V

MR. OTANI AS HEARN’S LITERARY ASSISTANT*

 

*Mr. Masanobu Otani wrote about him in the Myojo, November 1904, and in "Bungo Koizumi Yakumo" (the Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Number) of the Teikoku Bungaku, also November, 1904,—the magazine of the literary society of the Imperial University; this article is a translation of some parts of those articles.

It was in September, 1896, (Meiji 29th) that we both entered the Imperial University of Tokyo; I was a student and Mr. Lafcadio Hearn as a lecturer on English literature, which study I was going to purse. I was the first caller in his temporary Tokyo house at Tatsuoka Cho of Hongo district, as he told me when I called on him on the 9th of the same month; and again I called on him on the 13th, and again on the 15th when he made me promise to become his literary assistant. (He who hitherto, since a day of September, 1890, had been my beloved teacher at Matsue, now became my patron.) I did not work much that year, but, if I remember rightly [106>] only one article on "The Student’s Life in Tokyo," and some translations from the shintaishi (new-styled poems) of Professors Toyama, Uyeda, Inouye and others, were my effort. It was decided from January of 1897 that I should present my study on the subject he wished every month; and "the Japanese Policeman’s Life" was the first subject I received. And the subject for February was "An Essay on the Lives of Priests and Nuns,—from the Time of Childhood. Suggestions: —Reason of Choice of a Religious Life—First Duties—Education—Range of Learning—Daily Duties—Observance of Vows, etc.—Probable Number of Priests and Nuns—Average of Life."

He wrote me under the date Feb. 26th, informing me of the subject for March, which was "A Collection of Poems of Students—(only Meiji of course)—and especially University Students." There were, at that time, not so many students poets of shintaishi, uta and hokku as to-day; I had no small difficulty in hunting up their works in college publications of city and provinces. He used only the seventeen-syllable hokku from my collections for his "Bits of Poetry" in "In Ghostly Japan." The May subject was announced in a [107>] letter again to be "A Collection of Japanese Proverbs containing Allusions to Buddhism." As there was no such work published, I made my best effort in the Uyeno and University libraries, and the result was better than I expected at first, and I even thought that I had collected all the proverbs in that line. Mr. Hearn was much pleased, and used the material for "Japanese Buddhist Proverbs" in his "In Ghostly Japan." The subject for June was about the short popular songs concerning the China-Japan war; but I do not know where he used my collection of those songs.

I returned home to the province of Izumo in July, where he wrote me that I should devote fully two months to investigating with my personal effort and inquiring of scholars on the following subject:

"Inscriptions and Sculptures in Buddhist Cemeteries

I—Inscriptions upon Sutpa.

A list of these inscriptions (1) in Chinese characters, separately;—(2) in Romaji under the Chinese characters;—(3) in literal English under the romaji;—(4) explanatory. (Some reference [108>] should be made to sect usage. Group if possible under respective sects—Shinshiu, Zenshiu, Tendai, Shingon, etc.)

II—Inscriptions upon Haka

Arrange similarly. Group by sects if possible.

III—Sculptures in Graveyards. "

I had read many a book upon the sutpa; and I made many calls to the priests of each sect; and I went around every graveyard in Matsue during one month. And the result which I presented to Mr. Hearn to his delight came to be used as the material for his "Literature of the Dead" in "Exotics and Retrospectives." The subject for September was the relation of Fuji Mountain and Shintoism; and my essay was utilized somewhere in "Fuji-no-yama" in the same book. And the subject for October was: "Singing-insects That are Kept in Cages. (What kind of music they make,—what they feed on,—what beliefs or traditions or poems refer to them,—what their capture and sale signifies in the small commerce of Tokyo, etc.)" From newspapers, books and my personal experience I gathered all the materials upon those insects; when my writing [109>] was presented to him, his pleasure was great; and he used it as the material for his "Insect-Musicians."

In November my work was to collect old childrens’ songs which he used for "Songs of Japanese Children" in "A Japanese Miscellany." "Poems on Cicadas and Frogs" was the subject for December. The materials for them were considerable, especially for frogs; I presented him also the translations of "Keichu Kushiu" and "Zoku Keichu Kushiu" edited by the hokku poet Roseki Mizouchi. He was delighted with my work on the subject; his study on Frogs in his "Exotics and Retrospectives" relied on it.

