The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

Patterns of Japanese Culture

by Ruth Benedict {1946}

Part I


Japanese men and women who had been born or educated in Japan and who were living in the United States during the war years were placed in a most difficult position. They were distrusted by many Americans. I take special pleasure, therefore, in testifying to their help and kindness during the time when I was gathering the material for this book. My thanks are due them in very special measure. I am especially grateful to my wartime colleague, Robert Hashima. Born in this country, brought up in Japan, he chose to return to the United States in 1941. He was interned in a War Relocation Camp, and I met him when he came to Washington to work in the war agencies of the United States.

My thanks are also due to the Office of War Information, which gave me the assignment on which I report in this book, and especially to Professor George E. Taylor, Deputy Director for the Far East, and to Commander Alexander H. Leighton, MC-USNR, who headed the Foreign Morale Analysis Division.

I wish to thank also those who have read this book in whole or in part: Commander Leighton, Professor Clyde Kluckhohn and Dr. Nathan Leites, all of whom were in the Office of War Information during the time I was working on Japan and who assisted in many ways; Professor Conrad Arensberg, Dr. Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson and E. H. Norman. I am grateful to all of them for suggestions and help.

Ruth Benedict

The author wishes to thank the publishers who have given her permission to quote from their publications: D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc., for permission to quote from Behind the Face of Japan, by Upton Close; Edward Arnold and Company for permission to quote from Japanese Buddhism, by Sir Charles Eliot; The John Day Company, Inc., for permission to quote from My Narrow Isle, by Sumie Mishima; J. M. Dent and Sons, Ltd., for permission to quote from Life and Thought of Japan, by Yoshisaburo Okakura; Doubleday and Company for permission to quote from A Daughter of the Samurai, by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto; Penguin Books, Inc., and the Infantry Journal for permission to quote from an article by Colonel Harold Doud in How the Jap Army Fights; Jarrolds Publishers (London), Ltd., for permission to quote from True Face of Japan, by K. Nohara; The Macmillan Company for permission to quote from Buddhist Sects of Japan, by E. Oberlin Steinilber, and from Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation, by Lafcadio Hearn; Rinehart and Company, Inc., for permission to quote from Japanese Nation, by John F. Embree; and The University of Chicago Press for permission to quote from Suye Mura, by John F. Embree.

1.Assignment: Japan1
2.The Japanese in the War20
3.Taking One’s Proper Station43
4.The Meiji Reform76
5.Debtor to the Ages and the World98
6.Repaying One-Ten-Thousandth114
7.The Repayment ‘Hardest to Bear’133
8.Clearing One’s Name145
9.The Circle of Human Feelings177
10.The Dilemma of Virtue195
12.The Child Learns253
13.The Japanese Since VJ-Day297


Assignment: Japan

The Japanese were the most alien enemy the United States had ever fought in an all-out struggle. In no other war with a major foe had it been necessary to take into account such exceedingly different habits of acting and thinking. Like Czarist Russia before us in 1905, we were fighting a nation fully armed and trained which did not belong to the Western cultural tradition. Conventions of war which Western nations had come to accept as facts of human nature obviously did not exist for the Japanese. It made the war in the Pacific more than a series of landings on island beaches, more than an unsurpassed problem of logistics. It made it a major problem in the nature of the enemy. We had to understand their behavior in order to cope with it.

The difficulties were great. During the past seventy-five years since Japan’s closed doors were opened, the Japanese have been described in the most fantastic series of ‘but also’s’ ever used for any nation of the world. When a serious observer is writing about peoples other than the Japanese and says they are unprecedentedly polite, he is not likely to add, ‘But also insolent and overbearing.’ When he says people of some nation are incomparably rigid in their behavior, he does not add, ‘But also they adapt themselves readily to extreme innovations.’ When he says a people are submissive, he does not explain too that they are not easily amenable to control from above. When he says they are loyal and generous, he does not declare, ‘But also treacherous and spiteful.’ When he says they are genuinely brave, he does not expatiate on their timidity. When he says they act out of concern for others’ opinions, he does not then go on to tell that they have a truly terrifying conscience. When he describes robot-like discipline in their Army, he does not continue by describing the way the soldiers in that Army take the bit in their own teeth even to the point of insubordination. When he describes a people who devote themselves with passion to Western learning, he does not also enlarge on their fervid conservatism. When he writes a book on a nation with a popular cult of aestheticism which gives high honor to actors and to artists and lavishes art upon the cultivation of chrysanthemums, that book does not ordinarily have to be supplemented by another which is devoted to the cult of the sword and the top prestige of the warrior.

All these contradictions, however, are the warp and woof of books on Japan. They are true. Both the sword and the chrysanthemum are a part of the picture. The Japanese are, to the highest degree, both aggressive and unaggressive, both militaristic and aesthetic, both insolent and polite, rigid and adaptable, submissive and resentful of being pushed around, loyal and treacherous, brave and timid, conservative and hospitable to new ways. They are terribly concerned about what other people will think of their behavior, and they are also overcome by guilt when other people know nothing of their misstep. Their soldiers are disciplined to the hilt but are also insubordinate.

When it became so important for America to understand Japan, these contradictions and many others equally blatant could not be waved aside. Crises were facing us in quick succession. What would the Japanese do? Was capitulation possible without invasion? Should we bomb the Emperor’s palace? What could we expect of Japanese prisoners of war? What should we say in our propaganda to Japanese troops and to the Japanese homeland which could save the lives of Americans and lessen Japanese determination to fight to the last man? There were violent disagreements among those who knew the Japanese best. When peace came, were the Japanese a people who would require perpetual martial law to keep them in order? Would our army have to prepare to fight desperate bitter-enders in every mountain fastness of Japan? Would there have to be a revolution in Japan after the order of the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution before international peace was possible? Who would lead it? Was the alternative the eradication of the Japanese? It made a great deal of difference what our judgments were.

In June, 1944, I was assigned to the study of Japan. I was asked to use all the techniques I could as a cultural anthropologist to spell out what the Japanese were like. During that early summer our great offensive against Japan had just begun to show itself in its true magnitude. People in the United States were still saying that the war with Japan would last three years, perhaps ten years, more. In Japan they talked of its lasting one hundred years. Americans, they said, had had local victories, but New Guinea and the Solomons were thousands of miles away from their home islands. Their official communiqués had hardly admitted naval defeats and the Japanese people still regarded themselves as victors.

In June, however, the situation began to change. The second front was opened in Europe and the military priority which the High Command had for two years and a half given to the European theater paid off. The end of the war against Germany was in sight. And in the Pacific our forces landed on Saipan, a great operation forecasting eventual Japanese defeat. From then on our soldiers were to face the Japanese army at constantly closer quarters. And we knew well, from the fighting in New Guinea, on Guadalcanal, in Burma, on Attu and Tarawa and Biak, that we were pitted against a formidable foe.

In June, 1944, therefore, it was important to answer a multitude of questions about our enemy, Japan. Whether the issue was military or diplomatic, whether it was raised by questions of high policy or of leaflets to be dropped behind the Japanese front lines, every insight was important. In the all-out war Japan was fighting we had to know, not just the aims and motives of those in power in Tokyo, not just the long history of Japan, not just economic and military statistics; we had to know what their government could count on from the people. We had to try to understand Japanese habits of thought and emotion and the patterns into which these habits fell. We had to know the sanctions behind these actions and opinions. We had to put aside for the moment the premises on which we act as Americans and to keep ourselves as far as possible from leaping to the easy conclusion that what we would do in a given situation was what they would do.

My assignment was difficult. America and Japan were at war and it is easy in wartime to condemn wholesale, but far harder to try to see how your enemy looks at life through his own eyes. Yet it had to be done. The question was how the Japanese would behave, not how we would behave if we were in their place. I had to try to use Japanese behavior in war as an asset in understanding them, not as a liability. I had to look at the way they conducted the war itself and see it not for the moment as a military problem but as a cultural problem. In warfare as well as in peace, the Japanese acted in character. What special indications of their way of life and thinking did they give in the way they handled warfare? Their leaders’ ways of whipping up war spirit, of reassuring the bewildered, of utilizing their soldiers in the field—all these things showed what they themselves regarded as the strengths on which they could capitalize. I had to follow the details of the war to see how the Japanese revealed themselves in it step by step.

The fact that our two nations were at war inevitably meant, however, a serious disadvantage. It meant that I had to forego the most important technique of the cultural anthropologist: a field trip. I could not go to Japan and live in their homes and watch the strains and stresses of daily life, see with my own eyes which were crucial and which were not. I could not watch them in the complicated business of arriving at a decision. I could not see their children being brought up. The one anthropologist’s field study of a Japanese village, John Embree’s Suye Mura, was invaluable, but many of the questions about Japan with which we were faced in 1944 were not raised when that study was written.

As a cultural anthropologist, in spite of these major difficulties, I had confidence in certain techniques and postulates which could be used. At least I did not have to forego the anthropologist’s great reliance upon face-to-face contact with the people he is studying. There were plenty of Japanese in this country who had been reared in Japan and I could ask them about the concrete facts of their own experiences, find out how they judged them, fill in from their descriptions many gaps in our knowledge which as an anthropologist I believed were essential in understanding any culture. Other social scientists who were studying Japan were using libraries, analyzing past events or statistics, following developments in the written or spoken word of Japanese propaganda. I had confidence that many of these answers they sought were embedded in the rules and values of Japanese culture and could be found more satisfactorily by exploring that culture with people who had really lived it.

This did not mean that I did not read and that I was not constantly indebted to Westerners who had lived in Japan. The vast literature on the Japanese and the great number of good Occidental observers who have lived in Japan gave me an advantage which no anthropologist has when he goes to the Amazon headwaters or the New Guinea highlands to study a non-literate tribe. Having no written language such tribes have committed no self-revelations to paper. Comments by Westerners are few and superficial. Nobody knows their past history. The field worker must discover without any help from previous students the way their economic life works, how stratified their society is, what is uppermost in their religious life. In studying Japan, I was the heir of many students. Descriptions of small details of life were tucked away in antiquarian papers. Men and women from Europe and America had set down their vivid experiences, and the Japanese themselves had written really extraordinary self-revelations. Unlike many Oriental people they have a great impulse to write themselves out. They wrote about the trivia of their lives as well as about their programs of world expansion. They were amazingly frank. Of course they did not present the whole picture. No people does. A Japanese who writes about Japan passes over really crucial things which are as familiar to him and as invisible as the air he breathes. So do Americans when they write about America. But just the same the Japanese loved self-revelation.

I read this literature as Darwin says he read when he was working out his theories on the origin of species, noting what I had not the means to understand. What would I need to know to understand the juxtaposition of ideas in a speech in the Diet? What could lie back of their violent condemnation of some act that seemed venial and their easy acceptance of one that seemed outrageous? I read, asking the ever-present question: What is ‘wrong with this picture’? What would I need to know to understand it?

I went to movies, too, which had been written and produced in Japan—propaganda movies, historical movies, movies of contemporary life in Tokyo and in the farm villages. I went over them afterward with Japanese who had seen some of these same movies in Japan and who in any case saw the hero and the heroine and the villain as Japanese see them, not as I saw them. When I was at sea, it was clear that they were not. The plots, the motivations were not as I saw them, but they made sense in terms of the way the movie was constructed. As with the novels, there was much more difference than met the eye between what they meant to me and what they meant to the Japanese-reared. Some of these Japanese were quick to come to the defense of Japanese conventions and some hated everything Japanese. It is hard to say from which group I learned most. In the intimate picture they gave of how one regulates one’s life in Japan they agreed, whether they accepted it gladly or rejected it with bitterness.

In so far as the anthropologist goes for his material and his insights directly to the people of the culture he is studying, he is doing what all the ablest Western observers have done who have lived in Japan. If this were all an anthropologist had to offer, he could not hope to add to the valuable studies which foreign residents have made of the Japanese. The cultural anthropologist, however, has certain qualifications as a result of his training which appeared to make it worth his while to try to add his own contribution in a field rich in students and observers.

The anthropologist knows many cultures of Asia and the Pacific. There are many social arrangements and habits of life in Japan which have close parallels even in the primitive tribes of the Pacific islands. Some of these parallels are in Malaysia, some in New Guinea, some in Polynesia. It is interesting, of course, to speculate on whether these show some ancient migrations or contacts, but this problem of possible historical relationship was not the reason why knowledge of these cultural similarities was valuable to me. It was rather that I knew in these simpler cultures how these institutions worked and could get clues to Japanese life from the likeness or the difference I found. I knew, too, something about Siam and Burma and China on the mainland of Asia, and I could therefore compare Japan with other nations which are a part of its great cultural heritage. Anthropologists had shown over and over in their studies of primitive people how valuable such cultural comparisons can be. A tribe may share ninety per cent of its formal observances with its neighbors and yet it may have revamped them to fit a way of life and a set of values which it does not share with any surrounding peoples. In the process it may have had to reject some fundamental arrangements which, however small in proportion to the whole, turn its future course of development in a unique direction. Nothing is more helpful to an anthropologist than to study contrasts he finds between peoples who on the whole share many traits.

Anthropologists also have had to accustom themselves to maximum differences between their own culture and another and their techniques have to be sharpened for this particular problem. They know from experience that there are great differences in the situations which men in different cultures have to meet and in the way in which different tribes and nations define the meanings of these situations. In some Arctic village or tropical desert they were faced with tribal arrangements of kinship responsibility or financial exchange which in their moments of most unleashed imagination they could not have invented. They have had to investigate, not only the details of kinship or exchange, but what the consequences of these arrangements were in the tribe’s behavior and how each generation was conditioned from childhood to carry on as their ancestors had done before them.

This professional concern with differences and their conditioning and their consequences could well be used in the study of Japan. No one is unaware of the deep-rooted cultural differences between the United States and Japan. We have even a folklore about the Japanese which says that whatever we do they do the opposite. Such a conviction of difference is dangerous only if a student rests content with saying simply that these differences are so fantastic that it is impossible to understand such people. The anthropologist has good proof in his experience that even bizarre behavior does not prevent one’s understanding it. More than any other social scientist he has professionally used differences as an asset rather than a liability. There is nothing that has made him pay such sharp attention to institutions and peoples as the fact that they were phenomenally strange. There was nothing he could take for granted in his tribe’s way of living and it made him look not just at a few selected facts, but at everything. In studies of Western nations one who is untrained in studies of comparative cultures overlooks whole areas of behavior. He takes so much for granted that he does not explore the range of trivial habits in daily living and all those accepted verdicts on homely matters, which, thrown large on the national screen, have more to do with that nation’s future than treaties signed by diplomats.

The anthropologist has had to develop techniques for studying the commonplace because those things that are commonplaces in the tribe he was studying were so different from their counterparts in his own home country. When he tried to understand the extreme maliciousness of some tribe or the extreme timidity of another, when he tried to plot out the way they would act and feel in a given situation, he found he had to draw heavily on observations and details that are not often noted about civilized nations. He had good reason to believe they were essential and he knew the kind of research that would unearth them.

It was worth trying in the case of Japan. For it is only when one has noted the intensely human commonplaces of any people’s existence that one appreciates at its full importance the anthropologist’s premise that human behavior in any primitive tribe or in any nation in the forefront of civilization is learned in daily living. No matter how bizarre his act or his opinion, the way a man feels and thinks has some relation to his experience. The more baffled I was at some bit of behavior, the more I therefore assumed that there existed somewhere in Japanese life some ordinary conditioning of such strangeness. If the search took me into trivial details of daily intercourse, so much the better. That was where people learned.

As a cultural anthropologist also I started from the premise that the most isolated bits of behavior have some systematic relation to each other. I took seriously the way hundreds of details fall into over-all patterns. A human society must make for itself some design for living. It approves certain ways of meeting situations, certain ways of sizing them up. People in that society regard these solutions as foundations of the universe. They integrate them, no matter what the difficulties. Men who have accepted a system of values by which to live cannot without courting inefficiency and chaos keep for long a fenced-off portion of their lives where they think and behave according to a contrary set of values. They try to bring about more conformity. They provide themselves with some common rationale and some common motivations. Some degree of consistency is necessary or the whole scheme falls to pieces.

Economic behavior, family arrangements, religious rites and political objectives therefore become geared into one another. Changes in one area may occur more rapidly than in others and subject these other areas to great stress, but the stress itself arises from the need for consistency. In pre-literate societies committed to the pursuit of power over others, the will to power is expressed in their religious practices no less than in their economic transactions and in their relations with other tribes. In civilized nations which have old written scriptures, the Church necessarily retains the phrases of past centuries, as tribes without written language do not, but it abdicates authority in those fields which would interfere with increasing public approval of economic and political power. The words remain but the meaning is altered. Religious dogmas, economic practices and politics do not stay dammed up in neat separate little ponds but they overflow their supposed boundaries and their waters mingle inextricably one with the other. Because this is always true, the more a student has seemingly scattered his investigation among facts of economics and sex and religion and the care of the baby, the better he can follow what is happening in the society he studies. He can draw up his hypotheses and get his data in any area of life with profit. He can learn to see the demands any nation makes, whether they are phrased in political, economic, or moral terms, as expressions of habits and ways of thinking which are learned in their social experience. This volume therefore is not a book specifically about Japanese religion or economic life or politics or the family. It examines Japanese assumptions about the conduct of life. It describes these assumptions as they have manifested themselves whatever the activity in hand. It is about what makes Japan a nation of Japanese.

One of the handicaps of the twentieth century is that we still have the vaguest and most biased notions, not only of what makes Japan a nation of Japanese, but of what makes the United States a nation of Americans, France a nation of Frenchmen, and Russia a nation of Russians. Lacking this knowledge, each country misunderstands the other. We fear irreconcilable differences when the trouble is only between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and we talk about common purposes when one nation by virtue of its whole experience and system of values has in mind a quite different course of action from the one we meant. We do not give ourselves a chance to find out what their habits and values are. If we did, we might discover that a course of action is not necessarily vicious because it is not the one we know.

It is not possible to depend entirely upon what each nation says of its own habits of thought and action. Writers in every nation have tried to give an account of themselves. But it is not easy. The lenses through which any nation looks at life are not the ones another nation uses. It is hard to be conscious of the eyes through which one looks. Any country takes them for granted, and the tricks of focusing and of perspective which give to any people its national view of life seem to that people the god-given arrangement of the landscape. In any matter of spectacles, we do not expect the man who wears them to know the formula for the lenses, and neither can we expect nations to analyze their own outlook upon the world. When we want to know about spectacles, we train an oculist and expect him to be able to write out the formula for any lenses we bring him. Some day no doubt we shall recognize that it is the job of the social scientist to do this for the nations of the contemporary world.

The job requires both a certain tough-mindedness and a certain generosity. It requires a tough-mindedness which people of good will have sometimes condemned. These protagonists of One World have staked their hopes on convincing people of every corner of the earth that all the differences between East and West, black and white, Christian and Mohammedan, are superficial and that all mankind is really like-minded. This view is sometimes called the brotherhood of man. I do not know why believing in the brotherhood of man should mean that one cannot say that the Japanese have their own version of the conduct of life and that Americans have theirs. It sometimes seems as if the tender-minded could not base a doctrine of good will upon anything less than a world of peoples each of which is a print from the same negative. But to demand such uniformity as a condition of respecting another nation is as neurotic as to demand it of one’s wife or one’s children. The tough-minded are content that differences should exist. They respect differences. Their goal is a world made safe for differences, where the United States may be American to the hilt without threatening the peace of the world, and France may be France, and Japan may be Japan on the same conditions. To forbid the ripening of any of these attitudes toward life by outside interference seems wanton to any student who is not himself convinced that differences need be a Damocles’ sword hanging over the world. Nor need he fear that by taking such a position he is helping to freeze the world into the status quo. Encouraging cultural differences would not mean a static world. England did not lose her Englishness because an Age of Elizabeth was followed by an Age of Queen Anne and a Victorian Era. It was just because the English were so much themselves that different standards and different national moods could assert themselves in different generations.

Systematic study of national differences requires a certain generosity as well as tough-mindedness. The study of comparative religions has flourished only when men were secure enough in their own convictions to be unusually generous. They might be Jesuits or Arabic savants or unbelievers, but they could not be zealots. The study of comparative cultures too cannot flourish when men are so defensive about their own way of life that it appears to them to be by definition the sole solution in the world. Such men will never know the added love of their own culture which comes from a knowledge of other ways of life. They cut themselves off from a pleasant and enriching experience. Being so defensive, they have no alternative but to demand that other nations adopt their own particular solutions. As Americans they urge our favorite tenets on all nations. And other nations can no more adopt our ways of life on demand than we could learn to do our calculations in units of 12’s instead of 10’s, or stand on one foot in repose like certain East African natives.

This book, then, is about habits that are expected and taken for granted in Japan. It is about those situations when any Japanese can count on courtesy and those situations when he cannot, about when he feels shame, when he feels embarrassment, what he requires of himself. The ideal authority for any statement in this book would be the proverbial man in the street. It would be anybody. That does not mean that this anybody would in his own person have been placed in each particular circumstance. It does mean that anybody would recognize that that was how it was under those conditions. The goal of such a study as this is to describe deeply entrenched attitudes of thought and behavior. Even when it falls short, this was nevertheless the ideal.

In such a study one quickly reaches the point where the testimony of great numbers of additional informants provides no further validation. Who bows to whom and when, for instance, needs no statistical study of all Japan; the approved and customary circumstances can be reported by almost any one and after a few confirmations it is not necessary to get the same information from a million Japanese.

The student who is trying to uncover the assumptions upon which Japan builds its way of life has a far harder task than statistical validation. The great demand upon him is to report how these accepted practices and judgments become the lenses through which the Japanese see existence. He has to state the way in which their assumptions affect the focus and perspective in which they view life. He has to try to make this intelligible to Americans who see existence in very different focus. In this task of analysis the court of authority is not necessarily Tanaka San, the Japanese ‘anybody.’ For Tanaka San does not make his assumptions explicit, and interpretations written for Americans will undoubtedly seem to him unduly labored.

American studies of societies have not often been planned to study the premises on which civilized cultures are built. Most studies assume that these premises are self-evident. Sociologists and psychologists are preoccupied with the ‘scatter’ of opinion and behavior, and the stock technique is statistical. They subject to statistical analysis masses of census material, great numbers of answers to questionnaires or to interviewers’ questions, psychological measurements and the like, and attempt to derive the independence or interdependence of certain factors. In the field of public opinion, the valuable technique of polling the country by using a scientifically selected sample of the population has been highly perfected in the United States. It is possible to discover how many people support or oppose a certain candidate for public office or a certain policy. Supporters and opponents can be classified as rural or urban, low income or high income, Republicans or Democrats. In a country with universal suffrage, where laws are actually drafted and enacted by the people’s representatives, such findings have practical importance.

Americans can poll Americans and understand the findings, but they can do this because of a prior step which is so obvious that no one mentions it: they know and take for granted the conduct of life in the United States. The results of polling tell more about what we already know. In trying to understand another country, systematic qualitative study of the habits and assumptions of its people is essential before a poll can serve to good advantage. By careful sampling, a poll can discover how many people are for or against government. But what does that tell us about them unless we know what their notions are about the State? Only so can we know what the factions are disputing about, in the streets or in the Diet. A nation’s assumptions about government are of much more general and permanent importance than figures of party strength. In the United States, the Government, to both Republicans and Democrats, is almost a necessary evil and it limits individual freedom; Government employment, too, except perhaps in wartime, does not give a man the standing he gets from an equivalent job in private enterprise. This version of the State is a far cry from the Japanese version, and even from that of many European nations. What we need to know first of all is just what their version is. Their view is embodied in their folkways, in their comments on successful men, in their myth of their national history, in their speeches on national holidays; and it can be studied in these indirect manifestations. But it requires systematic study.

The basic assumptions which any nation makes about living, the solutions it has sanctioned, can be studied with as much attention and as much detail as we give to finding out what proportion of a population will vote yes and no in an election. Japan was a country whose fundamental assumptions were well worth exploring. Certainly I found that once I had seen where my Occidental assumptions did not fit into their view of life and had got some idea of the categories and symbols they used, many contradictions Westerners are accustomed to see in Japanese behavior were no longer contradictions. I began to see how it was that the Japanese themselves saw certain violent swings of behavior as integral parts of a system consistent within itself. I can try to show why. As I worked with them, they began to use strange phrases and ideas which turned out to have great implications and to be full of age-long emotion. Virtue and vice as the Occident understands them had undergone a sea-change. The system was singular. It was not Buddhism and it was not Confucianism. It was Japanese—the strength and the weakness of Japan.


The Japanese in the War

In Every cultural tradition there are orthodoxies of war and certain of these are shared in all Western nations, no matter what the specific differences. There are certain clarion calls to all-out war effort, certain forms of reassurance in case of local defeats, certain regularities in the proportion of fatalities to surrenders, and certain rules of behavior for prisoners of war which are predictable in wars between Western nations just because they have a great shared cultural tradition which covers even warfare.

All the ways in which the Japanese departed from Western conventions of war were data on their view of life and on their convictions of the whole duty of man. For the purposes of a systematic study of Japanese culture and behavior it did not matter whether or not their deviations from our orthodoxies were crucial in a military sense; any of them might be important because they raised questions about the character of the Japanese to which we needed answers.

The very premises which Japan used to justify her war were the opposite of America’s. She defined the international situation differently. America laid the war to the aggressions of the Axis. Japan, Italy, and Germany had unrighteously offended against international peace by their acts of conquest. Whether the Axis had seized power in Manchukuo or in Ethiopia or in Poland, it proved that they had embarked on an evil course of oppressing weak peoples. They had sinned against an international code of ‘live and let live’ or at least of ‘open doors’ for free enterprise. Japan saw the cause of the war in another light. There was anarchy in the world as long as every nation had absolute sovereignty; it was necessary for her to fight to establish a hierarchy—under Japan, of course, since she alone represented a nation truly hierarchal from top to bottom and hence understood the necessity of taking ‘one’s proper place.’ Japan, having attained unification and peace in her homeland, having put down banditry and built up roads and electric power and steel industries, having, according to her official figures, educated 99.5 per cent of her rising generation in her public schools, should, according to Japanese premises of hierarchy, raise her backward younger brother China. Being of the same race as Greater East Asia, she should eliminate the United States, and after her Britain and Russia, from that part of the world and ‘take her proper place.’ All nations were to be one world, fixed in an international hierarchy. In the next chapter we shall examine what this high value placed on hierarchy meant in Japanese culture. It was an appropriate fantasy for Japan to create. Unfortunately for her the countries she occupied did not see it in the same light. Nevertheless not even defeat has drawn from her moral repudiation of her Greater East Asia ideals, and even her prisoners of war who were least jingoistic rarely went so far as to arraign the purposes of Japan on the continent and in the Southwest Pacific. For a long, long time Japan will necessarily keep some of her inbred attitudes and one of the most important of these is her faith and confidence in hierarchy. It is alien to equality-loving Americans but it is nevertheless necessary for us to understand what Japan meant by hierarchy and what advantages she has learned to connect with it.

Japan likewise put her hopes of victory on a different basis from that prevalent in the United States. She would win, she cried, a victory of spirit over matter. America was big, her armaments were superior, but what did that matter? All this, they said, had been foreseen and discounted. ‘If we had been afraid of mathematical figures,’ the Japanese read in their great newspaper, the Mainichi Shimbun, ‘the war would not have started. The enemy’s great resources were not created by this war.’

Even when she was winning, her civilian statesmen, her High Command, and her soldiers repeated that this was no contest between armaments; it was a pitting of our faith in things against their faith in spirit. When we were winning they repeated over and over that in such a contest material power must necessarily fail. This dogma became, no doubt, a convenient alibi about the time of the defeats at Saipan and Iwo Jima, but it was not manufactured as an alibi for defeats. It was a clarion call during all the months of Japanese victories, and it had been an accepted slogan long before Pearl Harbor. In the nineteen-thirties General Araki, fanatical militarist and one-time Minister of War, wrote in a pamphlet addressed ‘To the whole Japanese Race’ that ‘the true mission’ of Japan was ‘to spread and glorify the Imperial way to the end of the Four Seas. Inadequacy of strength is not our worry. Why should we worry about that which is material?’

Of course, like any other nation preparing for war, they did worry. All through the nineteen-thirties the proportion of their national income which was devoted to armament grew astronomically. By the time of their attack on Pearl Harbor very nearly half the entire national income was going to military and naval purposes, and of the total expenditures of the government only 17 per cent were available for financing anything having to do with civilian administration. The difference between Japan and Western nations was not that Japan was careless about material armament. But ships and guns were just the outward show of the undying Japanese Spirit. They were symbols much as the sword of the samurai had been the symbol of his virtue.

Japan was as completely consistent in playing up non-material resources as the United States was in its commitment to bigness. Japan had to campaign for all-out production just as the United States did, but her campaigns were based on her own premises. The spirit, she said, was all and was everlasting; material things were necessary, of course, but they were subordinate and fell by the way. ‘There are limits to material resources,’ the Japanese radio would cry: ‘it stands to reason that material things cannot last a thousand years.’ And this reliance on spirit was taken literally in the routine of war; then: war catechisms used the slogan—and it was a traditional one, not made to order for this war—‘To match our training against their numbers and our flesh against their steel.’ Their war manuals began with the bold-type line, ‘Read this and the war is won.’ Their pilots who flew their midget planes in a suicidal crash into our warships were an endless text for the superiority of the spiritual over the material. They named them the Kamikaze Corps, for the kamikaze was the divine wind which had saved Japan from Genghis Khan’s invasion in the thirteenth century by scattering and overturning his transports.

Even in civilian situations Japanese authorities took literally the dominance of spirit over material circumstances. Were people fatigued by twelve-hour work in the factories and all-night bombings? ‘The heavier our bodies, the higher our will, our spirit, rises above them.’ ‘The wearier we are, the more splendid the training.’ Were people cold in the bomb shelters in winter? On the radio the Dai Nippon Physical Culture Society prescribed body-warming calisthenics which would not only be a substitute for heating facilities and bedding, but, better still, would substitute for food no longer available to keep up people’s normal strength. ‘Of course some may say that with the present food shortages we cannot think of doing calisthenics. No! The more shortage of food there is, the more we must raise our physical strength by other means.’ That is, we must increase our physical strength by expending still more of it. The American’s view of bodily energy which always reckons how much strength he has to use by whether he had eight or five hours of sleep last night, whether he has eaten his regular meals, whether he has been cold, is here confronted with a calculus that does not rely on storing up energy. That would be materialistic.

Japanese broadcasts went even farther during the war. In battle, spirit surmounted even the physical fact of death. One broadcast described a hero-pilot and the miracle of his conquest of death:

After the air battles were over, the Japanese planes returned to their base in small formations of three or four. A Captain was in one of the first planes to return. After alighting from his plane, he stood on the ground and gazed into the sky through binoculars. As his men returned, he counted. He looked rather pale, but he was quite steady. After the last plane returned he made out a report and proceeded to Headquarters. At Headquarters he made his report to the Commanding Officer. As soon as he had finished his report, however, he suddenly dropped to the ground. The officers on the spot rushed to give assistance but alas! he was dead. On examining his body it was found that it was already cold, and he had a bullet wound in his chest, which had proved fatal. It is impossible for the body of a newly-dead person to be cold. Nevertheless the body of the dead captain was as cold as ice. The Captain must have been dead long before, and it was his spirit that made the report. Such a miraculous fact must have been achieved by the strict sense of responsibility that the dead Captain possessed.

To Americans, of course, this is an outrageous yarn but educated Japanese did not laugh at this broadcast. They felt sure it would not be taken as a tall tale by listeners in Japan. First they pointed out that the broadcaster had truthfully said that the captain’s feat was ‘a miraculous fact.’ But why not? The soul could be trained; obviously the captain was a past-master of self-discipline. If all Japan knew that ‘a composed spirit could last a thousand years,’ could it not last a few hours in the body of an air-force captain who had made ‘responsibility’ the central law of his whole life? The Japanese believed that technical disciplines could be used to enable a man to make his spirit supreme. The captain had learned and profited.

As Americans we can completely discount these Japanese excesses as the alibis of a poor nation or the childishness of a deluded one. If we did, however, we would be, by that much, the less able to deal with them in war or in peace. Their tenets have been bred into the Japanese by certain taboos and refusals, by certain methods of training and discipline, and these tenets are not mere isolated oddities. Only if Americans have recognized them can we realize what they are saying when, in defeat, they acknowledge that spirit was not enough and that defending positions ‘with bamboo spears’ was a fantasy. It is still more important that we be able to appreciate their acknowledgement that their spirit was insufficient and that it was matched in battle and in the factory by the spirit of the American people. As they said after their defeat: during the war they had ‘engaged in subjectivity.’

Japanese ways of saying all kinds of things during the war, not only about the necessity of hierarchy and the supremacy of spirit, were revealing to a student of comparative cultures. They talked constantly about security and morale being only a matter of being forewarned. No matter what the catastrophe, whether it was civilian bombing or defeat at Saipan or their failure to defend the Philippines, the Japanese line to their people was that this was foreknown and that there was therefore nothing to worry about. The radio went to great lengths, obviously counting on the reassurance it gave to the Japanese people to be told that they were living still in a thoroughly known world. ‘The American occupation of Kiska brings Japan within the radius of American bombers. But we were well aware of this contingency and have made the necessary preparations.’ ‘The enemy doubtless will make an offensive against us by combined land, sea and air operations, but this has been taken account of by us in our plans.’ Prisoners of war, even those who hoped for Japan’s early defeat in a hopeless war, were sure that bombing would not weaken Japanese on the home front ‘because they were forewarned.’ When Americans began bombing Japanese cities, the vice-president of the Aviation Manufacturer’s Association broadcast: ‘Enemy planes finally have come over our very heads. However, we who are engaged in the aircraft production industry and who had always expected this to happen had made complete preparations to cope with this. Therefore, there is nothing to worry about.’ Only granted all was foreknown, all was fully planned, could the Japanese go on to make the claim so necessary to them that everything had been actively willed by themselves alone; nobody had put anything over on them. ‘We should not think that we have been passively attacked but that we have actively pulled the enemy toward us.’ ‘Enemy, come if you wish. Instead of saying, “Finally what was to come has come,” we will say rather, “That which we were waiting for has come. We are glad it has come.” ’ The Navy Minister quoted in the Diet the teachings of the great warrior of the eighteen-seventies, Takamori Saigo, ‘There are two kinds of opportunities: one which we chance upon, the other which we create. In time of great difficulty, one must not fail to create his opportunity.’ And General Yamashito, when American troops marched into Manila, ‘remarked with a broad smile,’ the radio said, ‘that now the enemy is in our bosom. . . .’ ‘The rapid fall of Manila, shortly after the enemy landings in Lingayen Bay, was only possible as a result of General Yamashito’s tactics and in accordance with his plans. General Yamashito’s operations are now making continuous progress.’ In other words, nothing succeeds like defeat.

Americans went as far in the opposite direction as the Japanese in theirs. Americans threw themselves into the war effort because this fight had been forced upon us. We had been attacked, therefore let the enemy beware. No spokesman, planning how he could reassure the rank and file of Americans, said of Pearl Harbor or of Bataan, ‘These were fully taken account of by us in our plans.’ Our officials said instead, ‘The enemy asked for it. We will show them what we can do.’ Americans gear all their living to a constantly challenging world—and are prepared to accept the challenge. Japanese reassurances are based rather on a way of life that is planned and charted beforehand and where the greatest threat comes from the unforeseen.

Another constant theme in Japanese conduct of the war was also revealing about Japanese life. They continually spoke of how ‘the eyes of the world were upon them.’ Therefore they must show to the full the spirit of Japan. Americans landed on Guadalcanal, and Japanese orders to troops were that now they were under direct observation ‘by the world’ and should show what they were made of. Japanese seamen were warned that in case they were torpedoed and the order given to abandon ship, they should man the lifeboats with the utmost decorum or ‘the world will laugh at you. The Americans will take movies of you and show them in New York.’ It mattered what account they gave of themselves to the world. And their concern with this point also was a concern deeply embedded in Japanese culture.

The most famous question about Japanese attitudes concerned His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor. What was the hold of the Emperor on his subjects? Some American authorities pointed out that through all Japan’s seven feudal centuries the Emperor was a shadowy figurehead. Every man’s immediate loyalty was due to his lord, the daimyo, and, beyond that, to the military Generalissimo, the Shogun. Fealty to the Emperor was hardly an issue. He was kept secluded in an isolated court whose ceremonies and activities were rigorously circumscribed by the Shogun’s regulations. It was treason even for a great feudal lord to pay his respects to the Emperor, and for the people of Japan he hardly existed. Japan could only be understood by its history, these American analysts insisted; how could an Emperor who had been brought out from obscurity within the memory of still living people be the real rallying point of a conservative nation like Japan? The Japanese publicists who again and again reiterated the undying hold of the Emperor upon his subjects were over-protesting, they said, and their insistence only proved the weakness of their case. There was no reason, therefore, that American policy during the war should draw on kid gloves in dealing with the Emperor. There was every reason rather why we should direct our strongest attacks against this evil Fuehrer concept that Japan had recently concocted. It was the very heart of its modern nationalistic Shinto religion and if we undermined and challenged the sanctity of the Emperor, the whole structure of enemy Japan would fall in ruins.

Many capable Americans who knew Japan and who saw the reports from the front lines and from Japanese sources were of the opposite persuasion. Those who had lived in Japan well knew that nothing stung the Japanese people to bitterness and whipped up their morale like any depreciatory word against the Emperor or any outright attack on him. They did not believe that in attacking the Emperor we would in the eyes of the Japanese be attacking militarism. They had seen that reverence for the Emperor had been equally strong in those years after the First World War when ‘de-mok-ra-sie’ was the great watchword and militarism was so discredited that army men prudently changed to mufti before they went out on the streets of Tokyo. The reverence of the Japanese for their Imperial chief could not be compared, these old Japanese residents insisted, with Heil-Hitler veneration which was a barometer of the fortunes of the Nazi party and bound up with all the evils of a fascist program.

Certainly the testimony of Japanese prisoners of war bore them out. Unlike Western soldiers, these prisoners had not been instructed about what to say and what to keep silent about when captured and their responses on all subjects were strikingly unregimented. This failure to indoctrinate was of course due to Japan’s no-surrender policy. It was not remedied until the last months of the war, and even then only in certain armies or local units. The prisoners’ testimony was worth paying attention to for they represented a cross-section of opinion in the Japanese Army. They were not troops whose low morale had caused them to surrender—and who might therefore be atypical. All but a few were wounded and unconscious soldiers unable to resist when captured.

Japanese prisoners of war who were out-and-out bitter-enders imputed their extreme militarism to the Emperor and were ‘carrying out his will,’ ‘setting his mind at rest,’ ‘dying at the Emperor’s command.’ ‘The Emperor led the people into war and it was my duty to obey.’ But those who rejected this present war and future Japanese plans of conquest just as regularly ascribed their peaceful persuasions to the Emperor. He was all things to all men. The war-weary spoke of him as ‘his peace-loving Majesty’; they insisted that he ‘had always been liberal and against the war.’ ‘He had been deceived by Tojo.’ ‘During the Manchurian Incident he showed that he was against the military.’ ‘The war was started without the Emperor’s knowledge or permission. The Emperor does not like war and would not have permitted his people to be dragged into it. The Emperor does not know how badly treated his soldiers are.’ These were not statements like those of German prisoners of war who, however much they complained that Hitler had been betrayed by his generals or his high command, nevertheless ascribed war and the preparations for war to Hitler as supreme inciter. The Japanese prisoner of war was quite explicit that the reverence given the Imperial Household was separable from militarism and aggressive war policies.

The Emperor was to them, however, inseparable from Japan. ‘A Japan without the Emperor is not Japan.’ ‘Japan without the Emperor cannot be imagined.’ ‘The Japanese Emperor is the symbol of the Japanese people, the center of their religious lives. He is a super-religious object.’ Nor would he be blamed for the defeat if Japan lost the war. ‘The people did not consider the Emperor responsible for the war.’ ‘In the event of defeat the Cabinet and the military leaders would take the blame, not the Emperor.’ ‘Even if Japan lost the war ten out of ten Japanese would still revere the Emperor.’

All this unanimity in reckoning the Emperor above criticism appeared phoney to Americans who are accustomed to exempt no human man from skeptical scrutiny and criticism. But there was no question that it was the voice of Japan even in defeat. Those most experienced in interrogating the prisoners gave it as their verdict that it was unnecessary to enter on each interview sheet: ‘Refuses to speak against the Emperor’; all prisoners refused, even those who co-operated with the Allies and broadcast for us to the Japanese troops. Out of all the collected interviews of prisoners of war, only three were even mildly anti-Emperor and only one went so far as to say: ‘It would be a mistake to leave the Emperor on the throne.’ A second said the Emperor was ‘a feeble-minded person, nothing more than a puppet.’ And the third got no farther than supposing that the Emperor might abdicate in favor of his son and that if the monarchy were abolished young Japanese women would hope to get a freedom they envied in the women of America.

Japanese commanders, therefore, were playing on an all but unanimous Japanese veneration when they distributed cigarettes to the troops ‘from the Emperor,’ or led them on his birthday in bowing three times to the east and shouting ‘Banzai’; when they chanted with all their troops morning and evening, ‘even though the unit was subjected to day and night bombardment,’ the ‘sacred words’ the Emperor himself had given to the armed forces in the Rescript for Soldiers and Sailors while ‘the sound of chanting echoed through the forest.’ The militarists used the appeal of loyalty to the Emperor in every possible way. They called on their men to ‘fulfill the wishes of His Imperial Majesty,’ to ‘dispel all the anxieties of your Emperor,’ to ‘demonstrate your respect for His Imperial benevolence,’ to ‘die for the Emperor.’ But this obedience to his will could cut both ways. As many prisoners said, the Japanese ‘will fight unhesitatingly, even with nothing more than bamboo poles, if the Emperor so decrees. They would stop just as quickly if he so decreed’; ‘Japan would throw down arms tomorrow if the Emperor should issue such an order’; ‘Even the Kwantung Army in Manchuria’—most militant and jingoistic—‘would lay down their arms’; ‘only his words can make the Japanese people accept a defeat and be reconciled to live for reconstruction.’

This unconditional and unrestricted loyalty to the Emperor was conspicuously at odds with criticisms of all other persons and groups. Whether in Japanese newspapers and magazines or in war prisoners’ testimony, there was criticism of the government and of military leaders. Prisoners of war were free with their denunciation of their local commanders, especially those who had not shared the dangers and hardships of their soldiers. They were especially critical of those who had evacuated by plane and left their troops behind to fight it out. Usually they praised some officers and bitterly criticized others; there was no sign that they lacked the will to discriminate the good from the bad in things Japanese. Even in the home islands newspapers and magazines criticized ‘the government.’ They called for more leadership and greater co-ordination of effort and noted that they were not getting from the government what was necessary. They even criticized the restrictions on freedom of speech. A report on a panel of editors, former members of the Diet, and directors of Japan’s totalitarian party, the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, printed in a Tokyo paper in July, 1944, is a good example. One speaker said: ‘I think there are various ways to arouse the Japanese people but the most important one is freedom of speech. In these few years, the people have not been able to say frankly what they think. They have been afraid that they might be blamed if they spoke certain matters. They hesitated, and tried to patch up the surface, so the public mind has really become timid. We can never develop the total power of the people in this way.’ Another speaker expanded the same theme: ‘I have held symposiums almost every night with the people of the electoral districts and asked them about many things, but they were all afraid to speak. Freedom of speech has been denied. This is certainly not a proper way to stimulate their will to fight. The people are so badly restricted by the so-called Special Penal Law of War Time and the National Security Law that they have become as timid as the people in the feudalistic period. Therefore the fighting power which could have been developed remains undeveloped now.’

Even during the war, therefore, the Japanese criticized the government, the High Command, and their immediate superiors. They did not unquestioningly acknowledge the virtues of the whole hierarchy. But the Emperor was exempt. How could this be when his primacy was so recent? What quirk of Japanese character made it possible that he should so attain a sacrosanct position? Were Japanese prisoners of war right in claiming that just as the people would fight to the death ‘with bamboo spears’ as long as he so ordered, they would peaceably accept defeat and occupation if that was his command? Was this nonsense meant to mislead us? Or was it, possibly, the truth?

All these crucial questions about Japanese behavior in the war, from their anti-materialistic bias to their attitudes toward the Emperor concerned the homeland Japan as well as the fighting fronts. There were other attitudes which had to do more specifically with the Japanese Army. One of these concerned the expendability of their fighting forces. The Japanese radio put well the contrast with the American attitudes when it described with shocked incredulity the Navy’s decoration of Admiral George S. McCain, commander of a task force off Formosa.

