The extent to which national character has been fixed by the discipline of centuries, and its extraordinary capacity to resist change, is perhaps most strikingly indicated by certain results of State education.
The whole nation is being educated, with government help, upon a European plan, and the full program includes the chief subjects of Western study.
From kindergarten to university the entire system is modern in outward appearance.
Yet the effect of the new education is much less marked in thought and sentiment than might be supposed.
This fact can not be explained merely by the large place which old Chinese study still occupies in the mandatory program, nor by differences in belief.
It is much more due to the fundamental difference in the Japanese and the European conceptions of education as means to an end.
In spite of new system and program, the whole of Japanese education is still conducted upon a traditional plan almost the exact opposite of the Western plan.
In the Occidental world, the repressive part of moral training begins in early childhood.
The European or American teacher is strict with the little ones, we think that it is important to ingrain the duties of behaviour.
The “must” and the “must not” of individual obligation, as soon as possible.
Later on, more liberty is allowed.
The well-raised boy is made to understand that his future will depend upon his personal effort and capacity, and he is thereafter left to take care of himself, being occasionally admonished or warned.
Finally, the adult student of promise and character may become the intimate, or, under happy circumstances, even the friend of his tutor, to whom he can look for counsel in all difficult situations.
And throughout the whole course of mental and moral training competition is not only expected, but required.
The aim of Western education is the cultivation of individual ability and personal character, the creation of an independent and forceful being.
Now Japanese education has always been conducted, and, in spite of superficial appearances, is still being conducted, mostly upon the reverse plan.
Its object never has been to train the individual for independent action, but to train him for cooperative action, to fit him to occupy an exact place in the mechanism of a rigid society.
Constraint among Occidentals begins with childhood, and gradually relaxes.
Constraint in Japanese training begins later, and thereafter gradually tightens, and it is not a constraint imposed directly by parents or teachers, which fact, as we shall see, makes an enormous difference in results.
Not merely up to the age of school-life, but considerably beyond it, a Japanese child enjoys a degree of liberty far greater than is allowed to Occidental children.
Exceptional cases are common, of course, but the general rule is that the child be permitted to do as he pleases, providing that his conduct can cause no injury to himself or to others.
He is guarded, but not constrained, admonished, but rarely compelled.
Punishment is administered only when absolutely necessary, and on such occasions, by ancient custom, the entire household, servants and all, intercede for the offender.
The little brothers and sisters, if any there be, begging in turn to bear the penalty instead.
Whipping is not a common punishment, except among the roughest classes.
To frighten a child by loud harsh words, or angry looks, is condemned by general opinion.
All punishment ought to be inflicted as quietly as possible, the punisher calmly admonishing all the while.
To slap a child about the head, for any reason, is a proof of vulgarity and ignorance.
It is not customary to punish by restraining from play, or by a change of diet, or by any denial of accustomed pleasures.
To be perfectly patient with children is the ethical law.
At school the discipline begins, but it is at first so very light that it can hardly be called discipline.
The teacher does not act as a master, but rather as an elder brother, and there is no punishment beyond a public admonition.
Whatever restraint exists is chiefly exerted on the child by the common opinion of his class, and a skillful teacher is able to direct that opinion.
The ruling power always being class-sentiment, not the individual will of the teacher.
In middle schools the pupils become serious.
Class-opinion there attains a force to which the teacher himself must bend, as it is quite capable of expelling him for any attempt to override it.
Each middle-school class has its elected officers, who represent and enforce the moral code of the majority, the traditional standard of conduct.
It is never the domination of the one over the many that regulates class-life, it is always the rule of the many over the one, and the power is formidable.
The student who consciously or unconsciously offends class-sentiment will suddenly find himself isolated, condemned to absolute solitude.
No one will speak to him or notice him even outside of the school, until such time as he decides to make a public apology, when his pardon will depend upon a majority-vote.
Such temporary ostracism is not unreasonably feared, because it is regarded even outside of student-circles as a disgrace, and the memory of it will cling to the offender during the rest of his career.
As a rule, the student passes into official life after having graduated, marries, and becomes the head, or the prospective head of a household.
How sudden the transformation of the man at this epoch of his career, only those who have observed the transformation can imagine.
It is then that the full significance of Japanese education reveals itself.
The reader will now be able to understand the general character, aim, and results of official education as a system.
Here the foreign professor is now regarded merely as a teaching-machine, and he is more than likely to regret any effort made to maintain an intimate relation with his pupils.
Indeed the whole formal system of official education is opposed to the development of any such relation.
No matter what the foreigner may do in the hope of finding his way into touch with the emotional life of his students, or in the hope of evoking that interest in certain studies which renders possible an intellectual tie, he must toil in vain.
The Japanese professor, however, can ask for extraordinary efforts and, obtain them.
He can afford to be easily familiar with his students outside of class, and he can get what no stranger can obtain, their devotion.
The difference has been attributed to race-feeling, but it cannot be so easily and vaguely explained.
Something of race-sentiment there certainly is, it were impossible that there should not be.
No inexperienced foreigner can converse for one half hour with any Japanese, at least with any Japanese who has not sojourned abroad, and avoid saying something that jars upon Japanese good taste or sentiment.
Few among untravelled Japanese can maintain a brief conversation in any European tongue without making some startling impression upon the foreign listener.
Sympathetic understanding, between minds so differently constructed, is next to impossible.
