JAPAN is an island a little bigger than the United Kingdom ; it is 162,000 square miles in size with a population of 49,000,000. The British Isles are 121,000 square miles with 45,000,000 inhabitants.
Just as the sun was setting in a splendid blaze of colour we steamed into the great bay of Yokohama, and high up in the golden haze there appeared to be a great cloud shaped like a pyramid. It was the mountain Fuji, which is the pride of Japan.
One of the compliments paid to a lady in Japan is to say that she has a forehead shaped like Fuji. It certainly looked beautiful as we first saw it.
The narrow entrance to the bay is defended by forts among the pretty wooded knolls on either side and on islets inside, so that it would seem impossible for an enemy's ship to come in. And lurking under the shadow of the hill-sides inside the bay we could see half a dozen huge, grey warships of the Japanese navy.
So that although one knows Japan to be a smiling, peaceful country, our first glimpse of it showed us not only its beauties, but also its strength.
As we steamed across the great bay to the harbour of Yokohama, a small steamer “ dressed “ with flags came out to meet our ship and to escort us. The Union Jack was flying conspicuously at the top of the mast ; the deck was crowded with Boy Scouts.
So the Scouts of Yokohama had come out to welcome me.
As soon as we anchored they came on board, and they were a fine lot of fellows, smart and keen, nearly all British. Japan gives them good opportunities for Scout work, especially sea scouting, which I hope will be taken up by the Scouts not only at Yokohama, but also at Tokio and Kobe, where there are also a number of British, American, and European boys.
The Japanese are talking of forming some troops also, and I hope they will. But they already get some of the Scout training in their own schools and homes. They learn that their first duty is to be loyal to their Emperor and country, and to make themselves strong, brave, and manly, so that they can serve their Emperor all the better. And every boy and every man carries out this idea. We know this from their wonderful bravery in their war with Russia.
I went and saw a lot of them at their daily practice of fencing with bamboo sticks and practising jiu-jitsu to make themselves strong and active and good-tempered. I say good-tempered, because it is very like boxing, you have to take a good many hard knocks, and take them smiling; if a fellow lost his temper at it everybody would laugh at him and think him a fool.
In jiu-jitsu they learn how to exercise and develop their muscles, how to catch hold of an enemy in many different ways so as to overpower him, how to throw him, and, what is very important, how to fall easily if they get thrown themselves.
Sea Scouts would be interested, and perhaps amused, to see how the Japanese manage their boats.
Most of them scull their boats-even great big boats with a single oar over the stern instead of putting it through a rowlock or crutch as we do. They have an iron pin sticking up out of the stern about three inches high, and there is a small round hole in the oar by which it fits on to this pin and can then be waggled sufficiently to screw the boat along.
In Northern Japan, where the Ainus live, they row the boat, but they pull the oars alternately, first the right, then the left, not as we do, both sides together. In this way their boat keeps zigzagging all the while as it goes, and takes a longer time to get where it wants to go.
Japanese at Home
I noticed that the Japanese boys are very kind to children, they would often stop and play for a minute or two with a kiddy as they passed, or would take a baby about with them tied on their backs (which is the usual way that babies are carried in Japan).
The Japanese from boyhood upwards are fond of flowers and of animals and birds. While I was there the cherry trees were all in full bloom, and the people went about the parks in crowds simply to look at them.
During their war with Russia, ladies who visited the wounded Japanese soldiers in hospital said that the presents which the men liked the most were a few flowers or a spray of blossoms.
The Japanese houses are all beautifully clean and neat, but I think we should find them a bit cool in winter. They are generally built of lath-and-plaster with tiled roofs, and all the room walls and many of the outer walls are wooden frames with small panes like windows, but covered with thin paper which lets in the light. These frames are neatly fitted in grooves, and are made to slide to and fro.
There are no doors, so if you want to walk into the next room you slide part of the partition wall away.
If your room is too small, you can slide most of the wall away and so make the next room part of it. Or if you want fresh air you slide away the outer wall and so make your room into a kind of verandah. The Japanese often do this, as they love the open air, although it is as cold as in England. They do not have tables or chairs or beds, but they use the floor, which is covered with mats of woven grass.
I visited many of their beautiful temples, and some of them are perfectly magnificent, and there are any number of them. In one town alone, in Kyoto, there are over 900.
They generally have a very handsome gateway with two awful-looking statues guarding it. Inside there is a large courtyard with handsome stone or bronze lanterns, and then the main temple, a big hall surrounded by a verandah and full of rich ornaments, and an altar with golden images of their gods upon it.
The temple itself is all built of solid timber richly carved, gilded, and lacquered inside and out.
Lacquer is varnish made from the gum from pine trees, coloured and carefully laid on, one coating after another, till it forms a thick, hard, smooth surface like marble. You see at home Japanese trays and saucers made of it, sometimes black, sometimes red, and even these small articles are expensive, so you can imagine the value of some of those temples which are lacquered all over, inside and out.
