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NEWS OF 150 YEARS AGO

May-June 1860

From The Missouri Democrat, Thursday, May 31, 1860.

JAPAN AND THE JAPANESE.

The presence of the embassy from Japan in Washington has naturally directed public curiosity towards that country and its inhabitants. Perhaps the narrative of the United States expedition under Commodore Perry, is the fullest and most authentic account we yet have of the government and institutions of the ultimate Eastern nation with which we have been so fortunate as to establish a friendly alliance, and the population of which is not less than 40,000,000. The researches of ethnologists and the observation of travelers seem to prove that the Japanese, like every other people under the sun, are a mixed race, of which the chief elements are Mongolian and Malayan. The subordinate strata of the population are of Malay origin while the aristocracy are of Mongolian, or, more specifically speaking, Chinese descent. The two races, however, are thoroughly amalgamated, although the upper classes retain in contour of face if not in complexion, no inconsiderable resemblance to their Tartar ancestors. The prevailing hue of the skin is a deep copper-color, fading away, in many instances, as with Brahmins and other high-caste Indians, into a light shade.

The structure of society is feudal throughout. The landed proprietary is divided into two classes, the first of which holds its possessions directly of the sovereign on the condition of military or civil service, and the second of which holds of the first. The Tycoon is less of a sovereign than a suzerain. His is as much under the control of the territorial aristocracy, as King John was under the control of the barons. His powers, in fact, are exceedingly limited, and it is said that the reigning Tycoon is little more than a State prisoner at Yeddo. The fact that the country is virtually ruled by a landed aristocracy of different origin from the body of the people, and therefore attaching great value to purity of pedigree, accounts perhaps for the division of the Japanese into seven or eight classes, each of which has its fixed place in the social scale. The divisions though, are class and not caste divisions. The individual can elevate himself from a lower to a higher; and even the Pariahs of Japanese society-brothel keepers, dealers in carrion, public executioners and the like-who are judged unclean by the ordinances of religion, who are compelled to live by themselves afar from the habitations of other men, and who are not even numbered in the census, find no inexorable barrier between them and society at large as soon as the change their mode of life, and renounce their unclean practises. Slavery also exists in Japan, but nevertheless Japanese laws recognize freedom as the normal condition of every human being-a condition which the individual himself, may indeed exchange for that of servitude, but which reverts to him as under the Jewish polity on the expiration of a certain term. The master is the absolute owner of the slave, while his ownership lasts, but if he kills him without just cause, he is punished as a murderer.

It will be thus seen that the Japan of to-day is not materially different in its political organization from the England, France and Germany of the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The contract which it present to China, which is a despotism founded on universal equality, and strengthened, sustained and administered by an “aristocracy of intellect”-a state of things which, according to De Toqueville, is coming to pass even in France-is very remarkable, considering the juxtaposition of the two countries, and the strong tendency of Asiatic character towards unity in all things.

There is no union of Church and State in Japan. The head of the former, who is called the Mikado, has supreme authority in all spiritual and ecclesiastical matters. Indeed, the Mikado was originally the Tycoon also-priest and king both; but in the twelfth century, a bold functionary who had been placed in command of the army, assumed the temporal power; yet it was not until the sixteenth century that the State was completely emancipated from the control of the Mikado, and the office of Tycoon became hereditary.

There are two religions established by law-Buddhism, which has been imported from China, and a kind of Polytheism, which appears to be native to the country. Numerous sects are tolerated, and the philosophy of Confucius has many followers, who hold in contempt the creeds of the multitude. Christianity obtained a footing in the country in the sixteenth century, and was tolerated for a time by the government. But political apprehensions seized the mind of the Tycoon, and a persecution more ferocious than Nero's was instituted by his orders. Christianity was extinguished in the blood of its converts and missionaries. The Dutch, incited by cupidity, and by jealousy of the Portuguese, participated in the horrible crusade against their brother Christians. Indeed, the Dutch have only retained their connection with Japan by complying with terms the most humiliating and disgraceful, such as trampling on the cross, for instance, to signify to the Japanese their detestation of the Christian religion. Concubinage and prostitution are legalized, but polygamy is forbidden. The wives blacken their teeth and efface their eyebrows as a token of devotion to their husbands, but the concubines make no such sacrifices. On the contrary, they cultivate all the arts of the toilet. Suicide has been resorted to by men of rank and position, as a cure for their troubles, but the custom is beginning to be considered more honored in the breach than the observance. Disgraced or discomfited officials have been as ready to rip open their bowels by a lateral incision as old Romans of "high tone" in the same situation, were to fall on their swords.

The Japanese are brave for Asiatics; and literature and several of the mechanical arts are cultivated among them. The greatest danger the United States have to guard against in their intercourse with them is the turbulence and disorderly conduct so often exhibited by our ships' crews. The distrust and suspicions which the conduct of Europeans have created in Japan, can only be removed by a forbearing and scrupulously upright course on the part of ourselves in all our dealings with the people of that country. Our foreign policy in the East is a brilliant success, while that of England and France is a failure. It remains with ourselves to retain or lose the vantage ground which we have won.

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