planets destroy

I wanted, before leaving Kyōto, to visit the tomb of Yuko Hatakeyama.
After having vainly inquired of several persons where she was buried,
it occurred to me to ask a Buddhist priest who had come to the hotel
on some parochial business. He answered at once, “In the cemetery
of Makkeiji.” Makkeiji was a temple not mentioned in guide-books,
and situated somewhere at the outskirts of the city. I took a kuruma
forthwith, and found myself at the temple gate after about half an
hour’s run.

A priest, to whom I announced the purpose of my visit, conducted me to
the cemetery,–a very large one,–and pointed out the grave. The sun
of a cloudless autumn day flooded everything with light, and tinged
with spectral gold the face of a monument on which I saw, in beautiful
large characters very deeply cut, the girl’s name, with the Buddhist
prefix _Retsujo,_ signifying chaste and true,–


The grave was well kept, and the grass had been recently trimmed.
A little wooden awning: erected in front of the stone sheltered
the offerings of flowers and sprays of shikimi, and a cup of fresh
water. I did sincere reverence to the heroic and unselfish spirit,
and pronounced the customary formula. Some other visitors, I noticed,
saluted the spirit after the Shintō manner. The tombstones were so
thickly crowded about the spot that, in order to see the back of the
monument, I found I should have to commit the rudeness of stepping
on the grave. But I felt sure she would forgive me; so, treading
reverently, I passed round, and copied the inscription: “_Yuko, of
Nagasagori, Kamagawamachi … from day of birth always good….
Meiji, the twenty-fourth year, the fifth month, the twentieth day …
cause of sorrow the country having … the Kyōto government-house to
went … and her own throat cut … twenty and seven years … Tani
Tetsuomi made … Kyōto-folk-by erected this stone_ is.” The Buddhist
Kaimyō read, “_Gi-yu-in-ton-shi-chu-myō-kyō_”–apparently signifying,
“Right-meaning and valiant woman, instantly attaining to the admirable
doctrine of loyalty.”


In the temple, the priest showed me the relics and mementos of the
tragedy: a small Japanese razor, blood-crusted, with the once white
soft paper thickly wrapped round its handle caked into one hard red
mass; the cheap purse; the girdle and clothing, blood-stiffened
(all except the kimono, washed by order of the police before having
been given to the temple); letters and memoranda; photographs, which
I secured, of Yuko and her tomb; also a photograph of the gathering
in the cemetery, where the funeral rites were performed by Shintō
priests. This fact interested me; for, although condoned by Buddhism,
the suicide could not have been regarded in the same light by the two
faiths. The clothing was coarse and cheap: the girl had pawned her best
effects to cover the expenses of her journey and her burial. I bought
a little book containing the story of her life and death, copies of
her last letters, poems written about her by various persons,–some
of very high rank,–and a clumsy portrait. In the photographs of Yuko
and her relatives there was nothing remarkable: such types you can
meet with every day and anywhere in Japan. The interest of the book
was psychological only, as regarded both the author and the subject.
The printed letters of Yuko revealed that strange state of Japanese
exaltation in which the mind remains capable of giving all possible
attention to the most trivial matters of fact, while the terrible
purpose never slackens. The memoranda gave like witness:–

_Meiji twenty-fourth year, fifth month, eighteenth day._ 5
sen to kurumaya from Nihonbashi to Uyeno.

_Nineteenth day._

5 sen to kurumaya to Asakusa Umamachi.

1 sen 5 rin for sharpening something to hair-dresser in

10 yen received from Sano, the pawnbroker in Baba.

20 sen for train to Shincho.

1 yen 2 sen for train from Hama to Shidzuoka.

_Twentieth day._

2 yen 9 sen for train from Shidzuoka to Hama.

6 sen for postage-stamps for two letters.

14 sen in Kiyomidzu.

12 sen 5 rin for umbrella given to kurumaya.

But in strange contrast to the methodical faculty thus manifested was
the poetry of a farewell letter, containing such thoughts as these:–

“The eighty-eighth night” [that is, from the festival of the Setsubun]
“having passed like a dream, ice changed itself into clear drops, and
snow gave place to rain. Then cherry-blossoms came to please everybody;
but now, poor things! they begin to fall even before the wind touches
them. Again a little while, and the wind will make them fly through the
bright air in the pure spring weather. Yet it may be that the hearts
of those who love me will not be bright, will feel no pleasant spring.
The season of rains will come next, and there will be no joy in their
hearts…. Oh! what shall I do? There has been no moment in which I
have not thought of you…. But all ice, all snow, becomes at last free
water; the incense buds of the kiku will open even in frost. I pray
you, think later about these things…. Even now, for me, is the time
of frost, the time of kiku buds: if only they can blossom, perhaps
I shall please you much. Placed in this world of sorrow, but not to
stay, is the destiny of all. I beseech you, think me not unfilial; say
to none that you have lost me, that I have passed into the darkness.
Bather wait and hope for the fortunate time that shall come.”


