IV. THE VOICE FROM WITHINIT seems to be the general impression among foreigners that it was the West who, with the touch of a magic wand, suddenly roused us from the sleep of centuries. The real cause of our awakening, however, came from within. Our national consciousness had already begun to stir when, in the year 1853, Commodore Perry reached our shores, and had waited but for that event to inaugurate a universal movement toward renationalization.
Three separate schools of thought united to cause the regeneration of Japan. The first taught her to inquire; the second, to act; the third, for what to act. All were tiny streams at their outset, finding their source in the solitary souls of independent thinkers who nursed them always under censure, often in banishment. They even coursed from within the prison walls and trickled from the scaffold. They were almost hidden beneath the rank vegetation of conventionalism until the moment when they united to leap in cataracts of patriotic zeal inundating the whole nation.
The first, known as the Kogaku (School of Classic Learning), arose at the end of the seventeenth century as a protest against the dogmas of the governmental academies. Its originators claimed that the Neo-Confucianism of Shiuki as taught in the academies was not really Confucianism, but a new-fangled interpretation of Buddhism and Taoism. They invited scholars to return to the original texts of the sage himself and find anew the real meaning thereof. It was a bold stand for them to take, considering that Shiuki's commentaries were considered orthodox and their authority had remained unquestioned both in China and Japan since the Sung Illumination of the eleventh century. This school for the first time frees the Tokugawa mind from the trammels of formalism, though its liberalism does not result in any particular conclusions.
Its very attitude, that of inquiry, prevents it from crystallizing into any single solution of Confucianism. Some of its adherents, like Sorai, go as far as to maintain that Confucius was purely a political philosopher and not a teacher of ethics. Some, on the other hand, like Yamaga-Soko, to whom we owe the development of the Samurai Code on a Confucian basis, found in Japanese institutions the expression of the moral law of the Chinese sage. Yet however they differed individually in their conclusions, they united in being heretical toward the orthodox Tokugawa notions, and all were objects of disapprobation to the authorities,-Yamaga-Soko, who commanded a considerable following, being banished from Yedo to the distant and insignificant daimiate of Akho. Yet even during his confinement there his personality inspired the well-known Forty-seven Ronins to attempt their memorable feat of loyalty, remarkable not only as revealing a new ideal of samurai-hood, but eloquent in its silent protest against the Tokugawa régime.
The second school, which started at nearly the same time as the first, is called the School of Oyomei, from the Japanese pronunciation of Wangyangming, the name of its founder. This remarkable man was a great general as well as scholar who lived in China at the beginning of the sixteenth century, under the Ming dynasty. He never ceased to discourse even during the brilliant campaigns in which he was victorious over the rebels in Southern China. His philosophy was an advance on the Neo-Confucianism of Shiuki, whose doctrines, however, he accepted in the main. His principal contribution lay in his definition of knowledge. With him all knowledge was useless unless expressed in action. To know was to be. Virtue was real in so far only as it was manifested in deeds. The whole universe was incessantly surging on to higher spheres of development, calling upon all to join in its glorious advance. To realize their teachings it was necessary to live the life of the sages themselves, to consecrate one's whole energy to the service of mankind. Thus he brought Confucianism again into its true domain, that of practical ethics.
His doctrines appear to have had only a temporary influence on China itself, but they possessed a peculiar charm for the Japanese mind, and later furnished one of the principal incentives toward the accomplishment of the Restoration. One of the pioneers of this school in Japan has produced such an impression on the moral life of the districts around Lake Biwa that his memory is still cherished as that of the "Living Confucius." Another, devoting himself to the material welfare of the people, has left in his engineering feats for the irrigation of the Okayama provinces a monument to the zeal inspired by Oyomei; yet he had to suffer for heresy and died in exile and disgrace.
The Oyomian scholars of Japan went further than the Chinese in their dynamic conception of the cosmic force. Their predilection for Indian modes of thought, especially for that of the Zen sect of Buddhism, made them lay great stress on the idea of change, with the result that they came to conclusions curiously akin to many of those held by modern evolutionists. The Buddhas of the past were not the Buddhas of the future, for they must include the former and something more.
Every new life was built on the debris of the past and amid the tumultuous crash of a myriad of dissolving worlds. A reincarnation was self-realization on a different plane. How magnificent is change! How beautiful the great transition known as life and death!
The Japanese Oyomians delighted in the image of the dragon. Have you seen the dragon? Approach him cautiously, for no mortal can survive the sight of his entire body. The Eastern dragon is not the gruesome monster of medieval imagination, but the genius of strength and goodness. He is the spirit of change, therefore of life itself. We associate him with the supreme power or that sovereign cause which pervades everything, taking new forms according to its surroundings, yet never seen in a final shape. The dragon is the great mystery itself. Hidden in the caverns of inaccessible mountains, or coiled in the unfathomed depth of the sea, he awaits the time when he slowly rouses himself into activity. He unfolds himself in the storm clouds; he washes his mane in the blackness of the seething whirlpools. His claws are in the fork of the lightning, his scales begin to glisten in the bark of rain-swept pine-trees. His voice is heard in the hurricane which, scattering the withered leaves of the forest, quickens a new spring. The dragon reveals himself only to vanish. He is a glorious symbolic image of that elasticity of organism which shakes off the inert mass of exhausted matter. Coiling again and again on his strength, he sheds his crusted skin amid the battle of elements, and for an instant stands half revealed by the brilliant shimmer of his scales. He strikes not till his throat is touched. Then woe to him who dallies with the terrible one!
