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9.The Circle of Human Feelings

  An ethical code like Japan's,which requires such extreme repayment of obligations and such drastic renunciations,might consistently have branded personal desire as an e-vil to be rooted out from the human breast。This is the classical Buddhist doctrine and it is therefore doubly surprising that the Japanese is so hospitable to the pleasures of the live senses。In spite of the fact that Japan is one of the great Buddhist nations of the world,her ethics at this point contrast sharply with the teachings of Gautama Buddha and of the holy books of Buddhism。The Japanese do not condemn self-gratification。They are not Puritans。They consider physical pleasures good and worthy of cultivation。They are sought and valued。Nevertheless,they have to be kept in their place。They must not intrude upon the serious affairs of life。

  One of the best loved minor pleasures of the body in Japan is the hot bath。For the poorest rice farmer and the meanest servant,just as much as for the rich aristocrat,the daily soak in superlatively heated water is a part of the routine of every late afternoon。The commonest tub is a wooden barrel with a charcoal fire under it to keep the water heated to 110 degrees Fahrenheit and over。People wash and rinse themselves all over before they get into the tub and then give themselves over to their enjoyment of the warmth and relaxation of soaking。They sit in the bath with their knees drawn up in fetal position,the water up to their chins。They value the daily bath for cleanliness'sake as Americans do,but they add to this value a fine art of passive indulgence which is hard to duplicate in the bathing habits of the rest of the world。The older one is,they say,the more it grows on one。

  There are all sorts of ways of minimizing the cost and trouble of providing these baths,but baths they must have。In the cities and towns there are great public baths like swimming pool where one may go and soak and visit with one's chance neighbor in the water。In the farm villages several women will take turns preparing the bath in the yard-it is no part of Japanese modesty to avoid the public gaze while bathing-and their families will use it in turn。Always any family even in fine homes go into the family tub in strict succession:the guest,the grandfather,the father,the eldest son and so on down to the lowest servant of the family。They come out lobster-red,and the family gathers together to enjoy the most relaxed hour of the day before the evening meal。

  Just as the hot bath is so keenly appreciated a pleasure,so“hardening oneself”traditionally included the most excessive routine of cold douches。That called for going out before dawn to sit under waterfalls of cold mountain streams。Even pouring freezing water over oneself on winter nights in their unheated Japanese houses is no slight austeri-ty。

  Sleeping is another favored indulgence。It is one of the most accomplished arts of the Japanese。They sleep with complete relaxation,in any position,and under circum-stances we regard as sheer impossibilities。This has surprised many Western students of the Japanese。Americans make insomnia almost a synonym for psychic tenseness,and according to our standards there are high tensions in the Japanese character。But they make child's play of good sleeping。They go to bed early,too,and it is hard to find an-other Oriental nation that does that。The villagers,all asleep shortly after nightfall,are not following our maxim of storing up energy for the morrow for they do not have that kind of calculus。One Westerner,who knew them well,wrote:“When one goes to Ja-pan one must cease to believe that it is a bounden duty to prepare for work tomorrow by sleep and rest tonight。One is to consider sleep apart from questions of recuperation,rest and recreation。”It should stand,just as a proposal to work should,too,“on its own legs,having no reference to any known fact of life or death。”Americans are used to rating sleeping as something one does to keep up one's strength and the first thought of most of us when we wake up in the morning is to calculate how many hours we slept that night。The length of our slumbers tells us how much energy and efficiency we will have that day。The Japanese sleep for other reasons。They like sleeping and when the coast is clear they gladly go to sleep。

  By the same token they are ruthless in sacrificing sleep。A student preparing for ex-aminations works night and day,uncurbed by any notion that sleep would equip him better for the test。In Army training,sleep is simply something to sacrifice to discipline。

  Eating,like warmth and sleeping,is both a relaxation freely enjoyed as pleasure,and a discipline imposed for hardening。As a ritual of leisure the Japanese indulge in endless course meals at which one teaspoonful of food is brought in at a time and the food is praised as much for its looks as for its flavor。But otherwise discipline is stressed。“Quick eating,quick defecating,those together make one of the highest Japa-nese virtues,”Eckstein quotes a Japanese villager as saying。“Eating is not regarded as an act of any importance……Eating is necessary to sustain life,therefore it should be as brief a business as possible。Children,especially boys,are not as in Europe,urged to eat slowly but are encouraged to eat as quickly as possible”。

