The students of the Government College, or Higher Middle School,
can scarcely be called boys; their ages ranging from the average of
eighteen, for the lowest class, to that of twenty-five for the highest.
Perhaps the course is too long. The best pupil can hardly hope to reach
the Imperial University before his twenty-third year, and will require
for his entrance thereinto a mastery of written Chinese as well as a
good practical knowledge of either English and German, or of English
and French.[1] Thus he is obliged to learn three languages besides all
that relates to the elegant literature of his own; and the weight of
his task cannot be understood without knowledge of the fact that his
study of Chinese alone is equal to the labor of acquiring six European

The impression produced upon me by the Kumamoto students was very
different from that received on my first acquaintance with my Izumo
pupils. This was not only because the former had left well behind them
the delightfully amiable period of Japanese boyhood, and had developed
into earnest, taciturn men, but also because they represented to a
marked degree what is called Kyūshū character. Kyūshū still remains,
as of yore, the most conservative part of Japan, and Kumamoto, its
chief city, the centre of conservative feeling. This conservatism is,
however, both rational and practical. Kyūshū was not slow in adopting
railroads, improved methods of agriculture, applications of science
to certain industries; but remains of all districts of the Empire
the least inclined to imitation of Western manners and customs. The
ancient samurai spirit still lives on; and that spirit in Kyūshū was
for centuries one that exacted severe simplicity in habits of life.
Sumptuary laws against extravagance in dress and other forms of luxury
used to be rigidly enforced; and though the laws themselves have been
obsolete for a generation, their influence continues to appear in
the very simple attire and the plain, direct manners of the people.
Kumamoto folk are also said to be characterized by their adherence to
traditions of conduct which have been almost forgotten elsewhere, and
by a certain independent frankness in speech and action, difficult
for any foreigner to define, but immediately apparent to an educated
Japanese. And here, too, under the shadow of Kiyomasa’s mighty
fortress,–now occupied by an immense garrison,–national sentiment is
declared to be stronger than in the very capital itself,–the spirit
of loyalty and the love of country. Kumamoto is proud of all these
things, and boasts of her traditions. Indeed, she has nothing else to
boast of. A vast, straggling, dull, unsightly town is Kumamoto: there
are no quaint, pretty streets, no great temples, no wonderful gardens.
Burnt to the ground in the civil war of the tenth Meiji, the place
still gives you the impression of a wilderness of flimsy shelters
erected in haste almost before the soil had ceased to smoke. There are
no remarkable places to visit (not, at least, within city limits),–no
sights,–few amusements. For this very reason the college is thought
to be well located: there are neither temptations nor distractions for
its inmates. But for another reason, also, rich men far away in the
capital try to send their sons to Kumamoto. It is considered desirable
that a young man should be imbued with what is called “the Kyūshū
spirit,” and should acquire what might be termed the Kyūshū “tone.” The
students of Kumamoto are said to be the most peculiar students in the
Empire by reason of this “tone.” I have never been able to learn enough
about it to define it well; but it is evidently a something akin to the
deportment of the old Kyūshū samurai. Certainly the students sent from
Tokyo or Kyoto to Kyūshū have to adapt themselves to a very different
_milieu_. The Kumamoto, and also the Kagoshima youths,–whenever not
obliged to don military uniform for drill-hours and other special
occasions,–still cling to a costume somewhat resembling that of the
ancient bushi, and therefore celebrated in sword-songs—the short robe
and hakama reaching a little below the knee, and sandals. The material
of the dress is cheap, coarse, and sober in color; cleft stockings
(_tabi_) are seldom worn, except in very cold weather, or during
long marches, to keep the sandal-thongs from cutting into the flesh.
Without being rough, the manners are not soft; and the lads seem to
cultivate a certain outward hardness of character. They can preserve
an imperturbable exterior under quite extraordinary circumstances, but
under this self-control there is a fiery consciousness of strength
which will show itself in a menacing form on rare occasions. They
deserve to be termed rugged men, too, in their own Oriental way. Some
I know, who, though born to comparative wealth, find no pleasure so
keen as that of trying how much physical hardship they can endure. The
greater number would certainly give up their lives without hesitation
rather than their high principles. And a rumor of national danger
would instantly transform the whole four hundred into a body of iron
soldiery. But their outward demeanor is usually impassive to a degree
that is difficult even to understand.