The subject for January, 1895, was "Poems on the Sound of Sea and wind." It was strange even to us that we have very few such poems; he was surprised about that, of course. "About Incenses and also the Poems on Them" was my February work which was used for his "Incense" in "In Ghostly Japan." I was given in March the subject of the deities and poems attached to a Japanese ink-stone (suzuri), which, however, was a failure as I could find nothing at all about the deities, and the poems, too, were extremely poor. The subject for April was the "Buddhistic Conception of Hell" and chiefly, a description of it; and I tried my best with it, but he did not make any use of my effort which, however, pleased him. He gave me the subject of "Kingio" (gold-fish) in May; and my June subject was the Horai (elysium) and its traditions and the conceptions of the ancient poets. The subject for July and August was "Folklore and Mythology of Japanese Plants." Chiefly he wanted the fruits which bore Buddhist and Shinto appellations, and besides, he wanted to have the flowers’ traditions, also, the animals, fishes and insects which bore Buddhist names. And if I had time enough, he said, I should write an "essay on ‘Ma’,—the spirits or goblins who are supposed to urge men to accomplish certain actions, etc." Relying on the encyclopedia-dictionaries like "Genkai" and others, I worked hard during my summer vacation; for his "Buddhist Names of Plants and Animals" in "A Japanese Miscellany" he made good utilization of my investigation. I received the subject of "Footprints of the Buddha" in September; from many Buddhist books, and with the help of two or three priests I could write a good enough article which did service for him to write the essay of the same title in "In Ghostly Japan."

October was spent collecting the Japanese ballads which he used for "Old Japanese Songs" in Shadowings; about Kanemaki Odori-uta, "Bell-wrapping-song" (page 83 of the same book) he wrote: "Replying to the note accompanying the translation of the ballads, I want to tell you that I found them very interesting. The ‘Bell-wrapping-song’ is an excellent specimen of a true ballad,—the best I have yet seen, with its curious burden of duplication and onomatopoeia . . . " The subject for November was poems on death and graveyards; and songs with refrains were for December. He wrote to me: "Your collection of poems this month interested me a great deal in a new way,— the songs separately make only a small appeal to the imagination, but the tone and feeling of the mass are most remarkable, and give me a number of new ideas about the character of the ‘folkwork’ . . . " It was on the 29th of the same month that I called on him at Tomihisa Cho, Ushigome district, and presented him with a gift from my mother, for which he wrote to me: "I think that a better present, or one which could give me sincere pleasure, [112>] will be received. It is a most curious thing, that strange texture,—and a most romantic thing also in its way,— seeing that the black speckling that runs through the whole wool is made by characters of letters or poems or other texts, written long ago. And I must assure you that I’ll always prize it—not only because I like it, but particularly because your mother wove it. I am going to have it made into a winter kimono for my own use, which I shall always wear, according to season, in my study room. Surely it is just the kind of texture which a man of letters ought to wear . . . " "Two most welcome gifts from a young poet of my literary class" (page 157 of "Shadowings") meant my mother’s present of the piece of wool and the collection of poems.

The January of 1899 was used to collect more songs with refrains, and also the popular love songs; and February and March were spent in translating the shingaku and Saibara, as his desire was chiefly for the ancient poems, except those of Manyo; and he used them for "Old Japanese Songs " in his "Shadowings." I received the subject of utai-drama for April; presented the translations of Yuya and the half of [113>] Dojoji. He wrote to me: "I had no idea, however, when I suggested the utai, of the enormous labor that would be required for a few these for Western readers. It will be very hard indeed to do it;—for the mere fact of the translation being done is only the faintest outline of the work. However, later on, I may try one specimen, and when you have leisure, I shall be glad to see the rest of the Dojoji piece. That Yuya would require, for an English reader, two pages of the clearly printed notes to every half page of the text. I fear that nobody would care to read a thing in that shape; yet, without a knowledge of every Buddhist allusion, the poetry of the composition should not be felt . . . " It is true that my translation could not succeed in making itself understood in spite of the great labor I had undergone. It is sad for literature, however, that he died without touching his marvelous hand to it.

I was asked in May to collect the Japanese women’s names according to their ethical and aesthetic relations. I had the lists of students of many girl’s schools; and besides, an essay on that subject was written by Mr. Tetsuo Okada in some philosophical magazine; when these helps I was able to write one article to my satisfaction, and he used the material I offered him for "Japanese Female Names," in his "Shadowings." My writing on Semi (cicada) in June was developed by his magic, and he put it in his "Shadowings" also. The month of July was time of my graduation from the University; and then I stopped working for him as his literary assistant. However, I was asked to work now and then after that, and I was only too glad to do any service for him. I confess that it was no easy task to study a new subject for each month, and to write it up in English which was far from my command; but aside from the material assistance he gave for my work, without which, in fact, I am sure I could not have finished my three years at the University, it was a great education in itself. He wrote me a few days before my graduation:

". . . I have gone somewhat into particulars, only because I want you to feel that you have really paid for your own education like a man, and have no obligation of any sort as far as I am concerned . . .  The work must have sometimes been tiresome. But the result to yourself have not been altogether bad."