  According to Japanese ideas,involuntary deprivation of food is an especially good test of how“hardened”one is。Like foregoing warmth and sleeping,so,too,being with-out food is a chance to demonstrate that one can“take it,”and,like the samurai,“hold a toothpick between one's teeth。”If one meets this test when one goes without food,one's strength is raised by one's victory of the spirit,not lowered by the lack of calories and vitamins。The Japanese do not recognize the one-to-one correspondence which Americans postulate between body nourishment and body strength。Therefore,Radio Tokyo could tell people in mid shelters during the war that calisthenics would make hungry people strong and vigorous again。

  Romantic love is another“human feeling”which the Japanese cultivate。It is thor-oughly at home in Japan,no matter how much it runs counter to their forms of marriage and their obligations to the family。Their novels are full of it,and,as in French litera-ture,the principals are already married。Double love-suicides are favorite themes in reading and conversation。The tenth-century Tale of Genji is as elaborate a novel of ro-mantic love as any great novel any country in the world has ever produced,and tales of the loves of the lords and the samurai of the feudal period are of this same romantic sort。It is a chief theme of their contemporary novels。The contrast with Chinese literature is very great。The Chinese save themselves a great deal of trouble by underplaying roman-tic love and erotic pleasures,and their family life has consequently a remarkably even tenor。

  Americans can,of course,understand the Japanese better than they can the Chi-nese on this score but this understanding nevertheless goes only a little way。We have many taboos on erotic pleasure which the Japanese do not have。It is an area about which they are not moralistic and we are。Sex,like any other“human feeling,”they re-gard as thoroughly good in its minor place in life。There is nothing evil about“human feelings”and therefore no need to be moralistic about sex pleasures。They still comment upon the fact that Americans and British consider pornographic some of their cherished books of pictures and see the Yoshiwara-the district of geisha girls and prostitutes-in such a lurid light。The Japanese,even during early years of Western contact,were very sensitive about this foreign criticism and passed laws to bring their practices more nearly into conformity with Western standards。But no legal regulations have been able to bridge the cultural differences。

  Educated Japanese are thoroughly aware that English and Americans see immorality and obscenity where they do not,but they are not as conscious of the chasm between our conventional attitudes and their tenet that“human feelings”should not intrude upon se-rious affairs of life。It is,however,a major source of our difficulty in understanding Jap-anese attitudes about love and erotic pleasure。They fence off one province which be-longs to the wife from another which belongs to erotic pleasure。Both provinces are e-qually open and aboveboard。The two are not divided from each other as in American life by the fact that one is what a man admits to the public and the other is surreptitious。They are separate because one is in the circle of a man's major obligations and the other in the circle of minor relaxation。This way of mapping out“proper place”to each area makes the two as separate for the ideal father of a family as it does for the man about town。The Japanese set up no ideal,as we do in the United States,which pictures love and marriage as one and the same thing。We approve of love just in proportion as it is the basis of one's choice of a spouse。“Being in love”is our most approved reason for marriage。After marriage a husband's physical attraction to another woman is humiliating to his wife because he bestows elsewhere something that rightly belongs to her。The Jap-anese judge differently。In the choice of a spouse the young man should bow to his parent's choice and marry blind。He must observe great formality in his relations with his wife。Even in the give and take of family life their children do not see an erotically af-fectionate gesture pass between them。“The real aim of marriage is regarded in this country,”as a contemporary Japanese says in one of their magazines,“as the procrea-tion of children and thereby to assure the continuity of the family life。Any purpose other than this must simply serve to pervert the true meaning of it。”

  But this does not mean that a man remains virtuous by limiting himself to such a life。If he can afford it he keeps a mistress。In strong contrast to China he does not add to his family this woman who has caught his fancy。If he did that,it would confuse the two areas of life which should be kept separate。The girl may be a geisha,highly trained in music and dance and massage and the arts of entertainment,or she may be a prosti-tute。In any case he signs a contract with the house where she is employed and this con-tract protects the girl from abandonment and ensures her a financial return。He sets her up in an establishment of her own。Only in highly exceptional cases when the girl has a child whom the man wishes to bring up with his own children does he bring her into his home,and then she is designated as one of the servants,not as a concubine。The child calls the legal wife“mother,”and ties between the real mother and her child are not ac-knowledged。The whole Oriental arrangement of polygamy,which is so pronounced a traditional pattern in China,is thus quite un-Japanese。The Japanese keep family obli-gations and“human feelings”even spatially apart。

