Japanese

Japanese.—The Japanese and Koreans form the easternmost group of the great Sibiric branch, which, with the Sinitic branch (Chinese, etc.,) constitutes the Mongolian race. The Japanese and Koreans stand much nearer than the Chinese to the Finns, Lapps, Magyars, and Turks of Europe, who are the westernmost descendants of the Mongolian race. The languages of all these peoples belong to the agglutinative family, while Chinese is monosyllabic.

Although many people may mistake a Japanese face for Chinese, the Mongolian traits are much less pronounced. The skin is much less yellow, the eyes less oblique. The hair, however, is true Mongolian, black and round in section, and the nose is small. These physical differences no doubt indicate that the Japanese are of mixed origin. In the south there is probably a later Malay admixture. In some respects their early culture resembles that of the Philippines of today.

Then there is an undoubted white strain in Japan. The Ainos, the earliest inhabitants of Japan, are one of the most truly Caucasian-like people in appearance in eastern Asia. They have dwindled away to less than 20,000 under the pressure of the Mongolian invasion from the mainland, but they have left their impress upon the Japanese race. The “fine” type of the aristocracy, the Japanese ideal, as distinct from the “coarse” type recognized by students of the Japanese of today, is perhaps due to the Aino.

The race, as a whole, is physically under-developed, the men being small, and harsh in feature, while the women lose their good looks after the first bloom of youth is over. The girls, with their rosy cheeks, fascinating manners, and exquisitely tasteful dress, are, however, particularly attractive, and the children are bright and comely, being allowed full liberty to enjoy themselves—indeed Japan is the paradise of children.

The Japanese have many excellent qualities, they are kindly, courteous, law-abiding, cleanly in their habits, frugal, and possessed of a high sense of personal honor which makes sordidness unknown. This is associated, moreover, with an ardent patriotic spirit, quite removed from factiousness. On the other hand the people are deficient in moral earnestness and courage, which leads to corruption in social life and institutions.

The people of Japan are noted for their love of things beautiful. The above scene is a typical picture of an exquisite garden, presided over by several picturesquely gowned Japanese girls.

The town costume of the Japanese gentleman consists of a loose silk robe extending from the neck to the ankles, but gathered in at the waist, round which is fastened a girdle of brocaded silk. Over this is worn a loose, wide-sleeved jacket, decorated with the wearer's armorial device. White cotton socks, cleft at the great toes, and wooden pattens complete the attire. European costume has been prescribed by government as the official dress, and the empress and her suite have recently adopted foreign costume, being followed to a certain extent by the fashionable ladies of the capital. Hats are not generally worn, except by those who follow European fashions or in the heat of summer.

The women wear a loose robe, overlapping in front and fastened with a broad heavy girdle of silk (obi ), often of great value. In winter a succession of these robes are worn, one over the other. The formerly universal chignon coiffure of the women, stiff with pomatum, which was done up by the hair-dresser once or twice a week, is rapidly yielding to the simpler Grecian knot.

Mode of Living.—Japanese houses are slight constructions of wood. In the northern districts at least two sides of the house are closed in with walls of mud plastered on wicker-work. The floors are covered with thick soft straw mats, measuring six by three feet, and the accommodation of the houses is reckoned by the number of these mats. On them the inmates sit, eat and sleep, the bed-clothes—heavily padded quilts—being kept during the day in adjoining closets. Rice is the staple food of the people, but in the poorer mountainous regions millet often takes its place. Fish, seaweed, and beans in all forms are served with the rice, especially in the soups, which likewise contain bean curd, eggs, and vegetables. Chestnuts and hazel-nuts are also largely eaten, and the walnut is made into a sweetmeat. Shōyu (soy), a sauce made of beans and wheat, is the universal condiment. Fowls are now pretty widely used for the table, and pork and beef, as well as bread, are increasingly eaten.

Manners and Customs.—The social position of women is more favorable than in most non-Christian countries, but still leaves much to be desired. Marriages are arranged through an intermediary, and both sexes marry at an early age. As the continuance of families is a point of great importance, adoption is largely resorted to in order to prevent families dying out. Great respect is paid to the dead, and posthumous names are conferred after death, some of the most celebrated names in Japanese history being posthumous titles. Heavy sums are lavished on funerals.

The Jinrikisha (jin-rik ´i-shaw ) or two-wheeled carriage generally in use in Japan.

Until lately the only vehicles in Japan were two kinds of palanquin; but in all the more level districts these have now been superseded by the jinrikĭsha  (man-power-carriage), a sort of two-wheeled perambulator drawn by a man who runs between the shafts. In many of the more mountainous regions the roads are impracticable even for the jinrikĭsha.

The Japanese are essentially a pleasure-loving people, and spend comparatively large sums upon amusements. The theater, though formerly despised by the samurai  class, who refused to enter its doors, forms one of the chief national resorts. The time of greatest festivity is the New Year, now held contemporaneously with our own, when pinetrees are planted before the doors, the houses are gay with decoration, and presents are lavishly made. The favorite game at this season is oyobane, a kind of battledore and shuttlecock. January is the kite season; the smaller kites are of various fantastic shapes, while the larger and more powerful ones are usually rectangular. Wrestling, juggling, and archery are favorite sports.

Religions of Japan.—There are two prevailing religions in Japan—Shintoism  (The way of the gods), the indigenous faith; and Buddhism, introduced from China in 552.

The characteristics of Shintoism in its pure form are the absence of an ethical and doctrinal code, of idol-worship, of priestcraft, and of any teachings concerning a future state, and the deification of heroes, emperors, and great men, together with the worship of certain forces and objects in nature.

Of Buddhists there are no fewer than thirty-five sects. The monks have assumed the functions of priests, and Japanese Buddhist worship presents striking resemblances to that of the Roman Catholic Church. Notwithstanding the increased patronage recently bestowed upon Shintoism by the government, Buddhism is still the dominant religion among the people.

Japan is a land of temples, but many are now falling into decay, while others are turned into schoolhouses. Every grove has its shrine and torii, a structure in wood or stone, consisting of two upright pillars joined at the top by two transverse beams or slabs; metal torii are also not unknown. The Buddhist monasteries in the Japanese middle ages were undoubtedly wonderful centers of civilization, and the priests for long commanded reverence by their self-denial.