-men, secretly
planning revenge.

Kuranosuke is the leading hero of the
drama. In order to throw the enemy off
his guard, this astute strategist removed to
a distant city and surrendered to a life of
dissipation. Kotsuke, well knowing that
loyalty would prompt revenge, spied upon
his foes with secret emissaries, who, how-
ever, reported finally that nothing need be
feared, since the leader Kuranosuke had so
utterly abandoned himself to a life of dis-
soluteness as to become the most notorious
figure in the city. One day a southern
warrior saw him lying drunken in the gut-
ter, and spat upon his face with the scorn-
ful words: "Is not this the sometime
counsellor of Lord Takumi, who, not hav-
ing the spirit to avenge his master, gives
himself up to women and wine? See how

What Is Japanese Morality? 15

he lies drunk in the public streets! Faith-
less beast! Fool and coward! Unworthy
the name of samurai f" His wife venturing
to reproach him for his shame, he savagely
abused and then divorced her, sending her
away with their two younger children, and
taking into his home a harlot in her stead.
"Admirable and faithful man ! " exclaims *
the Japanese moralist who records the
story; for whenever loyalty is involved, all
other considerations must be sacrificed.
Meanwhile, others of the ronin had dis-
guised themselves as artisans or servants,
and so found access to the castle of their
common enemy in Tokyo. All were banded
together in the solemn oath of revenge,
and all were directed by the cunning lead-
ership of Kuranosuke.

Finally, the object of their hatred having
been lulled into a complete sense of false
security, Kuranosuke secretly joined his
companions in Tokyo, and made ready to

1 6 What Is Japanese Morality?


strike the fatal blow. On a snowy mid-
night in December, 1703, the loyal con-
spirators forced their way into their enemy's
home, in two bands, under the direction of
Kuranosuke and his sixteen-year-old son,
Chikara. Every detail had been carefully
planned, and after a severe struggle the de-
fenders of Kotsuke were overpowered. He
himseli eluded search for a time, but at
length was discovered in his hiding-place
a dignified patrician figure, some sixty
years of age, clad in a white satin sleeping-
robe. Kuranosuke, mindful of the etiquette
of the occasion, prostrated himself before
the ensnared insulter of his departed lord,
and in a polite address offered him the
opportunity of suicide. "I myself will
/_ have the honor to act as your second, and
when, with all humility, I shall have re-
ceived your lordship's head, it is my inten-
tion to lay it as an offering upon the grave
of Lord Takumi."

What Is Japanese Morality? 17

But the aged Kotsuke was much too
terrified to accept the proffered courtesy,
so the chief of the ronin beheaded him
with the selfsame dagger wherewith Takumi
had died, and, placing the head in a pail,
departed with his companions in virtuous

After having feasted on the way in cele-
bration of the consummation of their plan,
the forty-seven ronin reached the temple
cemetery where their lord lay buried. Here,
when they had washed the head in a con-
venient well, they laid it ceremoniously
as an offering upon their master's grave,
Kuranosuke and his son Chikara and then
each of the others in turn burning incense,
while the priests of the temple chanted
prayers. They also laid upon the tomb a
memorial paper which concluded with the
words, "This dirk, by which our honored
lord set great store last year, and entrusted
to our care, we now bring back. If your

1 8 What Is Japanese Morality ?

noble spirit be now present before this
tomb, we pray you, as a sign, to take the
dirk, and, striking the head of your enemy
with it a second time, to dispel your hatred
forever. This is the respectful statement
of forty-seven men."

In due time the Tokyo authorities, while
secretly admiring the loyalty of the ronin,
yet for the sake of law and order con-
demned them for their crime. This, indeed,
the ronin had foreseen, and had paid the
priests beforehand for burial with their
master, and for masses in behalf of their
souls. With one mind, therefore, all of the
devoted band committed hara-kiri y and were
laid to rest beside their martyred master.

The fame of the loyal deed spread rapidly
throughout the land, and the tomb at once
became a holy place. Among the thou-
sands who came as pilgrims to the scene,
was the same southern warrior who in
ignorance had once spat upon the drunken

What Is Japanese Morality? 19

form of Kuranosuke. Kneeling before the
tomb he addressed to the departed spirit a
prayer for pardon, and then offered atone-
ment for his fault by committing suicide.
He, too, is buried with the ronin; nor has
he been the last to follow their fatal ex-
ample upon that consecrated spot. The
writer has often visited the humble little
enclosure in Tokyo which marks the last
resting-place of these turbulent wave-men,
but never without finding the soil beaten
hard by the feet of countless pilgrims,
whose white votive offerings always cover
the shrine, which is the chief shrine of /
Japanese morality. 1

It may thus be perceived how Japan had
been prepared for the coming of Commo-
dore Perry, through intellectual education
of the most assiduous character, and how

*A detailed account of the Forty-Seven Ronin, together
with a full treatment of hara-kiri and much other inter-
esting matter may be found in A. B. Mitford's " Tales of
Old Japan."

2O What Is Japanese Morality?

in particular her peculiar military training
enabled her to seize our modern Western
weapons and work wonders. Nor must it
be forgot that one of the most striking
traits of the people is their readiness in-
stantly to discard old things for better ones.
This unique flexibility of temperament,
coupled with the remarkable discipline that
resulted from their prolonged period of in-
dustrious hermitage, accounts for the Japa-
nese of to-day.



