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  • "Chapter 16—Jones in Japan":from A World Search for Democracy (1937)
  • W. E. Burghardt Du Bois (bio)

1. Foreigners who visit Tokyo are vastly intrigued by its contrasts. It is at once a vast glamorous modern city of six human millions, and an endless village of paper houses and little shops and neighborhood life. Top-hats and kimonos; jinrickshas and flocks of bicycles; modern machines and ancient handwork—these incongruities strike Japanese even more than foreigners with a sense of fatal clash between old and new, East and West. For the honest foreigner knows that his land has the same contrasts, only the old has preserved less of beauty and use, and accumulated more of ugliness and menace. Contrast and contradiction spell civilization, are inevitable; the crucial question is how far the community is conscious of the paradoxes, and what loss and pain may or should accompany further progress.

2. Japan seems alive to this, sensitive and worried; western Europe takes Wealth and Poverty for granted, even when evinced by idleness, unemployment, sullen and blazing discontent, rags and diamonds. Perhaps I [End Page 257] exaggerate when I say this—it is such a temptation to exaggerate for purposes of perspective—but what I mean is that Japan seems more sensitive over less violent contrasts of income than London, Berlin, or New York. And I mean here not merely money income, but satisfactions. Japanese life appears attractive to the average Japanese. Perhaps much of suffering is concealed, perhaps much of discontent has been driven underground by harsh restrictive laws. Yet there is evident in Japan more of simplicity and beauty in life, more of simple joys widely shared, more of art among the multitude, than one sees in the West. There is not that sharp and insistent contrast between Enjoying and Enduring that pervades the West. One element in this content must be early marriage and family life. The sex-starved woman and sex-wild man are not so evident in Japan, because of early marriage and because of legal provision for sex life outside marriage. The family then, composed of persons not so contrasted in age as in Europe, is further integrated in pleasures, holidays, religion and work. Not dogma but Shinto, a simple ethic of family honor and national patriotism, is the realistic religion of Japan; while Work is an integrated national organization unexampled among industrial lands. Japan is a land organized for manufacturing goods for export, and raising crops for consumption except in the case of silk—which is a large and important exception. The price of rice then is the matter that enters into class discontent and had more to do with the abortive revolt of 1936, than anything else.1 Here the peasant-backed army and not the city proletariat attacked capital. The proletariat has potentialities for discontent, in long hours of work, work of women and children and low wage; but conditions of work are according to long custom, and the wage brings the Good life or enough of it still to satisfy. Beyond this the forces that make for endurance and content are foreign and not domestic: European aggression, Australian exclusion and American insult.

3. Japan went to manufacturing for profit. She not only manufactured with the cheap labor of Japan, but crossed the Yellow Sea and successfully demanded recognition as an exploiter of China. This was dangerous. What the Japanese do, sure the Chinese themselves with training and experience could also do. The Japanese expansion met double opposition: the bitter opposition [End Page 258] of Europe, whose prestige they were threatening, and whose whole system of world industry they were slowly but surely undermining; the bitter opposition of China, who beheld a kinsman and rival, aping the methods of the white oppressor, demanding territory and concessions and eventual leadership over inferiors—over China itself, whose civilization gave birth to Japan. This split between China and Japan was emphasized and furthered consciously and unconsciously and with every open and concealed weapon, by the white world, until China actually came to regard Japan as her real and main enemy and Europe and America as her friends—perhaps the most astonishing paradox of modern times...


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pp. 257-274
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