The editor of the pamphlet betrayed rather too much of the Oriental
manner of judging woman, even while showering generous praise upon
one typical woman. In a letter to the authorities Yuko had spoken of a
family claim, and this was criticised as a feminine weakness. She had,
indeed, achieved the extinction of personal selfishness, but she had
been “very foolish” to speak about her family. In some other ways the
book was disappointing. Under the raw, strong light of its commonplace
revelations, my little sketch, “Yuko,” written in 1894, seemed for the
moment much too romantic. And yet the real poetry of the event remained
unlessened,–the pure ideal that impelled a girl to take her own life
merely to give proof of the love and loyalty of a nation. No small,
mean, dry facts could ever belittle that large fact.

The sacrifice had stirred the feelings of the nation much more than it
had touched my own. Thousands of photographs of Yuko and thousands of
copies of the little book about her were sold. Multitudes visited her
tomb and made offerings there, and gazed with tender reverence at the
relics in Makkeiji; and all this, I thought, for the best of reasons.
If commonplace facts are repellent to what we are pleased, in the
West, to call “refined feeling,” it is proof that the refinement is
factitious and the feeling shallow. To the Japanese, who recognize that
the truth of beauty belongs to the inner being, commonplace details
are precious: they help to accentuate and verify the conception of a
heroism. Those poor blood-stained trifles–the coarse honest robes
and girdle, the little cheap purse, the memoranda of a visit to the
pawnbroker, the glimpses of plain, humble, every-day humanity shown
by the letters and the photographs and the infinitesimal precision of
police records–all serve, like so much ocular evidence, to perfect
the generous comprehension of the feeling that made the fact. Had Yuko
been the most beautiful person in Japan, and her people of the highest
rank, the meaning of her sacrifice would have been far less intimately
felt. In actual life, as a general rule, it is the common, not the
uncommon person who does noble things; and the people, seeing best, by
the aid of ordinary facts, what is heroic in one of their own class,
feel themselves honored. Many of us in the West will have to learn our
ethics over again from the common people. Our cultivated classes have
lived so long in an atmosphere of false idealism, mere conventional
humbug, that the real, warm, honest human emotions seem to them vulgar;
and the natural and inevitable punishment is inability to see, to hear,
to feel, and to think. There is more truth in the little verse poor
Yuko wrote on the back of her mirror than in most of our conventional

“_By one keeping the heart free from stain, virtue and right and wrong
are seen clearly as forms in a mirror._”


I returned by another way, through a quarter which I had never seen
before,–all temples. A district of great spaces,–vast and beautiful
and hushed as by enchantment. No dwellings or shops. Pale yellow walls
only, sloping back from the roadway on both sides, like fortress
walls, but coped with a coping or rootlet of blue tiles; and above
these yellow sloping walls (pierced with elfish gates at long, long
intervals), great soft hilly masses of foliage–cedar and pine and
bamboo–with superbly curved roofs sweeping up through them. Each
vista of those silent streets of temples, bathed in the gold of the
autumn afternoon, gave me just such a thrill of pleasure as one feels
on finding in some poem the perfect utterance of a thought one has
tried for years in vain to express.

Yet what was the charm made with? The wonderful walls were but
painted mud; the gates and the temples only frames of wood supporting
tiles; the shrubbery, the stonework, the lotus-ponds, mere
landscape-gardening. Nothing solid, nothing enduring; but a combination
so beautiful of lines and colors and shadows that no speech could
paint it. Nay! even were those earthen walls turned into lemon-colored
marble, and their tiling into amethyst; even were the material of the
temples transformed into substance precious as that of the palace
described in the Sutra of the Great King of Glory,–still the aesthetic
suggestion, the dreamy repose, the mellow loveliness and softness of
the scene, could not be in the least enhanced. Perhaps it is just
because the material of such creation is so frail that its art is
so marvelous. The most wonderful architecture, the most entrancing
landscapes, are formed with substance the most imponderable,–the
substance of clouds.

But those who think of beauty only in connection with costliness,
with stability, with “firm reality,” should never look for it in
this land,–well called the Land of Sunrise, for sunrise is the hour
of illusions. Nothing is more lovely than a Japanese village among
the hills or by the coast when seen just after sunrise,–through the
slowly lifting blue mists of a spring or autumn morning. But for the
matter-of-fact observer, the enchantment passes with the vapors: in the
raw, clear light he can find no palaces of amethyst, no sails of gold,
but only flimsy sheds of wood and thatch and the unpainted queerness of
wooden junks.

So perhaps it is with all that makes life beautiful in any land. To
view men or nature with delight, we must see them through illusions,
subjective or objective. How they appear to us depends upon the ethical
conditions within us. Nevertheless, the real and the unreal are
equally illusive in themselves. The vulgar and the rare, the seemingly
transient and the seemingly enduring, are all alike mere ghostliness.
Happiest he who, from birth to death, sees ever through some beautiful
haze of the soul,–best of all, that haze of love which, like the
radiance of this Orient day, turns common things to gold.