The ethical and intellectual ideals of the
Japanese people have been chiefly derived
from two foreign systems of thought,
Booddhism and Confucianism. These have
intermingled with the native mythology
known as Shinto, "the way of the gods."
All have agreed in teaching the supreme
importance of loyalty: Booddhism by its
doctrine of self-repression, Confucianism
through the great law of filialism, extended
to the State, the obligation becoming the
more intense as it extends upward from
the family to the father of his people; and
Shinto, essentially ancestor-worship, with
its superadded belief that the father of his
people is divine. In a nation which makes
everything of loyalty, the samurai, or


24 What Is Japanese Morality?

warrior-class, naturally became pre-eminent,
and the ethical system of Japan has finally
become known as Bushido, " the way of the
warrior." Bushidd is not an original system
of morals, but a handy name to denote the
samurai code, which has been builded of
complex elements around the lodestone
of loyalty.

Striking illustrations of the strong sur-
vival of this spirit are of almost daily occur-
rence, especially among the soldier and
student classes, who worship it frequently
under the name of Yamato-damashii, or
"Japanese soul." A somewhat amusing
instance comes to mind as I write. In a
government school in southern Japan we
had a native teacher who was notoriously
of a dilatory habit. On ordinary occasions
this gave but little concern, as the people
at large are celebrated for a contemptuous
disregard of the value of time. But on
stated occasions the Imperial Educational

What Is Japanese Morality? 25

Rescript is read, which, since it emanates
from Tenshi Sama, the " son of heaven," is
deemed both holy and inspired. And once
Professor Darezo (let us call him) dared to
be late for the Rescript. Immediately the
loyalistic students took the teacher in hand.
Darezo was the teacher of Ethics. It did
not matter that he had habitually violated
most of the chief moralities embraced in
the Western conception, but to them it did
matter profoundly that he should show
disrespect for the emperor's essay. In
their youthful fervor the students felt that
His Imperial Majesty had been grossly in-
sulted through this neglectful attitude,
and in a formal petition they consequently
commanded Professor Darezo to commit
hara-kiri that he might expiate his crime.
Darezo declined to kill himself literally,
but he was dead from that time forward so
far as his influence was concerned, because
he had infringed the sole and single law of

26 What Is Japanese Morality?

duty, the morality of loyalty. Many of
those same students are now in the army
and navy. It is easy to infer that they
make magnificent soldiers, seeing that all
of their ideals center in loyalty, and they
have no higher aspiration than to lay down
their lives for deity incarnate on the throne.
/ Bushido is the chief secret of the marvelous
military strength of Japan.

An attempt is now being made by subtle
Japanese writers to set this word in our
dictionaries as a synonym for chivalry, but
it may reasonably be contended that loyalty
unmixed with other equal virtues hardly
constitutes a title to knighthood as we now
interpret the term. In "Japan To-day" I
have told how a class of students once
chose the suicide of Admiral Ting to illus-
trate the noblest deed of which they had
ever heard with the exception, indeed, of
one precocious scholar, who eulogized a
peasant that had slain his wife in order to

What Is Japanese Morality? 27

feed her liver to his aged mother, and so
restore failing vision! The end in each
case was loyalty, for Ting had felt that it
would disgrace the Chinese emperor for
such an exalted official as himself to sur-
render to the Japanese foe; and as for the
peasant, his parent was to him in place of
prince, filial piety being a lower branch
of loyalty, but the means employed
seemed to my Western mind to be hideous.
A London journal, reviewing the book,
flung back at me the glass-house proverb,
with certain pointed remarks about Ameri-
can lynchings. But the British paper
utterly missed the issue. It is hardly con-
ceivable that an American boy could write
of lynching as a noble thing; we univer-
sally deprecate and deplore it. On the
other hand, the Japanese students exalted
suicide and wife-murder into the noblest
deeds of which they had ever heard, be-
cause of the end in view. And now comes

28 What Is Japanese Morality?

Professor Nitobe's little book on Buskido,
whose ideals he seems to glorify, and it
contains the following typical example of
Bushido ethics :

Michizane, now worshiped with divine
honors as the patron saint of education,
was sent into exile by a cruel ruler during
his lifetime in the ninth century and a
price set on the heads of all his household.
Genzo, a schoolmaster disciple of Michi-
zane's, succeeded in secreting his master's
son for a little season, but the hiding-place
was discovered by zealous spies, and the
child was condemned to death. The loyal
Genzo now sought a substitute with whom
to deceive the executioner, and with suc-
cess. At the critical moment a mother
appeared leading her little boy, who bore
such striking resemblance to Michizane's
son that the official who came to identify
the trunkless head declared himself to be
satisfied. But this official was none other

What Is Japanese Morality? 29

than Genzo himself, father of the murdered
child, who had wormed his way into this
position in order to save his master's son.
The mother, as loyal as her husband, was
of course party to the sacrifice, upon which
both parents had agreed as the only re-
course of loyalty. This is the story de-
liberately set forth as an illustration of
Japanese ethical ideals, the author suggest-
ing its analogy with the story of Abraham
and Isaac. Instilled into the plastic minds
of generations of Japanese children, such
stories venerated as we reverence our
Bible have begotten unquestioning cour-
age, and a loyalty that hesitates at nothing ;
but courage does not spell the whole of
character, nor is such loyalty synonymous
with chivalry.

There is one incident in Japanese history
that rises very high as an example of pure
altruism attained in spite of the obligations
of "loyalty/ 1 but for this very reason,

30 What Is Japanese Morality?

perhaps it is not greatly exalted by the
Japanese moralists themselves. For people
of Christian training it possesses peculiar
interest as indicating the latent possibilities
of this most interesting race towards an
acceptance and practical application of the

1 3

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