The roofs of the temples are highly ornamented with overhanging eaves, and have their corners curved upwards and richly coloured and gilded.
The wonderful work put into these temples shows the Japanese to be very good at handicrafts of every description-carpenters, embroiderers, carvers, painters, and so on. And they all seem to be at work. I never saw an idler or a loafer, nor even a beggar. Even the boys seemed to be at work, leaving it to the small kids to play about the streets.
Then they are a very polite people, and always smile and bow to friends or to strangers who speak to them, and do their best to help them in every way.
This bravery and politeness which they practise is called Bushido or chivalry, and it has been handed down, just as our chivalry has, from their knights or Samurai, and every Japanese boy knows the doings of their great Samurai better than our boys know the doings of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, or of the knights in “Ivanhoe.”
And they carry their chivalry into practice, just as the Boy Scouts do every day.
But in one respect the Scouts do better ; for it is a strange thing that the Japanese, like all Eastern nations, did not honour their women very much, and in their chivalry, though they are brave and self-sacrificing for their country, they did not show any special politeness or consideration to women as we do. This is being changed now.
Their bravery, of course, is known all the world over, and has made them admired by every nation.
Count Nogi, the Great Japanese General
Hara-kiri, the killing of oneself from a sense of duty, is a custom amongst, men of the highest rank of the Japanese.
Count Nogi considered that his highest duty was to his Emperor, and it was to prove this that he put an end to his life when his master, the Emperor, died.
Every Boy Scout will have heard with sorrow of the death of this great Japanese General, because they probably remember the great interest which he took in boys in general, and Boy Scouts in particular.
When he was in England two years ago, he twice reviewed the Scouts and gave a short address to them which was full of sound advice.
He told them how as a boy he had forced himself to do things which at first he was afraid of, or disliked, until he became so accustomed to them that the fear, or dislike, disappeared.
This is what made him able to do the wonderful self-sacrificing things he did later on, and which were, in the end, crowned by his last act of self-sacrifice.
As a boy he practised not only facing dangers, but also trained himself to endure hunger and cold and thirst. This made his will and determination strong, and gave him what we in Britain call “grit.”
When he was only seventeen, he got to know his duties as a soldier so well that he was made an instructor, just like a patrol-leader in the Scouts, and from that step he rose rapidly from one to another.
Sacrifices at Port Arthur
In the war between Japan and Russia in 1904, General Nogi commanded the Japanese forces which captured Port Arthur. Here came his first trial.
With his army he attacked this great fortress, and although it looked an almost impossible task to capture it, he and his troops went at it again and again, until, in spite of fearful loss, they succeeded in storming the place, and thereby took 41,000 Russians and 700 guns.
But to gain this triumph the General suffered heavy personal loss ; his eldest son, Shoten, was killed in one of the earlier battles of the siege. Later the Japanese found it necessary, if they wished to take Port Arthur, to storm a very strong position called “ 203 metre Hill.” On this depended the taking of the whole fortress. It was the key to the position.
The fight was bound to be a bitter one to the death. A picked force of Japanese was chosen to carry out this desperate duty, and when it had been formed, General Nogi placed his only other son, Hoten, in command, and this son was killed in the attack which followed.
The General also had with him a faithful servant who had accompanied him everywhere and was a close friend. This servant was killed. The General's favourite dog, which always went with him, was also killed.
But Nogi, although he felt the most bitter grief, made no sign, he forced himself to bear his personal losses as a matter of duty, in carrying out his higher duty to his Emperor and to his country ; and right nobly he did it.
His success in war was due to his character. Though brave as a lion he was always gentle and thoughtful for other people. His men and officers obeyed him because of their affection and respect for him rather than from fear of being punished by him.
The Emperor recognised what a splendid man he was, and after the war he put him in charge of his sons, so that they might be taught to have some of his character.
Then came the death of the Emperor.
The Emperor, as you know, is, in the religion of the Japanese, their God as well as their ruler. Nogi was so devoted to his Emperor, that when this great man died the General considered there was nothing more for him to live for. So the first gun of the salute to the dead Emperor was the signal to his faithful soldier to kill himself and follow him.
At the General's side was also his devoted wife, who took the same signal to stab herself and follow her husband. In this way they each carried out their high sense of duty, proving how the power of will and sense of duty are stronger than death.
But it is not only the Japanese who have possessed this wonderful fortitude, for in the wars of Scotland we read of very much the same kind of heroism in the battle at Inverneithie, which took place between the Royalists and Cromwellians.
Here, the Chieftain Sir Hector Maclean of Duart was protected by his foster-father and seven foster-brothers. Each of these in turn dashed forward at a critical point in the battle and offered himself for the protection of Sir Hector, and each in succession was killed in doing so.
