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The Soul of the Far East   By: (1855-1916)

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By Percival Lowell


Chapter 1. Individuality

Chapter 2. Family

Chapter 3. Adoption

Chapter 4. Language

Chapter 5. Nature and Art

Chapter 6. Art

Chapter 7. Religion

Chapter 8. Imagination

Chapter 1. Individuality.

The boyish belief that on the other side of our globe all things are of necessity upside down is startlingly brought back to the man when he first sets foot at Yokohama. If his initial glance does not, to be sure, disclose the natives in the every day feat of standing calmly on their heads, an attitude which his youthful imagination conceived to be a necessary consequence of their geographical position, it does at least reveal them looking at the world as if from the standpoint of that eccentric posture. For they seem to him to see everything topsy turvy. Whether it be that their antipodal situation has affected their brains, or whether it is the mind of the observer himself that has hitherto been wrong in undertaking to rectify the inverted pictures presented by his retina, the result, at all events, is undeniable. The world stands reversed, and, taking for granted his own uprightness, the stranger unhesitatingly imputes to them an obliquity of vision, a state of mind outwardly typified by the cat like obliqueness of their eyes.

If the inversion be not precisely of the kind he expected, it is none the less striking, and impressibly more real. If personal experience has definitely convinced him that the inhabitants of that under side of our planet do not adhere to it head downwards, like flies on a ceiling, his early a priori deduction, they still appear quite as antipodal, mentally considered. Intellectually, at least, their attitude sets gravity at defiance. For to the mind's eye their world is one huge, comical antithesis of our own. What we regard intuitively in one way from our standpoint, they as intuitively observe in a diametrically opposite manner from theirs. To speak backwards, write backwards, read backwards, is but the a b c of their contrariety. The inversion extends deeper than mere modes of expression, down into the very matter of thought. Ideas of ours which we deemed innate find in them no home, while methods which strike us as preposterously unnatural appear to be their birthright. From the standing of a wet umbrella on its handle instead of its head to dry to the striking of a match away in place of toward one, there seems to be no action of our daily lives, however trivial, but finds with them its appropriate reaction equal but opposite. Indeed, to one anxious of conforming to the manners and customs of the country, the only road to right lies in following unswervingly that course which his inherited instincts assure him to be wrong.

Yet these people are human beings; with all their eccentricities they are men. Physically we cannot but be cognizant of the fact, nor mentally but be conscious of it. Like us, indeed, and yet so unlike are they that we seem, as we gaze at them, to be viewing our own humanity in some mirth provoking mirror of the mind, a mirror that shows us our own familiar thoughts, but all turned wrong side out. Humor holds the glass, and we become the sport of our own reflections. But is it otherwise at home? Do not our personal presentments mock each of us individually our lives long? Who but is the daily dupe of his dressing glass, and complacently conceives himself to be a very different appearing person from what he is, forgetting that his right side has become his left, and vice versa? Yet who, when by chance he catches sight in like manner of the face of a friend, can keep from smiling at the caricatures which the mirror's left for right reversal makes of the asymmetry of that friend's features, caricatures all the more grotesque for being utterly unsuspected by their innocent original? Perhaps, could we once see ourselves as others see us, our surprise in the case of foreign peoples might be less pronounced... Continue reading book >>

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