1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Japan/09 Domestic History
Cosmography.—Japanese annals represent the first inhabitant of earth as a direct descendant of the gods. Two books describe the events of the “Divine age.” One, compiled in 712, is called the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters); the other, compiled in 720, is called the Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan). Both describe the processes of creation, but the author of the Chronicles drew largely upon Chinese traditions, whereas the compilers of the Records appear to have limited themselves to materials which they believed to be native. The Records, therefore, have always been regarded as the more trustworthy guide to pure Japanese conceptions. They deal with the creation of Japan only, other countries having been apparently judged unworthy of attention. At the beginning of all things a primordial trinity is represented as existing on the “plain of high heaven.” Thereafter, during an indefinite time and by an indefinite process, other deities come into existence, their titles indicating a vague connexion with constructive and fertilizing forces. They are not immortal: it is explicitly stated that they ultimately pass away, and the idea of the cosmographers seems to be that each deity marks a gradual approach to human methods of procreation. Meanwhile the earth is “young and, like floating oil, drifts about after the manner of a jelly-fish.” At last there are born two deities, the creator and the creatress, and these receive the mandate of all the heavenly beings to “make, consolidate and give birth to the drifting land.” For use in that work a jewelled spear is given to them, and, standing upon the bridge that connects heaven and earth, they thrust downwards with the weapon, stir the brine below and draw up the spear, when from its point fall drops which, accumulating, form the first dry land. Upon this land the two deities descend, and, by ordinary processes, beget the islands of Japan as well as numerous gods representing the forces of nature. But in giving birth to the god of fire the creatress (Izanami) perishes, and the creator (Izanagi) makes his way to the under-world in search of her—an obvious parallel to the tales of Ishtar and Orpheus. With difficulty he returns to earth, and, as he washes himself from the pollution of Hades, there are born from the turbid water a number of evil deities succeeded by a number of good, just as in the Babylonian cosmogony the primordial ocean, Tiamat, brings forth simultaneously gods and imps. Finally, as Izanagi washes his left eye the Goddess of the Sun comes into existence; as he washes his right, the God of the Moon; and as he washes his nose, the God of Force. To these three he assigns, respectively, the dominion of the sun, the dominion of the moon, and the dominion of the ocean. But the god of force (Sosanoo), like Lucifer, rebels against this decree, creates a commotion in heaven, and after having been the cause of the temporary seclusion of the sun goddess and the consequent wrapping of the world in darkness, kills the goddess of food and is permanently banished from heaven by the host of deities. He descends to Izumo on the west of the main island of Japan, and there saves a maiden from an eight-headed serpent. Sosanoo himself passes to the under-world and becomes the deity of Hades, but he invests one of his descendants with the sovereignty of Japan, and the title is established after many curious adventures. To the sun goddess also, whose feud with her fierce brother survives the latter’s banishment from heaven, the idea of making her grandson ruler of Japan presents itself. She despatches three embassies to impose her will upon the descendants of Sosanoo, and finally her grandson descends, not, however, in Izumo, where the demi-gods of Sosanoo’s race hold sway, but in Hiūga in the southern island of Kiūshiū. This grandson of Amaterasu (the goddess of the sun) is called Ninigi, whose great-grandson figures in Japanese history as the first human sovereign of the country, known during life as Kamu-Yamato-Iware-Biko, and given the name of Jimmu tennō (Jimmu, son of heaven) fourteen centuries after his death. Japanese annalists attribute the accession of Jimmu to the year 660 B.C. Why that date was chosen must remain a matter of conjecture. The Records of Ancient Matters has no chronology, but the more pretentious writers of the Chronicles of Japan, doubtless in imitation of their Chinese models, considered it necessary to assign a year, a month, and even a day for each event of importance. There is abundant reason, however, to question the accuracy of all Japanese chronology prior to the 5th century. The first date corroborated by external evidence is 461, and Aston, who has made a special study of the subject, concludes that the year 500 may be taken as the time when the chronology of the Chronicles begins to be trustworthy. Many Japanese, however, are firm believers in the Chronicles, and when assigning the year of the empire they invariably take 660 B.C. for starting-point, so that 1909 of the Gregorian calendar becomes for them 2569.
Prehistoric Period.—Thus, if the most rigid estimate be accepted, the space of 1160 years, from 660 B.C. to A.D. 500, may be called the prehistoric period. During that long interval the annals include 24 sovereigns, the first 17 of whom lived for over a hundred years on the average. It seems reasonable to conclude that the so-called assignment of the sovereignty of Japan to Sosanoo’s descendants and the establishment of their kingdom in Izumo represent an invasion of Mongolian immigrants coming from the direction of the Korean peninsula—indeed one of the Nihongi’s versions of the event actually indicates Korea as the point of departure—and that the subsequent descent of Ninigi on Mount Takachiho in Hiūga indicates the advent of a body of Malayan settlers from the south sea. Jimmu, according to the Chronicles, set out from Hiūga in 667 B.C. and was not crowned at his new palace in Yamato until 660. This campaign of seven years is described in some detail, but no satisfactory information is given as to the nature of the craft in which the invader and his troops voyaged, or as to the number of men under his command. The weapons said to have been carried were bows, spears and swords. A supernatural element is imported into the narrative in the form of the three-legged crow of the sun, which Amaterasu sends down to act as guide and messenger for her descendants. Jimmu died at his palace of Kashiwa-bara in 585 B.C., his age being 127 according to the Chronicles, and 137 according to the Records. He was buried in a kind of tomb called misasagi, which seems to have been in use in Japan for some centuries before the Christian era—“a highly specialized form of tumulus, consisting of two mounds, one having a circular, the other a triangular base, which merged into each other, the whole being surrounded by a moat, or sometimes by two concentric moats with a narrow strip of land between. In some, perhaps in most, cases the misasagi contains a large vault of great unhewn stones without mortar. The walls of this vault converge gradually towards the top, which is roofed in by enormous slabs of stone weighing many tons each. The entrance is by means of a gallery roofed with similar stones.” Several of these ancient sepulchral mounds have been examined during recent years, and their contents have furnished information of much antiquarian interest, though there is a complete absence of inscriptions. The reigns of the eight sovereigns who succeeded Jimmu were absolutely uneventful. Nothing is set down except the genealogy of each ruler, the place of his residence and his burial, his age and the date of his death. It was then the custom—and it remained so until the 8th century of the Christian era—to change the capital on the accession of each emperor; a habit which effectually prevented the growth of any great metropolis. The reign of the 10th emperor, Sūjin, lasted from 98 to 30 B.C. During his era the land was troubled by pestilence and the people broke out in rebellion; calamities which were supposed to be caused by the spirit of the ancient ruler of Izumo to avenge a want of consideration shown to his descendants by their supplanters. Divination—by a Chinese process—and visions revealed the source of trouble; rites of worship were performed in honour of the ancient ruler, his descendant being entrusted with the duty, and the pestilence ceased. We now hear for the first time of vigorous measures to quell the aboriginal savages, doubtless the Ainu. Four generals are sent out against them in different directions. But the expedition is interrupted by an armed attempt on the part of the emperor’s half-brother, who, utilizing the opportunity of the troops’ absence from Yamato, marches from Yamashiro at the head of a powerful army to win the crown for himself. In connexion with these incidents, curious evidence is furnished of the place then assigned to woman by the writers of the Chronicles. It is a girl who warns one of the emperor’s generals of the plot; it is the sovereign’s aunt who interprets the warning; and it is Ata, the wife of the rebellious prince, who leads the left wing of his army. Four other noteworthy facts are recorded of this reign: the taking of a census; the imposition of a tax on animals’ skins and game to be paid by men, and on textile fabrics by women; the building of boats for coastwise transport, and the digging of dikes and reservoirs for agricultural purposes. All these things rest solely on the testimony of annalists writing eight centuries later than the era they discuss and compiling their narrative mostly from tradition. Careful investigations have been made to ascertain whether the histories of China and Korea corroborate or contradict those of Japan. Without entering into detailed evidence, the inference may be at once stated that the dates given in Japanese early history are just 120 years too remote; an error very likely to occur when using the sexagenary cycle, which constituted the first method of reckoning time in Japan. But although this correction suffices to reconcile some contradictory features of Far-Eastern history, it does not constitute any explanation of the incredible longevity assigned by the Chronicles to several Japanese sovereigns, and the conclusion is that when a consecutive record of reigns came to be compiled in the 8th century, many lacunae were found which had to be filled up from the imagination of the compilers. With this parenthesis we may pass rapidly over the events of the next two centuries (29 B.C. to A.D. 200). They are remarkable for vigorous measures to subdue the aboriginal Ainu, who in the southern island of Kiūshiū are called Kuma-so (the names of two tribes) and sometimes earth-spiders (i.e. cave-dwellers), while in the north-eastern regions of the main island they are designated Yemishi. Expeditions are led against them in both regions by Prince Yamato-dake, a hero revered by all succeeding generations of Japanese as the type of valour and loyalty. Dying from the effects of hardship and exposure, but declaring with his last breath that loss of life was as nothing compared with the sorrow of seeing his father’s face no more, his spirit ascends to heaven as a white bird, and when his son, Chūai, comes to the throne, he causes cranes to be placed in the moat surrounding his palace in memory of his illustrious sire.
The sovereign had partly ceased to follow the example of Jimmu, who led his armies in person. The emperors did not, however, pass a sedentary life. They frequently made progresses throughout their dominions, and on these occasions a not uncommon incident was the addition of some local beauty to the Imperial harem. This licence had a far-reaching effect, since to provide for the sovereign’s numerous offspring—the emperor Keikō (71-130) had 80 children—no better way offered than to make grants of land, and thus were laid the foundations of a territorial nobility destined profoundly to influence the course of Japanese history. Woman continues to figure conspicuously in the story. The image of the sun goddess, enshrined in Ise (5 B.C.), is entrusted to the keeping of a princess, as are the mirror, sword and jewel inherited from the sun goddess; a woman (Tachibana) accompanies Prince Yamato-dake in his campaign against the Yemishi, and sacrifices her life to quell a tempest at sea; Saho, consort of Suinin, is the heroine of a most tragic tale in which the conflict between filial piety and conjugal loyalty leads to her self-destruction; and a woman is found ruling over a large district in Kiūshū when the Emperor Keikō is engaged in his campaign against the aborigines. The reign of Suinin saw the beginning of an art destined to assume extraordinary importance in Japan—the art of wrestling—and the first champion, Nomi no Sukune, is honoured for having suggested that clay figures should take the place of the human sacrifices hitherto offered at the sepulture of Imperial personages. The irrigation works commenced in the time of Sūjin were zealously continued under his two immediate successors, Suinin and Keikō. More than 800 ponds and channels are described as having been constructed under the former’s rule. We find evidence also that the sway of the throne had been by this time widely extended, for in 125 a governor-general of 15 provinces is nominated, and two years later, governors (miyakko) are appointed in every province and mayors (inaki) in every village. The number or names of these local divisions are not given, but it is explained that mountains and rivers were taken as boundaries of provinces, the limits of towns and villages being marked by roads running respectively east and west, north and south.
An incident is now reached which the Japanese count a landmark
in their history, though foreign critics are disposed to regard
it as apocryphal. It is the invasion of Korea by a
Japanese army under the command of the empress
Invasion of Korea.
Jingo, in 200. The emperor Chūai, having proceeded to
Kiūshiū for the purpose of conducting a campaign against the
Kuma-so, is there joined by the empress, who, at the inspiration
of a deity, seeks to divert the Imperial arms against Korea.
But the emperor refuses to believe in the existence of any such
country, and heaven punishes his incredulity with death at the
hands of the Kuma-so, according to one account; from the effects
of disease, according to another. The calamity is concealed;
the Kuma-so are subdued, and the empress, having collected a
fleet and raised an army, crosses to the state of Silla (in Korea),
where, at the spectacle of her overwhelming strength, the
Korean monarch submits without fighting, and swears that until
the sun rises in the west, until rivers run towards their sources,
and until pebbles ascend to the sky and become stars, he
will do homage and send tribute to Japan. His example is
followed by the kings of the two other states constituting the
Korean peninsula, and the warlike empress returns triumphant.
Many supernatural elements embellish the tale, but the features
which chiefly discredit it are that it abounds in anachronisms,
and that the event, despite its signal importance, is not mentioned
in either Chinese or Korean history. It is certain that China
then possessed in Korea territory administered by Chinese
governors. She must therefore have had cognisance of such an
invasion, had it occurred. Moreover, Korean history mentions
twenty-five raids made by the Japanese against Silla during the
first five centuries of the Christian era, but not one of them can
ndentified with Jingo’s alleged expedition. There can be no
doubt that the early Japanese were an aggressive, enterprising
people, and that their nearest over-sea neighbour suffered much
from their activity. Nor can there be any reasonable doubt that
the Jingo tale contains a large germ of truth, and is at least an
echo of the relations that existed between Japan and Korea in the
3rd and 4th centuries. The records of the 69 years comprising
Jingo’s reign are in the main an account of intercourse, sometimes
peaceful, sometimes stormy, between the neighbouring
countries. Only one other episode occupies a prominent
place: it is an attempt on the part of Jingo’s step-brothers to
oppose her return to Yamato and to prevent the accession of
her son to the throne. It should be noted here that all such
names as Jimmu, Sūjin, Chūai, &c., are posthumous, and were
invented in the reign of Kwammu (782-806), the fashion being
taken from China and the names themselves being purely Chinese
translations of the qualities assigned to the respective monarchs.
Thus Jimmu signifies “divine valour”; Sūjin, “deity-honouring”;
and Chūai, “sad middle son.” The names of these
rulers during life were wholly different from their posthumous
Chinese history, which is incomparably older and more precise than Korean, is by no means silent about Japan. Long notices occur in the later Han and Wei records (25 to 265). The Japanese are spoken of as dwarfs (Wa), and Earliest Notices in Chinese History. their islands, frequently called the queen country, are said to be mountainous, with soil suitable for growing grain, hemp, and the silkworm mulberry. The climate is so mild that vegetables can be grown in winter and summer; there are neither oxen, horses, tigers, nor leopards; the people understand the art of weaving; the men tattoo their faces and bodies in patterns indicating differences of rank; male attire consists of a single piece of cloth; females wear a gown passed over the head, and tie their hair in a bow; soldiers are armed with spears and shields, and also with bows, from which they discharge arrows tipped with bone or iron; the sovereign resides in Yamato; there are stockaded forts and houses; food is taken with the fingers but is served on bamboo trays and wooden trenchers; foot-gear is not worn; when men of the lower classes meet a man of rank, they leave the road and retire to the grass, squatting or kneeling with both hands on the ground when they address him; intoxicating liquor is much used; the people are long-lived, many reaching the age of 100; women are more numerous than men; there is no theft, and litigation is infrequent; the women are faithful and not jealous; all men of high rank have four or five wives, others two or three; wives and children of law-breakers are confiscated, and for grave crimes the offender’s family is extirpated; divination is practised by burning bones; mourning lasts for some ten days and the rites are performed by a “mourning-keeper”; after a funeral the whole family perform ablutions; fishing is much practised, and the fishermen are skilled divers; there are distinctions of rank and some are vassals to others; each province has a market where goods are exchanged; the country is divided into more than 100 provinces, and among its products are white pearls, green jade and cinnabar. These annals go on to say that between 147 and 190 civil war prevailed for several years, and order was finally restored by a female sovereign, who is described as having been old and unmarried; much addicted to magic arts; attended by a thousand females; dwelling in a palace with lofty pavilions surrounded by a stockade and guarded by soldiers; but leading such a secluded life that few saw her face except one man who served her meals and acted as a medium of communication. There can be little question that this queen was the empress Jingo who, according to Japanese annals, came to the throne in the year A.D. 200, and whose every public act had its inception or promotion in some alleged divine interposition. In one point, however, the Chinese historians are certainly incorrect. They represent tattooing as universal in ancient Japan, whereas it was confined to criminals, in whose case it played the part that branding does elsewhere. Centuries later, in feudal days, the habit came to be practised by men of the lower orders whose avocations involved baring the body, but it never acquired vogue among educated people. In other respects these ancient Chinese annals must be credited with remarkable accuracy in their description of Japan and the Japanese. Their account may be advantageously compared with Professor Chamberlain’s analysis of the manners and customs of the early Japanese, in the preface to his translation of the Kojiki.
