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permitted to remain in it. And this act is not one of the
ill-educated or superstitious Japanese only. It is an in-
stinctive act of all who have realised the sacredness of the
written characters.

Thus it is that the Japanese, born with the conviction
of the sacred importance of the signs, a more or less
extended mastery of the meanings of which will be to him
the key to success in after life, and to which much time
must of necessity be devoted, is so frequently enabled
(aided by inherited memory of these things and a patient
and astonishing industry) to accomplish what at first seems
to be the impossible. But he is also assisted in his studies
by the work of previous generations, which has strengthened
and adapted his brain to such abstruse and intricate char-
acters. For centuries previous to their studies generations
of Chinese had been studying the characters which the
Japanese were destined ultimately to adopt, training the
brain of the Far Eastern race so that it should less hardly
acquire knowledge.

Though the more patriotic of Japanese find it difficult
to freely acknowledge their indebtedness to China for the
written alphabet, there is no reason to believe that Japan
was (as some have tried to prove) possessed of a native
alphabet of ancient date which was called u The Characters
of the Gods" or " Shindai-no-moji.' , It is impossible,
indeed, to imagine that so practical and utilitarian a nation
as the Japanese would have abandoned a simple alphabet
of their own to adopt the cumbrous, complicated and multi-
tudinous ideographs of the Chinese. It is, therefore, to


the latter that one must look in tracing the development
of the far more intricate system which the Japanese of
to-day employ.

Just as the Egyptian hieroglyphics are pictorial in
character, so were many of the earliest Chinese characters.
Indeed, even nowadays, this hieroglyphic feature is a
distinct and important characteristic of the latter.

Many of these, it is true, have in modern times assumed
more or less conventional forms which tend to disguise
their meaning, but a comparison with the more ancient
examples of the same characters will usually result in
making that meaning clear. For example, the ancient
character g, ntchi, was originally a circle with a dot in
the middle, and meant the sun. Nowadays it is as we
have shown it. The circle has become a square, and the
dot a line. One of the most simple of all is the
character tfj, san> meaning a mountain. This was un-
doubtedly at first a rough representation of that natural
object, having three peaks, which in the course of years
have become simplified into merely three vertical lines.
The character ^, nin, was anciently a fairly accurate
though exceedingly elementary representation of the man,
for which it stands. Now it will be seen to consist of
merely a trunk and two legs. A very easily understood
character is [g, shiu y which it will be observed represents
the character man within a square, and means then a

We might give many other examples, but sufficient
have been mentioned to make clear the fact that the
ancient Chinese alphabet, or what was its equivalent, was
a system of suggestion of ideas by means of single char-
acters or signs, which, in its later and fuller development,
became distinguished for an extraordinarily ingenious and
even poetical symbolism. Thus the signs representing
fire and water were read as a calamity, and (what would


the suffragette of to-day say ?) those for a woman and a
house or home, contentment ! Two hearts, in the same
way, represented friendship ; whilst the representation of
a sheep (which was the symbol for docileness), in com-
bination with the character representing strength, meant
authority and instruction ; and with the addition of the sign
for water represented the sea, which is thought to feed the
clouds as the sheep are fed. The representation of a
woman and child symbolised (as might almost be expected)
maternity and tenderness. And a heart, with the character
standing for the numeral one thousand, philanthropy or
generosity. A great student of the subject of hiero-
glyphical writing has proved, to his own satisfaction at
least, that the heart was originally the root of all characters
which were intended to represent ideas of a metaphysical

In addition to the characters which fall into the class
we have referred to as pictorial, there are numerous others
which have been evolved by combining two parts, one of
which is to a certain extent pictorial, and the other more
purely phonetic. For example, the sign for water (ft, sui)
will appear in combination with parts of other signs
wherever the idea of water is present. It appears in the
character for an island, because one supposes the existence
of water in connection with that natural object. Also it
appears in combination with the sign for a flood, and in
that for a beach or stretch of sand for the same reason,
and so on with other words and ideas.

When this system of Chinese ideographs was originally
introduced into Japan, they were the only system of writing
which the Japanese possessed ; and as they could not be
easily used to represent ideographically the different forms
of Japanese words, some of them were applied for the
purpose of phonetically writing proper nouns and gram-
matical terminations. All the Japanese required was a set


of signs to use for words of their own already existing,
and in the Chinese ideographs they found an ample amount
of material upon which to draw. But so loosely was the
material applied that very soon the Japanese were con-
fronted with inextricably confusing "alphabet," or system
for writing, which they themselves found not only cumbrous
but even ultimately unusable.

