Essays, letters, etc. written in
Japan between 1916 and 1920
and the War
You have asked me what I think of the feminist movement and what
will be the consequences of the present war for it.
of the first effects of the war has certainly been to give quite a new aspect
to the question. The futility of the perpetual oppositions between men and
women was at once made clearly apparent, and behind the conflict of the sexes,
only relating to exterior facts, the gravity of the circumstances allowed the
discovery of the always existent, if not always outwardly manifested fact, of
the real collaboration, of the true union of these two complementary halves of
Many men were surprised to see how easily
women could replace them in most of the posts they occupied before, and to
their surprise was added something of regret not to have found sooner a real
partner of their work and their struggles in her whom more often they had only
considered as an object of pleasure and distraction, or at best as the guardian
of their hearth and mother of their children. Certainly woman is that and to be
it well requires exceptional qualities, but she is not only that, as the
present circumstances have amply proved.
going to tend the wounded in the most difficult material conditions, actually
under the enemy's fire, the so-called weak sex has proved that its physical
energy and power of endurance were equal to those of man. But where, above all,
women have given proof of exceptional gifts is in their organising faculties.
These faculties of administration were recognised in them long ago by the Brahmanic India of before the Mohammedan
conquest. There is a popular adage there which says: “Property governed by
woman means prosperous property.” But in the Occident Semitic thought allied to
Roman legislation has... influenced customs too deeply for women to have the
opportunity of showing their capacity for organisation.
Page - 143
is true that in France one frequently sees the woman absolute
mistress of the administration of her house even from the pecuniary point of
view, and the proverbial riches of the French petite bourgeoisie proves that the system has a good side. It was
rare however to see the feminine faculties utilised to direct undertakings of
great importance, and until now the confidential posts of public administration
had always been closed to them. The present war has shown that in refusing the
co-operation of women the governments deprived themselves of precious help. I
will cite you an event as example.
few months after the outbreak of the war, when the Germans had almost entirely
occupied the Belgian territory, the inhabitants of the invaded regions were in
indescribable misery. Fortunately, thanks to the initiative of several rich
American men and women, a Society was founded to supply the most urgent needs
of the sorely tried populations. As the result of certain military operations a
fairly large group of small villages were suddenly deprived of all food. Famine
was imminent. The American Society sent a message to some similar English
Societies asking that five vans of the most indispensable supplies should be
dispatched immediately. These vans must reach their destination in three days.
The men to whom this request was addressed replied that it was quite impossible
to comply with it. Luckily a woman heard of the matter. It seemed terrible to
her that in such tragic circumstances one could use the word “impossible”. She
belonged to a group of women who aided the wounded and sufferers of the war.
Immediately they promised the American Society they would satisfy it and in
three days the numerous obstacles were overcome though some of the
difficulties, especially those concerning transport, seemed truly unsurmountable. A powerful organising mind, an ardent will,
had done the miracle: the provisions arrived in time and the dreadful misery of
famine was thus avoided.
This is not to say that only woman's
exceptional qualities have been revealed by the present war. Her weaknesses,
Page - 144
faults, her pettiness have also been given
the opportunity of display, and certainly if women wish to take the place they
claim in the governing of nations they must progress much further in the
mastery of self, the broadening of ideas and points of view, in intellectual
suppleness and oblivion of their sentimental preferences in order to become
worthy of the management of public affairs.
is certain that purely masculine politics have given proof of incapacity; they
have foundered too often in their search of strictly personal interest, and in
their arbitrary and violent action. Doubtless women's politics would bring
about a tendency to disinterestedness and more humanitarian solutions. But
unfortunately, in their present state, women in general are creatures of
passion and enthusiastic partisanship; they lack the reasoning calm that purely
intellectual activity gives; the latter is undoubtedly dangerous because hard
and cold and pitiless, nevertheless it is unquestionably useful to master the
overflow of sentiment which cannot hold a predominant place in the ruling of
These faults which would be serious if the
activity of women had to replace that of men, could form, on the contrary, by a
collaboration of the two sexes, an element of compensation for the opposite
faults of men. That would be the best means of leading them gradually to mutual
perfecting. To reduce the woman's part to solely interior and domestic occupations,
and the man's part to exclusively exterior and social occupations, thus
separating what should be united, would be to perpetuate the present sad state
of things, from which both are equally suffering. It is in front of the highest
duties and heaviest responsibilities that their respective qualities must unite
in a close and confident solidarity.
it not time that this hostile attitude of the two sexes facing one another as
irreconcilable adversaries should cease? A severe, a painful lesson is being
given to the nations. On the ruins piled up now, new constructions more
beautiful and more harmonious
Page - 145
can be erected. It is no longer the moment
for frail competitions and self-interested claims; all human beings, men or
women, must associate in a common effort to become conscious of the highest
ideal which asks to be realised and to work ardently for its realisation. The
question to be solved, the real question is then not only that of a better
utilisation of their outer activities, but above all that of an inner spiritual
growth. Without inner progress there is no possible outer progress.