preserved by the compiler of the Records of Ancient Matters, were a race who had long emerged from the savage stage and had attained to a high level of barbaric skill. The Stone Age was forgotten by them—or nearly so—and the evidence points to their never having passed through a genuine Bronze Age, though the knowledge of bronze was at a later period introduced from the neighbouring continent. They used iron for manufacturing spears, swords and knives of various shapes, and likewise for the more peaceful purpose of making hooks wherewith to angle or to fasten the doors of their huts. Their other warlike and hunting implements (besides traps and gins, which appear to have been used equally for catching beasts and birds and for destroying human enemies) were bows and arrows, spears and elbow-pads—the latter seemingly of skin, while special allusion is made to the fact that the arrows were feathered. Perhaps clubs should be added to the list. Of the bows and arrows, swords and knives, there is perpetual mention, but nowhere do we hear of the tools with which they were manufactured, and there is the same remarkable silence regarding such widely spread domestic implements as the saw and the axe. We hear, however, of the pestle and mortar, of the fire-drill, of the wedge, of the sickle, and of the shuttle used in weaving. Navigation seems to have been in a very elementary state. Indeed the art of sailing was but little practised in Japan even so late as the middle of the 10th century of our era, subsequent to the general diffusion of Chinese civilization, though rowing and punting are often mentioned by the early poets. To what we should call towns or villages very little reference is made anywhere in the Records or in that part of the Chronicles which contain the account of the so-called Divine Age. But from what we learn incidentally it would seem that the scanty population was chiefly distributed in small hamlets and isolated dwellings along the coast and up the course of the larger streams. Of house-building there is frequent mention. Fences were in use. Rugs of skins and rush-matting were occasionally brought in to sit on, and we even hear once or twice of silk rugs being used for the same purpose by the noble and wealthy. The habits of personal cleanliness which so pleasantly distinguish the modern Japanese from their neighbours, in continental Asia, though less fully developed than at present would seem to have existed in the germ in early times, as we read more than once of bathing in rivers, and are told of bathing women being specially attached to the person of a certain Imperial infant. Lustrations, too, formed part of the religious practices of the race. Latrines are mentioned several times. They would appear to have been situated away from the houses and to have been generally placed over a running stream, whence doubtless the name for latrine in the archaic dialect—kawaya (river-house). A peculiar sort of dwelling-place which the two old histories bring prominently under our notice is the so-called parturition house—a one-roomed hut without windows, which a woman was expected to build and retire into for the purpose Of being delivered unseen. Castles are not distinctly spoken of until a time which coincides, according to the received chronology, with the first century B.C. We then first meet with the curious term rice-castle, whose precise signification is a matter of dispute among the native commentators, but which, on comparison with Chinese descriptions of the early Japanese, should probably be understood to mean a kind of palisade serving the purpose of a redoubt, behind which the warriors could ensconce themselves. The food of the early Japanese consisted of fish and of the flesh of the wild creatures which fell by the hunter’s arrow or were taken in the trapper’s snare. Rice is the only cereal of which there is such mention made as to place it beyond a doubt that its cultivation dates back to time immemorial. Beans, millet and barley are indeed named once, together with silkworms, in the account of the Divine Age. But the passage has every aspect of an interpolation in the legend, perhaps not dating back long before the time of the eighth-century compiler. A few unimportant vegetables and fruits, of most of which there is but a single mention, are found. The intoxicating liquor called sake was known in Japan during the mythical period, and so were chopsticks for eating food with. Cooking pots and cups and dishes—the latter both of earthenware and of leaves of trees—are also mentioned; but of the use of fire for warming purposes we hear nothing. Tables are named several times, but never in connexion with food: they would seem to have been used exclusively for the purpose of presenting offerings on, and were probably quite small and low—in fact, rather trays than tables, according to European ideas. In the use of clothing and the specialization of garments the early Japanese had reached a high level. We read in the most ancient legends of upper garments, skirts, trowsers, girdles, veils and hats, while both sexes adorned themselves with necklaces, bracelets and head ornaments of stones considered precious—in this respect offering a striking contrast to their descendants in modern times, of whose attire jewelry forms no part. The material of their clothes was hempen cloth and paper—mulberry bark, coloured by being rubbed with madder, and probably with woad and other tinctorial plants. All the garments, so far as we may judge, were woven, sewing being nowhere mentioned. From the great place which the chase occupied in daily life, we are led to suppose that skins also were used to make garments of. Thereis in the Records at least one passage which favours this supposition,
broad-brimmed hat, which still form the Japanese peasant’s effectual protection against the inclemencies of the weather. The tendrils of creeping plants served the purposes of strings, and bound the warrior’s sword round his waist. Combs are mentioned, and it is evident that much attention was devoted to the dressing of the hair. The men seem to have bound up their hair in two bunches, one on each side of the head, while the young boys tied theirs in a top-knot, the unmarried girls let their locks hang down over their necks, and the married women dressed theirs after a fashion which apparently combined the two last-named methods. There is no mention in any of the old books of cutting the hair or beard except in token of disgrace; neither do we gather that the sexes, but for the matter of the head-dress, were distinguished by a diversity of apparel and ornamentation. With regard to the precious stones mentioned above as having been used as ornaments for the head, neck and arms, we know from the specimens which have rewarded the labours of archaeological research in Japan that agate, crystal, glass, jade, serpentine and steatite were the most used materials, and carved and pierced cylindrical shapes the commonest forms. The horse—which was ridden, but not driven—the barn-door fowl and the cormorant used for fishing, are the only domesticated creatures mentioned in the earlier traditions, with the doubtful exception of the silkworm. In the later portions of the Records and Chronicles dogs and cattle are alluded to, but sheep, swine and even cats wereapparently not yet introduced.”
As the prehistoric era draws to its end the above analyses of Japanese civilization have to be modified. Thus, towards the close of the 3rd century, ship-building made great progress, and instead of the small boats hitherto in use, a vessel 100 ft. long was constructed. Notable above all is the fact that Japan’s turbulent relations with Korea were replaced by friendly intercourse, so that she began to receive from her neighbour instruction in the art of writing. The date assigned by the Chronicles for this important event is A.D. 285, but it has been proved almost conclusively that Japanese annals relating to this period are in error to the extent of 120 years. Hence the introduction of calligraphy must be placed in 405. Chinese history shows that between 57 and 247 Japan sent four embassies to the courts of the Han and the Wei, and this intercourse cannot have failed to disclose the ideograph. But the knowledge appears to have been confined to a few interpreters, and not until the year 405 were steps taken to extend it, with the aid of a learned Korean, Wang-in. Korea herself began to study Chinese learning only a few years before she undertook to impart it to Japan. We now find a numerous colony of Koreans passing to Japan and settling there; a large number are also carried over as prisoners of war, and the Japanese obtain seamstresses from both of their continental neighbours. One fact, related with much precision, shows that the refinements of life were in an advanced condition: an ice-house is described, and we read that from 374 (? 494) it became the fashion to store ice in this manner for use in the hot months by placing it in water or sake. The emperor, Nintoku, to whose time this innovation is attributed, is one of the romantic figures of Japanese history. He commenced his career by refusing to accept the sovereignty from his younger brother, who pressed him earnestly to do so on the ground that the proper order of succession had been disturbed by their father’s partiality—though the rights attaching to primogeniture did not receive imperative recognition in early Japan. After three years of this mutual self-effacement, during which the throne remained vacant, the younger brother committed suicide, and Nintoku reluctantly became sovereign. He chose Naniwa (the modern Osaka) for his capital, but he would not take the farmers from their work to finish the building of a palace, and subsequently, inferring from the absence of smoke over the houses of the people that the country was impoverished, he remitted all taxes and suspended forced labour for a term of three years, during which his palace fell into a state of ruin and he himself fared in the coarsest manner. Digging canals, damming rivers, constructing roads and bridges, and establishing granaries occupied his attention when love did not distract it. But in affairs of the heart he was most unhappy. He figures as the sole wearer of the Japanese crown who was defied by his consort; for when he took a concubine in despite of the empress, her jealousy was so bitter that, refusing to be placated by any of his majesty’s verses or other overtures, she left the palace altogether; and when he sought to introduce another beauty into the inner chamber, his own half-brother, who carried his proposals, won the girl for himself. One other fact deserves to be remembered in connexion with Nintoku’s reign: Ki-no-tsuno, representative of a great family which had filled the highest administrative and military posts under several sovereigns, is mentioned as “the first to commit to writing in detail the productions of the soil in each locality.” This was in 353 (probably 473). We shall err little if we date the commencement of Japanese written annals from this time, though no compilation earlier than the Kojiki has survived.
Early Historical Period.—With the emperor Richū, who came to the throne A.D. 400, the historical period may be said to commence; for though the chronology of the records is still questionable, the facts are generally accepted as credible. Conspicuous loyalty towards the sovereign was not an attribute of the Japanese Imperial family in early times. Attempts to usurp the throne were not uncommon, though there are very few instances of such essays on the part of a subject. Love or lust played no insignificant part in the drama, and a common method of placating an irate sovereign was to present a beautiful damsel for his delectation. The veto of consanguinity did not receive very strict respect in these matters. Children of the same father might intermarry, but not those of the same mother; a canon which becomes explicable on observing that as wives usually lived apart from their husbands and had the sole custody of their offspring, two or more families often remained to the end unconscious of the fact that they had a common sire. There was a remarkable tendency to organize the nation into groups of persons following the same pursuit or charged with the same functions. A group thus composed was called be. The heads of the great families had titles—as omi, muraji, miakko, wake, &c.—and affairs of state were administered by the most renowned of these nobles, wholly subject to the sovereign’s ultimate will. The provincial districts were ruled by scions of the Imperial family, who appear to have been, on the whole, entirely subservient to the Throne. There were no tribunals of justice: the ordeal of boiling water or heated metal was the sole test of guilt or innocence, apart, of course, from confession, which was often exacted under menace of torture. A celebrated instance of the ordeal of boiling water is recorded in 415, when this device was employed to correct the genealogies of families suspected of falsely claiming descent from emperors or divine beings. The test proved efficacious, for men conscious of forgery refused to undergo the ordeal. Deprivation of rank was the lightest form of punishment; death the commonest, and occasionally the whole family of an offender became serfs of the house against which the offence had been committed or which had been instrumental in disclosing a crime. There are, however, frequent examples of wrong-doing expiated by the voluntary surrender of lands or other property. We find several instances of that extreme type of loyalty which became habitual in later ages—suicide in preference to surviving a deceased lord. On the whole the successive sovereigns of these early times appear to have ruled with clemency and consideration for the people’s welfare. But there were two notable exceptions—Yuriaku (457-479) and Muretsu (499-506). The former slew men ruthlessly in fits of passion or resentment, and the latter was the Nero of Japanese history, a man who loved to witness the agony of his fellows and knew no sentiment of mercy or remorse. Yet even Yuriaku did not fail to promote industrial pursuits. Skilled artisans were obtained from Korea, and it is related that, in 462, this monarch induced the empress and the ladies of the palace to plant mulberry trees with their own hands in order to encourage sericulture. Throughout the 5th and 6th centuries many instances are recorded of the acquisition of landed estates by the Throne, and their occasional bestowal upon princes or Imperial consorts, such gifts being frequently accompanied by the assignment of bodies of agriculturists who seem to have accepted the position of serfs. Meanwhile Chinese civilization was gradually becoming known, either by direct contact or through Korea. Several immigrations of Chinese or Korean settlers are on record. No less than 7053 householders of Chinese subjects came, through Korea, in 540, and one of their number received high rank together with the post of director of the Imperial treasury. From these facts, and from a national register showing the derivation of all the principal families in Japan, it is clearly established that a considerable strain of Chinese and Korean blood runs in the veins of many Japanese subjects.
The most signal and far-reaching event of this epoch was the importation of the Buddhist creed, which took place in 552. A Korean monarch acted as propagandist, sending a special envoy with a bronze image of the Buddha and Introduction of Buddhism. with several volumes of the Sutras. Unfortunately the coming of the foreign faith happened to synchronize with an epidemic of plague, and conservatives at the Imperial court were easily able to attribute this visitation to resentment on the part of the ancestral deities against the invasion of Japan by an alien creed. Thus the spread of Buddhism was checked; but only for a time. Thirty-five years after the coming of the Sutras, the first temple was erected to enshrine a wooden image of the Buddha 16 ft. high. It has often been alleged that the question between the imported and the indigenous cults had to be decided by the sword. The statement is misleading. That the final adoption of Buddhism resulted from a war is true, but its adoption or rejection did not constitute the motive of the combat. A contest for the succession to the throne at the opening of Sujun’s reign (588-592) found the partisans of the Indian faith ranged on one side, its opponents on the other, and in a moment of stress the leaders of the former, Soma and Prince Umayado, vowed to erect Buddhist temples should victory rest on their arms. From that time the future of Buddhism was assured. In 588 Korea sent Buddhist relics, Buddhist priests, Buddhist ascetics, architects of Buddhist temples, and casters of Buddhist images. She had already sent men learned in divination, in medicine, and in the calendar. The building of temples began to be fashionable in the closing years of the 6th century, as did also abdication of the world by people of both sexes; and a census taken in 623, during the reign of the empress Suiko (583-628), showed that there were then 46 temples, 816 priests and 569 nuns in the empire. This rapid growth of the alien faith was due mainly to two causes: first, that the empress Suiko, being of the Soga family, naturally favoured a creed which had found its earliest Japanese patron in the great statesman and general, Soga no Umako; secondly, that one of the most illustrious scholars and philosophers ever possessed by Japan, Prince Shōtoku, devoted all his energies to fostering Buddhism.
The adoption of Buddhism meant to the Japanese much more than the acquisition of a practical religion with a code of clearly defined morality in place of the amorphous and jejune cult of Shintō. It meant the introduction of Chinese civilization. Priests and scholars crossed in numbers from China, and men passed over from Japan to study the Sutras at what was then regarded as the fountain-head of Buddhism. There was also a constant stream of immigrants from China and Korea, and the result may be gathered from the fact that a census taken of the Japanese nobility in 814 indicated 382 Korean and Chinese families against only 796 of pure Japanese origin. The records show that in costume and customs a signal advance was made towards refinement. Hair-ornaments of gold or silver chiselled in the form of flowers; caps of sarcenet in twelve special tints, each indicating a different grade; garments of brocade and embroidery with figured thin silks of various colours—all these were worn on ceremonial occasions; the art of painting was introduced; a recorder’s office was established; perfumes were largely employed; court picnics to gather medicinal herbs were instituted, princes and princesses attending in brilliant raiment; Chinese music and dancing were introduced; cross bows and catapults were added to the weapons of war; domestic architecture made signal strides in obedience to the examples of Buddhist sacred edifices, which, from the first, showed magnificence of dimension and decoration hitherto unconceived in Japan; the arts of metal-casting and sculpture underwent great improvement; Prince Shōtoku compiled a code, commonly spoken of as the first written laws of Japan, but in reality a collection of maxims evincing a moral spirit of the highest type. In some respects, however, there was no improvement. The succession to the throne still tended to provoke disputes among the Imperial princes; the sword constituted the principal weapon of punishment, and torture the chief judicial device. Now, too, for the first time, a noble family is found seeking to usurp the Imperial authority. The head of the Soga house, Umako, having compassed the murder of the emperor Sujun and placed on the throne his own niece (Suiko), swept away all opposition to the latter’s successor, Jomei, and controlled the administration of state affairs throughout two reigns. In all this he was strongly seconded by his son, Iruka, who even surpassed him in contumelious assumption of power and parade of dignity. Iruka was slain in the presence of the empress Kōgyoku by Prince Naka with the assistance of the minister of the interior, Kamako, and it is not surprising to find the empress (Kōgyoku) abdicating immediately afterwards in favour of Kamako’s protégé, Prince Karu, who is known in history as Kōtoku. This Kamako, planner and leader of the conspiracy which overthrew the Soga, is remembered by posterity under the name of Kamatari and as the founder of the most illustrious of Japan’s noble houses, the Fujiwara. At this time (645), a habit which afterwards contributed materially to the effacement of the Throne’s practical authority was inaugurated. Prince Furubito, pressed by his brother, Prince Karu, to assume the sceptre in accordance with his right of primogeniture, made his refusal peremptory by abandoning the world and taking the tonsure. This retirement to a monastery was afterwards dictated to several sovereigns by ministers who found that an active occupant of the throne impeded their own exercise of administrative autocracy. Furubito’s recourse to the tonsure proved, however, to be merely a cloak for ambitious designs. Before a year had passed he conspired to usurp the throne and was put to death with his children, his consorts strangling themselves. Suicide to escape the disgrace of defeat had now become a common practice. Another prominent feature of this epoch was the prevalence of superstition. The smallest incidents—the growing of two lotus flowers on one stem; a popular ballad; the reputed song of a sleeping monkey; the condition of the water in a pond; rain without clouds—all these and cognate trifles were regarded as omens; wizards and witches deluded the common people; a strange form of caterpillar was worshipped as the god of the everlasting world, and the peasants impoverished themselves by making sacrifices to it.