  Only the upper class can afford to keep mistresses,but most men have at some time visited geishas or prostitutes。Such visits are not in the least surreptitious。A man's wife may dress and prepare him for his evening of relaxation。The house he visits may send the bill to his wife and she pays it as a matter of course。She may be unhappy about it but that is her own affair。A visit to the geisha house is more expensive than a visit to a prostitute but the payment a man makes for the privilege of such an evening does not in-clude the fight to make her a sexual partner。What he gets is the pleasure of being enter-tained by beautifully dressed and punctiliously mannered girls who have been meticu-lously trained for their ro1e。To gain access to a particular geisha,the man would have to become her patron and sign a contract according to which she would become his mis-tress,or he would have to captivate her by his charms so that she gave herself to him of her own free will。An evening with geisha girls,however,is no asexual affair。Their dances,their repartee,their songs,their gestures are traditionally suggestive and care-fully calculated to express all that an upper class wife's may not。They are“in the circle of human feelings”and give relief from“the circle of ko。”There is no reason not to in-dulge oneself but the two spheres belong apart。

  Prostitutes live in licensed houses,and after an evening with a geisha a man may visit a prostitute if he wishes。The fee is low and men with little money have to content themselves with this form of relaxation and forego geishas。The pictures of the girls of the house are displayed outside and men commonly spend a long time quite publicly stud-ying the pictures and making their choices。These girls have a low status and they are not put on a pinnacle as the geishas are。They are most of them daughters of the poor who have been sold to the establishment by their families when they were hard-pressed for money,and they are not trained in geisha arts of entertainment。In earlier days,be-fore Japan realized Western disapproval of the custom and ended it,the girls themselves used to sit in public showing their impassive faces to customers choosing their human wares。Their photographs are a substitution。

  One of these girls may be chosen by a man who becomes her exclusive patron and sets her up as a mistress after making a contract with the house。Such girls are protected by the terms of the agreement。A man may,however,take a servant girl or salesgirl as a mistress without signing a contract and these“voluntary mistresses”are the ones who are most defenseless。They are precisely those girls who are most likely to have been in love with their partners,but they are outside all the recognized circles of obligation。When the Japanese read our tales and poems of young mourning women“with my baby on my knee”abandoned by their lovers,they identify these mothers of illegitimate chil-dren with their“voluntary mistresses。”

  Homosexual indulgences are also part of traditional“human feelings。”In Old Ja-pan these were the sanctioned pleasures of men of high status such as the samurai and the priests。In the Meiji period when Japan made so many of her customs illegal in her effort to win the approval of Westerners,she ruled that this custom should be punishable by law。It still falls,however,among those“human feelings”about which moralistic at-titudes are inappropriate。It must be kept in its proper place and must not interfere with carrying on the family。Therefore the danger of a man or a woman's“becoming”a ho-mosexual,as the Western phrase has it,is hardly conceived,though a man can choose to become a male geisha professionally。The Japanese are especially shocked at adult passive homosexuals in the United States。Adult men in Japan would seek out boy part-ners,for adults consider the passive ro1e to be beneath their dignity。The Japanese draw their own lines as to what a man can do and retain his self-respect,but they are not the ones we draw。

  The Japanese are not moralistic about autoerotic pleasures,either。No people have ever had such paraphernalia for the purpose。In this field,too,the Japanese tried to forestall foreign condemnation by eliminating some of the more obvious publicity these objects received,but they do not themselves feel that they are instruments of evil。Auto-eroticism is a pleasure about which they feel no guilt and they think it is sufficiently con-trolled by assigning it to its minor place in a decorous life。

  Intoxication is another of the permissible“human feelings。”The Japanese consider our American total abstinence pledges as one of the strange vagaries of the Occident。Drinking sake is a pleasure no man in his right mind would deny himself。But alcohol belongs among the minor relaxations and no man in his right mind,either,would be-come obsessed by it。According to their way of thinking one does not fear to“become”a drunkard any more than one fears to“become”a homosexual,and it is true that the compulsive drunkard is not a social problem in Japan。Alcohol is a pleasant relaxation and one's family and even the public does not consider a man repulsive when he is un-der the influence of liquor。He is not likely to be violent and certainly nobody thinks he is going to beat up his children。A crying jag is quite common and relaxation of the strict rules of Japanese posture and gestures is universal。At urban sake parties men like to sit in each other's laps。

  Conventional Japanese strictly separate drinking from eating。As soon as a man tastes rice at a village party where sake is served it means that he has stopped drinking。He has stepped over into another“circle”and he keeps them separate。At home he may have sake after his meal but ho does not eat and drink at the same time。He gives him-self up in turn to one or the other enjoyment。

  These Japanese views on“human feelings”have several consequences。It cuts the ground out from under the Occidental philosophy of two powers,the flesh and the spirit,continually fighting for supremacy in each human life。In Japanese philosophy the flesh is not evil。Enjoying its possible pleasures is no sin。The spirit and the body are not op-posing forces in the universe and the Japanese carry this tenet to a logical conclusion:the world is not a battlefield between good and evil。Sir George Sansom writes:“Throughout their history the Japanese seem to have retained in some measure this inca-pacity to discern,or this reluctance to grapple with,the problem of evil。”They have in fact constantly repudiated it as a view of life。They believe that man has two souls,but they are not his good impulses fighting with his bad。They are the“gentle”soul and the“rough”soul and there are occasions in every man's-and every nation's-life when he should be“gentle”and when he should be“rough。”One soul is not destined for hell and one for heaven。They are both necessary and good on different occasions。

  The Japanese have always been extremely explicit in denying that virtue consists in fighting evil。As their philosophers and religious teachers have constantly said for centu-ries such a moral code is alien to Japan。They are loud in proclaiming that this proves the moral superiority of their own people。The Chinese,they say,had to have a moral code which raised jen,just and benevolent behavior,to an absolute standard,by apply-ing which all men and acts could be found wanting if they fell short。“A moral code was good for the Chinese whose inferior natures required such artificial means of restraint。”

  So wrote the great eighteenth-century Shintoist,Motoori,and modem Buddhist teachers and modern nationalistic leaders have written and spoken on the same theme。Human nature in Japan,they say,is naturally good and to be trusted。It does not need to fight an evil half of itself。It needs to cleanse the windows of its soul and act with appropriate-ness on every different occasion。If it has allowed itself to become“dirty,”impurities are readily removed and man's essential goodness shines forth again。

  To American ears such doctrines seem to lead to a philosophy of self-indulgence and license。The Japanese,however,as we have seen,define the supreme task of life as fulfilling one's obligations。They fully accept the fact that repaying on means sacrifi-cing one's personal desires and pleasures。The idea that the pursuit of happiness is a se-rious goal of life is to them an amazing and immoral doctrine。Happiness is a relaxation in which one indulges when one can,but to dignify it as something by which the State and family should be judged is quite unthinkable。The fact that a man often suffers in-tensely in living up to his obligations of chu and ko and giri is no more than they expect。It makes life hard but they are prepared for that。They constantly give up pleasures which they consider in no way evil。That requires strength of will。But such strength is the most admired virtue in Japan。

  It is consistent with this Japanese position that the“happy ending”is so rare in their novels and plays。American popular audiences crave solutions。They want to be-lieve that people live happily ever after。They want to know that people are rewarded for their virtue。If they must weep at the end of a play,it must be because there was a flaw in the hero's character or because he was victimized by a bad social order。But it is far pleasanter to have everything come out happily for the hero。Japanese popular audiences sit dissolved in tears watching the hero come to his tragic end and the lovely heroine slain because of a turn of the wheel of fortune。Such plots are the high points of an evening's entertainment。They are what people go to the theater to see。Even their mo-dem movies are built on the theme of the sufferings of the hero and the heroine。They are in love and give up their lovers。They are happily married and one or the other com-mits suicide in the proper performance of his duty。The wife who has devoted herself to rescuing her husband's career hides herself in the great city on the eve of his success to free him for his new life and dies uncomplainingly in poverty on the day of his great tri-umph。There need be no happy ending。Pity and sympathy for the self-sacrificing hero and heroine has full right of way。Their suffering is no judgment of God upon them。It shows that they fulfilled their duty at all costs and allowed nothing-not abandonment or sickness or death-to divert them from the true path。

  Their modern war films are in the same tradition。Americans who see these movies often say that they are the best pacifist propaganda they ever saw。This is a characteris-tic American reaction because the movies are wholly concerned with the sacrifice and suffering of war。They do not play up military parades and bands and prideful showings of fleet maneuvers or big guns。Whether they deal with the Russo-Japanese War or the China Incident,they starkly insist upon the monotonous routine of mud and marching,the sufferings of lowly fighting,the inconclusiveness of campaigns。Their curtain scenes are not victory or even banzai charges。They are overnight halts in some featureless Chi-nese town deep in mud。Or they show maimed,halt and blind representatives of three generations of a Japanese family,survivors of three wars。Or they show the family at home,after the death of the soldier,mourning the loss of husband and father and bread-winner and gathering themselves together to go on without him。The stirring background of Anglo-American“Cavalcade”movies is all absent。They do not even dramatize the theme of rehabilitation of wounded veterans。Not even the purposes for which the war was fought are mentioned。It is enough for the Japanese audience that all the people on the screen have repaid on with everything that was in them,and these movies therefore in Japan were propaganda of the militarists。Their sponsors knew that Japanese audi-ences were not stirred by them to pacifism。

  
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