(JAPANESE POLITICS and SOCIETY, to 1927 – continued)

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Cultural Influences from Abroad

Japan, like other nations in the world, had been influenced by others, while some were opposed to all that was foreign. The Constitution was worshipped by Japan's chauvinists as a thoroughly Japanese document, but it had been a part of Japan's Westernization. This Westernization had been consciously acquired in the last half of the nineteenth century, after warships of Western powers had demonstrated to the Japanese the superior military might of the West. The Westernization included industrialization advocated by Japan's oligarchy of Elder Statesmen, who had wanted to make Japan as powerful as any of the Western powers.

Late in the nineteenth century, Japan's aristocracy wished Japan to join the community of powerful nations, so they modified their culture. In addition to creating a constitutional government and creating the appearance of Western legal and political institutions, they segregated the sexes in public bathhouses, accommodating Western – and Christian – sensitivities in the matter of nakedness. And Japan's elite tried to imitate the West in sophistication and gaiety. They imported wines of various kinds, champagne, whiskey, brandy, gin and beer. The aristocracy held gatherings every Sunday evening, mixing with Western diplomats and their families to develop social graces that involved dancing and polite card games. Some of these aristocratic Japanese advocated intermarriage with Westerners in order to improve the Japanese biologically – despite the comparative hairiness and big noses of Westerners that seemed strange to the Japanese. But maybe they admired the Westerner's height and straight legs – at least some Japanese not realizing that bow-legs were caused by the manner in which the Japanese carried infants on their backs and that height was at least partly a function of diet. It was an age of Social Darwinism and much thought was given to genetic biology – without much understanding of genetics.

With time, feelings of inferiority vis-à-vis Westerners diminished. The pride that is natural to all people remained, along with vestiges from the past that made Japan different from the West. Japan still had reverence for those martial virtues that were common during the Middle Ages in Europe and in Japan. From Japan's Meiji era beginning in 1868, the Japanese had developed a new moral system and a strong sense of loyalty to the group, and Japan had a Confucian devotion to family hierarchy. Even large businesses and Japan's military were family in orientation. A company's chief executive or a company commander in the army took the role of the responsible father, bestowing paternalistic benevolence on his subordinates.

In Japan's rural areas cultural conservatism was especially strong, while with industrialization came numerous educated professionals: engineers, technicians and managers, educators, office workers and government employees. These city folks participated in a new culture that included newspapers, magazines, novels and non-fiction reading. City people acquired high school educations, and those who wanted to acquire professions attended universities. Japanese intellectuals were in contact with ideas that had been circulating in the West, including the humanities and science. In the 1920s Japan's city dwellers had Hollywood movies they could watch in large theaters. Western-style dancing was in vogue. Baseball, golf and tennis were popular. And by the mid-twenties many had radios or a phonograph.


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