To this difficulty may be traced the evolution of the
simplifying process which in the eighth or ninth century
produced a distinct Japanese syllabary of forty-seven signs
indicating the sounds of the vowels, and of all the combi-
nations of simple consonants with the vowels. These were
in a great measure simplifications or detached parts of
Chinese characters already in common use phonetically.
These were called kana, so that they might be dis-
tinguished from the Chinese ideographs, which are known
as mana. This new system had two forms, the one first
coming into general use being known as the hira-kana or
hiragana, consisting of the " running" or most rapidly
written characters, most often employed phonetically, which
in pursuance of the habit of the race, were simplified by
the Japanese and reduced to the least possible degree of
complication. The other form of the system is known as
kata-kana, founded upon the principle of merely taking a
portion of a character from a cumbrous Chinese whole, and
giving to that part the same sound as the whole. A good
and easily understood example of this is afforded by the word
ro, which is a half section only of the Chinese character.

By these means the Japanese may be said to have
started on the way to devise a means or system of writing
which would be comparatively simple and yet adequate ;
and would at least permit of their breaking away from the
complicated Chinese system they had at first adopted. But
notwithstanding the fact that at length they provided them-
selves with a workable alphabet, which was simplicity itself


when compared to that of China, from the long continued use
of the ancient characters they were encumberedfromthe start.

The use of the old characters, too, has tended to in-
crease rather than to diminish, and thus whilst the new
system of kana is convenient, and even a necessity for
many purposes, it has yet only added to the multitude of
signs already in actual use. And, unhappily for the alien
student, the old characters cannot be any more given up
than from the English language foreign words could be
eliminated which through ages of evolution have crept into
it. When, too, a new word is needed it is to the inex-
haustible mine of the Chinese language that the Japanese
go, with a result that every month, nay, nearly every
day, may see the introduction of another complicated
ideograph or character.

Speaking generally, it may be said that the written
language of Japan is derived thus : —

Mana, or characters used ideographically.




(Consisting of characters used phonetically.]

Katakana. Hiragana.

Words bor- Japanese words Entire Chinese Parts of Chi- Running form

rowed from the same as words used nese characters and simplifica-

the Chinese. Chinese. phonetically. used phoneti- tion of char-

cally. acters used


The complicated results, which it may be easily under-
stood were likely to arise from such a system, can be
perhaps guessed even from the brief account we have been
able to give.

It is not too much to say that to a Chinaman the
Japanese language presents difficulties which are not very
materially less than those which confront an European.


For although he will find some words and some written
signs untransmuted, he will also find many which have a
totally different significance, being used for Japanese words,
of which he knows nothing ; whilst others will have been
so transformed by loppings and simplification as to have
become mutilated beyond recognition.

But the difficulties of the written language we have
mentioned are by no means the whole catalogue ; as there
may be (and frequently are) many characters for the same
sound. And matters are still further complicated by the
circumstance that some signs are used for their meaning
and others for their sound alone. It is impossible here to
enter into a consideration of the many thousands of different
characters from which the Japanese alphabet has to be
literally extracted. The whole language has become, in
process of time, a vast system of punning allusions, which
encourages a practice similar to that known with us as a
rebus. For example, should we, when wishing to write
such a word as "humanity" do so by drawing a man or
woman, an eye, and a tie, or perhaps a knot, we should be
following the practice of the early Japanese, and traces of
the system upon which they worked can be discovered in
almost numberless words and characters.

To use a Japanese dictionary one must be familiar with
no less than two hundred and fourteen signs, which may be
said to serve the same purpose as our initial letters in
dictionaries. Then when one has found in one of these
some part of the character for which one is about to under-
take an exploration, the number of strokes of which this
radical part consists has to be counted up to enable one to
discover a clue as to its place amongst the two hundred and
fourteen in the index. This place will settle the portion or
section of the dictionary in which the words under this
radical are grouped, and then in these groups one must
search for the probable position of the character of which


one is really in search, which is ascertained by counting the
number of strokes in it exclusive of the radical or root.
For example, if there are only two or three strokes, one at
once knows that it will be near the commencement of the
index, and its place in the list of two hundred and fourteen
characters indicates the part of the dictionary where the
words falling under the character are grouped. Then by
counting the strokes (apart from the radical) one may find,
say, only one. That will indicate that the character is quite
at the beginning of the group : and thus one at last is able
to look for the word one wants !

But complicated as this process is, the fact that there
may be two radicals, so that the student cannot tell at first
under what group the word he requires will come, adds
still more to one's task. And one may, if an European un-
versed in anything save very elementary knowledge of
Japanese, spend a couple of hours in looking up one word.

