Clive Holland.

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and chatting, she is always a delightfully graceful and
winsome little person.

Unfortunately, however, charming as the geisha are,
and perhaps because of the very accentuation of charm
which their training is designed to produce, though fair
there are many of them frail ; and although the geisha is not
necessarily bad, there are so many elements of temptation
to evil in her life, and so little to act as a stimulus to her to
do right, that where one continues blameless, many fall and
pass beyond the pale of respectability altogether.

Yet so undeniably charming, fascinating, and bright are
the geisha of Japan, that many have been married by men
of good social standing, and now occupy the position of
the " honourable lady of the house" in highly-respectable
homes. Indeed, though lacking either education or moral
training, but versed thoroughly in all the more superficial
accomplishments which please — quick repartee, a charming
wit, always pretty and well dressed — the geisha not in-
frequently proves a formidable and triumphant rival to the
demure and well-brought-up maiden of good family, who
can perhaps only bring to her husband an unsullied name,
silent obedience, and the faithful service of her life.

To those who know the social side of Japanese life well,
the question of the geisha and her alliance with men of
good family presents an almost parallel problem to that

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provided by the tendency of music hall artistes and
actresses to gravitate to the peerage in our own land.
And just as such alliances with us seem to threaten an
ultimate decadence of manners, the same may be said of
the gets/ia problem in Japan.



THE life led by the Japanese in the country districts
is not only full of picturesqueness, but for the
Westerner possesses many features of interest.
The great Heimin class includes the peasants,
artisans, and merchants, which three classes, in
point of rank and importance, are strangely different to our
own equivalents ; the artisans coming below the farmers,
and the merchants below the artisans. The whole of the
common people fall into this class except, indeed, such
as those who were in former times considered altogether
outside the pale of respectability, the Hinin and Eta,
who were outcasts, living by begging, the caring for
dead bodies, the slaughter of animals, the tanning of hides,
and other employments that, according to ancient ideas,
rendered them unclean.

In former times these outcasts formed a distinct class
who were forbidden to intermarry with any holding a
higher position in the social scale. But of recent times
the laws affecting the Eta and Hinin have been repealed,
and nowadays there is no real distinction of any practical
value except that existing between the noble and the
common people. Nowadays Samurai and H&min are
indistinguishably mixed.

But from very early times the agriculturists have been

very sharply divided from the military or samurai class.



The latter was first divided from the peasantry in the
eighth century, and although here and there a peasant
has in the past and docs nowadays, by force of his per-
sonal character and abilities, rise into the higher ranks, the
peculiar circumstances of the samurai and agriculturists
have tended to produce quite different characteristics in
persons having originally a common stock. In the course
of the centuries to the military class have come the advan-
tages of education, skill in arms and horsemanship, and the
opportunities of rising to places of distinction and power,
and of living lives free from persistent care with regard to
the provision of the daily food. And this circumstance
has in itself assisted to high ideals of duty and loyalty
which have over and over again been fruitful of heroic

On the other hand, the peasants and the farmers, tilling
their little rice fields year after year, have had to bear heavy
burdens of taxation, and even to pursue a life of hardest
toil to ensure a bare subsistence of food for themselves and
those dependent upon them. And, in addition to this, they
have had to learn to bear all the things imposed upon them
by their superiors with little hope of ultimate gain for
themselves. It is, therefore, little to be wondered at that,
as the centuries have gone by, the wits of the farmers and
peasants have been dulled by daily and continuous toil,
and that they know little and understand less of the
changes which have in the past gradually taken place, and
are at the present time rapidly taking place, in their native
land. The only thing that really seems to stir or affect
them is the failure of the harvest, or the increase in the
burden of taxation which they have to bear.

The Heimin class is distinctly conservative, because
they are not able to grasp the trend of public affairs, and
are apt, therefore, to regard any change as likely to have
as its chief effect the making of their already somewhat


hard lot harder. For this same reason they have often in
the past, though usually peaceful and amiable, been roused
to take part in riots and bloodshed when threatened with
any political change which in their eyes seems fraught with
the danger of heavier taxation ; and on occasion they have
rebelled when the harvest has failed, and they themselves
and their families were starving, whilst the military and
official classes still had more than sufficient for their

The last two decades have, however, done much to
improve matters so far as knowledge goes amongst the
lower classes. Even the farmers, ignorant and dull of
intellect though they frequently are, yet are seldom en-
tirely illiterate, and throughout the country men of this
class are not seldom to be found who are well educated and
have risen to positions of great responsibility and import-
ance, and are able to think for themselves upon the pro-
blems existing and crying for solution in modern Japan.
Several of these men, who have risen to such positions as
we have indicated, have proved veritable iconoclasts when
seeking to deal with existing circumstances of an adverse
nature or to solve social problems. What many of them
have practically said is very much what has been said in
England by some of the leaders of modern Socialism.
11 What use (has been the cry of their brethren in Japan)
is it to issue orders to peasants and people of the lower
classes to be frugal, industrious, and law-abiding, when
those in power, whose duty it is to show a good example
to the people, are themselves guilty of extravagant luxury,
and pass their lives in idleness."

