Saturday, 4 May 2013


THE intense interest that is to-day taken in everything pertaining to Japan is evidence of the prevailing opinion that the Japanese are a most interesting people. Little was known of the peculiarities of the nation prior to the outbreak of the war with Russia. They were a community living, to a large extent, apart from the rest of the world. They preferred insularity to intercourse with foreign nations, and it was not until the trade of Western countries was literally thrust upon them that their ports were opened to the commerce of distant lands. For the purpose of this article we propose to touch upon only one of the many entertaining features of Japanese life which have recently been treated by authoritative writers. To Western peoples, who are attached to a religion virtually unknown in Japan, and who profess to be guided by the lofty ethical ideals which that religion enjoins, the systematic process of moral teaching observed throughout Japan should afford an object lesson which they might, with considerable advantage, more closely follow amongst themselves. In the first place, the Mikado and his subjects recognise the value of popular education as generally understood. State schools are established throughout the country, and the compulsory principle is in full and very effective vogue. This is demonstrated by some striking figures published in last month's issue of the " Nineteenth Century," from the pen of Baron Suyematsu. School age, we are told, begins at six, and, according to the annual report of the Minister of Education for 1901-2, out of a total number of 6,497,489 boys and girls under obligation to attend school, no fewer than 5,720,926 received the prescribed course of instruction, thus showing that nearly 90 per cent. of the pupils of both sexes were in regular attendance. The value of these figures will be seen when it is mentioned that moral teaching forms an important part of the curriculum, and that two hours every week are devoted exclusively to this purpose for every class. The basis of this teaching was supplied by the Emperor himself, who, in 1890, issued a special injunction to the nation, known as the "Educational Imperial Rescript," in which the following sentences occur—" It is our desire that you, our subjects, be filial to your parents, and well disposed to your brothers and sisters. Let husband and wife dwell harmoniously together; let friends be mutually trustworthy. Impose upon yourselves self-restraint and rectitude of behavior. Advance learning and regulate your pursuits, developing the intellectual faculties, and perfecting the virtuous and useful elements. Further, seek to enhance the public good and enlighten the world by deeds of social benefit. In any emergency, exert yourselves in the public service, and exhibit voluntarily your bravery in the cause of order."
Throughout all grades of the education system this precept forms " the fundamental basis of the moral and ethical teachings." To give emphasis to the Imperial Rescript, an Ordinance of the Ministry of Education was issued in 1900, setting forth that " the essential point of moral teaching should be to nourish and develop the virtuous instincts of the children, and to lead them to the actual practice of morality." An explanatory note was added directing that amongst other things should be taught filial piety, brotherly kindness, friendship, frugality, truthfulness, self-restraint, bravery, and one's duty as regards the State and Society, whilst in the case of the girls "care should be taken that they be thoroughly instructed in the womanly virtues."
 Religion forms no branch of the scholastic training, but it will, nevertheless, be recognised that all the ethical canons of the Christian religion are regularly taught and that they must exercise a tremendous influence for good in shaping the lives of the rising generation. The soldiers and sailors are taken from the boys nurtured on this wholesome moral diet, and when they have joined the ranks they continue to receive systematic instruction in the same direction. A special Imperial Rescript has been issued by the Emperor for their guidance in which they are exhorted to prize courage and bravery; to treasure faith and confidence; to practice frugality; to be modest and endeavour to win the love and respect of others; and to "deal with all matters carefully, ever mindful of kindness as the fundamental basis of one's actions, and thus the superior and the inferior, becoming of one mind, may discharge adequately the duties incumbent upon them in regard to Imperial affairs." Officers and rank and file, we are assured, are expected to learn this Rescript almost by heart, and the first thing the new recruits have to do is to study side by side with their technical training.
 In these conditions we find the secret of the exuberant loyalty and patriotism of the Japanese troops on the field of battle, and it further gives us an insight into the nature of the training which has borne fruit in the production of a soldiery essentially modest in the hour of victory, self restrained in the face of temptation and notably humane in the treatment of their captives. Reared and nurtured in a moral atmosphere, such as we have indicated, the practice of these virtues becomes a sort of second nature. As the twig is bent so is the tree inclined. Moral seed sown broadcast through the land yields a moral harvest in kindly deeds and lives of honor. "We seek to cultivate every virtue that may be worthy of a civilised people," concludes the writer from whose article we have quoted, "so that we may be frankly and candidly regarded as a not unworthy member of the most enlightened nations, and this is the sole and highest ambition of Japan." No nobler ambition could be kindled as a guiding star of any nation, and if Japan adheres to those exalted tenets she is destined to eventually realise her highest aspirations.

 West Gippsland Gazette 16 May 1905,

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