Monday, April 13, 2015

Etiquette in Japan's Edo Era


Above: A page from the government-approved morals education textbook 'Watashitachi no Doutoku' ('Our Morals'), for 5th- and 6th-graders, describes behaviors said to be from the Edo Period. In recent years, many Japanese public schools have begun programs teaching Edo period etiquette to the students. The board of education in the city of Moriya, Ibaraki Prefecture, launched a pilot project to teach Moriya shigusa, which is inspired by Edo shigusa, to its elementary and junior high schools. The city has created a booklet that includes 24 “encouraged” behaviors to be used in its public elementary and junior high schools. US government officials in Japan during the Edo period noted the many differences in Western etiquette and Japanese etiquette; "Great inconveniences will of course be experienced by us in furnishing the necessary rooms and accommodations for so large an accession to our numbers, and especially when some will be of the highest rank, and therefore require special attention and conveniences; while all speak an unknown language, and are so unlike to ourselves in dress, in food and in manners. The Japanese, however, are distinguished for simplicity of manners, and simplicity with neatness in dress, and simplicity in diet..." Sources: Japan Times and New York Times

Jeddo, Saturday, Oct. 8, 1859

"You and your readers have been apprised long since, that, according to a provision in the treaty concluded by Mr. Harris between the United States and Japan in June, 1858, two Japanese Commissioners were to be sent to Washington in a national vessel, and at the expense of the United States, the object being to make a good impression upon the Japanese upon their first introduction into the comity of nations, and with whom the United States are destined to conduct an important commerce through the enterprise of our countrymen in California and Oregon. 

It was conditional in the treaty that the Commissioners should leave Japan on the 22d day of February; and as rumors were rife, and universally credited, that the Japanese would never fulfill the condition, it was necessary for Commodore Tatnall to visit Jeddo, and ascertain to a certainty whether the Commissioners would be ready to go at the appointed time, as also to urge an earlier day for their departure, in case they should go, since so much expense would be incurred, and discomfort experienced, by the officers and crew of the Powhatan, should their long-cherished hopes be blasted. For these reasons, leaving Shanghai Sept. 17, we cast anchor before the great and unknown City of Jeddo, Wednesday, Oct. 5, having stopped a few days at Nagasaki.

Daimyo were the most powerful feudal rulers from the 10th century to the middle 19th century in Japan, and were subordinate only to the Shogun. 
Having spent some days under the hospitable roof of Mr. Harris, I have learned all the particulars respecting the Commissioners and their future movements. There are two parties in Japan -- the Progressives and Old Fogies; the men who are attached to the institutions, the customs and the non-intercourse policy of their fathers; and others who see advantages in commerce and intercourse with other nations, or else think it is better to yield gracefully to circumstances, and freely do what they soon must do from necessity. The Emperor is always a mere cypher, and now is a boy only 16 years old, but in fact as important and influential as other Emperors, however venerable the age they attained. A Council of six members is selected from the hereditary princes, of whom there are 360, who are to the Japanese government very much what the House of Commons is to the English. The Emperor may select his Council of State from these Daimais (sic), or princes, and they may pursue the course they please, but unless it also pleases the Daimias, and they refuse to sanction it, the Emperor is obliged to dismiss them and appoint others.
Townsend Harris was a minor politician, a successful NYC merchant, and the first United States Consul General to Japan. He negotiated what is known as the "Harris Treaty" between the US and Japan. He is credited as the diplomat who first opened the Empire of Japan to culture and foreign trade during the Edo period in Japan, 1603-1868. After learning that the Japanese had a large group of men attending to them during the negotiations, Mr. Harris explained that American taste and etiquette are unlike Japanese, and that even our greatest men had no retinue so large.
When the treaty was proposed it encountered violent opposition in the Council, though it was finally sanctioned; while the majority of the Princes denounced it on all occasions, some of them declaring, as they touched their hands to the two swords which every one always carries, that it would be better to perish manfully, standing by the sacred institutions and policy of their fathers, than to open their beautiful and happy country to foreign nations, of whom they needed nothing, as centuries of seclusion had shown, when they had whatever immaterial things their wants required, and, besides, uninterrupted peace and safety. The Emperor, like Queen Victoria, was obliged to succumb to the tempest his Ministers had raised, and, dismissing them, appoint a new Board from the opposite party. Opposed, as the new Cabinet is, to the policy of the treaty, they feel obliged to observe it, which is a circumstance highly in commendation of their integrity; and when Mr. Harris inquired of them, the other day, at the request of Com. Tatnall, whether the two Commissioners would proceed to the United States under his flag, they replied that two new Commissioners had just been appointed, who would certainly be ready to embark at the specified time, but not sooner.

At first, 81 persons of different classes had been appointed to accompany them, of whom two were censors, or, in other words, spies upon the Commissioners, two lieutenant-governors, eight generals and colonels, two interpreters, or Japanese, who can speak Dutch, and perhaps some little English, two physicians, and forty servants. Mr. Harris told them that American taste and etiquette are unlike Japanese, and that even our greatest men had no retinue; so large a suite would, therefore, in no measure contribute to the honor of the Commissioners, but probably, on the contrary, would be an annoyance and disadvantage to them. They informed Mr. Harris that they had struck off ten from the list, and we earnestly hope that there will be a still greater reductio ab absurdo (or "reduction to absurdity".)

Great inconveniences will of course be experienced by us in furnishing the necessary rooms and accommodations for so large an accession to our numbers, and especially when some will be of the highest rank, and therefore require special attention and conveniences; while all speak an unknown language, and are so unlike to ourselves in dress, in food and in manners. The Japanese, however, are distinguished for simplicity of manners, and simplicity with neatness in dress, and simplicity in diet; and we hope to make a pleasant voyage with them across the Pacific to Panama, where they will cross the Isthmus and take passage in a vessel provided by the Government. In the meantime we shall be making our way around the Horn, and hope for a pleasant reunion with our Japanese friends on our own soil. May our country prove to be as interesting to them as theirs has been to us.

Leaving Jeddo in a few days, we shall run down to Shanghai and Hong Kong, and having taken in coal and provisions, return to this port, and, making all the necessary arrangements for the accommodation of the Japanese dignitaries and attendants, be ready to take a last farewell of Japan and its unequaled scenery on Feb. 22, at the first gleam of morning. We now seek the rising and not the setting sun."

Examples of Edo Era Etiquette in Japan


One example of Edo-style etiquette advocated is kasa kashige (umbrella-leaning), the practice by people passing others on a narrow street to tilt their umbrellas slightly away from each other to avoid getting others wet.

The compassion demonstrated in kasa kashige is at the root of Edo shigusa. But it’s not about imposing a certain behavior on people. . . . It’s about having the mind to care for others . . . (to) show compassion for others.

The merchant practice of kobushi ukase, which refers to the behavior of moving over on a bench to make space for others.

Proponents believe these traditions, which are not documented on paper and have been handed down only verbally, were on the brink of extinction until a man known for his pseudonym Mitsuakira Shiba, whose background is little known but who, legend has it, was a descendant of an Edo merchant, started a campaign to restore the Edo Period practices in the 1970s, based on what he had heard from his grandfather.

Some say Edo-style etiquette is not backed up by historical evidence, and that teaching such behavior as if it were a part of the nation’s history may distort Japanese moral education, which includes teaching not to lie to others.

“Lessons of Edo shigusa are indeed ethically sound . . . but that doesn’t mean they can tell a lie,” or otherwise children may mistakenly consider lying is OK as long as it is good for people, said Minoru Harada, an author and independent researcher of pseudohistory.
Source ~ Japan Times



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