The official reason for the decoration was not that Commander John S. McCain was able to put the Japanese to flight, though we don’t see why not since that is what the Nimitz communiqué claimed. . . . Well, the reason given for Admiral McCain’s decoration was that he was able successfully to rescue two damaged American warships and escort them safely to their home base. What makes this bit of information important is not that it is a fiction but that it is the truth. . . . So we are not questioning the veracity of Admiral McCain’s rescuing two ships, but the point we want you to see is the curious fact that the rescuing of damaged ships merits decoration in the United States.

Americans thrill to all rescue, all aid to those pressed to the wall. A valiant deed is all the more a hero’s act if it saves the ‘damaged.’ Japanese valor repudiates such salvaging. Even the safety devices installed in our B-29’s and fighter planes raised their cry of ‘Cowardice.’ The press and the radio returned to the theme over and over again. There was virtue only in accepting life and death risks; precautions were unworthy. This attitude found expression also in the case of the wounded and of malarial patients. Such soldiers were damaged goods and the medical services provided were utterly inadequate even for reasonable effectiveness of the fighting force. As time went on, supply difficulties of all kinds aggravated this lack of medical care, but that was not the whole story. Japanese scorn of materialism played a part in it; her soldiers were taught that death itself was a victory of the spirit and our kind of care of the sick was an interference with heroism—like safety devices in bombing planes. Nor are the Japanese used to such reliance on physicians and surgeons in civilian life as Americans are. Preoccupation with mercy toward the damaged rather than with other welfare measures is especially high in the United States, and is often commented on even by visitors from some European countries in peacetime. It is certainly alien to the Japanese. At all events, during the war the Japanese army had no trained rescue teams to remove the wounded under fire and to give first aid; it had no medical system of front line, behind-the-lines and distant recuperative hospitals. Its attention to medical supplies was lamentable. In certain emergencies the hospitalized were simply killed. Especially in New Guinea and the Philippines, the Japanese often had to retreat from a position where there was a hospital. There was no routine of evacuating the sick and wounded while there was still opportunity; only when the ‘planned withdrawal’ of the battalion was actually taking place or the enemy was occupying was anything done. Then, the medical officer in charge often shot the inmates of the hospital before he left or they killed themselves with hand grenades.

If this attitude of the Japanese toward damaged goods was fundamental in their treatment of their own countrymen, it was equally important in their treatment of American prisoners of war. According to our standards the Japanese were guilty of atrocities to their own men as well as to their prisoners. The former chief medical officer of the Philippines, Colonel Harold W. Glattly, said after his three years’ internment as a prisoner of war on Formosa that ‘the American prisoners got better medical treatment than the Japanese soldiers. Allied medical officers in the prison camps were able to take care of their men while the Japanese didn’t have any doctors. For a while the only medical personnel they had for their own men was a corporal and later on a sergeant.’ He saw a Japanese medical officer only once or twice a year.[1]

The furthest extreme to which this Japanese theory of expendability could be pushed was their no-surrender policy. Any Occidental army which has done its best and finds itself facing hopeless odds surrenders to the enemy. They still regard themselves as honorable soldiers and by international agreement their names are sent back to their countries so that their families may know that they are alive. They are not disgraced either as soldiers or as citizens or in their own families. But the Japanese defined the situation differently. Honor was bound up with fighting to the death. In a hopeless situation a Japanese soldier should kill himself with his last hand grenade or charge weaponless against the enemy in a mass suicide attack. But he should not surrender. Even if he were taken prisoner when he was wounded and unconscious, he ‘could not hold up his head in Japan’ again; he was disgraced; he was ‘dead’ to his former life.

There were Army orders to this effect, of course, but there was apparently no need of special official indoctrination at the front. The Army lived up to the code to such an extent that in the North Burma campaign the proportion of the captured to the dead was 142 to 17,166. That was a ratio of 1:120. And of the 142 in the prison camps, all except a small minority were wounded or unconscious when taken; only a very few had ‘surrendered’ singly or in groups of two or three. In the armies of Occidental nations it is almost a truism that troops cannot stand the death of one-fourth to one-third of their strength without giving up; surrenders run about 4:1. When for the first time in Hollandia, however, any appreciable number of Japanese troops surrendered, the proportion was 1:5 and that was a tremendous advance over the 1:120 of North Burma.

To the Japanese therefore Americans who had become prisoners of war were disgraced by the mere fact of surrender. They were ‘damaged goods’ even when wounds or malaria or dysentery had not also put them outside the category of ‘complete men.’ Many Americans have described how dangerous a thing American laughter was in the prison camps and how it stung their warders. In Japanese eyes they had suffered ignominy and it was bitter to them that the Americans did not know it. Many of the orders which American prisoners had to obey, too, were those which had also been required of their Japanese keepers by their own Japanese officers; the forced marches and the close-packed transshipments were commonplaces to them. Americans tell, too, of how rigorously sentries required that the prisoners should cover up evasions of rules; the great crime was to evade openly. In camps where the prisoners worked off-bounds on roads or installations during the day the rule that no food be brought back with them from the countryside was sometimes a dead letter—if the fruit and vegetables were covered up. If they could be seen, it was a flagrant offense which meant that the Americans had flouted the sentry’s authority. Open challenging of authority was terribly punished even if it were mere ‘answering back.’ Japanese rules are very strict against a man’s answering back even in civilian life and their own army practices penalized it heavily. It is no exoneration of the atrocities and wanton cruelties that did occur in the prison camps to distinguish between these and those acts which were the consequences of cultural habitations.

Especially in the earlier stages of the conflict the shame of capture was reinforced by a very real belief among the Japanese that the enemy tortured and killed any prisoners. One rumor of tanks that had been driven across the bodies of those captured on Guadalcanal spread through almost all areas. Some Japanese who tried to give themselves up, too, were regarded with so much suspicion by our troops that they were killed as a precaution, and this suspicion was often justified. A Japanese for whom there was nothing left but death was often proud that he could take an enemy with him when he died; he might do it even after he was captured. Having determined, as one of them put it, ‘to be burned on the altar of victory, it would be a disgrace to die with no heroic deed achieved.’ Such possibilities put our Army on its guard and diminished the number of surrenders.

The shame of surrender was burned deeply into the consciousness of the Japanese. They accepted as a matter of course a behavior which was alien to our conventions of warfare. And ours was just as alien to them. They spoke with shocked disparagement of American prisoners of war who asked to have their names reported to their government so that their families would know they were alive. The rank and file, at least, were quite unprepared for the surrender of American troops at Bataan for they had assumed that they would fight it out the Japanese way. And they could not accept the fact that Americans had no shame in being prisoners of war.

The most melodramatic difference in behavior between Western soldiers and the Japanese was undoubtedly the co-operation the latter gave to the Allied forces as prisoners of war. They knew no rules of life which applied in this new situation; they were dishonored and their life as Japanese was ended. Only in the last months of the war did more than a handful imagine any return to their homeland, no matter how the war ended. Some men asked to be killed, ‘but if your customs do not permit this, I will be a model prisoner.’ They were better than model prisoners. Old Army hands and long-time extreme nationalists located ammunition dumps, carefully explained the disposition of Japanese forces, wrote our propaganda and flew with our bombing pilots to guide them to military targets. It was as if they had turned over a new page; what was written on the new page was the opposite of what was written on the old, but they spoke the lines with the same faithfulness.

This is of course not a description of all prisoners of war. Some few were irreconcilable. And in any case certain favorable conditions had to be set up before such behavior was possible. American Army commanders were very understandably hesitant to accept Japanese assistance at face value and there were camps where no attempt was made to use any services they might have given. In camps where this was done, however, the original suspicion had to be withdrawn and more and more dependence was placed on the good faith of the Japanese prisoners.

Americans had not expected this right-about-face from prisoners of war. It was not according to our code. But the Japanese behaved as if, having put everything they had into one line of conduct and failed at it, they naturally took up a different line. Was it a way of acting which we could count on in post-war days or was it behavior peculiar to soldiers who had been individually captured? Like the other peculiarities of Japanese behavior which obtruded themselves upon us during the war, it raised questions about the whole way of life to which they were conditioned, the way their institutions functioned and the habits of thought and action they had learned.

[1] Reported in the Washington Post, October 15 1945.


Taking One’s Proper Station

Any Attempt to understand the Japanese must begin with their version of what it means to ‘take one’s proper station.’ Their reliance upon order and hierarchy and our faith in freedom and equality are poles apart and it is hard for us to give hierarchy its just due as a possible social mechanism. Japan’s confidence in hierarchy is basic in her whole notion of man’s relation to his fellow man and of man’s relation to the State and it is only by describing some of their national institutions like the family, the State, religious and economic life that it is possible for us to understand their view of life.

The Japanese have seen the whole problem of international relations in terms of their version of hierarchy just as they have seen their internal problems in the same light. For the last decade they have pictured themselves as attaining the apex of that pyramid, and now that this position belongs instead to the Western Nations, their view of hierarchy just as certainly underlies their acceptance of the present dispensation. Their international documents have constantly stated the weight they attach to it. The preamble to the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy which Japan signed in 1940 reads: ‘The Governments of Japan, Germany and Italy consider it as the condition precedent to any lasting peace that all nations of the world be given each its proper station . . .’ and the Imperial Rescript given on the signing of the Pact said the same thing again:

To enhance our great righteousness in all the earth and to make of the world one household is the great injunction bequeathed by our Imperial Ancestors and we lay this to heart day and night. In the stupendous crisis now confronting the world it appears that war and confusion will be endlessly aggravated and mankind suffer incalculable disasters. We fervently hope that disturbances will cease and peace be restored as soon as possible. . . . We are therefore deeply gratified that this pact has been concluded between the Three Powers.

The task of enabling each nation to find its proper place and all individuals to live in peace and security is of the greatest magnitude. It is unparalleled in history. This goal is still far distant. . . .

On the very day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, too, the Japanese envoys handed to Secretary of State Cordell Hull a most explicit statement on this point:

It is the immutable policy of the Japanese Government . . . to enable each nation to find its proper place in the world. . . . The Japanese Government cannot tolerate the perpetuation of the present situation since it runs directly counter to Japan’s fundamental policy to enable each nation to enjoy its proper station in the world.

This Japanese memorandum was in response to Secretary Hull’s a few days previous which had invoked American principles just as basic and honored in the United States as hierarchy is in Japan. Secretary Hull enumerated four: inviolability of sovereignty and of territorial integrity; non-intervention in other nations’ internal affairs; reliance on international co-operation and conciliation; and the principle of equality. These are all major points in the American faith in equal and inviolable rights and are the principles on which we believe daily life should be based no less than international relations. Equality is the highest, most moral American basis for hopes for a better world. It means to us freedom from tyranny, from interference, and from unwanted impositions. It means equality before the law and the right to better one’s condition in life. It is the basis for the rights of man as they are organized in the world we know. We uphold the virtue of equality even when we violate it and we fight hierarchy with a righteous indignation.

It has been so ever since America was a nation at all. Jefferson wrote it into the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights incorporated in the Constitution is based on it. These formal phrases of the public documents of a new nation were important just because they reflected a way of life that was taking shape in the daily living of men and women on this continent, a way of life that was strange to Europeans. One of the great documents of international reporting is the volume a young Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote on this subject of equality after he had visited the United States in the early eighteen-thirties. He was an intelligent and sympathetic observer who was able to see much good in this alien world of America. For it was alien. The young de Tocqueville had been bred in the aristocratic society of France which within the memory of still active and influential men had first been jolted and shocked by the French Revolution and then by the new and drastic laws of Napoleon. He was generous in his appreciation of a strange new order of life in America but he saw it through the eyes of a French aristocrat and his book was a report to the Old World on things to come. The United States, he believed, was an advance post of developments which would take place, though with differences, in Europe also.

He reported therefore at length on this new world. Here people really considered themselves the equals of others. Their social intercourse was on a new and easy footing. They fell into conversation as man to man. Americans did not care about the little attentions of a hierarchal etiquette; they did not demand them as their due nor offer them to others. They liked to say they owed nothing to any man. There was no family here in the old aristocratic or Roman sense, and the social hierarchy which had dominated the Old World was gone. These Americans trusted equality as they trusted nothing else; even liberty, he said, they often in practice let fly out of the window while they looked the other way. But they lived equality.

It is invigorating for Americans to see their forebears through the eyes of this stranger, writing about our way of life more than a century ago. There have been many changes in our country but the main outlines have not altered. We recognize, as we read, that America in 1830 was already America as we know it. There have been, and there still are, those in this country who, like Alexander Hamilton in Jefferson’s day, are in favor of a more aristocratic ordering of society. But even the Hamiltons recognize that our way of life in this country is not aristocratic.

When we stated to Japan therefore just before Pearl Harbor the high moral bases on which the United States based her policy in the Pacific we were voicing our most trusted principles. Every step in the direction in which we pointed would according to our convictions improve a still imperfect world. The Japanese, too, when they put their trust in ‘proper station’ were turning to the rule of life which had been ingrained in them by their own social experience. Inequality has been for centuries the rule of their organized life at just those points where it is most predictable and most accepted. Behavior that recognizes hierarchy is as natural to them as breathing. It is not, however, a simple Occidental authoritarianism. Both those who exercise control and those who are under others’ control act in conformity to a tradition which is unlike our own, and now that the Japanese have accepted the high hierarchal place of American authority in their country it is even more necessary for us to get the clearest possible idea of their conventions. Only so can we picture to ourselves the way in which they are likely to act in their present situation.

Japan for all its recent Westernization is still an aristocratic society. Every greeting, every contact must indicate the kind and degree of social distance between men. Every time a man says to another ‘Eat’ or ‘Sit down’ he uses different words if he is addressing someone familiarly or is speaking to an inferior or to a superior. There is a different ‘you’ that must be used in each case and the verbs have different stems. The Japanese have, in other words, what is called a ‘respect language,’ as many other peoples do in the Pacific, and they accompany it with proper bows and kneelings. All such behavior is governed by meticulous rules and conventions; it is not merely necessary to know to whom one bows but it is necessary to know how much one bows. A bow that is right and proper to one host would be resented as an insult by another who stood in a slightly different relationship to the bower. And bows range all the way from kneeling with forehead lowered to the hands placed flat upon the floor, to the mere inclination of head and shoulders. One must learn, and learn early, how to suit the obeisance to each particular case.

It is not merely class differences which must be constantly recognized by appropriate behavior, though these are important. Sex and age, family ties and previous dealings between two persons all enter into the necessary calculations. Even between the same two persons different degrees of respect will be called for on different occasions: a civilian may be on familiar terms with another and not bow to him at all, but when he wears a military uniform his friend in civilian clothes bows to him. Observance of hierarchy is an art which requires the balancing of innumerable factors, some of which in any particular case may cancel each other out and some of which may be additive.

There are of course persons between whom there is relatively little ceremony. In the United States these people are one’s own family circle. We shed even the slight formalities of our etiquette when we come home to the bosom of our family. In Japan it is precisely in the family where respect rules are learned and meticulously observed. While the mother still carries the baby strapped to her back she will push his head down with her hand, and his first lessons as a toddler are to observe respect behavior to his father or older brother. The wife bows to her husband, the child bows to his father, younger brothers bow to elder brothers, the sister bows to all her brothers of whatever age. It is no empty gesture. It means that the one who bows acknowledges the right of the other to have his way in things he might well prefer to manage himself, and the one who receives the bow acknowledges in his turn certain responsibilities incumbent upon his station. Hierarchy based on sex and generation and primogeniture are part and parcel of family life.

Filial piety is, of course, a high ethical law which Japan shares with China, and Chinese formulations of it were early adopted in Japan along with Chinese Buddhism, Confucian ethics and secular Chinese culture in the sixth and seventh centuries A.D. The character of filial piety, however, was inevitably modified to suit the different structure of the family in Japan. In China, even today, one owes loyalty to one’s vast extended clan. It may number tens of thousands of people over whom it has jurisdiction and from whom it receives support. Conditions differ in different parts of that vast country but in large parts of China all people in any village are members of the same clan. Among all of China’s 450,000,000 inhabitants there are only 470 surnames and all people with the same surname count themselves in some degree clan-brothers. Over a whole area all people may be exclusively of one clan and, in addition, families living in far-away cities are their clan fellows. In populous areas like Kwangtung all the clan members unite in keeping up great clan-halls and on stated days they venerate as many as a thousand ancestral tablets of dead clan members stemming from a common forebear. Each clan owns property, lands and temples and has clan funds which are used to pay for the education of any promising clan son. It keeps track of dispersed members and publishes elaborate genealogies which are brought up-to-date every decade or so to show the names of those who have a right to share in its privileges. It has ancestral laws which might even forbid them to surrender family criminals to the State if the clan was not in agreement with the authorities. In Imperial times these great communities of semi-autonomous clans were governed in the name of the larger State as casually as possible by easy-going mandarinates headed by rotating State appointees who were foreigners in the area.

All this was different in Japan. Until the middle of the nineteenth century only noble families and warrior (samurai) families were allowed to use surnames. Surnames were fundamental in the Chinese clan system and without these, or some equivalent, clan organization cannot develop. One of these equivalents in some tribes is keeping a genealogy. But in Japan only the upper classes kept genealogies and even in these they kept the record, as Daughters of the American Revolution do in the United States, backward in time from the present living person, not downward in time to include every contemporary who stemmed from an original ancestor. It is a very different matter. Besides, Japan was a feudal country. Loyalty was due, not to a great group of relatives, but to a feudal lord. He was resident overlord, and the contrast with the temporary bureaucratic mandarins of China, who were always strangers in their districts, could not have been greater. What was important in Japan was that one was of the fief of Satsuma or the fief of Hizen. A man’s ties were to his fief.

Another way of institutionalizing clans is through the worship of remote ancestors or of clan gods at shrines or holy places. This would have been possible for the Japanese ‘common people’ even without surnames and genealogies. But in Japan there is no cult of veneration of remote ancestors and at the shrines where ‘common people’ worship all villagers join together without having to prove their common ancestry. They are called the ‘children’ of their shrine-god, but they are ‘children’ because they live in his territory. Such village worshipers are of course related to each other as villagers in any part of the world are after generations of fixed residence but they are not a tight clan group descended from a common ancestor.

The reverence due to ancestors is paid at a quite different shrine in the family living-room where only six or seven recent dead are honored. Among all classes in Japan obeisance is done daily before this shrine and food set out for parents and grandparents and close relatives remembered in the flesh, who are represented in the shrine by little miniature gravestones. Even in the cemetery the markers on the graves of great-grandparents are no longer relettered and the identity even of the third ancestral generation sinks rapidly into oblivion. Family ties in Japan are whittled down almost to Occidental proportions and the French family is perhaps the nearest equivalent.

‘Filial piety’ in Japan, therefore, is a matter within a limited face-to-face family. It means taking one’s proper station according to generation, sex, and age within a group which includes hardly more than one’s father and father’s father, their brothers and their descendants. Even in important houses, where larger groups may be included, the family splits up into separate lines and younger sons establish branch families. Within this narrow face-to-face group the rules that regulate ‘proper station’ are meticulous. There is strict subservience to elders until they elect to go into formal retirement (inkyo). Even today a father of grown sons, if his own father has not retired, puts through no transaction without having it approved by the old grandfather. Parents make and break their children’s marriages even when the children are thirty and forty years old. The father as male head of the household is served first at meals, goes first to the family bath, and receives with a nod the deep bows of his family. There is a popular riddle in Japan which might be translated into our conundrum form: ‘Why is a son who wants to offer advice to his parents like a Buddhist priest who wants to have hair on the top of his head?’ (Buddhist priests had a tonsure.) The answer is, ‘However much he wants to do it, he can’t.’

Proper station means not only differences of generation but differences of age. When the Japanese want to express utter confusion, they say that something is ‘neither elder brother nor younger brother.’ It is like our saying that something is neither fish nor fowl, for to the Japanese a man should keep his character as elder brother as drastically as a fish should stay in water. The eldest son is the heir. Travelers speak of ‘that air of responsibility which the eldest son so early acquires in Japan.’ The eldest son shares to a high degree in the prerogatives of the father. In the old days his younger brother would have been inevitably dependent upon him in time; nowadays, especially in towns and villages, it is he who will stay at home in the old rut while his younger brothers will perhaps press forward and get more education and a better income. But old habits of hierarchy are strong.

Even in political commentary today the traditional prerogatives of elder brothers are vividly stated in discussions of Greater East Asia policy. In the spring of 1942 a Lieutenant Colonel, speaking for the War Office, said on the subject of the Co-prosperity Sphere: ‘Japan is their elder brother and they are Japan’s younger brothers. This fact must be brought home to the inhabitants of the occupied territories. Too much consideration shown for the inhabitants might engender in their minds the tendency to presume on Japan’s kindness with pernicious effects on Japanese rule.’ The elder brother, in other words, decides what is good for his younger brother and should not show ‘too much consideration’ in enforcing it.

Whatever one’s age, one’s position in the hierarchy depends on whether one is male or female. The Japanese woman walks behind her husband and has a lower status. Even women who on occasions when they wear American clothes walk alongside and precede him through a door, again fall to the rear when they have donned their kimonos. The Japanese daughter of the family must get along as best she can while the presents, the attentions, and the money for education go to her brothers. Even when higher schools were established for young women the prescribed courses were heavily loaded with instruction in etiquette and bodily movement. Serious intellectual training was not on a par with boys’, and one principal of such a school, advocating for his upper middle class students some instruction in European languages, based his recommendation on the desirability of their being able to put their husband’s books back in the bookcase right side up after they had dusted them.

Nevertheless, the Japanese women have great freedom as compared to most other Asiatic countries and this is not just a phase of Westernization. There never was female foot-binding as in the Chinese upper classes, and Indian women today exclaim over Japanese women going in and out of shops, up and down the streets and never secreting themselves. Japanese wives do the family shopping and carry the family purse. If money fails, it is they who must select something from the household and carry it to the pawnshop. A woman runs her servants, has great say in her children’s marriages, and when she is a mother-in-law commonly runs her household realm with as firm a hand as if she had never been, for half her life, a nodding violet.

The prerogatives of generation, sex, and age in Japan are great. But those who exercise these privileges act as trustees rather than as arbitrary autocrats. The father or the elder brother is responsible for the household, whether its members are living, dead, or yet unborn. He must make weighty decisions and see that they are carried out. He does not, however, have unconditional authority. He is expected to act responsibly for the honor of the house. He recalls to his son and younger brother the legacy of the family, both in material and in spiritual things, and he challenges them to be worthy. Even if he is a peasant he invokes noblesse oblige to the family forebears, and if he belongs to more exalted classes the weight of responsibility to the house becomes heavier and heavier. The claims of the family come before the claims of the individual.