“Let the Bodhisattva look upon all things as having the
nature of space,–as permanently equal to space; without
essence, without substantiality.”–SADDHARMA-PUNDARÎKA.

I have wandered to the verge of the town; and the street I followed
has roughened into a country road, and begins to curve away through
rice-fields toward a hamlet at the foot of the hills. Between town
and rice-fields a vague unoccupied stretch of land makes a favorite
playground for children. There are trees, and spaces of grass to roll
on, and many butterflies, and plenty of little stones. I stop to look
at the children.

By the roadside some are amusing themselves with wet clay, making tiny
models of mountains and rivers and rice-fields; tiny mud villages,
also,–imitations of peasants’ huts,–and little mud temples, and mud
gardens with ponds and humped bridges and imitations of stone-lanterns
(_tōrō_); likewise miniature cemeteries, with bits of broken stone for
monuments. And they play at funerals,–burying corpses of butterflies
and _semi_ (cicadæ), and pretending to repeat Buddhist sutras over the
grave. To-morrow they will not dare to do this; for to-morrow will be
the first day of the festival of the Dead. During that festival it is
strictly forbidden to molest insects, especially semi, some of which
have on their heads little red characters said to be names of Souls.

Children in all countries play at death. Before the sense of personal
identity comes, death cannot be seriously considered; and childhood
thinks in this regard more correctly, perhaps, than self-conscious
maturity. Of course, if these little ones were told, some bright
morning, that a playfellow had gone away forever,–gone away to be
reborn elsewhere,–there would be a very real though vague sense
of loss, and much wiping of eyes with many-colored sleeves; but
presently the loss would be forgotten and the playing resumed. The
idea of ceasing to exist could not possibly enter a child-mind: the
butterflies and birds, the flowers, the foliage, the sweet summer
itself, only play at dying;–they seem to go, but they all come back
again after the snow is gone. The real sorrow and fear of death arise
in us only through slow accumulation of experience with doubt and pain;
and these little boys and girls, being Japanese and Buddhists, will
never, in any event, feel about death just as you or I do. They will
find reason to fear it for somebody else’s sake, but not for their own,
because they will learn that they have died millions of times already,
and have forgotten the trouble of it, much as one for-gets the pain of
successive toothaches. In the strangely penetrant light of their creed,
teaching the ghostliness of all substance, granite or gossamer,–just as
those lately found X-rays make visible the ghostliness of flesh,–this
their present world, with its bigger mountains and rivers and
rice-fields, will not appear to them much more real than the mud
landscapes which they made in childhood. And much more real it probably
is not.

At which thought I am conscious of a sudden soft shock, a familiar
shock, and know myself seized by the idea of Substance as Non-Reality.


This sense of the voidness of things comes only when the temperature
of the air is so equably related to the temperature of life that I can
forget having a body. Cold compels painful notions of solidity; cold
sharpens the delusion of personality; cold quickens egotism; cold numbs
thought, and shrivels up the little wings of dreams.

To-day is one of those warm, hushed days when it is possible to think
of things as they are,–when ocean, peak, and plain seem no more real
than the arching of blue emptiness above them. All is mirage,–my
physical self, and the sunlit road, and the slow rippling of the
grain under a sleepy wind, and the thatched roofs beyond the haze
of the ricefields, and the blue crumpling of the naked hills behind
everything. I have the double sensation of being myself a ghost and of
being haunted,–haunted by the prodigious luminous Spectre of the World.


There are men and women working in those fields. Colored moving
shadows they are; and the earth under them–out of which they rose, and
back to which they will go–is equally shadow. Only the Forces behind
the shadow, that make and unmake, are real,–therefore viewless.

Somewhat as Night devours all lesser shadow will this phantasmal
earth swallow us at last, and itself thereafter vanish away. But the
little shadows and the Shadow-Eater must as certainly reappear,–must
rematerialize somewhere and somehow. This ground beneath me is old as
the Milky Way. Call it what you please,–clay, soil, dust: its names
are but symbols of human sensations having nothing in common with
it. Really it is nameless and unnamable, being a mass of energies,
tendencies, infinite possibilities; for it was made by the beating of
that shoreless Sea of Birth and Death whose surges billow unseen out
of eternal Night to burst in foam of stars. Lifeless it is not: it
feeds upon life, and visible life grows out of it. Dust it is of Karma,
waiting to enter into novel combinations,—dust of elder Being in that
state between birth and birth which the Buddhist calls _Chū-U._ It is
made of forces, and of nothing else; and those forces are not of this
planet only, but of vanished spheres innumerable.


Is there aught visible, tangible, measurable, that has never been
mixed with sentiency?–atom that has never vibrated to pleasure
or to pain?–air that has never been cry or speech?–drop that
has never been a tear? Assuredly this dust has felt. It has been
everything we know; also much that we cannot know. It has been nebula
and star, planet and moon, times unspeakable. Deity also it has
been,–the Sun-God of worlds that circled and worshiped in other
æons. “_Remember, Man, thou art but dust!_”–a saying profound
only as materialism, which stops short at surfaces. For what is
dust? “Remember, Dust, thou hast been Sun, and Sun thou shalt become
again!… Thou hast been Light, Life, Love;–and into all these, by
ceaseless cosmic magic, thou shalt many times be turned again!”


