Marquis Oyama and His Wife

Our Oriental ethics regards it as the highest etiquette to resign your post (whatever it be) when you have created a certain glory in it, and give the younger people a chance.  In that respect Field Marshal Oyama is a perfect model.  He gave up his place as Chief of the General Staff to General Baron Kodama, who was promoted to the rank of Viscount.  Viscount Kodama's high soldierly qualities as well as his comprehensive command of the science of war, so thoroughly tested during the late campaign, mark him out as eminently fitted to the position.  "What a hasty retirement," we all exclaimed, when we heard the news.  Today Marquis Oyama is a private citizen.  There, among the high standing personages, nobody can come near to him in simplicity.  His simplicity is that of the Shinto religion, white in body and soul, without a bit of showiness and pride.  He believes in equality as Walt Whitman did, who sang that woman is just as good as man.  Marquis Oyama would say that to be an umbrella-mender is as great as to be the Chief of the General Staff.  You will see him quite often any evening or morning in the streets of the Akasaka district of Tokyo (his home is in the part we call Aoyama, the literal meaning of which is Green Hill), with a stick in his hand, and smiling largely to everybody.  His appearance is joyousness and comradeship.  Later you will see him quietly disappearing into a certain unostentatious house half in European style, half in Japanese.  You would never believe it to be the dwelling of such a great man in the world's eye, if you did not encounter a sign of Iwao Oyama at the gate.  Once he said with his usual laughter: "Today I have no enemy, and I swear to God that I will not make anybody unhappy,—excepting, alas, my men servants.  I am an early riser, and they are obliged to leave their beds earlier than in those days when I ws absent in the campaign."  In truth, he gets up at five every morning and takes a cold bath and a happy morning walk.  "With a bath, with a short walk, and with the companionship of my wife, I am perfectly happy," he proclaims.  His wife?  There is no woman in Japan more bright and sympathetic than the marchioness.  She is accomplished in every line, and she is even a fine cook.  It is said that she usually prepares the supper, or she directs its preparation.  The Marquis' face beams happily when supper is cooked by the marchioness.  And he is perfectly contented with his beautiful daughter.  She is his pride and joy.  I never saw such a silent man as Marquis Oyama, but his stillness is not difficult to bear.  On the contrary, it is a quiet entertainment without a word.  His silence tells you about his own nature and temperament more than words.  If there is anything he hates in this world it is nothing but publicity.  He begged me not to write him up, and foolishly I promised him so.  "But my wife is slightly touched with a woman's vanity, and she was educated in America.  She may not mind it," he said laughingly.
    Am I going to write about the Marchioness?  To write about her and her family means to write up the Marquis whose sweet and largely quiet atmosphere make the home comfortable and sweet.  He is a gold idol to which his whole family burn incense and read the sutra.  He is silent like the Buddha idol, but his light and influence spread in the family like the idol's in the temple.  He is all in all to them.
    It was during the last days of the recent war that I asked the wife of Field Marshal Oyama if she sometimes heard from her husband at the front.  She replied: "I should be very sorry if he were thinking of his own family at this time and not wholly of the country.  His soul and body are not mine while he is at the front, but the Emperor's and the country's.  He carries a great responsibility upon his shoulders and he is completely devoted to his country.  I may say I hear from him occasionally, but I never complain if he does not write me at all.  I pray only that he make a safe return and bring much glory to Japan!"  Could anything more eloquently express the spirit of the women of Japan than this utterance of the wife of her greatest soldier?  But today I am happy thinking that Marquis Oyama belongs only to the marchioness, and especially so since he retired from official life.
    The Marchioness Oyama is the leading figure among the Japanese women today.  Having been educated in America—at Vassar—she speaks English fluently, and French and German as well.  She is cordial in manner and sweet in nature, having lost none of the genuine Japanese temperament in the process of her Americanization, if it might be so spoken of.  She is an expert horse-woman and a good swimmer.  She is fond of scientific studies, and has made more or less of a specialty of botany and zoology, as well as of languages.  Shakespeare is her constant companion. Aside from her high social position as the wife of our famous field marshall, her own family is a most distinguished one.  Her brother, Kenjiro Yamakawa, was the late president of the Imperial University.  Her eldest brother was the late Major-General Yamakawa.  One sister is the superintendent of the HIgher Normal School for Women, one is the wife of Judge Yamagawa, and two are officers in the Imperial household department.
