1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Japan/02 The People


II.—The People

Population.—The population was as follows on the 31st of December 1907:—

Population. Males. Females. Totals.  Population 
sq. m.
Japan proper 24,601,658 24,172,627 48,774,285 330
Formosa (Taiwan)  1,640,778 1,476,137 3,116,915 224
Sakhalin 7,175 3,631 10,806    0.1
————— ————— —————
Totals 26,249,611 25,652,395 51,902,006

The following table shows the rate of increase in the four quadrennial periods between 1891 and 1907 in Japan proper:—

 Year.  Males. Females. Totals. Average
per cent.
sq. m.
1891 20,563,416 20,155,261 40,718,677 1.09 272
1895 21,345,750 20,904,870 42,270,620 1.09 286
1899 22,330,112 21,930,540 44,260,652 1.14 299
1903 23,601,640 23,131,236 46,732,876 1.54 316
1907 24,601,658 24,172,627 48,774,285 1.13 330

The population of Formosa (Taiwan) during the ten-year period 1898–1907 grew as follows:—

  Year.   Males. Females. Totals. Average
per cent.
sq. m.
1898 1,307,428 1,157,539 2,464,967 182
1902 1,513,280 1,312,067 2,825,347 2.70 209
1907 1,640,778 1,476,137 3,116,915 2.37 224

According to quasi-historical records, the population of the empire in the year A.D. 610 was 4,988,842, and in 736 it had grown to 8,631,770. It is impossible to say how much reliance may be placed on these figures, but from the 18th century, when the name of every subject had to be inscribed on the roll of a temple as a measure against his adoption of Christianity, a tolerably trustworthy census could always be taken. The returns thus obtained show that from the year 1723 until 1846 the population remained almost stationary, the figure in the former year being 26,065,422, and that in the latter year 26,907,625. There had, indeed, been five periods of declining population in that interval of 124 years, namely, the periods 1738–1744, 1759–1762, 1773–1774, 1791–1792, and 1844–1846. But after 1872, when the census showed a total of 33,110,825, the population grew steadily, its increment between 1872 and 1898 inclusive, a period of 27 years, being 10,649,990. Such a rate of increase invests the question of subsistence with great importance. In former times the area of land under cultivation increased in a marked degree. Returns prepared at the beginning of the 10th century showed 21/2 million acres under crops, whereas the figure in 1834 was over 8 million acres. But the development of means of subsistence has been outstripped by the growth of population in recent years. Thus, during the period between 1899 and 1907 the population received an increment of 11.6% whereas the food-producing area increased by only 4.4%. This discrepancy caused anxiety at one time, but large fields suitable for colonization have been opened in Sakhalin, Korea, Manchuria and Formosa, so that the problem of subsistence has ceased to be troublesome. The birth-rate, taking the average of the decennial period ended 1907, is 3.05% of the population, and the death-rate is 2.05. Males exceed females in the ratio of 2% approximately. But this rule does not hold after the age of 65, where for every 100 females only 83 males are found. The Japanese are of low stature as compared with the inhabitants of Western Europe: about 16% of the adult males are below 5 ft. But there are evidences of steady improvement in this respect. Thus, during the period of ten years between 1893 and 1902, it was found that the percentage of recruits of 5 ft. 5 in. and upward grew from 10.09 to 12.67, the rate of increase having been remarkably steady; and the percentage of those under 5 ft. declined from 20.21 to 16.20.