But the foreign professor who looks for the impossible, who expects from Japanese students the same quality of intelligent comprehension that he might reasonably expect from Western students is naturally disturbed.
“Why must there always, remain the width of a world between us?” is a question often asked and rarely answered.
Some of the reasons should by this time be obvious, but one among them and the most curious, will not.
Before stating it I must observe that while the relation between foreign instructor and the Japanese student is artificial, that between the Japanese teacher and the student is traditionally one of sacrifice and obligation.
The inertia encountered by the stranger, the indifference which chills him at all times, are due in great part to the misapprehension arising from totally opposite conceptions of duty.
Old sentiment lingers long after old forms have passed away, and how much of feudal Japan survives in modern Japan, no stranger can readily divine.
Probably the bulk of existing sentiment is hereditary sentiment.
The ancient ideals have not yet been replaced by fresh ones.
In feudal times the teacher taught without salary.
He was expected to devote all his time, thought, and strength to his profession.
High honour was attached to that profession, and the matter of remuneration was not discussed.
The instructor trusting wholly to the gratitude of parents and pupils.
Public sentiment bound them to him with a bond that could not be broken.
The tie between teacher and pupil was in force second only to the tie between parent and child.
The teacher sacrificed everything for his pupil, the pupil ready at all times to die for his teacher.
From the summit of society to the base, this sacrificial spirit rules.
For example: A certain university professor is known to have supported and educated a large number of students by dividing among them, during many years, nearly the whole of his salary.
He lodged, clothed, boarded, and educated them, bought their books, and paid their fees, reserving for himself only the cost of his living, and reducing even that cost by living upon hot sweet potatoes.*
*Fancy a foreign professor in Japan putting himself upon a diet of bread and water for the purpose of educating gratuitously a number of poor young men!
There are yet other facts in modern education suggesting even more forcibly how much of the old life remains hidden under the new conditions, and how rigidly race-character has become fixed in the higher types of mind.
I refer chiefly to the results of Japanese education abroad, a higher special training in German, English, French, or American universities.
In some directions these results, to foreign observation at least, appear to be almost negative.
Considering the immense psychological differentiation, the total oppositeness of mental structure and habit, it is astonishing that Japanese students have been able to do what they actually have done at foreign universities.
To graduate at any European or American University of mark, with a mind shaped by Japanese culture, filled with Chinese learning, crammed with ideographs is a prodigious feat, and scarcely less of a feat than it would be for an American student to graduate at a Chinese University.
Certainly the men sent abroad to study are carefully selected for ability, and one indispensable requisite for the mission is a power of memory incomparably superior to the average Occidental memory, and different altogether as to quality, a memory for details, nevertheless, the feat is amazing.
But with the return to Japan of these young scholars, there is commonly an end of effort in the direction of the speciality studied, unless it happens to have been a purely practical subject.
Does this signify incapacity for independent work upon Occidental lines?
Incapacity for creative thought?
Lack of constructive imagination?
Disinclination or indifference?
The history of that terrible mental and moral discipline to which the race was so long subjected would certainly suggest such limitations in the modern Japanese mind.
The plain truth is that young men are sent to foreign seats of learning for other ends than to learn how to devote the rest of their lives to the study of psychology, philology, literature, or modern philosophy.
They are sent abroad to fit them for higher posts in Government-service, and their foreign study is but one obligatory episode in their official career.
Each has to qualify himself for special duty by learning how Western people study and think and feel in certain directions, and by ascertaining the range of educational progress in those directions, but he is not ordered to think or to feel like Western people, which would, in any event, be impossible for him.
He has not, and probably could not have, any deep personal interest in Western learning outside of the domain of applied science.
His business is to learn how to understand such matters from the Japanese, not from the Occidental point of view.
But he performs his part well, does exactly what he has been told to do, and rarely anything more.
It is otherwise in the case of men sent abroad for scientific studies requiring, not only intelligence and memory, but natural quickness of hand and eye, surgery, medicine, military specialities.
I doubt whether the average efficiency of Japanese surgeons can be surpassed.
The study of war, I need hardly say, is one for which the national mind and character have inherited aptitude.
But men sent abroad merely to win a foreign university-degree, and destined, after a term of educational duty, to higher official life, appear to set small value upon their foreign acquirements.
However, even if they could win distinction in Europe by further effort at home, that effort would have to be made at a serious pecuniary sacrifice, and its results could not as yet be fairly appreciated by their own countrymen.
Some of us have wondered at times what the old Egyptians or the old Greeks would have done if suddenly brought into dangerous contact with a civilization like the Occidental.
A civilization of applied mathematics, with sciences and branch-sciences of which the mere names would fill a dictionary.
I think that the history of modern Japan suggests very clearly what any wise people, with a civilization based upon ancestor-worship, would have done.
They would have speedily reconstructed their patriarchal society to meet the sudden peril.
They would have adopted, with astonishing success, all the scientific machinery that they could use.
They would have created a formidable army and a highly efficient navy.
They would have sent their young aristocrats abroad to study alien convention, and to qualify for diplomatic duty.
They would have established a new system of education, and obliged all their children to study many new things.
But toward the higher emotional and intellectual life of that alien civilization, they would naturally exhibit indifference.
Its best literature, its philosophy, its broader forms of tolerant religion could make no profound appeal to the Japanese moral and social experience.
Patrick Lafcadio Hearn