Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Japanese fragments - Part 3

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Reverting to the hostilities between China and Japan, which sprung out of the attempt to invade the latter, it soon became evident that the weak mere book-learned civilisation of China was no match for the courage and physical energy of the Japanese islanders. Trained to a seafaring life upon their own storm-swept shores, these bold sailors, returning from successful marauding expeditions against the seaboard of the Chinese empire, awakened a general spirit for adventure amongst the inhabitants of Japan, and the Japanese sailor and the Japanese ship became formidable throughout the Eastern seas. Apart from the conquest of the Chusan group, and the establishment of military and mercantile posts in Ningpo and other Chinese cities, they ranged in their barks from India to lands situated in the Pacific, far to the eastward of their homes. The strong similarity in appearance, habits, and disposition, of the Kanaka inhabitants of the Sandwich and Georgian groups, leads one to suppose that, if not then, in periods still more remote it was the ships of Japan that carried colonists to those distant isles,—and the passions and nautical hardihood of the Malayan races of the Archipelago doubtless received much of their tone from intermixture with these Japanese freebooters. Of their voyages to the Asiatic continent and Malayan archipelago we have historical record; but until we shall master the Japanese language sufficiently to explore their ancient writings, we must be content with mythical information as to their wanderings eastward in the Pacific. Aided by such myths, and the light of modern knowledge in the direction of currents and winds, we may try to infer what lands they could have reached which lay beyond the ken of China and India.

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Japanese Landscape. Fording a River. (Fac-simile.)

Amongst those tales of Japanese explorations in the olden days, there is one strangely circumstantial, recorded by a worthy and venerable Christian historian of China, Father Juan de Mendoza, of the Augustinian Order. The statements there made, though sufficiently startling, do not exceed a condition of public morals prevalent to-day in more than one spot of that South Sea. Writing in 1588, the pious monk says, that at no great distance from Japan, the natives had discovered certain islands nearly peopled by women, and that they might be said to be Amazons, inasmuch as they were expert in the use of arms. To these islands the Japanese went annually in vessels freighted with merchandise, for exchange with the natives, and for some time there had been an interchange of tendernesses between the Japanese seamen and the fair inhabitants of those islands, leading of course to the result usual in such cases—“et pour eviter entre eux a tout inconvenient,” the following rules were laid down. Directly the Japanese vessels arrived at these islands, two messengers landed, for the purpose of informing the king or queen who ruled over these fair nymphs of their arrival, and of the number of men in the vessels. A day was then appointed on which the Japanese “blue jackets” were to be allowed to land. On that day a bright troop of young ladies, equal in number to the Lotharios from Nipon, sallied down to the strand, each carrying a pair of shoes or sandals, carefully marked with the name of the proprietress. These sandals were then, in sight of the visitors, thrown indiscriminately together upon the sands of the sea-shore, and the nymphs again retired. “Alors!” says the good priest, in racy old language, “les hommes sautant à terre chaussent chaucun les premiers souliers qu’ils encontrent, et incontinent approchent les femmes.” Each of the fair dames of this Eastern Amazonia then claimed for her admirer the Japanese sailor who bore her sandals in his hand. All remonstrance, choice, or exchange was out of the question, whether the lady was ugly, humpbacked, or deformed; and each Alphonso was fain to be content with his fair Imogene—an arbitrary proceeding upon the part of the ladies, only to be justified in Amazonia. Great care was taken to register the names and residences of all parties, in order that when the Japanese vessels returned in the following year, the sweet pledges of affection which should have been ushered into the world in the meantime might be duly presented to their blushing fathers, and that the rule might be carried out of allowing the boys to return to Japan, whilst the girls were detained with their mothers.

All this reads strangely like South Sea island morality, and connects in imagination fair Owhyhee and Otaheite, as Cook and Bligh found them, with the wanderings of these Japanese adventurers.

But we must onward in our fragmentary sketches, premising to those who may be shocked at the scandals involved in this legend of the sea, that it cannot be wrong for a seaman to repeat what a spiritual father thought right to record.

