Friday, November 21, 2014

Japan's Etiquette and Customs— A Victorian View

A wealthy Japanese man and his servant.

The following describes the contents of a letter from 1859 in New York, detailing to someone, the "peculiar" etiquette and customs of the Japanese people.

"In some respects they appear to be more virtuous than people boasting of a higher civilization. Malversation by a functionary, embezzlement of public funds, extortion, bribery of officials, coining of false money, murder, and robbery, are punished with death, and not only of the guilty person, but of his father, children, and even all of his male relatives, who are executed at the same moment, however distant they may be from one another. This system, which is repugnant to European notions, and to sound principles of justice, appears to be adopted by the Japanese from the belief that crime is owing to bad education.

The modes of punishment adopted in Japan are of different sorts, but all are horrible. The principle is crucifixion, and is reserved for traitors, murderers and incendiaries. The culprit is fastened on the cross head downwards, and is left to die, unless he obtains the favor of being dispatched by stabs from a poignard. For parricide and adultery, culprits are plunged into boiling oil. Petty robberies, insults, calumny, fraud, even at play, and false testimony before magistrates, are punished by hanging or beheading. If the offenders be a gentleman or soldiers, their bowels are opened -- they have even the privilege of performing the operation on themselves. Pecuniary fines are almost unknown. The corporal punishment of the whip and the bastinado are reserved for slaves and servants, and are inflicted by their masters, not by public executioners. The Japanese consider corporal punishment so degrading that mothers never strike their offspring.

Depiction of a young Japanese woman, being dressed by her servants.
The climate is enervating, yet children are brought up hardily. They are made to bear hunger, thirst, cold, pain, excess of labor, and the rigor of the seasons. Horror of falsehood and fraud, and love of modesty, justice, and virtue are diligently inculcated. One of the results of the system of education is to inspire the Japanese with a passion for books which causes surprise in European visitors.

The bookselling trade in Japan is subjected to no restriction, and they're everywhere, even in towns of small population, numerous bookshops. Great parts of literature of the Japanese is Chinese; and their knowledge of arts and agriculture is derived from the same people. The language commonly employed is every year becoming more Chinese in character. And yet the Japanese despise the Chinese; they do so because from their early age they have been taught that the Chinese are not soldiers; that in ancient times a Japanese army defeated an immense Chinese army in the Corea; and that Coxinga himself, who is the scourge of the sea and the terror of the Chinese Empire, it was a Japanese -- as were also the greater part of his companions."


Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia