William Elliot Griffis.

Japan in history, folk lore and art online

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Charles A. Kofold



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Copyright, 1892,

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TAe Riverside Press, Cambridge, 3fass., U. S. A.
Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Company.







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In this contribution to the Eiverside Library
for Young People, I have told more about Kioto
than about Yedo. I have sketched in outline the
Japan of ages rather than of our own age. While
political history is the chief theme, my aim has
been to show how and why the Japanese see and
think as they do. The adoption of Western
civilization changes the outer, but does not greatly
modify the inner man. Believing also that what
the dignified historians write is only part of a
people's true history, I have sought, from their
customs and folk-lore, as well as from the inter-
pretation of their artists, material with which to
brighten the narrative. Fact and fiction, however,
are presented in separate chapters.

No writer on Japan can fail to acknowledge
deep obligations to that noble band of English
students, Messrs. Satow, Aston, and Chamberlain,
who have made such profound researches into the


ancient Japanese language and literature. To

them and to Captain Brinkley, the scholarly editor

of the "Japan Mail," I heartily acknowledge

much obligation. To my many Japanese friends

who from time to time assist me, and especially

to the members of the Historical Society of the

Imperial University of Tokio, who have honored

me by membership in their body, I owe much,

and herewith offer my grateful thanks.

It is one of the good signs of the times that

the Japanese are now studying their own history

according to the methods of science, with truth as

the end in view. God speed them !

W. E. G.
Boston, Oct. 17, 1892.



I. Where is Japan? 1

II. Who are the Japanese? 8

III. The Morning of Rising-JSun Land ... 15

IV. The Japanese Story of Creation . . . 2G
V. Origin of the Arts 32

VI. The Conquest of the East .... 42
VII. CoREA AND Buddhism 52


IX. The ]VIikado and his Samurai . . . .70

X. Letters, Writing, and Names .... 80

XL The Noble Families and their Politics . . 92

XII. Social Life in Kioto 99

XIII. The Wars of the Genji and Heike . . . 108

XIV. Yoritomo at Kamakura 117

XV. The Death of Yoshitsune 124

XVI. The Hojo Rule 129

XVII. Benten and the Dragons 137

XVIII. The Ashikaga Shoguns 145

XIX. Three Famous Men 154

XX. Ideas and Symbols 166

XXI. The Ashes that made Trees bloom . . . 175

XXII. Signs and Omens 183

XXIII. The Dutch Yeast in the Japanese Cake . 192

XXIV. Interior Forces making New Japan . . 203
XXV. Outward Agencies 209

XXVI. New Japan 221

Index , . 229





Where is «Tapan, and how does it lie on the
surface of the globe?

With the aid of the steamship and railway, we
may answer by saying that Fuji Yama is about
sixteen days from New York, or twelve from San
Francisco. Or, from the other point of view, we
may say that Japan lies in the Pacific Ocean east
of China and Corea, in latitude between New-
foundland and the West Indies ; that is, the Jap-
anese climate is very much like our own.

Japan is one of the many archipelagoes in the
Pacific Ocean. The number of islands under the
sun-flag is nearly four thousand. To inclose the
space within the ocean-square thus occupied, we
must draw our lines on the globe from the point
at latitude 50° 56'. Here our pin, or the sur-
veyor's stake, is driven in at the most northern
end of a shima^ for that is the Japanese word for
island, called Araito. This land formerly be-

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' '' ' 'lofn'ged'to Kitssia.' - It' is in the old chain or group
called the Kuriles, or "The Smokers." Japan
from top to bottom is a line of volcanoes. The
hot inside of the earth has here a row of vents in
the shape of great mountains like funnels turned
upside down. From their holes at the top, as out
of tall foundry chimneys, gas, fire, smoke and
ashes escape from the interior of the earth.