An interesting epoch is now reached, the first legislative era of early Japanese history. It commenced with the reign of the emperor Kōtoku (645), of whom the Chronicles say that he “honoured the religion of Buddha and despised First Legislative Epoch. Shintō”; that “he was of gentle disposition; loved men of learning; made no distinction of noble and mean, and continually dispensed beneficent edicts.” The customs calling most loudly for reform in his time were abuse of the system of forced labour; corrupt administration of justice; spoliation of the peasant class; assumption of spurious titles to justify oppression; indiscriminate distribution of the families of slaves and serfs; diversion of taxes to the pockets of collectors; formation of great estates, and a general lack of administrative centralization. The first step of reform consisted in ordering the governors of provinces to prepare registers showing the numbers of freemen and serfs within their jurisdiction as well as the area of cultivated land. It was further ordained that the advantages of irrigation should be shared equally with the common people; that no local governor might try and decide criminal cases while in his province; that any one convicted of accepting bribes should be liable to a fine of double the amount as well as to other punishment; that in the Imperial court a box should be placed for receiving petitions and a bell hung to be sounded in the event of delay in answering them or unfairness in dealing with them; that all absorption of land into great estates should cease; that barriers, outposts, guards and post-horses should be provided; that high officials should be dowered with hereditary estates by way of emolument, the largest of such grants being 3000 homesteads; that men of unblemished character and proved capacity should be appointed aldermen for adjudicating criminal matters; that there should be chosen as clerks for governors and vice-governors of provinces men of solid competence “skilled in writing and arithmetic”; that the land should be parcelled out in fixed proportions to every adult unit of the population with right of tenure for a term of six years; that forced labour should be commuted for taxes of silk and cloth; and that for fiscal and administrative purposes households should be organized in groups of five, each group under an elder, and ten groups forming a township, which, again, should be governed by an elder. Incidentally to these reforms many of the evil customs of the time are exposed. Thus provincial governors when they visited the capital were accustomed to travel with great retinues who appear to have constituted a charge on the regions through which they passed. The law now limited the number of a chief governor’s attendants to nine, and forbade him to use official houses or to fare at public cost unless journeying on public business. Again, men who had acquired some local distinction, though they did not belong to noble families, took advantage of the absence of historical records or official registers, and, representing themselves as descendants of magnates to whom the charge of public granaries had been entrusted, succeeded in usurping valuable privileges. The office of provincial governor had in many cases become hereditary, and not only were governors largely independent of Imperial control, but also, since every free man carried arms, there had grown up about these officials a population relying largely on the law of force. Kōtoku’s reforms sought to institute a system of temporary governors, and directed that all arms and armour should be stored in arsenals built in waste places, except in the case of provinces adjoining lands where unsubdued aborigines (Yemishi) dwelt. Punishments were drastic, and in the case of a man convicted of treason, all his children were executed with him, his wives and consorts committing suicide. From a much earlier age suicide had been freely resorted to as the most honourable exit from pending disgrace, but as yet the samurai’s method of disembowelment was not employed, strangulation or cutting the throat being the regular practice. Torture was freely employed and men often died under it. Signal abuses prevailed in regions beyond the immediate range of the central government’s observation. It has been shown that from early days the numerous scions of the Imperial family had generally been provided for by grants of provincial estates. Gradually the descendants of these men, and the representatives of great families who held hereditary rank, extended their domains unscrupulously, employing forced labour to reclaim lands, which they let to the peasants, not hesitating to appropriate large slices of public property, and remitting to the central treasury only such fractions of the taxes as they found convenient. So prevalent had the exaction of forced labour become that country-folk, repairing to the capital to seek redress of grievances, were often compelled to remain there for the purpose of carrying out some work in which dignitaries of state were interested. The removal of the capital to a new site on each change of sovereign involved a vast quantity of unproductive toil. It is recorded that in 656, when the empress Saimei occupied the throne, a canal was dug which required the work of 30,000 men and a wall was built which had employed 70,000 men before its completion. The construction of tombs for grandees was another heavy drain on the people’s labour. Some of these sepulchres attained enormous dimensions—that of the emperor Ojin (270-310) measures 2312 yds. round the outer moat and is some 60 ft. high; the emperor Nintoku’s (313-399) is still larger, and there is a tumulus in Kawachi on the flank of which a good-sized village has been built. Kōtoku’s laws provided that the tomb of a prince should not be so large as to require the work of more than 1000 men for seven days, and that the grave of a petty official must be completed by 50 men in one day. Moreover, it was forbidden to bury with the body gold, silver, copper, iron, jewelled shirts, jade armour or silk brocade. It appears that the custom of suicide or sacrifice at the tomb of grandees still survived, and that people sometimes cut off their hair or stabbed their thighs preparatory to declaiming a threnody. All these practices were vetoed. Abuses had grown up even in connexion with the Shintō rite of purgation. This rite required not only the reading of rituals but also the offering of food and fruits. For the sake of these edibles the rite was often harshly enforced, especially in connexion with pollution from contact with corpses; and thus it fell out that when of two brothers, returning from a scene of forced labour, one lay down upon the road and died, the other, dreading the cost of compulsory purgation, refused to take up the body. Many other evil customs came into existence in connexion with this rite, and all were dealt with in the new laws. Not the least important of the reforms then introduced was the organization of the ministry after the model of the Tang dynasty of China. Eight departments of state were created, and several of them received names which are similarly used to this day. Not only the institutions of China were borrowed but also her official costumes. During Kōtoku’s reign 19 grades of head-gear were instituted, and in the time of Tenchi (668-671) the number was increased to 26, with corresponding robes. Throughout this era intercourse was frequent with China, and the spread of Buddhism continued steadily. The empress Saimei (655-661), who succeeded Kōtoku, was an earnest patron of the faith. By her command several public expositions of the Sutras were given, and the building of temples went on in many districts, estates being liberally granted for the maintenance of these places of worship.
The Fujiwara Era.—In the Chronicles of Japan the year 672 is treated as a kind of interregnum. It was in truth a year of something like anarchy, a great part of it being occupied by a conflict of unparalleled magnitude between Prince Ōtomo (called in history Emperor Kōbun) and Prince Ōama, who emerged victorious and is historically entitled Temmu (673-686). The four centuries that followed are conveniently designated the Fujiwara era, because throughout that long interval affairs of state were controlled by the Fujiwara family, whose daughters were given as consorts to successive sovereigns and whose sons filled all the high administrative posts. It has been related above that Kamako, chief of the Shintō officials, inspired the assassination of the Soga chief, Iruka, and thus defeated the latter’s designs upon the throne in the days of the empress Kōgyoku. Kamako, better known to subsequent generations as Kamatari, was thenceforth regarded with unlimited favour by successive sovereigns, and just before his death in 670, the family name of Fujiwara was bestowed on him by the emperor Tenchi. Kamatari himself deserved all the honour he received, but his descendants abused the high trust reposed in them, reduced the sovereign to a mere puppet, and exercised Imperial authority without openly usurping it. Much of this was due to the adoption of Chinese administrative systems, a process which may be said to have commenced during the reign of Kōtoku (645-654) and to have continued almost uninterruptedly until the 11th century. Under these systems the emperor ceased directly to exercise supreme civil or military power: he became merely the source of authority, not its wielder, the civil functions being delegated to a bureaucracy and the military to a soldier class. Possibly had the custom held of transferring the capital to a new site on each change of sovereign, and had the growth of luxurious habits been thus checked, the comparatively simple life of early times might have held the throne and the people in closer contact. But from the beginning of the 8th century a strong tendency to avoid these costly migrations developed itself. In 709 the court took up its residence at Nara, remaining there until 784; ten years after the latter date Kiōto became the permanent metropolis. The capital at Nara—established during the reign of the empress Gemmyō (708-715)—was built on the plan of the Chinese metropolis. It had nine gates and nine avenues, the palace being situated in the northern section and approached by a broad, straight avenue, which divided the city into two perfectly equal halves, all the other streets running parallel to this main avenue or at right angles to it. Seven sovereigns reigned at Heijō (castle of peace), as Nara is historically called, and, during this period of 75 years, seven of the grandest temples ever seen in Japan were erected; a multitude of idols were cast, among them a colossal bronze Daibutsu 53½ ft. high; large temple-bells were founded, and all the best artists and artisans of the era devoted their services to these works. This religious mania reached its acme in the reign of the emperor Shōmu (724-748), a man equally superstitious and addicted to display. In Temmu’s time the custom had been introduced of compelling large numbers of persons to enter the Buddhist priesthood with the object of propitiating heaven’s aid to heal the illness of an illustrious personage. In Shōmu’s day every natural calamity or abnormal phenomenon was regarded as calling for religious services on a large scale, and the great expense involved in all these buildings and ceremonials, supplemented by lavish outlays on court pageants, was severely felt by the nation. The condition of the agricultural class, who were the chief tax-payers, was further aggravated by the operation of the emperor Kōtoku’s land system, which rendered tenure so uncertain as to deter improvements. Therefore, in the Nara epoch, the principle of private ownership of land began to be recognized. Attention was also paid to road-making, bridge-building, river control and house construction, a special feature of this last being the use of tiles for roofing purposes in place of the shingles or thatch hitherto employed. In all these steps of progress Buddhist priests took an active part. Costumes were now governed by purely Chinese fashions. This change had been gradually introduced from the time of Kōtoku’s legislative measures—generally called the Taikwa reforms after the name of the era (645-650) of their adoption—and was rendered more thorough by supplementary enactments in the period 701-703 while Mommu occupied the throne. Ladies seem by this time to have abandoned the strings of beads worn in early eras round the neck, wrists and ankles. They used ornaments of gold, silver or jade in their hair, but in other respects their habiliments closely resembled those of men, and to make the difference still less conspicuous they straddled their horses when riding. Attempts were made to facilitate travel by establishing stores of grain along the principal highways, but as yet there were no hostelries, and if a wayfarer did not find shelter in the house of a friend, he had to bivouac as best he could. Such a state of affairs in the provinces offered a marked contrast to the luxurious indulgence which had now begun to prevail in the capital. There festivals of various kinds, dancing, verse-composing, flower picnics, archery, polo, football—of a very refined nature—hawking, hunting and gambling absorbed the attention of the aristocracy. Nothing disturbed the serenity of the epoch except a revolt of the northern Yemishi, which was temporarily subdued by a Fujiwara general, for the Fujiwara had not yet laid aside the martial habits of their ancestors. In 794 the Imperial capital was transferred from Nara to Kiōto by order of the emperor Kwammu, one of the greatest of Japanese sovereigns. Education, the organization of the civil service, riparian works, irrigation improvements, the separation of religion from politics, the abolition of sinecure offices, devices for encouraging and assisting agriculture, all received attention from him. But a twenty-two years’ campaign against the northern Yemishi; the building of numerous temples; the indulgence of such a passionate love of the chase that he organized 140 hunting excursions during his reign of 25 years; profuse extravagance on the part of the aristocracy in Kiōto and the exactions of provincial nobles, conspired to sink the working classes into greater depths of hardship than ever. Farmers had to borrow money and seed-rice from local officials or Buddhist temples, hypothecating their land as security; thus the temples and the nobles extended their already great estates, whilst the agricultural population gradually fell into a position of practical serfdom.
Meanwhile the Fujiwara family were steadily developing their influence in Kiōto. Their methods were simple but thoroughly effective. “By progressive exercises of arbitrariness they gradually contrived that the choice of a Rise of the Fujiwara. consort for the sovereign should be legally limited to a daughter of their family, five branches of which were specially designated to that honour through all ages. When a son was born to an emperor, the Fujiwara took the child into one of their palaces, and on his accession to the throne, the particular Fujiwara noble that happened to be his maternal grandfather became regent of the empire. This office of regent, created towards the close of the 9th century, was part of the scheme; for the Fujiwara did not allow the purple to be worn by a sovereign after he had attained his majority, or, if they suffered him to wield the sceptre during a few years of manhood, they compelled him to abdicate so soon as any independent aspirations began to impair his docility; and since for the purposes of administration in these constantly recurring minorities an office more powerful than that of prime minister (dajō daijin) was needed, they created that of regent (kwambaku), making it hereditary in their own family. In fact the history of Japan from the 9th to the 19th century may be described as the history of four families, the Fujiwara, the Taira, the Minamoto and the Tokugawa. The Fujiwara governed through the emperor; the Taira, the Minamoto and the Tokugawa governed in spite of the emperor. The Fujiwara based their power on matrimonial alliances with the Throne; the Taira, the Minamoto and the Tokugawa based theirs on the possession of armed strength which the throne had no competence to control. There another broad line of cleavage is seen. Throughout the Fujiwara era the centre of political gravity remained always in the court. Throughout the era of the Taira, the Minamoto and the Tokugawa the centre of political gravity was transferred to a point outside the court, the headquarters of a military feudalism.” The process of transfer was of course gradual. It commenced with the granting of large tracts of tax-free lands to noblemen who had wrested them from the aborigines (Yemishi) or had reclaimed them by means of serf-labour. These tracts lay for the most part in the northern and eastern parts of the main island, at such a distance from the Capital that the writ of the central government did not run there; and since such lands could be rented at rates considerably less than the tax levied on farms belonging to the state, the peasants by degrees abandoned the latter and settled on the former, with the result that the revenues of the Throne steadily diminished, while those of the provincial magnates correspondingly increased. Moreover, in the 7th century, at the time of the adoption of Chinese models of administration and organization, the court began to rely for military protection on the services of guards temporarily drafted from the provincial troops, and, during the protracted struggle against the Yemishi in the north and east in the 8th century, the fact that the power of the sword lay with the provinces began to be noted.
Kiōto remained the source of authority. But with the growth of luxury and effeminacy in the capital the Fujiwara became more and more averse from the hardships of campaigning, and in the 9th and 10th centuries, respectively, The Taira and the Minamoto. the Taira and the Minamoto families came into prominence as military leaders, the field of the Taira operations being the south and west, that of the Minamoto the north and east. Had the court reserved to itself and munificently exercised the privilege of rewarding these services, it might still have retained power and wealth. But by a niggardly and contemptuous policy on the part of Kiōto not only were the Minamoto leaders estranged but also they assumed the right of recompensing their followers with tax-free estates, an example which the Taira leaders quickly followed. By the early years of the 12th century these estates had attracted the great majority of the farming class, whereas the public land was left wild and uncultivated. In a word, the court and the Fujiwara found themselves without revenue, while the coffers of the Taira and the Minamoto were full: the power of the purse and the power of the sword had passed effectually to the two military families. Prominent features of the moral condition of the capital at this era (12th century) were superstition, refinement and effeminacy. A belief was widely held that calamity could not be averted or success insured without recourse to Buddhist priests. Thus, during a reign of only 13 years at the close of the 11th century, the emperor Shirakawa caused 5420 religious pictures to be painted, ordered the casting of 127 statues of Buddha, each 11 ft. high, of 3150 life-sized images and of 2930 smaller idols, and constructed 21 large temples as well as 446,630 religious edifices of various kinds. Side by side with this faith in the supernatural, sexual immorality prevailed widely, never accompanied, however, by immodesty. Literary proficiency ranked as the be-all and end-all of existence. “A man estimated the conjugal qualities of a young lady by her skill in finding scholarly similes and by her perception of the cadence of words. If a woman was so fortunate as to acquire a reputation for learning, she possessed a certificate of universal virtue and amiability.” All the pastimes of the Nara epoch were pursued with increased fervour and elaboration in the Heian (Kiōto) era. The building of fine dwelling-houses and the laying out of landscape gardens took place on a considerable scale, though in these respects the ideals of later ages were not yet reached. As to costume, the close-fitting, business-like and comparatively simple dress of the 8th century was exchanged for a much more elaborate style. During the Nara epoch the many-hued hats of China had been abandoned for a sober head-gear of silk gauze covered with black lacquer, but in the Heian era this was replaced by an imposing structure glistening with jewels: the sleeves of the tunic grew so long that they hung to the knees when a man’s arms were crossed, and the trowsers were made so full and baggy that they resembled a divided skirt. From this era may be said to have commenced the manufacture of the tasteful and gorgeous textile fabrics for which Japan afterwards became famous. “A fop’s ideal was to wear several suits, one above the other, disposing them so that their various colours showed in harmoniously contrasting lines at the folds on the bosom and at the edges of the long sleeves. A successful costume created a sensation in court circles. Its wearer became the hero of the hour, and under the pernicious influence of such ambition men began even to powder their faces and rouge their cheeks like women. As for the fair sex, their costume reached the acme of unpracticality and extravagance in this epoch. Long flowing hair was essential, and what with developing the volume and multiplying the number of her robes, and wearing above her trowsers a many-plied train, a grand lady of the time always seemed to be struggling to emerge from a cataract of habiliments.” It was fortunate for Japan that circumstances favoured the growth of a military class in this age of her career, for had the conditions existing in Kiōto during the Heian epoch spread throughout the whole country, the penalty never escaped by a demoralized nation must have overtaken her. But by the middle of the 12th century the pernicious influence of the Fujiwara had paled before that of the Taira and the Minamoto, and a question of succession to the throne marshalled the latter two families in opposite camps, thus inaugurating an era of civil war which held the country in the throes of almost continuous battle for 450 years, placed it under the administration of a military feudalism, and educated a nation of warriors. At first the Minamoto were vanquished and driven from the capital, Kiyomori, the Taira chief, being left complete master of the situation. He established his headquarters at Rokuharu, in Kiōto, appropriated the revenues of 30 out of the 66 provinces forming the empire, and filled all the high offices of state with his own relatives or connexions. But he made no radical change in the administrative system, preferring to follow the example of the Fujiwara by keeping the throne in the hands of minors. And he committed the blunder of sparing the lives of two youthful sons of his defeated rival, the Minamoto chief. They were Yoritomo and Yoshitsunē; the latter the greatest strategist Japan ever produced, with perhaps one exception; the former, one of her three greatest statesmen, the founder of military feudalism. By these two men the Taira were so completely overthrown that they never raised their heads again, a sea-fight at Dan-no-ura (1155) giving them the coup de grâce. Their supremacy had lasted 22 years.
The Feudal Era.—Yoritomo, acting largely under the advice of an astute counsellor, Oye no Hiromoto, established his seat of power at Kamakura, 300 m. from Kiōto. He saw that, effectively to utilize the strength of the military class, propinquity to the military centres in the provinces was essential. At Kamakura he organized an administrative body similar in mechanism to that of the metropolitan government but studiously differentiated in the matter of nomenclature. As to the country at large, he brought it effectually under the sway of Kamakura by placing the provinces under the direct control of military governors, chosen and appointed by himself. No attempt was made, however, to interfere in any way with the polity in Kiōto: it was left intact, and the nobles about the Throne—kuge (courtly houses), as they came to be called in contradistinction to the buke (military houses)—were placated by renewal of their property titles. The Buddhist priests, also, who had been treated most harshly during the Taira tenure of power, found their fortunes restored under Kamakura’s sway. Subsequently Yoritomo obtained for himself the title of sei-itai-shōgun (barbarian-subduing generalissimo), and just as the office of regent (kwambaku) had long been hereditary in the Fujiwara family, so the office of shōgun became thenceforth hereditary in that of the Minamoto. These changes were radical. They signified a complete shifting of the centre of power. During eighteen centuries from the time of Jimmu’s invasion—as Japanese historians reckon—the country had been ruled from the south; now the north became supreme, and for a civilian administration a purely military was substituted. But there was no contumely towards the court in Kiōto. Kamakura made a show of seeking Imperial sanction for every one of its acts, and the whole of the military administration was carried on in the name of the emperor by a shōgun who called himself the Imperial deputy. In this respect things changed materially after the death of Yoritomo (1198). Kamakura then became the scene of a drama analogous to that acted in Kiōto from the 10th century.
