Her Majesty has done much by her sympathy and help to promote the training of nurses in Japan. The movement is closely allied with Red Cross work. When the Red Cross was first started in Japan only women of the lowest class could be induced to undertake nursing in the hospital wards. The difficulty was much the same as in our own land in Crimean days, and the seclusion in which Japanese women lived increased the difficulty. It was contrary to the most cherished ideas of feminine delicacy for a Japanese woman to nurse male patients. It was necessary for the highest ladies in the land to combat this idea, and the Ladies Volunteer Nursing Association was founded under the patronage of the Empress. The members, by themselves attending to the sick and wounded soldiers in hospital, set an example which induced women of good social grade to train for the profession of nursing. It is said that the Japanese woman makes the best nurse in the world; she is so accustomed to yield gentle, willing service to others. The Red Cross Society is active in peace as well as in war, and is now recruiting nurses from the well-to-do middle classes. There are now 2,567 trained nurses. Many received Imperial decorations during the late war.
Her Majesty is an enthusiastic supporter of the movement for the higher education of Japanese women. She is herself an accomplished musician and writer of graceful verse
The story of the life and work of Florence Nightingale was, at the recommendation of the Empress, made a reading subject in the girls' schools. There is at present a movement for founding a Nightingale Fund, in connection with the Red Cross Society of Japan.
Though brought up, as we have seen, under the old regime herself, the Empress is a strong advocate for the higher education of women. When the new educational code was formulated and secondary schools for girls established throughout the prefectures, the Empress became the patron of female education, and contributed to the support of some of the early institutions. When the Women's Normal School was established in Tokyo, in 1874, the Empress gave it 5,000 yen. Her portrait hangs in all the schools and. together with that of the Emperor, is an object of special veneration by tin-children on high days and holidays. The Empress has also composed an educational motto, which, interpreted, runs: "If we polish not a gem or a mirror, what good will it be? With the way of learning it is the same." This is set to music, and sung in girls' schools throughout Japan.
A Patron of Education
The Empress is in very close personal touch with the Peeresses' School founded in Tokyo in 1877 for the higher education of the daughters of the nobility. It numbers 700 pupils, including princesses of the blood, and is maintained under Imperial auspices. The Empress always visits it at least once a year, and has written the following inspiring little poem for the pupils:
" The water placed in goblet, bowl, or cup, Changes its shape to its receptacle; And so our plastic souls take various shapes, And characters of good or ill, to fit The good or evil in the friends we choose. Therefore, be careful in your choice of friends, And let your special love be given to them Whose strength of character may prove the whip That drives you onward to fair wisdom's goal."
Although the Empress sees the wisdom of expanding the curriculum of female education, she clings strongly to the domestic ideal, and considers that the first aim in a girl's education should be to fit her to be a good wife and wise mother. The young peeresses and princesses are taught cooking and housekeeping, mode of life, education of children, management of servants, nursing the sick, and sewing, as well as mathematics and political science. The arts and graces which have rendered the Japanese woman such a winsome and engaging creature are not neglected under the new regime. The tea ceremony, with deportment and etiquette are taught as rigorously as of yore, though Swedish athletic exercises are added.
The same mingling of subjects is observed in the Nippon Women's University, Tokyo, founded 1901, which may be termed the Girton of Japan. The University is another great interest of the Empress. Her Majesty also follows with approval the medical training of women. There are now upwards of one hundred and thirty women doctors in Japan.
The Empress is a woman of culture, takes a delight in books, and loves art and music. These tastes form a bond between her and the Emperor. Both write poems. The Empress thus expresses her delight in books:
And yet 'tis naught - a sparkle, not a light. The book whose page enlightens the dark mind Is the true treasure."
Though not of the Christian faith, this Imperial lady of the Orient has a religious mind, and thus expresses her sentiments: "Take heed unto thyself; the mighty God That is the soul of Nature sees the good And bad that man in his most secret heart Thinks of himself, and brings it to the light."
Other poems deal with her wifely concern for the Emperor during perilous expeditions. When he was visiting the scenes of the tidal wave disaster she laments:
In common with all Japanese wives, the Empress performs personal service for her husband. Her position as Imperial Consort is of greater dignity than was usual to the consort of the Mikado under the old regime, and the onward march of Western ideas has brought her into public view in a surprising way. The Empress is not the mother of the Emperor's children. The Crown Prince is the son of a secondary wife, but in his early days the Empress treated him as if he were her own son and showed great kindness to his mother.
The Empress as Hostess
The Empress, though somewhat shy at first when she began to receive strangers at court, has developed into a charming hostess. In the spring she gives a cherry blossom garden party in her own lovely garden at the palace in Tokyo, to which the notabilities of the city are invited. Windsor cannot rival this picturesque function, nor Ascot surpass the beauty of the dresses.
The career of the Empress of Japan affords a delightful example of how a woman bred in Oriental seclusion has been able to use her influence for the uplifting of the women of her land in a gentle, unobtrusive manner.
The life story of the Empress, moreover, affords a very striking picture of the awakening of the East. A typical Oriental, brought up in quiet seclusion and trained to accept those doctrines which prevail in lands where women are mere chattels, who can take no part in public life, she has adopted, with an astonishing aptitude, the more enlightened tenets of the West. Custom and convention are two strong forces, and both the bitterest enemies to individual freedom. Women, moreover, they bind more tightly than men, and, even in Europe, only very gradually were women able to relax the fetters. That a woman, therefore, filled with modern European aspirations, should share the Japanese Imperial House shows very clearly how far and how rapidly, during recent years, the East has travelled along the difficult road of civilisation.