For this Cosmic Apparition is more than evolution alternating
with dissolution: it is infinite metempsychosis; it is perpetual
palingenesis. Those old predictions of a bodily resurrection were not
falsehoods; they were rather foreshadowings of a truth vaster than all
myths and deeper than all religions.

Suns yield up their ghosts of flame; but out of their graves new suns
rush into being. Corpses of worlds pass all to some solar funeral pyre;
but out of their own ashes they are born again. This earth must die:
her seas shall be Saharas. But those seas once existed in the sun;
and their dead tides, revived by fire, will pour their thunder upon
the coasts of another world. Transmigration–transmutation: these
are not fables! What is impossible? Not the dreams of alchemists and
poets;–dross may indeed be changed to gold, the jewel to the living
eye, the flower into flesh. What is impossible? If seas can pass
from world to sun, from sun to world again, what of the dust of dead
selves,–dust of memory and thought? Resurrection there is,–but a
resurrection more stupendous than any dreamed of by Western creeds.
Dead emotions will revive as surely as dead suns and moons. Only, so
far as we can just now discern, there will be no return of identical
individualities. The reapparition will always be a recombination of the
preexisting, a readjustment of affinities, a reintegration of being
informed with the experience of anterior being. The Cosmos is a Karma.


Merely by reason of illusion and folly do we shrink from the notion
of self-instability. For what is our individuality? Most certainly
it is not individuality at all: it is multiplicity incalculable.
What is the human body? A form built up out of billions of living
entities, an impermanent agglomeration of individuals called cells.
And the human soul? A composite of quintillions of souls. We are, each
and all, infinite compounds of fragments of anterior lives. And the
universal process that continually dissolves and continually constructs
personality has always been going on, and is even at this moment going
on, in every one of us. What being ever had a totally new feeling,
an absolutely new idea? All our emotions and thoughts and wishes,
however changing and growing through the varying seasons of life, are
only compositions and recompositions of the sensations and ideas and
desires of other folk, mostly of dead people,–millions of billions of
dead people. Cells and souls are themselves recombinations, present
aggregations of past knittings of forces,–forces about which nothing
is known save that they belong to the Shadow-Makers of universes.

Whether you (by _you_ I mean any other agglomeration of souls)
really wish for immortality as an agglomeration, I cannot tell. But
I confess that “my mind to me a kingdom is”–not! Rather it is a
fantastical republic, daily troubled by more revolutions than ever
occurred in South America; and the nominal government, supposed to be
rational, declares that an eternity of such anarchy is not desirable.
I have souls wanting to soar in air, and souls wanting to swim in
water (sea-water, I think), and souls wanting to live in woods or on
mountain tops. I have souls longing for the tumult of great cities,
and souls longing to dwell in tropical solitude;–souls, also, in
various stages of naked savagery–souls demanding nomad freedom
without tribute;–souls conservative, delicate, loyal to empire and to
feudal tradition, and souls that are Nihilists, deserving Siberia;
–sleepless souls, hating inaction, and hermit souls, dwelling in
such meditative isolation that only at intervals of years can I feel
them moving about;–souls that have faith in fetiches;–polytheistic
souls;–souls proclaiming Islam;–and souls mediæval, loving cloister
shadow and incense and glimmer of tapers and the awful altitude of
Gothic glooms. Cooperation among all these is not to be thought of:
always there is trouble,–revolt, confusion, civil war. The majority
detest this state of things: multitudes would gladly emigrate. And the
wiser minority feel that they need never hope for better conditions
until after the total demolition of the existing social structure.


_I_ an individual,–an individual soul! Nay, I am a population,–a
population unthinkable for multitude, even by groups of a thousand
millions! Generations of generations I am, æons of æons! Countless
times the concourse now making me has been scattered, and mixed with
other scatterings. Of what concern, then, the next disintegration?
Perhaps, after trillions of ages of burning in different dynasties of
suns, the very best of me may come together again.


If one could only imagine some explanation of the Why! The questions of
the Whence and the Whither are much less troublesome, since the Present
assures us, even though vaguely, of Future and Past. But the Why!


The cooing voice of a little girl dissolves my reverie. She is trying
to teach a child brother how to make the Chinese character for Man,–I
mean Man with a big M. First she draws in the dust a stroke sloping
downwards from right to left, so:–


then she draws another curving downwards from left to right, thus:–


joining the two so as to form the perfect _ji_, or character, _hito,_
meaning a person of either sex, or mankind:–


Then she tries to impress the idea of this shape on the baby memory
by help of a practical illustration,–probably learned at school. She
breaks a slip of wood in two pieces, and manages to balance the pieces
against each other at about the same angle as that made by the two
strokes of the character. “Now see,” she says: “each stands only by
help of the other. One by itself cannot stand. Therefore the _ji_ is
like mankind. Without help one person cannot live in this world; but
by getting help and giving help everybody can live. If nobody helped
anybody, all people would fall down and die.”

