Another Great Japanese Talks: Kijuro Shidehara of Japan

  1. Another Great Japanese Talks

Baron Shidehara, Foreign Minister of Japan, received me with friendly dignity in his beautiful private room at the Foreign Office in Tokyo. He advanced from his desk to meet me and shook hands firmly.

“I am glad to see you,” said he, smiling like an old friend, as he inclined both well-set head and sturdy body—a flash at one and the same instant of culture and of force.

“This racial question between America and Japan is always changing,” said the statesman, speaking in pure English, after we had sat down beneath a wide, lofty window. “It is in a position now markedly different from that which it occupied when I first gave serious thought to it. Do you chance to remember what were called the ‘Morris-Shidehara conversations’ in Washington?”

“Very well,” said I.

“Those conversations were carried on with earnestness. Both Mr. Morris and myself desired nothing else so much as a solution of the Americano-Japanese racial problem satisfactory to both parties. Our discussions were without any feeling except the feeling of mutual respect and friendship. It was said that the problem turned upon the assimilability or unassimilability of the Japanese as members of the American social community.

“Touching this question Mr. Morris and I agreed that there had not been time enough to determine whether the Japanese were or were not assimilable in America, as the British and the Scandinavians, for instance, have proved to be in that country. It had been scarcely more than a quarter of a century—the ‘Morris-Shidehara conversations’ took place five or six years ago—since the Japanese entered America in appreciable numbers. There had not been time to tell whether they would or would not turn out good Americans.

Testing Japanese Assimilability.

“‘How,’ we asked ourselves, ‘can a reliable test be made?’ We agreed that a practicable plan would be virtually to stop further Japanese immigration in America until the Japanese already there could be given a chance to demonstrate their quality in respect of assimilation into the general American social body. At this point I emphasized what I deemed a substantial condition, namely, that while the test was proceeding every encouragement be given the Japanese in America to adopt the American standpoint and way of life if they could.

“I pointed out to my American colleague a grave mistake made by Japan with reference to an alien element in our population. This element presents a curious analogy in connection with the problem of the Japanese immigrants in America. I mean a special class of people who are social outcasts. There are said to be 1,200,000 scattered over Japan. Their origin is uncertain and mixed. Some are descended from Chinese and Korean immigrants and some from aborigines. Most of them were originally and for generations engaged in tanning and butchers’ work, considered by Buddhists to be unclean.

The Alien Element in Japan.

“I told Mr. Morris about these people, how we ostracized them in old days, how we drove them into settlements apart. I had seen our people doing it. I myself, as a boy, had had my irresponsible part in it. Persons of this class used to appear in front of our house and seek work as menders of our clogs or wooden shoes. They were not permitted to come inside our fence. We threw our clogs out to them, they did their work, threw the clogs back, and we tossed the pay into their hands. We called them unassimilable, while ourselves denying them all opportunity of assimilation.

“We made a mistake. Our course was politically, socially, and economically wrong as well as un-Christian and inhuman. These persons are now treated in every way as our equals. But the antagonism fostered by centuries cannot be swept away in a day. They are still with us, still living in their separate communities, still in their hearts hostile to us, still a problem to vex social relations, perplex statesmanship, and grieve humanitarianism. We should have reached out to welcome them and not to cast them away. If we had done that, they long ago would have merged in our community beyond all trace, and today there would be no irritating problem in Japan such as this particular class presents.”

The Error of Making Outcasts.

Baron Shidehara was thinking and speaking carefully, manifestly searching his mind for his real meaning and for exact words to express it, imparting to his remarks precision and solidity. From time to time he looked into my eyes as if to say, “Are you interested—do you understand me?” His face now and again wore an unrelenting expression, but as the talk proceeded I found him capable of smiling delightedly and of laughing in that fashion which springs only from the liveliest sense of humor. I found also he cold relax into simple, easy narrative, as will appear later in his story of the colloquies between himself and the late Lord Bryce. Thoroughly Japanese is Baron Shidehara in physiognomy, temperament, manner, and patriotism, tingling with the spirit of today, but ruled by deliberation and sagacity.

“My point of view as expressed to Mr. Morris,” continued Baron Shidehara, “was that America, in dealing with her Japanese population, well might consider our mistake respecting a certain part of our population. It seemed to me, and I so stated, that an attitude of sympathy, of welcome, of invitation to assimilation, might yield a result diametrically different from that of an attitude of coldness or persecution or ostracism. Parenthetically, I would say that I personally have been surprised by what I have seen in evidence of Japanese assimilability to Americanism. I have seen in Tokyo a group of American-born Japanese children who amazed me by their likeness, in dress, speech, and manners, to American children. These little visitors of Japanese blood could not speak a word of Japanese.

American Attitude Toward Japanese.