I had numerous occasions to be deeply impressed [115>] by his depth of sympathy under which I always thought he was my spiritual comforter and encourager. Here I have a letter written by him when I was confined to a sick-bed in my boarding house more than one month; in part he said:

". . . A little bodily sickness may come to anybody. Many students die, many go mad, many do foolish things and sometimes ruin themselves for life. You are good at your studies, and mentally in sound health, and steady in your habits—three conditions which ought to mean success, unless you fail in them. That is not unfortunate."

"Finally, you have good eyes and a clear brain. How many thousand have to fail for want of these? You are certainly not unfortunate."

"When I was a boy of sixteen, although my blood-relations were—some of them—very rich, not one would pay anything to help me finish my education. I had to become what you never have had to become,—a servant. I partly lost my sight. I had two years of sickness in bed. I had no one to help me. Yet I was brought up in a rich home, surrounded with every luxury of Western life." [116>]

"So, my dear boy, do not lie there in your bed and fret, and try to persuade yourself that you are unfortunate. You are a lucky boy, and a pet, and likely to succeed in life . . . "

My thought of Mr. Hearn carried me back, at once, to his beloved Matsue of Izumo where he stepped first some time in the month of August 1890. It must have been his idea, of course, to begin his study of Japan and the Japanese in her oldest province, and so no hardship of travel daunted him; he looked forward to Matsue, "the chief city of the province of the gods" as he wrote afterward, with delightful anxiety and new hope. I do not know when he left Yokohama; but he told me that he had seen a Bon Odori at Shimoichi, following the highway of Tottori Kaido after leaving Okayama which he reached by a train; and he took, then, a steamboat from Yoneko of the Hoki province, seeing, at his right, the Miho no Seki promontory of the Shimane peninsula, and, at his left, the lovely view of the Sodeshi ga Ura coast; and when he crossed a sort of a sea, he was already in the stream of the Ohashigawa river by which Matsue is built. I remember that it was the 2nd of September when he appeared first in the school; [117>] from the day, I had the rare fortune to be put under his care as one of the students of the fourth year of the Middle School of Shimane Ken. He impressed us with his earnestness and sympathy; hitherto, we had only a slight acquaintance with a missionary, and we found such a pleasing change in him. He was patient to correct our English accent carefully; and he went minutely over our compositions, and it was our greatest joy that he wrote even a criticism on them. One of his earliest writings in my possession is a sort of criticism he wrote for my composition called "The Book," in which I said that there must be a book-maker to produce a book, and also, God to create the world. I further said that as the civilized Europeans are Christians, the country of non-believers of the Christian faith cannot be called civilized. Here is what he wrote on my composition:

"(1) This argument (called by Christians Paley’s Argument) is absurdly false. Because a book is made by a book-maker or a watch by a watch-maker, it does not follow at all that suns and world are made by an intelligent designer. We only know of books and watches as human productions. Even the substance of a book or a [118>] watch we do not know the nature of. What we do know logically is that Matter is eternal, and also the Power which shapes it and changes it. (2) Another false argument. At one time, the Greeks and the Egyptians, both highly civilized people, believed in different gods. Later, the Romans and the Greeks, although highly civilized, accepted a foreign belief. Later still, these civilized peoples were conquered by races of a different faith. The religion of Mohamet was at one time that of the highest civilization. At another time the religion of India was the religion of the highest civilization. It is very doubtful whether the civilization of a people has any connection, whatever, with their religion.—In Christian countries, moreover, the most learned men do not believe in Christianity; and the Christian religion is divided into countless sects, which detest each other. No European scientist of note,—no philosopher of high rank,—no really great man is a Christian in belief. "

No other teacher, I and sure, could take such pains for a slip of composition of a mere boy as I was then; he was most serious and painstaking for anything he undertook as in his literature. I believe that it was from his idea to draw out [119>] our thoughts and imaginations that he gave us such composition-subjects as "ghost," "peony," "fox," "cuckoo," "tortoise," "firefly," and others. Read page 460 and somewhere of "Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan," under the title of "From the Diary of a Teacher." The page 461 is about the conversation which I had with him in the class-room.