But to the Japanese the complications are as second
nature. To them the ideograph is not merely a sign
having a meaning (more or less obscure from a Westerner's
point of view), it is a vivid picture conveying a distinct idea
to his mind. Compared with our prosaic system of letters,
it lives and is possible of great beauty and embellishment.
Thus the really great writers and penmen of Japan strive
to make their characters more beautiful (and also to alien
students more confusing) than those of any one else. And
in each stroke of the fine pencil-pointed brush with which
he writes them there is a world of grace, and the result has
the proportion and beauty of line which also distinguishes
all other arts of Japan. The artist in the writer makes him
strive for the most exquisite proportion throughout the
whole length of his stroke, which seems to be one of
lightning rapidity. And in the beautiful combinations of
strokes, distinguished for their breadth, curve, tapering
fineness, and wonderful grace, one finds a fresh expression


of the love of pure and refined art which distinguishes the
whole race.

There have been many attempts, both ancient and
modern, to solve the Japanese nature as well as master the
intricacies of the Japanese alphabet. It can only be said
that most have failed more or less completely. Even so
distinguished a scholar as Professor Chamberlain confessed,
after many years of intimate association with and study of
the race, that he gave up the attempt to estimate or describe
the character and ideal of the race. Nearly all foreign
estimates, indeed, have done less than justice or more than
justice to the Japanese, because an alien is at first sight
impressed merely by the superficial things (which are un-
deniably of great charm), and on closer study and acquaint-
ance is brought up against problems upon which only deep
and continuous study and intimate intercourse would permit
of a correct judgment being formed.

By a strange set of circumstances, and perhaps an
equally remarkable system of evolutionary processes, the
Japanese character appears as a perfect network of para-
doxes and contradictions, and in the end one is usually
compelled, after even close study of these, to come to the
conclusion that the Japanese are a people concerning whom
it is almost safe to say that any opinion expressed would
have some basis of fact, and that everything said would be
true. Certainly no estimate likely to be made of their
character, whether comprised most of praise or of blame,
would be entirely out of place in a recital of their moral
and mental distinguishing characteristics. To arrive, how-
ever, at anything like a just estimate of an Oriental people,
in particular it is necessary for the Westerner to approach
the study from an Eastern point of view ; and few find it
possible to fulfil this condition. Topsy-turveydom (as we
regard things) is the ineradicable habit of far Eastern
races, characterising not only the general mode of life, but


every detail of it, and also of their intellectual and moral
being. In the Japanese it is not merely a question of their
ways and methods of thought differing from our own and
those of other Western people's ; it constitutes a total
reversal of them.

A whole book might be written on the subject of
" Things They do Differently in Japan." Of its great
interest, were it ever written, there could be little doubt.
Let us give a few of the most common and notable examples,
which may, perhaps, serve to make clearer, as nothing else
would, the necessity for regarding Oriental habits and
character from an Oriental standpoint.

Upon entering a house a Japanese gentleman does not
take off his hat ; he takes off his shoes. A student does not
commence to read a book at the beginning (as we have it)
but at the end ; and instead of the lines crossing the page
they run up and down it. He will, also, read from right
to left page, and not the reverse way as we do. The foot-
notes are placed at the top, and the greater margin is also

The old Japanese clocks had stationary hands and faces
which revolved backwards, with the hours marked 7, 6,
5, 4, and so on, reckoning onward from noon.

A Japanese house is built quite differently to an English
one. The roof, which is with us the last important part
of the outward structure to be completed, is with the
Japanese the first thing to be finished. All the tools used
by the Japanese carpenters and joiners have a reversed
action. He does not push a plane away from him ; he
draws it towards him. The gimlets are " threaded " in the
opposite way to ours ; the saws are made so as to cut on
the upward pull, and not on the downward thrust. Screws
have their threads reversed, and keyholes are made upside
down, and keys turn backward. The best rooms are at
the back of the house (a fact which may possibly be


accounted for by reason of the greater privacy enjoyed
there), not, as is generally the case with us, in the front.

If one desires to write to one's Japanese friends, one
takes a small or large roll of paper, not a sheet ; begins the
letter along the curve of the roll, and the former commences
as ours would end, and vice versa, and when finished is put
into an envelope which opens long ways at the end. In
addressing it one puts England, London, Gardens Pern-
bridge 604, Williams John Mr., and places the postage
stamp on the back. In the same way a tradesman makes
out his bills by setting down the figures first, and then the
article to which they relate. And should a schoolboy be
learning to write the Roman alphabet he will commence
the letters quite naturally in the exact opposite place to
what an English boy would do. An O would be begun
on the right hand side about half-way down and the stroke
brought down, up, round the top, and down again to meet
where it had been commenced ; instead of the exact oppo-
site as with us, commencing as we do near the top.

A Japanese when going for a ride mounts his horse
from the right side, where the harness fastenings are.
And the mane of the horse is on the left side ; and when
the animal is put back into the stable it is done tail first.