A peasant reformer, as long ago as the middle of the
last century, attacked all these abuses, and also was clear-
sighted enough to point out that Japan could not forever
reckon upon immunity from attack, or the non-existence of
necessity on her part to attack others, and for this reason

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he proceeded to point out the mischievous nature of a
decree which had been issued forbidding the peasantry to
exercise themselves in military matters such as fencing,
and from the possessing or wearing of swords. And the
desire of this far-sighted and advanced reformer of half a
century ago is strangely in accord with that of the ablest
of Japan's many intellectual sons of the present day.

" What I pray for is," said the petition sent to the
Shogun from the village of Ogushi, "that the country
may enjoy peace and tranquillity, that the harvest may be
plentiful, and that the people may be happy and pros-
perous." Adding, " Whether the country is to be safe
(from riot and revolution) or not depends whether the
administration is carried on with mercy or not."

From this document, which is truly remarkable when
one considers that it is sent to the Shogun by a peasant,
who points out what he believes to be a mistake in the
policy of the ruler, one easily gathers that the working
classes of Japan, though almost crushed by heavy burdens
of taxation, which have, of course, been materially in-
creased of late years, yet did not, even when in the grip of
the most terrible poverty, entirely lose that independence of
thought and action which are, indeed, characteristics of the
race. That they have not in the past considered them-
selves as a servile class, nor their military or other rulers,
save only the Mikado, the Son of Heaven, himself, above
criticism or reproach has frequently been proved ; and on
occasion they have not hesitated to claim their rights
boldly and to advocate necessary or advisable reforms.
It is easy to gather, too, from historic examples, both
ancient and modern, that the Japanese peasant is, when
called upon to do so, ready to make personal sacrifice, even
of life itself, in the interests of his friends or the community
of which he is a member.

One pathetic example of this spirit is enshrined in the


story of the headman of a certain village who journeyed to
Yedo to present to the Shogun, on behalf of his fellow
villagers, a complaint against the extortions and injustice
of his daimio. Failing to find any one either willing or able
to present this petition to the Shogun, he at last ventured
to stop the latter's palanquin as it passed through the street,
and to thrust the paper forcibly into the great man's hand.
The mere act of stopping the palanquin was a crime
punishable by death. And, notwithstanding the fact that
the complaints contained in the petition were proved to be
well founded, the headman for his rash act was condemned
by his own daimio to suffer the horrible death of crucifixion.
This, we are told, he did with unflinching courage, hav-
ing secured for his fellow villagers immunity from further
extortions and injustice.

Throughout Japan, and in all classes, can be found
examples of the same kind of spirit which animated the
hero whose story we have just related. A spirit of
even astounding self-sacrifice, which has been fostered
not only by the national Shinto faith, but also by the
domestic upbringing of the race through many successive

And to-day we find the Japanese peasant, though un-
doubtedly ignorant and in many instances oppressed, still
in full possession of his manhood, and declining to drift
into a state of serfdom. He clings tenaciously to his
rights in so far as he knows what they are ; and when the
question in dispute is one that really appeals either to his
mind or his heart, he is ready to hold to it against the
whole world if necessary.

Thus it is that the rulers of Japan have in the past
always had (and they still have) the peasant class to reckon
with should their rule depart from justice or mercy. The
influence of this great class is bound to be more and more
felt as the new parliamentary institutions themselves acquire

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power, and an increasingly close connection is brought about
between the throne and the people. The existence of the
Japanese peasantry, with their strong sense of justice and
their sturdy independence, has in the past proved a tower
of strength against the encroachments of despotic govern-
ment, and should in the future make for the advancement
and solidarity of the great nation to which they belong.

Into this great Heimin class also fall the artisans, who
are in fact more deserving the name of artists, and who
have largely made the reputation of Japan in Europe and
America as one of the countries where art and love of
beauty, both in colour and form, has its highest expression.
How deeply embedded in the national heart this sense of
beauty is can perhaps be best learned from the homes of
the poorest artisans, where, however simple the dwelling
may be, one finds spotless cleanliness and a display of taste
which would shame that of many a so-called " artistic "
English housewife. In these dwellings one finds the soft
clean mats covering the floor, which never " scream " at one
as does many a British drawing-room and dining-room carpet,
the dainty tea-service, the pleasant but uninsistent kakemono
upon the walls, and the vase of perfectly arranged flowers
or foliage in the corner, this happily made possible by the
fact that even in winter, in the great cities as well as the
smaller towns and villages of Japan, flowers are so cheap
and so plentiful as to be within the reach of the poorest.
And thus in homes which seem to the alien mind completely
devoid of the comforts and even necessities of life, one
finds the few articles of furnishing, the simple decorations,
and the utensils of common use beautiful in shape, colour,
and design.

