Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Quakers avoid religious ritual, indeed seldom speak of the Trinity, the crucifixion, or the disciples. Strongly wishing to avoid giving offense, they would also never denounce such religious details or those who hold them sacred. When the matter unavoidably comes up, they usually say something like "To us, such matters are not strongly important."

Therefore, it was a little out of character for Joe one day to be telling me about the passion flower. One part of this flower represents the Trinity, another represents the twelve disciples, another represents some other part of the Easter story. Essentially, the passion flower is a pale pink blossom which grows on a vine. To Joe, the interesting thing about the Passionflower was that it is a tropical plant, not native to North America. However, it sends roots very deep into the soil, capable of reaching below the penetration of winter frost in temperate latitudes. Therefore, if you can get the plant started early enough in the spring and have a lucky first growing year, it will take deep enough root and survive from year to year as a perennial. The plant dies back to the ground with the first frost in the fall, but reappears around Decoration Day, grows rampantly in the summer and blooms generously. Even so, it is really only a moderately attractive flower, and its main interest is the challenge it presents to a gardening enthusiast. It is almost an advantage to a keen hobbyist that you have to have most of its fine qualities explained to you. Joe had determined that I was to be properly educated in horticulture, and he had given me some potted passion plants each year for several years before I was finally able to get one established in my own garden. It now actually does indeed send shoots above ground at Memorial Day, which is what most people call that holiday unless they dislike commemorating a war.

In the course of this passion flower campaign, I had visited his garden many times. Like so many things about him, hi garden at first gave the impression of an untended forest, but an accustomed eye could pick out many unusual plants and flowers, apparently growing wild. O one side of the front walk, for example, were some particularly early-blooming crocuses, which he had dug up on the plains before Troy, within sight of the Dardanelles. The customs agents nowadays won't permit private importation of living plants or animals, but Joe's travels had taken place well before was much of a customs service.

One day, he happened to point out some leafy ground cover which had been brought from Japan by his uncle. Japan has many unusual plants because it was never covered with glaciers. Somewhat like Australia in that regard, it was a good place for botanists and horticulturalists to poke around and find things they can't find anywhere else. What was his Uncle doing, there?

"Oh, yes. He walked around in a kimono."

"That must mean he married your aunt. How did they meet each other?"

At that, Joe smiled and shrugged, by which I assumed he was signaling he had to make up some of the details. "She was over there, running the Quaker Peace Center when he walked in to see what it was all about. He must have liked it because they eventually got married, and he became a Quaker."

"A Quaker Samurai? How does that work?" Joe kept on digging up passion flowers as he told the story. It Seems to turn into a pacifist Quaker caused the old boy to lose his warlike qualities, so he wasn't much good to the Emperor. However, the Emperor solved the problem by sending Uncle Samurai to the Hague Peace Palace as his personal ambassador. Not a bad solution, and it would be a fair guess that Aunt Samurai, the Philadelphia Quaker lady, thought it up. Apparently, their visits back and forth provided a way for a piece of land, which is just about the last virgin forest on the East Coast, to have a number of weird plants growing on it which some would have imagined were indigenous to the Japanese Archipelago.

Several months later I was seated next to Jonathan Rhoads at a farewell party for John Rineman, the retiring executive director of the Pennsylvania Medical Society. I remarked to Dr. Rhoads that this was the second dinner for Rineman I had attended in two weeks. The first was local one for Philadelphia region convenience in the Manufactures Country Club (former Emlen estate, once a stopover for George Washington). This second, much larger, dinner was in Hershey about two hours drive away. "It probably won't be the last one you will go to," was the cryptic reply.

I later learned that Jonathan Rhoads was in Philadelphia the next morning at a meeting for business, was later in Washington that same evening. The retirements of someone aged 61 undoubtedly struck the 82-year-old Rhoads as odd, although not particularly surprising. Indeed, when this issue was pressed a little, he told me he was working on his autobiography, beginning at age 70. Since the contrast with Rineman was so great as to seem like a criticism, he veered off into comparison with Rufus Jones determined to read a new book every day and to write a new book every year. He kept it up for thirty years."

Somehow this workaholism theme reminded me of the Quaker Samurai, and I asked Rhoads what he knew of Joe Nicholson's Uncle. "Well, that must have been Inazo Nitobe, who married Mary Elkinton. Inazo Nitobe was a well-born Japanese who went to the University of Pennsylvania and became interested in Quakerism. He was governor of what is now Taiwan while h was quite young, and was quite close to the Emperor. He was sent to the League of Nations for a long time, and was generally prominent in the Peace movement."

"When Japan invaded Manchuria, they sent him on a tour of the United States to justify it, and he did his best. I remember he took the general line that Manchuria was run by lawless warlords, so Japan was just trying to restore law and order. He gave a speech along such lines at one of the downtown Philadelphia meetings, probably on South Twelfth Street. Rufus Jones was somewhere else and couldn't attend, and said later it was a good thing he didn't."

"I later came across a garden named in Nitob's honor at the University of Vancouver in British Columbia. He was going there for an honorary degree, had a heart attack and died on the way. It's quite a nice garden."

On the way home from the dinner in Hershey, I had time to reflect further on the cultural gap separating these two old friends of mine, in the year of their retirement. At the earlier retirement dinner, John Rineman had told the story of his son, who was an outstanding baseball player, applying for college. He was much in demand, and both Columbia and Princeton made overtures. However, the Pennsylvania Dutch father and son had such a shattering experience with uptown Manhattan (the taxi driver advised them to put their money I their shoe) that East Coast ideas were firmly abandoned, and the boy went back to the Dutch country to college, at Elizabethtown State Teachers.