Towns.—There are in Japan 23 towns having a population of over 50,000, and there are 76 having a population of over 20,000. The larger towns, their populations and the growth of the latter during the five-year period commencing with 1898 were as follow:—

Urban Populations

1898. 1903.
Tōkyō 1,440,121 1,795,128
Osaka 821,235 988,200
Kiōto 353,139 379,404
Nagoya 244,145 284,829
Kobe 215,780 283,839
Yokohama 193,762 324,776
Hiroshima 122,306 113,545
Nagasaki 107,422 151,727
Kanazawa 83,595 97,548
Sendai 83,325 93,773
Hakodate 78,040 84,746
Fukuoka 66,190 70,107
Wakayama 63,667 67,908
Tokushima 61,501 62,998
Kumamoto 61,463 55,277
Toyama 59,558 86,276
Okayama 58,025 80,140
Otaru 56,961 79,746
Kagoshima 53,481 58,384
Niigata 53,366 58,821
Sakai 50,203 ———
Sapporo ——— 55,304
Kure ——— 62,825
Sasebo ——— 52,607

The growth of Kure and Sasebo is attributable to the fact that they have become the sites of large ship-building yards, the property of the state.

The number of houses in Japan at the end of 1903, when the census was last taken, was 8,725,544, the average number of inmates in each house being thus 5.5.

Physical Characteristics.—The best authorities are agreed that the Japanese people do not differ physically from their Korean and Chinese neighbours as much as the inhabitants of northern Europe differ from those of southern Europe. It is true that the Japanese are shorter in stature than either the Chinese or the Koreans. Thus the average height of the Japanese male is only 5 ft. 31/2 in., and that of the female 4 ft. 101/2 in., whereas in the case of the Koreans and the northern Chinese the corresponding figures for males are 5 ft. 53/4 in. and 5 ft. 7 in. respectively. Yet in other physical characteristics the Japanese, the Koreans and the Chinese resemble each other so closely that, under similar conditions as to costume and coiffure, no appreciable difference is apparent. Thus since it has become the fashion for Chinese students to flock to the schools and colleges of Japan, there adopting, as do their Japanese fellow-students, Occidental garments and methods of hairdressing, the distinction of nationality ceases to be perceptible. The most exhaustive anthropological study of the Japanese has been made by Dr E. Baelz (emeritus professor of medicine in the Imperial University of Tōkyō), who enumerates the following sub-divisions of the race inhabiting the Japanese islands. The first and most important is the Manchu-Korean type; that is to say, the type which prevails in north China and in Korea. This is seen specially among the upper classes in Japan. Its characteristics are exceptional tallness combined with slenderness and elegance of figure; a face somewhat long, without any special prominence of the cheekbones but having more or less oblique eyes; an aquiline nose; a slightly receding chin; largish upper teeth; a long neck; a narrow chest; a long trunk, and delicately shaped, small hands with long, slender fingers. The most plausible hypothesis is that men of this type are descendants of Korean colonists who, in prehistoric times, settled in the province of Izumo, on the west coast of Japan, having made their way thither from the Korean peninsula by the island of Oki, being carried by the cold current which flows along the eastern coast of Korea. The second type is the Mongol. It is not very frequently found in Japan, perhaps because, under favourable social conditions, it tends to pass into the Manchu-Korean type. Its representative has a broad face, with prominent cheekbones, oblique eyes, a nose more or less flat and a wide mouth. The figure is strongly and squarely built, but this last characteristic can scarcely be called typical. There is no satisfactory theory as to the route by which the Mongols reached Japan, but it is scarcely possible to doubt that they found their way thither at one time. More important than either of these types as an element of the Japanese nation is the Malay. Small in stature, with a well-knit frame, the cheekbones prominent, the face generally round, the nose and neck short, a marked tendency to prognathism, the chest broad and well developed, the trunk long, the hands small and delicate—this Malay type is found in nearly all the islands along the east coast of the Asiatic continent as well as in southern China and in the extreme south-west of Korean peninsula. Carried northward by the warm current known as the Kuro Shiwo, the Malays seem to have landed in Kiūshiū—the most southerly of the main Japanese islands—whence they ultimately pushed northward and conquered their Manchu-Korean predecessors, the Izumo colonists. None of the above three, however, can be regarded as the earliest settlers in Japan. Before them all was a tribe of immigrants who appear to have crossed from north-eastern Asia at an epoch when the sea had not yet dug broad channels between the continent and the adjacent islands. These people—the Ainu—are usually spoken of as the aborigines of Japan. They once occupied the whole country, but were gradually driven northward by the Manchu-Koreans and the Malays, until only a mere handful of them survived in the northern island of Yezo. Like the Malay and the Mongol types they are short and thickly built, but unlike either they have prominent brows, bushy locks, round deep-set eyes, long divergent lashes, straight noses and much hair on the face and the body. In short, the Ainu suggest much closer affinity with Europeans than does any other of the types that go to make up the population of Japan. It is not to be supposed, however, that these traces of different elements indicate any lack of homogeneity in the Japanese race. Amalgamation has been completely effected in the course of long centuries, and even the Ainu, though the small surviving remnant of them now live apart, have left a trace upon their conquerors.

