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Nine Years in Nipon; Sketches of Japanese Life and Manners

Nature volume 31, page 288 | Download Citation

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Abstract

THE author of this beautiful and entertaining volume is a missionary doctor who, in the course of his nine years' residence in Japan, has, as he tells us, mixed with every class in the country except the very highest. He has visited most of the usual sights, such as Fuji, Nikko, and the inland sea, but otherwise his professional duties appear to have kept him very close to Tokio. To make up for this he has seen the lower and middle classes of Japan as few other Europeans have had the opportunity of seeing them, and after all he is able to say that the land is not all barren. He stands up bravely against the redoubtable Miss Bird for the much maligned morality of the Japanese people. He thinks that brilliant lady's dictum that the nation is sunk in immorality extremely harsh and erroneous. The recent intellectual progress of the Japanese is, he believes, very striking, though not as yet so general as many have supposed; their political progress is unprecedented, but he thinks that on the whole the moral elevation of the mass of the people within the last decade has been still more striking and noteworthy. A considerable portion of the volume is made up of bright, lively sketches of scenes by the way in Tokio, and along the roads in the interior. These are very well done, but they might almost be equally well done by an ordinary tourist with some literary gifts and graces. It is in the last half of the volume that we come on the real student and acute observer of Japan. It is only an old resident, whose familiarity with the everyday sights and sounds around him had never blunted his original sense of their picturesqueness and strangeness, that could have written the chapters on the Japanese philosophy of flowers, Japanese art in relation to nature, and how the Japanese amuse themselves. In connection with the universal spread of education throughout Japan (the author can only recall one or two clear instances in his experience of Japanese people being unable to read or write), he makes an observation which we do not remember to have seen or heard before, viz. that the cause is Buddhism. The effect of what he calls the new and genial enthusiasm of humanity, which came from India, taught everywhere the unity and brotherhood of man, and so literature could no longer be maintained as the peculiar possession of any caste of mere priests or princes. “My Garden and its Guests” is a delightful chapter of popular natural history. In an introductory chapter, in which he surveys the canvas on which he is about to draw his sketches, he has a few words to say on the ethnology of the Japanese. He says that the Ainos, “in spite of a great deal of crude writing on the subject” (to which, it should be stated, Mr. Faulds has added his mite, though not in this book), cannot show any claim to be considered the aborigines; they are not necessarily older in their occupancy than the Japanese themselves. This heterodox statement is thrown oft with a nonchalant air, as of one making a common matter-of-fact observation; but it would be interesting to know the author's grounds for it. The shell-heaps (to take only a single instance) which have been found near Tokio, and even farther south, and which resemble in every respect heaps formed, or in process of formation, outside Aino villages in Yezo, form a strong argument the other way; we were under the impression, also, that history told us of the existence of Ainos on the spot on which Ota Dokan built himself the fort which afterwards grew into Yedo in the fifteenth century. But it seems waste of time to refer to such matters in the case of a man who has the hardihood to confess that he does not know exactly what a Mongol is, and that he thinks it only deepens our ignorance immensely to call another race Mongoloid. To make up for this, however, and by way of washing his hands clear of the matter, he gives all the original theories by which science, aided by tradition, accounts for the original migration of the Japanese people. As there are six points of the compass (zenith and nadir being added) in far-eastern cosmography, so there are theories of migration from each one of these six points:—(1) the soil (Buddhist view); (2) America; (3) China, or Accadia; (4) Africa, or the Malay Peninsula, or the Southern Isles of the Pacific; (5) Saghalin, or Kamtschatka; (6) the celestial regions of the Sun; with which comprehensive category Mr. Faulds takes leave of ethnology. For the rest, the book is as charming in all externals as in its contents. It should take its place in the front rank among popular books on Japan; indeed, since Mitford's “Tales of Old Japan,” we cannot recall a more interesting volume on the country, or one which should be more read in England.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/031288a0

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