It is a grand story of heroism and can be read in Sir Walter Scott's “Waverley” in the Waverley Novels.
The Story of the Forty-seven Ronins
I visited the graves of the forty-seven Ronins at Tokio. Every Japanese boy knows the story of the forty-seven Ronins, so I will tell it to you.
A Japanese nobleman named Takumi-no-Kami was continually being insulted by another noble named Kotsuke-no-Suke.
Takumi kept his temper till one day they met in the palace of the Emperor and Kotsuke again insulted Takumi worse than ever.
This time Takumi gave way to anger, and, drawing his sword, challenged Kotsuke to fight; but Kotsuke, like most bullies, did not like this, and ran for his life, howling for help, with Takumi after him.
Other men interposed and stopped Takumi and held him in arrest, because it was against the law to make any disturbance in the Emperor's palace, the penalty for doing so being death.
For a nobleman it was too great a disgrace to be executed, and he was therefore allowed instead to kill himself. This was always done with great ceremony and in a certain way ; that is, the condemned man had to carry out a fixed programme before a meeting of other nobles, and eventually to cut his stomach open and so to kill himself in their presence. This self-execution is called hara-kiri.
So Takumi had to commit hara-kiri; but everybody was sorry for him because he was a brave fellow. He was buried in the sacred ground at Takanawa, near Tokio. But his own particular retainers, forty-seven of them, were so fond of him and so angered at his death that they swore to avenge it by killing Kotsuke.
This came to the ears of Kotsuke, and he had the men carefully watched by spies so that he would know directly they started to attack him, and he had strong guards posted all about his house to protect him.
The Cunning of Kowanosoke
The forty-seven had, by the death of their master, become Ronins, that is rovers, or adventurers, without a proper leader. However, they elected as their commander for this plot one who was specially devoted to their late master, named Oishi Kowanosoke. He was very brave and very cunning.
He knew that Kotsuke was keeping a watch on them, so he made every one of the Ronins take up some different trade or occupation and never meet together, so that it looked as if they had given up all idea of revenge, and for himself he pretended to become a drunkard and even turned his wife and children out of doors, so that he got talked about by the neighbours as having become a drunken beast.
He acted this part so well that one day a man from Satsuma, seeing him lying drunk in the street, was so angry with him that he spat upon him to show his contempt.
The Japanese, being a brave and sober nation, rightly consider that a man who gets drunk is of no use, whether as workman or soldier, and cannot be trusted to behave as a manly fellow.
So when Kotsuke heard, not only through his spies but from other people as well, that Oishi had taken to drinking, he no longer feared him, and therefore gradually discharged his guards. But he kept his castle strongly barred and locked up at night with a guard of armed men at the gate, and three special fighters as his personal bodyguard sleeping in the room next to his bedroom.
At last, when all suspicion was lulled, Oishi secretly called the Ronins together one night in mid-winter.
The forty-seven met at a supper at which they took a solemn oath to avenge their lord that night or to die in the attempt, and that after it was over they would be prepared to commit hara-kiri.
Their plan was to break into the house in two parties, one at the front gate, the other at the back.
A few men armed with bows and arrows were to be posted to shoot any of the guards who tried to run to get help. The Ronins were not to kill anyone unnecessarily, and all women and children and old people were to be kindly treated. Whoever found Kotsuke was to sound a whistle as a signal for all to come together and capture him. You see, like Scouts, they made all their plans carefully beforehand.
Then silently in the snow they made their way to Kotsuke's house.
A Desperate Fight
They found the sentry muffled up against the cold and overpowered him, as also all the men of the guard, who were asleep in the guardroom. These they gagged and bound.
Then, as they went on, they found doors locked and barred which had to be broken down, and in this way the remainder of the garrison were awakened and the alarm given.
A desperate stand was made by the defenders, who fought gallantly in doorways and passages to defend their master, and many of the Ronins were badly wounded before they made their way from one room to another.
But the crashing of doors from the rear showed that the second party of Ronins were in the place, and very soon the defenders were driven back and overcome.
When they reached Kotsuke's private rooms they met with the most severe struggle of all, for his bodyguard of the three men fought with desperate bravery, and for a time not only held the attackers, but actually drove them backward for a spell.
But at that moment Oishi came up, and at his rallying words the Ronins made a final rush and overcame their brave opponents.
Then came the search for Kotsuke. He was not in his room and they began to fear he had escaped. But at last after search among the women's rooms he was found hiding in a closet.
The Death of Kotsuke
The whistle was sounded and the Ronins ran together and surrounded him. They all had first to agree that it really was the man they were after.
Then Oishi explained to him the reason for their attack on him, and in the polite w ay of the Japanese begged his forgiveness for their rudeness in disturbing him, but they only came in this way because of their love for their late master, and because they could not live and see the man who had caused his death living happily as if nothing had occurred. They therefore had come to invite him to commit hara-kiri, and they were there to see him do it, not at any future time, but now.
