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Mirror of Japan

ISSUE:  Summer 1943

Modem Japan and Shinto Nationalism. By D. C. Holtom. University of Chicago Press. $2.00. Soldier and Peasant in Japan: The Origins of Conscription. By E. Herbert Norman. Institute of Pacific Relations. $0.75. Japan’s Military Masters. By Hillis L,ory. The Viking Press. $2.50. Government by Assassination. By Hugh Byas. Alfred A. Knopf. $3.00. Pacific Charter: Our Destiny in Asia. By Hallctt Abend. Doubleday, Doran and Company. $2.50. Tokyo Record. By Otto Tolischus. Reynal and Hitchcock. $3.00. America’s Role in Asia. By Harry Paxton Howard. Howell, Soskin, $3.00. In Peace Japan Breeds War. By Gustav Eckstein. Harper and Brothers. $2.50. Behind the Japanese Mask. By Jesse F. Stciner. The Macmillan Company. $2.00. With Perry in Japan: a Diary by Edward Yorkc McCauley, edited by Allan B. Cole. Princeton University Press. $2.50. Prom Perry to Pearl Harbor. By Edwin A. Falk. Doubleday, Doran and Company. $3.00. The Japanese. By John F. Embrec. The Smithsonian Institution. Modem Japan. By William Henry Chamberlin, Webster Publishing Co. $0.30. Report from Tokyo. By Joseph C. Grew. Simon and Schuster. $1.00.

The Mysterious East is no more. It has yielded its secrets to the infra-red ray of scientific inquiry and the enterprise of great newspapers. It always was a product of our indifference. Here, for example, is a sample collection of recent American books about Japan which shows that the methods of conscientious reporting, comparison and analysis, and of historic reconstruction, methods that have given us the sense of a coherent Western civilization, also work in the East. Although no qualitative selection was attempted, each of these fourteen books makes a useful contribution—some more and some less, and some with flights of opinion that need some thinking over. After a year and a half of war, we are ready for something better than the hastily written “I’ve Been There” kind of tale. We may even be asking more intelligent questions than we did at first.

Of the books named below, “Modern Japan and Shinto Nationalism” by Professor D. C. Holtom is the most rewarding—though it hardly deals with the war at all. He is a scholar with an attractive literary style; and that helps. His subject, the place of Shinto in Japanese mentality, is one about which a great deal of nonsense has been written. The Japanese militarists are not the only people who use the sanctions of an ancient faith to strengthen their hold on the people. It is easy enough to throw ridicule on the tenets of that faith, as officially expounded, and on the false historical attributions of political slogans into which they have become transformed. But this is no time for invective. We must try to get at the real motivations that express themselves in seemingly quaint creeds and rites when they actuate the armed forces of our foe and the whole nation behind them. Holtom shows what Shinto dogma is, with all its contradictions, how it came to be, how it has spread into the organic structure of the Japanese state and perpetuated the power of a feudal caste which we had thought to be extinct. He helps us to see why the five thousand or so Western specialists who were called upon to help in modernizing the country after the Restoration were so helpless in their central task: that of creating an attitude conducive to the functioning of a modern society. We learn what the Japanese mean when they talk about “sincerity” and how the exponents of the most exclusive nationalist religion try to give it a universalist meaning. We also learn how the national character is being corrupted by the impact of “morale-making” slogans that sap mental effort.

Another specialized though much smaller study is “Soldier and Peasant in Japan,” a history of conscription in Japan made by E. Herbert Norman, formerly a secretary of the Canadian Legation in Tokyo. Here also a skilled historian traces the connecting links between feudal and modern Japan. “With the triumphs of a money economy,” he writes, “the old class cleavages of a decadent feudalism were covered up but they still cut deep across modern Japanese society.” The army was created not only as an instrument of outer defense but also to insure the state against any untoward social uprising that might result from the introduction of foreign principles and practices.

The exaggerated emphasis on the imperial house and on the uniqueness of the Japanese “race” was part of the same insurance. As a result of these manipulations of history, the patriotism of the Japanese peasant and worker is different from that of the Occidental whose father or grandfather has had to fight for the freedom he enjoys.

