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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1936

Japan Through a Footballer's Spectacles

page 42

Japan Through a Footballer's Spectacles

Any observations one makes on the Japanese people must be read subject to the qualification that a bare month is too short a time in which to form accurate impressions of a country. These comments are not intended to be taken as dogmatic statements.

Probably the characteristic that struck us most forcibly was the intense nationalism of Japan: everyone is one hundred per cent. Japan-minded. This is a well-known characteristic, but we would see it in many things, from the methods of education to the conduct of the football crowds and the spirit of the players. It is worth noting that even Japanese immigrants, particularly to the Philippine Islands (where there are about 30,000 of them) remain intensely Japanese in outlook, wearing Japanese clothes, eating Japanese food, and buying only Japanese goods. They never regard themselves as citizens of the Philippines. Incidentally it would be a matter of no great surprise to many observers if, in the next 10 or 20 years, the Philippinos have to get used to the idea of being citizens of Japan. "Peaceful penetration" has doubled the Japanese population in the last six years.

The men at the top appear to foster this nationalistic spirit for all they are worth, and in two chief ways—by the inculcation of the Emperor cult, and by a careful guidance, or even control, of thought in places of learning. The Emperor Cult is bound up with the national religion of Shintoism under which the Emperor is revered and indeed worshipped, almost as a god. He apparently stands for the old Samurai spirit and for the new nationalistic spirit: he symbolises the highest ideals of Japan. Our first duty in Tokyo was to pay our respects to the Emperor, and this we accomplished by lining up outside the Palace moat and bowing solemnly in the direction of the roofs we could just see over the wall and through the trees. We had a good indication of what His Majesty means to his people in a story of the agricultural workers of the North. These people (who are having a very thin time) decided to come to Tokyo to lay their position before the authorities. On their arrival a disturbance was averted when officials told them that His Majesty was exceedingly displeased with their behaviour. They simply packed up their traps and went back to the old conditions.

We had very little opportunity of observing University life, our tour being conducted by the Japan Rugby Union and not by the University bodies. We did visit three of the major Universities but our visits consisted in little more than arriving, removing our shoes, partaking of refreshment, listening to a couple of speeches, putting on our shoes and departing. There are about 50 universities in Japan, with over 70,000 students, and judging by the three we saw, the buildings and equipment are magnificent.

Pioneers of the Labour Club will be sorry to hear that in the Universities there is very little radical thought—or indeed, any thought that isn't the "right" thought. We were told that students are so bound and restricted that most of them are simply disinterested. They simply take what is given them and swallow it down—it isn't worth while doing otherwise. These restrictions result in a lack of interest which is spreading outside the universities. An election campaign was in progress during our visit, and the apparent lack of public interest, as judged by attendances at meetings, was amazing to us.

Teachers may teach only what they are told to teach, students may study only within set curricula—and both teachers and students may think only along approved lines. When it is added that members of teaching staffs are required to forward the names of students suspected of harbouring dangerous thoughts and such students are still known simply and quietly to disappear it will be understood that the "twisted teaching" game is not worth the candle in Japan.

In the schools, courses are apparently carefully planned so that the notion of Japan first, last and all the time is kept uppermost in the youthful mind. One hour a day is commonly set aside for "moral lessons" of this sort.

For the avowed purpose of supervising thought tendencies, two institutions have lately been set up by the Department of Education. The first is the Government Institute of National Culture, the object of which is to conduct research in and diffusion of Japanese culture. The Institute also gives "proper direction and training" to the thoughts of wayward students whose participation in forbidden activities has earned them expulsion.

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Secondly there is the Bureau of Thought Supervision. It had been found that "left" thought movements spreading amongst the people were traceable not only to students but to the teachers themselves. To cope with this situation the Bureau was set up in 1934, aiming at the general supervision and investigation of thought in schools and social educational bodies. It urges "the proper training as well as guidance of the trends and movements of thought current among teachers and students."

The first body would appear to act as a spur to thought in the direction named: the second is purely a supervisor and control—simply a brake on those whose thoughts turn them to the wrong side of the straight and narrow path indicated by the former institution. New Zealand students who cry out for freedom of speech may count themselves fortunate when they compare their lot with that of their contemporaries in Japan where apparently it is forbidden even to think out harmony with the powers that be.

The team had the advantage of a short visit to one of the largest spinning mills in Osaka. We probably went with the usual suspicion that we would be shown only the best side of the factory and with a readiness to seize on any evidence of bad labour conditions. But we came away convinced that nothing had been kept from us and that all our questions had been frankly answered; convinced also, that it is high time that foreigners learned to approach Japanese industrial concerns with an open and unbiased mind.

We saw dining rooms, bathrooms, and dormitories, lecture rooms for the younger employees, little shrines for religious services, a magnificent baseball ground, gymnasiums and a swimming pool, and rows of small houses for the married men: a little village in itself.

