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had the most leisure for study. The other three classes together constituted the common people, who were kept in rigid subjection and bled profusely by taxes.
Under the present régime there are three general classes of the entire population of Japan: the nobility, the gentry, and the common people. The nobility, created in 1884, comprises five orders: prince, marquis, count, viscount, and baron; the gentry are the descendants of the knights (samurai) of the old first class; the common people include all the rest of the population. By the census of 1898 the nobility numbered 4,551; the gentry, 2,105,698; and the common people, 41,652,904. (These figures are exclusive of Formosa.) Even now the burden of taxation falls upon the mass of the common people, especially upon the farming class, for the land tax is the most important source of revenue in Japan.
The fundamental principle of Japanese society was, and still is, reverent obedience to superiors. This polite and humble deference is exhibited in their language and in their manners and customs, and has become so thoroughly incorporated into their natures that it even yet resists the levelling tendency of the present age. The language is full of honorifics to be applied to or concerning another, and of humilifics to be applied concerning self. I and mine are thus always ignorant, stupid, dirty, homely, insignificant, etc., while you and yours are ever intelligent, wise, clean, beautiful, noble, etc. Perhaps there is nothing that causes the student of the vernacular deeper chagrin than to find that he has made so serious an error as to transpose the humble and the honorific words or phrases! The ordinary salutation is really an obeisance, as it consists of a profound bow, — on the street with body bent half forward, in the house with forehead touching the floor. This deep and universal feeling of reverence for superiors and elders early developed into worship, both of the family and of the national ancestors. This is the fundamental and central idea of Shinto, the native cult, of which more will be written in a subsequent chapter.
The Japanese family' was, in its constitution, an empire, with absolute authority in the hands of one man. The husband was, theoretically and practically, the great authority to whom wife and children were subject. He was a veritable autocrat and despot; and he received superciliously the homage of all the family, who literally bowed down before him. The family, and not the individual, was the unit of society; but by the new codes now in operation the individual has acquired greater rights. There is much hope, therefore, that gradually the tyranny of the family will be eliminated.
One writer on Japan has well said: “The Empire is one great family; the family is a little empire.”2 In truth, the empire is founded and maintained on
1 See Transactions Japan Society, London, vol. ii., papers by Goh and Aston.
2 See Lowell's “Soul of the Far East," chap. ii.
Tenno es not
the family idea of one line “in unbroken succession " from Jimmu Tennā.
A house alone does not make a “home,” but merely gives it local habitation; and as Japanese houses 1 are unique, they deserve some consideration. Although brick and stone are coming into use among the wealthy classes, wood is the chief material employed in building. A typical Japanese house is a slight and flimsy frame structure with straw-thatched, or shingled, or tiled roof. It has no foundation in the ground, but rests on stones laid on the ground, and stands wholly above the surface. This and other peculiar features of construction and ornamentation are the outcome of attempts to lessen the dangers from the frequent and severe earthquakes. The outer doors and windows of Japanese houses are called amado (rain-doors), and are solid wood. They slide in grooves above and below; in stormy weather and at night they are closed and fastened, not so tightly, however, as to prevent them from rattling; at other times they are open. The inner doors, the windows, and sometimes the partitions between the different rooms are lattice frames, covered with a translucent, but not transparent, white paper, and running in grooves. These, too, as well as the opaque paper screens used between the rooms, can be taken out, so that all the rooms may be turned into one, or the entire house be thrown open to the air of heaven. The floors are covered with tatami —
1 Morse's “ Japanese Homes ” is the one book on this subject.