The typical Japanese of the present day has certain marked physical peculiarities. In the first place, the ratio of the height of his head to the length of his body is greater than it is in Europeans. The Englishman’s head is often one-eighth of the length of his body or even less, and in continental Europeans, as a rule, the ratio does not amount to one-seventh; but in the Japanese it exceeds the latter figure. In all nations men of short stature have relatively large heads, but in the case of the Japanese there appears to be some racial reason for the phenomenon. Another striking feature is shortness of legs relatively to length of trunk. In northern Europeans the leg is usually much more than one-half of the body’s length, but in Japanese the ratio is one-half or even less; so that whereas the Japanese, when seated, looks almost as tall as a European, there may be a great difference between their statures when both are standing. This special feature has been attributed to the Japanese habit of kneeling instead of sitting, but investigation shows that it is equally marked in the working classes who pass most of their time standing. In Europe the same physical traits—relative length of head and shortness of legs—distinguish the central race (Alpine) from the Teutonic, and seem to indicate an affinity between the former and the Mongols. It is in the face, however, that we find specially distinctive traits, namely, in the eyes, the eye-lashes, the cheekbones and the beard. Not that the eyeball itself differs from that of an Occidental. The difference consists in the fact that “the socket of the eye is comparatively small and shallow, and the osseous ridges at the brows being little marked, the eye is less deeply set than in the European. In fact, seen in profile, forehead and upper lip often form an unbroken line.” Then, again, the shape of the eye, as modelled by the lids, shows a striking peculiarity. For whereas the open eye is almost invariably horizontal in the European, it is often oblique in the Japanese on account of the higher level of the upper corner. “But even apart from obliqueness, the shape of the corners is peculiar in the Mongolian eye. The inner corner is partly or entirely covered by a fold of the upper lid continuing more or less into the lower lid. This fold often covers also the whole free rim of the upper lid, so that the insertion of the eye-lashes is hidden” and the opening between the lids is so narrowed as to disappear altogether at the moment of laughter. As for the eye-lashes, not only are they comparatively short and sparse, but also they converge instead of diverging, so that whereas in a European the free ends of the lashes are further distant from each other than their roots, in a Japanese they are nearer together. Prominence of cheekbones is another special feature, but it is much commoner in the lower than in the upper classes, where elongated faces may almost be said to be the rule. Finally, there is marked paucity of hair on the face of the average Japanese—apart from the Ainu—and what hair there is is nearly always straight. It is not to be supposed, however, that because the Japanese is short of stature and often finely moulded, he lacks either strength or endurance. On the contrary, he possesses both in a marked degree, and his deftness of finger is not less remarkable than the suppleness and activity of his body.

