Saturday, July 24, 2010

Vivekananda On Japan And India

Oriental Hotel
10th July 1893.

From Canton I returned to Hong Kong and from thence to Japan. The first port we touched was Nagasaki. We landed for a few hours and drove through the town. What a contrast! The Japanese are one of the cleanliest peoples on earth. Everything is neat and tidy. Their streets are nearly all broad, straight and regularly paved. Their little houses are cage-like, and their pine-covered evergreen little hills form the background of almost every town and village. The short-statured, fair-skinned, quaintly-dressed Japanese, their movements, attitudes, gestures, everything is picturesque. Japan is the land of the picturesque! Almost every house has a garden at the back, very nicely laid out according to Japanese fashion with small shrubs, grass-plots, small artificial waters, and small stone bridges.

From Nagasaki to Kobe. Here I gave up the steamer and took the land route to Yokohama, with a view to see the interior of Japan.

I have seen three big cities in the interior – Osaka, a great manufacturing town, Kyoto, the former capital, and Tokyo, the present capital. Tokyo is nearly twice the size of Calcutta with nearly double the population.

No foreigner is allowed to travel in the interior without a passport.

The Japanese seem now to have fully awakened themselves to the necessity of the present times. They have now a thoroughly organized army equipped with guns which one of their own officers has invented and which is said to be second to none. Then, they are continually increasing their navy. I have seen a tunnel nearly a mile long, bored by a Japanese engineer.

The match factories are simply a sight to see, and they are bent upon making everything they want they want in their own country. There is a Japanese line of streamers plying between China and Japan, which shortly intends running between Bombay and Yokohama.

I saw quite a lot of temples. In every temple there are some Sanskrit mantras written in Old Bengali characters. Only a few of the priests know Sanskrit. But they are an intelligent sect. The modern rage for progress has penetrated even the priesthood. I cannot write what I have in my mind about the Japanese in one short letter. Only I want that numbers of our young men should pay a visit to Japan and China every year. Especially to the Japanese, India is still the dreamland of everything high and good. And you, what are you? … talking twaddle all your lives, vain talkers, what are you? Come, see these people, and then go and hide your faces in shame. A race of dotards, you lose your caste if you come out! Sitting down these hundreds of years with an ever-increasing load of crystallized superstition on your heads, for hundreds of years spending all your energy upon discussing the touchableness of untouchableness of this food or that, with all humanity crushed out of you by the continuous social tyranny of ages – what are you? And what are you doing now? … promenading the sea-shores with books in your hands – repeating undigested stray bits of European brainwork, and the whole soul bent upon getting a thirty rupee clerkship, or at best becoming a lawyer – the height of young India’s ambition – and every student with a whole brood of hungry children cackling at his heels and asking for bread! Is there not water enough in the sea to drown you, books, gowns, university diplomas, and all?

Come, be men! Kick out the priests who are always against progress, because they would never mend, their hearts would never become big. They are the offspring of centuries of superstition and tyranny. Root out priest craft first. Come, be men! Come out of your narrow holes and have a look abroad. See how nations are on the march! Do you love man? Do you love your country? Then come, let us struggle for higher and better things; look not back, no, not even if you see the dearest and nearest cry. Look not back, but forward!

Yours etc.,

PS: Calm and silent and steady work, and no newspaper humbug, no name-making, you must always remember.

※p. 246 ~248. “The Penguin Swami Vivekananda Reader,” edited by Makarand Paranjape.
Vivekananda has used the word “Japs” in two places. I have replaced it with “Japanese” since it has an offensive connotation as well.
This letter starts with Vivekananda’s description of China from where he went to Japan.
The letter ends with Vivekananda rebuking Indians and calling on his countrymen to build a great nation.

The following interview appeared in The Hindu on February 6, 1897. As the compiler of the book has aptly remarked, Vivekananda’s words, as reported by others, may not be as reliable a measure of his views as his own writings might be. But the reader does have the privilege to judge whether they are in sync with his thoughts by reading his own works with great care.

1. What did you see in Japan, and is there any chance of India following in the progressive steps of Japan?

Vivekananda: “None whatever, until all the three hundred millions of India combine together as a whole nation. The world has never seen such a patriotic and artistic race as the Japanese, and one special feature about them is this that while in Europe and elsewhere art generally goes to dirt, Japanese art is art plus absolute cleanliness. I would wish that every one of our young men could visit Japan once at least in his lifetime. It is very easy to go there. The Japanese think that everything Hindu is great and believe that India is a holy land. Japanese Buddhism is entirely different from what you see in Ceylon. It is the same as Vedanta. It is positive and theistic Buddhism, not the atheistic Buddhism of Ceylon.”

2. What is the key to Japan’s sudden greatness?

Vivekananda: “The faith of the Japanese in themselves, and their love for their country. When you have men who are ready to sacrifice their everything for their country, sincere to the backbone – when such men arise, India will become great in every respect. It is the men that make the country! What is there in the country? If you catch the social morality and the political morality of the Japanese, you will be as great as they are. The Japanese are ready to sacrifice everything for their country, and they have become a great people. But you are not; you sacrifice everything only for your own families and possessions.”

Not much seems to have changed, except that it is very expensive to go to Japan and, more so, stay there. I thank my lucky stars that I got a chance to study in this country that Vivekananda has described in such glowing terms.
※India is currently the largest recepient of the Japanese Official Development Assistance (financial aid).