This explanation is not philologically exact; the two strokes
evolutionally standing for a pair of legs,–all that survives in
the modern ideograph of the whole man figured in the primitive
picture-writing. But the pretty moral fancy is much more important
than the scientific fact. It is also one charming example of that
old-fashioned method of teaching which invested every form and every
incident with ethical signification. Besides, as a mere item of moral
information, it contains the essence of all earthly religion, and the
best part of all earthly philosophy. A world-priestess she is, this
dear little maid, with her dove’s voice and her innocent gospel of one
letter! Verily in that gospel lies the only possible present answer
to ultimate problems. Were its whole meaning universally felt,–were
its whole suggestion of the spiritual and material law of love and
help universally obeyed,–forthwith, according to the Idealists, this
seemingly solid visible world would vanish away like smoke! For it has
been written that in whatsoever time all human minds accord in thought
and will with the mind of the Teacher, _there shall not remain even one
particle of dust that does not enter into Buddhahood._




A very interesting essay upon the Japanese art collections in the
National Library was read by Mr. Edward Strange at a meeting of
the Japan Society held last year in London. Mr. Strange proved his
appreciation of Japanese art by an exposition of its principles,–the
subordination of detail to the expression of a sensation or idea, the
subordination of the particular to the general. He spoke especially
of the decorative element in Japanese art, and of the Ukiyo-yé school
of color-printing. He remarked that even the heraldry of Japan, as
illustrated in little books costing only a few pence each, contained
“an education in the planning of conventional ornament.” He referred to
the immense industrial value of Japanese stencil designs. He tried to
explain the nature of the advantage likely to be gained in the art of
book illustration from the careful study of Japanese methods; and he
indicated the influence of those methods in the work of such artists
as Aubrey Beardsley, Edgar Wilson, Steinlen Ibels, Whistler, Grasset,
Cheret, and Lautrec. Finally, he pointed out the harmony between
certain Japanese principles and the doctrines of one of the modern
Western schools of Impressionism.

Such an address could hardly fail to provoke adverse criticism in
England, because it suggested a variety of new ideas. English opinion
does not prohibit the importation of ideas: the public will even
complain if fresh ideas be not regularly set before it. But its
requirement of them is aggressive: it wants to have an intellectual
battle over them. To persuade its unquestioning acceptance of new
beliefs or thoughts,–to coax it to jump to a conclusion,–were about
as easy as to make the mountains skip like rams. Though willing to be
convinced, providing the idea does not appear “morally dangerous,” it
must first be assured of the absolute correctness of every step in
the mental process by which the novel conclusion has been reached.
That Mr. Strange’s just but almost enthusiastic admiration of Japanese
art could pass without challenge was not possible; yet one would
scarcely have anticipated a challenge from the ranks of the Japan
Society itself. The report, however, shows that Mr. Strange’s views
were received even by that society in the characteristic English way.
The idea that English artists could learn anything important from
the study of Japanese methods was practically pooh-poohed; and the
criticisms made by various members indicated that the philosophic part
of the paper had been either misunderstood or unnoticed. One gentleman
innocently complained that he could not imagine “why Japanese art
should be utterly wanting in facial expression.” Another declared that
there could never have been any lady like the ladies of the Japanese
prints; and he described the faces therein portrayed as “absolutely

Then came the most surprising incident of the evening,–the
corroboration of these adverse criticisms by his excellency the
Japanese Minister, with the apologetic remark that the prints referred
to “were only regarded as common things in Japan.” Common things!
Common, perhaps, in the judgment of other generations; aesthetic
luxuries to-day. The artists named were Hokusai, Toyokuni, Hiroshigé,
Kuniyoshi, Kunisada! But his excellency seemed to think the subject
trifling; for he took occasion to call away the attention of the
meeting, irrelevantly as patriotically, to the triumphs of the war.
In this he reflected faithfully the Japanese _Zeitgeist,_ which can
scarcely now endure the foreign praise of Japanese art. Unfortunately,
those dominated by the just and natural martial pride of the hour
do not reflect that while the development and maintenance of great
armaments–unless effected with the greatest economical caution–might
lead in short order to national bankruptcy, the future industrial
prosperity of the country is likely to depend in no small degree upon
the conservation and cultivation of the national art sense. Nay,
those very means by which Japan won her late victories were largely
purchased by the commercial results of that very art sense to which
his excellency seemed to attach no importance. Japan must continue to
depend upon her aesthetic faculty, even in so commonplace a field of
industry as the manufacture of mattings; for in mere cheap production
she will never be able to undersell China.