The dragon is said never to be the same. What flower is? What life? The secret of knowledge, according to the Oyomians, was to penetrate behind the mask which change imposed upon things. So-called facts and forms were merely incidents beneath which the real life lay hidden. This they loved to illustrate by the Taoist parable of the Real Horse. Once upon a time, it is related, a king of China was desirous of procuring the best horse in the world, wherefore he asked Hakuraku, allknowing in horses, to make search far and wide. After a long time Hakuraku returned and reported to the king that a bay mare on a certain pasture was the most perfect horse existent. Thereupon the king sent vassals laden with treasures to bring the steed to his court. When, however, they came to the place described by Hakuraku they found not a bay mare, but a black stallion. This they brought back with them, and it was found to be the paragon of equine beauty and strength. To the true connoisseur of horses the real horse was visible in something beyond the secondary features of color and sex. Even thus it is with all true knowledge, said the Oyomians.
The orthodox academicians were doubly hostile to the Oyomei School as a perversion of their own Neo-Confucianism. The terror of their censorship lay not so much in open attacks on the doctrines themselves as in the treacherous and unexpected manner in which they brought punishment upon their holders.
Yet, in spite of this, the new idea was fostered and slowly gained ground in those distant daimiates where censorial interference was comparatively slight. It is significant that the two provinces of Satsuma and Choshiu, from which all the great statesmen of modern Japan come, were the chief refuge of this school of philosophy. Among those of our generals and admirals who have distinguished themselves in the Chinese and Russian wars, many were brought up as youths in the principles of Oyomei. This it is which makes them calm amid danger, resourceful in planning, and ever alert to meet the dictates of change. It was largely due to the spread of Oyomian philosophy that Japan recognized the dragon amid the boiling ferment of the Restoration. Like the Real Horse of Hakuraku, the spirit of Old Japan, in spite of the accretions of centuries, was still manifest.
The Tokugawa authorities had everything to fear from the revolutionary nature of the Oyomei doctrine, whose followers hesitated at nothing where their idea of righteousness was concerned. It was Oshiwo, a celebrated Oyomei scholar of Osaka, who with all his disciples rose in open revolt when the governor of that city refused for some insufficient reason to grant subsistence to the populace during the severe famine of 1837. He fired on the garrison and held them in check while he distributed the contents of the government granaries to the famished people, after which he calmly met his death. His mental attitude may be well seen where, in an interesting philosophical work, he says: "Strike like the lightning, be terrible like the thunder, but remember that the sky itself is always clear above."
Neither the heresy of the Classic School nor the virility of the Oyomei School would in themselves have evolved the political conception that led to the Restoration. They were, after all, but differentiations in Confucianism, and Confucianism ordained obedience to existing authority provided that the moral life of the community was not thereby destroyed. Hence it was that the Ming scholars offered no resistance to the Manchu rule. It was for this same reason that the Tokugawa Confucians, whatever their school, never dreamed of instituting a change in our political system. Oyomei taught to act, but not for what or for whom. This deficiency it was the mission of the Historical School to supply.
The Historical School was not a heresy, and was therefore rarely regarded with suspicion by the censors. On the contrary, the Tokugawas themselves encouraged it, for it accorded with their traditional policy. The movement began early in their rule with a compilation of the genealogies of the chief families in the empire and the publication of histories redounding to the credit of the Tokugawas themselves. One important history written by the chief academician of his time is interesting as evincing the utmost servility to Confucian classicism, in that the author tries to prove the descent of the Mikado from the Chinese sages. By the beginning of the eighteenth century however, the pure light of research appeared in the study of philology. This movement, led by Keichiu-acharya and culminating in the illustrious works of Motoori and Harumi, opened up in our ancient poetry and history a new vista of thought. Toward the end of the century the study of archæology increased to such an extent that the Tokugawa government and wealthy daimios vied with each other in the collection of rare manuscripts and encyclopedic publications on art, while well-known connoisseurs were appointed to investigate and record the treasures of the old monasteries at Nara and Kioto. All this continued to lift the veil which had hung for so many centuries over the past. This was indeed the era of Renaissance in Japan.