“Your Ambassador, Mr. Morris,” the Foreign Minister went on, “raised two points in criticism of conditions in Japan relative to the relations of America and this country. He liked neither our law of nationality nor our law of property affecting aliens. At that time a Japanese subject, wherever born, remained a Japanese subject in the view of Japanese law unless and until such subject, by his own act, renounced his Japanese citizenship and adopted another. Now, under American law, a person born in America becomes an American citizen without any act of his own—acquires American citizenship automatically by virtue of birth in the country.

“It followed, therefore, that American-born Japanese inherited two citizenships, Japanese and American. Mr. Morris objected to this dual allegiance, and his objection seemed to me reasonable. His position concerning our law of property I also felt able to regard not unfavorably. On my return to Japan, and on becoming Minister for Foreign Affairs, I recommended to the Diet and alteration of our laws of nationality and property in accordance with the point of view urged upon me by Mr. Morris. My recommendation prevailed. Our laws were changed. As to Japanese emigration to the United States we stopped it in conformity with the terms of the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’.”

Doing Away With Dual Citizenship.

“You then felt,” I remarked, “that Japan had done all she could to clear the way for the test of Japanese assimilability in America and to advance toward a complete Japano-American accord?”

“That is how we felt.”

“And what should you say of the American response?”

“I will tell you a story,” replied Baron Shidehara, his air of close thought passing and a reminiscent smile breaking over his face. “I was in Washington when the American Congress took action with reference to the Panama tolls question. Lord Bryce was British Ambassador to Washington then. On the Sunday following the act of the Congress I dropped in, as was my occasional wont, to see Lord Bryce at the British Embassy. In the course of our desultory talk I said to Lord Bryce, ‘Your objection to the tolls bill has been overruled.’ ‘Yes,’ was his reply. ‘What are you going to do about it?’ I inquired.

When Americans Make Mistakes.

“Lord Bryce looked at me calmly. ‘Nothing,’ said he. ‘There is nothing to be done. There is no use in doing anything. The American people may make mistakes. They may commit injustices. But, in the end, they always of their own will put them right. It is in their history.’ On our side—the side of Japan—things had not been going as we should have wished in California. Indeed, almost at the same time that the Congress passed the toll the legislature of California passed the anti-alien land law. Presently Lord Bryce said to me, ‘And what are you going to do about the California situation?’ I replied instantly, ‘We are going to do what you are going to do—nothing’.”

After some unfeigned laughter, Baron Shidehara continued: “Shortly before the wise and delightful British statesman died, we chanced to meet again in Washington. He had come over to speak at the Institute of Politics in Williamstown. He ran down from New York to Washington to call upon some of his old friends at the State Department, and we encountered each other in the reception room. We had a chat. It was of old times in the American capital. Panama tolls came up. ‘You see I was right,’ said Lord Bryce. ‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘you were right about the Panama canal.’ Lord Bryce glanced at me and we smiled. ‘California,’ said I, ‘still awaits the fulfillment of your prophecy.’”

A Prophecy of Understanding.

“Do you think history,” I inquired, “will prove Lord Bryce a bad prophet relative to Japan?”

“No,” answered Baron Shidehara with emphasis. “We all in this country, or certainly those of us who know America, retain our confidence in her fundamental love, not only of justice, but of generosity. We believe that one day she will understand us. We believe that her distrust of us, so far as she has any such distrust, will disappear. We believe that a national American demand for justice and fairness and neighborliness toward the Japanese in the United States will sweep away all misrepresentation, all misunderstanding, and with them all discrimination by American citizens against the Japanese within their gates and the Japanese race as a race. There will be no trouble about it. Knowledge of facts and conscience will do the work. America and Japan will continue to stand side by side, with friendly sister nations, as guardians of the peace of the Pacific.”

“You have no ambition to ‘swamp America,’ with your people?”

Japan’s Views on Emigration.

“We have no ambition to swamp any country with our people. We do not want to send America a single Japanese to whom she objects. That would not be good for her or us. It is sentiment and principle and devotion to the amity of peoples—not the wish or necessity of emigration—that actuate Japanese citizens and the Japanese Government in respect of the discriminatory clause in the American immigration law.”

“It has been reported in America that the ‘real’ Japan does not welcome the effort in America to have Japan included in the quota. Is this true?”

“It is entirely untrue.”

“Is the immigration problem the only important problem between Japan and America?”

“It is the only one.”

“Japan will press for the removal of all forms of discrimination against the Japanese people by whomsoever practiced?”

“In a friendly way—naturally.”

“Is it probable that obdurate Occidental indifference to Japanese susceptibilities would issue in an Asian entente of some solidarity?”

Opposed to Provocative Alliances.

“No. Such an entente would hold out no promise of what we are seeking, namely, all-round recognition of the principle of equality for our people.”

“Would such an entente contravene tendencies toward a settled world peace?”