For a long time I used to wonder in vain what feelings, sentiments,
ideas might be hidden beneath all that unsmiling placidity. The native
teachers, _de facto_ government officials, did not appear to be on
intimate terms with any of their pupils: there was no trace of that
affectionate familiarity I had seen in Izumo; the relation between
instructors and instructed seemed to begin and end with the bugle-calls
by which classes were assembled and dismissed. In this I afterwards
found myself partly mistaken; still such relations as actually existed
were for the most part formal rather than natural, and quite unlike
those old-fashioned, loving sympathies of which the memory had always
remained with me since my departure from the Province of the Gods.

But later on, at frequent intervals, there came to me suggestions of an
inner life much more attractive than this outward seeming,–hints of
emotional individuality. A few I obtained in casual conversations, but
the most remarkable in written themes. Subjects given for composition
occasionally coaxed out some totally unexpected blossoming of thoughts
and feelings. A very pleasing fact was the total absence of any false
shyness, or indeed shyness of any sort: the young men were not ashamed
to write exactly what they felt or hoped. They would write about their
homes, about their reverential love to their parents, about happy
experiences of their childhood, about their friendships, about their
adventures during the holidays; and this often in a way I thought
beautiful, because of its artless, absolute sincerity. After a number
of such surprises, I learned to regret keenly that I had not from the
outset kept notes upon all the remarkable compositions received. Once
a week I used to read aloud and correct in class a selection from the
best handed in, correcting the remainder at home. The very best I could
not always presume to read aloud and criticise for the general benefit,
because treating of matters too sacred to be methodically commented
upon, as the following examples may show.

I had given as a subject for English composition this question: “What
do men remember longest?” One student answered that we remember our
happiest moments longer than we remember all other experiences, because
it is in the nature of every rational being to try to forget what is
disagreeable or painful as soon as possible. I received many still
more ingenious answers,–some of which gave proof of a really keen
psychological study of the question. But I liked best of all the simple
reply of one who thought that painful events are longest remembered.
He wrote exactly what follows: I found it needless to alter a single

“What do men remember longest? I think men remember longest that which
they hear or see under painful circumstances.

“When I was only four years old, my dear, dear mother died. It was a
winter’s day. The wind was blowing hard in the trees, and round the
roof of our house. There were no leaves on the branches of the trees.
Quails were whistling in the distance,–making melancholy sounds. I
recall something I did. As my mother was lying in bed,–a little
before she died,–I gave her a sweet orange. She smiled and took it,
and tasted it. It was the last time she smiled…. From the moment
when she ceased to breathe to this hour more than sixteen years have
elapsed. But to me the time is as a moment. Now also it is winter. The
winds that blew when my mother died blow just as then; the quails utter
the same cries; all things are the same. But my mother has gone away,
and will never come back again.”

The following, also, was written in reply to the same question:–

“The greatest sorrow in my life was my father’s death. I was seven
years old. I can remember that he had been ill all day, and that my
toys had been put aside, and that I tried to be very quiet. I had
not seen him that morning, and the day seemed very long. At last I
stole into my father’s room, and put my lips close to his cheek, and
whispered, ‘_Father! father!_’–and his cheek was very cold. He did
not speak. My uncle came, and carried me out of the room, but said
nothing. Then I feared my father would die, because his cheek felt cold
just as my little sister’s had been when she died. In the evening a
great many neighbors and other people came to the house, and caressed
me, so that I was happy for a time. But they carried my father away
during the night, and I never saw him after.”

[1] This essay was written early in 1894. Since then, the study of
French and of German has been made optional instead of obligatory, and
the Higher School course considerably shortened, by a wise decision
of the late Minister of Education, Mr. Inouye. It is to be hoped that
measures will eventually be taken to render possible making the study
of English also optional. Under existing conditions the study is forced
upon hundreds who can never obtain any benefit from it.


From the foregoing one might suppose a simple style characteristic
of English compositions in Japanese higher schools. Yet the reverse
is the fact. There is a general tendency to prefer big words to
little ones, and long complicated sentences to plain short periods.
For this there are some reasons which would need a philological
essay by Professor Chamberlain to explain. But the tendency in
itself–constantly strengthened by the absurd text-books in use–can
be partly understood from the fact that the very simplest forms of
English expression are the most obscure to a Japanese,–because they
are idiomatic. The student finds them riddles, since the root-ideas
behind them are so different from his own that, to explain those ideas,
it is first necessary to know something of Japanese psychology; and in
avoiding simple idioms he follows instinctively the direction of least

I tried to cultivate an opposite tendency by various devices. Sometimes
I would write familiar stories for the class, all in simple sentences,
and in words of one syllable. Sometimes I would suggest themes to
write upon, of which the nature almost compelled simple treatment. Of
course I was not very successful in my purpose, but one theme chosen
in relation to it–“My First Day at School”–evoked a large number of
compositions that interested me in quite another way, as revelations
of sincerity of feeling and of character. I offer a few selections,
slightly abridged and corrected. Their naïveté is not their least
charm,–especially if one reflect they are not the recollections of
boys. The following seemed to me one of the best:–

“I could not go to school until I was eight years old. I had often
begged my father to let me go, for all my playmates were already
at school; but he would not, thinking I was not strong enough. So I
remained at home, and played with my brother.