Did you ever see the shell of an aivahi, as the
Japanese call the haliotis, or sea-ear ? One may
compare the shape and nature of the country to
the awabi. The living creature beneath the per-
forated shell is able through its roof-holes lo com-
municate with the outside world, and make its
presence and power known to its prey. The line
of apertures reaches along the top from the apex
to the bottom level of the shell. So all Japan is
a great shell or crust of rock and earth, through
which the steam, gas, fire, and lava burst forth at
times, just as the tentacles of the awabi leap and
twirl through its shell. When, for any reason,
one or more of these vents are closed, and the
volcanoes become dormant, great earthquakes
which twist or wrinkle the skin of the globe, or
eruptions, which are boiler-explosions on a vast
scale, are sure to happen. Even the rock crust
and the granite caps of mountains, unable to im-
prison the hot subterranean gases, are blown high
up in the air.

The little Greek children in old times were


told that Jupiter confined the giants under volca-
noes, and that earthquakes were caused by their
writhing, but the Japanese children think that a
o'reat underj^round catfish makes the mischief in
their country, and that no one can stop his floun-
dering but the god Kashima.

Since the Japanese, in 1875, exchanged their
half of Saghalin for all the Kuriles, they have
called them Chishima, or the Thousand Islands.

Araito, the northernmost tip of the Mikado's
empire, is a little to the west of Cape Lopatka in
Kamtschatka. To mark the most eastern point
of Japan, we must stick a pin on the map at
longitude east 156° 32^ The Japanese now use
our system of latitude and longitude for survey-
ing and navigation. They are thus able to locate
within a few yards on the great earth's surface
the position of a moving ship or a thatched cot-
tage. Looking through the lines of a spider's
web stretched across the end of a theodolite, they
can measure the precise distance from plumb-bob
to stake-centre, and fix the exact spot over the
centre of a copper bolt driven in the rock. This
mark of the national frontier is in the island of
Shimushu at 156° 32'.

To find the most southerly point of the Mi-
kado's domain, we follow the meridian down to
the tiny island of Hater ma, whose tip end south is
at 24° 06'. Close to it the island of Yonakuni
pokes its rocky nose above the waves. Here,


also, on the end nearest Formosa, at longitude
east 122° 45', is Japan's most western extremity.

So Japan lies between the Russian territory of
Kamschatka and the biggest of the Chinese
islands, Formosa. If we inclose the space within
the four points we have described, we shall have
a quadrangle of over four million square miles ;
or a little more, in water, of the space occupied
by the land comprising the United States. In
this ocean surface, however, the actual territory
covers only less than 150,000 square miles, that
is, about one twenty-sixth of the whole. The
land is to the water as one letter in the alphabet.
Japan and the two Dakotas are about the same
in size, say 150,000 square miles.

Or we may say the Ja23anese domain looks
like a ruler laid slantwise on the map between
Kamtschatka and Formosa. In this long and
narrow strip, stretching from northwest to south-
east between the Russian and Chinese territory,
the space, roughly measured, is twenty-two hun-
dred miles long and five hundred miles wide, and
the land occupied is one seventh of the space.

On most of our school maps of Asia, the Jap-
anese Archipelago is represented as, relatively,
about the size of a caterpillar lying on the pump-
kin of Asia. Or, if Asia be a ship, Ja23an is the
rudder. Indeed, glancing from north to south,
we may thus make an appropriate picture, in our
mind's eye, of this land of tea, silkworms and



silk. We may look upon the rounded coast of
China as a great teapot, with its spout pointing-
towards the headless butterfly or silk-moth of
Corea ; while the mainland of Japan appears as a
monstrous silk-worm with its head at Kiushiu,
spinning out of its mouth a great, glistening
thread of islands stretching down to Formosa.
Indeed, while the literal meaning of the name
Riu Kiu is "sleeping dragon," the native name is
Okinawa, or "long rope."

In the geological ages of the world, there was
probably an extended causeway of land or moun-
tain ridge from Kamschatka to Formosa. By
the action of the ocean waves, continued during
long ages, this ridge has been broken into large
and small islands. Along the whole eastern
length of the empire there rushes like a millrace
a river of indigo blue in the sea. This is the
Kuro Shiwo, or the black current, which flows
from the Philippine Islands past Japan and across
to North America. With the first peopling of
Japan, and possibly of our continent, this ocean-
river had, as we shall see, something to do.