About that time, we invited him to a certain Buddhist temple of Tera Machi (Temple Street) when we had a musical entertainment. I could then play a Chinese instrument. He sat as we did from two o’clock until evening attentively; and we were surprised to see him not even palsied in his legs as any other foreigner would be after even a half hour’s experience. "Ojo and Batto" in the pages of "From the Diary of a Teacher" were the program of that day. He was a perfectly delightful personality to his friends, Hearn at Matsue; he tried to absorb, when off duty from his school, everything Japanese and strange; and he with his student boys made many little excursions almost everywhere about the city. And he never failed in attending any meeting or dinner party which his fellow-teachers happened to hold. The [120>] first two or three pages of a "Dancing Girl" of the same book were from a personal experience he enjoyed on one of those occasions. He made a visit to my house on the Setsubun night of 1891, and saw Oniyarai (Devil-be-out Feast) sitting in my study; and he used it for "Two Strange Festivals." He insisted on my accompanying him to his place (he was still staying at one of the Japanese hotels, not being married yet); and he thanked me offering me a glass of whisky.

As he wrote on page 443, I was collecting at hat time various of marine plants; it is true that I had no small interest in botany; and perhaps that was the reason he advised me to take up science as my study, or perhaps his sharp eye clearly saw then that I was unfitted to follow literature. However, against his advice, I glided into literature. I received his letter dated March 3rd 1894, when I was a student at the Kyoto Higher Middle School:

"I think you ought not to study what would not be of practical use to you in after-life. I am always glad to hear of a student studying engineering, architecture, medicine (if he has the particular moral character which medicine [121>] requires),—or any branch of applied science. I do not like to see all fine boys turning to the study of law, instead of to the study of science or technology. If you were my son, or brother, I would say to you, ‘Study science—study for a practical profession’………Suppose you were obliged suddenly to depend entirely on your own unassisted power to make money,—would it not then be necessary to do something practical? . . . Hundreds of students leave the university without any real profession, and without any practical ability to make themselves useful. All cannot become teachers, or lawyers, or clerks. They become soshi, or they become officials, or they do nothing of any consequence. Their whole education has been of no real use to them, because it has not been practical. Men can succeed in life only by their ability to do something, and three fourths of the university students can do nothing. Their education has been only ornamental . . . "

When I informed him afterward that I had put my name in the literature department upon removing to the Second Higher Middle School at Sendai, he wrote me again under date of March 8th 1895:

" . . . I am really sorry that you should not have taken a scientific course. Literature is a subject that you can study best outside of schools and colleges. But science is not. A scientific profession might enable you to do treat things for your country, and in any case it would make you practically independent. I cannot imagine that literature will eve be more than a pleasure to you. Even in England it is extremely difficult to live by literature, or to obtain distinction by it . . . "

And I found also the following words in his letter dated June 28th of the same year:

"Don’t forget at least to think about my advice to take a scientific course, if you can. The future is likely to offer so little to literary ability of any kind for another half century, that I fear literature cannot be of much use to you. Japan, for at least fifty years to come, must turn all her talents to practical matters,—even her arts. It will be like America before the present century. The practical man—botanist, chemist, engineer, architect, will always be independent . . . "

The 26th of October 1891 was Mr. Hearn’s last day of teaching at Matsue’s Jinjo Chugakko; we had a farewell banquet in his honor in the [123>] school hall. I read a farewell address in behalf of all the students as it was written in his "Sayonara" of "Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan." And every word of "Sayonara" is ture; in reading it the old sad day of parting with him returns to my mind again. He wrote: "And now, as I look at all these pleasant faces about me, I cannot but ask myself the question: ‘Could I have lived in the exercise of the same profession for the same length of time in any other country, and have enjoyed a similar unbroken experience of human goodness?’ From each and all of these I have received only kindness and courtesy. Not one has ever, even through inadvertence, addressed to me a single ungenerous word. As a teacher of more than five hundred boys and men, I have never even had my patience tried. I wonder if such an experience is possible only in Japan."

And further he wrote:

"Magical indeed the charm of this land, as of a land veritably haunted by gods: so lovely the spectral delicacy of its color,—so lovely the forms of its hills blending with the forms of its clouds,—so lovely, above all, those long trailings and bandings of mists which make its altitudes appear [124>] to hang in air. A land where sky and earth so strangely intermingle that what is reality may not be distinguished from what is illusion,—that all seems a mirage, about to vanish. For me, alas! it is about to vanish forever."

Indeed, when he left Matsue of the Izumo province, the dearest to him in all Japan, only next to St. Pierre of Martinique as he often remarked to me afterward, tin seems that his paradise was lost never to be regained.