“My brother accompanied me to school the first day. He spoke to the
teacher, and then left me. The teacher took me into a room, and
commanded me to sit on a bench, then he also left me. I felt sad as I
sat there in silence: there was no brother to play with now,–only many
strange boys. A bell ring twice; and a teacher entered our classroom,
and told us to take out our slates. Then he wrote a Japanese character
on the blackboard, and told us to copy it. That day he taught us how to
write two Japanese words, and told us some story about a good boy. When
I returned home I ran to my mother, and knelt down by her side to tell
her what the teacher had taught me. Oh! how great my pleasure then was!
I cannot even tell how I felt,–much less write it. I can only say that
I then thought the teacher was a more learned man than father, or any
one else whom I knew,–the most awful, and yet the most kindly person
in the world.”

The following also shows the teacher in a very pleasing light:–

“My brother and sister took me to school the first day. I thought I
could sit beside them in the school, as I used to do at home; but
the teacher ordered me to go to a classroom which was very far away
from that of my brother and sister. I insisted upon remaining with my
brother and sister; and when the teacher said that could not be, I
cried and made a great noise. Then they allowed my brother to leave
his own class, and accompany me to mine. But after a while I found
playmates in my own class; and then I was not afraid to be without my

This also is quite pretty and true:–

“A teacher–(I think, the head master) called me to him, and told me
that I must become a great scholar. Then he bade some man take me into
a classroom where there were forty or fifty scholars. I felt afraid and
pleased at the same time, at the thought of having so many playfellows.
They looked at me shyly, and I at them. I was at first afraid to speak
to them. Little boys are innocent like that. But after a while, in some
way or other, we began to play together; and they seemed to be pleased
to have me play with them.”

The above three compositions were by young men who had their first
schooling under the existing educational system, which prohibits
harshness on the part of masters. But it would seem that the teachers
of the previous era were less tender. Here are three compositions by
older students who appear to have had quite a different experience:–

1. “Before Meiji, there were no such public schools in Japan as there
are now. But in every province there was a sort of student society
composed of the sons of Samurai. Unless a man were a Samurai, his son
could not enter such a society. It was under the control of the Lord
of the province, who appointed a director to rule the students. The
principal study of the Samurai was that of the Chinese language and
literature. Most of the Statesmen of the present government were
once students in such Samurai schools. Common citizens and country,
people had to send their sons and daughters to primary schools called
_Terakoya_, where all the teaching was usually done by one teacher.
It consisted of little more than reading, writing, calculating, and
some moral instruction. We could learn to write an ordinary letter,
or a very easy essay. At eight years old, I was sent to a terakoya,
as I was not the son of a Samurai. At first I did not want to go; and
every morning my grandfather had to strike me with his stick to make
me go. The discipline at that school was very severe. If a boy did
not obey, he was beaten with a bamboo,–being held down to receive
his punishment. After a year, many public schools were opened: and I
entered a public school.”

2. “A great gate, a pompous building, a very large dismal room with
benches in rows,–these I remember. The teachers looked very severe;
I did not like their faces. I sat on a bench in the room and felt
hateful. The teachers seemed unkind; none of the boys knew me, or
spoke to me. A teacher stood up by the blackboard, and began to call
the names. He had a whip in his band. He called my name. I could not
answer, and burst out crying. So I was sent borne. That was my first
day at school.”

3. “When I was seven years old I was obliged to enter a school in my
native village. My father gave me two or three writing-brushes and some
paper;–I was very glad to get them, and promised to study as earnestly
as I could. But how unpleasant the first day at school was! When I went
to the school, none of the students knew me, and I found myself without
a friend. I entered a classroom. A teacher, with a whip in his hand,
called my name in a _large_ voice. I was very much surprised at it,
and so frightened that I could not help crying. The boys laughed very
loudly at me; but the teacher scolded them, and whipped one of them,
and then said to me, ‘Don’t be afraid of my voice: what is your name?’
I told him my name, snuffling. I thought then that school was a very
disagreeable place, where we could neither weep nor laugh. I wanted
only to go back home at once; and though I felt it was out of my power
to go, I could scarcely bear to stay until the lessons were over. When
I returned home at last, I told my father what I had felt at school,
and said: ‘I do not like to go to school at all.'”