In any affair of importance the head of a family of any standing calls a family council at which the matter is debated. For a conference on a betrothal, for instance, members of the family may come from distant parts of Japan. The process of coming to a decision involves all the imponderables of personality. A younger brother or a wife may sway the verdict. The master of the house saddles himself with great difficulties if he acts without regard for group opinion. Decisions, of course, may be desperately unwelcome to the individual whose fate is being settled. His elders, however, who have themselves submitted in their lifetimes to decisions of family councils, are impregnable in demanding of their juniors what they have bowed to in their day. The sanction behind their demand is very different from that which, both in law and in custom, gives the Prussian father arbitrary rights over his wife and children. What is demanded is not for this reason less exacting in Japan, but the effects are different. The Japanese do not learn in their home life to value arbitrary authority, and the habit of submitting to it easily is not fostered. Submission to the will of the family is demanded in the name of a supreme value in which, however onerous its requirements, all of them have a stake. It is demanded in the name of a common loyalty.

Every Japanese learns the habit of hierarchy first in the bosom of his family and what he learns there he applies in wider fields of economic life and of government. He learns that a person gives all deference to those who outrank him in assigned ‘proper place,’ no matter whether or not they are the really dominant persons in the group. Even a husband who is dominated by his wife, or an elder brother who is dominated by a younger brother, receives no less formal deference. Formal boundaries between prerogatives are not broken down just because some other person is operating behind the scenes. The façade is not changed to suit the facts of dominance. It remains inviolable. There is even a certain tactical advantage in operating without the trappings of formal status; one is in that case less vulnerable. The Japanese learn, too, in their family experience that the greatest weight that can be given to a decision comes from the family conviction that it maintains the family honor. The decision is not a decree enforced by an iron fist at the whim of a tyrant who happens to be head of the family. He is more nearly a trustee of a material and spiritual estate which is important to them all and which demands of them all that they subordinate their personal wills to its requirements. The Japanese repudiate the use of the mailed fist, but they do not for that reason subordinate themselves any the less to the demands of the family, nor do they for that reason give to those with assigned status any less extreme deference. Hierarchy in the family is maintained even though the family elders have little opportunity to be strong-armed autocrats.

Such a bald statement of hierarchy in the Japanese family does not, when Americans read it with their different standards of interpersonal behavior, do justice to the acceptance of strong and sanctioned emotional ties in Japanese families. There is very considerable solidarity in the household and how they achieve it is one of the subjects of this book. Meanwhile it is important in trying to understand their demand for hierarchy in the wider fields of government and economic life to recognize how thoroughly the habit is learned in the bosom of the family.

The hierarchal arrangements of Japanese life have been as drastic in relations between the classes as they have been in the family. In all her national history Japan has been a strong class and caste society, and a nation which has a centuries-long habit of caste arrangements has certain strengths and certain weaknesses which are of the utmost importance. In Japan caste has been the rule of life through all her recorded history and even back in the seventh century A.D. she was already adapting the ways of life she borrowed from casteless China to suit her own hierarchal culture. In that era of the seventh and eighth centuries, the Japanese Emperor and his court set themselves the task of enriching Japan with the customs of the high civilization that had greeted the amazed eyes of their envoys in the great kingdom of China. They went about it with incomparable energy. Before that time Japan had not even had a written language; in the seventh century she took the ideographs of China and used them to write her own totally different language. She had had a religion which named forty thousand gods who presided over mountains and villages and gave people good fortune—a folk religion which with all its subsequent changes has survived as modern Shinto. In the seventh century, Japan adopted Buddhism wholesale from China as a religion ‘excellent for protecting the State.’[1] She had had no great permanent architecture, either public or private; the Emperors built a new capital city, Nara, on the model of a Chinese capital, and great ornate Buddhist temples and vast Buddhist monasteries were erected in Japan after the Chinese pattern. The Emperors introduced titles and ranks and laws their envoys reported to them from China. It is difficult to find anywhere in the history of the world any other such successfully planned importation of civilization by a sovereign nation.

Japan, however, from the very first, failed to reproduce China’s casteless social organization. The official titles Japan adopted were in China given to administrators who had passed the State examinations, but in Japan they were given to hereditary nobles and feudal lords. They became part of the caste arrangements of Japan. Japan was laid out in a great number of semi-sovereign fiefs whose lords were constantly jealous of each other’s powers, and the social arrangements that mattered were those that had to do with the prerogatives of lords and vassals and retainers. No matter how assiduously Japan imported civilization from China she could not adopt ways of life which put in the place of her hierarchy anything like China’s administrative bureaucracy or her system of extended clans which united people from the most different walks of life into one great clan. Nor did Japan adopt the Chinese idea of a secular Emperor. The Japanese name for the Imperial House is ‘Those who dwell above the clouds’ and only persons of this family can be Emperor. Japan has never had a change of dynasty, as China so often had. The Emperor was inviolable and his person was sacred. The Japanese Emperors and their courts who introduced Chinese culture in Japan no doubt could not even imagine what the Chinese arrangements were in these matters and did not guess what changes they were making.

In spite of all Japan’s cultural importations from China, therefore, this new civilization only paved the way for centuries of conflict as to which of these hereditary lords and vassals was in control of the country. Before the eighth century had ended the noble Fujiwara family had seized dominance and had thrust the Emperor into the background. When, as time went on, the Fujiwaras’ dominance was disputed by feudal lords and the whole country plunged into civil war, one of these, the famous Yoritomo Minamoto, vanquished all rivals and became actual ruler of the country under an old military title, the Shogun, which in full means literally ‘Barbarian-subduing Generalissimo.’ This title, as was usual in Japan, Yoritomo made hereditary in the Minamoto family for as long as his descendants could hold the other feudal lords in check. The Emperor became an impotent figure. His chief importance was that the Shogun still depended upon him for his ritual investiture. He had no civil power. The actual power was held by a military camp, as it was called, which tried to hold its dominance by armed force over unruly fiefs. Each feudal lord, the daimyo, had his armed retainers, the samurai, whose swords were at his disposal, and they were always ready in periods of disorder to dispute the ‘proper place’ of a rival fief or of the ruling Shogun.

In the sixteenth century civil war had become endemic. After decades of disorder the great Ieyasu won out over all rivals and in 1603 became the first Shogun of the House of Tokugawa. The Shogunate remained in Ieyasu’s line for two centuries and a half and was ended only in 1868 when the ‘dual rule’ of Emperor and Shogun was abolished at the beginning of the modern period. In many ways this long Tokugawa Era is one of the most remarkable in history. It maintained an armed peace in Japan up to the very last generation before it ended and it put into effect a centralized administration that admirably served the Tokugawas’ purposes.

Ieyasu was faced with a most difficult problem and he did not choose an easy solution. The lords of some of the strongest fiefs had been against him in the civil war and had bowed to him only after a final disastrous defeat. These were the so-called Outside Lords. These lords he left in control of their fiefs and of their samurai, and indeed of all the feudal lords of Japan they continued to have the greatest autonomy in their domains. Nevertheless, he excluded them from the honor of being his vassals and from all important functions. These important positions were reserved for the Inside Lords, Ieyasu’s supporters in the civil war. To maintain this difficult regime the Tokugawas relied upon a strategy of keeping the feudal lords, the daimyos, from accumulating power and of preventing any possible combination among them which might threaten the Shogun’s control. Not only did the Tokugawas not abolish the feudal scheme; for the purpose of maintaining peace in Japan and dominance of the House of Tokugawa, they attempted to strengthen it and make it more rigid.

Japanese feudal society was elaborately stratified and each man’s status was fixed by inheritance. The Tokugawas solidified this system and regulated the details of each caste’s daily behavior. Every family head had to post on his doorway his class position and the required facts about his hereditary status. The clothes he could wear, the foods he could buy, and the kind of house he could legally live in were regulated according to this inherited rank. Below the Imperial Family and the court nobles, there were four Japanese castes ranked in hierarchal order: the warriors (samurai), the farmers, the artisans, and the merchants. Below these, again, were the outcasts. The most numerous and famous of these outcasts were the Eta, workers in tabooed trades. They were scavengers, buriers of the executed, skinners of dead animals and tanners of hides. They were Japan’s untouchables, or, more exactly, their uncountables, for even the mileage of roads through their villages went uncounted as if the land and the inhabitants of the area did not exist at all. They were desperately poor, and, though guaranteed the exercise of their trades, they were outside the formal structure.

The merchants ranked just above the outcasts. However strange this seems to Americans, it was highly realistic in a feudal society. A merchant class is always disruptive of feudalism. As business men become respected and prosperous, feudalism decays. When the Tokugawas, by the most drastic laws any nation has ever enforced, decreed the isolation of Japan in the seventeenth century, they cut the ground from under the feet of the merchants. Japan had had an overseas trade all up and down the coast of China and Korea and a class of traders had been inevitably developing. The Tokugawas stopped all this by making it an offense worthy of capital punishment to build or operate any boat larger than a certain size. The small boats allowed could not cross to the continent or carry loads of trade goods. Domestic trade was severely restricted, too, by customs barriers which were set up on the borders of each fief with strict rules against letting goods in or out. Other laws were directed toward emphasizing the merchants’ low social position. Sumptuary laws regulated the clothes they could wear, the umbrellas they could carry, the amount they could spend for a wedding or a funeral. They could not live in a samurai district. They had no legal protection against the swords of the samurai, the privileged warriors. The Tokugawa policy of keeping the merchants in inferior stations failed of course in a money economy, and Japan at that period was run on a money economy. But it was attempted.

The two classes which are appropriate to a stable feudalism, the warriors and the farmers, the Tokugawa regime froze into rigid forms. During the civil wars that were finally ended by Ieyasu, the great war-lord, Hideyoshi, had already completed, by his famous ‘sword hunt,’ the separation of these two classes. He had disarmed the peasants and given to the samurai the sole right to wear swords. The warriors could no longer be farmers nor artisans nor merchants. Not even the lowest of them could any longer legally be a producer; he was a member of a parasitic class which drew its annual rice stipend from taxes levied upon the peasants. The daimyo handled this rice and distributed to each samurai retainer his allotted income. There was no question about where the samurai had to look for support; he was wholly dependent upon his lord. In earlier eras of Japanese history strong ties between the feudal chief and his warriors had been forged in almost ceaseless war between the fiefs; in the Tokugawa era of peace the ties became economic. For the warrior-retainer, unlike his European counterpart, was not a sub-seigneur owning his own land and serfs nor was he a soldier of fortune. He was a pensioner on a set stipend which had been fixed for his family line at the beginning of the Tokugawa Era. It was not large. Japanese scholars have estimated that the average stipend of all samurai was about what farmers were earning and that was certainly bare subsistence.[2] Nothing could be more to the family’s disadvantage than division of this stipend among heirs and in consequence the samurai limited their families. Nothing could be more galling to them than prestige dependent on wealth and display, so they laid great stress in their code on the superior virtues of frugality.

A great gulf separated the samurai from the other three classes: the farmers, the artisans and the merchants. These last three were ‘common people.’ The samurai were not. The swords the samurai wore as their prerogative and sign of caste were not mere decorations. They had the right to use them on the common people. They had traditionally done so before Tokugawa times and the laws of Ieyasu merely sanctioned old customs when they decreed: ‘Common people who behave unbecomingly to the samurai or who do not show respect to their superiors may be cut down on the spot.’ It was no part of Ieyasu’s design that mutual dependence should be built up between common people and the samurai retainers. His policy was based on strict hierarchal regulations. Both classes headed up to the daimyo and reckoned directly with him; they were on different stairways, as it were. Up and down each stairway there was law and regulation and control and reciprocity. Between the people on two stairways there was merely distance. The separateness of the two classes was necessarily bridged by circumstances over and over again but it was not a part of the system.

During the Tokugawa Era samurai retainers were not mere sword-swingers. They became increasingly the stewards of their overlords’ estates and specialists in peaceful arts like the classical drama and the tea ceremony. All protocol lay in their sphere and the daimyo’s intrigues were carried out by their skilled manipulations. Two hundred years of peace is a long time and mere individual sword-swinging had its limits. Just as the merchants, in spite of the caste regulations, developed a way of life that gave high place to urbane and artistic and pleasurable pursuits, so the samurai, in spite of their ready swords, developed arts of peace.

The farmers, in spite of their legal defenselessness against the samurai, the heavy levies of rice made upon them and all the restrictions imposed upon them, had certain securities guaranteed them. They were guaranteed the possession of their farms and to have land gives a man prestige in Japan. Under the Tokugawa regime, land could not be permanently alienated and this law was a guarantee for the individual cultivator, not, as in European feudalism, for the feudal lord. The farmer had a permanent right to something which he valued supremely and he appears to have worked his land with the same diligence and unstinting care with which his descendants cultivate their rice fields today. Nevertheless, he was the Atlas who supported the whole parasitic upper-class of about two million persons, including the government of the Shogun, the establishments of the daimyo and the stipends of the samurai retainers. He was taxed in kind, that is, he paid to the daimyo a percentage of his crops. Whereas in Siam, another wet-rice country, the traditional tax is 10 per cent, in Tokugawa Japan it was 40 per cent. But in reality it was higher than this. In some fiefs it was 80 per cent and always there was corvée or work requisitions, which bore down on the strength and time of the farmer. Like the samurai, the farmers also limited their families and the population of the whole of Japan stood at almost the same figure during all the Tokugawa centuries. For an Asiatic country during a long period of peace these static population figures tell a great deal about the regime. It was Spartan in its restrictions, both on the tax-supported retainers and on the producing class, but between each dependent and his superior, it was relatively dependable. A man knew his obligations, his prerogatives and his station and if these were infringed upon the poorest might protest.

The farmers, even in the direst poverty, carried their protests not only to the feudal lord but to the Shogunate authorities. There were at least a thousand of these revolts during the two and a half Tokugawa centuries. They were not occasioned by the traditional heavy rule of ‘40 per cent to the prince and 60 per cent to the cultivators’; they were all protests against additional levies. When conditions were no longer bearable, the farmers might march in great numbers against their overlords but the procedure of petition and judgment was orderly. The farmers drew up formal petitions for redress which they submitted to the daimyo’s chamberlain. When this petition was intercepted or the daimyo took no notice of their complaints they sent their representatives to the capital to present their written complaints to the Shogunate. In famous cases they could insure its delivery only by inserting it into some high official’s palanquin as he rode through the streets of the capital. But, no matter what risks the farmers took in delivering the petition, it was then investigated by the Shogunate authorities and about half of the judgments were in favor of the peasants.[3]

Japan’s requirements of law and order were not satisfied, however, with the Shogunate’s judgment on the farmers’ claims. Their complaints might be just and it might be advisable for the State to honor them, but the peasant leaders had transgressed the strict law of hierarchy. Regardless of any decision in their favor, they had broken the essential law of their allegiance and this could not be overlooked. They were therefore condemned to death. The righteousness of their cause had nothing to do with the matter. Even the peasants accepted this inevitability. The condemned men were their heroes and the people came in numbers to the execution where the leaders were boiled in oil or beheaded or crucified, but at the execution the crowds did not riot. This was law and order. They might afterward build the dead men shrines and honor them as martyrs, but they accepted the execution as part and parcel of the hierarchal laws by which they lived.

The Tokugawa Shoguns, in short, attempted to solidify the caste structure within each fief and to make each class dependent on the feudal lord. The daimyo stood at the apex of the hierarchy in each fief and he was allowed to exercise his prerogatives over his dependents. The Shogun’s great administrative problem was to control the daimyo. In every way he prevented them from forming alliances or from carrying out schemes of aggression. Passport and customs officials were maintained at the frontiers of the fiefs to keep strict watch for ‘outgoing women and incoming guns’ lest any daimyo try to send his women away and smuggle arms in. No daimyo could contract a marriage without the Shogun’s permission lest it might lead to a dangerous political alliance. Trade between the fiefs was hindered even to the extent of allowing bridges to become impassable. The Shogun’s spies too kept him well informed on the daimyo’s expenditures and if the feudal coffers were filling up, the Shogun required him to undertake expensive public works to bring him in line again. Most famous regulation of all was that the daimyo live half of each year in the capital and, even when he returned to his fief for his residence there, he had to leave his wife behind him in Yedo (Tokyo) as a hostage in the hands of the Shoguns. In all these ways the administration made certain that it maintain the upper hand and enforce its dominant position in the hierarchy.

The Shogun was not, of course, the final keystone in this arch for he held sway as the appointee of the Emperor. The Emperor with his court of hereditary nobles (kuge) was isolated in Kyoto and was without actual power. The Emperor’s financial resources were less than those of even lesser daimyos and the very ceremonies of the court were strictly circumscribed by Shogunate regulations. Not even the most powerful Tokugawa Shoguns, however, took any steps to do away with this dual rule of Emperor and actual ruler. It was no new thing in Japan. Since the twelfth century a Generalissimo (Shogun) had ruled the country in the name of a throne shorn of actual authority. In some centuries division of function had gone so far that the real power which the shadowy Emperor delegated to a hereditary secular chief was exercised in turn by a hereditary advisor of that chief. There has always been delegation upon delegation of original authority. Even in the last and desperate days of the Tokugawa regime, Commodore Perry did not suspect the existence of an Emperor in the background and our first envoy, Townsend Harris, who negotiated the first commercial treaty with Japan in 1858, had to discover for himself that there was an Emperor.

The truth is that Japan’s conception of her Emperor is one that is found over and over among the islands of the Pacific. He is the Sacred Chief who may or may not take part in administration. In some Pacific islands he did and in some he delegated his authority. But always his person was sacred. Among New Zealand tribes the Sacred Chief was so sacrosanct that he might not feed himself and even the spoon with which he was fed must not be allowed to touch his sacred teeth. He had to be carried when he went abroad, for any land upon which he set his sacred foot became automatically so holy that it must pass into the Sacred Chief’s possession. His head was particularly sacrosanct and no man could touch it. His words reached the tribal gods. In some Pacific islands, like Samoa and Tonga, the Sacred Chief did not descend into the arena of life. A Secular Chief performed all the duties of State. James Wilson, who visited the island of Tonga in the Eastern Pacific at the end of the eighteenth century, wrote that its government ‘resembles most the government of Japan where the sacred majesty is a sort of state prisoner to the captain-general.’[4] The Tongan Sacred Chiefs were isolated from public affairs, but they performed ritual duties. They had to receive the first fruits of the gardens and conduct a ceremony before any man could eat of them. When the Sacred Chief died, his death was announced by the phrase, ‘The heavens are void.’ He was buried with ceremony in a great royal tomb. But he took no part in administration.

The Emperor, even when he was politically impotent and ‘a sort of State prisoner to the Captain-general,’ filled, according to Japanese definitions, a ‘proper station’ in the hierarchy. The Emperor’s active participation in mundane affairs was to them no measure of his status. His court at Kyoto was a value they preserved all through the long centuries of the rule of the Barbarian-subduing Generalissimos. His functions were superfluous only from a Western point of view. The Japanese, who at every point were accustomed to rigorous definition of hierarchal rôle, looked at the matter differently.

The extreme explicitness of the Japanese hierarchal system in feudal times, from outcast to Emperor, has left its strong impress on modern Japan. After all, the feudal regime was legally ended only about seventy-five years ago, and strong national habits do not pass away within one man’s lifetime. Japanese statesmen of the modern period, too, laid their careful plans, as we shall see in the next chapter, to preserve a great deal of the system in spite of radical alterations in their country’s objectives. The Japanese, more than any other sovereign nation, have been conditioned to a world where the smallest details of conduct are mapped and status is assigned. During two centuries when law and order were maintained in such a world with an iron hand, the Japanese learned to identify this meticulously plotted hierarchy with safety and security. So long as they stayed within known boundaries, and so long as they fulfilled known obligations, they could trust their world. Banditry was controlled. Civil war between the daimyo was prevented. If subjects could prove that others had overstepped their rights, they could appeal as the farmers did when they were exploited. It was personally dangerous but it was approved. The best of the Tokugawa Shoguns even had a Complaint Box into which any citizen could drop his protest, and the Shogun alone had a key to his box. There were genuine guarantees in Japan that aggressions would be rectified if they were acts that were not allowed on the existing map of conduct. One trusted the map and was safe only when one followed it. One showed one’s courage, one’s integrity in conforming to it, not in modifying it or in revolting against it. Within its stated limits, it was a known and, in their eyes, a dependable world. Its rules were not abstract ethical principles of a decalogue but tiny specifications of what was due in this situation and what was due in that situation; what was due if one were a samurai and what was due if one were a common man; what was proper to elder brother and what was proper to younger brother.

The Japanese did not become a mild and submissive people under this system, as some nations have under a strong-handed hierarchal regime. It is important to recognize that certain guarantees were given to each class. Even the outcasts were guaranteed a monopoly of their special trades and their self-governing bodies were recognized by the authorities. Restrictions upon each class were great but there were order and security too.

The caste restrictions also had a certain flexibility they do not have, for instance, in India: Japanese customs provided several explicit techniques for manipulating the system without doing violence to the accepted ways. A man could change his caste status in several ways. When money lenders and merchants became wealthy, as they inevitably did under Japan’s money economy, the rich used various traditional devices to infiltrate the upper classes. They became ‘land owners’ by the use of liens and rents. It is true that the peasants’ land was inalienable but farm rents were excessively high in Japan and it was profitable to leave the peasants on their land. Money lenders settled on the land and collected their rents, and such ‘ownership’ of land gave prestige as well as profit in Japan. Their children married samurai. They became gentry.

Another traditional manipulation of the caste system was through the custom of adoption. It provided a way of ‘buying’ samurai status. As merchants became richer in spite of all Tokugawa restrictions, they arranged for their sons’ adoption into samurai families. In Japan one seldom adopts a son; one adopts a husband for one’s daughter. He is known as an ‘adopted husband.’ He becomes the heir of his father-in-law. He pays a high price, for his name is stricken from his own family register and entered on his wife’s. He takes her name and goes to live with his mother-in-law. But if the price is high, the advantages are also great. For the prosperous merchant’s descendants become samurai and the impoverished samurai’s family gets an alliance with wealth. No violence is done to the caste system which remains just what it always was. But the system has been manipulated to provide upper-class status for the wealthy.

