Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/281

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277
JAPANESE WRITING
JAPANESE WRITING
By E. W. SCRIPTURE, Ph.D., M.D.
NEW YORK CITY

SOME time ago a Japanese student handed me the following statement:

In Japan we aim at two distinct objects in giving instruction in writing. One is to teach the children the mode of writing ordinary characters, and to make them acquainted with the management of the brush. But we have another important object in teaching writing; in Japan it is regarded as one of the fine arts. Japan is a land of hero-worship. Nothing delights us more than the memory of great heroes and sages of the past. Every relic connected with them is cherished as a visible token of their great minds. We believe ourselves to be especially inspired and ennobled by their autographs. So the educated classes decorate what is set apart as the sacred part of the room—called "Tokonoma"—with such an autograph. We study the writings of eminent persons as a physiognomist would study the various expressions of human faces to know their inner characteristics. When we are trying to copy after an eminent writer we feel very much as we would when standing in front of a marble statue of a great man. Therefore we pay special attention to the posture of every limb of our body, and especially to the management of the brush, for we think we are in the presence of that hero himself. In that moment we concentrate our mind to direct all the energies of our body in a certain definite direction, in consequence of which our lower passions and appetites are extinguished as the dark clouds of night are dispersed by the radiance of the rising sun, and our spirits are freed from all the cares and anxieties of the present world and are wafted to the ideal region of highest felicity, where we commune with the holy spirits of the great heroes and sages. It was thought by the sages of old that by means of such a method of writing they could regulate the outward postures of their disciples and in consequence could discipline their inner spirits, So they counted the art of writing as one of the "Six Arts" by which they sought to edify man's character.

In Japan writing plays an important part in the social life of the people. On the second of January, on which day the work of the year begins, educated persons—especially the younger people—try their new brushes on specially prepared paper by writing sentiments in praise of nature and by expressing their wishes and hopes for the coming year. The Japanese give writing-parties just as we do lawn-parties and euchre-parties. At these gatherings the guests exhibit their best pieces of writing and receive prizes. Again, a piece of silk with an elegantly written sentiment serves as a highly acceptable wedding present. Even the walls of the rooms are decorated by writings in place of paintings.