The Hōjō family, to which belonged Masa, Yoritomo’s consort, assumed towards the Kamakura shōgun an attitude similar to that previously assumed by the Fujiwara family towards the emperor in Kiōto. A child, who on Rule of the Hōjō. state occasions was carried to the council chamber in Masa’s arms, served as the nominal repository of the shōgun’s power, the functions of administration being discharged in reality by the Hōjō family, whose successive heads took the name of shikken (constable). At first care was taken to have the shōgun’s office filled by a near relative of Yoritomo; but after the death of that great statesman’s two sons and his nephew, the puppet shōguns were taken from the ranks of the Fujiwara or of the Imperial princes, and were deposed so soon as they attempted to assert themselves. What this meant becomes apparent when we note that in the interval of 83 years between 1220 and 1308, there were six shōguns whose ages at the time of appointment ranged from 3 to 16. Whether, if events had not forced their hands, the Hōjō constables would have maintained towards the Throne the reverent demeanour adopted by Yoritomo must remain a matter of conjecture. What actually happened was that the ex-emperor, Go-Toba, made an ill-judged attempt (1221) to break the power of Kamakura. He issued a call to arms which was responded to by some thousands of cenobites and as many soldiers of Taira extraction. In the brief struggle that ensued the Imperial partisans were wholly shattered, and the direct consequences were the dethronement and exile of the reigning emperor, the banishment of his predecessor together with two princes of the blood, and the compulsory adoption of the tonsure by Go-Toba; while the indirect consequence was that the succession to the throne and the tenure of Imperial power fell under the dictation of the Hōjō as they had formerly fallen under the direction of the Fujiwara. Yoshitoki, then head of the Hōjō family, installed his brother, Tokifusa, as military governor of Kiōto, and confiscating about 3000 estates, the property of those who had espoused the Imperial cause, distributed these lands among the adherents of his own family, thus greatly strengthening the basis of the feudal system. “It fared with the Hōjō as it had fared with all the great families that preceded them: their own misrule ultimately wrought their ruin. Their first eight representatives were talented and upright administrators. They took justice, simplicity and truth for guiding principles; they despised luxury and pomp; they never aspired to high official rank; they were content with two provinces for estates, and they sternly repelled the effeminate, depraved customs of Kiōto.” Thus the greater part of the 13th century was, on the whole, a golden era for Japan, and the lower orders learned to welcome feudalism. Nevertheless no century furnished more conspicuous illustrations of the peculiarly Japanese system of vicarious government. Children occupied the position of shōgun in Kamakura under authority emanating from children on the throne in Kiōto; and members of the Hōjō family as shikken administered affairs at the mandate of the child shōguns. Through all three stages in the dignities of mikado, shōgun and shikken, the strictly regulated principle of heredity was maintained, according to which no Hōjō shikken could ever become shōgun; no Minamoto or Fujiwara could occupy the throne. At the beginning of the 14th century, however, several causes combined to shake the supremacy of the Hōjō. Under the sway of the ninth shikken (Takatoki), the austere simplicity of life and earnest discharge of executive duties which had distinguished the early chiefs of the family were exchanged for luxury, debauchery and perfunctory government. Thus the management of fiscal affairs fell into the hands of Takasuke, a man of usurious instincts. It had been the wise custom of the Hōjō constables to store grain in seasons of plenty, and distribute it at low prices in times of dearth. There occurred at this epoch a succession of bad harvests, but instead of opening the state granaries with benevolent liberality, Takasuke sold their contents at the highest obtainable rates; and, by way of contrast to the prevailing indigence, the people saw the constable in Kamakura affecting the pomp and extravagance of a sovereign waited upon by 37 mistresses, supporting a band of 2000 dancers, and keeping a pack of 5000 fighting dogs. The throne happened to be then occupied (1310-1338) by an emperor, Go-Daigo, who had reached full maturity before his accession, and was correspondingly averse from acting the puppet part assigned to the sovereigns of his time. Female influence contributed to his impatience. One of his concubines bore a son for whom he sought to obtain nomination as prince imperial, in defiance of an arrangement made by the Hōjō that the succession should pass alternately to the senior and junior branches of the Imperial family. Kamakura refused to entertain Go-Daigo’s project, and thenceforth the child’s mother importuned her sovereign and lover to overthrow the Hōjō. The entourage of the throne in Kiōto at this time was a counterpart of former eras. The Fujiwara, indeed, wielded nothing of their ancient influence. They had been divided by the Hōjō into five branches, each endowed with an equal right to the office of regent, and their strength was thus dissipated in struggling among themselves for the possession of the prize. But what the Fujiwara had done in their days of greatness, what the Taira had done during their brief tenure of power, the Saionji were now doing, namely, aspiring to furnish prime ministers and empresses from their own family solely. They had already given consorts to five emperors in succession, and jealous rivals were watching keenly to attack this clan which threatened to usurp the place long held by the most illustrious family in the land. A petty incident disturbed this state of very tender equilibrium before the plan of the Hōjō’s enemies had fully matured, and the emperor presently found himself an exile on the island of Oki. But there now appeared upon the scene three men of great prowess: Kusunoki Masashige, Nitta Yoshisada and Ashikaga Takauji. The first espoused from the outset the cause of the Throne and, though commanding only a small force, held the Hōjō troops in check. The last two were both of Minamoto descent. Their common ancestor was Minamoto Yoshiiye, whose exploits against the northern Yemishi in the second half of the 11th century had so impressed his countrymen that they gave him the title of Hachiman Tarō (first-born of the god of war). Both men took the field originally in the cause of the Hōjō, but at heart they desired to be avenged upon the latter for disloyalty to the Minamoto. Nitta Yoshisada marched suddenly against Kamakura, carried it by storm and committed the city to the flames. Ashikaga Takauji occupied Kiōto, and with the suicide of Takatoki the Hōjō fell finally from rule after 115 years of supremacy (1219-1334). The emperor now returned from exile, and his son, Prince Moriyoshi, having been appointed to the office of shōgun at Kamakura, the restoration of the administrative power to the Throne seemed an accomplished fact.
Go-Daigo, however, was not in any sense a wise sovereign. The extermination of the Hōjō placed wide estates at his disposal, but instead of rewarding those who had deserved well of him, he used a great part of them to enrich The Ashikaga Shoguns. his favourites, the companions of his dissipation. Ashikaga Takauji sought just such an opportunity. The following year (1335) saw him proclaiming himself shōgun at Kamakura, and after a complicated pageant of incidents, the emperor Go-Daigo was obliged once more to fly from Kiōto. He carried the regalia with him, refused to submit to Takauji, and declined to recognize his usurped title of shōgun. The Ashikaga chief solved the situation by deposing Go-Daigo and placing upon the throne another scion of the imperial family who is known in history as Kōmyō (1336-1348), and who, of course, confirmed Takauji in the office of shōgun. Thus commenced the Ashikaga line of shōguns, and thus commenced also a fifty-six-year period of divided sovereignty, the emperor Go-Daigo and his descendants reigning in Yoshino as the southern court (nanchō), and the emperor Kōmyō and his descendants reigning in Kiōto as the northern court (hokuchō). It was by the efforts of the shōgun Yoshimitsu, one of the greatest of the Ashikaga potentates, that this quarrel was finally composed, but during its progress the country had fallen into a deplorable condition. “The constitutional powers had become completely disorganized, especially in regions at a distance from the chief towns. The peasant was impoverished, his spirit broken, his hope of better things completely gone. He dreamed away his miserable existence and left the fields untilled. Bands of robbers followed the armies through the interior of the country, and increased the feeling of lawlessness and insecurity. The coast population, especially that of the island of Kiūshiū, had given itself up in a great measure to piracy. Even on the shores of Korea and China these enterprising Japanese corsairs made their appearance.” The shōgun Yoshimitsu checked piracy, and there ensued between Japan and China a renewal of cordial intercourse which, upon the part of the shōgun, developed phases plainly suggesting an admission of Chinese suzerainty.
For a brief moment during the sway of Yoshimitsu the country had rest from internecine war, but immediately after his death (1394) the struggle began afresh. Many of the great territorial lords had now grown too puissant to concern themselves about either mikado or shōgun. Each fought for his own hand, thinking only of extending his sway and his territories. By the middle of the 16th century Kiōto was in ruins, and little vitality remained in any trade or industry except those that ministered to the wants of the warrior. Again in the case of the Ashikaga shōguns the political tendency to exercise power vicariously was shown, as it had been shown in the case of the mikados in Kiōto and in the case of the Minamoto in Kamakura. What the regents had been to the emperors and the constables to the Minamoto shōguns, that the wardens (kwanryō) were to the Ashikaga shōguns. Therefore, for possession of this office of kwanryō vehement conflicts were waged, and at one time five rival shōguns were used as figure-heads by contending factions. Yoshimitsu had apportioned an ample allowance for the support of the Imperial court, but in the continuous warfare following his death the estates charged with the duty of paying this allowance ceased to return any revenue; the court nobles had to seek shelter and sustenance with one or other of the feudal chiefs in the provinces, and the court itself was reduced to such a state of indigence that when the emperor Go-Tsuchi died (1500), his corpse lay for forty days awaiting burial, no funds being available for purposes of sepulture.
Alone among the vicissitudes of these troublous times the strength and influence of Buddhism grew steadily. The great monasteries were military strongholds as well as places of worship. When the emperor Kwammu chose Kiōto for his capital, he established on the hill of Hiyei-zan, which lay north-east of the city, a magnificent temple to ward off the evil influences supposed to emanate from that quarter. Twenty years later, Kōbō, the most famous of all Japanese Buddhist saints, founded on Koyasan in Yamato a monastery not less important than that of Hiyei-zan. These and many other temples had large tax-free estates, and for the protection of their property they found it expedient to train and arm the cenobites as soldiers. From that to taking active part in the political struggles of the time was but a short step, especially as the great temples often became refuges of sovereigns and princes who, though nominally forsaking the world, retained all their interest, and even continued to take an active part, in its vicissitudes. It is recorded of the emperor Shirakawa (1073-1086) that the three things which he declared his total inability to control were the waters of the river Kamo, the fall of the dice, and the monks of Buddha. His successors might have confessed equal inability. Kiyōmori, the puissant chief of the Taira family, had fruitlessly essayed to defy the Buddhists; Yoritomo, in the hour of his most signal triumph, thought it wise to placate them. Where these representatives of centralized power found themselves impotent, it may well be supposed that the comparatively petty chieftans who fought each for his own hand in the 15th and 16th centuries were incapable of accomplishing anything. In fact, the task of centralizing the administrative power, and thus restoring peace and order to the distracted empire, seemed, at the middle of the 16th century, a task beyond achievement by human capacity.
But if ever events create the men to deal with them, such was the case in the second half of that century. Three of the greatest captains and statesmen in Japanese history appeared upon the stage simultaneously, and moreover Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Iyeyasu. worked in union, an event altogether inconsistent with the nature of the age. They were Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi (the taikō) and Tokugawa Iyeyasu. Nobunaga belonged to the Taira family and was originally ruler of a small fief in the province of Owari. Iyeyasu, a sub-feudatory of Nobunaga’s enemy, the powerful daimyō of Mikawa and two other provinces, was a scion of the Minamoto and therefore eligible for the shōgunate. Hideyoshi was a peasant’s son, equally lacking in patrons and in personal attractions. No chance seemed more remote than that such men, above all Hideyoshi, could possibly rise to supreme power. On the other hand, one outcome of the commotion with which the country had seethed for more than four centuries was to give special effect to the principle of natural selection. The fittest alone surviving, the qualities that made for fitness came to take precedence of rank or station, and those qualities were prowess in the battlefield and wisdom in the statesman’s closet. “Any plebeian that would prove himself a first-class fighting man was willingly received into the armed comitatus which every feudal potentate was eager to attach to himself and his flag.” It was thus that Hideyoshi was originally enrolled in the ranks of Nobunaga’s retainers.
Nobunaga, succeeding to his small fief in Owari in 1542, added to it six whole provinces within 25 years of continuous endeavour. Being finally invited by the emperor to undertake the pacification of the country, and appealed to by Yoshiaki, the last of the Ashikaga chiefs, to secure for him the shōgunate, he marched into Kiōto at the head of a powerful army (1568), and, having accomplished the latter purpose, was preparing to complete the former when he fell under the sword of a traitor. Throughout his brilliant career he had the invaluable assistance of Hideyoshi, who would have attained immortal fame on any stage in any era. Hideyoshi entered Nobunaga’s service as a groom and ended by administering the whole empire. When he accompanied Nobunaga to Kiōto in obedience to the invitation of the mikado, Okimachi, order and tranquillity were quickly restored in the capital and its vicinity. But to extend this blessing to the whole country, four powerful daimyōs as well as the militant monks had still to be dealt with. The monks had from the outset sheltered and succoured Nobunaga’s enemies, and one great prelate, Kenryō, hierarch of the Monto sect, whose headquarters were at Osaka, was believed to aspire to the throne itself. In 1571 Nobunaga attacked and gave to the flames the celebrated monastery of Hiyei-zan, established nearly eight centuries previously; and in 1580 he would have similarly served the splendid temple Hongwan-ji in Osaka, had not the mikado sought and obtained grace for it. The task then remained of subduing four powerful daimyōs, three in the south and one in the north-east, who continued to follow the bent of their own warlike ambitions without paying the least attention to either sovereign or shōgun. The task was commenced by sending an army under Hideyoshi against Mōri of Chōshū, whose fief lay on the northern shore of the Shimonoseki strait. This proved to be the last enterprise planned by Nobunaga. On a morning in June 1582 one of the corps intended to reinforce Hideyoshi’s army marched out of Kameyama under the command of Akechi Mitsuhide, who either harboured a personal grudge against Nobunaga or was swayed by blind ambition. Mitsuhide suddenly changed the route of his troops, led them to Kiōto, and attacked the temple Honnō-ji where Nobunaga was sojourning all unsuspicious of treachery. Rescue and resistance being alike hopeless, the great soldier committed suicide. Thirteen days later, Hideyoshi, having concluded peace with Mōri of Chōshū, fell upon Mitsuhide’s forces and shattered them, Mitsuhide himself being killed by a peasant as he fled from the field.
Nobunaga’s removal at once made Hideyoshi the most conspicuous figure in the empire, the only man with any claim to dispute that title being Tokugawa Iyeyasu. These two had hitherto worked in concert. But the question Hideyoshi. of the succession to Nobunaga’s estates threw the country once more into tumult. He left two grown-up sons and a baby grandson, whose father, Nobunaga’s first-born, had perished in the holocaust at Honnō-ji. Hideyoshi, not unmindful, it may be assumed, of the privileges of a guardian, espoused the cause of the infant, and wrested from Nobunaga’s three other great captains a reluctant endorsement of his choice. Nobutaka, third son of Nobunaga, at once drew the sword, which he presently had to turn against his own person; two years later (1584), his elder brother, Nobuo, took the field under the aegis of Tokugawa Iyeyasu. Hideyoshi and Iyeyasu, now pitted against each other for the first time, were found to be of equal prowess, and being too wise to prolong a useless war, they reverted to their old alliance, subsequently confirming it by a family union, the son of Iyeyasu being adopted by Hideyoshi and the latter’s daughter being given in marriage to Iyeyasu. Hideyoshi had now been invested by the mikado with the post of regent, and his position in the capital was omnipotent. He organized in Kiōto a magnificent pageant, in which the principal figures were himself, Iyeyasu, Nobuo and twenty-seven daimyōs. The emperor was present. Hideyoshi sat on the right of the throne, and all the nobles did obeisance to the sovereign. Prior to this event Hideyoshi had conducted against the still defiant daimyōs of Kiūshiū, especially Shimazu of Satsuma, the greatest army ever massed by any Japanese general, and had reduced the island of the nine provinces, not by weight of armament only, but also by a signal exercise of the wise clemency which distinguished him from all the statesmen of his era.
The whole of Japan was now under Hideyoshi’s sway except the fiefs in the extreme north and those in the region known as the Kwantō, namely, the eight provinces forming the eastern elbow of the main island. Seven of these provinces were virtually under the sway of Hōjō Ujimasa, fourth representative of a family established in 1476 by a brilliant adventurer of Ise, not related in any way to the great but then extinct house of Kamakura Hōjōs. The daimyōs in the north were comparatively powerless to resist Hideyoshi, but to reach them the Kwantō had to be reduced, and not only was its chief, Ujimasa, a formidable foe, but also the topographical features of the district represented fortifications of immense strength. After various unsuccessful overtures, having for their purpose to induce Ujimasa to visit the capital and pay homage to the emperor, Hideyoshi marched from Kiōto in the spring of 1590 at the head of 170,000 men, his colleagues Nobuo and Iyeyasu having under their orders 80,000 more. The campaign ended as did all Hideyoshi’s enterprises, except that he treated his vanquished enemies with unusual severity. During the three months spent investing Odawara, the northern daimyōs surrendered, and thus the autumn of 1590 saw Hideyoshi master of Japan from end to end, and saw Tokugawa Iyeyasu established at Yedo as recognized ruler of the eight provinces of the Kwantō. These two facts should be bracketed together, because Japan’s emergence from the deep gloom of long-continued civil strife was due not more to the brilliant qualities of Hideyoshi and Iyeyasu individually than to the fortunate synchronism of their careers, so that the one was able to carry the other’s work to completion and permanence. The last eight years of Hideyoshi’s life—he died in 1598—were chiefly remarkable for his attempt to invade China through Korea, and for his attitude towards Christianity (see § VIII.: Foreign Intercourse).
The Tokugawa Era.—When Hideyoshi died he left a son, Hideyori, then only six years of age, and the problem of this child’s future had naturally caused supreme solicitude to the peasant statesman. He finally entrusted the care of the boy and the management of state affairs to five regents, five ministers, and three intermediary councillors. But he placed chief reliance upon Iyeyasu, whom he appointed president of the board of regents. Among the latter was one, Ishida Mitsunari, who to insatiable ambition added an extraordinary faculty for intrigue and great personal magnetism. These qualities he utilized with such success that the dissensions among the daimyōs, which had been temporarily composed by Hideyoshi, broke out again, and the year 1600 saw Japan divided into two camps, one composed of Tokugawa Iyeyasu and his allies, the other of Ishida Mitsunari and his partisans.