“Decidedly. Japan deprecates all segregative movements inimical to the aggregative interests of the world. I mean that we are opposed to the development of combinations of powers pursuing particular rather than general world aims. Such combinations, in our opinion, tend to build up the mental and material conditions of warlike conflict. Our conception parallels the general conception of the League of Nations as we understand the League.”

“Japan’s dominant moral and intellectual forces are for universal and permanent peace?”

“Beyond all question.”

“Do you think Moscow hopes to exploit Japano-American difficulties favorably to its ideas of world-wide communism?”

On Bolshevists and Bolshevism.

“If it so hopes, it will be disappointed.”

“Do you think Russian communism really intends, if it can, to destroy so-called capitalistic society?”

“Its constitution, I believe, contains a clause declaring such a purpose.”

“Have you any kind or degree of sympathy with the bolshevists?”

“It is not my province to criticize principles of government in any foreign country. I can say, however, that bolshevism, so far as I can penetrate it, is utterly repugnant to the elementals of Japanese tradition and character. But I am not without a certain sympathetic feeling toward bolshevists as distinguished from bolshevism—toward the human beings, that is to say, who have sprung this unexampled and puzzling doctrine upon the world. Most of the bolshevist leaders are Jews. Their blood is the blood of a race long and cruelly persecuted. May not an error of judgment of the modern world, and an emotion, perhaps, of revenge, run in that blood?

“Moreover, the Russians now in power are survivors or descendants of the age-long tyrannies of the Czars. Their memories are bitter memories. They remember nothing but serfdom, bloody suppression, denial of human right, exile. How could they have what we should term a normal psychology? How could they be expected to feel anything but terror and enmity with reference to those political and economic systems which, in their imagination, resemble the regimes of the Czars? May they not really believe that we should enslave and exploit them, if we could, and that consequently a passion on their part to extirpate us is a righteous passion?

The Product of Age-long Tyrannies.

“I am not answering these questions; I am asking them. I do not understand bolshevist mentality. But I never try to understand anything without a sympathetic exploration of its background. My idea is to seek a cure for the destructive pathology of bolshevists, not by withdrawing from them, but by cautiously and prudently endeavoring to establish an educative intercourse with them. Non-bolshevist nations, I need not say, have no wish to wrong Russia, but every wish to see her orderly, prosperous, and content, and to have her take her place in the peaceful concert of civilization.”

“Do you know of any national government or organized movement with aims prejudicial to Japano-American friendship?”

Progressive Forces in Germany.

“Not now. China gave some evidence of such a disposition at the time of the Versailles Conference, but I am aware of nothing of the sort in any quarter at present.”

“Is any part of Japan sympathetic with the reactionary elements in Germany?”

“No, indeed.”

“Do you anticipate any reactionary revival in Germany from Hindenburg’s election?”

“No. My belief is that Germany will persist in the path of democracy and peace.”

“Is Japan satisfied with the principle of the Open Door in China?”

Labor’s International Interest.

“That principle cannot be too strictly enforced to suit us.”

“It gives you natural advantages?”

“It gives us great natural advantages. Besides, it accords with our idea both of justice to China and of the universal welfare. International grasping for selfish advantage in China would threaten humanity with an immeasurable disaster.”

“Is Japan free from the menace of internal subversive agitation?”

“Not free from it, but, I think, not seriously threatened, nor more threatened than any other great State. Government everywhere, of course, is beset with new problems in our growingly complex modern political and social existence. For instance, international labor attractions are a fresh concern of government. For the first time in Japan we have had a delegation from Japanese labor visiting the Foreign Office to protest against our measures for preserving order and protecting the rights of our nationals in China. Our reply was that we were not interfering in the strikes as economic struggles but as developments dangerous to life and property. It is a new thing with us—this sign of local labor unrest without the faintest practical local interest. But we are not alarmed over it. I merely mention it as an illustration of the increasing weight of public-order burdens in every part of the world.”

Our last words—the last words of an interview that had occupied the best part of two hours—were relative to the Pacific. As we shook hands at parting, I said to Baron Shidehara:

Friendship of the Pacific Powers.

“I may state that Japan values exceptionally an entente with the principal Occidental Pacific powers?”

“You may state that with every assurance of accuracy. How highly I personally reckon an entente with the principal Occidental Pacific powers is reflected in my pride that I had a part in drafting the Four-Power Treaty at the Washington Conference.”

Baron Kijuro Shidehara, born in Osaka prefecture, aged 54, was graduated from the college of law of the Tokyo Imperial University. Entering the Foreign Office in 1896, he rose rung by rung until he became Foreign Minister in June, 1924. His diplomatic career has been long and honorable. In various capacities he has served in Washington, London, Antwerp, and The Hague. From 1915 to 1919 he was Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs. From 1919 to 1922 he won his great popularity at Washington as Japanese Ambassador to the United States. His barony was the reward of his services in the Great War.

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Baron Shidehara imprimatur.jpg
  1. Another Great Japanese Talks