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The Japanese Spirit   By: (1868-1936)

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Bellario Sir, if I have made A fault in ignorance, instruct my youth: I shall be willing, if not able, to learn: Age and experience will adorn my mind With larger knowledge; and if I have done A wilful fault, think me not past all hope For once.

Philaster , Act. II. Sc. I.


The following pages owe their existence to Mr. Martin White, whose keen interest in comparative sociology led to the opening of special courses for its investigation in the University of London.

My thanks are due to Mr. P.J. Hartog, Academic Registrar of the University, as well as to Dr. and Mrs. E.R. Edwards, who inspired me with the courage to take the present task on my inexperienced shoulders. But above all I render the expression of my deepest obligation to Professor Walter Rippmann. Had it not been for his friendly interest and help, I would not have been able thus to come before an English public. For the peculiarities of thought and language, which, if nothing else, might at least make the booklet worthy of a perusal, I naturally assume the full responsibility myself.

With these prefatory words, I venture to submit this essay to the lenient reception of my readers.


We have had illuminating books upon Japan. Those of Lafcadio Hearn will always be remembered for the poetry he brought in them to bear upon the poetic aspects of the country and the people. Buddhism had a fascination for him, as it had for Mr. Fielding in his remarkable book on the practice of this religion in Burma.[1] There is also the work of Captain Brinkley, to which we are largely indebted.

These Lectures by a son of the land, delivered at the University of London, are compendious and explicit in a degree that enables us to form a summary of much that has been otherwise partially obscure, so that we get nearer to the secret of this singular race than we have had the chance of doing before. He traces the course of Confucianism, Laoism, Shintoism, in the instruction it has given to his countrymen for the practice of virtue, as to which Lao tze informs us with a piece of 'Chinese metaphysics' that can be had without having recourse to the dictionary: ' Superior virtue is non virtue. Therefore it has virtue. Inferior virtue never loses sight of virtue. Therefore it has no virtue. Superior virtue is non assertive and without pretension. Inferior virtue asserts and makes pretensions. ' It is childishly subtle and easy to be understood of a young people in whose minds Buddhism and Shintoism formed a part.

The Japanese have had the advantage of possessing a native Nobility who were true nobles, not invaders and subjugators. They were, in the highest sense, men of honor to whom, before the time of this dreadful war, Hara kiri was an imperative resource, under the smallest suspicion of disgrace. How rigidly they understood and practised Virtue, in the sense above cited, is exemplified in the way they renounced their privileges for the sake of the commonweal when the gates of Japan were thrown open to the West.

Bushido, or the 'way of the Samurai,' has become almost an English word, so greatly has it impressed us with the principle of renunciation on behalf of the Country's welfare. This splendid conception of duty has been displayed again and again at Port Arthur and on the fields of Manchuria, not only by the Samurai, but by a glorious commonalty imbued with the spirit of their chiefs.

All this is shown clearly by Professor Okakura in this valuable book.

It proves to general comprehension that such a people must be unconquerable even if temporarily defeated; and that is not the present prospect of things. Who could conquer a race of forty millions having the contempt of death when their country's inviolability is at stake! Death, moreover, is despised by them because they do not believe in it... Continue reading book >>

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