The situation of Iyeyasu was eminently perilous. From his position in the east of the country, he found himself menaced by two powerful enemies on the north and on the south, respectively, the former barely contained by Iyeyasu. a greatly weaker force of his friends, and the latter moving up in seemingly overwhelming strength from Kiōto. He decided to hurl himself upon the southern army without awaiting the result of the conflict in the north. The encounter took place at Sekigahara in the province of Mino on the 21st of October 1600. The army of Iyeyasu had to move to the attack in such a manner that its left flank and its left rear were threatened by divisions of the enemy posted on commanding eminences. But with the leaders of these divisions Iyeyasu had come to an understanding by which they could be trusted to abide so long as victory did not declare against him. Such incidents were naturally common in an era when every man fought for his own hand. The southerners suffered a crushing defeat. The survivors fled pell-mell to Osaka, where in a colossal fortress, built by Hideyoshi, his son, Hideyori, and the latter’s mother, Yodo, were sheltered behind ramparts held 80,000 men. Hideyori’s cause had been openly put forward by Ishida Mitsunari and his partisans, but Iyeyasu made no immediate attempt to visit the sin upon the head of his deceased benefactor’s child. On the contrary, he sent word to the lady Yodo and her little boy that he absolved them of all complicity. The battle of Sekigahara is commonly spoken of as having terminated the civil war which had devastated Japan, with brief intervals, from the latter half of the 12th century to the beginning of the 17th. That is incorrect in view of the fact that Sekigahara was followed by other fighting, especially by the terrible conflict at Osaka in 1615 when Yodo and her son perished. But Sekigahara’s importance cannot be over-rated. For had Iyeyasu been finally crushed there, the wave of internecine strife must have rolled again over the empire until providence provided another Hideyoshi and another Iyeyasu to stem it. Sekigahara, therefore, may be truly described as a turning-point in Japan’s career and as one of the decisive battles of the world. As for the fact that the Tokugawa leader did not at once proceed to extremities in the case of the boy Hideyori, though the events of the Sekigahara campaign had made it quite plain that such a course would ultimately be inevitable, we have to remember that only two years had elapsed since Hideyoshi was laid in his grave. His memory was still green and the glory of his achievements still enveloped his family. Iyeyasu foresaw that to carry the tragedy to its bitter end at once must have forced into Hideyori’s camp many puissant daimyōs whose sense of allegiance would grow less cogent with the lapse of time. When he did lay siege to the Osaka castle in 1615, the power of the Tokugawa was well-nigh shattered against its ramparts; had not the onset been aided by treachery, the stronghold would probably have proved impregnable.
But signal as were the triumphs of the Tokugawa chieftain in the field, what distinguishes him from all his predecessors is the ability he displayed in consolidating his conquests. The immense estates that fell into his hands he parcelled out in such a manner that all important strategical positions were held by daimyōs whose fidelity could be confidently trusted, and every feudatory of doubtful loyalty found his fief within touch of a Tokugawa partisan. This arrangement, supplemented by a system which required all the great daimyōs to have mansions in the shōgun’s capital. Yedo, to keep their families there always and to reside there themselves in alternate years, proved so potent a check to disaffection that from 1615, when the castle of Osaka fell, until 1864, when the Chōshū rōnin attacked Kiōto, Japan remained entirely free from civil war.
It is possible to form a clear idea of the ethical and administrative principles by which Iyeyasu and the early Tokugawa chiefs were guided in elaborating the system which gave to Japan an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity. Evidence is furnished not only by the system itself but also by the contents of a document generally called the Testament of Iyeyasu, though probably it was not fully compiled until the time of his grandson, Iyemitsu (1623-1650). The great Tokugawa chief, though he munificently patronized Buddhism and though he carried constantly in his bosom a miniature Buddhist image to which he ascribed all his success in the field and his safety in battle, took his ethical code from Confucius. He held that the basis of all legislation and administration should be the five relations of sovereign and subject, parent and child, husband and wife, brother and sister, friend and friend. The family was, in his eyes, the essential foundation of society, to be maintained at all sacrifices. Beyond these broad outlines of moral duty it was not deemed necessary to instruct the people. Therefore out of the hundred chapters forming the Testament only 22 contain what can be called legal enactments, while 55 relate to administration and politics; 16 set forth moral maxims and reflections, and the remainder record illustrative episodes in the career of the author. No distinct line is drawn between law and morals, between the duty of a citizen and the virtues of a member of a family. Substantive law is entirely wanting, just as it was wanting in the so-called constitution of Prince Shōtoku. Custom, as sanctioned by public observance, must be complied with in the civil affairs of life. What required minute exposition was criminal law, the relations of social classes, etiquette, rank, precedence, administration and government.
Society under feudalism had been moulded into three sharply defined groups, namely, first, the Throne and the court nobles (kuge); secondly, the military class (buke or samurai); and thirdly, the common people (heimin). These lines Social distinctions in the Tokugawa Era. of cleavage were emphasized as much as possible by the Tokugawa rulers. The divine origin of the mikado was held to separate him from contact with mundane affairs, and he was therefore strictly secluded in the palace at Kiōto, his main function being to mediate between his heavenly ancestors and his subjects, entrusting to the shōgun and the samurai the duty of transacting all worldly business on behalf of the state. In obedience to this principle the mikado became a kind of sacrosanct abstraction. No one except his consorts and his chief ministers ever saw his face. In the rare cases when he gave audience to a privileged subject, he sat behind a curtain, and when he went abroad, he rode in a closely shut car drawn by oxen. A revenue of ten thousand koku of rice—the equivalent of about as many guineas—was apportioned for his support, and the right was reserved to him of conferring empty titles upon the living and rank upon the dead. His majesty had one wife, the empress (kōgō), necessarily taken from one of the five chosen families (go-sekke) of the Fujiwara, but he might also have twelve consorts, and if direct issue failed, the succession passed to one of the two princely families of Arisugawa and Fushimi, adoption, however, being possible in the last resort. The kuge constituted the court nobility, consisting of 155 families all of whom traced their lineage to ancient mikados; they ranked far above the feudal chiefs, not excepting even the shōgun; filled by right of heredity nearly all the offices at the court, the emoluments attached being, however, a mere pittance; were entirely without the great estates which had belonged to them in ante-feudal times, and lived lives of proud poverty, occupying themselves with the study of literature and the practice of music and art. After the kuge and at a long distance below them in theoretical rank came the military families, who, as a class, were called buke or samurai. They had hereditary revenues, and they filled the administrative posts, these, too, being often hereditary. The third, and by far the most numerous, section of the nation were the commoners (heimin). They had no social status; were not allowed to carry swords, and possessed no income except what they could earn with their hands. About 55 in every 1000 units of the nation were samurai, the latter’s wives and children being included in this estimate.
Under the Hōjō and the Ashikaga shōguns the holders of the great estates changed frequently according to the vicissitudes of those troublesome times, but under the Tokugawa no change took place, and there thus Daimyōs. grew up a landed nobility of the most permanent character. Every one of these estates was a feudal kingdom, large or small, with its own usages and its own laws, based on the general principles above indicated and liable to be judged according to those principles by the shōgun’s government (baku-fu) in Yedo. A daimyō or feudal chief drew from the peasants on his estate the means of subsistence for himself and his retainers. For this purpose the produce of his estate was assessed by the shōgun’s officials in koku (one koku = 180.39 litres, worth about £1), and about one-half of the assessed amount went to the feudatory, the other half to the tillers of the soil. The richest daimyō was Mayeda of Kaga, whose fief was assessed at a little over a million koku, his revenue thus being about half a million sterling. Just as an empress had to be taken from one of five families designated to that distinction for all time, so a successor to the shōgunate, failing direct heir, had to be selected from three families (sanke), namely, those of the daimyōs of Owari, Kii and Mito, whose first representatives were three sons of Iyeyasu. Out of the total body of 255 daimyōs existing in the year 1862, 141 were specially distinguished as fudai, or hereditary vassals of the Tokugawa house, and to 18 of these was strictly limited the perpetual privilege of filling all the high offices in the Yedo administration, while to 4 of them was reserved the special honour of supplying a regent (go-tairō) during the minority of the shōgun. Moreover, a fudai daimyō was of necessity appointed to the command of the fortress of Nijō in Kiōto as well as of the great castles of Osaka and Fushimi, which Iyeyasu designated the keys of the country. No intermarriage might take place between members of the court nobility and the feudal houses without the consent of Yedo; no daimyō might apply direct to the emperor for an official title, or might put foot within the imperial district of Kiōto without the shōgun’s permit, and at all entrances to the region known as the Kwantō there were established guardhouses, where every one, of whatever rank, must submit to be examined, in order to prevent the wives and children of the daimyōs from secretly leaving Yedo for their own provinces. In their journeys to and from Yedo every second year the feudal chiefs had to travel by one of two great highways, the Tōkaidō or the Nakasendō, and as they moved with great retinues, these roads were provided with a number of inns and tea-houses equipped in a sumptuous manner, and having an abundance of female servants. A puissant daimyō’s procession often numbered as many as 1000 retainers, and nothing illustrates more forcibly the wide interval that separated the soldier and the plebeian than the fact that at the appearance of the heralds who preceded these progresses all commoners who happened to be abroad had to kneel on the ground with bowed and uncovered heads; all wayside houses had to close the shutters of windows giving on the road, and none might venture to look down from a height on the passing magnate. Any violation of these rules of etiquette exposed the violator to instant death at the hands of the daimyō’s retinue. Moreover, the samurai and the heimin lived strictly apart. A feudal chief had a castle which generally occupied a commanding position. It was surrounded by from one to three broad moats, the innermost crowned with a high wall of huge cut stones, its trace arranged so as to give flank defence, which was further provided by pagoda-like towers placed at the salient angles. Inside this wall stood the houses of the high officials on the outskirts of a park surrounding the residence of the daimyō himself, and from the scarps of the moats or in the intervals between them rose houses for the military retainers, barrack-like structures, provided, whenever possible, with small but artistically arranged and carefully tended gardens. All this domain of the military was called yashiki in distinction to the machi (streets) where the despised commoners had their habitat.
The general body of the samurai received stipends and lived frugally. Their pay was not reckoned in money: it took the form of so many rations of rice delivered from their chief’s granaries. A few had landed estates, Samurai. usually bestowed in recognition of conspicuous merit. They were probably the finest type of hereditary soldiers the world ever produced. Money and all devices for earning it they profoundly despised. The right of wearing a sword was to them the highest conceivable privilege. They counted themselves the guardians of their fiefs’ honour and of their country’s welfare. At any moment they were prepared cheerfully to sacrifice their lives on the altar of loyalty. Their word, once given, must never be violated. The slightest insult to their honour might not be condoned. Stoicism was a quality which they esteemed next to courage: all outward display of emotion must be suppressed. The sword might never be drawn for a petty cause, but, if once drawn, must never be returned to its scabbard until it had done its duty. Martial exercises occupied much of their attention, but book learning also they esteemed highly. They were profoundly courteous towards each other, profoundly contemptuous towards the commoner, whatever his wealth. Filial piety ranked next to loyalty in their code of ethics. Thus the Confucian maxim, endorsed explicitly in the Testament of Iyeyasu, that a man must not live under the same sky with his father’s murderer or his brother’s slayer, received most literal obedience, and many instances occurred of vendettas pursued in the face of apparently insuperable difficulties and consummated after years of effort. By the standard of modern morality the Japanese samurai would be counted cruel. Holding that death was the natural sequel of defeat and the only certain way of avoiding disgrace, he did not seek quarter himself or think of extending it to an enemy. Yet in his treatment of the latter he loved to display courtesy until the supreme moment when all considerations of mercy were laid aside. It cannot be doubted that the practice of employing torture judicially tended to educate a mood of callousness towards suffering, or that the many idle hours of a military man’s life in time of peace encouraged a measure of dissipation. But there does not seem to be any valid ground for concluding that either of these defects was conspicuous in the character of the Japanese samurai. Faithlessness towards women was the greatest fault that can be laid to his door. The samurai lady claimed no privilege of timidity on account of her sex. She knew how to die in the cause of honour just as readily as her husband, her father or her brother died, and conjugal fidelity did not rank as a virtue in her eyes, being regarded as a simple duty. But her husband held marital faith in small esteem and ranked his wife far below his sword. It has to be remembered that when we speak of a samurai’s suicide, there is no question of poison, the bullet, drowning or any comparatively painless manner of exit from the world. The invariable method was to cut open the abdomen (hara-kiri or seppuku) and afterwards, if strength remained, the sword was turned against the throat. To such endurance had the samurai trained himself that he went through this cruel ordeal without flinching in the smallest degree.
The heimin or commoners were divided into three classes—husbandmen, artisans and traders. The farmer, as the nation lived by his labour, was counted the most respectable among the bread-winners, and a cultivator Heimin. of his own estate might even carry one sword but never two, that privilege being strictly reserved to a samurai. The artisan, too, received much consideration, as is easily understood when we remember that included in his ranks were artists, sword-smiths, armourers, sculptors of sacred images or sword-furniture, ceramists and lacquerers. Many artisans were in the permanent service of feudal chiefs from whom they received fixed salaries. Tradesmen, however, were regarded with disdain and stood lowest of all in the social organization. Too much despised to be even included in that organization were the eta (defiled folks) and the hinin (outcasts). The exact origin of these latter pariahs is uncertain, but the ancestors of the eta would seem to have been prisoners of war or the enslaved families of criminals. To such people were assigned the defiling duties of tending tombs, disposing of the bodies of the dead, slaughtering animals or tanning hides. The hinin were mendicants. On them devolved the task of removing and burying the corpses of executed criminals. Living in segregated hamlets, forbidden to marry with heimin, still less with samurai, not allowed to eat, drink or associate with persons above their own class, the eta remained under the ban of ostracism from generation to generation, though many of them contrived to amass much wealth. They were governed by their own headmen, and they had three chiefs, one residing in each of the cities of Yedo, Osaka and Kiōto. All these members of the submerged classes were relieved from proscription and admitted to the ranks of the commoners under the enlightened system of Meiji. The 12th of October 1871 saw their enfranchisement, and at that date the census showed 287,111 eta and 695,689 hinin.
Naturally, as the unbroken peace of the Tokugawa régime became habitual, the mood of the nation underwent a change. The samurai, no longer required to lead the frugal life of camp or barracks, began to live beyond their Decline and Fall of the Shōgunate. incomes. “They found difficulty in meeting the pecuniary engagements of everyday existence, so that money acquired new importance in their eyes, and they gradually forfeited the respect which their traditional disinterestedness had won for them in the past.” At the same time the abuses of feudalism were thrown into increased salience. A large body of hereditary soldiers become an anomaly when fighting has passed even out of memory. On the other hand, the agricultural and commercial classes acquired new importance. The enormous sums disbursed every year in Yedo, for the maintenance of the great establishments which the feudal chiefs vied with each other in keeping there, enriched the merchants and traders so greatly that their scale of living underwent radical change. Buddhism was a potent influence, but its ethical restraints were weakened by the conduct of its priests, who themselves often yielded to the temptation of the time. The aristocracy adhered to its refined pastimes—performances of the No; tea reunions; poem composing; polo; football; equestrian archery; fencing and gambling—but the commoner, being excluded from all this realm and, at the same time, emerging rapidly from his old position of penury and degradation, began to develop luxurious proclivities and to demand corresponding amusements. Thus the theatre came into existence; the dancing girl and the jester found lucrative employment; a popular school of art was founded and quickly carried to perfection; the lupanar assumed unprecedented dimensions; rich and costly costumes acquired wide vogue in despite of sumptuary laws enacted from time to time; wrestling became an important institution, and plutocracy asserted itself in the face of caste distinctions.
Simultaneously with the change of social conditions thus taking place, history repeated itself at the shōgun’s court. The substance of administrative power passed into the hands of a minister, its shadow alone remaining to the shōgun. During only two generations were the successors of Iyeyasu able to resist this traditional tendency. The representative of the third—Iyetsuna (1661-1680)—succumbed to the machinations of an ambitious minister, Sakai Takakiyo, and it may be said that from that time the nominal repository of administrative authority in Yedo was generally a species of magnificent recluse, secluded from contact with the outer world and seeing and hearing only through the eyes and ears of the ladies of his household. In this respect the descendants of the great Tokugawa statesman found themselves reduced to a position precisely analogous to that of the emperor in Kiōto. Sovereign and shōgun were alike mere abstractions so far as the practical work of government was concerned. With the great mass of the feudal chiefs things fared similarly. These men who, in the days of Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Iyeyasu, had directed the policies of their fiefs and led their armies in the field, were gradually transformed, during the long peace of the Tokugawa era, into voluptuous fainéants or, at best, thoughtless dilettanti, willing to abandon the direction of their affairs to seneschals and mayors, who, while on the whole their administration was able and loyal, found their account in contriving and perpetuating the effacement of their chiefs. Thus, in effect, the government of the country, taken out of the hands of the shōgun and the feudatories, fell into those of their vassals. There were exceptions, of course, but so rare as to be merely accidental.