Although the criticisms provoked by Mr. Strange’s essay were unjust
to Japanese art, they were natural, and indicated nothing worse
than ignorance of that art and miscomprehension of its purpose. It
is not an art of which the meaning can be read at a glance: years
of study are necessary for a right comprehension of it. I cannot
pretend that I have mastered the knowledge of its moods and tenses,
but I can say truthfully that the faces in the old picture-books and
in the cheap prints of to-day, especially those of the illustrated
Japanese newspapers, do not seem to me in the least unreal, much less
“absolutely insane.” There was a time when they did appear to me
fantastic. Now I find them always interesting, occasionally beautiful.
If I am told that no other European would say so, then I must declare
all other Europeans wrong. I feel sure that, if these faces seem to
most Occidentals either absurd or soulless, it is only because most
Occidentals do not understand them; and even if his excellency the
Japanese Minister to England be willing to accept the statement that no
Japanese women ever resembled the women of the Japanese picture-books
and cheap prints, I must still refuse to do so.[1] Those pictures, I
contend, are true, and reflect intelligence, grace, and beauty. I see
the women of the Japanese picture–books in every Japanese street. I
have beheld in actual life almost every normal type of face to be found
in a Japanese picture-book: the child and the girl, the bride and the
mother, the matron and the grandparent; poor and rich; charming or
commonplace or vulgar. If I am told that trained art critics who have
lived in Japan laugh at this assertion, I reply that they cannot have
lived in Japan long enough, or felt her life intimately enough, or
studied her art impartially enough, to qualify themselves to understand
even the commonest Japanese drawing.

Before I came to Japan I used to be puzzled by the absence of facial
expression in certain Japanese pictures. I confess that the faces,
although not even then devoid of a certain weird charm, seemed to me
impossible. Afterwards, during the first two years of Far-Eastern
experience,–that period in which the stranger is apt to imagine
that he is learning all about a people whom no Occidental can ever
really understand,–I could recognize the grace and truth of certain
forms, and feel something of the intense charm of color in Japanese
prints; but I had no perception of the deeper meaning of that art.
Even the full significance of its color I did not know: much that was
simply true I then thought outlandish. While conscious of the charm
of many things, the reason of the charm I could not guess. I imagined
the apparent conventionalism of the faces to indicate the arrested
development of an otherwise marvelous art faculty. It never occurred to
me that they might be conventional only in the sense of symbols which,
once interpreted, would reveal more than ordinary Western drawing can
express. But this was because I still remained under old barbaric
influences,–influences that blinded me to the meaning of Japanese
drawing. And now, having at last learned a little, it is the Western
art of illustration that appears to me conventional, undeveloped,
semi-barbarous. The pictorial attractions of English weeklies and of
American magazines now impress me as flat, coarse, and clumsy. My
opinion on the subject, however, is limited to the ordinary class of
Western illustration as compared with the ordinary class of Japanese

Perhaps somebody will say that, even granting my assertion, the meaning
of any true art should need no interpretation, and that the inferior
character of Japanese work is proved by the admission that its meaning
is not universally recognizable. Whoever makes such a criticism must
imagine Western art to be everywhere equally intelligible. Some of
it–the very best–probably is; and some of Japanese art also is.
But I can assure the reader that the ordinary art of Western book
illustration or magazine engraving is just as incomprehensible to
Japanese as Japanese drawings are to Europeans who have never seen
Japan. For a Japanese to understand our common engravings, he must have
lived abroad. For an Occidental to perceive the truth, or the beauty,
or the humor of Japanese drawings, he must know the life which those
drawings reflect.

One of the critics at the meeting of the Japan Society found fault with
the absence of facial expression in Japanese drawing as conventional.
He compared Japanese art on this ground with the art of the old
Egyptians, and held both inferior because restricted by convention. Yet
surely the age which makes _Laocoön_ a classic ought to recognize that
Greek art itself was not free from conventions. It was an art which
we can scarcely hope ever to equal; but it was more conventional than
any existing form of art. And since it proved that even the divine
could find development within the limits of artistic convention, the
charge of formality is not a charge worth making against Japanese
art. Somebody may respond that Greek conventions were conventions
of beauty, while those of Japanese drawing have neither beauty nor
meaning. But such a statement is possible only because Japanese art
has not yet found its Winckelmann nor its Lessing, whereas Greek art,
by the labor of generations of modern critics and teachers, has been
made somewhat more comprehensible to us than it could have been to our
barbarian forefathers. The Greek conventional face cannot be found in
real life, no living head presenting so large a facial angle; but the
Japanese conventional face can be seen everywhere, when once the real
value of its symbol in art is properly understood. The face of Greek
art represents an impossible perfection, a superhuman evolution. The
seemingly inexpressive face drawn by the Japanese artists represents
the living, the actual, the every-day. The former is a dream; the
latter is a common fact.

[Footnote 1: That Japanese art is capable of great things in ideal
facial expression is sufficiently proved by its Buddhist images. In
ordinary prints the intentional conventionalism of the faces is hardly
noticeable when the drawing is upon a small scale; and the suggestion
of beauty is more readily perceived in such cases. But when the
drawing has a certain dimension,–when the face-oval, for instance,
has a diameter of more than an inch,–the same treatment may seem
inexplicable to eyes accustomed to elaborated detail.]


