Things Japanese/Books on Japan
Books on Japan. Von Wenckstern's Bibliography of the Japanese Empire contains a great many thousands of entries, from which it may be inferred that not to have written a book about Japan is fast becoming a title to distinction. The art of Japan, the history of Japan, the language, folk-lore, botany, even the earthquakes and the diseases of Japan—each of these, with many other subjects, has a little library to itself. Then there are the works of an encyclopedic character, and there are the books of travel. Some of the latter possess great value, as photographing Japanese manners for us at certain periods. Others are at the ordinary low level of globe-trotting literature,—twaddle enlivened by statistics at second-hand.
We give references at the end of most of the articles of this work to the chief authorities on each special subject. At the risk of offending innumerable writers, we now venture to pick out the following dozen works as probably the most generally useful that are accessible to English readers. Of course it is more than possible that some of the really best have escaped our notice or our memory. Anyhow, an imperfect list will perhaps be deemed better than none at all:—
1. "The Mikado's Empire," by the Rev. W. E. Griffis. This is the book best-calculated to give the general reader just the information that he requires, and to give it to him in a manner not too technical. The first volume is devoted to history, the second to the author's personal experiences and to Japanese life in modern days. The tenth edition brings the story down to 1903. More than one reader of cultivated taste has, indeed, complained of the author's tendency to "gush," and of the occasional tawdriness of his style. But these faults are on the surface, and do not touch the genuine value of the book.
2. Lafcadio Hearn's "Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan," together with the succeeding volumes entitled "Out of the East" and "Kokoro." Never perhaps was scientific accuracy of detail married to such tender and exquisite brilliancy of style. In reading these profoundly original essays, we feel the truth of Richard Wagner's saying, that "Alles Verständniss kommt uns nur durch die Liebe." Lafcadio Hearn understands contemporary Japan better, and makes us understand it better, than any other writer, because he loves it better. Japanese life, manners, thoughts, aspirations, the student class, the singing-girls, the politicians, the delightful country-folk of secluded hamlets who still bow down before ancestral gods, Japan's attitude in time of war, Buddhist funeral services chanted by priestly choirs in vestments gold-embroidered, not men only but ghosts and folk-lore fancies, the scenery of remote islands which Hearn alone among Europeans has ever trod,—not a single thing Japanese, in short, except perhaps the humorous side of native life, but these wonderful books shed on it the blended light of poetry and truth. Our only quarrel is with some of Lafcadio Hearn's judgments:—in righting the Japanese, he seems to us continually to wrong his own race. The objectionable character in his stories is too apt to be a European. However, Europe is well-able to take care of herself; and if this be the price demanded for so great a gift to literature and ethnologic science, we at least will pay it uncomplainingly.
3. "Japanese Girls and Women by Miss A. M. Bacon. This modest volume and its sequel, A Japanese Interior, give in a short compass the best account that has yet been published of Japanese family life,—a sanctum into which all travellers would fain peep, but of which even most old residents know surprisingly little. The sobriety of Miss Bacon's judgments and the simplicity of her style contrast almost piquantly with Lafcadio Hearn's tropical luxuriance.
4. "Tales of Old Japan," by A. B. Mitford (Lord Redesdale), an old book, but always fresh. Love, revenge, the "happy despatch," adventure by land and sea, quaint fairy-tales, Buddhist sermons quainter still, in a word, the whole picturesque life of Old Japan, these are the things which Mr. Mitford gives us; and he gives them in a style that renders them doubly attractive.
5. "A History of Japanese Literature," by W. G. Aston. All that the outside world can ever hope to understand, or is ever likely to wish to learn, about Japanese poetry and prose is here compressed by the most accurate, and yet least pedantic, of scholars into the limits of a single octavo volume. This history of the Japanese mind during twelve centuries for such in effect it is shows how illusory are the common European notions of "the unchanging East;" for all, from 700 to 1900, were centuries of change, most were centuries of progress.
6. "The Soul of the Far East," by Percival Lowell. With a dazzling array of metaphysical epigrams, this distinguished Bostonian attacks the inner nature of the Japanese soul, whose hall-mark he discovers in "impersonality." Nothing on earth or elsewhere being too profound for an intellect so truly meteor-like in its brilliancy, Lowell, in his later work, Occult Japan, discovers to us Japanese possession, exorcism, and miracle-working, whose very existence had scarcely been suspected.