    The Marchioness Oyama is the intellectual and social leader of Tokyo, and that means Japan.  Her drawing room is a famous salon, often spoken of as a veritable "pilgrim's shrine" where courteous homage must first be offered before any foreigner can be admitted into the polite society of Tokyo.  An introduction to the marchioness, and from the marchioness, is essential.  (By the way she made a success of the gathering, last summer, in honor of Mr. Carl Young Rice and his famous wife, Mrs. Rice of "Cabbage Patch" fame.[*]  They were in Tokyo on their Oriental journey.  Dr. Nitobe and his wife invited people to hear Mrs. Rice read in his house.  I made presence there too.)
    In her Aoyama home there is nothing greatly luxurious or lordly in its furnishings, but good breeding is apparent at the first [<440] breath.  Afternoon tea there is a delightful hour.  The young daughter of the house always graciously assists her mother in the entertainment of the many guests.  She is a charming young woman, tall, for a Japanese girl, very white and fair of complexion, with a most entrancing smile, and a pleasing sense of humor.  She is keen in mind—almost as clever as her mother.  The marchioness has herself superintended her daughter's education, selected her books, and greatly discriminated among her friends.  As English is the language of the field marshal's home, the daughter is a fine English scholar.
    I had been admitted to the sitting room on the second floor of this agreeable household, where the marchioness and her daughter were receiving.  Mme. de Freitas had just left.  The marchioness was seated comfortably upon a sofa—an American sofa.  (There is such a furniture in Japan.)  We laughingly referred to Americanization."
    "I dare say I must have some American blood in me," exclaimed the marchioness.  "I am so fond of America and American ways.  How I wish to visit there again!  But perhaps that dream may never be realized.  The American cities, New York and Boston and Chicago, how they must have changed!  Why, when I left America, Forty-second street in New York, there where I once lived, where the great railroad station now stands, was quite a remote place, and I am told that the center of New York is moving far up town.  It is a tremendous country, that America!"
    "Do you think that the Japanese women will be speedily Americanized?" I asked her.
    "Yes, I believe so," the marchioness replied, "in the true meaning.  As you know, the government tried to adopt Americanization, but it failed somehow.  Many women actually thought that American dress and American food were all that was necessary to be Americanized!  They did not understand that they could be fully Americanized under the Japanese kimono and wearing the wooden clogs.  A true understanding is coming slowly, and as American women are, in my opinion, the best in the world, their graces will be surely appreciated as they are beginning to be here.  Spirit is the whole thing, and it will take some time yet to be truly Americanized."
    The daughter handed me a cup of tea—American tea—to my surprise, and the marchioness, passing into other channels of conversation, said: "The Russia-Japan war was not only the men's war, it was the women's as well.  Think what a sacrifice nearly every Japanese woman made at that time!  What patience and what patriotic devotion!  Yes, it was our war, too.  The Japanese men could fight leaving us behind.  We had to be brave as the men at the front, and our hearts and souls turned equally to our country's glory and success.  We are Samurai in a different form—the Samurai fighters and patriots.  Look at the mothers who sent their boys off to the war with smiles upon their faces.  Look at the wives who said they would be glad to receive the dead bodies of those they so loved, if they but died for their country.  Ah, the women had the harder lot to bear!  Furthermore, look at those princesses and the thousands of our noble ladies who worked in the hospitals and for the ill and wounded.  Never before in our history had the Japanese woman so fully expressed her worthiness and loyalty.  It has been said in Europe and also in America that the Japanese women are inferior to the men.  Are they?  Oh, no, never!  Simply the Japanese woman had never been properly understood.  Not until quite recent times has she been given an opportunity to show her characteristics, and to prove her own value and ability.  They were extremely happy to do their best for their country, and they are entitled to share in the glory and the honor.
    "Really, in some respects I am glad we had that war.  It marks an era for Japanese women.  Hereafter one will have chances.  Woman's real work may begin.  She will no longer serve as merely a household ornament.