Another important factor has to be noted. It has been shown above that Iyeyasu bestowed upon his three sons the rich fiefs of Owari, Kii (Kishū) and Mito, and that these three families exclusively enjoyed the privilege of furnishing an heir to the shōgun should the latter be without direct issue. Mito ought therefore to have been a most unlikely place for the conception and propagation of principles subversive of the shōgun’s administrative autocracy. Nevertheless, in the days of the second of the Mito chiefs at the close of the 17th century, there arose in that province a school of thinkers who, revolting against the ascendancy of Chinese literature and of Buddhism, devoted themselves to compiling a history such as should recall the attention of the nation to its own annals and revive its allegiance to Shintō. It would seem that in patronizing the compilation of this great work the Mito chief was swayed by the spirit of pure patriotism and studentship, and that he discerned nothing of the goal to which the new researches must lead the litterati of his fief. “He and they, for the sake of history and without any thought of politics, undertook a retrospect of their country’s annals, and their frank analysis furnished conclusive proof that the emperor was the prime source of administrative authority and that its independent exercise by a shōgun must be regarded as a usurpation. They did not attempt to give practical effect to their discoveries; the era was essentially academical. But this galaxy of scholars projected into the future a light which burned with growing force in each succeeding generation and ultimately burst into a flame which consumed feudalism and the shōgunate,” fused the nation into one, and restored the governing authority to the emperor. Of course the Mito men were not alone in this matter: many students subsequently trod in their footsteps and many others sought to stem the tendency; but the net result was fatal to faith in the dual system of government. Possibly had nothing occurred to furnish signal proof of the system’s practical defects, it might have long survived this theoretical disapproval. But the crisis caused by the advent of foreign ships and by the forceful renewal of foreign intercourse in the 19th century afforded convincing evidence of the shōgunate’s incapacity to protect the state’s supposed interests and to enforce the traditional policy of isolation which the nation had learned to consider essential to the empire’s integrity.
Another important factor made for the fall of the shōgunate. That factor was the traditional disaffection of the two great southern fiefs, Satsuma and Chōshū. When Iyeyasu parcelled out the empire, he deemed it the wisest policy to leave these chieftains in full possession of their large estates. But this measure, construed as an evidence of weakness rather than a token of liberality, neither won the allegiance of the big feudatories nor cooled their ambition. Thus no sooner did the nation divide into two camps over the question of renewed foreign intercourse than men of the above clans, in concert with representatives of certain of the old court nobles, placed themselves at the head of a movement animated by two loudly proclaimed purposes: restoration of the administration to the emperor, and expulsion of aliens. This latter aspiration underwent a radical change when the bombardment of the Satsuma capital, Kagoshima, and the destruction of the Chōshū forts and ships at Shimonoseki proved conclusively to the Satsuma and Chōshū clans that Japan in her unequipped and backward condition could not hope to stand for a moment against the Occident in arms. But the unwelcome discovery was accompanied by a conviction that only a thoroughly united nation might aspire to preserve its independence, and thus the abolition of the dual form of government became more than ever an article of public faith. It is unnecessary to recount the successive incidents which conspired to undermine the shōgun’s authority, and to destroy the prestige of the Yedo administration. Both had been reduced to vanishing quantities by the year 1866 when Keiki succeeded to the shōgunate.
Keiki, known historically as Yoshinobu, the last of the shōguns, was a man of matured intellect and high capacities. He had been put forward by the anti-foreign Conservatives for the succession to the shōgunate in 1857 when the complications of foreign intercourse were in their first stage of acuteness. But, like many other intelligent Japanese, he had learned, in the interval between 1857 and 1866, that to keep her doors closed was an impossible task for Japan, and very quickly after taking the reins of office he recognized that national union could never be achieved while power was divided between Kiōto and Yedo. At this juncture there was addressed to him by Yōdō, chief of the great Tosa fief, a memorial setting forth the hopelessness of the position in which the Yedo court now found itself, and urging that, in the interests of good government and in order that the nation’s united strength might be available to meet the exigencies of its new career, the administration should be restored to the emperor. Keiki received this memorial in Kiōto. He immediately summoned a council of all the feudatories and high officials then in the Imperial city, announced to them his intention to lay down his office, and, the next day, presented his resignation to the sovereign. This happened on the 14th of October 1867. It must be ranked among the signal events of the world’s history, for it signified the voluntary surrender of kingly authority wielded uninterruptedly for nearly three centuries. That the shōgun’s resignation was tendered in good faith there can be no doubt, and had it been accepted in the same spirit, the great danger it involved might have been consummated without bloodshed or disorder. But the clansmen of Satsuma and Chōshū were distrustful. One of the shōgun’s first acts after assuming office had been to obtain from the throne an edict for imposing penalties on Chōshū, and there was a precedent for suspecting that the renunciation of power by the shōgun might merely prelude its resumption on a firmer basis. Therefore steps were taken to induce the emperor, then a youth of fifteen, to issue a secret rescript to Satsuma and Chōshū, denouncing the shōgun as the nation’s enemy and enjoining his destruction. At the same time all officials connected with the Tokugawa or suspected of sympathy with them were expelled from office in Kiōto, and the shōgun’s troops were deprived of the custody of the palace gates by methods which verged upon the use of armed force. In the face of such provocation Keiki’s earnest efforts to restrain the indignation of his vassals and adherents failed. They marched against Kiōto and were defeated, whereupon Keiki left his castle at Osaka and retired to Yedo, where he subsequently made unconditional surrender to the Imperial army. There is little more to be set down on this page of the history. The Yedo court consented to lay aside its dignities and be stripped of its administrative authority, but all the Tokugawa vassals and adherents did not prove equally placable. There was resistance in the northern provinces, where the Aizu feudatory refused to abandon the Tokugawa cause; there was an attempt to set up a rival candidate for the throne in the person of an Imperial prince who presided over the Uyeno Monastery in Yedo; and there was a wild essay on the part of the admiral of the shōgun’s fleet to establish a republic in the island of Yezo. But these were mere ripples on the surface of the broad stream which set towards the peaceful overthrow of the dual system of government and ultimately towards the fall of feudalism itself. That this system, the outcome of five centuries of nearly continuous warfare, was swept away in almost as many weeks with little loss of life or destruction of property constitutes, perhaps, the most striking incident, certainly the most momentous, in the history of the Japanese nation.
The Meiji Era.—It must be remembered that when reference is made to the Japanese nation in connexion with these radical changes, only the nobles and the samurai are indicated—in other words, a section of the population representing about one-sixteenth of the whole. The bulk of the people—the agricultural, the industrial and the mercantile classes—remained outside the sphere of politics, not sharing the anti-foreign prejudice, or taking any serious interest in the great questions of the time. Foreigners often noted with surprise the contrast between the fierce antipathy displayed towards them by certain samurai on the one hand, and the genial, hospitable reception given to them by the common people on the other. History teaches that the latter was the natural disposition of the Japanese, the former a mood educated by special experiences. Further, even the comparatively narrow statement that the restoration of the administrative power to the emperor was the work of the nobles and the samurai must be taken with limitations. A majority of the nobles entertained no idea of any necessity for change. They were either held fast in the vice of Tokugawa authority, or paralyzed by the sensuous seductions of the lives provided for them by the machinations of their retainers, who transferred the administrative authority of the fiefs to their own hands, leaving its shadow only to their lords. It was among the retainers that longings for a new order of things were generated. Some of these men were sincere disciples of progress—a small band of students and deep thinkers who, looking through the narrow Dutch window at Deshima, had caught a glimmering perception of the realities that lay beyond the horizon of their country’s prejudices. But the influence of such Liberals was comparatively insignificant. Though they showed remarkable moral courage and tenacity of purpose, the age did not furnish any strong object lesson to enforce their propaganda of progress. The factors chiefly making for change were, first, the ambition of the southern clans to oust the Tokugawa, and, secondly, the samurai’s loyal instinct, reinforced by the teachings of his country’s history, by the revival of the Shintō cult, by the promptings of national enterprise, and by the object-lessons of foreign intercourse.
But though essentially imperialistic in its prime purposes, the revolution which involved the fall of the shōgunate, and ultimately of feudalism, may be called democratic with regard to the personnel of those who planned and Character of the Revolution. directed it. They were, for the most part, men without either official rank or social standing. That is a point essential to a clear understanding of the issue. Fifty-five individuals may be said to have planned and carried out the overthrow of the Yedo administration, and only five of them were territorial nobles. Eight, belonging to the court nobility, laboured under the traditional disadvantages of their class, poverty and political insignificance; and the remaining forty-two, the hearts and hands of the movement, may be described as ambitious youths, who sought to make a career for themselves in the first place, and for their country in the second. The average age of the whole did not exceed thirty. There was another element for which any student of Japanese history might have been prepared: the Satsuma samurai aimed originally not merely at overthrowing the Tokugawa but also at obtaining the shōgunate for their own chief. Possibly it would be unjust to say that all the leaders of the great southern clan harboured that idea. But some of them certainly did, and not until they had consented to abandon the project did their union with Chōshū, the other great southern clan, become possible—a union without which the revolution could scarcely have been accomplished. This ambition of the Satsuma clansmen deserves special mention, because it bore remarkable fruit; it may be said to have laid the foundation of constitutional government in Japan. For, in consequence of the distrust engendered by such aspirations, the authors of the Restoration agreed that when the emperor assumed the reins of power, he should solemnly pledge himself to convene a deliberative assembly, to appoint to administrative posts men of intellect and erudition wherever they might be found, and to decide all measures in accordance with public opinion. This promise, referred to frequently in later times as the Imperial oath at the Restoration, came to be accounted the basis of representative institutions, though in reality it was intended solely as a guarantee against the political ascendancy of any one clan.
At the outset the necessity of abolishing feudalism did not present itself clearly to the leaders of the revolution. Their sole idea was the unification of the nation. But when they came to consider closely the practical The Anti-feudal Idea. side of the problem, they understood how far it would lead them. Evidently that one homogeneous system of law should replace the more or less heterogeneous systems operative in the various fiefs was essential, and such a substitution meant that the feudatories must be deprived of their local autonomy and, incidentally, of their control of local finances. That was a stupendous change. Hitherto each feudal chief had collected the revenues of his fief and had employed them at will, subject to the sole condition of maintaining a body of troops proportionate to his income. He had been, and was still, an autocrat within the limits of his territory. On the other hand, the active authors of the revolution were a small band of men mainly without prestige or territorial influence. It was impossible that they should dictate any measure sensibly impairing the local and fiscal autonomy of the feudatories. No power capable of enforcing such a measure existed at the time. All the great political changes in Japan had formerly been preceded by wars culminating in the accession of some strong clan to supreme authority, whereas in this case there had been a displacement without a substitution—the Tokugawa had been overthrown and no new administrators had been set up in their stead. It was, moreover, certain that an attempt on the part of any one clan to constitute itself executor of the sovereign’s mandates would have stirred the other clans to vehement resistance. In short, the leaders of the revolution found themselves pledged to a new theory of government without any machinery for carrying it into effect, or any means of abolishing the old practice. An ingenious exit from this curious dilemma was devised by the young reformers. They induced the feudal chiefs of Satsuma, Chōshū, Tosa and Hizen, the four most powerful clans in the south, publicly to surrender their fiefs to the emperor, praying his majesty to reorganize them and to bring them all under the same system of law. In the case of Shimazu, chief of Satsuma, and Yōdō, chief of Tosa, this act must stand to their credit as a noble sacrifice. To them the exercise of power had been a reality and the effort of surrendering it must have been correspondingly costly. But the chiefs of Chōshū and Hizen obeyed the suggestions of their principal vassals with little, if any, sense of the probable cost of obedience. The same remark applies to all the other feudatories, with exceptions so rare as to emphasize the rule. They had long been accustomed to abandon the management of their affairs to their leading clansmen, and they allowed themselves to follow the same guidance at this crisis. Out of more than 250 feudatories, only 17 hesitated to imitate the example of the four southern fiefs.
An explanation of this remarkable incident has been sought by supposing that the samurai of the various clans, when they advised a course so inconsistent with fidelity to the interests of their feudal chiefs, were influenced Motives of the Reformers. by motives of personal ambition, imagining that they themselves might find great opportunities under the new régime. Some hope of that kind may fairly be assumed, and was certainly realized, in the case of the leading samurai of the four southern clans which headed the movement. But it is plain that no such expectations can have been generally entertained. The simplest explanation seems to be the true one: a certain course, indicated by the action of the four southern clans, was conceived to be in accord with the spirit of the Restoration, and not to adopt it would have been to shrink publicly from a sacrifice dictated by the principle of loyalty to the Throne—a principle which had acquired supreme sanctity in the eyes of the men of that era. There might have been some uncertainty about the initial step; but so soon as that was taken by the southern clans their example acquired compelling force. History shows that in political crises the Japanese samurai is generally ready to pay deference to certain canons of almost romantic morality. There was a fever of loyalty and of patriotism in the air of the year 1869. Any one hesitating, for obviously selfish reasons, to adopt a precedent such as that offered by the procedure of the great southern clans, would have seemed to forfeit the right of calling himself a samurai. But although the leaders of this remarkable movement now understood that they must contrive the total abolition of feudalism and build up a new administrative edifice on foundations of constitutional monarchy, they appreciated the necessity of advancing slowly towards a goal which still lay beyond the range of their followers’ vision. Thus the first steps taken after the surrender of the fiefs were to appoint the feudatories to the position of governors in the districts over which they had previously ruled; to confirm the samurai in the possession of their incomes and official positions; to put an end to the distinction between court nobles and territorial nobles, and to organize in Kiōto a cabinet consisting of the leaders of the restoration. Each new governor received one-tenth of the income of the fief by way of emoluments; the pay of the officials and the samurai, as well as the administrative expenses of the district, was defrayed from the same source, and the residue, if any, was to pass into the treasury of the central government.
The defects of this system from a monarchical point of view soon became evident. It did not give the power of either the purse or the sword to the sovereign. The revenues of the administrative districts continued Defects of the First Measures. to be collected and disbursed by the former feudatories, who also retained the control of the troops, the right of appointing and dismissing officials, and almost complete local autonomy. A further radical step had to be taken, and the leaders of reform, seeing nothing better than to continue the method of procedure which had thus far proved so successful, contrived, first, that several of the administrative districts should send in petitions offering to surrender their local autonomy and be brought under the direct rule of the central government; secondly, that a number of samurai should apply for permission to lay aside their swords. While the nation was digesting the principles embodied in these petitions, the government made preparations for further measures of reform. The ex-chief of Satsuma, who showed some umbrage because the services of his clan in promoting the restoration had not been more fully recognized, was induced to take high ministerial office, as were also the ex-chiefs of Chōshū and Tosa. Each of the four great clans had now three representatives in the ministry. These clans were further persuaded to send to Tōkyō—whither the emperor had moved his court—contingents of troops to form the nucleus of a national army. Importance attaches to these details because the principle of clan representation, illustrated in the organization of the cabinet of 1871, continued to be approximately observed for many years in forming ministries, and ultimately became a target for the attacks of party politicians.
On the 29th of August 1871 an Imperial decree announced the abolition of the system of local autonomy, and the removal of the territorial nobles from the posts of governor. The taxes of the former fiefs were to be paid thenceforth Adoption of Radical Measures. into the central treasury; all officials were to be appointed by the Imperial government, and the feudatories, retaining permanently an income of one-tenth of their original revenues, were to make Tōkyō their place of residence. As for the samurai, they remained for the moment in possession of their hereditary pensions. Radical as these changes seem, the disturbance caused by them was not great, since they left the incomes of the military class untouched. Some of the incomes were for life only, but the majority were hereditary, and all had been granted in consideration of their holders devoting themselves to military service. Four hundred thousand men approximately were in receipt of such emoluments, and the total amount annually taken from the tax-payers for this purpose was about £2,000,000. Plainly the nation would have to be relieved of this burden sooner or later. The samurai were essentially an element of the feudal system, and that they should survive the latter’s fall would have been incongruous. On the other hand, suddenly and wholly to deprive these men and their families—a total of some two million persons—of the means of subsistence on which they had hitherto relied with absolute confidence, and in return for which they and their forefathers had rendered faithful service, would have been an act of inhumanity. It may easily be conceived that this problem caused extreme perplexity to the administrators of the new Japan. They left it unsolved for the moment, trusting that time and the loyalty of the samurai themselves would suggest some solution. As for the feudal chiefs, who had now been deprived of all official status and reduced to the position of private gentlemen, without even a patent of nobility to distinguish them from ordinary individuals, they did not find anything specially irksome or regrettable in their altered position. No scrutiny had been made into the contents of their treasuries. They were allowed to retain unquestioned possession of all the accumulated funds of their former fiefs, and they also became public creditors for annual allowances equal to one-tenth of their feudal revenues. They had never previously been so pleasantly circumstanced. It is true that they were entirely stripped of all administrative and military authority; but since their possession of such authority had been in most cases merely nominal, they only felt the change as a relief from responsibility.
By degrees public opinion began to declare itself with regard to the samurai. If they were to be absorbed into the bulk of the people and to lose their fixed revenues, some capital must be placed at their disposal to begin Treatment of the Samurai. the world again. The samurai themselves showed a noble faculty of resignation. They had been a privileged class, but they had purchased their privileges with their blood and by serving as patterns of all the qualities most prized among Japanese national characteristics. The record of their acts and the recognition of the people entitled them to look for munificent treatment at the hands of the government which they had been the means of setting up. Yet none of these considerations blinded them to the painful fact that the time had passed them by; that no place existed for them in the new polity. Many of them voluntarily stepped down into the company of the peasant or the tradesman, and many others signified their willingness to join the ranks of common bread-winners if some aid was given to equip them for such a career. After two years’ consideration the government took action. A decree announced, in 1873, that the treasury was prepared to commute the pensions of the samurai at the rate of six years’ purchase for hereditary pensions and four years for life pensions—one-half of the commutation to be paid in cash, and one-half in bonds bearing interest at the rate of 8%. It will be seen that a perpetual pension of £10 would be exchanged for a payment of £30 in cash, together with securities giving an income of £2, 8s.; and that a £10 life pensioner received £20 in cash and securities yielding £1, 12s. annually. It is scarcely credible that the samurai should have accepted such an arrangement. Something, perhaps, must be ascribed to their want of business knowledge, but the general explanation is that they made a large sacrifice in the interests of their country. Nothing in all their career as soldiers became them better than their manner of abandoning it. They were told that they might lay aside their swords, and many of them did so, though from time immemorial they had cherished the sword as the mark of a gentleman, the most precious possession of a warrior, and the one outward evidence that distinguished men of their order from common toilers after gain. They saw themselves deprived of their military employment, were invited to surrender more than one-half of the income it brought, and knew that they were unprepared alike by education and by tradition to earn bread in any calling save that of arms. Yet, at the invitation of a government which they had helped to establish, many of them bowed their heads quietly to this sharp reverse of fortune. It was certainly a striking instance of the fortitude and resignation which the creed of the samurai required him to display in the presence of adversity. As yet, however, the government’s measures with regard to the samurai were not compulsory. Men laid aside their swords and commuted their pensions at their own option.