Moral Characteristics.—The most prominent trait of Japanese disposition is gaiety of heart. Emphatically of a laughter-loving nature, the Japanese passes through the world with a smile on his lips. The petty ills of life do not disturb his equanimity. He takes them as part of the day’s work, and though he sometimes grumbles, rarely, if ever, does he repine. Exceptional to this general rule, however, is a mood of pessimism which sometimes overtakes youths on the threshold of manhood. Finding the problem of life insolvable, they abandon the attempt to solve it and take refuge in the grave. It seems as though there were always a number of young men hovering on the brink of such suicidal despair. An example alone is needed finally to destroy the equilibrium. Some one throws himself over a cataract or leaps into the crater of a volcano, and immediately a score or two follow. Apparently the more picturesquely awful the manner of the demise, the greater its attractive force. The thing is not a product of insanity, as the term is usually interpreted; letters always left behind by the victims prove them to have been in full possession of their reasoning faculties up to the last moment. Some observers lay the blame at the door of Buddhism, a creed which promotes pessimism by begetting the anchorite, the ascetic and the shuddering believer in seven hells. But Buddhism did not formerly produce such incidents, and, for the rest, the faith of Shaka has little sway over the student mind in Japan. The phenomenon is modern: it is not an outcome of Japanese nature nor yet of Buddhist teaching, but is due to the stress of endeavouring to reach the standards of Western acquirement with grievously inadequate equipment, opportunities and resources. In order to support himself and pay his academic fees many a Japanese has to fall into the ranks of the physical labourer during a part of each day or night. Ill-nourished, over-worked and, it may be, disappointed, he finds the struggle intolerable and so passes out into the darkness. But he is not a normal type. The normal type is light-hearted and buoyant. One naturally expects to find, and one does find, that this moral sunshine is associated with good temper. The Japanese is exceptionally serene. Irascibility is regarded as permissible in sickly children only: grown people are supposed to be superior to displays of impatience. But there is a limit of imperturbability, and when that limit is reached, the subsequent passion is desperately vehement. It has been said that these traits go to make the Japanese soldier what he is. The hardships of a campaign cause him little suffering since he never frets over them, but the hour of combat finds him forgetful of everything save victory. In the case of the military class—and prior to the Restoration of 1867 the term “military class” was synonymous with “educated class”—this spirit of stoicism was built up by precept on a solid basis of heredity. The samurai (soldier) learned that his first characteristic must be to suppress all outward displays of emotion. Pain, pleasure, passion and peril must all find him unperturbed. The supreme test, satisfied so frequently as to be commonplace, was a shocking form of suicide performed with a placid mien. This capacity, coupled with readiness to sacrifice life at any moment on the altar of country, fief or honour, made a remarkably heroic character. On the other hand, some observers hold that the education of this stoicism was effected at the cost of the feelings it sought to conceal. In support of that theory it is pointed out that the average Japanese, man or woman, will recount a death or some other calamity in his own family with a perfectly calm, if not a smiling, face. Probably there is a measure of truth in the criticism. Feelings cannot be habitually hidden without being more or less blunted. But here another Japanese trait presents itself—politeness. There is no more polite nation in the world than the Japanese. Whether in real courtesy of heart they excel Occidentals may be open to doubt, but in all the forms of comity they are unrivalled. Now one of the cardinal rules of politeness is to avoid burdening a stranger with the weight of one’s own woes. Therefore a mother, passing from the chamber which has just witnessed her paroxysms of grief, will describe calmly to a stranger—especially a foreigner—the death of her only child. The same suppression of emotional display in public is observed in all the affairs of life. Youths and maidens maintain towards each other a demeanour of reserve and even indifference, from which it has been confidently affirmed that love does not exist in Japan. The truth is that in no other country do so many dual suicides occur—suicides of a man and woman who, unable to be united in this world, go to a union beyond the grave. It is true, nevertheless, that love as a prelude to marriage finds only a small place in Japanese ethics. Marriages in the great majority of cases are arranged with little reference to the feelings of the parties concerned. It might be supposed that conjugal fidelity must suffer from such a custom. It does suffer seriously in the case of the husband, but emphatically not in the case of the wife. Even though she be cognisant—as she often is—of her husband’s extra-marital relations, she abates nothing of the duty which she has been taught to regard as the first canon of female ethics. From many points of view, indeed, there is no more beautiful type of character than that of the Japanese woman. She is entirely unselfish; exquisitely modest without being anything of a prude; abounding in intelligence which is never obscured by egoism; patient in the hour of suffering; strong in time of affliction; a faithful wife; a loving mother; a good daughter; and capable, as history shows, of heroism rivalling that of the stronger sex. As to the question of sexual virtue and morality in Japan, grounds for a conclusive verdict are hard to find. In the interests of hygiene prostitution is licensed, and that fact is by many critics construed as proof of tolerance. But licensing is associated with strict segregation, and it results that the great cities are conspicuously free from evidences of vice, and that the streets may be traversed by women at all hours of the day and night with perfect impunity and without fear of encountering offensive spectacles. The ratio of marriages is approximately 8.46 per thousand units of the population, and the ratio of divorces is 1.36 per thousand. There are thus about 16 divorces for every hundred marriages. Divorces take place chiefly among the lower orders, who frequently treat marriage merely as a test of a couple’s suitability to be helpmates in the struggles of life. If experience develops incompatibility of temper or some other mutually repellent characteristic, separation follows as a matter of course. On the other hand, divorces among persons of the upper classes are comparatively rare, and divorces on account of a wife’s unfaithfulness are almost unknown.

