VI. THE CABINET AND THE BOUDOIR
HAD it not been for the timely arrival of the American Embassy and the determined attitude which it took in regard to Japan's relations with the outside world, we might have entered upon an era of internal discord culminating in a civil war far worse than anything that preceded the Restoration of 1868. The immediate effect of the arrival of the American Embassy was to reconsolidate the fast-waning power of the Tokugawa government. Putting in abeyance all minor matters of dispute, the entire nation looked to the Shogun, as the representative of all existing authority, to lead the forces of Japan against what was regarded as a Western invasion. Thus the Tokugawa government was given a new lease of life and its final overthrow postponed for fifteen years, during which time ultra-reformists were kept from running riot and the nation was given a chance to prepare itself for the momentous change which was to come.
Had the Tokugawas better understood their own position, they might under this new condition of affairs, have retained their power for an indefinite period of time; but, unfortunately for them, there developed out of the rivalry between the cabinet and the boudoir an element of discord which brought about the ultimate downfall of the entire Tokugawa system.
Like all Eastern monarchies, the Tokugawa shogunate led a twofold existence, that of the outer ministry and that of the inner household. Of these two modes of expression, the former exhibits the sovereign as one who represents the united political wisdom of the country handed down through a long succession of experiences, the latter as an autocrat whose will is law. The ideal ruler, who stopped in the midst of a banquet to listen to the grievances of his people and preferred the discourse of sour-visaged councilors to the sweet music of the court beauties, confined himself exclusively to the first rôle. But even in Confucian lands human nature is weak. The fortunes of a dynasty have often fluctuated with the adherence of its representative to one or the other of these policies; and it is a significant fact that in Chinese history we find the preponderance of the household influence always resulting in rebellion, whereas that of the cabinet is overthrown only by the aggression of some foreign power. In more recent days a sort of compromise has generally been effected between these influences, virtually creating a twofold expression of the sovereign will. This arrangement has occasioned many awkward complications, especially where diplomatic relations with foreign nations have been concerned: the household may deny what the cabinet has affirmed, and vice versa.
The power of the Chinese imperial household, to whose deliberations, according to Celestial customs, no male was admitted, was often wielded by the Empress or some lady politician who from her boudoir pulled the reins of the government to the dismay of cabinet ministers. Some of these women were possessed of remarkable genius and succeeded in assuming entire control of the state. Empress Lo of the Hang and Empress Wu of the Tang dynasty are well-known examples of the usurpation of full sovereignty by a woman. The present Empress Dowager of China affords a remarkable instance of the ascendancy which the household may possess over the Tsung-li-yamen, or cabinet.
Under the Tokugawa shogunate there was constant friction between the cabinet and the boudoir. The ministers, chosen from among the ablest representatives of those daimiates which had been created by the Tokugawas, strove to maintain the hereditary policy of Iyeyasu, which had in their eyes almost the authority of a national constitution. They were for the most part astute statesmen who thoroughly understood the spirit of the nation, and never, in spite of their absolutism, outraged the feelings of the public. It was owing to their influence that the Shogun, even if personally of weak character, generally commanded the respect of his subjects. When, however, the Shogun fell under the influence of the boudoir, he became the hated despot who, regardless of public opinion, passed measures inimical to the national welfare. Unfortunately, in these cases the cabinet made but slight protest, for the code of the samurai forbade resistance to the will of the overlord.
The ladies of Yedo Castle had been active participators in the Tokugawa rule even in the time of Iyeyasu, who found among them many trusted friends and able councilors. It formed a part of his system to send them on secret and delicate missions, and they had come to be a well-recognized power in the government of his successors. In the case of a shogun at all inclined to be autocratic, the ladies surrounding his private life exerted an immense influence. Either in the person of his mother, his wife, his nurse, or his favorite, they so constantly influenced his feelings and sought to mold his actions that he needed to be a man of very strong character to remain untrammeled by these silken bonds. They possessed a hereditary policy of their own, which, based on woman's instinct of conservatism and hatred of compromise, was the dread of all cabinet ministers who attempted reforms. Their interference was not like the temporary meddling of a Madame Pompadour or a Duchesse de Montespan, but that of a whole line of female cardinals. It was owing to the antagonism of the boudoir that the Tokugawa statesman Rakuwo failed to accomplish his proposed reorganization of local government. It was through their influence that Midzuno-Echizen was prevented from enforcing his sumptuary laws, which aimed at the correction of many existent abuses. During the closing years of the Tokugawa government many wise measures proposed by the cabinet met with defeat owing to the ascendancy in power of the boudoir.