Needless to say the next memory is of Meiji. It gives, as a
composition, evidence of what we should call in the West, character.
The suggestion of self-reliance at six years old is delicious: so is
the recollection of the little sister taking off her white tabi to deck
her child-brother on his first school-day:–

“I was six years old. My mother awoke me early. My sister gave me her
own stockings (_tabi_) to wear,–and I felt very happy. Father ordered
a servant to attend me to the school; but I refused to be accompanied:
I wanted to feel that I could go all by myself. So I went alone; and,
as the school was not far from the house, I soon found myself in front
of the gate. There I stood still a little while, because I knew none
of the children I saw going in. Boys and girls were passing into
the schoolyard, accompanied by servants or relatives; and inside I
saw others playing games which filled me with envy. But all at once
a little boy among the players saw me, and with a laugh came running
to me. Then I was very happy. I walked to and fro with him, hand in
hand. At last a teacher called all of us into a schoolroom, and made a
speech which I could not understand. After that we were free for the
day because it was the first day. I returned home with my friend. My
parents were waiting for me, with fruits and cakes; and my friend and I
ate them together.”

Another writes:–

“When I first went to school I was six years old. I remember only that
my grandfather carried my books and slate for me, and that the teacher
and the boys were very, very, very kind and good to me,–so that I
thought school was a paradise in this world, and did not want to return

I think this little bit of natural remorse is also worth the writing

“I was eight years old when I first went to school. I was a bad boy.
I remember on the way home from school I had a quarrel with one of
my playmates,–younger than I. He threw a very little stone at me
which hit me. I took a branch of a tree lying in the road, and struck
him across the face with all my might. Then I ran away, leaving him
crying in the middle of the road. My heart told me what I had done.
After reaching my home, I thought I still heard him crying. My little
playmate is not any more in this world now. Can any one know my

All this capacity of young men to turn back with perfect naturalness
of feeling to scenes of their childhood appears to me essentially
Oriental. In the Occident men seldom begin to recall their childhood
vividly before the approach of the autumn season of life. But childhood
in Japan is certainly happier than in other lands, and therefore
perhaps is regretted earlier in adult life. The following extract from
a student’s record of his holiday experience touchingly expresses such

“During the spring vacation, I went home to visit my parents. Just
before the end of the holidays, when it was nearly time for me to
return to the college, I heard that the students of the middle school
of my native town were also going to Kumamoto on an excursion, and I
resolved to go with them.

“They marched in military order with their rifles. I had no rifle, so
I took my place in the rear of the column. We marched all day, keeping
time to military songs which we sung all together.

“In the evening we reached Soyeda. The teachers and students of the
Soyeda school, and the chief men of the village, welcomed us. Then
we were separated into detachments, each of which was quartered in a
different hotel. I entered a hotel, with the last detachment, to rest
for the night.

“But I could not sleep for a long time. Five years before, on a similar
‘military excursion,’ I had rested in that very hotel, as a student of
the same middle school. I remembered the fatigue and the pleasure;
and I compared my feelings of the moment with the recollection of my
feelings then as a boy. I could not help a weak wish to be young again
like my companions. They were fast asleep, tired with their long march;
and I sat up and looked at their faces. How pretty their faces seemed
in that young sleep!”


The preceding selections give no more indication of the general
character of the students’ compositions than might be furnished by any
choice made to illustrate a particular feeling. Examples of ideas and
sentiments from themes of a graver kind would show variety of thought
and not a little originality in method, but would require much space.
A few notes, however, copied out of my class-register, will be found
suggestive, if not exactly curious.

At the summer examinations of 1893 I submitted to the graduating
classes, for a composition theme, the question, “What is eternal in
literature?” I expected original answers, as the subject had never
been discussed by us, and was certainly new to the pupils, so far as
their knowledge of Western thought was concerned. Nearly all the papers
proved interesting. I select twenty replies as examples. Most of them
immediately preceded a long discussion, but a few were embodied in the
text of the essay:–

1. “Truth and Eternity are identical: these make the Full Circle,–in
Chinese, Yen-Man.”

2. “All that in human life and conduct which is according to the laws
of the Universe.”

3. “The lives of patriots, and the teachings of those who have given
pure maxims to the world.”

4. “Filial Piety, and the doctrine of its teachers. Vainly the books
of Confucius were burned during the Shin dynasty; they are translated
to-day into all the languages of the civilized world.”

5. “Ethics, and scientific truth.”