In this factory the hours were from 7 to 5, with 40 minutes for lunch—but most of the larger concerns work for 17 hours a day in two shifts. The mean earn an average of 1/9 per day, the women 1/3. Meals are provided at 1½d. a time. Living accommodation is free for the single employees but married men pay a small rental for their houses. Medical attention is free and the company has a workers' compensation and superannuation scheme on the same lines as in New Zealand. The majority of the workers are girls from 13 to 20 years old—most of them leave to be married after three or four years' service. The wages mentioned seem contemptible to the New Zealander, but it must be remembered that the standard of living is considerably different in Japan. These girls, we found, are quite happy in their employment and consider themselves far better off than at home. Most of them are farmers' daughters, and are able to send some of their savings to their homes.

In spite of the wide facilities provided by the company and the admitted contentment of the employees, it was difficult for a New Zealander to resist the thought that even the best working conditions could not compensate for the effect on a young girl of making her work in a factory for nine hours a day. We did feel, however, that the conditions as they were had been frankly placed before us.

Japan has apparently until recently been a strong supporter of the view that woman's place is in the home. Not so long ago woman definitely played second fiddle to man in everything. The wife was not so much a partner with her husband as merely a necessary part of his household—an entertainer to him and a mother to his children. She had no part in the planning of the family's future—she had merely to fit in with his scheme of things. But latterly her status has improved, and she is now more on equal terms with her husband in the marriage venture. Even now, however, they are a fairly bold couple who will walk together in the streets—usually the woman is a pace or two behind or on the outside running. We ourselves caused considerable embarrassment to both sides when we involuntarily stood aside at doorways in the hotels to let the housemaids pass. It isn't done!

Again, co-education is practically unknown in Japan. Girls and boys are educated separately in the schools, and though there are about 50 universities, only half a dozen are for women, and in only one may women study in company with men. There are, however, numerous Colleges for training women in such subjects as teaching, medicine and dentistry.

Marriages are still usually matters of arrangement between the families, irrespective of the wishes of the parties. The marriage is not so much a binding of a man and a woman as a union of the two families. We had a good example in the case of a man who was incidentally a graduate of Cambridge University. One night he announced in a resigned tone that he was engaged. When pressed by his friend as to the exact nature of his feelings he confessed page 44 that he wasn't in love, but expressed the hope that he would learn to like the lady!

The famous Mitsui family have kept up their stock in this way. If one of the younger sons or cousins does not show sufficient promise at the age of 14 or 15 he is quietly removed from the family and another bright young man is brought in by marrying him to one of the Mitsui girls. And the newcomer takes the Mitsui name. The older heads are not allowed to retire while the family council considers they are still serviceable—but when they are past their best out they go—and with a new name. The Mitsuis have a controlling interest in one quarter of the trade of Japan and their merchant shipping is reckoned to be greater than the entire mercantile marine of France.

The family is, of course, persona grata with the Emperor, and there is no trouble because the Mitsuis live a well-ordered life and their work is not for themselves but for the glory of Japan, in which object they consider themselves partners with the State. The common people believe this.

The Japanese views on defence are, of course, well known. They are very keen on their Navy and like to remember the Russo-Japanese War with tremendous pride. In one of the girls' school we noticed a wooden box into which the children were urged to throw their used toothpaste tubes so that they could do their bit in building up the Navy. A picture of a battleship in fighting trim appeared on the box to bring home the lesson. One inclines to think that there would not be so much warmindedness if Japan had been a more active participant in the Great War. It is doubtful whether the man in the street knows the horrors of war as vividly as does his Western contemporary. On the eve of our visit to the Yokusuka Naval yard we were urged by an official from the Foreign Office to study the Japanese point of view so that we would realise how essential to the peace of the Pacific was the maintenance of a strong Japanese Navy. This statement, it seems, fairly sums up the Japanese viewpoint.

At the same time there can be no doubt that the old "Yellow Peril" bogey, as far as British possessions are concerned, is utterly fanciful. Though they will not admit it, it appears that the Japanese now regard Manchukuo almost as a colony. Observers are of opinion that in Japanese eyes Manchukuo has not been the success it ought to have been. Climatic conditions and the lower standard of living have hindered Japanese immigrants. But even assuming that Manchukuo does not solve the overpopulation problem, it appears that the Philippine Islands may be the new outlet. The Japanese population there has doubled in the last six years and now stands at 30,000. It is questionable how far this peaceful penetration will continue: some authorities hold the view that Japan's aim is not so much to unload her surplus population by emigration as to absorb it in industrial development at home.

However this may be, we came away convinced that there is no foundation for the suggestion that British countries in the South are in danger of molestation from the Japanese.

Though some of the customs and ideas of the country must naturally appear strange to us we found the Japanese themselves a wholly delightful people. No visitor could leave Japan without having formed the very highest opinion of their courtesy and generosity. For us the best entertainment and the finest hospitality was provided with ample opportunity to investigate for ourselves matters of particular interest. Such was their generosity that private citizens tumbled over one another to entertain us and some had to be content with giving us presents. Of these we received so many that we could scarcely keep track of the donors' names. It is hoped to arrange a return visit in a few years, and New Zealand will be hard put to it to return the kindnesses received by us.