Concerning the virtues of truth and probity, extremely conflicting opinions have been expressed. The Japanese samurai always prided himself on having “no second word.” He never drew his sword without using it; he never gave his word without keeping it. Yet it may be doubted whether the value attached in Japan to the abstract quality, truth, is as high as the value attached to it in England, or whether the consciousness of having told a falsehood weighs as heavily on the heart. Much depends upon the motive. Whatever may be said of the upper class, it is probably true that the average Japanese will not sacrifice expediency on the altar of truth. He will be veracious only so long as the consequences are not seriously injurious. Perhaps no more can be affirmed of any nation. The “white lie” of the Anglo-Saxon and the hōben no uso of the Japanese are twins. In the matter of probity, however, it is possible to speak with more assurance. There is undoubtedly in the lower ranks of Japanese tradesmen a comparatively large fringe of persons whose standard of commercial morality is defective. They are descendants of feudal days when the mercantile element, being counted as the dregs of the population, lost its self-respect. Against this blemish—which is in process of gradual correction—the fact has to be set that the better class of merchants, the whole of the artisans and the labouring classes in general, obey canons of probity fully on a level with the best to be found elsewhere. For the rest, frugality, industry and patience characterize all the bread-winners; courage and burning patriotism are attributes of the whole nation.

There are five qualities possessed by the Japanese in a marked degree. The first is frugality. From time immemorial the great mass of the people have lived in absolute ignorance of luxury in any form and in the perpetual presence of a necessity to economize. Amid these circumstances there has emerged capacity to make a little go a long way and to be content with the most meagre fare. The second quality is endurance. It is born of causes cognate with those which have begotten frugality. The average Japanese may be said to live without artificial heat; his paper doors admit the light but do not exclude the cold. His brazier barely suffices to warm his hands and his face. Equally is he a stranger to methods of artificial cooling. He takes the frost that winter inflicts and the fever that summer brings as unavoidable visitors. The third quality is obedience; the offspring of eight centuries passed under the shadow of military autocracy. Whatever he is authoritatively bidden to do, that the Japanese will do. The fourth quality is altruism. In the upper classes the welfare of the family has been set above the interests of each member. The fifth quality is a genius for detail. Probably this is the outcome of an extraordinarily elaborate system of social etiquette. Each generation has added something to the canons of its predecessor, and for every ten points preserved not more than one has been discarded. An instinctive respect for minutiae has thus been inculcated, and has gradually extended to all the affairs of life. That this accuracy may sometimes degenerate into triviality, and that such absorption in trifles may occasionally hide the broad horizon, is conceivable. But the only hitherto apparent evidence of such defects is an excessive clinging to the letter of the law; a marked reluctance to exercise discretion; and that, perhaps, is attributable rather to the habit of obedience. Certainly the Japanese have proved themselves capable of great things, and their achievements seem to have been helped rather than retarded by their attention to detail.