Japan therefore did not require castes to marry only among themselves. There were approved arrangements which allowed intermarriage among them. The resulting infiltration of prosperous traders into the lower samurai class played a large part in furthering one of the greatest contrasts between Western Europe and Japan. When feudalism broke down in Europe it was due to the pressure of a growing and increasingly powerful middle class and this class dominated the modern industrial period. In Japan no such strong middle class arose. The merchants and money lenders ‘bought’ upper-class status by sanctioned methods. Merchants and lower samurai became allies. It is a curious and surprising thing to point out that at the time when feudalism was in its death throes in both civilizations, Japan sanctioned class mobility to a greater degree than continental Europe did, but no evidence for such a statement could be more convincing than the lack of any sign of a class war between aristocracy and bourgeoisie.

It is easy to point out that the common cause made by these two classes was mutually advantageous in Japan, but it would have been mutually advantageous in France too. It was advantageous in Western Europe in those individual instances where it occurred. But class rigidity was strong in Europe and the conflict of classes led in France to the expropriation of the aristocracy. In Japan they drew closer together. The alliance that overthrew the effete Shogunate was an alliance between the merchant-financiers and the samurai retainers. The modern era in Japan preserved the aristocratic system. It could hardly have happened without Japan’s sanctioned techniques for class mobility.

If the Japanese loved and trusted their meticulously explicit map of behavior, they had a certain justification. It guaranteed security so long as one followed the rules; it allowed protests against unauthorized aggressions and it could be manipulated to one’s own advantage. It required the fulfillment of reciprocal obligations. When the Tokugawa regime crumbled in the first half of the nineteenth century, no group in the nation was in favor of tearing up the map. There was no French Revolution. There was not even an 1848. Yet the times were desperate. From the common people to the Shogunate, every class had fallen into debt to the money lenders and merchants. The mere numbers of the non-productive classes and the scale of customary official expenditures had proved insupportable. The daimyo as the grip of poverty tightened upon them were unable to pay the fixed stipends to their samurai retainers and the whole network of feudal ties became a mockery. They tried to keep afloat by increasing the already heavy taxes upon the peasants. These were collected years in advance and the farmers were reduced to extreme want. The Shogunate too was bankrupt and could do little to keep the status quo. Japan was in dire domestic extremity by 1853 when Admiral Perry appeared with his men of war. His forced entry was followed in 1858 by a trade treaty with the United States which Japan was in no position to refuse.

The cry that went up from Japan, however, was Isshin—to dig back into the past, to restore. It was the opposite of revolutionary. It was not even progressive. Joined with the cry ‘Restore the Emperor’ was the equally popular cry ‘Expel the Barbarians.’ The nation supported the program of going back to a golden age of isolation and the few leaders who saw how impossible such a course would be were assassinated for their pains. There seemed not the slightest likelihood that this non-revolutionary country of Japan would alter its course to conform to any Occidental patterns, still less that in fifty years it would compete with Western nations on their own grounds. Nevertheless, that is what happened. Japan used her own strengths, which were not at all the Occidental strengths, to achieve a goal which no powerful high-placed group and no popular opinion in Japan demanded. No Westerner in the eighteen-sixties would have believed if he had seen the future in a crystal ball. There seemed to be no cloud the size of a man’s hand on the horizon to indicate the tumult of activity which swept Japan during the next decades. Nevertheless, the impossible happened. Japan’s backward and hierarchy-ridden population swung to a new course and held it.

[1] Quoted from a contemporary chronicle of the Nara period by Sir George Sansom, Japan: A Short Cultural History, p. 131.

[2] Quoted by Herbert Norman, Japan’s Emergence as a Modern State, p. 17, n. 12.

[3] Borton, Hugh, Peasant Uprisings in Japan of the Tokugawa Period, Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, 2nd Series, 16 (1938).

[4] Wilson, James, A missionary voyage to the Southern Pacific Ocean performed in the years 1796, 1797 and 1798 in the ship Duff. London, 1799, p. 384. Quoted by Edward Winslow Gifford, Tongan Society. Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Bulletin 61. Hawaii, 1929.


The Meiji Reform

The Battlecry that ushered in the modern era in Japan was Sonno joi, ‘Restore the Emperor and expel the Barbarian.’ It was a slogan that sought to keep Japan uncontaminated by the outside world and to restore a golden age of the tenth century before there had been a ‘dual rule’ of Emperor and Shogun. The Emperor’s court at Kyoto was reactionary in the extreme. The victory of the Emperor’s party meant to his supporters the humiliation and expulsion of foreigners. It meant reinstatement of traditional ways of life in Japan. It meant that ‘reformers’ would have no voice in affairs. The great Outside Lords, the daimyo of Japan’s strongest fiefs who spearheaded the overthrow of the Shogunate, thought of the Restoration as a way in which they, instead of the Tokugawa, could rule Japan. They wanted a mere change of personnel. The farmers wanted to keep more of the rice they raised but they hated ‘reforms.’ The samurai wanted to keep their pensions and be allowed to use their swords for greater glory. The merchants, who financed the Restoration forces, wanted to expand mercantilism but they never arraigned the feudal system.

When the anti-Tokugawa forces triumphed and ‘dual rule’ was ended in 1868 by the Restoration of the Emperor, the victors were committed, by Western standards, to a fiercely conservative isolationist policy. From the first the regime followed the opposite course. It had been in power hardly a year when it abolished the daimyo’s right of taxation in all fiefs. It called in the land-registers and appropriated to itself the peasants’ tax of ‘40 per cent to the daimyo.’ This expropriation was not without compensation. The government allotted to each daimyo the equivalent of half his normal income. At the same time also the government freed the daimyo of the support of his samurai retainers and of the expenses of public works. The samurai retainers, like the daimyo, received pensions from the government. Within the next five years all legal inequality among the classes was summarily abolished, insignia and distinctive dress of caste and class were outlawed—even queues had to be cut,—the outcasts were emancipated, the laws against alienation of land withdrawn, the barriers that had separated fief from fief were removed and Buddhism was disestablished. By 1876 the daimyo and samurai pensions were commuted to lump sum payments which were to become due in five to fifteen years. These payments were either large or small according to the fixed income these individuals had drawn in Tokugawa days and the money made it possible for them to start enterprises in the new non-feudal economy. ‘It was the final stage in the sealing of that peculiar union of merchants and financial princes with the feudal or landed princes which was already evident in the Tokugawa period.’[1]

These remarkable reforms of the infant Meiji regime were not popular. There was far more general enthusiasm for an invasion of Korea from 1871 to 1873 than for any of these measures. The Meiji government not only persisted in its drastic course of reform, it killed the project of the invasion. Its program was so strongly opposed to the wishes of a great majority of those who had fought to establish it that by 1877 Saigo, their greatest leader, had organized a full-scale rebellion against the government. His army represented all the pro-feudal longings of Imperial supporters which had from the first year of the Restoration been betrayed by the Meiji regime. The government called up a non-samurai voluntary army and defeated Saigo’s samurai. But the rebellion was an indication of the extent of the dissatisfaction the regime aroused in Japan.

The farmers’ dissatisfaction was equally marked. There were at least 190 agrarian revolts between 1868 and 1878, the first Meiji decade. In 1877 the new government made its first tardy moves to lessen the great tax burden upon the peasants, and they had reason to feel that the regime had failed them. The farmers objected in addition to the establishment of schools, to conscription, to land surveys, to having to cut their queues, to legal equality of the outcasts, to the drastic restrictions on official Buddhism, to calendar reforms and to many other measures which changed their settled ways of life.

Who, then, was this ‘government’ which undertook such drastic and unpopular reforms? It was that ‘peculiar union’ in Japan of the lower samurai and the merchant class which special Japanese institutions had fostered even in feudal times. They were the samurai retainers who had learned statecraft as chamberlains and stewards for the daimyos, who had run the feudal monopolies in mines, textiles, pasteboards and the like. They were merchants who had bought samurai status and spread knowledge of productive techniques in that class. This samurai-merchant alliance rapidly put to the fore able and self-confident administrators who drew up the Meiji policies and planned their execution. The real problem, however, is not from what class they came but how it happened that they were so able and so realistic. Japan, just emerging from medievalism in the last half of the nineteenth century and as weak then as Siam is today, produced leaders able to conceive and to carry out one of the most statesmanlike and successful jobs ever attempted in any nation. The strength, and the weakness too, of these leaders was rooted in traditional Japanese character and it is the chief object of this book to discuss what that character was and is. Here we can only recognize how the Meiji statesmen went about their undertaking.

They did not take their task to be an ideological revolution at all. They treated it as a job. Their goal as they conceived it was to make Japan into a country which must be reckoned with. They were not iconoclasts. They did not revile and beggar the feudal class. They tempted them with pensions large enough to lure them into eventual support of the regime. They finally ameliorated the peasants’ condition; their ten-year tardiness appears to have been due rather to the pitiful condition of the early Meiji treasury than to a class rejection of peasants’ claims upon the regime.

The energetic and resourceful statesmen who ran the Meiji government rejected, however, all ideas of ending hierarchy in Japan. The Restoration had simplified the hierarchal order by placing the Emperor at its apex and eliminating the Shogun. The post-Restoration statesmen, by abolishing the fiefs, eliminated the conflict between loyalty to one’s own seigneur and to the State. These changes did not unseat hierarchal habits. They gave them a new locus. ‘Their Excellencies,’ the new leaders of Japan, even strengthened centralized rule in order to impose their own workmanlike programs upon the people. They alternated demands from above with gifts from above and in this way they managed to survive. But they did not imagine that they had to cater to a public opinion which might not want to reform the calendar or to establish public schools or to outlaw discrimination against the outcasts.

One of these gifts from above was the Constitution of Japan, which was given by the Emperor to his people in 1889. It gave the people a place in the State and established the Diet. It was drawn up with great care by Their Excellencies after critical study of the varied constitutions of the Western World. The writers of it however, took ‘every possible precaution to guard against popular interference and the invasion of public opinion.’[2] The very bureau which drafted it was a part of the Imperial Household Department and was therefore sacrosanct.

Meiji statesmen were quite conscious about their objective. During the eighteen-eighties Prince Ito, framer of the Constitution, sent the Marquis Kido to consult Herbert Spencer in England on the problems lying ahead of Japan and after lengthy conversations Spencer wrote Ito his judgments. On the subject of hierarchy Spencer wrote that Japan had in her traditional arrangements an incomparable basis for national well-being which should be maintained and fostered. Traditional obligations to superiors, he said, and beyond all to the Emperor, were Japan’s great opportunity. Japan could move forward solidly under its ‘superiors’ and defend itself against the difficulties inevitable in more individualistic nations. The great Meiji statesmen were well satisfied with this confirmation of their own convictions. They meant to retain in the modern world the advantages of observing ‘proper station.’ They did not intend to undermine the habit of hierarchy.

In every field of activity, whether political or religious or economic, the Meiji statesmen allocated the duties of ‘proper station’ between the State and the people. Their whole scheme was so alien to arrangements in the United States or England that we usually fail to recognize its basic points. There was, of course, strong rule from above which did not have to follow the lead of public opinion. This government was administered by a top hierarchy and this could never include elected persons. At this level the people could have no voice. In 1940 the top government hierarchy consisted of those who had ‘access’ to the Emperor, those who constituted his immediate advisors, and those whose high appointments bore the privy seal. These last included Cabinet Ministers, prefectural governors, judges, chiefs of national bureaus and other like responsible officers. No elected official had any such status in the hierarchy and it would have been out of the question for elected members of the Diet, for instance, to have any voice in selecting or approving a Cabinet Minister or head of the Bureau of Finance or of Transportation. The elected Lower House of the Diet was a voice of the people which had the not inconsiderable privilege of interrogating and criticizing the Higher Officials, but it had no real voice in appointments or in decisions or in budgetary matters and it did not initiate legislation. The Lower House was even checked by a non-elected Upper House, half of them nobility and another quarter Imperial appointees. Since its power to approve legislation was about equal to that of the Lower House, a further hierarchal check was provided.

Japan therefore ensured that those who held high government posts remain Their Excellencies,’ but this does not mean that there was not self-government in its ‘proper place.’ In all Asiatic nations, under whatever regime, authority from above always reaches down and meets in some middle ground local self-government rising from below. The differences between different countries all concern matters of how far up democratic accountability reaches, how many or few its responsibilities are and whether local leadership remains responsive to the whole community or is pre-empted by local magnates to the disadvantage of the people. Tokugawa Japan had, like China, tiny units of five to ten families, called in recent times the tonari gumi, which were the smallest responsible units of the population. The head of this group of neighboring families assumed leadership in their own affairs, was responsible for their good behavior, had to turn in reports of any doubtful acts and surrender any wanted individual to the government. Meiji statesmen at first abolished these, but they were later restored and called the tonari gumi. In the towns and cities the government has sometimes actively fostered them, but they seldom function today in villages. The hamlet (buraku) units are more important. The buraku were not abolished nor were they incorporated as units in the government. They were an area in which the State did not function. These hamlets of fifteen or so houses continue even today to function in an organized fashion through their annually rotating headmen, who ‘look after hamlet property, supervise hamlet aid given to families in the event of a death or a fire, decide the proper days for co-operative work in agriculture, housebuilding or road repair, and announce by ringing the fire bell or beating two blocks together in a certain rhythm the local holidays and rest days.’[3] These headmen are not responsible, as in some Asiatic nations, also for collecting the State taxes in their community and they do not therefore have to carry this onus. Their position is quite unambivalent; they function in the area of democratic responsibility.

Modern civil government in Japan officially recognizes local administration of cities, towns and villages. Elected ‘elders’ choose a responsible headman who serves as the representative of the community in all dealings with the State, which is represented by the prefectural and national governments. In the villages the headman is an old resident, a member of a land-owning farm family. He serves at a financial loss but the prestige is considerable. He and the elders are responsible for village finances, public health, maintenance of the schools and especially for property records and individual dossiers. The village office is a busy place; it has charge of the spending of the State’s appropriation for primary school education for all children and of the raising and spending of its own much larger local share of school expenses, management and rent of village-owned property, land improvement and afforestation, and records of all property transactions, which become legal only when they are properly entered at this office. It must also keep an up-to-date record of residence, marital status, birth of children, adoption, any encounter with the law and other facts on each individual who still maintains official residence in the community, besides a family record which shows similar data about one’s family. Any such information is forwarded from any part of Japan to one’s official home office and is entered on one’s dossier. Whenever one applies for a position or is tried before a judge or in any way is asked for identification, one writes one’s home community office or visits it and obtains a copy to submit to the interested person. One does not face lightly the possibility of having a bad entry inscribed on one’s own or one’s family’s dossier.

The city, town, and village therefore has considerable responsibility. It is a community responsibility. Even in the nineteen-twenties, when Japan had national political parties, which in any country means an alternation of tenure between ‘ins’ and ‘outs,’ local administration generally remained untouched by this development and was directed by elders acting for the whole community. In three respects, however, local administrations do not have autonomy; all judges are nationally appointed, all police and school teachers are employees of the State. Since most civil cases in Japan are still settled by arbitration or through go-betweens, the courts of law figure very little in local administration. Police are more important. Police have to be on hand at public meetings but these duties are intermittent and most of their time is devoted to keeping the personal and property records. The State may transfer policemen frequently from one post to another so that they may remain outsiders without local ties. School teachers also are transferred. The State regulates every detail of the schools, and, as in France, every school in the country is studying on the same day the same lesson from the same textbook. Every school goes through the same calisthenics to the same radio broadcast at the same hour of the morning. The community does not have local autonomy over schools or police or courts of justice.

The Japanese government at all points thus greatly differs from the American, where elected persons carry the highest executive and legislative responsibility and local control is exercised through local direction of police and police-courts. It does not, however, differ formally from the governmental set-up of such thoroughly Occidental nations as Holland and Belgium. In Holland, for instance, as in Japan, the Queen’s Ministry drafts all proposed laws; the Diet has in practice not initiated legislation. The Dutch Crown legally appoints even mayors of towns and cities and thus its formal right reaches further down into local areas of concern than it did in Japan before 1940; this is true even though in practice the Dutch Crown usually approves a local nomination. The direct responsibility to the Crown of the police and of the courts is also Dutch. Though, in Holland, schools may be set up at will by any sectarian group, the Japanese school system is duplicated in France. Local responsibility for canals, polders and local improvements, also, is a duty of the community as a whole in Holland, not of a mayor and officials politically elected.

The true difference between the Japanese form of government and such cases in Western Europe lies not in form but in functioning. The Japanese rely on old habits of deference set up in their past experience and formalized in their ethical system and in their etiquette. The State can depend upon it that, when their Excellencies function in their ‘proper place,’ their prerogatives will be respected, not because the policy is approved but because it is wrong in Japan to override boundaries between prerogatives. At the topmost level of policy ‘popular opinion’ is out of place. The government asks only ‘popular support.’ When the State stakes out its own official field in the area of local concern, also, its jurisdiction is accepted with deference. The State, in all its domestic functions, is not a necessary evil as it is so generally felt to be in the United States. The State comes nearer, in Japanese eyes, to being the supreme good.

The State, moreover, is meticulous in recognizing ‘proper place’ for the will of the people. In areas of legitimate popular jurisdiction it is not too much to say that the Japanese State has had to woo the people even for their own good. The State agricultural extension agent can act with about as little authoritarianism in improving old methods of agriculture as his counterpart can in Idaho. The State official advocating State-guaranteed farmers’ credit associations or farmers’ co-operatives for buying and selling must hold long-drawn-out round-tables with the local notables and then abide by their decision. Local affairs require local management. The Japanese way of life allocates proper authority and defines its proper sphere. It gives much greater deference—and therefore freedom of action—to ‘superiors’ than Western cultures do, but they too must keep their station. Japan’s motto is: Everything in its place.

In the field of religion the Meiji statesmen made much more bizarre formal arrangements than in government. They were however carrying out the same Japanese motto. The State took as its realm a worship that specifically upholds the symbols of national unity and superiority, and in all the rest it left freedom of worship to the individual. This area of national jurisdiction was State Shinto. Since it was concerned with proper respect to national symbols, as saluting the flag is in the United States, State Shinto was, they said, ‘no religion.’ Japan therefore could require it of all citizens without violating the Occidental dogma of religious freedom any more than the United States violates it in requiring a salute to the Stars and Stripes. It was a mere sign of allegiance. Because it was ‘not religion,’ Japan could teach it in the schools without risk of Occidental criticism. State Shinto in the schools becomes the history of Japan from the age of the gods and the veneration of the Emperor, ‘ruler from ages eternal.’ It was State-supported, State-regulated. All other areas of religion, even denominational or cult Shinto, to say nothing of Buddhist and Christian sects, were left to individual initiative much as in the United States. The two areas were even administratively and financially separated; State Shinto was in the charge of its own bureau in the Home Office and its priests and ceremonies and shrines were supported by the State. Cult Shinto and Buddhist and Christian sects were the concern of a Bureau of Religion in the Department of Education and were supported by voluntary contributions of members.

Because of Japan’s official position on the subject one cannot speak of State Shinto as a vast Established Church, but one can at least call it a vast Establishment. There were over 110,000 shrines ranging all the way from the great Ise Shrine, temple of the Sun Goddess, to small local shrines which the officiating priest cleans up for the occasion of a special ceremony. The national hierarchy of priests paralleled the political and the lines of authority ran from the lowest priest through the district and prefectural priests to their priestly Excellencies at the top. They performed ceremonies for the people rather than conducting worship by the people, and there was in State Shinto nothing paralleling our familiar church-going. Priests of State Shinto—since it was no religion—were forbidden by law to teach any dogma and there could be no church services as Westerners understand them. Instead, on the frequent days of rites official representatives of the community came and stood before the priest while he purified them by waving before them a wand with hemp and paper streamers. He opened the door of the inner shrine and called down the gods, with a high-pitched cry, to come to partake of a ceremonial meal. The priest prayed and each participant in order of rank presented with deep obeisance that omnipresent object in old and new Japan: a twig of their sacred tree with pendant strips of white paper. The priest then sent back the gods with another cry and closed the doors of the inner shrine. On the festival days of State Shinto the Emperor in his turn observed rites for the people and government offices were closed. But these holidays were not great popular fête-days like the ceremonies in honor of local shrines or even Buddhist holidays. Both of these are in the ‘free’ area outside of State Shinto.

In this area the Japanese people carry on the great sects and fête-days which are close to their hearts. Buddhism remains the religion of the great mass of the people and the various sects with their different teachings and founding prophets are vigorous and omnipresent. Even Shinto has its great cults which stand outside of State Shinto. Some were strongholds of pure nationalism even before the government in the nineteen-thirties took up the same position, some are faith-healing sects often compared to Christian Science, some hold by Confucian tenets, some have specialized in trance states and pilgrimages to sacred mountain shrines. Most of the popular fête-days, too, have been left outside of State Shinto. The people on such days throng to the shrines. Each person purifies himself by rinsing out his mouth and he summons the god to descend by pulling a bell rope or clapping his hands. He bows in veneration, sends back the god by another pull of the bell cord or clapping of hands, and goes off for the main business of the day which is buying knickknacks and tidbits from the vendors who have set up their stalls, watching wrestling matches or exorcism or kagura dances, which are liberally enlivened by clowns, and generally enjoying the great throng. An Englishman who had lived in Japan quoted William Blake’s verse which he always remembered on Japanese fête-days:

If at the church they would give us some ale,

And a pleasant fire our souls to regale,

We’d sing and we’d pray all the livelong day,

Nor ever once wish from the church to stray.

Except for those few who have professionally dedicated themselves to religious austerities, religion is not austere in Japan. The Japanese are also addicted to religious pilgrimages and these too are greatly enjoyed holidays.

Meiji statesmen, therefore, carefully marked out the area of State functioning in government and of State Shinto in the field of religion. They left other areas to the people but they ensured to themselves as top officials of the new hierarchy dominance in matters which in their eyes directly concerned the State. In setting up the Armed Forces they had a similar problem. They rejected, as in other fields, the old caste system but in the Army they went farther than in civilian life. They outlawed in the Armed Services even the respect language of Japan, though in actual practice old usage of course persists. The Army also promoted to officer’s rank on the basis of merit, not of family, to a degree which could hardly be put into effect in other fields. Its reputation among Japanese in this respect is high and apparently deservedly so. It was certainly the best means available by which to enlist popular support for the new Army. Companies and platoons, too, were formed from neighbors of the same region and peacetime military service was spent at posts close to one’s home. This meant not only that local ties were conserved but that every man who went through Army training spent two years during which the relationship between officers and men, between second-year men and first-year men, superseded that between samurai and farmers or between rich and poor. The Army functioned in many ways as a democratic leveler and it was in many ways a true people’s army. Whereas the Army in most other nations is depended upon as the strong arm to defend the status quo, in Japan the Army’s sympathy with the small peasant has lined it up in repeated protests against the great financiers and industrialists.

