Third Millenniun Library
 

A HISTORY OF THE JAPANESE PEOPLE FROM THE EARLIEST TIMES TO THE END OF THE MEIJI ERA

CHAPTER VII

LANGUAGE AND PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

 

However numerous may have been the races that contributed originally to people Japan, the languages now spoken there are two only, Ainu and Japanese. They are altogether independent tongues. The former undoubtedly was the language of the Yemishi; the latter that of the Yamato. From north to south all sections of the Japanese nation—the Ainu of course excepted: use practically the same speech. Varieties of local dialects exist, but they show no traits of survival from different languages. On the contrary, in few countries of Japan’s magnitude does corresponding uniformity of speech prevail from end to end of the realm. It cannot reasonably be assumed that, during a period of some twenty-five centuries and in the face of steady extermination, the Yemishi preserved their language quite distinct from that of their conquerors, whereas the various languages spoken by the other races peopling the island were fused into a whole so homogeneous as to defy all attempts at differentiation. The more credible alternative is that from time immemorial the main elements of the Japanese nation belonged to the same race, and whatever they received from abroad by way of immigration became completely absorbed and assimilated in the course of centuries.

No diligent attempt has yet been made to trace the connection—if any exist—between the Ainu tongue and the languages of northeastern Asia, but geology, history, and archaeology suffice to indicate that the Yemishi reached Japan at the outset from Siberia. The testimony of these three sources is by no means. so explicit in the case of the Yamato, and we have to consider whether the language itself does not furnish some better guide. “Excepting the twin sister tongue spoken in the Ryukyu Islands”, writes Professor Chamberlain, “the Japanese language has no kindred, and its classification under any of the recognized linguistic families remains doubtful. In structure, though not to any appreciable extent in vocabulary, it closely resembles Korean, and both it and Korean may possibly be related to Mongol and to Manchu, and might therefore lay claim to be included in the so-called ‘Altaic group’. In any case, Japanese is what philologists call an agglutinative tongue; that is to say, it builds up its words and grammatical forms by means of suffixes loosely soldered to the root or stem, which is invariable”.

This, written in 1905, has been supplemented by the ampler researches of Professor S. Kanazawa, who adduces such striking evidences of similarity between the languages of Japan and Korea that one is almost compelled to admit the original identity of the two. There are no such affinities between Japanese and Chinese. Japan has borrowed largely, very largely, from China. It could scarcely have been otherwise. For whereas the Japanese language in its original form—a form which differs almost as much from its modern offspring as does Italian from Latin—has little capacity for expansion, Chinese is the most potential of all known tongues in that respect. Chinese may be said to consist of a vast number of monosyllables, each expressed by a different ideograph, each having a distinct significance, and each capable of combination and permutation, with one or more of the others, by which combinations and permutations disyllabic and trisyllabic words are obtained representing every conceivable shade of meaning.          

It is owing to this wonderful elasticity that Japan, when suddenly confronted by foreign arts and sciences, soon succeeded in building up for herself a vocabulary containing all the new terms and containing them in self-explaining forms. Thus ‘railway’ is expressed by tetsu-do, which consists of the two monosyllables tetsu (iron) and do (way); ‘chemistry’ by kagaku, or the learning (gaku) of changes (ka); ‘torpedo’ by suirai, or water (sui) thunder (rai); and each of the component monosyllables being written with an ideograph which conveys its own meaning, the student has a term not only appropriate but also instructive. Hundreds of such words have been manufactured in Japan during the past half-century to equip men for the study of Western learning, and the same process, though on a very much smaller scale, had been going on continuously for many centuries, so that the Japanese language has come to embody a very large number of Chinese words, though they are not pronounced as the Chinese pronounce the corresponding ideographs.

Yet in spite of this intimate relation, re-enforced as it is by a common script, the two languages remain radically distinct; whereas between Japanese and Korean the resemblance of structure and accidence amounts almost to identity. Japanese philologists allege that no affinity can be traced between their language and the tongues of the Malay, the South Sea islanders, the natives of America and Africa, or the Eskimo, whereas they do find that their language bears a distinct resemblance to Manchu, Persian, and Turkish. Some go so far as to assert that Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit are nearer to Japanese than they are to any European language. These questions await fuller investigation.