A partial explanation of the apparent physiognomical conventionalism in
Japanese drawing is just that law of the subordination of individualism
to type, of personality to humanity, of detail to feeling, which the
miscomprehended lecturer, Mr. Edward Strange, vainly tried to teach the
Japan Society something about. The Japanese artist depicts an insect,
for example, as no European artist can do: he makes it live; he shows
its peculiar motion, its character, everything by which it is at once
distinguished as a type,–and all this with a few brush-strokes. But he
does not attempt to represent every vein upon each of its wings, every
separate joint of its antennae [1] he depicts it as it is really seen
at a glance, not as studied in detail. We never see all the details of
the body of a grasshopper, a butterfly, or a bee, in the moment that
we perceive it perching somewhere; we observe only enough to enable
us to decide what kind of a creature it is. We see the typical, never
the individual peculiarities. Therefore the Japanese artist paints
the type alone. To reproduce every detail would be to subordinate the
type character to the individual peculiarity. A very minute detail is
rarely brought out except when the instant recognition of the type
is aided by the recognition of the detail; as, for example, when a
ray of light happens to fall upon the joint of a cricket’s leg, or to
reverberate from the mail of a dragonfly in a double-colored metallic
flash. So likewise in painting a flower, the artist does not depict a
particular, but a typical flower: he shows the morphological law of
the species, or, to speak symbolically, nature’s thought behind the
form. The results of this method may astonish even scientific men.
Alfred Russel Wallace speaks of a collection of Japanese sketches of
plants as “the most masterly things” that he ever saw. “Every stem,
twig, and leaf,” he declares, “is _produced by single touches of the
brush;_ the character and perspective of very complicated plants being
admirably given, and the articulations of stem and leaves shown in
a most scientific manner.” (The italics are my own.) Observe that
while the work is simplicity itself “produced by single touches of
the brush,” it is nevertheless, in the opinion of one of the greatest
living naturalists, “most scientific.” And why? Because it shows the
type character and the law of the type. So again, in portraying rocks
and cliffs, hills and plains, the Japanese artist gives us the general
character, not the wearisome detail of masses; and yet the detail is
admirably suggested by this perfect study of the larger law. Or look at
his color studies of sunsets and sunrises: he never tries to present
every minute fact within range of vision, but offers us only those
great luminous tones and chromatic blendings which, after a thousand
petty details have been forgotten, still linger in the memory, and
there recreate the _feeling_ of what has been seen.

Now this general law of the art applies to Japanese representations
of the human figure, and also (though here other laws too come into
play) of the human face. The general types are given, and often with
a force that the cleverest French sketcher could scarcely emulate;
the personal trait, the individual peculiarity, is not given. Even
when, in the humor of caricature or in dramatic representation, facial
expression is strongly marked, it is rendered by typical, not by
individual characteristics, just as it was rendered upon the antique
stage by the conventional masks of Greek actors.

[Footnote 1: Unless he carves it. In that case, his insect–cut in bone
or horn or ivory, and appropriately colored–can sometimes scarcely
be distinguished from a real insect, except by its weight, when held
in the hand. Such absolute realism, however, is only curious, not


A few general remarks about the treatment of faces in ordinary Japanese
drawing may help to the understanding of what that treatment teaches.

Youth is indicated by the absence of all but essential touches, and
by the clean, smooth curves of the face and neck. Excepting the
touches which suggest eyes, nose, and mouth, there are no lines. The
curves speak sufficiently of fullness, smoothness, ripeness. For
story-illustration it is not necessary to elaborate feature, as the age
or condition is indicated by the style of the coiffure and the fashion
of the dress. In female figures, the absence of eyebrows indicates the
wife or widow; a straggling tress signifies grief; troubled thought is
shown by an unmistakable pose or gesture. Hair, costume, and attitude
are indeed enough to explain almost everything. But the Japanese artist
knows how, by means of extremely delicate variations in the direction
and position of the half dozen touches indicating feature, to give some
hint of character, whether sympathetic or unsympathetic; and this hint
is seldom lost upon a Japanese eye.[1] Again, an almost imperceptible
hardening or softening of these touches has moral significance. Still,
this is never individual: it is only the hint of a physiognomical law.
In the case of immature youth (boy and girl faces), there is merely a
general indication of softness and gentleness,–the abstract rather
than the concrete charm of childhood.

In the portrayal of maturer types the lines are more numerous and
more accentuated, illustrating the fact that character necessarily
becomes more marked in middle age, as the facial muscles begin to show.
But there is only the suggestion of this change, not any study of

In the representation of old age, the Japanese artist gives us all the
wrinkles, the hollows, the shrinking of tissues, the “crow’s-feet,”
the gray hairs, the change in the line of the face following upon loss
of teeth. His old men and women show character. They delight us by a
certain worn sweetness of expression, a look of benevolent resignation;
or they repel us by an aspect of hardened cunning, avarice, or
envy. There are many types of old age; but they are types of human
conditions, not of personality. The picture is not drawn from a model;
it is not the reflection of an individual existence: its value is made
by the recognition which it exhibits of a general physiognomical or
biological law.