Meanwhile differences of opinion began to occur among the leaders of progress themselves. Coalitions formed for destructive purposes are often found unable to endure the strain of constructive efforts. Such lack of cohesion Saigō Takamori. might easily have been foreseen in the case of the Japanese reformers. Young men without experience of public affairs, or special education to fit them for responsible posts, found the duty suddenly imposed on them not only of devising administrative and fiscal systems universally applicable to a nation hitherto divided into a congeries of semi-independent principalities, but also of shaping the country’s demeanour towards novel problems of foreign intercourse and alien civilization. So long as the heat of their assault upon the shōgunate fused them into a homogeneous party they worked together successfully. But when they had to build a brand-new edifice on the ruins of a still vivid past, it was inevitable that their opinions should vary as to the nature of the materials to be employed. In this divergence of views many of the capital incidents of Japan’s modern history had their origin. Of the fifty-five men whose united efforts had compassed the fall of the shōgunate, five stood conspicuous above their colleagues. They were Iwakura and Sanjō, court nobles; Saigō and Okubo, samurai of Satsuma, and Kido, a samurai of Chōshū. In the second rank came many men of great gifts, whose youth alone disqualified them for prominence—Itō, the constructive statesman of the Meiji era, who inspired nearly all the important measures of the time, though he did not openly figure as their originator; Inouye, who never lacked a resource or swerved from the dictates of loyalty; Okuma, a politician of subtle, versatile and vigorous intellect; Itagaki, the Rousseau of his era; and a score of others created by the extraordinary circumstances with which they had to deal. But the five first mentioned were the captains, the rest only lieutenants. Among the five, four were sincere reformers—not free, of course, from selfish motives, but truthfully bent upon promoting the interests of their country before all other aims. The fifth, Saigō Takamori, was a man in whom boundless ambition lay concealed under qualities of the noblest and most enduring type. His absolute freedom from every trace of sordidness gave currency to a belief that his aims were of the simplest; the story of his career satisfied the highest canons of the samurai; his massive physique, commanding presence and sunny aspect impressed and attracted even those who had no opportunity of admiring his life of self-sacrificing effort or appreciating the remarkable military talent he possessed. In the first part of his career, the elevation of his clan to supreme power seems to have been his sole motive, but subsequently personal ambition appears to have swayed him. To the consummation of either object the preservation of the military class was essential. By the swords of the samurai alone could a new imperium in imperio be carved out. On the other hand, Saigō’s colleagues in the ministry saw clearly not only that the samurai were an unwarrantable burden on the nation, but also that their continued existence after the fall of feudalism would be a menace to public peace as well as an anomaly. Therefore they took the steps already described, and followed them by a conscription law, making every adult male liable for military service without regard to his social standing. It is easy to conceive how painfully unwelcome this conscription law proved to the samurai. Many of them were not unwilling to commute their pensions, since their creed had always forbidden them to care for money. Many of them were not unwilling to abandon the habit of carrying swords, since the adoption of foreign costume rendered such a custom incongruous and inconvenient. But very few of them could readily consent to step down from their cherished position as the military class, and relinquish their traditional title to bear the whole responsibility and enjoy the whole honour of fighting their country’s battles. They had supposed, not unreasonably, that service in the army and navy would be reserved exclusively for them and their sons, whereas now the commonest rustic, mechanic or tradesman would be equally eligible.
While the pain of this blow was still fresh there occurred a trouble with Korea. The little state had behaved with insulting contumely, and when Japan’s course came to be debated in Tōkyō, a disruption resulted in the Split among the Reformers. ranks of the reformers. Saigō saw in a foreign war the sole remaining chance of achieving his ambition by lawful means. The government’s conscription scheme, yet in its infancy, had not produced even the skeleton of an army. If Korea had to be conquered, the samurai must be employed; and their employment would mean, if not their rehabilitation, at least their organization into a force which, under Saigō’s leadership, might dictate a new policy. Other members of the cabinet believed that the nation would be disgraced if it tamely endured Korea’s insults. Thus several influential voices swelled the clamour for war. But a peace party offered strenuous opposition. Its members saw the collateral issues of the problem, and declared that the country must not think of taking up arms during a period of radical transition. The final discussion took place in the emperor’s presence. The advocates of peace understood the national significance of the issue and perceived that they were debating, not merely whether there should be peace or war, but whether the country should halt or advance on its newly adopted path of progress. They prevailed, and four members of the cabinet, including Saigō, resigned. This rupture was destined to have far-reaching consequences. One of the seceders immediately raised the standard of revolt. Among the devices employed by him to win adherents was an attempt to fan into flame the dying embers of the anti-foreign sentiment. The government easily crushed the insurrection. Another seceder was Itagaki Taisuke. The third and most prominent was Saigō, who seems to have concluded from that moment that he must abandon his aims or achieve them by force. He retired to his native province of Satsuma, and applied his whole resources, his great reputation and the devoted loyalty of a number of able followers to organizing and equipping a strong body of samurai. Matters were facilitated for him by the conservatism of the celebrated Shimazu Saburō, former chief of Satsuma, who, though not opposed to foreign intercourse, had been revolted by the wholesale iconoclasm of the time, and by the indiscriminate rejection of Japanese customs in favour of foreign. He protested vehemently against what seemed to him a slavish abandonment of the nation’s individuality, and finding his protest fruitless, he set himself to preserve in his own distant province, where the writ of the Yedo government had never run, the fashions, institutions and customs which his former colleagues in the administration were ruthlessly rejecting. Satsuma thus became a centre of conservative influences, among which Saigō and his constantly augmenting band of samurai found a congenial environment. During four years this breach between the central government and the southern clan grew constantly.
In the meanwhile (1876) two extreme measures were adopted by the government: a veto on the wearing of swords, and an edict ordering the compulsory commutation of the pensions and allowances received by the nobles and Final Abolition of Sword-wearing and Pensions. the samurai. Three years previously the discarding of swords had been declared optional, and a scheme of voluntary commutation had been announced. Many had bowed quietly to the spirit of these enactments. But many still retained their swords and drew their pensions as of old, obstructing, in the former respect, the government’s projects for the reorganization of society, and imposing, in the latter, an intolerable burden on the resources of the treasury. The government thought that the time had come, and that its own strength sufficed, to substitute compulsion for persuasion. The financial measure—which was contrived so as to affect the smallest pension-holders least injuriously—evoked no complaint. The samurai remained faithful to the creed which forbade them to be concerned about money. But the veto against sword-wearing overtaxed the patience of the extreme Conservatives. It seemed to them that all the most honoured traditions of their country were being ruthlessly sacrificed on the altar of alien innovations. Armed protests ensued. A few score of samurai, equipping themselves with the hauberks and weapons of old times, fell upon the garrison of a castle, killed or wounded some 300, and then, retiring to an adjacent mountain, died by their own hands. Their example found imitators in two other places, and finally the Satsuma samurai rose in arms under Saigō.
This was an insurrection very different in dimensions and motives from the outbreaks that had preceded it. During four years the preparations of the Satsuma men had been unremitting. They were equipped with rifles and Satsuma Insurrection. cannon; they numbered some 30,000; they were all of the military class, and in addition to high training in western tactics and in the use of modern arms of precision, they knew how to wield that formidable weapon, the Japanese sword, of which their opponents were for the most part ignorant. Ostensibly their object was to restore the samurai to their old supremacy, and to secure for them all the posts in the army, the navy and the administration. But although they doubtless entertained that intention, it was put forward mainly with the hope of winning the co-operation of the military class throughout the empire. The real purpose of the revolt was to secure the governing power for Satsuma. A bitter struggle ensued. Beginning on the 29th of January 1877, it was brought to a close on the 24th of September by the death, voluntary or in battle, of all the rebel leaders. During that period the number of men engaged on the government’s side had been 66,000 and the number on the side of the rebels 40,000, out of which total the killed and wounded aggregated 35,000, or 33% of the whole. Had the government’s troops been finally defeated, there can be no doubt that the samurai’s exclusive title to man and direct the army and navy would have been re-established, and Japan would have found herself permanently saddled with a military class, heavily burdening her finances, seriously impeding her progress towards constitutional government, and perpetuating all the abuses incidental to a policy in which the power of the sword rests entirely in the hands of one section of the people. The nation scarcely appreciated the great issues that were at stake. It found more interest in the struggle as furnishing a conclusive test of the efficiency of the new military system compared with the old. The army sent to quell the insurrection consisted of recruits drawn indiscriminately from every class of the people. Viewed in the light of history, it was an army of commoners, deficient in the fighting instinct, and traditionally demoralized for all purposes of resistance to the military class. The Satsuma insurgents, on the contrary, represented the flower of the samurai, long trained for this very struggle, and led by men whom the nation regarded as its bravest captains. The result dispelled all doubts about the fighting quality of the people at large.
Concurrently with these events the government diligently endeavoured to equip the country with all the paraphernalia of Occidental civilization. It is easy to understand that the master-minds of the era, who had planned and Steps of Progress. carried out the Restoration, continued to take the lead in all paths of progress. Their intellectual superiority entitled them to act as guides; they had enjoyed exceptional opportunities of acquiring enlightenment by visits to Europe and America, and the Japanese people had not yet lost the habit of looking to officialdom for every initiative. But the spectacle thus presented to foreign onlookers was not altogether without disquieting suggestions. The government’s reforms seemed to outstrip the nation’s readiness for them, and the results wore an air of some artificiality and confusion. Englishmen were employed to superintend the building of railways, the erection of telegraphs, the construction of lighthouses and the organization of a navy. To Frenchmen was entrusted the work of recasting the laws and training the army in strategy and tactics. Educational affairs, the organization of a postal service, the improvement of agriculture and the work of colonization were supervised by Americans. The teaching of medical science, the compilation of a commercial code, the elaboration of a system of local government, and ultimately the training of military officers were assigned to Germans. For instruction in sculpture and painting Italians were engaged. Was it possible that so many novelties should be successfully assimilated, or that the nation should adapt itself to systems planned by a motley band of aliens who knew nothing of its character and customs? These questions did not trouble the Japanese nearly so much as they troubled strangers. The truth is that conservatism was not really required to make the great sacrifices suggested by appearances. Among all the innovations of the era the only one that a Japanese could not lay aside at will was the new fashion of dressing the hair. He abandoned the queue irrevocably. But for the rest he lived a dual life. During hours of duty he wore a fine uniform, shaped and decorated in foreign style. But so soon as he stepped out of office or off parade, he reverted to his own comfortable and picturesque costume. Handsome houses were built and furnished according to Western models. But each had an annex where alcoves, verandas, matted floors and paper sliding doors continued to do traditional duty. Beefsteaks, beer, “grape-wine,” knives and forks came into use on occasion. But rice-bowls and chopsticks held their everyday place as of old. In a word, though the Japanese adopted every convenient and serviceable attribute of foreign civilization, such as railways, steamships, telegraphs, post-offices, banks and machinery of all kinds; though they accepted Occidental sciences, and, to a large extent, Occidental philosophies; though they recognized the superiority of European jurisprudence and set themselves to bring their laws into accord with it, they nevertheless preserved the essentials of their own mode of life and never lost their individuality. A remarkable spirit of liberalism and a fine eclectic instinct were needed for the part they acted, but they did no radical violence to their own traditions, creeds and conventions. There was indeed a certain element of incongruity and even grotesqueness in the nation’s doings. Old people cannot fit their feet to new roads without some clumsiness. The Japanese had grown very old in their special paths, and their novel departure was occasionally disfigured by solecisms. The refined taste that guided them unerringly in all the affairs of life as they had been accustomed to live it, seemed to fail them signally when they emerged into an alien atmosphere. They have given their proofs, however. It is now seen that the apparently excessive rapidity of their progress did not overtax their capacities; that they have emerged safely from their destructive era and carried their constructive career within reach of certain success, and that while they have still to develop some of the traits of their new civilization, there is no prospect whatever of its proving ultimately unsuited to them.
After the Satsuma rebellion, nothing disturbed the even tenor
of Japan’s domestic politics except an attempt on the part of
some of her people to force the growth of parliamentary
government. It is evident that the united
Development of Representative Government.
effort made by the fiefs to overthrow the system
of dual government and wrest the administrative
power from the shōgun could have only one logical
outcome: the combined exercise of the recovered
power by those who had been instrumental in recovering it.
That was the meaning of the oath taken by the emperor at the
Restoration, when the youthful sovereign was made to say
that wise counsels should be widely sought, and all things
determined by public discussion. But the framers of the
oath had the samurai alone in view. Into their consideration
the common people—farmers, mechanics, tradesmen—did
not enter at all, nor had the common people themselves
any idea of advancing a claim to be considered. A
voice in the administration would have been to them an embarrassing
rather than a pleasing privilege. Thus the first deliberative
assembly was composed of nobles and samurai only. A
mere debating club without any legislative authority, it was
permanently dissolved after two sessions. Possibly the problem
of a parliament might have been long postponed after that
fiasco, had it not found an ardent advocate in Itagaki Taisuke
(afterwards Count Itagaki). A Tosa samurai conspicuous as a
leader of the restoration movement, Itagaki was among the advocates
of recourse to strong measures against Korea in 1873, and
his failure to carry his point, supplemented by a belief that a
large section of public opinion would have supported him had
there been any machinery for appealing to it, gave fresh impetus
to his faith in constitutional government. Resigning office on
account of the Korean question, he became the nucleus of
agitation in favour of a parliamentary system, and under his
banner were enrolled not only discontented samurai but also
many of the young men who, returning from direct observation
of the working of constitutional systems in Europe or America,
and failing to obtain official posts in Japan, attributed their
failure to the oligarchical form of their country’s polity. Thus
in the interval betwee
en 1873 and 1877 there were two centres of
disturbance in Japan: one in Satsuma, where Saigō figured
as leader; the other in Tosa, under Itagaki’s guidance. When
the Satsuma men appealed to arms in 1877, a widespread apprehension
prevailed lest the Tosa politicians should throw in their
lot with the insurgents. Such a fear had its origin in failure to
understand the object of the one side or to appreciate the sincerity
of the other. Saigō and his adherents fought to substitute
a Satsuma clique for the oligarchy already in power.
Itagaki and his followers struggled for constitutional institutions.
The two could not have anything in common. There was consequently
no coalition. But the Tosa agitators did not neglect
to make capital out of the embarrassment caused by the Satsuma
rebellion. While the struggle was at its height, they addressed
to the government a memorial, charging the administration with
oppressive measures to restrain the voice of public opinion,
with usurpation of power to the exclusion of the nation at large,
and with levelling downwards instead of upwards, since the
samurai had been reduced to the rank of commoners, whereas
the commoners should have been educated up to the standard
of the samurai. This memorial asked for a representative
assembly and talked of popular rights. But since the document
admitted that the people were uneducated, it is plain that there
cannot have been any serious idea of giving them a share in the
administration. In fact, the Tosa Liberals were not really contending
for popular representation in the full sense of the term.
What they wanted was the creation of some machinery for
securing to the samurai at large a voice in the management of
state affairs. They chafed against the fact that, whereas the
efforts and sacrifices demanded by the Restoration had fallen
equally on the whole military class, the official prizes under the
new system were monopolized by a small coterie of men belonging
to the four principal clans. It is on record that Itagaki would
have been content originally with an assembly consisting half
of officials, half of non-official samurai, and not including any
popular element whatever.
But the government did not believe that the time had come even for a measure such as the Tosa Liberals advocated. The statesmen in power conceived that the nation must be educated up to constitutional standards, and that the first step should be to provide an official model. Accordingly, in 1874, arrangements were made for periodically convening an assembly of prefectural governors, in order that they might act as channels of communication between the central authorities and the provincial population, and mutually exchange ideas as to the safest and most effective methods of encouraging progress within the limits of their jurisdictions. This was intended to be the embryo of representative institutions. But the governors, being officials appointed by the cabinet, did not bear in any sense the character of popular nominees, nor could it even be said that they reflected the public feeling of the districts they administered, for their habitual and natural tendency was to try, by means of heroic object lessons, to win the people’s allegiance to the government’s progressive policy, rather than to convince the government of the danger of overstepping the people’s capacities.
These conventions of local officials had no legislative power whatever. The foundations of a body for discharging that function were laid in 1875, when a senate (genro-in) was organized. It consisted of official nominees, and its duty was to discuss and revise all laws and ordinances prior to their promulgation. It is to be noted, however, that expediency not less than a spirit of progress presided at the creation of the senate. Into its ranks were drafted a number of men for whom no places could be found in the executive, and who, without some official employment, would have been drawn into the current of disaffection. From that point of view the senate soon came to be regarded as a kind of hospital for administrative invalids, but undoubtedly its discharge of quasi-legislative functions proved suggestive, useful and instructive.
The second meeting of the provincial governors had just been prorogued when, in the spring of 1878, the great minister, Okubo Toshimitsu, was assassinated. Okubo, uniformly ready to bear the heaviest burden of responsibility Assassination of Okubo. in every political complication, had stood prominently before the nation as Saigō’s opponent. He fell under the swords of Saigō’s sympathizers. They immediately surrendered themselves to justice, having taken previous care to circulate a statement of motives, which showed that they ranked the government’s failure to establish representative institutions as a sin scarcely less heinous than its alleged abuses of power. Well-informed followers of Saigō could never have been sincere believers in representative institutions. These men belonged to a province far removed from the scene of Saigō’s desperate struggle. But the broad fact that they had sealed with their life-blood an appeal for a political change indicated the existence of a strong public conviction which would derive further strength from their act. The Japanese are essentially a brave people. Throughout the troublous events that preceded and followed the Restoration, it is not possible to point to one man whose obedience to duty or conviction was visibly weakened by prospects of personal peril. Okubo’s assassination did not alarm any of his colleagues; but they understood its suggestiveness, and hastened to give effect to a previously formed resolve.