The Army’s part in Japan’s development in its more recent phases is discussed by Hillis Lory in “Japan’s Military Masters.” From him we learn how officers and men feel, what sort of people they are. Popular opinion in America has swung over from contempt for the little yellow soldiers to an equally unwarranted fear of their skill and prowess. But except for some troops that have received special training, they are much like conscript soldiers anywhere; and their strength comes from an as yet unbroken faith in their officers and in their cause. And neither the officers nor their aggressive cause are hampered by effective political restraints or by scruples in the use of force, at home or abroad.

What may be called a life-size portrait of this military rule is provided by Hugh Byas. He describes the mechanism of that discipline which goes from the top to the bottom of Japanese society. “Government by Assassination” is not intended as a rounded appraisal of that society. Side by side with the terrorism modified by bureaucracy, which holds the nation together, runs an almost anarchic village economy. Japan has not yet achieved a genuine bond of nationhood any more than have other Oriental states. As in all sketches drawn in sanguine, there are over-simplifications; in others of his books and in his many years of reporting, Byas has shown a more tolerant and discerning attitude toward many aspects of Japanese life.

Hallett Abend and Otto Tolischus, two other former representatives of the New York Times in the Far East, likewise depart from the correspondent’s exacting tasks of straight reporting and judicious interpretation. They show signs of relief at riddance, for the time being, of both the censors’ and the home editor’s prohibitions. All three incidentally reveal that even on the job the foreign correspondent, if he wishes to keep his connections open, must be able on occasion to function in some other role.

The scope of Abend’s book, as its title “Pacific Charter: Our Destiny in Asia” indicates, goes beyond that of this article. He has his own ideas about American Far Eastern policy—not all of them convincing. While Byas stands almost alone among liberal students of Far Eastern politics in suggesting that Korea remain subject to the Japanese rule—though under a mandate—Abend is unusually sensitive to the needs of the oppressed peoples of Eastern Asia and those of China.

Tolischus will hardly, on the evidence of “Tokyo Record,” be accepted as a guide to Japanese ethics and mythology or to the inner motivations of Japanese family and community life. He reacts too violently to the ministrations of Japanese cultural propaganda. But his book deserves the wide acclaim with which it has been received for the vivid account which it gives of happenings in Tokyo through the year 1941, including his own experiences as recorded almost from day to day.

Harry Paxton Howard also covers a larger subject field in “America’s Role in Asia” than that here under review. He is a good observer and clever popularizer. Although his knowledge of Japan and the Japanese is not as extensive as that of some of the other authors, his interpretations are realistic. His discussion of possible peace terms is reasonable. In China, Howard was long associated with an anti-communist reformist group; and the liberal tendencies of practical reformers give color and substance to this volume.

Gustav Eckstein reports on the good times and valuable education he has had in southern Japan. Having come close to the everyday life and thinking of small-town Japanese, he is convinced that they do not belong either in the pattern of their feudal heritage or yet, for a long time, in that of modern civilization. Informal personal accounts, such as “In Peace Japan Breeds War,” usefully supplement the more systematic studies on which we must rely to implement our post-war policies toward the Japanese people.

Professor Jesse F. Steiner is a sociologist with unusual experience in the diagnosis of American community situations. He happens to have had lifelong contacts with Japan and in “Behind the Japanese Mask” discusses some of the major problem areas in Japanese society. We get from him a good idea of the peculiar character of that society and of its lack of cohesion despite a seemingly complete organization. But he does not attempt to link the various deficiencies to any fundamental cause and thus avoids the oversimplification in statements of “the Japanese problem” which is now the greatest danger to our understanding. While our mind is on Japanese militarism, we should not neglect to pay attention to the exploitation of the peasants, the manual workers’ lack of freedom to organize, the tyranny of customs and mores clamped down on the people, the artificial stimulation of their xenophobia, and other elements in the total picture. To have brought such matters into due relief is the merit of this little volume.