Japanese statesmen may not have approved of all the consequences of building up a people’s army but it was not at this level where they saw fit to ensure Army supremacy in the hierarchy. That objective they made sure of by arrangements in the very highest spheres. They did not write these arrangements into the Constitution but continued as customary procedure the already recognized independence of the High Command from the civil government. The Ministers of the Army and the Navy, in contrast for instance to the head of the Foreign Office and domestic bureaus, had direct access to the Emperor himself and could therefore use his name in forcing through their measures. They did not need to inform or consult their civilian colleagues of the Cabinet. In addition the Armed Services held a whip hand over any Cabinet. They could prevent the formation of a Cabinet they distrusted by the simple expedient of refusing to release generals and admirals to hold military portfolios in the Cabinet. Without such high officers of the active service to fill the positions of Army and Navy Ministers there could be no cabinet; no civilians or retired officers could hold these posts. Similarly, if the Armed Services were displeased at any act of the Ministry, they could cause its dissolution by recalling their Cabinet representatives. On this highest policy level the top military hierarchy made sure that it need brook no interference. If it needed any further guarantees it had one in the Constitution: ‘If the Diet fails to approve the budget submitted, the budget of the previous year is automatically available to the Government for the current year.’ The exploit of the Army in occupying Manchuria when the Foreign Office had promised that the Army would not take this step was only one of the instances when the Army hierarchy successfully supported its commanders in the field in the absence of agreed Cabinet policy. As in other fields, so with the Army: where hierarchal privileges are concerned the Japanese tend to accept all the consequences, not because of agreement about the policy but because they do not countenance overriding boundaries between prerogatives.

In the field of industrial development Japan pursued a course which is unparalleled in any Western nation. Again their Excellencies arranged the game and set the rules. They not only planned, they built and financed on government money the industries they decided they needed. A State bureaucracy organized and ran them. Foreign technicians were imported and Japanese were sent to learn abroad. Then when, as they said, these industries were ‘well organized and business was prosperous,’ the government disposed of them to private firms. They were sold gradually at ‘ridiculously low prices’[4] to a chosen financial oligarchy, the famous Zaibatsu, chiefly the Mitsui and Mitsubishi families. Her statesmen judged that industrial development was too important to Japan to be entrusted to laws of supply and demand or to free enterprise. But this policy was in no way due to socialistic dogma; it was precisely the Zaibatsu who reaped the advantages. What Japan accomplished was that with the minimum of fumbling and wastage the industries she deemed necessary were established.

Japan was by these means able to revise ‘the normal order of the starting point and succeeding stages of capitalist production.’[5] Instead of beginning with the production of consumer goods and light industry, she first undertook key heavy industries. Arsenals, shipyards, iron works, construction of railroads had priority and were rapidly brought to a high stage of technical efficiency. Not all of these were released to private hands and vast military industries remained under government bureaucracy and were financed by special government accounts.

In this whole field of the industries to which the government gave priority, the small trader or the non-bureaucratic manager had no ‘proper place.’ Only the State and the great trusted and politically favored financial houses operated in this area. But as in other fields of Japanese life there was a free area in industry too. These were the ‘left-over’ industries which operated with minimum capitalization and maximum utilization of cheap labor. These light industries could exist without modern technology and they do. They function through what we used to call in the United States home sweat-shops. A small-time manufacturer buys the raw material, lets it out to a family or a small shop with four or five workers, takes it back again, repeats by letting it out again for another step in processing and at last sells the product to the merchant or exporter. In the nineteen-thirties no less than 53 per cent of all persons industrially employed in Japan were working in this way in shops and homes having less than five workers.[6] Many of these workers are protected by old paternalistic customs of apprenticeship and many are mothers who in Japan’s great cities sit in their own homes over their piecework with their babies strapped on their backs.

This duality of Japanese industry is quite as important in Japanese ways of life as duality in the field of government or religion. It is as if, when Japanese statesmen decided that they needed an aristocracy of finance to match their hierarchies in other fields, they built up for them the strategic industries, selected the politically favored merchant houses and affiliated them in their ‘proper stations’ with the other hierarchies. It was no part of their plan for government to cut loose from these great financial houses and the Zaibatsu profited by a kind of continued paternalism which gave them not only profit but high place. It was inevitable, granted old Japanese attitudes toward profit and money, that a financial aristocracy should fall under attack from the people, but the government did what it could to build it up according to accepted ideas of hierarchy. It did not entirely succeed, for the Zaibatsu has been under attack from the so-called Young Officers’ groups of the Army and from rural areas. But it still remains true that the greatest bitterness of Japanese public opinion is turned not against the Zaibatsu but against the narikin. Narikin is often translated ‘nouveau riche’ but that does not do justice to the Japanese feeling. In the United States nouveau riche are strictly ‘newcomers’; they are laughable because they are gauche and have not had time to acquire the proper polish. This liability, however, is balanced by the heartwarming asset that they have come up from the log cabin, they have risen from driving a mule to controlling oil millions. But in Japan a narikin is a term taken from Japanese chess and means a pawn promoted to queen. It is a pawn rampaging about the board as a ‘big shot.’ It has no hierarchal right to do any such thing. The narikin is believed to have obtained his wealth by defrauding or exploiting others and the bitterness directed toward him is as far as possible from the attitude in the United States toward the ‘home boy who makes good.’ Japan provided a place in her hierarchy for great wealth and kept an alliance with it; when wealth is achieved in the field outside, Japanese public opinion is bitter against it.

The Japanese, therefore, order their world with constant reference to hierarchy. In the family and in personal relations, age, generation, sex, and class dictate proper behavior. In government, religion, the Army, and industry, areas are carefully separated into hierarchies where neither the higher nor the lower may without penalty overstep their prerogatives. As long as ‘proper station’ is maintained the Japanese carry on without protest. They feel safe. They are of course often not ‘safe’ in the sense that their best good is protected but they are ‘safe’ because they have accepted hierarchy as legitimate. It is as characteristic of their judgment on life as trust in equality and free enterprise is of the American way of life.

Japan’s nemesis came when she tried to export her formula for ‘safety.’ In her own country hierarchy fitted popular imagination because it had moulded it. Ambitions could only be such as could take shape in that kind of a world. But it was a fatal commodity for export. Other nations resented Japan’s grandiloquent claims as an impertinence and worse. Japan’s officers and troops, however, in each occupied country continued to be shocked that the inhabitants did not welcome them. Was Japan not offering them a place, however lowly, in a hierarchy and was not hierarchy desirable even for those on the lower steps of it? Their War Services continued to get out series of war films which figured China’s ‘love’ for Japan under the image of desperate and disordered Chinese girls who found happiness by falling in love with a Japanese soldier or a Japanese engineer. It was a far cry from the Nazi version of conquest yet it was no more successful in the long run. They could not exact from other nations what they had exacted of themselves. It was their mistake that they thought they could. They did not recognize that the system of Japanese morality which had fitted them to ‘accept their proper station’ was something they could not count on elsewhere. Other nations did not have it. It is a genuine product of Japan. Her writers take this system of ethics so much for granted that they do not describe it and a description of it is necessary before one can understand the Japanese.

[1] Norman, p. 96.

[2] Quoted from a Japanese authority who bases his remarks on statements by Baron Kaneko who was one of the drafters. See Norman, ibid., p. 93.

[3] Embree, John F., The Japanese Nation, p. 88.

[4] Norman, op. cit., p. 131. This discussion is based on the illuminating analysis given by Norman.

[5] Ibid., p. 125.

[6] Professor Uyeda, quoted by Miriam S. Farley, Pigmy Factories. Far Eastern Survey, VI (1937), p. 2.


Debtor to the Ages and the World

In The English Language we used to talk about being ‘heirs of the ages.’ Two wars and a vast economic crisis have diminished somewhat the self-confidence it used to bespeak but this shift has certainly not increased our sense of indebtedness to the past. Oriental nations turn the coin to the other side: they are debtors to the ages. Much of what Westerners name ancestor worship is not truly worship and not wholly directed toward ancestors: it is a ritual avowal of man’s great indebtedness to all that has gone before. Moreover, he is indebted not only to the past; every day-by-day contact with other people increases his indebtedness in the present. From this debt his daily decisions and actions must spring. It is the fundamental starting point. Because Westerners pay such extremely slight attention to their debt to the world and what it has given them in care, education, well-being or even in the mere fact of their ever having been born at all, the Japanese feel that our motivations are inadequate. Virtuous men do not say, as they do in America, that they owe nothing to any man. They do not discount the past. Righteousness in Japan depends upon recognition of one’s place in the great network of mutual indebtedness that embraces both one’s forebears and one’s contemporaries.

It is simple to put in words this contrast between East and West but it is difficult to appreciate what a difference it makes in living. Until we understand it in Japan we shall not be able to plumb either the extreme sacrifice of self with which we became familiar during the war or the quick resentments which Japanese are capable of in situations where we think resentments are not called for. To be a debtor can make a man extremely quick to take offense and the Japanese prove it. It also puts upon him great responsibilities.

Both the Chinese and the Japanese have many words meaning ‘obligations.’ The words are not synonyms and their specific meanings have no literal translation into English because the ideas they express are alien to us. The word for ‘obligations’ which covers a person’s indebtedness from greatest to least is on. In Japanese usage it is translated into English by a whole series of words from ‘obligations’ and ‘loyalty’ to ‘kindness’ and ‘love,’ but these words distort its meaning. If it really meant love or even obligation the Japanese would certainly be able to speak of on to their children, but that is an impossible usage of the word. Nor does it mean loyalty, which is expressed by other Japanese words, which are in no way synonymous with on. On is in all its uses a load, an indebtedness, a burden, which one carries as best one may. A man receives on from a superior and the act of accepting an on from any man not definitely one’s superior or at least one’s equal gives one an uncomfortable sense of inferiority. When they say, ‘I wear an on to him’ they are saying, ‘I carry a load of obligations to him,’ and they call this creditor, this benefactor, their ‘on man.’

‘Remembering one’s on’ may be a pure outpouring of reciprocal devotion. A little story in a Japanese second-grade school reader entitled ‘Don’t forget the on’ uses the word in this sense. It is a story for little children in their ethics classes.

Hachi is a cute dog. As soon as he was born he was taken away by a stranger and was loved like a child of the house. For that reason, even his weak body became healthy and when his master went to his work every morning, he would accompany him (master) to the street car station and in the evening around the time when he (master) came home, he went again up to the station to meet him.

In due time, the master passed away. Hachi, whether he knew of this or not, kept looking for his master every day. Going to the usual station he would look to see if his master was in the crowd of people who came out whenever the street car arrived.

In this way days and months passed by. One year passed, two years passed, three years passed, even when ten years had passed, the aged Hachi’s figure can be seen every day in front of the station, still looking for his master.

The moral of this little tale is loyalty which is only another name for love. A son who cares deeply for his mother can speak of not forgetting the on he has received from his mother and mean that he has for her Hachi’s single-minded devotion to his master. The term, however, refers specifically not to his love, but to all that his mother did for him as a baby, her sacrifices when he was a boy, all that she has done to further his interests as a man, all that he owes her from the mere fact that she exists. It implies a return upon this indebtedness and therefore it means love. But the primary meaning is the debt, whereas we think of love as something freely given unfettered by obligation.

On is always used in this sense of limitless devotion when it is used of one’s first and greatest indebtedness, one’s ‘Imperial on.’ This is one’s debt to the Emperor, which one should receive with unfathomable gratitude. It would be impossible, they feel, to be glad of one’s country, of one’s life, of one’s great and small concerns without thinking also of receiving these benefits. In all Japanese history this ultimate person among living men to whom one was indebted was the highest superior within one’s horizon. It has been at different periods the local seigneur, the feudal lord, and the Shogun. Today it is the Emperor. Which superior it was is not nearly so significant as the centuries-long primacy in Japanese habit of ‘remembering the on.’ Modern Japan has used every means to center this sentiment upon the Emperor. Every partiality they have for their own way of living increases each man’s Imperial on; every cigarette distributed to the Army on the front lines in the Emperor’s name during the war underscored the on each soldier wore for him; every sip of sake doled out to them before going into battle was a further Imperial on. Every kamikaze pilot of a suicide plane was, they said, repaying his Imperial on; all the troops who, they claimed, died to a man defending some island of the Pacific were said to be discharging their limitless on to the Emperor.

A man wears an on also to lesser people than the Emperor. There is of course the on one has received from one’s parents. This is the basis of the famous Oriental filial piety which places parents in such a strategic position of authority over their children. It is phrased in terms of the debt their children owe them and strive to repay. It is therefore the children who must work hard at obedience rather than as in Germany—another nation where parents have authority over their children—where the parents must work hard to exact and enforce this obedience. The Japanese are very realistic in their version of Oriental filial piety and they have a saying about on one receives from parents which can be freely translated ‘Only after a person is himself a parent does he know how indebted he is to his own parents.’ That is, the parental on is the actual daily care and trouble to which fathers and mothers are put. The Japanese limitation of ancestor veneration to recent and remembered forebears brings this emphasis on actual dependency in childhood very much to the fore in their thinking, and of course it is a very obvious truism in any culture that every man and woman was once a helpless infant who would not have survived without parental care; for years until he was an adult he was provided with a home and food and clothing. Japanese feel strongly that Americans minimize all this, and that, as one writer says, ‘In the United States remembering on to parents is hardly more than being good to your father and mother.’ No person can leave on to his children, of course, but devoted care of one’s children is a return on one’s indebtedness to one’s parents when one was oneself helpless. One makes part payment on on to one’s own parents by giving equally good or better rearing to one’s children. The obligations one has to one’s children are merely subsumed under ‘on to one’s parents.’

One has particular on too to one’s teacher and to one’s master (nushi). They have both helped bring one along the way and one wears an on to them which may at some future time make it necessary to accede to some request of theirs when they are in trouble or to give preference, perhaps to a young relative of theirs, after they are dead. One should go to great lengths to pay the obligation and time does not lessen the debt. It increases rather than decreases with the years. It accumulates a kind of interest. An on to anyone is a serious matter. As their common saying has it: ‘One never returns one ten-thousandth of an on.’ It is a heavy burden and ‘the power of the on’ is regarded as always rightly overriding one’s mere personal preferences.

The smooth working of this ethics of indebtedness depends upon each man’s being able to consider himself a great debtor without feeling too much resentment in discharging the obligations he is under. We have already seen how thoroughly hierarchal arrangements have been organized in Japan. The attendant habits diligently pursued make it possible for the Japanese to honor their moral indebtedness to a degree that would not cross the mind of an Occidental. This is easier to do if the superiors are regarded as well-wishers. There is interesting evidence from their language that superiors were indeed credited with being ‘loving’ to their dependents. Ai means ‘love’ in Japan and it was this word ai which seemed to the missionaries of the last century the only Japanese word it was possible to use in their translations of the Christian concept of ‘love.’ They used it in translating the Bible to mean God’s love for man and man’s love for God. But ai means specifically the love of a superior for his dependents. A Westerner might perhaps feel that it meant ‘paternalism,’ but in its Japanese usage it means more than that. It was a word that meant affection. In contemporary Japan ai is still used in this strict sense of love from above to below, but, perhaps partly due to the Christian usage, and certainly as a consequence of official efforts to break down caste distinctions, it may today be used also of love between equals.

In spite of all cultural alleviations, however, it is nevertheless a fortunate circumstance in Japan when on is ‘worn’ with no offense. People do not like to shoulder casually the debt of gratitude which on implies. They are always talking of ‘making a person wear an on’ and often the nearest translation is ‘imposing upon another’—though in the United States ‘imposing’ means demanding something of another, and in Japan the phrase means giving him something or doing him a kindness. Casual favors from relative strangers are the ones most resented, for with neighbors and in old-established hierarchal relationships a man knows and has accepted the complications of on. But with mere acquaintances and near-equals men chafe. They would prefer to avoid getting entangled in all the consequences of on. The passivity of a street crowd in Japan when an accident occurs is not just lack of initiative. It is a recognition that any non-official interference would make the recipient wear an on. One of the best-known laws of pre-Meiji days was: ‘Should a quarrel or dispute occur, one shall not unnecessarily meddle with it,’ and a person who helps another person in such situations in Japan without clear authorization is suspected of taking an unjustifiable advantage. The fact that the recipient will be greatly indebted to him acts, not to make any man anxious to avail himself of this advantage to himself but to make him very chary of helping. Especially in unformalized situations the Japanese are extremely wary of getting entangled in on. Even the offer of a cigarette from a person with whom a man has previously had no ties makes him uncomfortable and the polite way for him to express thanks is to say: ‘Oh, this poisonous feeling (kino doku).’ ‘It’s easier to bear,’ a Japanese said to me, ‘if you come right out and acknowledge how bad it makes you feel. You had never thought of doing anything for him and so you are shamed by receiving the on.’ ‘Kino doku’ therefore is translated sometimes as ‘Thank you,’ i.e., for the cigarettes, sometimes as ‘I’m sorry,’ i.e., for the indebtedness, sometimes as ‘I feel like a heel,’ i.e., because you beat me to this act of generosity. It means all of these and none.

The Japanese have many ways of saying ‘Thank you’ which express this same uneasiness in receiving on. The least ambivalent, the phrase that has been adopted in modern city department stores, means ‘Oh, this difficult thing’ (arigato). The Japanese usually say that this ‘difficult thing’ is the great and rare benefit the customer is bestowing on the store in buying. It is a compliment. It is used also when one receives a present and in countless circumstances. Other just as common words for ‘thank you’ refer like kino doku to the difficulty of receiving. Shopkeepers who run their own shops most commonly say literally: ‘Oh, this doesn’t end,’ (sumimasen), i.e., ‘I have received on from you and under modern economic arrangements I can never repay you; I am sorry to be placed in such a position.’ In English sumimasen is translated ‘Thank you,’ ‘I’m grateful,’ or ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘I apologize.’ You use the word, for instance, in preference to all other thank-you’s if anyone chases the hat you lost on a windy street. When he returns it to you politeness requires that you acknowledge your own internal discomfort in receiving. ‘He is offering me an on and I never saw him before. I never had a chance to offer him the first on. I feel guilty about it but I feel better if I apologize to him. Sumimasen is probably the commonest word for thank you in Japan. I tell him that I recognize that I have received on from him and it doesn’t end with the act of taking back my hat. But what can I do about it? We are strangers.’

The same attitude about indebtedness is expressed even more strongly from the Japanese standpoint by another word for thank you, katajikenai, which is written with the character ‘insult,’ ‘loss of face.’ It means both ‘I am insulted’ and ‘I am grateful.’ The all-Japanese dictionary says that by this term you say that by the extraordinary benefit you have received you are shamed and insulted because you are not worthy of the benefaction. In this phrase you explicitly acknowledge your shame in receiving on, and shame, haji, is, as we shall see, a thing bitterly felt in Japan. Katajikenai, ‘I am insulted,’ is still used by conservative shopkeepers in thanking their customers, and customers use it when they ask to have their purchases charged. It is the word found constantly in pre-Meiji romances. A beautiful girl of low class who serves in the court and is chosen by the lord as his mistress, says to him Katajikenai; that is, ‘I am shamed in unworthily accepting this on; I am awed by your graciousness.’ Or the samurai in a feudal brawl who is let go scot-free by the authorities says Katajikenai, ‘I have lost face that I accept this on; it is not proper for me to place myself in such a humble position; I am sorry; I humbly thank you.’

These phrases tell, better than any generalizations, the ‘power of the on.’ One wears it constantly with ambivalence. In accepted structuralized relations the great indebtedness it implies often stimulates a man only to put forward in repayment all that is in him. But it is hard to be a debtor and resentments come easily. How easily is described vividly in the famous novel Botchan by one of Japan’s best-known novelists, Soseki Natsume. Botchan, the hero, is a Tokyo boy who is teaching school for the first time in a small town in the provinces. He finds very soon that he despises most of his fellow teachers, certainly he does not get along with them. But there is one young teacher he warms to and while they are out together this new-found friend whom he calls Porcupine treats him to a glass of ice water. He pays one sen and a half for it, something like one-fifth of a cent.

Not long afterward another teacher reports to Botchan that Porcupine has spoken slightingly of him. Botchan believes the trouble-maker’s report and is instantly concerned about the on he had received from Porcupine.

‘To wear an on from such a fellow even if it is for so trifling a thing as ice water, affects my honor. One sen or half a sen, I shall not die in peace if I wear this on. . . The fact that I receive somebody’s on without protesting is an act of good will, taking him at his par value as a decent fellow. Instead of insisting on paying for my own ice water, I took the on and expressed gratitude. That is an acknowledgement which no amount of money can purchase. I have neither title nor official position but I am an independent fellow, and to have an independent fellow accept the favor of on is far more than if he gave a million yen in return. I let Porcupine blow one sen and a half, and gave him my thanks which is more costly than a million yen.’

The next day he throws a sen and a half on Porcupine’s desk, for only after having ceased to wear the on for the glass of ice water can he begin to settle the current issue between them: the insulting remark he has been told of. That may involve blows, but the on has to be wiped out first because the on is no longer between friends.

Such acute sensitivity about trifles, such painful vulnerability occurs in American records of adolescent gangs and in case-histories of neurotics. But this is Japanese virtue. Not many Japanese would carry the matter to this extreme, they think, but of course many people are lax. Japanese commentators writing about Botchan describe him as ‘hot-tempered, pure as crystal, a champion of the right.’ The author too identifies himself with Botchan and the character is indeed always recognized by critics as a portrait of himself. The story is a tale of high virtue because the person who receives on can lift himself out of the debtor’s position only by regarding his gratitude as worth ‘a million yen’ and acting accordingly. He can take it only from ‘a decent fellow.’ In Botchan’s anger he contrasts his on to Porcupine with an on he had received long since from his old nurse. She was blindly partial to him and felt that none of the rest of his family appreciated him. She used to bring him secretly little gifts of candy and colored pencils and once she gave him three yen. ‘Her constant attention to me chilled me to the marrow.’ But though he was ‘insulted’ at the offer of the three yen he had accepted it as a loan and he had never repaid it in all the years between. But that, he says to himself, contrasting the way he feels about his on to Porcupine, was because ‘I regard her as part of myself.’ This is the clue to Japanese reactions to on. They can be borne, with whatever mixed feelings, so long as the ‘on man’ is actually oneself; he is fixed in ‘my’ hierarchal scheme, or he is doing something I can imagine myself doing, like returning my hat on a windy day, or he is a person who admires me. Once these identifications break down, the on is a festering sore. However trivial the debt incurred it is virtue to resent it.