 

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF RACES

 

The Japanese are of distinctly small stature. The average height of the man is 160 centimetres (5 feet 3,1/5 inches) and that of the woman 147 centimetres (4 feet 10 inches). They are thus smaller than any European race, the only Occidentals over whom they possess an advantage in this respect being the inhabitants of two Italian provinces. Their neighbors, the Chinese and the Koreans, are taller, the average height of the northern Chinese being 168 centimetres (5 feet 7 inches), and that of the Koreans 164 centimetres (5 feet 5,1/5 inches). Nevertheless, Professor Dr. Baelz, the most eminent authority on this subject, avers that “the three great nations of eastern Asia are essentially of the same race”, and that observers who consider them to be distinct have been misled by external appearances”. He adds: “Having made a special study of the race question in eastern Asia, I can assert that comity of face in general is clearly proved by the anatomical qualities of the body. In any case the difference between them is much smaller than that between the inhabitants of northern and southern Europe”.

The marked differences in height, noted above, do not invalidate this dictum: they show merely that the Asiatic yellow race has several subdivisions. Among these subdivisions the more important are the Manchu-Korean type, the Mongol proper, the Malay; and the Ainu. To the first, namely the Manchu-Korean, which predominates in north China and in Korea, Baelz assigns the higher classes in Japan; that is to say, the men regarded as descendants of the Yamato. They have “slender, elegant, and often tall figures, elongated faces with not very prominent cheek-bones, more on less slanting eyes, aquiline noses, large upper teeth, receding chins, long slender necks, harrow chests, long trunks, thin limbs, and often long fingers, while the hair on the face and body is scarce”. Dr. Munro, however, another eminent authority, holds that, “judging from the Caucasian and often Semitic physiognomy seen in the aristocratic type of Japanese, the Yamato were mainly of Caucasic, perhaps Iranian, origin. These were the warriors, the conquerors of Japan, and afterwards the aristocracy, modified to some extent by mingling with a Mongoloid rank and file, and by a considerable addition of Ainu”. He remarks that a white skin was the ideal of the Yamato, as is proved by their ancient poetry.

As for the Mongol-proper type, which is seen in the lower classes and even then not very frequently, its representative is squarely built, and has prominent cheek-bones, oblique eyes, a more or less flat nose with a large mouth. The Malay type is much commoner. Its characteristics are small stature, good and sometimes square build, a face round or angular, prominent cheek-bones, large horizontal eyes, a weak chin, a short neck, broad well-developed chest, short legs, and small delicate hands. As for the Ainu type, Dr. Baelz finds it astonishing that they have left so little trace in the Japanese nation; “Yet those who have studied the pure Ainu closely will observe, particularly in the northern provinces, a not insignificant number of individuals bearing the marks of Ainu blood. The most important marks are: a short, thickly set body; prominent bones, with bushy hair, round deep-set eyes with long divergent lashes, a straight nose, and a large quantity of hair on the face and body—all qualities which bring the Ainu much nearer to the European than to the Japanese proper”.

 

GENERAL PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

 

In addition to physical characteristics which indicate distinctions of race among the inhabitants of Japan, there are peculiarities common to a majority of the nation at large. One of these is an abnormally large head. In the typical European the height of the head is less than one-seventh of the stature and in Englishmen it is often one-eighth. In the Japanese is it appreciably more than one-seventh. Something of this may be attributed to smallness of stature, but such an explanation is only partial.

Shortness of legs in relation to the trunk is another marked feature. Long or short legs are mainly racial in origin. Thus in Europe, the northern, or Teutonic race—namely Anglo-Saxons, North Germans, Swedes, and Danes—are tall, long-legged, and small-headed, while the Alpine, or central European race are short of stature, have short legs and large heads with short necks, thus resembling the Mongolian race in general, with which it was probably originally connected.