Here it is worth while to notice that the reserves of Japanese art in
the matter of facial expression accord with the ethics of Oriental
society. For ages the rule of conduct has been to mask all personal
feeling as far as possible,–to hide pain and passion under an exterior
semblance of smiling amiability or of impassive resignation. One key to
the enigmas of Japanese art is Buddhism.

[Footnote 1: In modern Japanese newspaper illustrations (I refer
particularly to the admirable woodcuts illustrating the _feuilletons_
of the Ōsaka _Asahi Shimbun_) these indications are quite visible even
to a practiced foreign eye. The artist of the _Asahi Shimbun_ is a

I am here reminded of a curious fact which I do not remember having
seen mention of in any book about Japan. The newly arrived Westerner
often complains of his inability to distinguish one Japanese from
another, and attributes this difficulty to the absence of strongly
marked physiognomy in the race. He does not imagine that our more
sharply accentuated Occidental physiognomy produces the very same
effect upon the Japanese. Many and many a one has said to me, “For a
long time I found it very hard to tell one foreigner from another: they
all seemed to me alike.”]


I have said that when I now look at a foreign illustrated newspaper or
magazine I can find little pleasure in the engravings. Most often they
repel me. The drawing seems to me coarse and hard, and the realism of
the conception petty. Such work leaves nothing to the imagination, and
usually betrays the effort which it cost. A common Japanese drawing
leaves much to the imagination,–nay, irresistibly stimulates it,–and
never betrays effort. Everything in a common European engraving is
detailed and individualized. Everything in a Japanese drawing is
impersonal and suggestive. The former reveals no law: it is a study of
particularities. The latter invariably teaches something of law, and
suppresses particularities except in their relation to law.

One may often hear Japanese say that Western art is too realistic;
and the judgment contains truth. But the realism in it which offends
Japanese taste, especially in the matter of facial expression, is not
found fault with merely because of minuteness of detail. Detail in
itself is not condemned by any art; and the highest art is that in
which detail is most exquisitely elaborated. The art which saw the
divine, which rose above nature’s best, which discovered supramundane
ideals for animal and even floral shapes, was characterized by the
sharpest possible perfection of detail. And in the higher Japanese
art, as in the Greek, the use of detail aids rather than opposes the
aspirational aim. What most displeases in the realism of our modern
illustration is not multiplicity of detail, but, as we shall presently
see, _signification_ of detail.

The queerest fact about the suppression of physiognomical detail in
Japanese art is that this suppression is most evident just where we
should least expect to find it, namely, in those creations called
“This-miserable-world pictures” (Ukiyo-yé), or, to use a corresponding
Western term, “Pictures of this Vale of Tears.” For although the
artists of this school have really given us pictures of a very
beautiful and happy world, they professed to reflect truth. One form
of truth they certainly presented, but after a manner at variance with
our common notions of realism. The Ukiyo-yé artist drew actualities,
but not repellent or meaningless actualities; proving his rank even
more by his refusal than by his choice of subjects. He looked for
dominant laws of contrast and color, for the general character of
nature’s combinations, for the order of the beautiful as it was and
is. Otherwise his art was in no sense aspirational; it was the art of
the larger comprehension of things as they are. Thus he was rightly a
realist, notwithstanding that his realism appears only in the study
of constants, generalities, types. And as expressing the synthesis of
common fact, the systematization of natural law, this Japanese art
is by its method scientific in the true sense. The higher art, the
aspirational art (whether Japanese or old Greek), is, on the contrary,
essentially religious by its method.

Where the scientific and the aspirational extremes of art touch, one
may expect to find some universal aesthetic truth recognized by both.
They agree in their impersonality: they refuse to individualize. And
the lesson of the very highest art that ever existed suggests the true
reason for this common refusal.

What does the charm of an antique head express, whether in marble, gem,
or mural painting,–for instance, that marvelous head of Leucothea
which prefaces the work of Winckelmann? Needless to seek the reply from
works of mere art critics. Science alone can furnish it. You will find
it in Herbert Spencer’s essay on Personal Beauty. The beauty of such a
head signifies a superhumanly perfect development and balance of the
intellectual faculties. All those variations of feature constituting
what we call “expression,” represent departures from a perfect type
just in proportion as they represent what is termed “character;”–and
they are, or ought to be, more or less disagreeable or painful
because “the aspects which please us are the outward correlatives of
inward perfections, and the aspects which displease us are the outward
correlatives of inward imperfections.” Mr. Spencer goes on to say that
although there are often grand natures behind plain faces, and although
fine countenances frequently hide small souls, “these anomalies do not
destroy the general truth of the law any more than the perturbations of
planets destroy the general ellipticity of their orbits.”

Both Greek and Japanese art recognized the physiognomical truth which
Mr. Spencer put into the simple formula, “_Expression is feature in the
making_” The highest art, Greek art, rising above the real to reach the
divine, gives us the dream of feature perfected. Japanese realism, so
much larger than our own as to be still misunderstood, gives us only
“feature in the making,” or rather, the general law of feature in the