Baron Takamini

from And I’d Do It Again by Aimée Crocker

Fuji from Ojigoku (1892)

     Takamini was a man, a real one. Small, as are most Japanese, he was none the less the most perfect specimen of man I have ever seen. He was immensely rich (not that it mattered), politically and socially prominent, of old and noble family who were supposed to have descended from one of the last great Shoguns, and endowed with a singularly intense mind which had been developed at Yale, Heidelberg, and at the Sorbonne. He was a curious combination of Eastern and Western personality and culture. Furthermore, he was handsome as only an Oriental can be handsome.

     Baron Takamini showed me Japan. He revealed the East to me as no one else could have done. He initiated me into the strange cosmopolis that is Yokohama. Its different racial settlements, its dives, its secret places, the sad and curious places along the Bund where sailors of all nations try so hard to amuse themselves.

     But best of all he took me into the most remarkable capital in the world… Tokio… and made me understand his people.

     A thing that struck me and that I remember even to this very late day in my life, was the process of fusion. Not only the assimilation of European life and thought and methods by the Japanese, but the change that comes over Europeans and Americans who live long enough in that country.

     The first thing he did was to get me away from Tokio’s foreign colony. He rented a house for me in a suburb, and I must confess that there never was such a quaint, curious, and splendid house in the world.

     It had ten rooms and was built of bamboo and paper, and I had a bedroom… something I had always wanted… furnished completely in red lacquer. I had thirty servants, all trained and uniformed, and I began the life of a real Japanese aristocrat… rather more emancipated than any Japanese woman, but quite distinct from life in the foreign colony.

     And there the East poured in on me and filled my very marrow with its mysteries, its secrets, its old-world, oddly civilized way of thinking. My husband was not to return until several months later than he had planned, and I had an opportunity to study this beautiful, pink, hardy, human country of Japan such as is given to few Westerners.

Japanese color postcards 1890s

     I think what fascinated me most about the Japanese was their religious side, and their “bushido,” or knightly code, an almost poetic thing which calls to mind the days of knight-errantry, and King Arthur and his Round-Table knights. “Bushido” is the soul of Japan. It is the root of their far-famed politeness, their courtesy, their admirable self-control, their poise.

     But under it all is the deep religious fervor of the race. Christian missionaries have accused them of superficiality and sham, but Christian missionaries are wrong. Buddhists, Confucians, Shintoists, and even Christians, there is a richness of feeling and a reality of emotion in their worship of whatever-it-may-be that I, at least, have never seen equaled among peoples of the West, save, perhaps, among those called “uncivilized.”

     Buddhism and Confucianism I need not comment upon. But some idea of Shinto is worthy of mention.

In this philosophy, the world of the living is governed by the dead. The dead become gods, and every impulse, every act, every thought of man during life is the work of a god. It is, moreover, a simple code. It is scarcely a religion at all. It is partly a political conception. It runs under the Japanese thought, whatever other religious creeds the people profess. Its architecture is simple, cold, unornate. Its ceremonies are moderate and dry. And, because of it, the bodies of the Japanese are not buried, but cremated, in order that the souls which pass on may be unhampered by the clay of life.

     There were only 127,076 Shinto shrines in Japan in my day. There were also 71,730 temples to Buddha and 180,129 priests consecrated to the worship of that benign deity.

     It is worth thinking about.

     Another curious thing… a thing completely misunderstood by the well-meaning missionaries from America and Europe… is the intertwining of religious ceremony with the so-called “vice” of the country.


     My Baron once took me to the formal opening of one of the houses of vice. It was conducted seriously, like the laying of a corner stone in an American city, but with a religious ceremony as an incorporated part of it.

Japanese prostitutes, 1890s

     I wonder if this is really as shocking as the missionaries would have us believe? What I observed about vice in Japan is that it is not vicious. By that I mean that the government not only tolerates institutions of this sort, but finances them and licenses them. The girls who “work” in such places are often well-educated and are, except in the low dives run for and by foreigners along the waterfronts, seldom conscious of anything very wrong with their profession.

     There is an underlying idea which is fundamental. The fact of sex is a perfectly well accepted one in Japan. The sex act is known to be perfectly natural and normal prostitution is a profession which antedates any other in the world, for the reason that, like all true trades, there is a real need for it. There is little or no repression in Japan. Prostitution fills a want, and is therefore considered quite in order. The Japanese do not sentimentalize about these things. Their sophistication is as real as it is unconscious…