In the previous (the first and second) articles [Documents 12A and 12B], I wrote that unless we broke long-lasting customs, we would continue to have a biased view of everything. Therefore, in this article, I will write about other [evil] customs and hope that my beloved sisters will make efforts [to break them]. I think that this is an urgent business in today's world.
Whether a country is civilized or primitive can be judged by the general conditions of the whole society. Therefore, even if there are one or two gentlemen, as long as several other thousands are barbarous, that country will be counted as one of the uncivilized nations. Also, in a country with a few foolish persons, if the vast majority of its people have good customs, that country can be called a "civilized country." My point is that the custom of a large majority will determine the reputation of each country. Therefore, it should be remembered that because each individual's custom will constitute the custom of a nation, one person's barbarous or virtuous behavior will affect the reputation of the country greatly. For example, people in Kyoto are known for their graceful manners, and people in the Ogasawara Islands are known for their barbarous manners. But if you look at each person separately, [you will find that] there is also a rude person in Kyoto and a man of taste in the Ogasawara Islands. Thus, whether residents in certain places are civilized or primitive is inevitably judged by the conditions of a large majority in each area.
Oddly enough, every person believes that his or her country is the most respectable in the world and that there is no other custom that is as good as his or hers. Foreigners, however, will find such thinking ridiculous. As the proverb says, every individual is vain. Many people feel safe as long as they are bound by strange customs. It cannot be helped.
A student houseboy, who works in my household, had stayed in a place called Penang [Malaysia] for three or four years. When he had returned to Japan, he told me that people in that place and other countries, including Java and Sumatra, "view white buffaloes as gods and worship them on their knees. On the anniversary of parents' and ancestors' deaths, they prepare elaborate dishes and offer them to white buffaloes as a part of the memorial service. The most disgusting thing is that on the streets, people worship white buffaloes on their knees, rush to dung that white buffaloes dropped, squeeze it through their fingers, and smear it in the center of their foreheads." Obviously, it is a form of incantation that we customarily call "warding off disasters" or "maintaining good health, prolonging life." It [the custom], however, appears to be ridiculous in the eyes of foreigners, including us the Japanese. Moreover, some of the indigenous people walk triumphantly hanging silver rings in their noses. They think that they are dressed up. I must say that a custom is such a strange thing.
My beloved sisters, after hearing this story, do you still think that this country [Malaysia] is civilized? No. We cannot help characterizing this custom as "barbarous." Our country has railroads and telegraphs; therefore, [Japan] will be praised in Western countries. In our country, people do not smear white buffaloes' dung on their foreheads; however, they worship a fox as Inari [the god of harvest] and a snake as Sarasvati [the goddess of music, eloquence, wealth, and wisdom], draw a picture of a wolf as a charm against thieves, worship a blackberry and Nezumi Kozo [a famous thief in the Edo period] as gods, hang a decoration of sacred straw rope around an old tree, and pray to it for happiness. We the Japanese do not take these kinds of things seriously as long as we are bound by long-standing customs. But how will foreigners view this? They will not find them civilized people's customs.
What is even worse, women in our country accept evil customs and feel satisfied with barbarous manners, and it seems to be almost impossible for them to change their attitudes. No, they even feel ashamed of [women] who attempt to break [evil customs]. Everyone, are you aware of what [customs] I am talking about? As you may know and agree with me, they were the customs of shaving off eyebrows and dying teeth black. Shaving off eyebrows and dying teeth black will damage [women's] natural looks and health. They are among the worst customs that reflect the primitive domestic conditions of this country. I cannot imagine how much foreigners will despise the Japanese because of these customs. [We] might be ridiculed like Penang people who hang silver rings in their noses.
Also, I have heard that the following incident happened five to six years ago. A foreign gentleman came to Japan for the first time in his life. When he met Japanese ladies, he was surprised and confused [by their appearance]. This foreign gentleman had assumed that in Japan, which had a high reputation in the Orient, he would meet a number of beautiful ladies.
To his surprise, all the distinguished ladies [he had met] had peculiar appearances. All [married] women had shaved off their eyebrows and looked like Nopperabo.[A] Their lips were shining blue (because of dark lipstick), inside their mouths were jet black, and their teeth were also all black. He later told someone that he thought that these women had leprosy that was prevalent in Hawaii [at that time].
Really! Everyone! Let's break such customs that catch people's attention, that is, evil customs, immediately, and avoid foreigners' contempt for [the Japanese]. To do so, I hope that we can cooperate with our sisters and like-minded people in Tokyo and other prefectures (including members of the Tokyo WCTU, of course), wash our country's evil customs away, and advance to the higher level as soon as possible. To begin with, the members of this society [the Tokyo WCTU] must first improve themselves. If we wore hair in a pompadour style yesterday, do up our hair in a round knot [a Japanese style] today, grew eyebrows last month, shave them off this month, remove the black paint from our teeth the next month, and dye our teeth black this month, people will laugh at us, saying that "a woman's mind and winter wind change often." Members of this society! Have a compass in your mind, advance as it says, and avoid being laughed at for the barbarous manners of this island country.
A. Japanese bogies without eyes, noses, and mouths.
Back to Text