7. "Evolution of the Japanese," by Rev. Sidney L. Gulick. An elaborate and masterly study of the mental characteristics of the Japanese people, undertaken with special reference to that sweeping change in their institutions which the latter half of the nineteenth century inaugurated.
8. "A History of Japan during the Century of Early European Intercourse (1542-1651)," by J. Murdoch. Based on a critical study of the original documents in nine languages, this unique work describes in full detail not only civil wars, diplomatic intrigues, and the fortunes of Japan's greatest men, but also her first relations with the Portuguese, the Dutch, and other Western nations, and more especially the enthusiastic reception and subsequent persecution of the Catholic missionaries. Certain disorders of style alone mar the author's vivid picture of the most important century of Japanese history. A second volume is in preparation.
9. "The Capital of the Tycoon, by Sir Rutherford Alcock. Though published some forty years ago, and though as a narrative, it covers only the brief space of three years (1859-1862), this book is still delightful and profitable reading. In its pages we live with the fathers of the men who rule Japan to-day. True, these men may reject the application to their case of the proverb which says "like father, like son." But we foreign lookers-on, who perhaps after all see something of the game, must be permitted to hold a different opinion, and to believe that even in cases so exceptional as Japan's, the political and social questions of a country can only then be fairly comprehended when its past is constantly borne in mind. Sir Rutherford's book combines the light touch of the skilled diplomat and man of the world with the careful research of the genuine student.
10. "Japan and China," by Capt. F. Brinkley. This work in twelve handsome volumes, besides covering a multitude of other subjects, treats authoritatively of art—more especially keramic art, to which an entire volume is devoted—and of the political history of the last fifty years. The large sections describing the manners and customs of the Japanese Court and people at various periods are also very interesting. But the seeker after information on Japan could dispense with the four volumes on China, which come as a sort of appendix to the eight volumes in which Japan, though a slenderer subject, is so much more fully dealt with.
11. The "Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan." Almost every subject interesting to the student of Japanese matters is treated of in the pages of these Transactions, which have, for more than thirty years past, been the favourite vehicle of publication for the researches of Satow, Aston, Gubbins, Blakiston, Pryer, Geerts, Batchelor, Troup, Wigmore, Knox, Florenz, Greene, Lloyd, and other eminent scholars and specialists. Of course the "Asiatic Transactions" are not light reading; their appeal is to the serious student.
12. "Descriptive and Historical Catalogue of Japanese and Chinese Paintings in the British Museum," by Wm. Anderson. Such a title does injustice to what is really an original and valuable book. Who would think of spending over £1 sterling on a catalogue? But this so-called catalogue is really a mine of information on numberless Japanese matters. To begin with, it gives a complete history of Japanese pictorial art. Then the author's painstaking research, with the assistance of Sir Ernest Satow, into the "motives" of this art—drawn, as they are, from the history of the country, from its religions, its superstitions, its literature, its famous sites—has shed a flood of light on these and many kindred subjects. Not that the book is easy reading, or meant to be read at all continuously. Still, the store of anecdotes which it contains will interest every person, who, when confronted by a Japanese picture or other work of art, prefers knowing what it is about to gaping at it ignorantly.
Where one has hundreds of books to choose from, such a list as the above might of course be indefinitely extended. Pearson's Flights Inside and Outside Paradise starts to our recollection at once as the book of all others to help to while away a rainy day at a tea-house. Miss Bird's (Mrs. Bishop's) Unbeaten Tracks in Japan is a capital description of Japanese travel in the "good old days" of a quarter of a century ago, her account of the Ainos being specially valuable. Rein's Japan, with its sequel The Industries of Japan, is an encyclopedic work now out of print and in some respects antiquated, but which should nevertheless, if possible, be consulted by every serious student Black's Young Japan records the impressions of a well-informed resident during the years 1858-1879 with the vividness peculiar to memoirs jotted down from day to day, as the events they describe are unfolding themselves. Miss Scidmore's Jinrikisha Days in Japan will be found a genial companion, as also will Brownell's Heart of Japan. Notes in Japan, by Alfred Parsons, may be recommended. Knapp's Feudal and Modern Japan is bright and sympathetic. Dening's Life of Hideyoshi and Japan in Days of Yore give us refreshing peeps into a state of society less prosaic than our own. Inoue's Sketches of Tōkyō Life brim over with interest, while the various illustrated booklets printed on crape paper at Hasegawa's press form pretty souvenirs. Then, too, come the books in foreign languages,—such, for instance, as Humbert's Le Japan el les Japonais, Bousquet's Le Japon de nos Jours, Bellessort's La Société Japonaise, and Dumolard's Le Japon Politique, Economique et Social. Father Papinot's Dictionnaire de l'Histoire et de la Geographie du Japon is a useful compilation, to which no analogue exists in English. For Pierre Loti's books the resident community has less respect than the public at home:—his inaccuracy and superficiality go against the grain. Nevertheless, the illustrations to his Madame Chrysantheme are very pretty, and the letter-press is worth skimming through, though the volume can in nowise be recommended either to misses or to missionaries. What has struck us as the liveliest and best of all popular books on Japan is in German. We mean Netto's Papierschmelterlinge aus Japan, with its delightful illustrations and its epigrammatic text. Nippold's descriptions and Junker von Landegg's stories are much read. With more serious works, too, the Germans are naturally to the front. The Mittheilungen of the German Asiatic Society (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Natur-und Völkerkunde Ostasiens) are a mine of information on matters scientific, legal, etc., etc.
