The Midshipman: Being Autobiographical Sketches of His Own Early Career, from Fragments of Voyages and Travels

Bell and Daldy, and S. Low, son and Company



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Bell and Daldy, and S. Low, son and Company
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Dec 31, 1862
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 Twelve hundred years ago a Chinese historian stated that "on the eastern frontier of the land of Japan there is a barrier of great mountains, beyond which is the land of the Hairy Men." These were the Aino, so named from the word in their own language signifying "man." Over most of the country of these rude and helpless indigenes the Japanese have long since spread, only a dwindling remnant of them still inhabiting the island of Yezo. Since the early days when a couple of them were sent as curiosities to the Emperor of China their uncouth looks and habits have made them objects of interest to more civilised nations. Many European writers have described them, but hardly any with such opportunities as Mr. Basil Hall Chamberlain, Professor of Philology at the Tokyo University, who has taken down from the Ainos the present collection of their tales, and prefaced it with an account of their ways and state of mind. It would hardly be for me to offer information on a subject so excellently handled, but the request of the Editor of the Folk-Lore Journal that I would write an Introduction enables me to draw attention to the views put forward by Professor Chamberlain in another publication,[1] which, being printed in Japan, may be overlooked by many English folk-lore students, even of those interested in the curious Aino problem.

As is well known, the hairiness of the Ainos marks them sharply off from the smooth-faced Japanese. No one can look at photographs of Ainos without admitting that the often-repeated comparison of them to bearded Russian peasants is much to the purpose. The likeness is much strengthened by the bold quasi-European features of the Ainos contrasting extremely with the Japanese type of face. Of course all this has suggested a theory of the Ainos belonging to the Aryan race; and, although the idea comes to nothing when examined strictly, its existence is an acknowledgment of the special Aino race-type. Mention must also be made of an anatomical peculiarity of the Aino skeleton, consisting of a remarkable flattening of the arm- and leg-bones. On the whole it is evident that the Ainos are an ancient race in this part of Asia, and so far isolated that anthropology has not yet the means of settling their physical connection with other Asiatic tribes. Professor Chamberlain's careful examination of the Aino language leads him to a similar result. It is made not only from his own knowledge, but with the advantage of working with the Rev. John Batchelor, who has lived as a missionary among the Ainos for years, and written the Grammar printed as a part of these Aino Studies. In structure the resemblances which the Aino presents to Japanese are outweighed by the differences; and, though it may ultimately prove to fall into a north-east Asiatic group of languages, this is so far from being made out that it is safest for the present to treat both race and language as isolated. Inasmuch as the little civilisation now possessed by the Ainos has in great measure been learnt from the Japanese, it is natural that their modern language should have picked up numbers of Japanese words, from the name of kamui which they give to their gods, down to the rice-beer or sake in which they seek continual drunkenness, now their main source of enjoyment. One purpose which their language serves is to prove how widely they once spread over the country now Japan, where place-names alone remain to indicate a former Aino population. Some of these are unmistakeably Aino, as Yamashiro, which must have meant "land of chestnut trees," and Shikyu, "place of rushes." Others, if interpreted as Japanese, have a far-fetched sense, as, for instance, the villages of Mennai and Tonami, which, if treated as Japanese, would signify "inside permission" and "hares in a vow"; whereas, if taken to be originally Aino they may bear the reasonable sense of "bad stream" and "stream from the lake." The inference from records and local names, worked out with great care by Professor Chamberlain, is "that the Ainos were truly the predecessors of the Japanese all over the Archipelago. The dawn of history shows them to us living far to the south and west of their present haunts; and ever since then, century by century, we see them retreating eastwards and northwards, as steadily as the American Indian has retreated westwards under the pressure of the colonists from Europe."

To have lived through the transition stage of modern Japan makes a man feel preternaturally old; for here he is in modern times, with the air full of talk about bicycles and bacilli and "spheres of influence" and yet he can himself distinctly remember the Middle Ages. The dear old Samurai who first initiated the present writer into the mysteries of the Japanese language, wore a queue and two swords. This relic of feudalism now sleeps in Nirvana. His modern successor, fairly fluent in English, and dressed in a serviceable suit of dittos, might almost be a European, save for a certain obliqueness of the eyes and scantiness of beard. Old things pass away between a night and a morning. The Japanese boast that they have done in thirty or forty years what it took Europe half as many centuries to accomplish. Some even go further, and twit us Westerns with falling behind in the race. It is waste of time to go to Germany to study philosophy, said a Japanese savant recently returned from Berlin:—the lectures there are elementary, the subject is better taught at Tōkyō.

Thus does it come about that, having arrived in Japan in 1873, we ourselves feel well-nigh four hundred years old, and assume without more ado the two well-known privileges of old age,—garrulity and an authoritative air. We are perpetually being asked questions about Japan. Here then are the answers, put into the shape of a dictionary, not of words but of things,—or shall we rather say a guide-book, less to places than to subjects?—not an encyclopædia, mind you, not the vain attempt by one man to treat exhaustively of all things, but only sketches of many things. The old and the new will be found cheek by jowl. What will not be found is padding: for padding is unpardonable in any book on Japan, where the material is so plentiful that the chief difficulty is to know what to omit.

In order to enable the reader to supply deficiencies and to form his own opinions, if haply he should be of so unusual a turn of mind as to desire so to do, we have, at the end of almost every article, indicated the names of trustworthy works bearing on the subject treated in that article. For the rest, this book explains itself. Any reader who detects errors or omissions in it will render the author an invaluable service by writing to him to point them out. As a little encouragement in this direction, we will ourselves lead the way by presuming to give each reader, especially each globe-trotting reader, a small piece of advice.

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