6. “Both evil and good are eternal, said a Chinese sage. We should read
only that which is good.”

7. “The great thoughts and ideas of our ancestors.”

8. “For a thousand million centuries truth is truth.”

9. “Those ideas of right and wrong upon which all schools of ethics

10. “Books which rightly explain the phenomena of the Universe.”

11. “Conscience alone is unchangeable. Wherefore books about ethics
based upon conscience are eternal.”

12. “Reasons for noble action: these remain unchanged by time.”

13. “Books written upon the best moral means of giving the greatest
possible happiness to the greatest possible number of people,–that is,
to mankind.”

14. “The Gokyō (the Five Great Chinese Classics).”

15. “The holy books of China, and of the Buddhists.”

16. “All that which teaches the Right and Pure Way of human conduct.”

17. “The Story of Kusunoki Masaskigé, who vowed to be reborn seven
times to fight against the enemies of his Sovereign.”

18. “Moral sentiment, without which the world would be only an enormous
clod of earth, and all books waste-paper.”

19. “The Tao-te-King.”

20. Same as 19, but with this comment. “He who reads that which is
eternal, _his soul shall hover eternally in the Universe._”


Some particularly Oriental sentiments were occasionally drawn out
through discussions. The discussions were based upon stories which I
would relate to a class by word of mouth, and invite written or spoken
comment about. The results of such a discussion are hereafter set
forth. At the time it took place, I had already told the students of
the higher classes a considerable number of stories. I had told them
many of the Greek myths; among which that of Œdipus and the Sphinx
seemed especially to please them, because of the hidden moral, and
that of Orpheus, like all our musical legends, to have no interest
for them. I had also told them a variety of our most famous modern
stories. The marvelous tale of “Rappacini’s Daughter” proved greatly
to their liking; and the spirit of Hawthorne might have found no
little ghostly pleasure in their interpretation of it. “Monos and
Daimonos” found favor; and Poe’s wonderful fragment, “Silence,” was
appreciated after a fashion that surprised me. On the other hand,
the story of “Frankenstein” impressed them very little. None took it
seriously. For Western minds the tale must always hold a peculiar
horror, because of the shock it gives to feelings evolved under
the influence of Hebraic ideas concerning the origin of life, the
tremendous character of divine prohibitions, and the awful punishments
destined for those who would tear the veil from Nature’s secrets, or
mock, even unconsciously, the work of a jealous Creator. But to the
Oriental mind, unshadowed by such grim faith,–feeling no distance
between gods and men,–conceiving life as a multiform whole ruled by
one uniform law that shapes the consequence of every act into a reward
or a punishment,–the ghastliness of the story makes no appeal. Most of
the written criticisms showed me that it was generally regarded as a
comic or semi-comic parable. After all this, I was rather puzzled one
morning by the request for a “very strong moral story of the Western

I suddenly resolved–though knowing I was about to venture on dangerous
ground–to try the full effect of a certain Arthurian legend which I
felt sure somebody would criticise with a vim. The moral is rather
more than “very strong;” and for that reason I was curious to hear the

So I related to them the story of Sir Bors, which is in the sixteenth
book of Sir Thomas Mallory’s “Morte d’Arthur,”–“how Sir Bors met his
brother Sir Lionel taken and beaten with thorns,–and of a maid which
should have been dishonored,–and how Sir Bors left his brother to
rescue the damsel,—and how it was told them that Lionel was dead.”
But I did not try to explain to them the knightly idealism imaged in
the beautiful old tale, as I wished to hear them comment, in their own
Oriental way, upon the bare facts of the narrative.

Which they did as follows:–

“The action of Mallory’s knight,” exclaimed Iwai, “was contrary even
to the principles of Christianity,–if it be true that the Christian
religion declares all men brothers. Such conduct might be right if
there were no society in the world. But while any society exists
which is formed of families, family love must be the strength of that
society; and the action of that knight was against family love, and
therefore against society. The principle he followed was opposed not
only to all society, but was contrary to all religion, and contrary to
the morals of all countries.”

“The story is certainly immoral,” said Orito. “What it relates is
opposed to all our ideas of love and loyalty, and even seems to us
contrary to nature. Loyalty is not a mere duty. It must be from the
heart, or it is not loyally. It must be an inborn feeling. And it is in
the nature of every Japanese.”

“It is a horrible story,” said Andō. “Philanthropy itself is only an
expansion of fraternal love. The man who could abandon his own brother
to death merely to save a strange woman was a wicked man. Perhaps he
was influenced by passion.”

“No,” I said: “you forget I told you that there was no selfishness in
his action,–that it must be interpreted as a heroism.”