Here, then, is a country stretching between the
Tropic of Cancer and the latitude of Labrador,
with most of its people crowded in the parallels
that include the region between New York and
Florida. The people are civilized, polished in
manners, with writing, arts, literature, a long his-
tory, and a dynasty or line of emperors older than


any succession of rulers on earth, unless possibly
that of the popes. They have a written constitu-
tion, representative government, and the modern
appliances of war and peace, with steam engines,
electric telegraphs, printing presses, and many
other modern things. They now look into a fu-
ture which they expect to share with Europe and
America. They no longer turn to China for
ideas and principles. Having entered the brother-
hood of the nations of Christendom, the Japanese
is the most promising of Asiatic peoples.

In our day and generation Japan has shot into
notice like the flowering century-plant among the
nations. Within the memory of young men now
living, the country seemed as closed, inactive, re-
pellant, and unpromising as the fat and thorny-
leaved aloe, that quietly stores up starch within
and prickles without. Now, having burst into
splendid bloom and captivating color, and its in-
ner riches revealed, Japan charms the world.

We have answered the question. Where is Ja-
pan? in the terras of geography and astronomy.
If now we ask the Japanese poets the same ques-
tion, they will rej^ly that theirs is the Countr}^
Between Heaven and Earth, the Land Where
the Day Begins, Sun-Rise Kingdom, House of
the Morning, Sun Land, Sun's Nest, Country
Within the Boundaries, or Kingdom of Peaceful
Shores. These are the names found in Ja23anese
poetry and romance.


As for the shape of it, they tell us It Is the
Country of the Eight Great Islands, the Dragon-
fly Kingdom, the Outspread Islands which re-
mind one of the stepping stones in a garden-path,
the Castellated Fortress Island, Fertile Plain of
Sweet Flags, the Beautiful or the Princess Coun-
try. Politically, Japan Is the Mikado's Empire,
or the Country Ruled by a Dynasty of Heavenly



When the imperial census-takers completed
their count on the 31st of December, 1890, it was j
found that there were 40,072,000 people in Ja-
pan. We must think of them, the Japanese, as |
a nation numbering over forty millions.

Three fourths of the inhabitants live on Hondo,
or the main island. Of the remainder, five mil-
lions, or over one eighth, dwell on the next largest
island, called Kiushiu, or The Nine Provinces. In
Shikoku, the Island of the Four Countries, live
about three millions. The northern islands, called
the Hokkaido, or Northern Sea Circuit, are not
so thickly settled, for in them all together we find
only a third of a million of souls.

In the old way of enumeration, they made a
rough census by counting houses, or smoke-holes
in the roof, reckoning five people to a house.
Now, and since 1872, they count noses, and souls.
There are nearly eight million houses, and they,
like the people who live in them, are mostly
thickly massed in central Japan. Here, where
the soil is fertile, the climate good, and the coun-
try has been long occupied, we find towns and


villages as close to each otlier as beads on a
rosary, while the cities are large and numerous.
In Yezo, however, one may travel many leagues
through the country without seeing either house
or man. On every square mile of central Hondo
there are four hundred and sixteen people, but
in the islands of the Northern Sea region only
seven. The average for all Japan is two hundred
and sixty-six, which makes this eastern empire
about as well filled with people as Italy, but not
so thickly populated as China proper. There is,
however, plenty of room in Japan for more peo-
ple, since the ratio of inhabitants to the square
mile is nearly one half that of Belgium or Sax-

Fifty per cent of the population are farmers,
and live in villages and hamlets. No matter how
far away the fields which they cultivate are from
their homes, the countryfolk dwell in houses
which are grouped together, and a farmhouse
standing by itself is rarely seen. After the agri-
cultural classes, in numbers, come the trading-
people, and next the mechanics.

The people are divided into three grades, —
nobles, gentry, and commons. The two upper
classes comprise two millions, while the common
people number thirty-eight millions. All subjects
of the Emperor have equal rights before the law ;
but this has been the case only since 1889, and
under the new constitution. The Eta people, who


numbered half a million, and were once looked
upon as outcasts, and not better than beasts, are
now citizens. Even the Buddhists did not admit
the Eta to religious privileges or membership.
One honorable exception was seen in the Shin
sect, whose priests and people, to their everlasting
honor, treated them fairly.