Not content with the reality of Japan as it is or as it was, some imaginative writers have founded novels on Japanese subjects. We thus have books such as Arimas, which is whimsical and clever, and a dozen others that somehow we have never been able to make up our mind to dip into. As for books of travel, there is literally no end to the making of them. Almost every possible space of time, from Seven Weeks in Japan to Eight Years in Japan and Nine Years in Nipon, has furnished the title for a volume. So have almost all the more piquant adjectives with the word "Japan" attached, as The Real Japan, Heroic Japan, Ceremonial Japan, Agitated Japan, Le Japon Pittoresque, Le Japon Pratique, etc., etc. There are Expeditions to Japan, Sketches of Japan, Runs in Japan, Gleanings from Japan, Short Leave to Japan, Japan as we Saw it, Lotos-time in Japan, Journeys, Travels, Trips, Excursions, Impressions, Letters, etc., etc., almost ad infinitum; "and apt alliteration's artful aid" has been borrowed for such titles as A Jaunt in Japan, The Gist of Japan, Japanese Jingles, and several others. A Diplomatist's Wife in Japan, by Mrs. Hugh Fraser, and other works from the same hand give a readable account of life in Tōkyō and at the usual summer holiday resorts, while Weston, in his Japanese Alps, leads us touring among the little-known peaks of the provinces of Etchū, Hida, and Shinano. Many excellent things, on the other hand, may be unearthed from the files of old newspapers. See, for instance, Rudyard Kipling's Letters to the "Times," 1892, which are the most graphic ever penned by a globe-trotter,—but then what a globe-trotter! They have been republished in From Sea to Sea. Many general books of travel have chapters devoted to Japan. The liveliest is Miss Duncan's Social Departure. For though the author revels in Japan as "a many-tinted fairy-tale," the sense of humour which never deserts her prevents her enthusiasm from degenerating into mawkishness. Perhaps the most entertaining specimen of globe-trotting literature of another calibre is that much older book, Miss Margaretha Weppner's North Star and Southern Cross. We do not wish to make any statement which cannot be verified, and therefore we will not say that the author is as mad as a March hare. Her idée fixe seems to have been that every foreign man in Yokohama and "Jeddo" meditated an assault on her. As for the Japanese, she dismisses them as "disgusting creatures."
More edifying, if less amusing, than such works are the numerous monographs on special subjects, particularly those on art. Such are Gonse's L'art Japonais, Audsley and Bowes various publications on Keramic Art, Seals, and Enamels, Franks's and Dresser's books, and above all, Anderson's Pictorial Art of Japan, which is a magnificent work, conceived in a critical spirit, written with competent knowledge, and beautifully illustrated. Conder's Flowers of Japan and Japanese Gardens, Piggott's Music and Musical Instruments of Japan, Leech's Butterflies from Japan, Gowland's Dolmens and Burial Mounds in Japan, and Munro's Coins of Japan may be confidently recommended as the best treatises on their respective subjects. Gubbins has translated the Japanese Civil Code, making his translation doubly useful by printing the original opposite to it on the same page. Lönholm, too, has done yeoman's service by rendering some of the codes into English, French, and German. Japans Volkswirlhschaft und Staalshaushalt, by K. Rathgen, ranks as the standard authority on Japanese financial and economic questions. Maurice Courant has written learnedly on a variety of subjects in the Journal Asiatique and elsewhere. Morse's Japanese Homes is a delightful account, not only of Japanese architecture, but of every detail of Japanese domestic life, even down to the water-bucket and the kitchen tongs. The only drawback is the author's set purpose of viewing everything through rose-coloured spectacles, which makes those who would fain be instructed feel that they are listening to a special pleader rather than to a judge. Unfortunately for sober science, the fascination exercised by Japan is so potent that a similar fault impairs the value of several otherwise first-rate works. Ogawa's albums of collotypes will delight every lover of the beautiful. For coloured illustrations of scenery and the life of the people, the traveller is recommended to the native book-shops and print-stalls: no foreign artist has succeeded in rendering the peculiar Japanese colouring.
