Tuesday, June 24, 2008

an adopted son

Lafcadio Hearn to Basil Hall Chamberlain

January 27, 1894.

Dear Chamberlain,
Your letter was a great pleasure to me for more reasons than one, especially, however, because giving what a man is always most hungry for in this world (unless he is a Diogenes)--sympathy. First, about the registration question:--Perhaps your idea of my destiny is prophetical, and I may again be a traveller. I think I ought to travel a little for literary material. But I cannot imagine any circumstance, except banishment by the Tenshi-sama, that should prevent me from making my home in Japan. Indeed, I never thought about such a possibility. The only grim outlook is death,--because I am much older than I like to be; in that case English citizenship would be of no use to my folk. As for my wife, she is only a simple sweet-hearted country-girl; she would never feel at home in the life of the open ports, or be able to mingle at ease in the Europeanized circles of their Japanese society. Again, none of my folks know anything about business;--they would be easily deprived of anything. I could leave them in any of the settlements; but as for myself, I can't imagine anything which could separate us indefinitely in life. Leaving the moral question aside altogether--though it is a stronger one than any--there comes the consideration of the facts, thus: The Japanese are still the best people in the world to live among;--therefore why wish ever to live elsewhere? No one will ever, or could ever, love me any more than those about me now love me;--and that is the most precious consideration in life aside from the mere capacity to live. The ugly questions are death and lack of employment. The latter is quite possible. The former is important. In either event, It were better that mother and son were able to live in the interior, and own their own homestead, and have a little revenue, and take care of each other until better times. There's the odds. Yes, as you say, it is a hard nut to crack; but I fancy the safe side is that suggested by the family instinct--they have all decided not to risk loss of citizenship. The patriarch, of course, considers me only an adopted son; and thinks that Izumo should always be the family home.

What you say of Japanese costume as a protection by mimicry is glorious. I should like to meet the Japanese who had shrewdness enough to say so delicious a thing! The fact struck me a good while ago (and I embodied it in my article on "Jiujutsu")* that the Japanese have never really adopted European costume at all. It is worn only outside the house; the reifuku as a business uniform, the yofuku as a military uniform. Even the officers of the garrison resume at home the kimono, obi, haori, and tabi. The Kencho officials, the judges, the Governors of provinces, the teachers, are, at home, each and all, just as much Japanese as they were a thousand years ago. The students even hate the uniforms and confess its value only as a military garb. . . .

I suppose you can scarcely have failed to observe the extraordinary benevolence exercised toward students throughout the country. Every official and every teacher--or nearly every--has a number of shosei in his house. Nominally they should support themselves, but I fancy they are in all cases largely aided, even as to food. What you may not have noticed, perhaps, is that in modern Japanese houses of a fair class--such as my own--special architectural provision is made for shosei. There are two or more small walled-off rooms (solid kabe-work) contrived about the entrance which are called "student-rooms." The soshi-business in Tokyo represents only the perversion of this benevolent custom to political ends. I myself intend, if things turn out pretty well, to take an Izumo student or two later on, and help as far as can reasonably be expected. I am often asked by local students, but as often refuse; for others have prior claims, and, besides, my present house is too small.

The native benevolence does not draw the line at shosei. I know a number of cases of hard-worked teachers contributing regularly every month to the university expenses of boys whom they have taught. I asked, "Are they really grateful?" of a very cynical professor. He said, "Yes, I believe they are;--they are grateful to their Japanese teachers for personal favours." I said, "But they are not grateful to foreign teachers?"He answered,--"Well, no: that is quite a different matter." Then I wondered whether this is not just because we foreign teachers are really so much more selfish towards them--for reasons we cannot help, of course.

Lastly: The benevolence of the teachers does not stop there. Special teachers devote their whole spare time to unpaid, gratuitous teaching,--in many instances. Take jiujutsu! Our present teacher, a disciple of Kano's, builds here at his own expense, in his own residence grounds, a jiujutsu hall, and teaches all his spare time without a cent of remuneration. Take natural history! The least sympathetic of all the teachers gives his whole leisure to extra labour in this direction. Perhaps it is the very excess of such kindness on the part of the native teachers which creates the feeling of "offness" between the foreign teacher and the students. His greatest kindness suffers terribly by comparison.

Again the foreign teacher is trusted only as an intellectual machine. His moral notions, his sympathies,, his intuitions, his educational ideas are not trusted at all; a Japanese teacher is always consulted by preference. There seems to be the set conviction in every official mind that a foreigner cannot understand Japanese students. Indeed I suspect that those among us who sympathize with them, and wish to know them, may really understand them much better than they can understand us, which is saying a good deal, just because of this solid conviction about our mental incapacity. . . .
Ever most truly,
Lafcadio Hearn.

*Published in his book, Out of the East (Houghton, Mifflin, 1895).

-from The Japanese Letters of Lafcadio Hearn edited with an introduction by Elizabeth Bisland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910) p. 232-36.

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