By the year 1540, two hosts of most Christian robbers were rapidly advancing upon the Cipangu of Marco Polo—the Spaniard by way of the Americas, the Portuguese by that of the Cape of Good Hope. The latter won the race. By the early part of the sixteenth century the azure flag and emblazoned arms of Portugal, had carried sword and cross from the Red Sea to the Straits of Malacca, and the cry of the slaughtered and plundered Mahomedans and Hindoos went up from Zeylah and Aden on the east, to Malacca on the west. In advance, however, of the legitimate arms of Portugal, there were a host of deserters and adventurers, who embarked in native Malay, or Arab vessels, and explored the way to fresh scenes of rapine. They were as jackals to the lions in their wake. Such was one Fernandez Mendez Pinto, who with many more of a like repute harassed and robbed along the coasts of China, until they met, and coalesced with the Japanese pirates frequenting the neighbourhood of Ningpo, or Lampo, as it was then called. Pinto accompanied his new allies upon a grand robbing expedition to some island in the neighbourhood of that port, probably to the one now known in the Chusan group as Kin-shan, or Golden Island, the necropolis past and present of many a wealthy Chinaman, of whose desire to take to the heaven of Budha some of his earthly treasures, these worthies doubtless took undue advantage. We have been calling the followers of Bernal Diaz, and the avant-couriers of Albuquerque hard names; perhaps the reader may, on perusing what we have just said of Pinto’s researches in Kinshan, be inclined to add to the terms buccaneer and pirate, those of sacrilegious robber and defiler of the resting-places of the dead! But let us be just to Fernandez Mendez Pinto, and his countrymen. We are all—ay, all—my American cousins, as big buccaneers as ever they were; and as to robbing the dead, why one Frenchman, and he is no worse than many an Englishman, except in his opportunity being greater, has, it is said, very recently broken up many thousand departed Egyptians for the few paltry ornaments wrapt up in their cerements! And, as we write, the negroes of Panama are disentombing a race of buried Indians for the sake of a few golden idols, that they wished to take with them to their happy hunting-grounds.

Let us, then, cease to rail at these men of the Sixteenth Century, and remember the world, if not better, is at any rate three hundred years older.

As the interdict against strangers visiting Japan, arising out of Kublai Khan’s invasion, had not been revoked, it is natural to suppose that the plea of accident, or stress of weather was advanced by the enterprising Pinto, when he accompanied his new found friends to their own country. This event, from the concurrent testimony of Japanese and Portuguese chronicles, occurred about the years 1542 or 1543; and, although Pinto for a long time rejoiced in the reputation of a liar, for having said that he wintered in Cipangu, there is every reason to believe that he did so. Strangely enough, some testimony in his favour has very recently been elicited through the industrious researches of Mr. Harris, the present able American minister at the court of Yeddo. During his residence at Simoda in 1855-56, Mr. Harris was struck with the strong resemblance of a Japanese fire-arm, which he observed in the hands of the higher officials, to the ancient “petronel” of Europe. On inquiry, he learnt that these arms were mostly manufactured on the island of Kanegasima, and that the natives of that dependency of the empire had long been famous for the art. A knowledge of the mode of constructing these petronels had been acquired they said several centuries previously from Europeans on board a vessel that was forced there in a tempest; and furthermore Mr. Harris thought he could trace in the Japanese term for this weapon a corruption of its Portuguese name, all of which information we may safely carry to the credit of the old Portuguese buccaneer. The intelligence carried back by Pinto to the haunts of his countrymen in China and the Eastern Seas, caused many to visit that southernmost island of the Japanese empire which is now named Kiu-siu, but in those times was called Bongo, after one of the large principalities into which it was divided. Three of the most influential princes in this island received the Portuguese with open arms, and the Prince of Fizen, whose territories laid on the western side of the island, gave them free permission to trade or settle in all the ports under his especial control. The chiefs of Arima, Oruma, and Bongo were equally zealous to secure the advantages of Portuguese intercourse; they touted for yearly visits from these western adventurers, they coveted each other the wonderful novelties of Europe, or the rich products of Hindostan and Arabia, which the Portuguese were able to import, and they joyfully paid the most outrageous prices for all these commodities. The excitement for foreign intercourse extended to the Japanese seamen and merchants, and we find them constantly mentioned by Spanish and Portuguese writers of this period as sailing and trading to their settlements of Macao, Malacca, and the Philippines; and the commercial intercourse, especially with the Portuguese, became in a very short time most important. The Church of Rome took good care in those days that the servants of the cross were not far behind the pioneers of European civilisation, and from several quarters the devoted disciples of Ignatius Loyola hastened to the rich harvest awaiting them in Japan. François Xavier, then at Goa, fired by his wonderful success in Southern India, longed to hasten to the far East, whence rumours soon reached the seat of Portuguese power, of the hospitality of the inhabitants of Japan to European visitors. This desire appears to have been further stimulated by the arrival at Goa of a Japanese, who encouraged Xavier to undertake the task, assuring them of unbounded success.

