Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation


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At what period it first became a mark of disrespect to betray, by look or gesture, any feeling of grief or pain in the presence of a superior, we cannot know. . . . But there was gradually developed . . . a most elaborate code of deportment which exacted very much more than impassiveness. It required not only that any sense of anger or pain should be denied all outward expression, but that the sufferer’s face and manner should indicate the contrary feeling. Sullen submission was an offense; mere impassive obedience inadequate; the proper degree of submission should manifest itself by a pleasant smile, and by a soft and happy tone of voice. The smile, however, was also regulated. One had to be careful about the quality of the smile. It was a mortal offense, for example, so to smile in addressing a superior, that the back teeth could be seen. In the military class especially this code of demeanor was ruthlessly enforced. Samurai women were required, like the women of Sparta, to show signs of joy on hearing that their husbands or sons had fallen in battle; to betray any natural feeling under the circumstances was a grave breach of decorum. . . .

What such discipline, as regards politeness, must have signified for the mass of the people, may be inferred from the enactment of Iyeyasu authorizing a Samurai to kill any person of the three inferior classes guilty of rudeness. Be it observed that Iyeyasu was careful to qualify the meaning of "rude": he said that the Japanese term for a rude fellow signified "an other-than-expected person"—so that to commit an offense worthy of death it was only necessary to act in an "unexpected manner"; that is to say, contrary to prescribed etiquette.1

The designation of the individual by a name is in its most general meaning no more than a form of the abstract process we have examined in language, where sounds are identified with objects and qualities, but in several ways the personal name becomes associated with character traits, kinship relations, and social ranking, and this will vary according to the feelings, concepts, and values which prevail or come to the front in different societies.

1Hearn, L.n/an/an/an/an/a, , 191–193 (The Macmillan Company. By permission).

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Chicago: Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed September 20, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QJGQ7F7JVEC4IRV.

MLA: . Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 20 Sep. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QJGQ7F7JVEC4IRV.

Harvard: , Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 20 September 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QJGQ7F7JVEC4IRV.