Coming to the more social customs, we find that after-
dinner speeches are made before the banquet, and thus are
brief, because the speaker is as anxious to "get to the real
business " of the entertainment as his audience. We have
mentioned elsewhere that one does not go to bed in Japan,
the bed comes to you ; and many Japanese commence
washing the feet first when engaged upon their toilet.

If one meets a particularly festive-looking procession
wending its way through the streets it is a funeral! and
the coffin is not laid on the bier; it is stood upright, in
which position it is also buried.

In England women after a certain period are dis-


inclined to announce their correct age. In Japan they
take pains to let every one know it by the details of their
dress ; and young women are always anxious to become
old, so that they may enjoy the reverence and privileges
of the aged.

Pages might easily be filled in quotation of other ex-
amples of bewildering reversal with which every traveller in
Japan soon becomes familiar. But those given will suffice
to make clear how complex a study the race and its customs
must of necessity prove to all save those who are prepared
to approach the task with an open mind and a determina-
tion rather to seek for the reason of the reversal than to
concern themselves with criticism of the fact.

After all has been said, this strange characteristic is
less confusing in its completeness than it would be if it
were intermittent. It has undoubtedly tinctured the life
and morals of the race, and the reason for what is incom-
prehensible in the latter in particular must be sought in
the attitude of mind which centuries of reversed ideas
cannot have failed to produce. In Japan one finds along-
side the most perfect idealism the most revolting realism,
more especially in theatrical representations, and this is,
after all, but an outward indication of the strange blending
of qualities which has made the modern Japanese, who,
whilst to superficial seeming the most pliant and easily
influenced of people, is an individual capable of the most
unyielding persistence should occasion for that quality
arise. He is to-day full of tenderness and mercy ; whilst
none can be more terribly and immoveably revengeful.

Thus it is by a combination of totally contradictory
characteristics and qualities, each extreme being per-
petuated to its fullest extent, instead of, as might have
been expected, blending with and modifying the other,
that Modern Japan, which has so perplexed and astonished
Western nations, has been evolved. And whilst the

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people and their outward characteristics present such
picturesque, interesting, and even theatrical a series of
impressions on the average Western mind, so that one
was formerly almost compelled to regard them as mere
posers and actors and actresses, with the world as their
stage, merely playing at life and dallying with its most
serious and complicated problems, and procrastinating and
putting off till myonichi (to-morrow), they were all the
time capable of the marvellous deeds and rapidity of
action that have recently gone to place them in the front
rank of civilised peoples.




THE Japanese garden is different to any other in
the world. It is beautiful, but it is not that
alone which makes it unique ; it is quaint, but
that quality again cannot in itself be held ac-
countable for its wonderful and mysterious charm.
To both the beauty and quaintness there seems added a
spirit of unusual artistry, which, though not easily analysed
yet can be recognised as existing, and being in a large
measure responsible for the sense of completeness which
strikes the observer.

The best and the most beautiful gardens in Japan are
not necessarily the most famous or the most seen. On
the outskirts of Ky5to ; on the Nagasaki hillsides ; in
the lesser-known suburbs of Tokyo there are many gardens
which for real beauty must be held to rank higher than
some of the most noted " show " places in these cities.
Behind the high walls, coped with weather-stained tiles,
of many a yashiki, or residence of a daimio or samurai^ lie
gardens of delight, hidden alike from the prying eyes of
tourist, wayfarer, and even neighbour. And beyond the
courtyard of many a house of lesser rank, which except
for a few flowers and trees is bare, are hidden gardens,
round the angle of a bamboo fence or of the house itself,
of matchless beauty, all unsuspected by the world at




Sometimes the Japanese garden is divided by screens
made of woven rushes on a bamboo framework, which
are not to be regarded in the light of walls, but merely
as dividing - lines marking out the boundaries where
one style of garden commences and another ends. The
wide openings one finds in these, which are without
gates, are designed to permit of vistas of the beauties

The art of a Japanese garden is in just the same strong
contrast to the want of art in an English garden of the
average type that is presented by the Japanese system
of flower arrangement when compared with European
methods. In it there is no mass of bedding plants flaming
at one in vivid discords of colour ; no suggestion of over-
crowding ; no flaunting of wealth. The same minute
thought that distinguishes Japanese flower arrangement
is apparent in the laying out and construction of the
garden, which, indeed, is not a flower-garden as we
Westerners understand the term at all. In most cases,
indeed, it contains nothing of the nature of a flower-bed.
In some there is not a flower or sprig of green to be seen :
the garden materials consist merely of carefully-chosen
stones, rocks, and sand. In which case the idea is some-
times to create a landscape impression of an approach to
the seashore over sand-dunes; a representation of the
margin of the Inland Sea ; or a miniature picture of
some cove or shrine, well known or otherwise, along the

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Online LibraryClive HollandOld and new Japan → online text (page 15 of 23)