Xavier started in 1549, only five years after the adventurous Pinto had first re-discovered that empire—“where gold was as dross, and the people of gentle manners, though brave:” yet Xavier was not in time to claim the honour of having been the first to introduce his creed amongst the Japanese; for on his arrival at Macao, he learnt that at any rate a faith in the cross, as the real panacea for all mundane evils, was already making rapid progress amongst the people of Bongo. It appears that some priests of the Roman faith, whether Spanish or Portuguese our worthy chronicler does not say, succeeded, before Xavier’s arrival, in reaching the shores of Japan. They had been kindly received; but as the Bonzes of the Budhist faith were common throughout the country, the arrival of strangers strongly resembling them in appearance and professions did not at first excite astonishment, or impress the natives with any great respect for the sanctity of their mission. The profanity of a Japanese prince, however, soon gave the servants of Rome an opportunity of striking awe into the minds of their future converts. This prince, in waggish mood, put up his reverend visitors in a mansion sadly haunted by evil spirits, without telling them of the trick he desired to play them. When night came, and they sought repose, they were disturbed by dreadful apparitions and prodigious spectres, horrid noises, and rattling of chains. The stools and cushions flew about the apartments, and their reverences’ garments were torn off their backs: expecting every minute to be destroyed by these Japanese demons, they prayed, and used all known exorcisms; at last they signed themselves with the sign of the cross, and scored it on the walls and door-posts. The demons of Japan could not withstand this. They fled, and the good fathers slept in peace. Next day, the wicked prince and the people heard with astonishment of this cure for haunted houses; they were almost persuaded to Christianity, and “in token of it,” naïvely says the ancient writer, “and to keep away evil spirits from their abodes, crosses were marked upon all their walls and door-posts throughout that city.” The poor Japanese prince had been caught in his own trap, much in the same way that we find the old adage illustrated by a native artist of Yedo, and the prince could hardly have given the clever priests a better opportunity of proving that they were still more astute necromancers than any his state could boast of.

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A Japanese Fox setting a Man-Trap. (Fac-simile.)

Encouraged by this promising intelligence, Xavier pushed on, and after dire adventures, he reached Japan, to find princes and people ready to receive his earnest and zealous preaching. The three great and almost independent rulers of the island of Kiu-siu were publicly received into the Church of Rome, and for about fifteen years, that is from 1560 to 1575, the progress of Christianity was most rapid. Xavier however only stayed long enough to see the cross flash through the island of Kiu-siu or Bongo. Elated at his success, satisfied with the idea that all Japan would follow the example of the thousands upon whom he had laid hands, pleased with the tractable gentle nature of the Japanese as they came under his own observation, ignoring the sullen bearing of the large priesthood of the Budhist and Sin-too faiths, whose temples he and his followers had overthrown, the great apostle turned his eyes to the yet unopened land of China; and leaving his blessing with the people, who he tell us “were truly the delight of his heart,” he went forth to lay down his life as the first of that truly noble army of martyrs who have fallen in striving to sow the seeds of faith in that religionless land of Cathay. During fifteen years the thirty thousand converts of Xavier swelled into more than a million in number. We find by the letters of the Jesuit fathers to their superiors, that by 1577 they had progressed as far as Miaco in Nipon, the great spiritual capital itself. There, in the stronghold of the ancient faith of Japan, on one occasion no less than 7000 persons had been converted, and a church had been so skilfully erected, so richly ornamented, that it had conduced much to raise Christianity in Japanese estimation, and enabled the fathers to preach the faith openly and safely in the most remote portions of the empire. But it was in Kiu-siu that the success of Christianity was most marked. There were three churches and a college established in Fizen alone, of which Nangasaki was the principal; and, indeed, it appears from the testimony of all writers of that day, that the only check in that quarter arose from the frequency of wars and insurrections between the great feudal princes, owing to the decay of the imperial power during the reign of the Emperor Nabunanga. This Ziogoon, or Tai-koon, had great difficulty in crushing a general disposition of his princes to throw off the control of their sovereign; but whilst his great General, Taiko-sama, was employed in quelling these insurrections, the Emperor is said by the Jesuits—writing from Miaco in 1770—to have treated them with such kindness and attention that the Christian clergy were esteemed before the Bonzes in Miaco. The poor native priests, however, had, it appears to us, ample cause for complaint. Apart from the mere fact of the inroads upon their flocks and the loss of good repute, the determined hostility of the Romish priesthood to the ancient faith of the Japanese people was most marked. Nothing could have been more intemperate than that hot zeal, though at the same time we cannot deny such zeal the merit of courage, when we think of those solitary Jesuit priests thrown into a foreign land, cut off from their countrymen—indeed, never hoping for support except from their God—yet sitting calmly down in a great city like Miaco, then probably more populous than any town in Europe, and writing to their superior that they never lost an opportunity of vilifying the false gods around them, or of defying the thousands of Bonzes and Faquirs of Miaco.