 In the Japanese face, too, there are some striking points. The first is in the osseous cavity of the eyeball and in the skin round, the eye. The socket of the Japanese eye is comparatively small and shallow, and the osseous ridges at the brows being little marked, the eye is less deeply set than in the European.  Seen in profile, forehead and upper lid often form one unbroken line.  Then the shape of the eye proper, as modeled by the lids, shows a most striking difference between the European and the Mongolian races; the open eye being almost invariably horizontal in the former but very often oblique in the latter on account of the higher level of the outer corner.  But even apart from obliqueness the shape of the corner is peculiar in the Mongolian eye. The inner corner is partly or entirely covered by a fold of the upper lid continuing more or less into the lower lid. This fold, which has been called the Mongolian fold, often also covers the whole, free rim of the upper lid, so that the insertion of the eyelashes is hidden. When the fold takes an upward direction towards the outer corner the latter is a good deal higher than the inner corner, and the result is the obliqueness mentioned above. The eyelashes are shorter and sparser than in the European, and whereas in the European the lashes of the upper and the lower lid diverge, so that their free ends are farther distant than their roots, in the Japanese eye they converge, the free ends being nearer together than the insertions. Then again in the lower class the cheek-bones are large and prominent; making the face look flat and broad, while in the higher classes narrow and elongated face are quite common.   Finally, the Japanese is less hairy than the European, and the hair of the beard is usually straight.

 

JAPANESE ETHNOLOGISTS

 

It may well be supposed that the problem of their nation’s origin has occupied much attention among the Japanese, and that their ethnologists have arrived at more or less definite conclusions. The outlines of their ideas are that one of the great waves of emigration which, in a remote age emerged from the cradle of the human race in central Asia, made its way eastward with a constantly expanding front, and, sweeping up the Tarim basin, emerged in the region of the Yellow River and in Manchuria. These wanderers, being an agricultural, not a maritime race, did not contribute much to the peopling of the oversea-islands of Japan. But in a later—or an earlier—era, another exodus took place from the interior of Asia. It turned in a southerly direction through India, and coasting along the southern seaboard, reached the southeastern region of China; whence, using as stepping-stones the chain of islands that festoon eastern Asia, it made its way ultimately to Korea and Japan.

Anterior to both of these movements another race, the Neolithic Yemishi of the shell-heaps, had pushed down from the northeastern regions of Korea or from the Amur valley, and peopled the northern half of Japan. The Korean peninsula, known in Chinese records as Han, appears in the form of three kingdoms at the earliest date of its historical mention; they were Sin-Han and Pyon-Han on the east and Ma-Han on the West. The northeastern portion, from the present Won-san to Vladivostok, bore the name of Yoso, which is supposed to have been the original of Yezo, the Yoso region thus constituting the cradle of the Yemishi race.

Japanese ethnologists interpret the ancient annals as pointing to very close intercourse between Japan and Korea in early days, and regard this as confining the theory stated above as to the provenance of the Yamato race. Con­nection with the colonists of northern China was soon established via Manchuria, and this fact may account for some of the similarities between the civilization as well as the legends of the Yamato and those of Europe, since there is evidence that the Greeks and Romans had some hazy knowledge of China, and that the Chinese had a similarly vague knowledge of the Roman Empire, possibly through commercial relations in the second century bc.

The first mention Of Japan in Chinese records is contained in a book called Shan-hai-ching, which states that “the northern and southern Wo were subject to the kingdom of Yen”. Yen was in the modern province of Pechili. It existed as an independent kingdom from 1122 to 265 b.c. That the inhabitants of Japan were at any time subject to Yen is highly improbable, but that they were tributaries is not unlikely. In other words, intercourse between Japan and northern China was established in remote times via the Korean peninsula, and people from Japan, travelling by this route carried presents to the Court of Yen, a procedure which, in Chinese eye’s constituted an acknowledgement of suzerainty. The northern and southern Wo were probably the kingdom of Yamato and that set up in Kyushu by Ninigi, a supposition which lends approximate confirmation to the date assigned by Japanese historians for the expedition of Jimmu Tenno. It is also recorded in the Chronicles of the Eastern Barbarians, a work of the Han dynasty (AD 25-221), that Sin-Han, one of the three Korean kingdoms, produced iron, and that Wo and Ma-Han, the western of these Korean kingdoms, traded in it and used it as currency. It is very possible that this was the iron used for manufacturing the ancient double-edged swords (tsurugi) and halberds of the Yamato, a hypotheses strengthened by the fact that the sword of Susanoo was called Orochi no Kara-suki, Kara being a Japanese name for Korea.