Thus the problem of feminism, as all the
problems of the world, comes back to a spiritual problem. For the spiritual
reality is at the basis of all others; the divine world, the Dhammata of Buddhism, is the eternal foundation on which
are built all the other worlds. In regard to this Supreme Reality all are
equal, men and women, in rights and in duties; the only distinction which can
exist in this domain being based on the sincerity and ardour of aspiration, on
the constancy of the will. And it is in the recognition of this fundamental
spiritual equality that can be found the only serious and lasting solution for
this problem of the relation of the sexes. It is in this light that it must be
placed, it is at this height that must be sought the focus of action and new
life, around which will be constructed the future
temple of Humanity.
Page - 146
Woman and Man
Let us first take for granted that pride and impudence are always
ridiculous: only stupid and ignorant people are arrogant. As soon as a human
being is sufficiently enlightened to have a contact, however slight, with the
all-pervading mystery of the universe, he becomes necessarily humble.
Woman, by the very fact of her passivity,
having more easily than man the intuition of the Supreme Power at work in the
world, is more often, more naturally humble.
to base the fact of this humility on need is erroneous. Woman needs man not
more than man needs woman; or rather, more exactly, man and woman have an equal
need of one another.
Even in the mere material domain, there are as
many men who depend materially upon women as there are women who depend upon
men. If humility were a result of that dependency, then, in the first case, the
men ought to be humble and the women to have the authority.
Besides, to say that women should be humble
because it is thus that they please men, is also erroneous. It would lead one
to think that woman has been put on earth only for the purpose of giving
pleasure to man – which is absurd.
the universe has been created to express the Divine Power, and human beings,
men or women, have for special mission to become conscious of and to manifest
that Eternal Divine Essence. Such is their object and none other. And if they
knew and remembered that more often, men and women would cease to think of
petty quarrels about priority or authority; they would not see a greater mark
of respect in the fact of being served than of serving, for all would consider
themselves equally as servitors of the Divine, and would make it their honour
to serve ever more and ever better.
Page - 147
You ask me for my impressions about Japan. To write on Japan is a difficult task; so many things have
been already written, so many silly things also… but these more on the people
than on their country. For the country is so wonderful, picturesque,
many-sided, unexpected, charming, wild or sweet; it is in its appearance so
much a synthesis of all the other countries of the world, from the tropical to
the arctic, that no artistic eye can remain indifferent to it. I believe many
excellent descriptions have been given of Japan; I shall not then attempt to add mine,
which would certainly be far less interesting. But the people of Japan have, in general, been misunderstood and
misinterpreted, and on that subject something worth saying remains to be said.
most cases foreigners come in touch with that part of the Japanese people which
has been spoiled by foreigners, – a Japan of money-makers and imitators of the
West; obviously they have proved very clever imitators, and you can easily find
here a great many of those things which make the West hateful. If we judge Japan by her statesmen, her politicians and her
businessmen, we shall find her a country very much like one of the Powers of
Europe, though she possesses the vitality and concentrated energies of a nation
which has not yet reached its zenith.
That energy is one of the most interesting
features of Japan. It is visible everywhere, in everyone;
the old and the young, the workmen, the women, the children, the students, all,
save perhaps the “new rich”, display in their daily life the most wonderful
storage of concentrated energy. With their perfect love for nature and beauty,
this accumulated strength is, perhaps, the most distinctive and widely spread
characteristic of the Japanese. That is what you may observe as soon as you
reach that land of the Rising Sun where so many people and so many treasures
Page - 148
are gathered in a narrow island.
if you have – as we have had – the privilege of coming in contact with the true
Japanese, those who kept untouched the righteousness and bravery of the ancient
Samurai, then you can understand what in truth is Japan, you can seize the secret of her force.
They know how to remain silent; and though they are possessed of the most acute
sensitiveness, they are, among the people I have met, those who express it the
least. A friend here can give his life with the greatest simplicity to save
yours, though he never told you before he loved you in such a profound and
unselfish way. Indeed he had not even told you that he had loved you at all.
And if you were not able to read the heart behind the appearances, you would
have seen only a very exquisite courtesy which leaves little room for the
expression of spontaneous feelings. Nevertheless the feelings are there, all
the stronger perhaps because of the lack of outward manifestation; and if an opportunity
presents itself, through an act, very modest and veiled sometimes, you suddenly
discover depths of affection.