There is a curious instance of this reckless zeal which was so soon to bring sorrow upon all Japan, in a letter from a Father Orgatin, dated Miaco, September 20th, 1577, which we think deeply interesting, as it serves to warn us from a repetition of such intolerance in our coming relations with these same people: “Not more than three leagues from Miaco,” says the Father, “there is on the top of a lofty mountain a famous native temple, dedicated to the devil, which is much frequented by natives from all parts of the empire. The Bonzes in charge live by attending to the religious services there practised. I never fail to constantly express my hope of one day levelling that temple, and to raise upon its site a better one to the honour of Monsieur the Archangel St. Michael, and to plant upon the summit of that mount a crucifix, which shall always be seen by the people of Miaco, and to the exaltation of the glory of God.” Father Orgatin then says, that alarmed at his threats, and at certain proceedings of his in other quarters, where, after a wholesale christening of 400 persons, he whetted their new faith by inducing them to enter a temple and decapitate a number of idols, the Bonzes very naturally complained of him to the authorities. In spite, however, of an official notice, prohibiting the enterprising priest from carrying out his intentions with respect to the temple on the hill, he tells us, that he consoled himself with the hope that his Heavenly Father would show him a way to cast down with his own hands these vain idols, and thus, as he says, “subject the arch-enemy of mankind to great pain and mortification.”

In another letter we find a graphic account of a regular razzia carried on in the district of Arima against the Budhist idols. The poor Bonzes, hunted and persecuted, carried their graven images down the face of a fearful precipice and hid them away in a vast cave, seldom accessible; a traitor carried information of this abode of gods retired from business, to the Christian priest, who, heading some native zealots, succeeds in reaching “this cave full of devils,” and there, amidst the cries of the horror-stricken Bonzes, the rage and grief of pagans, smites off the heads and limbs of their gods and hurls them into the sea! How complacently the priest tells his tale, and dilates upon the pain and chagrin he has that day occasioned to a certain party, whose immediate presence in Japan, is, he is sure, attested by the numerous earthquakes and volcanoes.

Whilst the intolerance of the Romish clergy was thus exciting the fear and hostility of a numerous native priesthood, as well as the religious mendicants, the thousand and one hermits of Fusi-hama; whilst the progress of Christianity threatened to deprive of their subsistence those who lived by the pilgrimages to her ancient shrines and temples; the merchants and seamen of Spain and Portugal were not less successful in alienating the respect of the native authorities and officials. The Portuguese had grown rich and insolent by their trade with China and Japan. Fixing their head-quarters at Nangasaki, their traders had intermarried with the daughters of the richest natives, and obtained such a footing in the country as to already threaten its liberties.

The commerce with Portugal rapidly assumed a character which was naturally distasteful to the ruler of the Japanese people—it was a simple export of her metallic currency against the products of India and Europe; and, added to this, there is reason to fear that Japanese subjects were kidnapped or enslaved by the Portuguese, and carried out of the country for sale elsewhere.