But Kotsuke, the bully, had not been man enough to defend himself. So when he whimpered that he could not do it, they took it into their own hands and with a sword sliced his head off.
Then, taking the head with them in a bucket, they marched off in the early dawn to go to the Sengkuji Temple near Yeddo where their lord was buried.
Tired, cold, hungry, and many of them sorely wounded, they plodded along, eager to complete their work of placing the head of his enemy on Takumi's tomb.
When passing one great man's place the owner met them at his gate, and, praising them for their loyalty to their dead chief, he begged them to rest in his house and take food there. They gladly came in to take a little to eat, but they could not wait to clean themselves up or to rest themselves ; they wanted to push on and get their duty done.
At length the great gate of the temple enclosure was reached. Inside the enclosure on the side of the hill on which the grave of Takumi stands there is a spring of water in a little garden. Here they washed the head. Then they took it to the priest in charge of the temple and reverently asked to be allowed to place it on Takumi's tomb ; and this was done with a solemn service.
The End of the Ronins
Among the papers preserved at the temple is still to be seen that which the priest wrote acknowledging the receipt of Kotsuke's head.
After it was all over, the forty-seven went down from the hill-side satisfied that they had done their duty and could now die happy.
They went straightway and gave themselves up to the authorities, and asked that they might be allowed to kill themselves instead of being executed-and this was granted.
So the whole forty-seven, from the oldest of seventy-seven down to the youngest of sixteen, all committed hara-kiri.
The admiration of their deed was so great that they were honoured as heroes, and they were all buried round their lord whom they had so faithfully served.
But instead of forty-seven graves there are forty-eight, for the man from Satsuma who had spit upon Oishi when he was pretending to be drunk was so ashamed of himself when he heard what was the truth, that he came to the grave of Oishi and apologised to his spirit, and then committed hara-kiri.
For this he was given a grave in the same enclosure with the forty-seven Ronins.
I went to visit their graves while I was in Tokio. There was the little spring in the garden beside the footpath where they had washed Kotsuke's head, and higher up on the hill-side was the cemetery of forty-eight granite gravestones ranged in a square round the central one of their master.
Oishi's tomb is specially honoured by having a shed over it.
Each tomb consists of a narrow upright headstone with the name of the dead man upon it. In front of each there is a small block of stone on which admirers burn sticks of incense, and alongside it is a little vase of bamboo in which they can put flowers.
When I was there crowds of Japanese were placing burning incense on each of the graves, and all the vases had flowers in them. This shows that the deeds of the forty-seven are still known to their fellow-countrymen and that their loyalty and bravery are still admired.
In a building belonging to the temple there are kept the portraits of the Ronins in the shape of small statues showing them in their favourite dress-some in armour and all in different attitudes, and fine, strong, brave-looking fellows they were.
I do not tell this story in order to make out that Oisbi and his Ronins were right to go and kill their master's enemy, but we cannot judge them by what we should do nowadays, because they were then uncivilised and it all took place a long time ago.
But it is interesting to see that even in those days people thought a lot of men who were manly and loyal to their leader, and who were not afraid to sacrifice themselves, even by the most painful of deaths, in order to do their duty, and the Japanese of to-day look upon them as heroes and admire them for it.
In fact, since I wrote the above for you I read in a Japanese newspaper that a Japanese schoolboy recently told his schoolfellows that he was not afraid to commit hara-kiri, and proceeded to do it out in the middle o£ the playground ; he had already dug the knife into his stomach when a teacher rushed forward and saved him just in time.
But it shows you how if you only make up your mind to stand the pain, and even death, it is easy to be brave in doing your duty.
In the war between Russia and Japan it happened on several occasions that Japanese officers and soldiers,
when overcome by bigger numbers of Russians, refused to surrender, and killed themselves rather than be defeated. They did not kill themselves by the easy method of shooting themselves, but by the painful way of disembowelling themselves with their swords. They did this because it was the more honourable way in which the Samurai or Knights of Japan did it.
You will probably remember the case of bravery on the part of Japanese which I gave in “Scouting for Boys.” It was this In the late war between Japan and Russia some Japanese pioneers had been ordered to blow up the gate of a Russian fort so that the attackers could get in. Most of them were shot down in trying to get to the gate, but a few managed to reach it with their charges of powder.
These had to be “tamped” or jammed against the doors so as to give full force to their explosion.
The men carrying the sandbags with which to do the tamping had been shot. There was no way of getting the required pressure on to the charge, but the gates must be blown down without delay.
So the brave pioneers put the charge against the door and then pressing it there with their chests, ht the match and blew the gates and themselves to pieces. But their plucky self-sacrifice enabled their comrades to get in to win the place for their Emperor.
Lewis P. Orans, 2002