This is specifically Japanese; among the
nations of the world, the true Japanese – those who have not become westernized
– are perhaps the least selfish. And this unselfishness is not the privilege of
the well-educated, the learned or the religious people; in all social ranks you
may find it. For here, with the exception of some popular and exceedingly
pretty festivals, religion is not a rite or a cult, it is a daily life of
abnegation, obedience, self-sacrifice.
Japanese are taught from their infancy that life is duty and not pleasure. They
accept that duty – so often hard and painful – with passive submission. They
are not tormented by the idea of making themselves happy. It gives to the life
of the whole country a very remarkable self-constraint, but no joyful and free
expansion; it creates an atmosphere of tension and effort, of mental and
nervous strain, not of spiritual peace like that which can be felt in India, for instance. Indeed, nothing in
Page - 149
Japan can be compared to the pure divine
atmosphere which pervades India and makes of her such a unique and precious
country; not even in the temples and the sacred monasteries always so wonderfully
situated, sometimes on the summit of a high mountain covered with huge cedar
trees, difficult to reach, far from the world below...Exterior calm, rest and
silence are there, but not that blissful sense of the infinite which comes from
a living nearness to the Unique. True, here all speaks to the eyes and mind of
unity – unity of God with man, unity of man with Nature, unity of man with man.
But this unity is very little felt and lived. Certainly the Japanese have a
highly developed sense of generous hospitality, reciprocal help, mutual
support; but in their feelings, their thoughts, their actions in general, they
are among the most individualist, the most separatist people. For them the form
is predominant, the form is attractive. It is suggestive too, it speaks of some
deeper harmony or truth, of some law of nature or life. Each form, each act is
symbolical, from the arrangement of the gardens and the houses to the famous
tea ceremony. And sometimes in a very simple and usual thing you discover a
symbol, deep, elaborated, willed, that most of the people know and understand;
but it is an exterior and learnt knowledge – a tradition, it is not living
truth coming from the depth of spiritual experience, enlightening heart and
mind. Japan is essentially the country of sensations;
she lives through her eyes. Beauty rules over her as an uncontested master; and
all her atmosphere incites to mental and vital activity, study, observation,
progress, effort, not to silent and blissful contemplation. But behind this activity
stands a high aspiration which the future of her people will reveal.
Page - 150
In my last letter¹ I spoke of the sense of duty which gave to the
Japanese people a great self-constraint, but no joyful and free expansion. I
must make an exception to this rule and this exception is in favour of the
could quite well call Japan the paradise of children – in no other
country have I seen them so free and so happy. After months of residence in Japan I have yet never seen a child beaten by a
grown-up person. They are treated as if all the parents were conscious that the
children are the promise and the glory of the future. And a wonderful thing is
that, environed by so much attention, so much care, – indeed, such a devotion,
they are the most reasonable, good and serious children I have ever met. When
they are babies, tied up in an amusing fashion on their mothers' backs, with
their wide open black eyes they seem to consider life with gravity and to have
already opinions on the things they look at. You scarcely hear a child cry.
When, for instance, he has hurt himself and the tears burst out of his eyes,
the mother or the father has but to say a few words in a low voice, and the
sorrow seems to be swept away. What are those magic words which enable children
to be so reasonable? Very simple indeed: “Are you not a Samurai?” And this
question is sufficient for the child to call to him all his energy and to
overcome his weakness.
the streets you see hundreds of children, in their charming bright “kimono”,² playing freely, in spite of
the “kuruma”³ and the bicycles, at
the most inventive and picturesque games, pleased with little, singing and
When older, but still very young, you may see
them in the tram cars, dressed with foreign clothes, the student cap on the
word applied to many vehicles, here probably a carriage or a rickshaw
Page - 151
head, the knapsack on the back, proud of
their importance, still prouder at the idea of all they are learning and will
learn. For they love their studies and are the most earnest students. They
never miss an opportunity of adding something to their growing knowledge; and
when the work for the school leaves them some liberty they occupy it in reading
books. The young Japanese seem to have a real passion for books. In
Tokyo one of the main streets is nearly
entirely occupied by secondhand book-sellers. From
the beginning to the end of the year these shops are full of students, and it
is not often novels they are seeking for!
They are, as a rule, very anxious to learn
foreign languages and when they come to meet foreigners, though they are in
general very timid, they make use of that acquaintance as much as they can to…¹
A country where such are the children and
so they are treated is a country still ascending the steps of progress and of
This sentence was left incomplete.
Page - 152