At the time of the first American Embassy, the reigning Shogun, twelfth of his line, was a young and weak prince who had, however, in the person of Abe- Isenokami, an able prime minister who showed a remarkable grasp of the situation and inaugurated that enlightened policy to which Japan owes her present position. The real significance of his acts has been quite obscured beneath a mass of conflicting criticism and the ignominy which attaches to the statesmen of a fallen dynasty. Even his negotiation of a treaty of amity with Commodore Perry in the face of a dissenting majority has been minimized by his detractors, yet it was this treaty which first brought us in touch with the rest of the world. His moderation was not cowardice; if he had allowed himself to be carried away by the belligerent spirit which animated the daimios, Japan might have made a pitiful exhibition of herself. A refusal to treat with the Embassy would probably have resulted in a bombardment, and in spite of the fiery bravery of the samurai, what would their old-fashioned cannon and fortifications have availed against the well-equipped Americans? It is due to the full recognition by Abe- Isenokami of our unpreparedness for war that Japan was saved from any such disaster. Our sincere thanks are also due to the American admiral, who showed infinite patience and fairness in his negotiations. Oriental nations never forget a kindness, and international kindnesses are unfortunately extremely rare. The name of Commodore Perry has become so dear to us that, on the fiftieth anniversary of his arrival, the people erected a monument at the spot where he landed.
It is not to be supposed that Abe- Isenokami realized the full importance of foreign intercourse, or even welcomed it. Like other men of his time, he merely considered it as a necessary evil. His knowledge of the West was but scanty, and he left the burden of treating with the Americans to his minister of foreign affairs, Hotta-Bitchiunokami, who later succeeded to the premiership after the death of Abe. He recognized nevertheless how necessary it was for Japan to acquire Western knowledge, so that she might be able to defend herself against foreign invasion. This he was at length able to impress upon the Tokugawa authorities, and the warlike daimios were prevailed upon to keep quiet during his lifetime. He opened, under government patronage, a school in which various branches of foreign science were for the first time openly taught: the present Imperial University of Tokio is a development from this school. Hitherto the pursuit of foreign knowledge except that of medicine had been interdicted, and students had been obliged to do their work in secret and under great difficulties. Now, however, any one who proved himself worthy was promoted and encouraged in his work, while our soldiers were trained in the Dutch and French systems of drill. Both war-ships and merchant vessels were ordered from Holland, and young samurai were sent to study their construction and management; this was the beginning of the present Japanese navy. The prohibition against building ships beyond a certain size was revoked, and many daimios, like those of Mito and Satsuma, vied in constructing them.
The main idea of Abe-Isenokami seemed to have been to consolidate the Tokugawa rule on a new basis. He appears to have appreciated the fact that a great change had come over the nation, and that the fast-decaying prestige of the Tokugawa government could be saved from complete destruction only by the assimilation of new energy. It was his intention to make the shogunate the center of all the forces that moved the empire. It was with this idea that he initiated the custom of approaching the Mikado and the assembly of daimios on all questions of state: a great mistake in the eyes of Tokugawa historians. He strengthened the allegiance of the lord of Satsuma, most powerful of the daimios, by bringing about the marriage of his daughter to the Shogun. He kept the old prince of Mito in good humor by making active preparations for war. He corrected many existing abuses, instituted reforms in administration, appointed able men even from the lower ranks of the samurai to responsible positions, and did all he could for the revival of Tokugawa prestige.
Next to the foreign question the most vital problem of the day was as to who should succeed to the shogunate on the death of the present incumbent, a childless and confirmed invalid. Indeed, this latter question proved itself perhaps the more important of the two, for the ultimate downfall of the Tokugawas resulted from the manner in which it was finally settled. Among the Tokugawa princes Keiki, the fourth son of the old prince of Mito, seemed the most suitable candidate for the succession.