Among books of reference, may be mentioned Bramsen's Chronological Tables, by which the exact equivalent of any Japanese date can be ascertained; the China Sea Directory, Vol. IV; the various Memoirs of the Imperial University; the British Consular Trade Reports; the Resumé Statistique de l'Empire du Japon, issued yearly; and the annual reports of the various departments of the Imperial Government on such matters as education, railways, posts, etc., etc. We advert to these last, because not a few of them appear in English as well as in the vernacular. Several Japanese educated abroad have written books in European languages. The work of this class that has made most noise of late years is a little volume by Nitobe entitled Bushido, the Soul of Japan, which sets forth in popular style the system of practical ethics that guided the conduct of the Samurai of old. In somewhat amusing contrast to the patriotic enthusiasm of this author, is the gloomy picture of native family life drawn in Tamura's Japanese Bride. How I Became a Christian, by Uchimura Kanzō, should interest a large class of readers. Okakura's Ideals of the East might be taken for Bostonian handiwork, but for the Japanese name on the title-page. We may also mention Nitobe's monograph on The Intercourse between the United States and Japan, Inagaki's Japan and the Pacific, Bunyiu Nanjio's Catalogue of the Buddhist Tripîtaka, and—though they have little relation to Japan—the so-called poems of Y. Noguchi, which have made a sensation (in California). Of works by early travellers, the copious Letters of the Jesuit Missionaries, the Letters of the English Pilot Will Adams, Kaempfer's History of Japan, and the elder Siebold's encyclopedic productions are the chief. But these are now mostly out of print, besides being out of date. Another excellent book, now difficult to obtain, is Hildreth's Japan as it Was and Is, in which the gist of what the various early travellers have left us concerning Japan is woven together into one continuous narrative, the exact text of the originals being adhered to as far as possible.
- Thus the nose is spoken of as the "nasal ornament;" a volcano in a state of eruption is said to "ulcer its crater jaws;" laughing is called an "explosion of risibilities," etc., etc.
- Mr. Hearn's nationality baving been sometimes questioned, we may mention that in 1896 he became a Japanese, assuming the new name of Koizumi Yakumo. Up till that time he had been a British subject, having been born in Corfu. Before settling: in Japan in 1890, he had resided for many years in the United States, where his works have always been published.
- There are six or seven later volumes from the same gifted hand, displaying much of the same charm cf style, but increasingly subjective in treatment.
- We refer here to the authorised English translation, which was based on a careful revision of the original German text. This original, too, is now out of print; but a new edition of it is expected to appear shortly.
- Here is a portion of this authoress's description of Yokohama and its foreign residents:—
"It will be well understood that the life of the European in Japan is, after all, a wretched one. The senses and the animal appetite are abundantly provided for; but the mind, the heart, and the soul are left totally destitute. There are clubs, it is true, but at the time of my stay in Yokohama, they were mere gastronomical resorts. The pure-minded men of the island live at home, where they can enjoy just as much comfort as in the clubs, and are rarely seen in them, except when dramatic companies, comedians, whistlers, or such people visit this land. A few of the better Europeans visit the club to kill time.
"I had occasion to remark during my stay in Yokohama that the perennial monotony of the place, and the sensual life led there, have reduced many of them to a state bordering on imbecility. It was difficult to believe that the drivelling trash which they talked could have its origin in the head at all. The eyes of such men are dull, and they have a kind of idiotic stare. They see and hear only what directly attracts the stomach and senses. It is useless moralising further on this subject; but I cannot refrain from adding that the impression produced upon a healthy mind by this portentous abasement is very disheartening. Often when contemplating the superb scenery among which these depraved creatures live, I have involuntarily exclaimed in the words of the poet,
'Though every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile.'"