“I think the explanation of the story must be religious,” said
Yasukochi. “It seems strange to us; but that may be because we do
not understand Western ideas very well. Of course to abandon one’s
own brother in order to save a strange woman is contrary to all our
knowledge of right. But if that knight was a man of pure heart, he
must have imagined himself obliged to do it because of some promise
or some duty. Even then it must have seemed to him a very painful and
disgraceful thing to do, and he could not have done it without feeling
that he was acting against the teaching of his own heart.”

“There you are right,” I answered. “But you should also know that the
sentiment obeyed by Sir Bors is one which still influences the conduct
of brave and noble men in the societies of the West,–even of men who
cannot be called religious at all in the common sense of that word.”

“Still, we think it a very bad sentiment,” said Iwai; “and we would
rather hear another story about another form of society.”

Then it occurred to me to tell them the immortal story of Alkestis. I
thought for the moment that the character of Herakles in that divine
drama would have a particular charm for them. But the comments proved I
was mistaken. No one even referred to Herakles. Indeed I ought to have
remembered that our ideals of heroism, strength of purpose, contempt of
death, do not readily appeal to Japanese youth. And this for the reason
that no Japanese gentleman regards such qualities as exceptional.
He considers heroism a matter of course–something belonging to
manhood and inseparable from it. He would say that a woman may be
afraid without shame, but never a man. Then as a mere idealization of
physical force, Herakles could interest Orientals very little: their
own mythology teems with impersonations of strength; and, besides,
dexterity, sleight, quickness, are much more admired by a true Japanese
than strength. No Japanese boy would sincerely wish to be like the
giant Benkei; but Yoshitsune, the slender, supple conqueror and master
of Benkei, remains an ideal of perfect knighthood dear to the hearts of
all Japanese youth.

Kamekawa said:–

“The story of Alkestis, or at least the story of Admetus, is a story
of cowardice, disloyalty, immorality. The conduct of Admetus was
abominable. His wife was indeed noble and virtuous–too good a wife for
so shameless a man. I do not believe that the father of Admetus would
not have been willing to die for his son if his son had been worthy. I
think he would gladly have died for his son had he not been disgusted
by the cowardice of Admetus. And how disloyal the subjects of Admetus
were! The moment they heard of their king’s danger they should have
rushed to the palace, and humbly begged that they might be allowed to
die in his stead. However cowardly or cruel he might have been, that
was their duty. They were his subjects. They lived by his favor. Yet
how disloyal they were! A country inhabited by such shameless people
must soon have gone to ruin. Of course, as the story says, ‘it is sweet
to live.’ Who does not love life? Who does not dislike to die? But no
brave man–no loyal man even–should so much as think about his life
when duty requires him to give it.”

“But,” said Midzuguchi, who had joined us a little too late to hear
the beginning of the narration, “perhaps Admetus was actuated by
filial piety. Had I been Admetus, and found no one among my subjects
willing to die for me, I should have said to my wife: ‘Dear wife, I
cannot leave my father alone now, because he has no other son, and his
grandsons are still too young to be of use to him. Therefore, if you
love me, please die in my place.'”

“You do not understand the story,” said Yasukochi. “Filial piety did
not exist in Admetus. He wished that his father should have died for

“Ah!” exclaimed the apologist in real surprise,–“that is not a nice
story, teacher!”

“Admetus,” declared Kawabuchi, “was everything which is bad. He was a
hateful coward, because he was afraid to die; he was a tyrant, because
he wanted his subjects to die for him; he was an unfilial son because
he wanted his old father to die in his place; and he was an unkind
husband, because he asked his wife–a weak woman with little children
–to do what _he_ was afraid to do as a man. What could be baser than

“But Alkestis,” said Iwai,–“Alkestis was all that is good. For she
gave up her children and everything,–even like the Buddha [_Shaka_]
himself. Yet she was very young. How true and brave! The beauty of
her face might perish like a spring-blossoming, but the beauty of
her act should be remembered for a thousand times a thousand years.
Eternally her soul will hover in the universe. Formless she is now; but
it is the Formless who teach us more kindly than our kindest living
teachers,–the souls of all who have done pure, brave, wise deeds.”

“The wife of Admetus,” said Kumamoto, inclined to austerity in his
judgments, “was simply obedient. She was not entirely blameless. For,
before her death, it was her highest duty to have severely reproached
her husband for his foolishness. And this she did not do,–not at least
as our teacher tells the story.”