In Japan the money which with us is spent by all
classes in a more or less degree, according to their wealth
or poverty, on beds, tables, chairs, extravagant dress, and
other similar things, is in Japan available for the purchase of


vases, curios, kakemono, flowers, painted and lacquered panel-
ling, and for the gratification of the love of the beautiful,
which is possessed by peasant and noble alike. To this
circumstance may be largely traced the fact that in Japan,
although laborious days and poverty are by no means
unknown, there still survives in the heart of the Japanese
labourer that love of beauty which has been instilled into the
race from time immemorial, and which exercises upon him
a refining and civilising influence, the power of which it is
difficult to circumscribe. Of the Japanese it may be said
that with them truly "life is more than meat," for it is
beauty as well.

It cannot be claimed that the peasantry and farming
classes of Japan, though thrifty and hard working to a
degree, are by any means very prosperous. As one passes
from the large cities into the country districts, one is con-
scious of a conspicuous absence of pleasant and adequate
homes, and a lack of the comforts and necessities of life
which are found in the towns. The rich farmers are very
few ; and the labourers who work in the rice fields can
hardly, though toiling from sunrise to sunset, earn the
little which will provide the simplest living for themselves
and their families. For one thing, the use of agricultural
machinery has made very little advance as yet in Japan,
and the rude implements with which most of the people
still labour are a distinct handicap.

But notwithstanding the heavy burden of taxes, a life
of unceasing toil, frequent floods, and threatening if for-
tunately not always realised famine, even the poorest
peasants are by no means an unhappy or discouraged
class ; they seem very ready to seek for the silver lining
of the cloud, and though toil and anxiety leave their mark
upon them, there is an underlying and submissive spirit
which serves to carry them over rough places and to
inspire them with hope for happier times.











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Occasionally the labourer will be tempted from the
fields to the streets of the city, and will take up the work
of a kururnaya, or coolie. But the town will not rob them
of their independence, and whether it provides them with
a living or not, they will ask and expect no man to assist
them in their necessities out of his charity. Thus it is
that one finds few beggars in Japan, although there is
much poverty ; for strong and weak are sure to find some
employment which will provide the little that is required
to keep soul and body together, and so long as they
possess this they are light-hearted, hopeful, and even
happy. This spirit affects all classes alike — from the rich
farmer who, by the tillage of many an acre, taking the
fat years with the lean, provides a home for himself and
his family which compares favourably with the homes of
the well-to-do in the cities, down to the poor little seller of
toys, or the man around whose tray of sweetmeats the
children flock with their rin and sen; — all are actuated by
the spirit of independence, and appear happy and satisfied
with their lot.

The country women of Japan play an especially im-
portant part in the various bread-winning occupations.
In the little village homes, under whose heavily thatched
roofs a constant struggle against poverty and famine is
being waged, the women enter bravely and play their part
in the struggle. In the rice fields the women labour side
by side with the men, often standing all day long up to
their knees in mud, with their garments tucked almost
round their waists, and their lower limbs encased in tight-
fitting, blue cotton drawers, planting, transplanting, turning
over the evil-odoured mire, and carefully weeding, only, in
fact, distinguishable from the men with whom they labour
by the broader belt they wear tied in a bow behind.

And in the mountainous regions, too, one finds women
undertaking even the heaviest forms of labour; climbing


the hillsides, billhook in hand, to gather the stock of wood
for the winter fire ; descending at nightfall the rugged
bridle-paths with a load of brushwood or tiny logs packed
on a frame attached to their shoulders or balanced lightly
upon a straw mat on their heads, which would in other
countries be considered a donkey's burden.

In the village of Yase, near Ky5to, at the base of
Hiyei Zan, the historic Buddhist stronghold, the women
are noted for their enormous muscular development and
stature, which indeed marks them out from the rest of
Japanese women, who are of low stature, as clearly as
would a community of giantesses be distinguished from
the average English woman. One feature of the robust
health which these women enjoy, from the outdoor life
they lead and the hard work they accomplish, is that as
old age creeps on they show little of that shrinking and
shrivelling which is characteristic of most other aged
peasant women. This race of feminine porters, who work
with tucked up kimonos clad in blue cotton trousers, are
able to carry extraordinary heavy weights, such as travel-
ling trunks, sacks of meal or rice, as easily as another
woman would carry her baby.

