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Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Description Of A Japanese State Funeral 1889

Despite me writing blogs on a computer and work related articles on a computer, I am very much a friend of the printed media, loving the tactile feel and smell of a book or magazine to the uncaring, nonsensual video screen.
Not only do I not have a personal hand-held device, I don't have a cell phone—and while I'm not proud of that fact, I'm not embarrassed by it either, as I see the value in it, but chose not to, at this juncture, to embrace it.
Even with this (smiley face emoticom implied), I still see the irony in promoting an on-line library for early American newspapers... but I also see - as I hope you do, as well, the importance of not letting the past slip away without learning anything from it.
So here! You don't have to sleep with it, just enjoy the passionate kiss of a library resource you can actually access to look things up from the comfort of your own digital device over at
Praise be the word of Vince.

This blog is a lot of things - probably too many to try and pigeonhole as to what it really is, except that I call it a resource for all things Japan. I might occasionally judge as I would be judged, but generally speaking, I just try and offer the most complete information possible on whatever damn topic seems to be striking my fancy at that given moment in time.

Speaking of time, I had another reader contact me looking for information on his 130-year-old clock, who though I might be able to help him after writing a few blogs on Japan's rise to current automation, with one blog focusing in on Japan's rather odd, yet unique method of telling time.

basically, it was part of a series of sort of related articles I decided to undertake for no reason than I was curious to see what I would write that would look at calendars, clocks, animatronics, robotics, animation and thermonuclear meltdowns. I think I succeeded, because I had at least one person write in asking me for advice like I was some sort of guru.

If you have the time, you can read about the old-school Japanese way of telling time HERE.

And since we are looking back, let's look back at a newspaper article pretty much long forgotten by history, and written by someone long since dead for a newspaper long since sent to its resting place.

In spite of that less than exciting introduction, I can offer you a well-written look at a side of Japan most gaijin (foreigners) will never think about while in Japan or even after they go back home... and yet, it's as important a part of life for a Japanese as life itself.    

A Letter From Japan - 1889
From the Northern Christian Advocate of Syracuse, New York, dated March 21, 1889 comes a letter from Japan. Obs Quies of Viscount Mori.

I had no idea what "Obs Quies of Viscount Mori" meant so I decided to look it up:

I believe it is Latin for 'funeral arrangements of Viscount Mori'.


Try Viscount Mori Arinori (森 有礼, born August 23, 1847 – died February 12, 1889), who  was a Japanese statesman, diplomat and founder of Japan's modern educational system.

What is interesting is the date of his death… February 12, 1889… but this letter published in this newspaper is dated March 21, 1889.

Owing to the slow speed of news not traveling fast, it is very possible that news of the Viscount's death had not yet reached the U.S.

Here's what I ripped from Wikipedia on him: 

He was the first Japanese ambassador to the United States, from 1871-1873. During his stay in the United States, he became very interested in western methods of education and western social institutions. On his return to Japan, he organized the Meirokusha, Japan's first modern intellectual society.
Mori was a member of the Meiji Enlightenment movement, and advocated freedom of religion, secular education, equal rights for women (except for voting), international law, and most drastically, the abandonment of the Japanese language in favor of English.
In 1875, he established the Shoho Koshujo (Japan's first commercial college), the predecessor of Hitotsubashi University. Thereafter, he successively served as ambassador to Qing Dynasty China, Senior Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, ambassador to Great Britain, member of Sanjiin (legislative advisory council) and Education Ministry official.
He was recruited by Itō Hirobumi to join the first cabinet as Minister of Education and continued in the same post under the Kuroda administration from 1886 to 1889. During this period, he enacted the "Mori Reforms" of Japan's education system, which included six years of compulsory, co-educational schooling, and the creation of high schools for training of a select elite. Under his leadership, the central ministry took greater control over school curriculum and emphasized Neo-Confucian morality and national loyalty in the lower schools while allowing some intellectual freedom in higher education.
He has been denounced by post-World War II liberals as a reactionary who was responsible for Japanese elitist and statist educational system, while he was equally condemned by his contemporaries as a radical who imposed unwanted westernization on Japanese society at the expense of Japanese culture and tradition, for example. He advocated the use of English. He was also a known Christian.[1]
Mori was stabbed by an ultranationalist on the very day of promulgation of the Meiji Constitution in 1889, and died the next day. The assassin was outraged by Mori's alleged failure to follow religious protocol during his visit to Ise Shrine two years earlier; for example, Mori was said to have not removed his shoes before entering and pushed aside a sacred veil with a walking stick.

Wow - that is pretty damn bad.

I can understand not knowing the rules and making mistakes, but the Viscount was born a Buddhist and converted to Christianity. His failure to follow the respectful rules of the Buddhist traditions is a slap in face—but hardly worth murdering over.

Anyhow, here's what I assume to be the last letter of Japanese observances by a dead man walking on the green mile.