    "Our model and inspiration, especially at that time, was our beloved Empress.  She appeared to us as a symbol of wisdom, benevolence, gentleness and chastity.  She is the Empress among Empresses.  We are happy to have her and to live under her shadow and become ennobled.  Yes, we Japanese women all look upon her, our great Empress, with devotion and love, as of a thousand Japanese mountains turning toward Holy Fuji with the divine white cap so far above us."
    The Marchioness Oyama has had a most interesting career.  She was born in the Aizu provinces, where the hardy warriors in our history come from.  Her father was a great Samurai, and her mother a beautiful woman and a model Japanese mother.  Upon the destruction of the feudal government their family was terribly impoverished.  The mother had disciplined all of her children well and instructed them nobly.  The marchioness learned the teaching of Confucius at a very early age, and I have been told that she was even obliged to work as a little child to earn a few cents.  She was only ten years old when she was sent to America.  She was chosen as the cleverest among a thousand little girls, and sent by the government to the United States to be educated.  That was in Meiji 4, that is, in 1871.
    There were two other little girls who shared in the distinction accorded the daughter of the Samurai.  One was Ume Tsuda, who has since become Japan's greatest woman educator.  The other is the wife of the celebrated Admiral Uriu.  They were in charge of Ambassador Owakura, who was the first ever sent to America.  The marchioness told me laughingly, and with an occasional tinge of sarcasm, how they were received in America, especially in Washington and New York.  It was an odd circumstance that one evening at the Author's Club in New York I heard the very story, from another point of view, from Edmund Clarence Stedman.  The marchioness was delighted to learn of what was said and to find that the gentleman who arranged the details of their reception, their hotel accommodations and a thousand other comforts was the famous American poet and man of letters.  "Why, I never dreamed it was he who did so much for us," the marchioness again exclaimed with pleasure.
    In Washington the little girls were put under the protection of the Japanese minister, the late Arinori Mori.  It was he who decided to separate the children, since they spent all day long only in singing and playing.  "And indeed, if we had stayed together, perhaps we should not have learned one English word," said the marchioness.
    She was sent to New Haven, Conn., to the Rev. Mr. Bacon's family.  In her nineteenth year she succeeded in entering Vassar.  At the same time her brother, the late president of the university, entered Yale.  He came once a week to visit his sister and to teach her Japanese.  In four years the marchioness graduated from Vassar with the highest honors.  She read the valedictory, and the subject of her essay was, "England's Policy Against Japan."  It won her tremendous applause.  It was commented upon in the newspapers and finally translated by the Japanese government.
    Such a subject for a girl's essay!  Without question she was ambitious, and at that time, America having some small misunderstanding with England, her essay was timely and suggestive.
    During her college life the marchioness always occupied the first place in her class and was the president of several clubs and societies.  She related laughingly to me how she once lost her nerve, and her speech with it, when asked to make an address before many persons, and she still considers it the most difficult thing to address a public assemblage.
    When the marchioness returned to Japan after her degree was conferred she did not know how to make even a Japanese kimono, but it did not take her long to learn.  She was married twenty-three years ago to Field Marshal Oyama, then a distinguished general and a mighty figure of Japan.  The late Marquis Saigo was the middleman at the marriage.  The alliance was at first considered unequal on account of the high rank and distinction of the general, but marquis Saigo insisted upon it, saying that the wisdom and culture of the brilliant young lady were the rarest things in the world.  So the marriage took place and has been a rarely happy one.  Marchioness Oyama is so practical, systematic and accomplished that she has made of the field marshal's home a place of comfort and delight.
    And I am sure she is a great fighter in life's battles, a good and brave fighter like her husband.  And she gained glory like Marquis Oyama.  As Joaquin Miller sang how was fought "The Bravest Battle":

"Nay, not with cannon or battle shot,
With sword or nobler pen;
Nay, not with eloquent word or thought,
From mouths of wonderful men.

But deep in a walled-up woman's heart—
Of woman that would not yield,
But patiently, silently bore her part—
Lo! there in that battlefield."

There Marchioness Oyama conquered.

  • National Magazine 26 (July 1907): 438-43.
  • Cale Young Rice (1872-1943), poet, author of Nirvana days (New York, Doubleday, Page & company, 1909)
  • Alice Hegan Rice (1870-1942), author of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1901), a "phenomenal success," novel set in a poor area of Louisville, Kentucky called "The Cabbage Patch."