He was adored by the daimios and samurai, not only on account of his father, but for his own fine personality and ability. His devotion to the Mikado was well known, and it was said that the court of Kioto would be pleased to have him as shogun. Abe saw in Keiki's succession a great possibility for solidifying the Tokugawa rule, as an able shogun backed by the daimios and the Kioto court, might accomplish almost anything. There was but one difficulty in the way of his appointment, and that was that the present Shogun and the ladies of his court disliked him. As a samurai and vassal, Abe's preëminent duty was to obey the wishes of his master, while as a minister he recognized the power of the ladies of Yedo Castle. He knew that to the conservative policy of the boudoir his various innovations were distasteful in the extreme, and that it feared the appointment of a strongminded shogun, such as Keiki promised to be, who might refuse to become a mere puppet in its hands. On this account Abe dared not show his hand, for he was aware of the great power which the boudoir could bring to bear upon the cabinet to overthrow all its efforts toward a reorganization of the Tokugawa rule. His attitude toward the problem of succession was so cautious as to appear almost indecisive. Had He been spared a few years longer, he might have accomplished his object; but in 1857 he succumbed to a short illness and died at the age of thirty-nine. Thus perished the last great statesman who might have retrieved the sinking fortunes of the Tokugawas.
Hotta-Bitchiunokami, who succeeded Abe as prime minister, although he did not possess the same ability, tried to follow out the policy of his predecessor. He did not command the respect of the Kioto court and unwittingly alienated the affections of the daimios. He was almost without supporters by the time he left Yedo, in the spring of 1858, to obtain the imperial ratification to the new treaty whose terms had been drawn up by him and the American consul, Townsend Harris. Times were indeed changed when a Tokugawa prime minister was obliged to go in person to Kioto to answer the queries of those court nobles who had formerly trembled in his presence. But the Kioto court had already tasted power and would fain drink to the full. To the members of the imperial court, so long isolated from participation in affairs of state, the question of our national politics was doubly unintelligible, while their conservatism recoiled from the very mention of such outlandish notions. It was a difficult task for Hotta, who sincerely believed in the necessity of foreign intercourse and trade, to explain these things to a court which heard of them for the first time, and consequently his mission ended in failure. They asked many perplexing questions and could not understand why the citizens of a foreign nation should not obey the laws of the country in which they came to live.
The unpopularity of Hotta afforded an opportunity for the boudoir to obtain control of the government, and during his sojourn in Kioto the ladies of Yedo Castle replaced him by a premier who had agreed to side with them in the choice of a future shogun. The new minister, Iyi-Kamon, lord of Hikone, was the last exponent of Tokugawa autocracy: he it was who accomplished the terrible coup d'état of 1859. Though a choice of the boudoir, and representative of its policy, Hikone was possessed of no servile spirit. He was a loyal daimio of the old type, ready to carry out the wishes of his liege through fire or water. Descended from the greatest general among the forces of Iyeyasu, his traditional loyalty rebelled at the encroachments of the Kioto court and the daimios upon the time-honored prestige of the Tokugawas. To him the question of succession to the shogunate was purely a family matter for the Tokugawas to settle, and one in which no one else had any right to interfere. To him, the signing of treaties with foreign nations was well within the prerogative intrusted to the Shogun from ancient days, and it was a mistake to have ever consulted the court nobles or the daimios about it. He recognized the fact that the country was undergoing a crisis, but believed that with firmness the authority of the Tokugawas could again be made thoroughly autocratic. It was with this determination that, in the summer of 1858, he answered the summons of the dying Shogun, who had been urged to send for him by the ladies of Yedo Castle.
The first act of Hikone after accepting the premiership was to declare the young prince Iyemochi, of the house of Kishiu, who had been the choice of the dying Shogun, ruler instead of Keiki of Mito, the candidate of the daimios. Iyemochi, who was but thirteen at the time of his appointment, ruled as the thirteenth Shogun of the Tokugawas until the year 1866, when he died and was succeeded by Keiki. Hikone's second act was publicly to disgrace those daimios who had been recognized leaders of the opposition in regard to the question of succession. The old prince of Mito and the lord of Echizen were forced to resign their offices, and members of the Abe party, from Hotta downward, were degraded in rank. His third act was to sign commercial treaties with various Western nations, in utter disregard of the wishes of the Mikado, to whom a report of his actions was sent by the common post.
