Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Evolution of Japan

PURPLE PATCH: Evolution of Japan -Sidney Gulick

The study of the evolution of Japan is one of unusual interest; first, because of the fact that Japan has experienced such unique changes in her environment. Her history brings into clear light some principles of evolution which the visual development of a people does not make so clear.

In the second place, New Japan is in a state of rapid growth. She is in a critical period, resembling a youth, just coming to manhood, when all the powers of growth are most vigorous. The latent qualities of body and mind and heart then burst forth with peculiar force. In the course of four or five short years the green boy develops into a refined and noble man; the thoughtless girl ripens into the full maturity of womanhood and of motherhood. These are the years of special interest to those who would observe nature in her time of most critical activity.

Not otherwise is it in the life of nations. There are times when their growth is phenomenally rapid; when their latent qualities are developed; when their growth can be watched with special ease and delight, because so rapid. The Renaissance was such a period in Europe. Modern art, science, and philosophy took their start with the awakening of the mind of Europe at that eventful and epochal period of her life. Such, I take it, is the condition of Japan to-day. She is "being born again"; undergoing her "renaissance" . Her intellect, hitherto largely dormant, is but now awaking. Her ambition is equalled only by her self-reliance. Her self-confidence and amazing expectations have not yet been sobered by hard experience. Neither does she, nor do her critics, know how much she can or cannot do. She is in the first flush of her new-found powers; powers of mind and spirit, as well as of physical force. Her dreams are gorgeous with all the colours of the rainbow. Her efforts are sure, to be noble in proportion as her ambitions are high. The growth of the past half-century is only the beginning of what we may expect to see.

Then again, this latest and greatest step in the evolution of Japan has taken place at a time unparalleled for opportunities of observation, under the incandescent light of the nineteenth century, with its thousands of educated men to observe and record the facts, many of whom are active agents in the evolution in progress. Hundreds of papers and magazines, native and European, read by tens of thousands of intelligent men and women, have kept the world aware of the daily and hourly events. Telegraphic dispatches and letters by the million have passed between the far East and the West. It would seem as if the modernising of Japan had been providentially delayed until the last half of the nineteenth century with its steam and electricity, annihilators of space and time, in order that her evolution might be studied with a minuteness impossible in any previous age, or by any previous generation. It is almost as if one were conducting an experiment in human evolution in his own laboratory, imposing the conditions and noting the results.

In Japan there is going on to-day a process unique in the history of the human race. Two streams of civilisation, that of the far East and that of the far West, are beginning to flow in a single channel. These streams are exceedingly diverse, in social structure, in government, in moral ideals and standards, in religion, in psychological and metaphysical conceptions. Can they live together? Or is one going to drive out and annihilate the other? If so, which will be victor? Or is there to be modification of both? In other words, is there to be a new civilisation - a Japanese, an Occidento-Oriental civilisation?

The answer is plain to him who has eyes with which to see. Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? No more can Japan lose all trace of inherited customs of daily life, of habits of thought and language, products of a thousand years of training in Chinese literature, Buddhist doctrine, and Confucian ethics. That "the boy is father to the man" is true of a nation no less than of an individual. What a youth has been at home in his habits of thought, in his purpose and spirit and in their manifestation in action, will largely determine his after-life. In like manner the mental and moral history of Japan has so stamped certain characteristics on her language, on her thought, and above all on her temperament and character, that, however she may strive to Westernise herself, it is impossible for her to obliterate her Oriental features. She will inevitably and always remain Japanese.

Japan has already produced an Occidento-Oriental civilisation. Time will serve progressively to Occidentalise it. But there is no reason for thinking that it will ever become wholly Occidentalised. A Westerner visiting Japan will always be impressed with its Oriental features, while an Asiatic will be impressed with its Occidental features. This progressive Occidentalisation of Japan will take place according to the laws of social evolution.

Comparison is often made between Japan and India. In both countries enormous social changes are taking place; in both, Eastern and Western civilisations are in contact and in conflict. The differences, however, are even more striking than the likenesses. Most conspicuous is the fact that whereas, in India, the changes in civilisation are due almost wholly to the force and rule of the conquering race, in Japan these changes are spontaneous, attributable entirely to the desire and initiative of the native rulers. This difference is fundamental and vital. The evolution of society in India is to a large degree compulsory; in a true sense it is an artificial evolution. In Japan, on the other hand, evolution is natural. There has not been the slightest physical compulsion laid on her from without.

(This extract is taken from Evolution of the Japanese: Social and Psychic by Sidney Gulick)

Sidney Gulick was an educator, author, and missionary who spent much of his life working to promote greater understanding and friendship between Japanese and American cultures

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