It is on account of their splendid health and fine physical
development that the village of Yase enjoys the distinction
of supplying most of the nurses for the Imperial children
and those of the greatest nobles. A Yase woman is easily
detected, and always seems to carry herself with a proud
grace which distinguishes her from the ordinary women of
the people.

The women of Japan, as we have shown, do a great
deal of the heavier kinds of work which usually fall to the
lot of men in civilised countries. In many parts the care
of the little pack-horses, which do much of the carrying
trade in mountainous regions, is entirely or chiefly in the
hands of the women, and the horses have as attendants

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little girls who, both from their skilful handling of their
animals and their dress, are indistinguishable from their

In the silkworm districts, where the silk is spun and
woven, the women play a most important part. Upon
them, indeed, falls all the care of the worms and of the
cocoons, in addition to the winding off of the silk and the
after weaving of it. And in many thousands of Japanese
country homes the passer-by will find every woman and
girl during the M harvest " busily engaged in the picturesque
occupation of winding off the silk on to primitive wheels.
Indeed, it may be safely said that 90 per cent, of the work
of the silk industry — the largest and most productive of
Japan — is under the control of women, and that but for
their care and skill the enormous silk trade might never
have existed. It is in the silkworm districts especially
that one finds the women almost on an equality with the
men ; for her labour forms a very important part of the
wealth-producing power of the family. She is thus able to
make her influence felt, as, of course, is impossible where
her work is inferior to that of men.

The same statements which we have made regarding
the silk industry are almost equally true and applicable to
that of tea, which is also largely in the hands of the women.
The plantations at harvest time are crowded with young
girls and old women, who, with extraordinary rapidity, pick
the green tender leaves, soon to be heated and rolled by the
men over the charcoal fires. The tea- pickers form pictur-
esque groups as they work with the long sleeves of their
kimono fastened back by bands over the shoulders, and
blue towels gracefully fastened over their heads to keep off
the sun. The occupation is one of the pleasantest open to
women in Japan, and is, as we have said, largely under-
taken by them.

The women and girls are also widely employed through-


out the country districts of Japan in the various harvesting
operations, the winnowing of rice, and even in some places
in the thatching of the houses. Indeed, as farmers and
as farm labourers women prove useful assistants to their
fathers, brothers, and husbands ; and are seen performing
all kinds of field labour with the same industry and skill
which is shown by the women of the towns in their
particular callings.

It is the women of the peasant classes in Japan who enjoy
the greatest freedom and independence ; for amongst them
throughout the country are found many who, though hard
worked and enjoying few comforts, lead lives of industrious,
intelligent, and independent labour, which entitles them to
the position they have in the family of respect and honour,
and equalling that held by women of a similar class in
England and America. Their lives are certainly more
varied, more full, and more happy than those of the women
in the higher ranks of life, for they themselves are bread-
winners, who contribute a considerable portion to the
family resources, and in consequence are able to com-
mand respect.

On the other hand, the Japanese lady at her marriage
often lays aside a position, where she has been the pet and
the plaything of her family, to become actually, though
perhaps not admittedly, the subordinate and servant of her
husband and her parents-in-law. And, as the years roll
by, upon the faces of many such women are written the
irradicable lines which tell how much of happiness she
resigned when she left her old home, and how completely
she has sacrificed herself to the interests and perhaps even
the whims of those about her. The Japanese peasant
woman on her marriage generally takes her place side by
side with her husband, and finds life full of interest outside
the simpler household work ; and thus to her, as the years
go by, there comes an added pleasure in life, less dis-

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appointment, and often less physical suffering and unhap-
piness than is experienced by her wealthier and more
indolent sisters. In the faces of the peasant women of
Japan one can often read signs of a happy contentment,
which seems at first singularly at variance with their
laborious lot, and of a placid acceptance of the good things
or evil things of life as they come to them.



A STUDENT of the "greetings " of various nations
must come to the inevitable conclusion that in
nine cases out of ten they are of a somewhat
^ colourless or non-committal character. Neither
the French — which is chiefly emblematic of
polite concern — the English, the American, nor the
German are very distinguished in either form or ex-
pression. So in Japan the non-committal policy, which
induces us to make a bare statement of fact, such as
"good-morning" or " good-day/' has its counterpart in
the salutation with which they greet one in the morning,
11 Ohayo" meaning literally, "It is honourably early."
This, of course, may or may not have the added merit of
truth. In the afternoon, " Konnichi wa" which being in-
terpreted means " To-day," is even less open to question,

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Online LibraryClive HollandOld and new Japan → online text (page 13 of 23)