Every Japanese knows that if one makes the on too heavy under any circumstances whatsoever one will get into trouble. A good illustration is from the ‘Consulting Department’ of a recent magazine. The Department is a kind of ‘Advice to the Lovelorn’ and is a feature of the Tokyo Psychoanalytic Journal. The advice offered is hardly Freudian but it is thoroughly Japanese. An elderly man wrote asking for counsel:

I am the father of three boys and one girl. My wife died sixteen years ago. Because I was sorry for my children, I did not remarry, and my children considered this fact as my virtue. Now my children are all married. Eight years ago when my son married, I retired to a house a few blocks away. It is embarrassing to state, but for three years I have played with a girl in the dark [a prostitute under contract in a public house]. She told me her circumstances and I felt sorry for her. I bought her freedom for a small sum, took her to my home, taught her etiquette, and kept her as a maid. Her sense of responsibility is strong and she is admirably economical. However, my sons and daughter-in-law and my daughter and son-in-law look down on me for this and treat me as a stranger. I do not blame them; it is my fault.

The parents of the girl did not seem to understand the situation and since she is of marriageable age they wrote wanting her returned. I have met the parents and explained the circumstances. They are very poor but are not golddiggers. They have promised to consider her as dead and to consent that she continue in her situation. She herself wants to remain by my side till my death. But our ages are as father and daughter and therefore I sometimes consider sending her home. My children consider that she is after my property.

I have a chronic illness and I think I have only one or two years to live. I would appreciate your showing me what course to take. Let me say in conclusion that though the girl was once only a ‘girl in the dark,’ that was because of circumstances. Her character is good and her parents are not golddiggers.

The Japanese doctor regards this as a clear case of the old man’s having put too heavy an on upon his children. He says:

You have described an event of daily occurrence. . . .

Let me preface my remarks by saying that I gather from your letter that you are asking from me the answer you want, and that this makes me have some antagonism to you. I of course appreciate your long unmarriedness, but you have used this to make your children wear the on and also to justify yourself in your present line of action. I don’t like this. I’m not saying that you are sly, but your personality is very weak. It would have been better to have explained to your children that you had to live with a woman,—if you couldn’t help having one,—and not to have let them wear the on (for your remaining unmarried). The children naturally are against you because you have laid such emphasis on this on. After all human beings don’t lose their sexual desires and you can’t help having desire. But one tries to overcome the desire. Your children expected you to because they expected you to live up to the ideal they had formed of you. On the contrary, they were betrayed and I can see how they feel, though it is egoistic on their part. They are married and sexually satisfied and they’re selfish to deny this to their father. You’re thinking this way and your children the other way (as above). The two ways of thinking don’t meet.

You say that the girl and her parents are good people. That is what you want to think. One knows that people’s good and evil depend on the circumstances, the situation, and because they are not at the moment seeking an advantage one can’t say they’re ‘good people.’ I think the girl’s parents are dumb to let her serve as concubine of a man about to die. If they’re going to consider their daughter’s being a concubine, they ought to seek some profit or advantage from it. It’s only your fantasy to see it otherwise.

I don’t wonder the children are worried about the girl’s parents seeking some property; I really think they are. The girl is young and may not have this in mind, but her parents should have.

There are two courses open to you:


As ‘a complete man’ (one so well rounded that nothing is impossible to him) cut off the girl and settle with her. But I don’t think you could do that; your human feelings wouldn’t permit.


‘Come back to being a common man’ (give up your pretensions) and break up the children’s illusion about you as an ideal man.

About the property, make a will immediately and state what the girl’s and the children’s shares are.

In conclusion, remember that you are old, you are getting childish, as I can see by your handwriting. Your thinking is emotional rather than rational. You want this girl as a mother substitute, though you phrase this as wanting to save her from the gutter. I don’t think any infant can live if its mother leaves—therefore, I advise you to take the second course.

This letter says several things about on. A person once having elected to make even his children wear an extra heavy on can change his course of action only at his own risk. He should know that he will suffer for it. In addition, no matter what the cost to him of the on his children received, he may not lay it up for himself as merit to be drawn upon; it is wrong to use it ‘to justify yourself in your present line of action.’ His children are ‘naturally’ resentful; because their father started something he couldn’t maintain, they were ‘betrayed.’ It is foolish for a father to imagine that just because he has devoted himself entirely to them while they needed his care, the now-grown children are going to be extra solicitous for him. Instead they are conscious only of the on they have incurred and ‘naturally they are against you.’

Americans do not judge such a situation in this light. We think that a father who dedicated himself to his motherless children should in later years merit some warm spot in their hearts, not that they are ‘naturally against him.’ In order to appreciate it as the Japanese see it, we can, however, regard it as a financial transaction for in that sphere we have comparable attitudes. It would be perfectly possible for us to say to a father who has lent money to his children in a formal transaction which they have to live up to with interest, ‘they are naturally against you.’ In these terms too we can understand why a person who has accepted a cigarette speaks of his ‘shame’ instead of saying a straightforward ‘Thank you.’ We can understand the resentment with which they speak of a person’s making another wear an on. We can at least get a clue to Botchan’s grandiose magnification of the debt of a glass of ice water. But Americans are not accustomed to applying these financial criteria to a casual treat at the soda counter or to the years’ long devotion of a father to his motherless children or to the devotion of a faithful dog like Hachi. Japan does. Love, kindness, generosity, which we value just in proportion as they are given without strings attached, necessarily must have their strings in Japan. And every such act received makes one a debtor. As their common saying has it: ‘It requires (an impossible degree of) inborn generosity to receive on.’


Repaying One-Ten-Thousandth

On Is A Debt and must be repaid, but in Japan all repayments are regarded as falling into another category entirely. The Japanese find our morals, which confuse these two categories in our ethics and in our neutral words like obligation and duty, as strange as we would find financial dealings in some tribe whose language did not separate ‘debtor’ from ‘creditor’ in money transactions. To them the primary and ever-present indebtedness called on is worlds apart from the active, bowstring-taut repayment which is named in a whole series of other concepts. A man’s indebtedness (on) is not virtue; his repayment is. Virtue begins when he dedicates himself actively to the job of gratitude.

It will help Americans to understand this matter of virtue in Japan if we keep in mind the parallel with financial transactions and think of it as having behind it the sanctions against defaulting which property transactions have in America. Here we hold a man to his bond. We do not count extenuating circumstances when a man takes what is not his. We do not allow it to be a matter of impulse whether or not a man pays a debt to a bank. And the debtor is just as responsible for the accrued interest as he is for the original money he borrowed. Patriotism and love of our families we regard as quite different from all this. Love, with us, is a matter of the heart and is best when freely given. Patriotism, in the sense of putting our country’s interests above everything else, is regarded as rather quixotic or certainly as not compatible with fallible human nature until the United States is attacked by the armed forces of an enemy. Lacking the basic Japanese postulate of great indebtedness automatically incurred by every man and woman born, we think that a man should pity and help his needy parents, should not beat his wife, and should provide for his children. But these things are not quantitatively reckoned like a debt of money and they are not rewarded as success in business is. In Japan they are regarded quite as financial solvency is in America and the sanctions behind them are as strong as they are in the United States behind being able to pay one’s bills and the interest on one’s mortgage. They are not matters that must be attended to only at crises such as a proclamation of war or the serious illness of a parent; they are one’s constant shadow like a small New York farmer’s worry about his mortgage or a Wall Street financier’s as he watches the market climb when he has sold short.

I. On: obligations passively incurred. One ‘receives an on’; one ‘wears an on,’ i.e., on are obligations from the point of view of the passive recipient.
ko on. On received from the Emperor.
oya on. On received from parents.
nushi no on. On received from one’s lord.
shi no on. On received from one’s teacher.
on received in all contacts in the course of one’s life.
            Note: All these persons from whom one receives on become one’s on-jin, ‘on man.’
II. Reciprocals of on. One ‘pays’ these debts, one ‘returns these obligations’ to the on man, i.e., these are obligations regarded from the point of view of active repayment.
A. Gimu.  The fullest repayment of these obligations is still no more than partial and there is no time limit.
chu. Duty to the Emperor, the law, Japan.
ko. Duty to parents and ancestors (by implication, to descendants).
nimmu. Duty to one’s work.
B. Giri.  These debts are regarded as having to be repaid with mathematical equivalence to the favor received and there are time limits.
1. Giri-to-the-world.
Duties to liege lord.
Duties to affinal family.
Duties to non-related persons due to on received, e.g., on a gift of money, on a favor, on work contributed (as a ‘work party’).
Duties to persons not sufficiently closely related (aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces) due to on received not from them but from common ancestors.
2. Giri-to-one’s-name. This is a Japanese version of die Ehre.
One’s duty to ‘clear’ one’s reputation of insult or imputation of failure, i.e., the duty of feuding or vendetta. (N.B. This evening of scores is not reckoned as aggression.)
One’s duty to admit no (professional) failure or ignorance.
One’s duty to fulfill the Japanese proprieties, e.g., observing all respect behavior, not living above one’s station in life, curbing all displays of emotion on inappropriate occasions, etc.

The Japanese divide into distinct categories, each with its different rules, those repayments on on which are limitless both in amount and in duration and those which are quantitatively equivalent and come due on special occasions. The limitless repayments on indebtedness are called gimu and they say of it: ‘One never repays one ten-thousandth of (this) on.’ One’s gimu groups together two different types of obligations: repayment of one’s on to parents, which is ko, and repayment of one’s on to the Emperor, which is chu. Both these obligations of gimu are compulsory and are man’s universal lot; indeed Japan’s elementary schooling is called ‘gimu education’ because no other word so adequately renders the meaning of ‘required.’ The accidents of life may modify the details of one’s gimu, but gimu is automatically incumbent upon all men and is above all fortuitous circumstances.

Both forms of gimu are unconditional. In thus making these virtues absolute Japan has departed from the Chinese concepts of duty to the State and of filial piety. The Chinese ethical system has been repeatedly adopted in Japan ever since the seventh century and chu and ko are Chinese words. But the Chinese did not make these virtues unconditional. China postulates an overriding virtue which is a condition of loyalty and piety. It is usually translated ‘benevolence’ (jen) but it means almost everything Occidentals mean by good interpersonal relations. A parent must have jen. If a ruler does not have it it is righteous for his people to rebel against him. It is a condition upon which one’s gift of loyalty is predicated. The Emperor’s tenure and that of his officials depended on their doing jen. Chinese ethics applies this touchstone in all human relations.

This Chinese ethical postulate was never accepted in Japan. The great Japanese student, Kanichi Asakawa, speaking of this contrast in medieval times, says: ‘In Japan these ideas were obviously incompatible with her imperial sovereignty and were therefore never accepted in entirety even as theories.’[1] In fact jen became in Japan an outlaw virtue and was entirely demoted from the high estate it had in Chinese ethics. In Japan it is pronounced jin (it is written with the same character the Chinese use) and ‘doing jin’ or its variant ‘doing jingi’ is very far indeed from being a virtue required even in the highest quarters. It has been so thoroughly banished from their ethical system that it means something done outside the law. It may indeed be a praiseworthy act like putting one’s name on a subscription list for public charity or granting mercy to a criminal. But it is emphatically a work of supererogation. It means that the act was not required of you.

‘Doing jingi’ is used in another sense of ‘outside the law,’ too; it is used of virtue among gangsters. The honor among thieves of the raiding and slashing swashbucklers of the Tokugawa period—they were one-sword men as contrasted with the two-sworded swashbuckling samurai—was ‘doing jingi’; when one of these outlaws asked shelter of another who was a stranger, that stranger, as an insurance against future vengeance from the petitioner’s gang, would grant it and thereby ‘do jingi.’ In modern usage ‘doing jingi’ has fallen even lower. It occurs frequently in discussions of punishable acts: ‘Common laborers,’ their newspapers say, ’still do jingi and they must be punished. Police should see to it that jingi is stopped in the holes and corners where it flourishes in Japan.’ They mean of course the ‘honor among thieves’ which flourishes in racketeering and gangsterdom. Especially the small labor contractor in modern Japan is said to ‘do jingi’ when, like the Italian labor padrone at American ports at the turn of the century, he enters into outside-the-law relationships with unskilled laborers and gets rich off farming them out at a profit. The degradation of the Chinese concept of jen could hardly go farther.[2] The Japanese, having entirely reinterpreted and demoted the crucial virtue of the Chinese system and put nothing else in its place that might make gimu conditional; filial piety became in Japan a duty one had to fulfill even if it meant condoning a parent’s vice and injustice. It could be abrogated only if it came into conflict with one’s obligation to the Emperor, but certainly not when one’s parent was unworthy or when he was destroying one’s happiness.

In one of their modern movies a mother comes upon some money her married son, a village schoolmaster, has collected from the villagers to redeem a young schoolgirl about to be sold by her parents to a house of prostitution because they are starving in a rural famine. The schoolmaster’s mother steals the money from her son although she is not poor; she runs a respectable restaurant of her own. Her son knows that she has taken it but he has to shoulder the blame himself. His wife discovers the truth, leaves a suicide note taking all responsibility for the loss of the money, and drowns herself and their baby. Publicity follows but the mother’s part in the tragedy is not even called in question. The son has fulfilled the law of filial piety and goes off alone to Hokkaido to build his character so that he can strengthen himself for like tests in coming years. He is a virtuous hero. My Japanese companion vigorously protested my obvious American verdict that the person responsible for the whole tragedy was the thieving mother. Filial piety, he said, was often in conflict with other virtues. If the hero had been wise enough, he might have found a way to reconcile them without loss of self-respect. But it would have been no possible occasion for self-respect if he blamed his mother even to himself.

Both novels and real life are full of the heavy duties of filial piety after a young man is married. Except in ‘modan’ (modern) circles it is taken for granted in respectable families that the parents select their son’s wife, usually through the good offices of go-betweens. The family, not the son, is chiefly concerned about the matter of a good selection, not only because of the money transactions involved but because the wife will be entered in the family genealogy and will perpetuate the family line through her sons. It is the custom for the go-betweens to arrange a seemingly casual meeting between the two young principals in the presence of their parents but they do not converse. Sometimes the parents choose to make for their son a marriage of convenience in which case the girl’s father will profit financially and the boy’s parents by alliance with a good family. Sometimes they choose to select the girl for her personally acceptable qualities. The good son’s repayment of parental on does not allow him to question his parents’ decision. After he is married his repayment continues. Especially if the son is the family heir he will live with his parents and it is proverbial that the mother-in-law does not like her daughter-in-law. She finds all manner of fault with her, and she may send her away and break up the marriage even when the young husband is happy with his wife and asks nothing better than to live with her. Japanese novels and personal histories are just as apt to stress the suffering of the husband as of the wife. The husband of course is doing ko in submitting to the break-up of his marriage.

One ‘modan’ Japanese now in America took into her own rooms in Tokyo a pregnant young wife whose mother-in-law had forced her to leave her grieving young husband. She was sick and brokenhearted but she did not blame her husband. Gradually she became interested in the baby she was soon to bear. But when the child was born, the mother came accompanied by her silent and submissive son to claim the baby. It belonged of course to the husband’s family and the mother-in-law took it away. She disposed of it immediately to a foster home.

All this is on occasion included in filial piety, and is proper repayment of indebtedness to parents. In the United States all such stories are taken as instances of outside interference with an individual’s rightful happiness. Japan cannot consider this interference as ‘outside’ because of her postulate of indebtedness. Such stories in Japan, like our stories of honest men who pay off their creditors by incredible personal hardships, are tales of the truly virtuous, of persons who have earned their right to respect themselves, who have proved themselves strong enough to accept proper personal frustrations. Such frustrations, however virtuous, may naturally leave a residue of resentment and it is well worth noting that the Asiatic proverb about the Hateful Things, which in Burma, for instance, lists ‘fire, water, thieves, governors and malicious men,’ in Japan itemizes ‘earthquake, thunder and the Old Man (head of the house; the father).’

Filial piety does not, as in China, encompass the line of ancestors for centuries back nor the vast proliferating living clan descended from them. Japan’s veneration is of recent ancestors. A gravestone must be relettered annually to keep its identity and when living persons no longer remember an ancestor his grave is neglected. Nor are tablets for them kept in the family shrine. The Japanese do not value piety except to those remembered in the flesh and they concentrate on the here and now. Many writers have commented on their lack of interest in disembodied speculation or in forming images of objects not present, and their version of filial piety serves as another instance of this when it is contrasted with China’s. The greatest practical importance of their version, however, is in the way it limits the obligations of ko among living persons.

For filial piety, both in China and Japan, is far more than deference and obedience to one’s own parents and forebears. All that care of the child which Westerners phrase as being contingent on maternal instinct and on paternal responsibility, they phrase as contingent on piety to one’s ancestors. Japan is very explicit about it: one repays one’s debts to one’s forebears by passing on to one’s children the care one oneself received. There is no word to express ‘obligation of the father to his children’ and all such duties are covered by ko to the parents and their parents. Filial piety enjoins all the numerous responsibilities which rest upon the head of a family to provide for his children, educate his sons and younger brothers, see to the management of the estate, give shelter to relatives who need it and a thousand similar everyday duties. The drastic limitation of the institutionalized family in Japan sharply limits the number of persons toward whom any man has this gimu. If a son dies it is an obligation of filial piety to bear the burden of supporting his widow and her children. So also is the occasional providing of shelter to a widowed daughter and her family. But it is not a gimu to take in a widowed niece; if one does so, one is fulfilling a quite different obligation. It is gimu to rear and educate your own children. But if one educates a nephew, it is customary to adopt him legally as one’s own son; it is not a gimu if he retains the status of nephew.

Filial piety does not require that assistance even to one’s immediate needy relatives in the descending generations be given with deference and loving-kindness. Young widows in the family are called ‘cold-rice relatives,’ meaning that they eat rice when it is cold, are at the beck and call of every member of the inner family, and must accept with deep obedience any decisions about their affairs. They are poor relations, along with their children, and when in particular cases they fare better than this it is not because the head of the family owes them this better treatment as a gimu. Nor is it a gimu incumbent upon brothers to carry out their mutual obligations with warmth; men are often praised for having fully lived up to obligations to a younger brother when it is freely admitted that the two hate each other like poison.

Greatest antagonism is between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. The daughter-in-law comes into the household as a stranger. It is her duty to learn how her mother-in-law likes to have things done and then to learn to do them. In many cases the mother-in-law quite explicitly takes the position that the young wife is not nearly good enough for her son and in other cases it can be inferred that she has considerable jealousy. But, as the Japanese saying goes, ‘The hated daughter-in-law keeps on bearing beloved grandsons’ and ko is therefore always present. The young daughter-in-law is on the surface endlessly submissive but generation after generation these mild and charming creatures grow up into mothers-in-law as exacting and as critical as their own mothers-in-law were before them. They cannot express their aggressions as young wives but they do not therefore become genuinely mild human beings. In later life they turn, as it were, an accumulated weight of resentment against their own daughters-in-law. Japanese girls today openly talk about the great advantage of marrying a son who is not an heir so that they will not have to live with a dominating mother-in-law.

To ‘work for ko’ is not necessarily to achieve loving-kindness in the family. In some cultures this is the crux of the moral law in the extended family. But not in Japan. As one Japanese writer says, ‘Just because he esteems the family highly, the Japanese has anything but a high estimation of the individual members or of the family tie between them.’[3] That is not always true, of course, but it gives the picture. The emphasis is upon obligations and repaying the debt and the elders take great responsibility upon themselves, but one of these responsibilities is to see to it that those below them make the requisite sacrifices. If they resent these, it makes little difference. They must obey their elders’ decisions or they have failed in gimu.

The marked resentments between members of the family which are so typical of filial piety in Japan are absent in the other great obligation which like filial piety is a gimu: fealty to the Emperor. Japanese statesmen planned well in secluding their Emperor as a Sacred Chief and in removing him from the hurlyburly of life; only so in Japan could he serve to unify all people in unambivalent service to the State. It was not enough to make him a father to his people, for the father in the household, despite all the obligations rendered him, was a figure of whom one might have ‘anything but a high estimation.’ The Emperor had to be a Sacred Father removed from all secular considerations. A man’s fealty to him, chu, the supreme virtue, must become an ecstatic contemplation of a fantasied Good Father untainted by contacts with the world. Early Meiji statesmen wrote after they had visited the nations of the Occident that in all these countries history was made by the conflict between ruler and people and that this was unworthy of the Spirit of Japan. They returned and wrote into the Constitution that the Ruler was to ‘be sacred and inviolable’ and not reckoned responsible for any acts of his Ministers. He was to serve as supreme symbol of Japanese unity, not as responsible head of a State. Since the Emperor had not served as an executive ruler for some seven centuries it was simple to perpetuate his back-stage rôle. Meiji statesmen needed only to attach to him, in the minds of all Japanese, that unconditional highest virtue, chu. In feudal Japan chu had been obligation to the Secular Chief, the Shogun, and its long history warned Meiji statesmen what it was necessary to do in the new dispensation to accomplish their objective, the spiritual unification of Japan. In those centuries the Shogun had been Generalissimo and chief administrator and in spite of the chu that was due him plots against his supremacy and against his life were frequent. Fealty to him often came into conflict with obligations to one’s own feudal overlord, and the higher loyalty frequently was less compelling than the lower. Fealty to one’s own overlord was, after all, based on face-to-face ties and fealty to the Shogun might well seem cold in comparison. Retainers too fought in troubled times to unseat the Shogun and to establish their own feudal lord in his place. The prophets and leaders of the Meiji Restoration had for a century fought against the Tokugawa Shogunate with the slogan that chu was due to the Emperor secluded in the shadowy background, a figure whose lineaments every person could draw for himself according to his own desires. The Meiji Restoration was the victory for this party and it was precisely this shifting of chu from Shogun to symbolic Emperor which justified the use of the term ’restoration’ for the year 1868. The Emperor remained secluded. He invested Their Excellencies with authority but he did not himself run the government or the army or personally dictate policies. The same sort of advisors, though they were better chosen, went on running the government. The real upheaval was in the spiritual realm, for chu became every man’s repayment to the Sacred Chief—high priest and symbol of the unity and perpetuity of Japan.