“Why Western people should think that story beautiful,” said Zaitsu,
“is difficult for us to understand. There is much in it which fills
us with anger. For some of us cannot but think of our parents when
listening to such a story. After the Revolution of Meiji, for a time,
there was much suffering. Often perhaps our parents were hungry; yet
we always had plenty of food. Sometimes they could scarcely get money
to live; yet we were educated. When we think of all it cost them to
educate us, all the trouble it gave them to bring us up, all the love
they gave us, and all the pain we caused them in our foolish childhood,
then we think we can never, never do enough for them. And therefore we
do not like that story of Admetus.”

The bugle sounded for recess. I went to the parade-ground to take
a smoke. Presently a few students joined me, with their rifles and
bayonets–for the next hour was to be devoted to military drill. One
said: “Teacher, we should like another subject for composition,–not
_too_ easy.”

I suggested: “How would you like this for a subject, ‘What is most
difficult to understand?'”

“That,” said Kawabuchi, “is not hard to answer,–the correct use of
English prepositions.”

“In the study of English by Japanese students,–yes,” I answered. “But
I did not mean any special difficulty of that kind. I meant to write
your ideas about what is most difficult for all men to understand.”

“The universe?” queried Yasukochi. “That is too large a subject.”

“When I was only six years old,” said Orito, “I used to wander along
the seashore, on fine days, and wonder at the greatness of the world.
Our home was by the sea. Afterwards I was taught that the problem of
the universe will at last pass away, like smoke.”

“I think,” said Miyakawa, “that the hardest of all things to understand
is why men live in the world. From the time a child is born, what does
he do? He eats and drinks; he feels happy and sad; he sleeps at night;
he awakes in the morning. He is educated; he grows up; he marries; he
has children; he gets old; his hair turns first gray and then white; he
becomes feebler and feebler,–and he dies.

“What does he do all his life? All his real work in this world is to
eat and to drink, to sleep and to rise up; since, whatever be his
occupation as a citizen, he toils only that he may be able to continue
doing this. But for what purpose does a man really come into the world?
Is it to eat? Is it to drink? Is it to sleep? Every day he does exactly
the same thing, and yet he is not tired! It is strange.

“When rewarded, he is glad; when punished, he is sad. If he becomes
rich, he thinks himself happy. If he becomes poor, he is very unhappy.
Why is he glad or sad according to his condition? Happiness and sadness
are only temporary things. Why does he study hard? No matter how great
a scholar he may become, what is there left of him when he is dead?
Only bones.”

Miyakawa was the merriest and wittiest in his class; and the
contrast between his joyous character and his words seemed to me
almost startling. But such swift glooms of thought–especially since
Meiji–not unfrequently make apparition in quite young Oriental minds.
They are fugitive as shadows of summer clouds; they mean less than they
would signify in Western adolescence; and the Japanese lives not by
thought, nor by emotion, but by duty. Still, they are not haunters to

“I think,” said I, “a much better subject for you all would be the Sky:
the sensations which the sky creates in us when we look at it on such a
day as this. See how wonderful it is!”

It was blue to the edge of the world, with never a floss of cloud.
There were no vapors in the horizon; and very far peaks, invisible on
most days, now-massed into the glorious light, seemingly diaphanous.

Then Kumashiro, looking up to the mighty arching, uttered with
reverence the ancient Chinese words:–

“_What thought is so high as It is? What mind is so wide?_”

“To-day,” I said, “is beautiful as any summer day could be,–only that
the leaves are falling, and the semi are gone.”

“Do you like semi, teacher?” asked Mori.

“It gives me great pleasure to hear them,” I answered. “We have no such
cicadæ in the West.”

“Human life is compared to the life of a semi,” said Orito,–“_utsuzemi
no yo_. Brief as the song of the semi all human joy is, and youth. Men
come for a season and go, as do the semi.”

“There are no semi now,” said Yasukochi; “perhaps the teacher thinks it
is sad.”

“I do not think it sad,” observed Noguchi. “They hinder us from study.
I hate the sound they make. When we hear that sound in summer, and are
tired, it adds fatigue to fatigue so that we fall asleep. If we try to
read or write, or even think, when we hear that sound we have no more
courage to do anything. Then we wish that all those insects were dead.”

“Perhaps you like the dragon-flies,” I suggested. “They are flashing
all around us; but they make no sound.”

“Every Japanese likes dragon-flies,” said Ivumashiro. “Japan, you know,
is called Akitsusu, which means the Country of the Dragon-fly.”