Here were two men, living a hundred miles apart all their lives, both firmly committed to simplicity and self-denial, both intensely devoted to their families. But somehow one of them yielded to the humble need to make way for others, even to the point of holding back on personal achievement. His staff was intensely devoted to him; he was invariably fair and helpful, cheerful and understanding. The other man, on the other hand, seemed obsessed by a need to drive himself to astonishing efforts of public service, fully intending to continue doing so until he dropped in his tracks. It would be a far better world if we all had more humility and more self-sacrifice, but it is not clear to me why or how those two qualities sometimes express themselves in such different behavior.

Joe Nicholson's wife Bettina loaned me a book by Inazo Nitobe or rather written by Nitobe's widow based on her husband's diaries. "Reminiscences of Childhood" might do more to help reflective Americans understand the mentality of those economic buccaneers the japs, than a thousand sophistries about Manchurian law and order. However, it is my suspicion the book was mainly written to justify Inazo's nationalism to an only a very small audience, seated reproachfully on wooden benches in Philadelphia, in the brooding presence of Rufus Jones.

For one thing, those grade B movies about Samurai slashings, burnings, and beheadings seem to be reasonably appropriate. The history of Nitob's family is complete back to the Eighth Century, and every generation of these Samurai was recorded as fighting in several wars with warlord neighbors. Inazo Nitobe undoubtedly knew quite a lot about feudalism and as a convinced Friends, a converted Quaker undoubtedly felt shame about his country's barbaric history. He was born only two years after Commodore Perry "opened up" Tokyo harbor. During his boyhood, he had to adjust to a law forbidding the wearing of a sword, when for millennia up to then it was forbidden for a Samurai ever to be without one. The funny kimonos we see in the movies were normal dress; one of his acquaintances bought a pair of western pants and hobbled around in them for weeks before he learned he had them on backward. When the forces supporting Westernization united behind the Emperor to depose the Shogun, Inazo's father was on the wrong side. His disgrace was not to be on the wrong side of the war, it was to refuse to behead his chieftain as an act of mercy terminating the ritual of harakiri.

Those of us who deplore the behavior of the American members of the plaintiff's trial bar, are interested to learn from Nitobe that the dearth of lawyers in Japan is not an accident. The Samurai class were stripped of their feudal land holdings ( and given government bonds which they mostly squandered), then turned loose to find a new role in society. Becoming lawyers seemed an appropriate role for privileged aristocrats, and Inazo Nitobe studied to become a lawyer. He was changed from that course, however, by a visiting government speaker who toured the schools proclaiming it was the duty of the better students to study sciences. Japan has a better culture than the Westerners, he heard, but its lack of success in the world was due to lack of facility with science and technology. Much to his mentor's distress at school, Nitobe abandoned the Law and studied agricultural science. At that time, one of the few souvenirs of his father's time at Court was a knife and folk the funny things Westerners used to eat with, not being capable of mastering chopsticks.

The thought even strikes a reader that Nitobe's controversial marriage to a Western woman may not have been so much a reversed version of Madama Butterfly as it was a perceived duty to bring home to Japan an outspoken teacher of Western domestic approaches. Perhaps that conjecture is unfair, but it is certainly in keeping with royal traditions in Western Europe, the Oriental tradition of arranged marriages, and the Japanese sense of duty to country. Mary Elkinton may well have had Victorian notions of romantic love, but it is hard to see why we should except them of Inazo. If you could ever get the average Japanese to say exactly what he thinks, it would be interesting to know what Japanese audiences now privately think about Butterfly, and even more intriguing to discover how a sophisticated 19th Century Japanese would have appraised Puccini's perceptiveness at the time.

After his death, Inazo Nitobe wife collected his recollections into a little book. Her introduction, really epitaph, documents the significant honors bestowed upon her husband in unembellished statements. It also demonstrates how even the two most honest men I ever met are like the rest of using filling the gaps in their recollections with idealized approximations.


Member of the House of Peers

Member of the Imperial Academy of Japan

M.A. and Ph.D., Halle

Dr. of Agricultural Science and Dr. of Laws, Japan

LL,D., Brown University

Dr. Social Science, Geneva

LL.D., Haverford College

LL.D., University of Southern California

Born at Morioka, Japan, September 1st, 1862 of samurai stock and his family for several generations officials in the feudal principality of Nambu. Educated in Tokyo, graduated from the Imperial Agricultural College at Sapporo, Hokkaido, and later studied Economics at the Imperial University of Tokyo. Took a postgraduate course at Johns Hopkins University, 1885-87. Then studied in Universities of Bonn, Berlin, and Halle. Obtained degrees of M.A. and Ph.D. at Halle. Became professor in his alma mater at Sapporo. Served as director of the Agricultural Department in Formosa, when he reformed the sugar industry, the revenue from which made possible the financial independence of that island. Professor of Agricultural Economics and Colonial Administration in the Imperial University of Kyoto and later at the Imperial University of Tokyo. President of First National College in Tokyo. Sent by Japanese Government in 1911-12 as the first Exchange Professor to six American universities Brown, Columbia, John Hopkins, Virginia, Illinois, and Minnesota. Under-Secretary-General of the Secretariat of the League of Nations, 1919 in London and 1920-27, Geneva. decorated by the Emperor of Japan with the Order of the Rising Sun and also with the Order of Sacred Treasure. Author of some twenty books six of them are in English and one in German. The best known of these is "Bushido The Soul of Japan", translated into more than twelve languages; also a volume entitled "Japan Its Land and People". "Japanese Traits and Foreign Influences" appeared while at Geneva and "Modern Japan" in 1931.

Originally published: Monday, October 08, 2018; most-recently modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2019