The ease with which chu was transferred to the Emperor was aided of course by the traditional folklore that the Imperial House was descended from the Sun Goddess. But this folkloristic claim to divinity was not so crucial as Westerners thought it was. Certainly Japanese intellectuals who entirely rejected these claims did not therefore question chu to the Emperor, and even the mass of the populace who accepted divine birth did not mean by that what Westerners would mean. Kami, the word rendered as ‘god,’ means literally ‘head,’ i.e., pinnacle of the hierarchy. The Japanese do not fix a great gulf between human and divine as Occidentals do, and any Japanese becomes kami after death. Chu in the feudal eras had been due to heads of the hierarchy who had no divine qualifications. Far more important in transferring chu to the Emperor was the unbroken dynasty of a single imperial house during the whole history of Japan. It is idle for Westerners to complain that this continuity was a hoax because the rules of succession did not conform to those of the royal families of England or of Germany. The rules were Japan’s rules and according to her rules the succession had been unbroken ‘from ages eternal.’ Japan was no China with thirty-six different dynasties in recorded history. She was a country which, in all the changes she had embraced, had never torn her social fabric in shreds; the pattern had been permanent. It was this argument, and not divine ancestry, which the anti-Tokugawa forces exploited during the hundred years before the Restoration. They said that chu, which was due him who stood at the apex of the hierarchy, was due the Emperor alone. They built him up as high priest of the nation and that rôle does not necessarily mean divinity. It was more crucial than descent from a goddess.

Every effort has been made in modern Japan to personalize chu and to direct it specifically to the figure of the Emperor himself. The first Emperor after the Restoration was an individual of consequence and dignity and during his long reign he easily became a personal symbol to his subjects. His infrequent public appearances were staged with all the appurtenances of worship. No murmur rose from the assembled multitudes as they bowed before him. They did not raise their eyes to gaze upon him. Windows were shuttered everywhere above the first story for no man might look down from a height upon the Emperor. His contacts with his high counselors were similarly hierarchal. It was not said that he summoned his administrators; a few specially privileged Excellencies ‘had access’ to him. Rescripts were not issued on controversial political issues; they were on ethics or thrift or they were designed as landmarks to indicate an issue closed and hence to reassure his people. When he was on his deathbed all Japan became a temple where devotees devoted themselves to intercession in his behalf.

The Emperor was in all these ways made into a symbol which was placed beyond all reach of domestic controversy. Just as loyalty to the Stars and Stripes is above and beyond all party politics so the Emperor was ‘inviolable.’ We surround our handling of the flag with a degree of ritual which we regard as completely inappropriate for any human being. The Japanese, however, capitalized to the hilt on the humanness of their supreme symbol. They could love and he could respond. They were moved to ecstasy that he ‘turned his thoughts to them.’ They dedicated their lives to ‘ease his heart.’ In a culture based as fully as Japan’s has been on personal ties, the Emperor was a symbol of loyalty far surpassing a flag. Teachers in training were flunked if they phrased man’s highest duty as love of country; it had to be phrased as repayment to the Emperor in person.

Chu provides a double system of subject-Emperor relationship. The subject faces upward directly to the Emperor without intermediaries; he personally ‘eases his heart’ by his actions. The subject receiving the commands of the Emperor, however, hears these orders relayed through all the intermediaries that stand between them. ‘He speaks for the Emperor’ is a phrase that invokes chu and is probably a more powerful sanction than any other modern State can invoke. Lory describes an incident of peacetime Army maneuvers when an officer took a regiment out with orders not to drink from their canteens without his permission. Japanese Army training placed great emphasis on ability to march fifty and sixty miles without intermission under difficult conditions. On this day twenty men fell by the way from thirst and exhaustion. Five died. When their canteens were examined they were found to be untouched. ‘The officer had given the command. He spoke for the Emperor.’[4]

In civil administration chu sanctions everything from death to taxes. The tax collector, the policeman, the local conscription officials are instrumentalities through which a subject renders chu. The Japanese point of view is that obeying the law is repayment upon their highest indebtedness, their ko-on. The contrast with folkways in the United States could hardly be more marked. To Americans any new laws, from street stop-lights to income taxes, are resented all over the country as interferences with individual liberty in one’s own affairs. Federal regulations are doubly suspect for they interfere also with the freedom of the individual state to make its own laws. It is felt that they are put over on the people by Washington bureaucrats and many citizens regard the loudest outcry against these laws as less than what is rightly due to their self-respect. The Japanese judge therefore that we are a lawless people. We judge that they are a submissive people with no ideas of democracy. It would be truer to say that the citizen’s self-respect, in the two countries, is tied up with different attitudes; in our country it depends on his management of his own affairs and in Japan it depends on repaying what he owes to accredited benefactors. Both arrangements have their own difficulties: ours is that it is difficult to get regulations accepted even when they are to the advantage of the whole country, and theirs is that, in any language, it is difficult to be in debt to such a degree that one’s whole life is shadowed by it. Every Japanese has probably at some point invented ways of living within the law and yet circumventing what is asked of him. They also admire certain forms of violence and direct action and private revenge which Americans do not. But these qualifications, and any others that can be urged, still do not bring in question the hold that chu has upon the Japanese.

When Japan capitulated on August 14, 1945, the world had an almost unbelievable demonstration of its working. Many Westerners with experience and knowledge of Japan had held that it would be impossible for her to surrender; it would be naïve, they insisted, to imagine that her armies scattered over Asia and the Pacific Islands would peacefully yield up their arms. Many of Japan’s armed forces had suffered no local defeat and they were convinced of the righteousness of their cause. The home islands, too, were full of bitter-enders and an occupying army, its advance guard being necessarily small, would run the risk of massacre when it moved beyond range of naval guns. During the war the Japanese had stopped at nothing and they are a warlike people. Such American analysts reckoned without chu. The Emperor spoke and the war ceased. Before his voice went upon the radio bitter opponents had thrown a cordon around the palace and tried to prevent the proclamation. But, once read, it was accepted. No field commander in Manchuria or Java, no Tojo in Japan, put himself in opposition. Our troops landed at the airfields and were greeted with courtesy. Foreign correspondents, as one of them wrote, might land in the morning fingering their small arms but by noon they had put these aside and by evening they were shopping for trinkets. The Japanese were now ‘easing the Emperor’s heart’ by following the ways of peace; a week earlier it had been by dedicating themselves to repulse the barbarian even with bamboo spears.

There was no mystery about it except to those Westerners who could not grant how various are the emotions that sway men’s conduct. Some had proclaimed that there was no alternative to practical extermination. Some had proclaimed that Japan could save itself only if the liberals seized power and overthrew the government. Either of these analyses made sense in terms of a Western nation fighting an all-out and popularly supported war. They were wrong, however, because they attributed to Japan courses of action which are essentially Occidental. Some Western prophets still thought after months of peaceful occupation that all was lost because no Western-type revolution had occurred or because ‘the Japanese did not know they were defeated.’ This is good Occidental social philosophy based on Occidental standards of what is right and proper. But Japan is not the Occident. She did not use that last strength of Occidental nations: revolution. Nor did she use sullen sabotage against the enemy’s occupying army. She used her own strength: the ability to demand of herself as chu the enormous price of unconditional surrender before her fighting power was broken. In her own eyes this enormous payment nevertheless bought something she supremely valued: the right to say that it was the Emperor who had given the order even if that order was capitulation. Even in defeat the highest law was still chu.

[1] Documents of Iriki, 1929, p. 380, n. 19.

[2] When the Japanese use the phrase ‘knowing jin,’ they are somewhat closer to Chinese usage. Buddhists exhort people to ‘know jin’ and this means to be merciful and benevolent. But, as the all-Japanese dictionary says, ‘knowing jin refers to ideal man rather than to acts.’

[3] Nohara, K., The True Face of Japan. London, 1936, p. 45.

[4] Lory, Hillis, Japan’s Military Masters, 1943, p. 40.


The Repayment ‘Hardest to Bear’

‘Giri,’ runs the Japanese saying, is ‘hardest to bear.’ A person must repay giri as he must repay gimu, but it is a series of obligations of a different color. There is no possible English equivalent and of all the strange categories of moral obligations which anthropologists find in the culture of the world, it is one of the most curious. It is specifically Japanese. Both chu and ko Japan shares with China and in spite of the changes she has made in these concepts they have certain family likeness to moral imperatives familiar in other Eastern nations. But giri she owes to no Chinese Confucianism and to no Oriental Buddhism. It is a Japanese category and it is not possible to understand their courses of action without taking it into account. No Japanese can talk about motivations or good repute or the dilemmas which confront men and women in his home country without constantly speaking of giri.

To an Occidental, giri includes a most heterogeneous list of obligations (see chart on p. 116) ranging from gratitude for an old kindness to the duty of revenge. It is no wonder that the Japanese have not tried to expound giri to Westerners; their own all-Japanese dictionaries can hardly define it. One of these renders it—I translate:—‘righteous way; the road human beings should follow; something one does unwillingly to forestall apology to the world.’ This does not give a Westerner much idea of it but the word ‘unwillingly’ points up a contrast with gimu. Gimu, no matter how many difficult demands it makes upon a person, is at least a group of duties he owes within the immediate circle of his intimate family and to the Ruler who stands as a symbol for his country, his way of life, and his patriotism. It is due to persons because of strong ties drawn tight at his very birth. However unwilling specific acts of compliance may be, gimu is never defined as ‘unwilling.’ But ‘repaying giri’ is full of malaise. The difficulties of being a debtor are at their maximum in ‘the circle of giri.’

Giri has two quite distinct divisions. What I shall call ‘giri to the world’—literally ‘repaying giri’—is one’s obligation to repay on to one’s fellows, and what I shall call ‘giri to one’s name’ is the duty of keeping one’s name and reputation unspotted by any imputation, somewhat after the fashion of German ‘honor.’ Giri to the world can roughly be described as the fulfillment of contractual relations—as contrasted with gimu which is felt as the fulfillment of intimate obligations to which one is born. Thus giri includes all the duties one owes to one’s in-law’s family; gimu, those to one’s own immediate family. The term for father-in-law is father-in-giri; mother-in-law is mother-in-giri, and brother- and sister-in-law are brother-in-giri and sister-in-giri. This terminology is used either for spouse’s sibling or for sibling’s spouse. Marriage in Japan is of course a contract between families and carrying out these contractual obligations throughout life to the opposite family is ‘working for giri.’ It is heaviest toward the generation which arranged the contract—the parents—and heaviest of all on the young wife toward her mother-in-law because, as the Japanese say, the bride has gone to live in a house where she was not born. The husband’s obligations to his parents-in-law are different, but they too are dreaded, for he may have to lend them money if they are in distress and must meet other contractual responsibilities. As one Japanese said, ‘If a grown son does things for his own mother, it is because he loves her and therefore it couldn’t be giri. You don’t work for giri when you act from the heart.’ A person fulfills his duties to his in-laws punctiliously, however, because at all costs he must avoid the dreaded condemnation: ‘a man who does not know giri.’

The way they feel about this duty to the in-law family is vividly clear in the case of the ‘adopted husband,’ the man who is married after the fashion of a woman. When a family has daughters and no sons the parents choose a husband for one of their daughters in order to carry on the family name. His name is erased from the register of his own family and he takes his father-in-law’s name. He enters his wife’s home, is subject ‘in giri’ to his father- and mother-in-law, and when he dies is buried in their burying ground. In all these acts he follows the exact pattern of the woman in the usual marriage. The reasons for adopting a husband for one’s daughter may not be simply the absence of a son of one’s own; often it is a deal out of which both sides hope to gain. These are called ‘political marriages.’ The girl’s family may be poor but of good family and the boy may bring ready cash and in return move up in the class hierarchy. Or the girl’s family may be wealthy and able to educate the husband who in return for this benefit signs away his own family. Or the girl’s father may in this way associate with himself a prospective partner in his firm. In any case, an adopted husband’s giri is especially heavy—as is proper because the act of changing a man’s name to another family register is drastic in Japan. In feudal Japan he had to prove himself in his new household by taking his adopted father’s side in battle, even if it meant killing his own father. In modern Japan the ‘political marriages’ involving adopted husbands invoke this strong sanction of giri to tie the young man to his father-in-law’s business or family fortunes with the heaviest bonds the Japanese can provide. Especially in Meiji times this was sometimes advantageous to both parties. But resentment at being an adopted husband is usually violent and a common Japanese saying is ‘If you have three go of rice (about a pint), never be an adopted husband.’ The Japanese say this resentment is ‘because of the gin.’ They do not say, as Americans probably would if we had a like custom, ‘because it keeps him from playing a man’s rôle.’ Giri is hard enough anyway and ‘unwilling’ enough, so that ‘because of the gin’ seems to the Japanese a sufficient statement of the burdensome relation.

Not only duties to one’s in-laws are giri; duties even to uncles and aunts and nephews and nieces are in the same category. The fact that in Japan duties to even such relatively close relatives do not rank as filial piety (ko) is one of the great differences in family relations between Japan and China. In China, many such relatives, and much more distant ones, would share pooled resources, but in Japan they are giri or ‘contractual’ relatives. The Japanese point out that it often happens that these persons have never personally done a favor (on) for the person who is asked to come to their aid; in helping them he is repaying on to their common ancestors. This is the sanction behind caring for one’s own children too—which of course is a gimu—but even though the sanction is the same, assistance to these more distant relatives rates as giri. When one has to help them, as when one helps one’s in-laws, one says, ‘I am tangled with giri.’

The great traditional giri relationship which most Japanese think of even before the relation with in-laws, is that of a retainer to his liege lord and to his comrades at arms. It is the loyalty a man of honor owes to his superior and to his fellows of his own class. This obligation of giri is celebrated in a vast traditional literature. It is identified as the virtue of the samurai. In old Japan, before the unification of the country effected by the Tokugawas, it was often considered a greater and dearer virtue even than chu, which was at that time the obligation to the Shogun. When in the twelfth century a Minamoto Shogun demanded of one of the daimyo the surrender of an enemy lord he was sheltering, the daimyo wrote back a letter which is still preserved. He was deeply resentful of the imputation upon his giri and he refused to offend against it even in the name of chu. ‘Public affairs,’ he wrote, ‘(are a thing) over which I have little personal control but giri between men of honor is an eternal verity’ which transcended the Shogun’s authority. He refused ‘to commit a faithless act against his honored friends.’[1] This transcendent samurai virtue of old Japan suffuses great numbers of historical folktales which are known today all over Japan and are worked up into noh dramas, kabuki theater and kagura dances.

One of the best-known of these is the tale of the huge invincible ronin (a lordless samurai who lives by his own wits), the hero Benkei of the twelfth century. Entirely without resources but of miraculous strength he terrorizes the monks when he takes shelter in the monasteries and cuts down every passing samurai in order to make a collection of their swords to pay for outfitting himself in feudal fashion. Finally he challenges what appears to him to be a mere youngster, a slight and foppish lord. But in him he meets his match and discovers that the youth is the scion of the Minamotos who is scheming to recover the Shogunate for his family. He is indeed that beloved Japanese hero, Yoshitsune Minamoto. To him Benkei gives his passionate giri and undertakes a hundred exploits in his cause. At last, however, they have to escape with their followers from an overwhelming enemy force. They disguise themselves as monkish pilgrims traveling over Japan to collect subscriptions for a temple and to escape detection Yoshitsune dresses as one of the troop while Benkei assumes its head-ship. They run into a guard the enemy has set along their path and Benkei fabricates for them a long list of temple ‘subscribers’ which he pretends to read from his scroll. The enemy almost lets them pass. At the last moment, however, their suspicions are aroused by the aristocratic grace of Yoshitsune which he cannot conceal even in his disguise as an underling. They call back the troop. Benkei immediately takes a step which completely clears Yoshitsune from suspicion: he berates him on some trivial issue and strikes him across the face. The enemy is convinced; it is beyond possibility that if this pilgrim is Yoshitsune, one of his retainers should lift his hand against him. It would be an unimaginable breach of giri. Benkei’s impious act saves the lives of the little band. As soon as they are in safe territory, Benkei throws himself at Yoshitsune’s feet and asks him to slay him. His lord graciously offers pardon.

These old tales of times when giri was from the heart and had no taint of resentment are modern Japan’s daydream of a golden age. In those days, the tales tell them, there was no ‘unwillingness’ in giri. If there was conflict with chu, a man could honorably stick by giri. Giri then was a loved face-to-face relation dressed in all the feudal trimmings. To ‘know giri’ meant to be loyal for life to a lord who cared for his retainers in return. To ‘repay giri’ meant to offer even one’s life to the lord to whom one owed everything.

This is, of course, a fantasy. Feudal history in Japan tells of plenty of retainers whose loyalty was bought by the daimyo on the opposite side of the battle. Still more important, as we shall see in the next chapter, any slur the lord cast upon his retainer could properly and traditionally make the retainer leave his service and even enter into negotiations with the enemy. Japan celebrates the vengeance theme with as much delight as she celebrates loyalty to the death. And they were both giri; loyalty was giri to one’s lord and vengeance for an insult was giri-to-one’s-name. In Japan they are two sides to the same shield.

Nevertheless the old tales of loyalty are pleasant daydreams to the Japanese today for now ‘repaying giri’ is no longer loyalty to one’s legitimate chieftain but is fulfilling all sorts of obligations to all sorts of people. Today’s constantly used phrases are full of resentment and of emphasis on the pressure of public opinion which compels a person to do giri against his wishes. They say, ‘I am arranging this marriage merely for giri’; ‘merely because of giri I was forced to give him the job’; ‘I must see him merely for giri.’ They constantly talk of being ‘tangled with giri,’ a phrase the dictionary translates as ‘I am obliged to it.’ They say, ‘He forced me with giri,’ ‘he cornered me with giri,’ and these, like the other usages, mean that someone has argued the speaker into an act he did not want or intend by raising some issue of payment due upon an on. In peasant villages, in transactions in small shops, in high circles of the Zaibatsu and in the Cabinet of Japan, people are ‘forced with giri’ and ‘cornered with giri.’ A suitor may do this by taxing his prospective father-in-law with some old relationship or transaction between the two families or a man may use this same weapon to get a peasant’s land. The man who is being ‘cornered’ will himself feel he must comply; he says, ‘If I do not hold the shoulder of my on-man (man from whom I received on), my giri is in bad repute.’ All these usages carry the implication of unwillingness and of compliance for ‘mere decency’s sake,’ as the Japanese dictionary phrases it.

The rules of giri are strictly rules of required repayment; they are not a set of moral rules like the Ten Commandments. When a man is forced with giri, it is assumed that he may have to override his sense of justice and they often say, ‘I could not do right (gi) because of giri.’ Nor do the rules of giri have anything to do with loving your neighbor as yourself; they do not dictate that a man shall act generously out of the spontaneity of his heart. A man must do giri, they say, because, ‘if he does not, people will call him “a person who does not know giri” and he will be shamed before the world.’ It is what people will say that makes it so necessary to comply. Indeed, ‘giri to the world’ often appears in English translation as ‘conformity to public opinion,’ and the dictionary translates ‘It can’t be helped because it is giri to the world’ as ‘People will not accept any other course of action.’

It is in this ‘circle of giri’ that the parallel with American sanctions on paying money one has borrowed helps us most to understand the Japanese attitude. We do not consider that a man has to pay back the favor of a letter received or a gift given or of a timely word spoken with the stringency that is necessary in keeping up his payments of interest and his repayment of a bank loan. In these financial dealings bankruptcy is the penalty for failure—a heavy penalty. The Japanese, however, regard a man as bankrupt when he fails in repaying giri and every contact in life is likely to incur giri in some way or other. This means keeping an account of little words and acts Americans throw lightly about with no thought of incurring obligations. It means walking warily in a complicated world.

There is another parallel between Japanese ideas of giri to the world and American ideas of repaying money. Repayment of giri is thought of as repayment of an exact equivalent. In this giri is quite unlike gimu, which can never be even approximately satisfied no matter what one does. But giri is not unlimited. To American eyes the repayments are fantastically out of proportion to the original favor but that is not the way the Japanese see it. We think their gift-giving is fantastic too, when twice a year every household wraps up something in ceremonious fashion as return on a gift received six months earlier, or when the family of one’s maidservant brings gifts through the years as a return on the favor of hiring her. But the Japanese taboo returning gifts with larger gifts. It is no part of one’s honor to return ‘pure velvet.’ One of the most disparaging things one can say about a gift is that the giver has ‘repaid a minnow with a sea bream (a large fish).’ So too in repaying giri.

Whenever possible written records are kept of the network of exchanges, whether they are of work or of goods. In the villages some of these are kept by the headman, some by one of the work-party, some are family and personal records. For a funeral it is customary to bring ‘incense money.’ Relatives may also bring colored cloth for funeral banners. The neighbors come to help, the women in the kitchen and the men in digging the grave and making the coffin. In the village of Suye Mura the headman made up the book in which these things were recorded. It was a valued record in the family of the deceased for it showed the tributes of their neighbors. It is also a list which shows those names to which the family owes reciprocal tributes which will be honored when a death occurs in other families. These are long-term reciprocities. There are also short-term exchanges at any village funeral just as at any kind of feast. The helpers who make the coffin are fed and they therefore bring a measure of rice to the bereaved family as part payment on their food. This rice too is entered in the headman’s record. For most feasts also the guest brings some rice-wine in part payment for the party drinks. Whether the occasion is birth or death, a rice-transplanting, a housebuilding or a social party, the exchange of giri is carefully noted for future repayment.

The Japanese have another convention about giri which parallels Western conventions about money repayment. If repayment is delayed beyond due term it increases as if it drew interest. Doctor Eckstein tells a story of this in his dealings with the Japanese manufacturer who financed his trip to Japan to gather material for his biography of Noguchi. Doctor Eckstein returned to the United States to write the book and eventually sent the manuscript to Japan. He received no acknowledgement and no letters. He was naturally troubled for fear something in the volume might have offended the Japanese, but his letters remained unanswered. Some years later the manufacturer telephoned him. He was in the United States, and shortly afterward he arrived at Doctor Eckstein’s home bringing with him dozens of Japanese cherry trees. The gift was lavish. Just because it had been held in abeyance so long it was proper that it should be handsome. ‘Surely,’ his benefactor said to Doctor Eckstein, ‘you would not have wanted me to repay you quickly.’

A man who is ‘cornered with giri’ is often forced into repayments of debts which have grown with time. A man may apply for assistance to a small merchant because he is the nephew of a teacher the merchant had as a boy. Since as a young man, the student had been unable to repay his giri to his teacher, the debt has accumulated during the passing years and the merchant has to give ‘unwillingly to forestall apology to the world.’

[1] Quoted by Kanichi Asakawa, Documents of Iriki, 1929.

Part II Part III