We talked about different kinds of dragon-flies; and they told me of
one I had never seen,–the Shōro-tombo, or “Ghost dragon-fly,” said
to have some strange relation to the dead. Also they spoke of the
Yamma–a very large kind of dragon-fly, and related that in certain
old songs the samurai were called Yamma, because the long hair of
a young warrior used to be tied up into a knot in the shape of a

A bugle sounded; and the voice of the military officer rang out,–

“_AtsumarÉ!_” (fall in!) But the young men lingered an instant to ask,–

“Well, what shall it be, teacher?–that which is most difficult to

“No,” I said, “the Sky.”

And all that day the beauty of the Chinese utterance haunted me, filled
me like an exaltation:–

“_What thought is so high as It is? What mind is so wide?_”


There is one instance in which the relation between teachers and
students is not formal at all,–one precious survival of the mutual
love of other days in the old Samurai Schools. By all the aged
Professor of Chinese is reverenced; and his influence over the young
men is very great. With a word he could calm any outburst burst of
anger; with a smile he could quicken any generous impulse. For he
represents to the lads their ideal of all that was brave, true, noble,
in the elder life,–the Soul of Old Japan.

His name, signifying “Moon-of-Autumn,” is famous in his own land. A
little book has been published about him, containing his portrait. He
was once a samurai of high rank belonging to the great clan of Aidzu.
He rose early to positions of trust and influence. He has been a leader
of armies, a negotiator between princes, a statesman, a ruler of
provinces–all that any knight could be in the feudal era. But in the
intervals of military or political duty he seems to have always been
a teacher. There are few such teachers. There are few such scholars.
Yet to see him now, you would scarcely believe how much he was once
feared–though loved–by the turbulent swordsmen under his rule.
Perhaps there is no gentleness so full of charm as that of the man of
war noted for sternness in his youth.

When the Feudal System made its last battle for existence, he heard the
summons of his lord, and went into that terrible struggle in which
even the women and little children of Aidzu took part. But courage and
the sword alone could not prevail against the new methods of war;–the
power of Aidzu was broken; and he, as one of the leaders of that power,
was long a political prisoner.

But the victors esteemed him; and the Government he had fought against
in all honor took him into its service to teach the new generations.
From younger teachers these learned Western science and Western
languages. But he still taught that wisdom of the Chinese sages which
is eternal,–and loyalty, and honor, and all that makes the man.

Some of his children passed away from his sight. But he could not feel
alone; for all whom he taught were as sons to him, and so reverenced
him. And he became old, very old, and grew to look like a god,–like a

The Kami-Sama in art bear no likeness to the Buddhas. These more
ancient divinities have no downcast gaze, no meditative impassiveness.
They are lovers of Nature; they haunt her fairest solitudes, and
enter into the life of her trees, and speak in her waters, and hover
in her winds. Once upon the earth they lived as men; and the people of
the land are their posterity. Even as divine ghosts, they remain very
human, and of many dispositions. They are the emotions, they are the
sensations of the living. But as figuring in legend and the art born
of legend, they are mostly very pleasant to know. I speak not of the
cheap art which treats them irreverently in these skeptical days, but
of the older art explaining the sacred texts about them. Of course such
representations vary greatly. But were you to ask what is the ordinary
traditional aspect of a Kami, I should answer: “An ancient smiling man
of wondrously gentle countenance, having a long white beard, and all
robed in white with a white girdle.”

Only that the girdle of the aged Professor was of black silk, just such
a vision of Shintō he seemed when he visited me the last time.

He had met me at the college, and had said: “I know there has been a
congratulation at your house; and that I did not call was not because I
am old or because your house is far, but only because I have been long
ill. But you will soon see me.”

So one luminous afternoon he came, bringing gifts of
felicitation,–gifts of the antique high courtesy, simple in
themselves, yet worthy a prince: a little plum-tree, every branch and
spray one snowy dazzle of blossoms; a curious and pretty bamboo vessel
full of wine; and two scrolls bearing beautiful poems,–texts precious
in themselves as the work of a rare calligrapher and poet; otherwise
precious to me, because written by his own hand. Everything which
he said to me I do not fully know. I remember words of affectionate
encouragement about my duties,–some wise, keen advice,–a strange
story of his youth. But all was like a pleasant dream; for his mere
presence was a caress, and the fragrance of his flower-gift seemed as a
breathing from the Takama-no-hara. And as a Kami should come and go, so
he smiled and went,–leaving all things hallowed. The little plum-tree
has lost its flowers: another winter must pass before it blooms again.
But something very sweet still seems to haunt the vacant guest-room.
Perhaps only the memory of that divine old man;–perhaps a spirit
ancestral, some Lady of the Past, who followed his steps all viewlessly
to our threshold that day, and lingers with me awhile, just because he
loved me.