A Letter From Japan - 1889
From the Northern Christian Advocate of Syracuse, New York, dated March 21, 1889 comes a letter from Japan. Obs Quies of Viscount Mori. 
One week ago to-day, while the people of this land were celebrating Kigen Setsu (day upon which the first emperor took the throne, the present one being the 121st) and were rejoicing over the giving of the new constitution, Viscount Mori, Minister of Education, and one of the most progressive men in the cabinet, was assassinated in Tokyo. The reason has not yet been made known, but it is supposed that it was on account of his favoring Christianity, as he had publicly said that the very best foreign teachers to be obtained were Christians, and acting upon the convictions underlying, this statement he had opened the way for many Christian teachers to secure and occupy prominent positions in the government schools. Furthermore Mr. Mori was a Christian himself. Whether this was the real cause of his death or not is yet to early to say.
In recognition of his services and as a tribute to his memory all the government schools are closed for a week. In addition to this, memorial services are being held in various parts of the empire. thinking that an account of the service held here last Saturday will be of interest in far-off America, I write the following. Public exercises were held in the P.M. on the Taiso (gymnastic) grounds of the Shihan Gokko (Normal School).
There were thousand of students present, and those of each grade, as normal, military, medical, commercial, academic, preparatory etc., were dressed in the regulation uniforms and were thus easily distinguished. They were arranged in the form of a hollow square, one side open, were all armed with guns and some knapsacks, and when they drilled made a fine appearance, giving evidence that they had ben carefully trained. The gymnastic teacher is an important part of every school in this land, mission schools included.
The services were especially interesting. As already noted, the late minister was a Christian, but that did not make any difference on this occasion, as all services of this kind are Shinto in deference to its being the old established religion. And yet, while called a religion, Shintoism is rather a patriotic

rather than a religious institution. The new constitution, given to the people the day that Mr. Mori was assassinated, declares religious freedom, and thet there will be a great change in the near future is now generally believed.
At the open side of the square pieces of white paper and some straws were suspended from a rope which was attached to four corner posts. From other posts small but very neat banners were floating. Within the inclosure there was a temporary table, high and narrow, upon which various kinds of Japanese food were displayed,—fish, lobsters, vegetables, rice cakes etc., the latter, called mochi, predominating. vases of bamboo containing paper flowers also stood upon this table. The priests, who were also the musicians, about a dozen in number, sat and stood, dressed in white flowing robes and wore hats made of something resembling hair cloth. The whole outfit was much like the Corean dress, and like it resembles the ancient Chinese costume. The musical instruments were wind rather than string and were of various patterns and sounds, but the music on the whole was quite entertaining, possibly however because of its novelty.
At the appointed hour the chief pries (judging from his dress), facing the offerings of food and with his back to the schools, read from a manuscript and then offered prayer, all the time clapping his hands and bowing reverently. Others followed in similar services, until one approached and waved before the table from right to left a large branch of Sakaki (the Cleryera japonica, sacred tree of the Shinto). This was covered with slips of white paper. At the same time a servant brought from an adjoining inclosure a quantity of smaller branches of the same kind and filled with paper in the same way. Representatives of the various schools then stepped up and read tributes to the memory to the great statesman, and then deposited one of the sprigs on a small stand in front of the one containing the articles of food. Thus in turn all the officials and teachers paid respects, only a few of them, however, reading. The service was simple, and yet the scene was quite brilliant. All the officers and teachers, and students as well, were dressed in regulation suits made after foreign style.
When this part of the service was concluded four trumpeters approached and played, or bugled, on foreign instruments as the various schools marched up in companies and gave the military salute. They made a very fine appearance. Take it all in, the service while very odd was quite interesting and one which we shall long remember.
This P/M/ the various mission schools of the city met in the chapel of our Cobleigh Seminary, so far as it would accommodate them, and united in services of a different character. I will give the program and you may note the contrast. One of the speakers is principal of the Commercial School of this city.
1. Singing, Japanese,
2. Scripture reading, Psa xc,
3. Prayer,
4. Singing, Japanese,
5. Circumstances of Mr. Mori's death, Mr. Matsuda Jokiehi,
6. Mr. Mori's life and work, Mr. Ikai Asajiro,
7. Singing, English,
8. Mr. Mori's attitude toward Christianity, Rev. J.C. Davison,
9. Singing, English,
10. A foreigner's view of Mr. Mori's life and work, Mr. H.V.S. Peeke,
11. Doxology and benediction.

Nagasaki, Japan, Feb. 18, 1889.

Point 2 above - that's Psalm 90, contained below for the hell of it:

King James Version (KJV)

1 Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.

2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.

3 Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.

4 For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.

5 Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.

6 In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.

7 For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.

8 Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.

9 For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.

10 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

11 Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.

12 So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

13 Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants.

14 O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

15 Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.

16 Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.

17 And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.    

Interesting stuff, eh? We get a bit of flavor of what a Japanese state funeral is like, plus you also learned a bit more about Japan's volatile early years of the Meiji restoration after centuries of closed door foreign policy and rule by a warlord shogunate.

And you got even more evidence that I can turn a simple story into something sooooo much longer (and better).

Andrew Joseph

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