When eight-year-old Inagaki Etsubo arrived home from school one day early in the 1880s, her grandmother and a maid were covering the family altar with sheets of white paper. Puzzled and slightly frightened, she asked if someone were about to die. No, her grandmother replied resignedly; no one was ill. Much worse, the father had commanded that the household begin eating meat that night, and the family gods must be protected from having to see it happen. Eating meat might make children healthy, Grandma said, but it was wrong; it violated Buddhist doctrine.
Before long, Etsubo would learn to enjoy meat, along with a hundred other innovations of the new Meiji era. She would become the wife of a businessman, sail off to America, become a Christian, and rear two daughters who would marry educated, elite fellow Japanese. Born in a stronghold of tradition and reared early in isolation from foreign influences, she would know enough change as an adult to overwhelm someone of less strength. Her life mirrored Japan's rapidly changing Meiji era. And like Japan, she would embrace the changes and adapt, even as she clung almost effortlessly to such traditional values as loyalty, hard work, and filial piety.
A British professor who came to Japan in 1873, a year before Etsubo's birth, wrote at the end of the century that he felt as if he were 400 years old, so rapidly had the changes occurred. Indeed, while most other nations suffered paralysis or decline when challenged by