All these measures, and especially the last, were in the nature of bravado against national sentiment. The court highly resented the audacity of the new Tokugawa minister, and Kioto became the center where emissaries of the disaffected daimios met to conspire and plan countermoves. The prince of Mito received imperial instructions to call an assemblage of the daimios to reform the Tokugawa cabinet. Hikone, who watched all these proceedings through his spies, was not slow to move. In the spring of 1859 nearly forty of the more prominent agitators were arrested and either beheaded or imprisoned for high treason. All were famous men of the time, and among their number were included scholars, poets, and artists. One court lady, also implicated, was exiled. Many of the kuges were compelled to shave their heads and retire from the world. The most deplorable result of this coup d'état was the loss to Japan of a great number of men of remarkable genius. Among those beheaded were Yoshida- Shoyin of Choshiu, precursor and inspirer of Kido and Marquis Ito, and Hashimoto-Sanai of Echizen, a statesman of a Mazzini-like intellect, for whose death alone the Tokugawa government was said to have deserved its downfall. Our Garibaldi, the great Saigo of Satsuma, had a hairbreadth escape from the hands of Hikone's minions.
This sudden display of despotism quelled the national spirit for a time, but the silence which followed was ominous. Assassination always lurks in the shadow of an absolute tyranny. In the late spring of 1860 it was snowing heavily and the light flakes mingled with the falling cherry-blossoms. The road from the palace of the lord of Hikone to the Sakurada gate of Yedo Castle was completely deserted as Iyi- Kamon and his unsuspecting retinue passed on their way to pay the usual morning homage to the Shogun. Suddenly they were attacked by seventeen ronins, mostly of the Mito clan, and Hikone was killed almost before his body-guard had time to draw their swords. The assassins fell upon their own weapons, leaving a few of their comrades to explain to the nearest authorities that their deed had been a stroke for national liberty and not an act of private vengeance.
Deplorable as this tragedy was, it had a helpful effect on the country, and showed that reawakened Japan was determined to resist to the utmost any attempts at the reënforcement of despotism. Perhaps a justification of such acts lies in the fact that assassination is the only weapon of a disarmed patriotism. No constitutional protest would have availed against the iron sway of Tokugawa autocracy. The icy structure of Tokugawa tyranny melted away like the snows of Sakurada beneath the warm blood of the devoted ronins.
A profound feeling of uneasiness possessed the nation, and the popular imagination was excited in various ways by those who had at heart the complete restoration of authority to the Mikado. Placards denouncing the usurpation of the Shogun were posted in public places by invisible hands. Mystic tablets foretelling the doom of the Tokugawas were reported to have been wafted from the heavens to various parts of the empire. Masked bands waylaid the official mail and intercepted the transport of government revenue, the money being given to the poor. A great number of samurai forsook their liege lord and assembled in Kioto to offer their swords for the service of the Mikado. The acts of these ronins were characterized more by symbolic demonstration than by open violence against the shogunate. To cite one instance of their methods: a band of ronins entered the mausoleum of the Ashikagas and decapitated the statues of the thirteen shoguns of that dynasty and displayed their heads near the Shijo bridge. This childish act had a strange influence over the Japanese mind, with its Oriental love of symbolism, and was even more potent than the Sakurada affair in arousing the feelings of the people. It spared us the horror of an assassination, yet had all the ghastly eloquence of one.
After the death of Hikone the Tokugawa cabinet no longer possessed a minister able to cope with the situation, and its attempts at popular conciliation were interpreted as confessions of weakness. Ando-Tsushimanokami, who succeeded Hikone as senior member of the cabinet, prevailed upon the Kioto court to bestow the hand of the Princess Kazunomiya, sister of the Mikado, on the Shogun. This political marriage was celebrated in 1861 with great pomp, but did not lessen the existing tension. Public sentiment against the Tokugawas had reached such a point that fictitious stories about the maltreatment of the royal bride were readily believed. The prime minister was even accused of holding the princess as a hostage for the acquiescence of the court in the despotic measures of his predecessor. The following year he was attacked by ronins while on his way to the palace of the Shogun, but the would-be assassins were unsuccessful in their attempt on his life. Ando, who was a fine swordsman, cut down two of his assailants while his body-guard despatched the rest. These repeated attacks on the Tokugawa ministers were significant of the tendency of events, and forty of the more powerful daimios received an imperial summons to protect Kioto. The throne once more became the real seat of authority, and Yedo Castle but the home of its chief vassal. The boudoir, in attempting to crush the cabinet, had dealt a deathblow to the entire Tokugawa government.