Things Japanese/Nobility


Nobility. The Japanese nobility may be called very old or very new, according to the way one looks at it. In its present form, it dates from the 7th July, 1884, when the Chinese titles of kŏ, kō,[1] haku, shi, and dan, corresponding respectively to our duke (or prince), marquis, count, viscount, and baron, were bestowed by Imperial edict on a number of distinguished persons. But there had been an aristocracy before. Properly speaking, there had been two,—the Kuge who were descended from the younger sons of ancient Mikados, and the Daimyōs who were the feudal lords lifted to title and wealth by the sword and by the favour of the Shōguns. When feudalism fell, the Daimyōs lost their territorial titles, and were amalgamated with the Kuge under the designation of Kwazoku, or "flowery families," which is still the current name for noblemen generally, irrespective of what their particular grade may be. These aristocrats by birth formed the nucleus of the new nobility of 1884, among the five grades of which they were distributed according to their historical and other claims to distinction. To them has gradually been added a number of new men, eminent for their talents or for services rendered to the government. The successful termination of the first China war naturally witnessed a large batch of new creations. The members of the nobility receive pensions from the civil list. They are also placed under special restrictions. For instance, they may not marry without official permission. On the other hand, the new Constitution grants to a certain number of them the privilege of sitting in the upper house of the Imperial Diet.

A total absence of snobbishness towards the nobility is a commendable feature of the Japanese character. They do not, like us Britishers and Yankees, "dearly love a lord,"—follow him about, imitate him, snap at him with kodaks, egg on theii daughters to snap him up in a manner still more daring. They simply do not care. In their eyes, "a man's a man for a that." Very often they do not so much as know whether the man has a title or not, and except in print rarely make use of it, but mention, for instance, Count Okuma as Ōkuma San, "Monsieur Ōkuma," as the French, too, would often say. In fact now we come to think of it this absence of snobbish feeling should not be specially counted to the Japanese as righteousness. Most nations resemble them in not having it. The taint of snobbery is so peculiarly Anglo-Saxon that we doubt whether any language but English even has a word for it.

  1. The two kō's, though chancing to sound alike, are different words written with different Chinese characters. The first is 公 (Chinese kung), the second is 侯 Chinese hou).