The acquisition of historical knowledge resulted in the revivification of Shintoism. The purity of this ancient cult had been overflowed by successive waves of continental influence until it had almost entirely lost its original character. In the ninth century it became merely a branch of esoteric Buddhism and delighted in mystic symbolism, while after the fifteenth century it was entirely Neo-Confucian in spirit and accepted the cosmic interpretation of the Taoists. But with the revival of ancient learning it became divested of these alien elements. Shintoism as formulated in the beginning of the nineteenth century is a religion of ancestrism -a worship of pristine purity handed down from the age of the gods. It teaches adherence to those ancestral ideals of the Japanese race, simplicity and honesty, obedience to the ancestral rule vested in the person of the Mikado, and devotion to the ancestral land on whose consecrated and divine shores no foreign conqueror has ever set his foot. It called upon Japan to break loose from blind slavery to Chinese and Indian ideals, and to rely upon herself.
The historic spirit swept on through the realms of literature, art, and religion, until it finally reached the heart of the samurai. Till then its effects had been brilliant but not momentous, its expressions scholarly and therefore limited in scope. A democratization of the new message is found in the works of the early writers of the last century among whom the poet-historian RaiSanyo stands foremost in rank. It was from his lucid pages that the full meaning of the past dawned on the minds of the young samurai and ronins. Their memories traveled back to the days when the imperial sanctity was forgotten and the chrysanthemum cowered before the cruel blast of Ashikaga arrogance, while even the palace itself, with none so loyal as to undertake its repair, was sinking in ruin within sight of the Golden Pavilion of the shoguns. Sadly they read the poems of some lonely loyalist who, like a solitary cuckoo, poured his sad song into the moonless night.
They dwelt with mingled pride and sorrow on the story of the Emperor Godaigo, who broke the power of the Kamakura shogunate and for a time reëstablished legitimate rule. They thought of his undaunted courage in raising the country against the usurpers, of his exile to the distant island of Sado, of his miraculous escape in a fishing-boat, of his triumphs over the enemy, and of his fastness in the mountain of Yoshino, where he held his court until the time when the cherry-blossoms covered his mausoleum with their tribute of tender homage.
The gaunt image of Masashige rose before them, that hero who fought for the Emperor Godaigo knowing that his cause was already lost. They read how he it was who first dared answer the imperial summons to fight the usurper, how he planned and carried out the guerrilla warfare which led to a temporary restitution of the Mikado's power, and claimed no reward when his work was accomplished. "What is thy last wish?" said he to his brother as, wounded unto death, they both emerged from their last terrible battle with the Ashikaga hosts. Smiling, he listened to the swift reply, "I wish to be born again to strike a blow for the Mikado," and said, "Though Buddhists teach that such wishes are sinful and lead to the hell of Asuras, yet not for once only but for seven lives do I wish to be reborn for that same end"; then each fell by the other's sword. They read how Masatsura, the son of Mashashige, refused the first beauty of the court, who was deeply attached to him, when the Mikado offered her to him as a reward for his hereditary loyalty, pleading that his life was for death and not love.
Soon as the memory of past ages came over the samurai, the lost glory of the Son of Heaven flashed upon them. They saw the Mikado himself leading his army to victory. They heard their ancestors beating their shields with their swords, as they sang the war-song of Otomo, the terrible joy of dying by the Mikado's side. They wept when they thought of the shadow that had come over the throne. They made pilgrimages to the imperial mausoleums, which had long been left to decay, and washed their moss-covered steps with tears. Who were the Tokugawas who dared to stand between them and their legitimate sovereign? Oh, to die-to die for the Mikado!
The historic spirit now stood sword in hand, and the sword was one of no mean steel. The samurai, like his weapon, was cold, but never forgot the fire in which he was forged. His impetuosity was always tempered by his code of honor. In the feudal days Zen had taught him self-restraint and made courteousness the mark of bravery. Confucianism had in the Tokugawa period intensified that sense of duty which made him disregard all obstacles. He did not court useless danger, for his courage was never questioned. He marched to certain death not with the blind fury of fanaticism but with a set resolution of doing whatever was demanded of him. The historical spirit in penetrating his soul made him a new being. All the devotion which had formerly been consecrated to the service of his immediate liege was now laid at the feet of the Mikado.
Soon the historical spirit began to permeate the ranks of the daimios. It first entered the souls of those Tozama daimios who, like the lords of Satsuma and Choshiu, felt a hereditary animosity to the shogunate. Later on it began to influence even the princes of the Tokugawa family, especially the princes of Mito and the lords of Echizen. The scholars of these daimiates, with their Shinto and Oyomian tendencies, were the apostles of the Restoration. It is to be noted that Keiki, last of the shoguns, who voluntarily gave up the reins of government to the Mikado, was a prince of Mito.
The hour had come when dreams were to be translated into action, and the sword was to leave the quiet of the scabbard and leap forth with the fury of lightning.
Strange whispers traveled from the cities to the villages. The lotus trembled above the turbid waters, the stars began to pale before the dawn, and that mighty hush which bespeaks the coming storm fell on the nation. Oyomei was abroad and the dragon was calling forth the hurricane. It was at this moment that the West appeared on our horizon.