Up in the north, in Yezo, there are about fif-
teen thousand aboriginal people called Ainu, who
have bushy beards and hair and straight eyes,
like Europeans.

In the Riu Kiu islands, in the extreme south,
the 23eople are a little different from most of the
Japanese, and the language they speak is not so
correct or polished as that of the people on the
large islands. All these are subjects of the Mi-
kado. Excepting the Ainu speech, there are not
those variations in the language, as spoken in all
the four thousand islands of the empire, which
are found in China. Pro^^erly speaking, there
are no dialects.

The Japanese are quite different from the Co-
reans and Chinese in stature and appearance. A
thousand people suddenly gathered at random
from the streets of Seoul or Peking, and a thou-
sand gathered in London and New York, would
probably show averages of stature the same. The
Japanese, however, are not so tall as people in
America and Europe. They are undersized ; the
average height of the men is 5.5 feet, and that of


the women 4.5 feet; but among the mountaineers,
boatmen, and occasionally in the cities, one may
see a man six feet or over in height ; while the
wrestlers are gigantic in size and weight. All
varieties of fat and lean people are noticeable.
The children are usually plump and rosy-cheeked.
The boys are active, and the young girls pretty.

Some one has called the Japanese '' the dia-
mond edition of humanity."

Unfortunately for the Japanese, he is not pro-
portionally developed, yet the cause of his short
stature may be removed. The upper half of his
body is of proper length, but the lower portion is
shorter than it ought to be. In perfectly formed
human beinsfs — and indeed in the average — the
measurements up and down from the centre of
the body are the same. Not so with the inhabi-
tants of Dai Nippon. In the Japanese army, of
twelve hundred men measured by the surgeons, it
was found that there was a difference of over an
inch between the upper and the lower parts of
the body.

The doctors say that, besides improper or badly
cooked food, the chief cause of shortness in the
lower limbs is the custom of sitting long on the
knees and heels. Until recently, chairs, sofas,
stools, and rockers were unknown in Japanese
houses. People carried their sitting apparatus
with them, as snails are said to travel with their
houses on their backs. They made folding chairs


out of their legs by using their hams and their
heels, tucking their feet under them. Beginning
in their childhood, they were able, even when
grown up, to sit for hours in this position without
having their legs go to sleep. In this way, and
in the lapse of ages, the circulation of the blood
in the lower limbs becoming more or less stag-
nant, the legs of the whole nation perceptibly

The Chinese bind the feet of their women in
order to make them as smalj as the hoofs of a
gazelle. The Japanese have never practiced foot-
binding ; yet without knowing it they have been
shortening their legs, and subtracting the fraction
of a cubit from their stature.

When foreign people go into the houses of the
Japanese to visit them, they politely try to sit
down on their knee-bones and ankles. Pretty
soon they have to give it up, apologize, and then
stretch out their legs ungracefully on the matting.
They invariably fall asleep at the wrong end.
While their heads are wide awake, their feet will
not wake up. Nowadays the people put some-
thing between themselves and the floor. The
fashion of furnishing the house with chairs, set-
tees, and high tables is increasingly common.

In thinking of Japan and the Japanese, one
must not think of China and the Chinese. The
two countries and people are too widely different
in many ways to be compared. China is ten


times larger than Japan, and her area greatly
exceeds that of the United States and Alaska,
while all the territory of Japan is not very much
more than half of our one State of Texas. The
Chinese empire has probably ten times as many
people as the Japanese. China has an older civi-
lization and has been more original, Japan being
for centuries the pupil of the Middle Kingdom.
The tonsfues of the two nations have little or no
connection with each other. In language, cus-
toms, government, history, character, and temper-
ament, the two people are quite as different as
are Russians from Englishmen.

The Japanese do not smoke opium, do not bind
the feet of their women, nor wear queues or " pig-
tails." They seem to be in mind half way be-
tween European and Asiatic people. Perhaps
their ofi'eatest work and most brilliant career are
yet before them. The Japanese seem called upon
to reconcile Eastern and Western civilizations, to
interpret to Asia the meaning of European ideas
and institutions. Many wise men think the Pa-
cific Ocean is yet to become the arena of the
greatest triumphs of the human race, as the Medi-
terranean once was, as the Atlantic is now. If
so, since Japan holds the key of the Pacific, her
future may be far more brilliant than the past.
Certainly the promise to the Sun-land is that of a
new sunrise.