Edward Yorke McCauley’s diary, “With Perry in Japan,” is not very entertaining or instructive. Such books by immature eyewitnesses sometimes have value for historians.

But the story of the second Perry expedition has been told much better by Wells Williams, the Canton missionary whom the Commodore took along with him as an interpreter, Young McCauley’s observations reflect the prejudices of his time as well as the cynicism of American youth at all times, His false attributions of racial characteristics are not helpful. On the other hand, Mr. Cole’s thirty pages of introduction deserve praise as a fine job at the reconstruction of a historic episode.

Books on sea power, with their technical jargon, usually are heavy reading. But Edwin Falk writes interestingly, “From Perry to Pearl Harbor” is more than a story of maritime exploits or a discussion of the endless wrangles at conferences for limitation of armaments. It recalls—from one particular angle, to be sure—the whole history of America’s Pacific expansion and of its long rivalry with Japan for control of the central Pacific. Memories are short, and we are prone to think of our quarrel with Japan as primarily over the Open Door in China; but not so long ago Japan disputed our right to sail the Pacific Ocean at all.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is shown not to have been so great a gamble for an Asiatic power accustomed to taking risks and unhampered by attaching sanctity to international commitments. It really was an accident, a regrettable defect in the apparatus of American watchfulness, that made possible the success of the ruse. Our Navy was not unaware or contemptuous of the possibility of Japanese treachery. Falk tells of a similar accidental weak spot which occurred in 1939 when most of the Pacific fleet was in Atlantic waters but was quickly shuttled back through the Panama Canal.

He believes, on good Navy authority, that stronger fortifications in our outlying possessions would not, in the long run, have made much difference. What was lacking was an adequate striking force. Even in that statement there is a catch: we have paid too much attention to the respective tonnage of competing navies; but the main advantage which Japan enjoyed in the early days of this war was the relative modernity of its vessels and equipment.

The three remaining items on our list are educational in purpose—within the narrower meaning of that term. For many Americans, Japan begins with the country’s “opening up” by Commodore Perry, because their schoolbooks paid no attention to the empire’s long history that went before. Until quite recently, texts in “World History” often gave only a page and a half to Japan. Japanese government-supported agencies did a big business in supplying American teachers with illustrated booklets on many phases of Japanese society. American publishers saw no market large enough to warrant the issue of inexpensive educational literature on Japan. Now the need is generally recognized.

John F. Embree’s pamphlet, “The Japanese,” is one of a series of “War Background Studies” issued by the Smithsonian Institution. Within brief compass it deals with the racial and cultural origins of the Japanese and the various influences that have determined their social attitudes and forms of organization. It offers aid to the understanding of Japan by an anthropologist who knows a part of that country at first hand.

William Henry Chamberlin’s “Modern Japan” is probably the most successful reader, so far, for Americans with an eighth to twelfth grade vocabulary — which means the average adult. He found out what alert youngsters wanted to know and his answers are unequivocal and conducive to further thought. Among the topics covered are daily life and livelihood; history as influenced by geographical factors; causes and character of the Manchuria and China “incidents” and American interests in them; Japanese militarism in its relation to economic realities and to grandiose schemes of expansion. The nature of the government and the power position of various classes are indicated. This is one of a series of short texts, or readers, with maps and illustrations, worked out by the publishers with the educational staff of the Institute of Pacific Relations—each item by a recognized authority.

Last but not least, there is Ambassador Grew’s “Report from Tokyo”—valuable as educational material because of its simple, epic style, the author’s sincere desire to enlighten Americans on matters not easy to understand, and the width of the ground covered. Included are chapters on the history of Japanese militarism, on the conditioning of Japanese youth, on the immediate origins of the war. The recent history of our relations with Japan is there in adequate detail; the conclusions drawn from it are, of course, those official with our Government. Mr. Grew knows why the Japanese generals thought they could win the war. Their miscalculations are not absurd. One thing they could count on; the weakness of an uninformed democracy. We shall continue to make mistakes unless the American people in their own way match the completeness of the mental preparation with which the Japanese have gone to war.


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