Two months after Okubo’s death, an edict announced that elective assemblies should forthwith be established in various prefectures and cities. These assemblies were to consist of members having a high property qualification, Local Government. elected by voters having one-half of that qualification; the voting to be by signed ballot, and the session to last for one month in the spring of each year. As to their functions, they were to determine the method of levying and spending local taxes, subject to approval by the minister of state for home affairs; to scrutinize the accounts for the previous year, and, if necessary, to present petitions to the central government. Thus the foundations of genuine representative institutions were laid. It is true that legislative power was not vested in the local assemblies, but in all other important respects they discharged parliamentary duties. Their history need not be related at any length. Sometimes they came into violent collision with the governor of the prefecture, and unsightly struggles resulted. The governors were disposed to advocate public works which the people considered extravagant; and further, as years went by, and as political organizations grew stronger, there was found in each assembly a group of men ready to oppose the governor simply because of his official status. But on the whole the system worked well. The local assemblies served as training schools for the future parliament, and their members showed devotion to public duty as well as considerable aptitude for debate.
This was not what Itagaki and his followers wanted. Their purpose was to overthrow the clique of clansmen who, holding the reins of administrative power, monopolized the prizes of officialdom. Towards the consummation The Liberal Party. of such an aim the local assemblies helped little. Itagaki redoubled his agitation. He organized his fellow-thinkers into an association called jiyūtō (Liberals), the first political party in Japan, to whose ranks there very soon gravitated several men who had been in office and resented the loss of it; many that had never been in office and desired to be; and a still greater number who sincerely believed in the principles of political liberty, but had not yet considered the possibility of immediately adapting such principles to Japan’s case. It was in the nature of things that an association of this kind, professing such doctrines, should present a picturesque aspect to the public, and that its collisions with the authorities should invite popular sympathy. Nor were collisions infrequent. For the government, arguing that if the nation was not ready for representative institutions, neither was it ready for full freedom of speech or of public meeting, legislated consistently with that theory, and entrusted to the police large powers of conrol over the press and the platform. The exercise of these powers often created situations in which the Liberals were able to pose as victims of official tyranny, so that they grew in popularity and the contagion of political agitation spread.
Three years later (1881) another split occurred in the ranks of the ruling oligarchy. Okuma Shigenobu (afterwards Count Okuma) seceded from the administration, and was followed by a number of able men who had owed The Progressist Party. their appointments to his patronage, or who, during his tenure of office as minister of finance, had passed under the influence of his powerful personality. If Itagaki be called the Rousseau of Japan, Okuma may be regarded as the Peel. To remarkable financial ability and a lucid, vigorous judgment he added the faculty of placing himself on the crest of any wave which a genuine aura popularis had begun to swell. He, too, inscribed on his banner of revolt against the oligarchy the motto “constitutional government,” and it might have been expected that his followers would join hands with those of Itagaki, since the avowed political purpose of both was identical. They did nothing of the kind. Okuma organized an independent party, calling themselves Progressists (shimpotō), who not only stood aloof from the Liberals but even assumed an attitude hostile to them. This fact is eloquent. It shows that Japan’s first political parties were grouped, not about principles, but about persons. Hence an inevitable lack of cohesion among their elements and a constant tendency to break up into caves and coteries. These are the characteristics that render the story of political evolution in Japan so perplexing to a foreign student. He looks for differences of platform and finds none. Just as a true Liberal must be a Progressist, and a true Progressist a Liberal, so, though each may cast his profession of faith in a mould of different phrases, the ultimate shape must be the same. The mainsprings of early political agitation in Japan were personal grievances and a desire to wrest the administrative power from the hands of the statesmen who had held it so long as to overtax the patience of their rivals. He that searches for profound moral or ethical bases will be disappointed. There were no Conservatives. Society was permeated with the spirit of progress. In a comparative sense the epithet “Conservative” might have been applied to the statesmen who proposed to defer parliamentary institutions until the people, as distinguished from the former samurai, had been in some measure prepared for such an innovation. But since these very statesmen were the guiding spirits of the whole Meiji revolution, it was plain that their convictions must be radical, and that, unless they did violence to their record, they must finally lead the country to representative institutions, the logical sequel of their own reforms.
Okubo’s assassination had been followed, in 1878, by an edict announcing the establishment of local assemblies. Okuma’s secession in 1881 was followed by an edict announcing that a national assembly would be convened in 1891.
The political parties, having now virtually attained their object, might have been expected to desist from further agitation. But they had another task to perform—that of disseminating anti-official prejudices among Anti-Government Agitation. the future electors. They worked diligently, and they had an undisputed field, for no one was put forward to champion the government’s cause. The campaign was not always conducted on lawful lines. There were plots to assassinate ministers; there was an attempt to employ dynamite, and there was a scheme to foment an insurrection in Korea. On the other hand, dispersals of political meetings by order of police inspectors, and suspension or suppression of newspapers by the unchallengeable verdict of a minister for home affairs, were common occurrences. The breach widened steadily. It is true that Okuma rejoined the cabinet for a time in 1887, but he retired again in circumstances that aggravated his party’s hostility to officialdom. In short, during the ten years immediately prior to the opening of the first parliament, an anti-government propaganda was incessantly preached from the platform and in the press.
Meanwhile the statesmen in power resolutely pursued their path of progressive reform. They codified the civil and penal laws, remodelling them on Western bases; they brought a vast number of affairs within the scope of minute regulations; they rescued the finances from confusion and restored them to a sound condition; they recast the whole framework of local government; they organized a great national bank, and established a network of subordinate institutions throughout the country; they pushed on the work of railway construction, and successfully enlisted private enterprise in its cause; they steadily extended the postal and telegraphic services; they economized public expenditures so that the state’s income always exceeded its outlays; they laid the foundations of a strong mercantile marine; they instituted a system of postal savings-banks; they undertook large schemes of harbour improvement and road-making; they planned and put into operation an extensive programme of riparian improvement; they made civil service appointments depend on competitive examination; they sent numbers of students to Europe and America to complete their studies; and by tactful, persevering diplomacy they gradually introduced a new tone into the empire’s relations with foreign powers. Japan’s affairs were never better administered.
In 1890 the Constitution was promulgated. Imposing ceremonies marked the event. All the nation’s notables were summoned to the palace to witness the delivery of the important document by the sovereign to the The Constitution of 1890. prime minister; salvos of artillery were fired; the cities were illuminated, and the people kept holiday. Marquis (afterwards Prince) Itō directed the framing of the Constitution. He had visited the Occident for the purpose of investigating the development of parliamentary institutions and studying their practical working. His name is connected with nearly every great work of constructive statesmanship in the history of new Japan, and perhaps the crown of his legislative career was the drafting of the Constitution, to which the Japanese people point proudly as the only charter of the kind voluntarily given by a sovereign to his subjects. In other countries such concessions were always the outcome of long struggles between ruler and ruled. In Japan the emperor freely divested himself of a portion of his prerogatives and transferred them to the people. That view of the case, as may be seen from the story told above, is not untinged with romance; but in a general sense it is true.
No incident in Japan’s modern career seemed more hazardous than this sudden plunge into parliamentary institutions. There had been some preparation. Provincial assemblies had partially familiarized the people with Working of the System. the methods of deliberative bodies. But provincial assemblies were at best petty arenas—places where the making or mending of roads, and the policing and sanitation of villages came up for discussion, and where political parties exercised no legislative function nor found any opportunity to attack the government or to debate problems of national interest. Thus the convening of a diet and the sudden transfer of financial and legislative authority from the throne and its entourage of tried statesmen to the hands of men whose qualifications for public life rested on the verdict of electors, themselves apparently devoid of all light to guide their choice—this sweeping innovation seemed likely to tax severely, if not to overtax completely, the progressive capacities of the nation. What enhanced the interest of the situation was that the oligarchs who held the administrative power had taken no pains to win a following in the political field. Knowing that the opening of the diet would be a veritable letting loose of the dogs of war, an unmuzzling of the agitators whose mouths had hitherto been partly closed by legal restrictions upon free speech, but who would now enjoy complete immunity within the walls of the assembly whatever the nature of their utterances—foreseeing all this, the statesmen of the day nevertheless stood severely aloof from alliances of every kind, and discharged their administrative functions with apparent indifference to the changes that popular representation could not fail to induce. This somewhat inexplicable display of unconcern became partially intelligible when the constitution was promulgated, for it then appeared that the cabinet’s tenure of office was to depend solely on the emperor’s will; that ministers were to take their mandate from the Throne, not from parliament. This fact was merely an outcome of the theory underlying every part of the Japanese polity. Laws might be redrafted, institutions remodelled, systems recast, but amid all changes and mutations one steady point must be carefully preserved, the Throne. The makers of new Japan understood that so long as the sanctity and inviolability of the imperial prerogatives could be preserved, the nation would be held by a strong anchor from drifting into dangerous waters. They laboured under no misapprehension about the inevitable issue of their work in framing the constitution. They knew very well that party cabinets are an essential outcome of representative institutions, and that to some kind of party cabinet Japan must come. But they regarded the Imperial mandate as a conservative safeguard, pending the organization and education of parties competent to form cabinets. Such parties did not yet exist, and until they came into unequivocal existence, the Restoration statesmen, who had so successfully managed the affairs of the nation during a quarter of a century, resolved that the steady point furnished by the throne must not be abandoned.
On the other hand, the agitators found here a new platform. They had obtained a constitution and a diet, but they had not obtained an instrument for pulling down the “clan” administrators, since these stood secure from attack under the aegis of the sovereign’s mandate. They dared not raise their voices against the unfettered exercise of the mikado’s prerogative. The nation, loyal to the core, would not have suffered such a protest, nor could the agitators themselves have found heart to formulate it. But they could read their own interpretation into the text of the Constitution, and they could demonstrate practically that a cabinet not acknowledging responsibility to the legislature was virtually impotent for law-making purposes.
These are the broad outlines of the contest that began in the first session of the Diet and continued for several years. It is unnecessary to speak of the special points of controversy. Just as the political parties had been formed on the The Diet and the Government. lines of persons, not principles, so the opposition in the Diet was directed against men, not measures. The struggle presented varying aspects at different times, but the fundamental question at issue never changed. Obstruction was the weapon of the political parties. They sought to render legislation and finance impossible for any ministry that refused to take its mandate from the majority in the lower house, and they imparted an air of respectability and even patriotism to their destructive campaign by making “anti-clannism” their war-cry, and industriously fostering the idea that the struggle lay between administration guided by public opinion and administration controlled by a clique of clansmen who separated the throne from the nation. Had not the House of Peers stood stanchly by the government throughout this contest, it is possible that the nation might have suffered severely from the rashness of the political parties.
There was something melancholy in the spectacle. The Restoration statesmen were the men who had made Modern Japan; the men who had raised her, in the face of immense obstacles, from the position of an insignificant Oriental state to that of a formidable unit in the comity of nations; the men, finally, who had given to her a constitution and representative institutions. Yet these same men were now fiercely attacked by the arms which they had themselves nerved; were held up to public obloquy as self-seeking usurpers, and were declared to be impeding the people’s constitutional route to administrative privileges, when in reality they were only holding the breach until the people should be able to march into the citadel with some show of orderly and competent organization. That there was no corruption, no abuse of position, is not to be pretended; but on the whole the conservatism of the clan statesmen had only one object—to provide that the newly constructed representative machine should not be set working until its parts were duly adjusted and brought into proper gear. On both sides the leaders understood the situation accurately. The heads of the parties, while publicly clamouring for parliamentary cabinets, privately confessed that they were not yet prepared to assume administrative responsibilities; and the so-called “clan statesmen,” while refusing before the world to accept the Diet’s mandates, admitted within official circles that the question was one of time only. The situation did not undergo any marked change until, the country becoming engaged in war with China (1894-95), domestic squabbles were forgotten in the presence of foreign danger. From that time an era of coalition commenced. Both the political parties joined hands to vote funds for the prosecution of the campaign, and one of them, the Liberals, subsequently gave support to a cabinet under the presidency of Marquis Itō, the purpose of the union being to carry through the diet an extensive scheme of enlarged armaments and public works planned in the sequel of the war. The Progressists, however, remained implacable, continuing their opposition to the thing called bureaucracy quite irrespective of its measures.
The next phase (1898) was a fusion of the two parties into one large organization which adopted the name “Constitutional Party” (kensei-tō). By this union the chief obstacles to parliamentary cabinets were removed. Fusion of the Two Parties. Not only did the Constitutionalists command a large majority in the lower house, but also they possessed a sufficiency of men who, although lacking ministerial experience, might still advance a reasonable title to be entrusted with portfolios. Immediately the emperor, acting on the advice of Marquis Itō, invited Counts Okuma and Itagaki to form a cabinet. It was essentially a trial. The party politicians were required to demonstrate in practice the justice of the claim they had been so long asserting in theory. They had worked in combination for the destructive purpose of pulling down the so-called “clan statesmen”; they had now to show whether they could work in combination for the constructive purposes of administration. Their heads, Counts Okuma and Itagaki, accepted the Imperial mandate, and the nation watched the result. There was no need to wait long. In less than six months these new links snapped under the tension of old enmities, and the coalition split up once more into its original elements. It had demonstrated that the sweets of power, which the “clan statesmen” had been so vehemently accused of coveting, possessed even greater attractions for their accusers. The issue of the experiment was such a palpable fiasco that it effectually rehabilitated the “clan statesmen,” and finally proved, what had indeed been long evident to every close observer, that without the assistance of those statesmen no political party could hold office successfully.
Thenceforth it became the unique aim of Liberals and Progressists alike to join hands permanently with the men towards whom they had once displayed such implacable hostility. Prince Itō, the leader of the so-called Enrolment of the Clan Statesmen in Political Associations. “elder statesmen,” received special solicitations, for it was plain that he would bring to any political party an overwhelming access of strength alike in his own person and in the number of friends and disciples certain to follow him. But Prince Itō declined to be absorbed into any existing party, or to adopt the principle of parliamentary cabinets. He would consent to form a new association, but it must consist of men sufficiently disciplined to obey him implicitly, and sufficiently docile to accept their programme from his hand. The Liberals agreed to these terms. They dissolved their party (August 1900) and enrolled themselves in the ranks of a new organization, which did not even call itself a party, its designation being rikken seiyū-kai (association of friends of the constitution), and which had for the cardinal plank in its platform a declaration of ministerial irresponsibility to the Diet. A singular page was thus added to the story of Japanese political development; for not merely did the Liberals enlist under the banner of the statesmen whom for twenty years they had fought to overthrow, but they also tacitly consented to erase from their profession of faith its essential article, parliamentary cabinets, and, by resigning that article to the Progressists, created for the first time an opposition with a solid and intelligible platform. Nevertheless the seiyū-kai grew steadily in strength whereas the number of its opponents declined correspondingly. At the general elections in May 1908 the former secured 195 seats, the four sections of the opposition winning only 184. Thus for the first time in Japanese parliamentary history a majority of the lower chamber found themselves marching under the same banner. Moreover, the four sections of the opposition were independently organized and differed nearly as much from one another as they all differed from the seiyū-kai. Their impotence to make head against the solid phalanx of the latter was thus conspicuous, especially during the 1908-1909 session of the Diet. Much talk then began to be heard about the necessity of coalition, and that this talk will materialize eventually cannot be doubted. Reduction of armaments, abolition of taxes specially imposed for belligerent purposes, and the substitution of a strictly constitutional system for the existing bureaucracy—these objects constitute a sufficiently solid platform, and nothing is wanted except that a body of proved administrators should join the opposition in occupying it. There were in 1909 no signs, however, that any such defection from the ranks of officialdom would take place. Deference is paid to public opinions inasmuch as even a seiyū-kai ministry will not remain in office after its popularity has begun to show signs of waning. But no deference is paid to the doctrine of party cabinets. Prince Itō did not continue to lead the seiyū-kai for more than three years. In July 1903 he delegated that function to Marquis Saionji, representative of one of the very oldest families of the court nobility and a personal friend of the emperor, as also was Prince Itō. The Imperial stamp is thus vicariously set upon the principle of political combinations for the better practical conduct of parliamentary business, but that the seiyū-kai, founded by Prince Itō and led by Marquis Saionji, should ever hold office in defiance of the sovereign’s mandate is unthinkable. Constitutional institutions in Japan are therefore developing along lines entirely without precedent. The storm and stress of early parliamentary days have given place to comparative calm. During the first twelve sessions of the Diet, extending over 8 years, there were five dissolutions of the lower house. During the next thirteen sessions, extending over 11 years, there were two dissolutions. During the first 8 years of the Diet’s existence there were six changes of cabinet; during the next 11 years there were five changes. Another healthy sign was that men of affairs were beginning to realize the importance of parliamentary representation. At first the constituencies were contested almost entirely by professional politicians, barristers and journalists. In 1909 there was a solid body (the boshin club) of business men commanding nearly 50 votes in the lower house; and as the upper chamber included 45 representatives of the highest tax-payers, the interests of commerce and industry were intelligently debated. (F. By.)
- The Taira and the Minamoto both traced their descent from imperial princes; the Tokugawa were a branch of the Minamoto.
- Daimyō (“great name”) was the title given to a feudal chief.
- Neither the Liberals nor the Progressists had a working majority in the house of representatives, nor could the ranks of either have furnished men qualified to fill all the administrative posts.