The Japanese do not lack in reverence for


their own country. To them it is the Honorable
Eealm, the Land of the Gods, the Country of the
Holy Spirits, the Kingdom that Endures for Aye,
the Everlasting Great Japan, created first of all,
and rising out of the waters of chaos ; they call
the oldest part of their beautiful land the Island
of the Congealed Drop. Of this we shall read in
their own story of creation.



Lying out in the ocean, at the ends of the
earth from Europe, and, in the day of small boats,
far enough from China, and near only to Corea,
by whom was the land we call Japan first discov-
ered ?

Savages who have no letters, and therefore
make or keep no written history, cannot tell their
own story, or remember the time when anything
long ago happened. Even their traditions are
usually worthless after a few generations. They
melt away like dream stuff into the infinite azure
of the ]3ast.

Who were the aborigines, or the people who

lived before history was written, in Japan? Who

came first of all into the lonely islands in which

I no baby had yet cried ? This question even

i scholars cannot now answer.

I Most probably they were men of the Malay
I race who drifted up from the -south. From For-
I mosa, or still further below in the Philippines or
I the Malay Archipelago, there is the swift, dark-
colored river flowing- in the ocean called the Kuro
Shiwo, of which I have already spoken. Even


without sails or oars, but by simply floating in
this great Gulf Stream of the Pacific, men could
reach southern Japan. Perhaps, during as many
centuries as the present world counts in her age,
this stream has been gradually peopling Japan as
well as America. Many things indicate that the
Japanese have Malay blood in their veins. Many
of their ancient customs, their tattooing, their
dances, their comedies and mask entertainments,
their superstitions and methods of war, their an-
cient head-hunting raids, point to a Malay origin.
Certainly the Japanese are a mixed race.

Another strain of aboriginal blood flows from
the Ainu, who once inhabited central and north-
ern elapan. Dark-skinned, more or less hairy
in their bodies, straight-eyed, bushy-haired, they
were hunters and fishermen. Though now a mere
remnant, living in Yezo as mild and peaceable
savages and bear-worshipers, they once bravely
resisted the Japanese, who by degrees conquered
and subdued large masses of them within the
boundaries of the empire. In time they have
become peaceable tillers of the soil, and good
subjects of the Mikado. The native histories
show that as the Japanese waves of conquest
pushed farther north, just as the white man
pushes the Indian before him, the free Ainu were
raiding savages. They plundered the civilized
farmers and destroyed their houses and crops,
only to be conquered and reduced to quiet obedi-


ence to the laws. In this way, all the Ainu of
Hondo in time became, by mixture of blood and
the arts of civilization, true Japanese.

To this day the Ainu names of the lakes, rivers,
mountains, and great landmarks, from the Strait
of Tsugaru down to Kioto, linger beneath the
later Japanese terms. An American child can
read all over the United States, and even in the
place of the original thirteen colonies, the Indian
names of places long since occupied by our fathers.
As before Boston was Shawmut, and before the
Hudson River was Shatemuc, and behind Salem
was Amoskeag, so under the pronunciation of the
Chinese characters and Japanese names we find
the tell-tale Ainu word. Before ever a man with
a hair-pen, and with "India" ink rubbed up with
water on a stone, began on mulberry or bamboo
paper to write the letters spelling Fuji Yama, the
Ainu had named it the Throne of Fire.

The Ainu probably came into the Japanese
islands from the north, where the mainland and
i Saghalin are quite near each other.

Still further yet, in this England of the East,

I before some Asian William the Conqueror came

j over from the Normandy of Corea, were still

[ other folks than Malay and Ainu. Between Co-

I rea and Kiushiu, there are islands which are like

stepping-stones to help boatmen from sunset to

sunrise. This is just where the southern points

of the two countries bend nearest each other. On

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Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisJapan in history, folk lore and art → online text (page 1 of 13)