VII. THE TRANSITIONThe eight years that intervene between the death of Hikone in 1860 and the Restoration of 1868, when his Majesty the present Emperor of Japan assumed the reins of government, are memorable for the wealth of energy which was displayed by the nation in adopting a rapid series of political changes. The dragon-spirit of change was constantly urging the nation after new ideals. Even the busy years that followed the Restoration could not equal in activity this short period, into which were compressed the germs of all later movements. We are reminded of those great transition periods of European history when forms become formless in order to create new forms. Like the initiators of the Italian Renaissance, we had to solve the double problem of restoring the old while absorbing the new. Like the much-abused French Revolution, so rich in idealization, our Restoration is characterized by an exuberant desire for self-sacrifice on the part of its enthusiasts. It was due to this feeling of patriotic ardor that the samurai voluntarily gave up his swords, the daimio his fiefs, and the Shogun his hereditary authority.
The turmoil of the Restoration was not confined to Kioto and Yedo, but found expression in all parts of the empire. Everywhere families were divided by their varying allegiance to the Mikado or to the Shogun, the son opposing the father, the younger brother the elder. Kioto became the headquarters of intrigue and the breeding-place of extreme views. The Restoration had really begun when the daimios were summoned to protect the imperial person, and now the court, strengthened by their presence at Kioto, began to dictate terms to the Shogun. There was no question of restitution of supreme authority to the Mikado, for this was a consummation universally desired and already half accomplished; but as regards the method of administering the government there were many opinions. Two great parties, the Federalists and the Imperialists, each representative of a different political system, gathered about the throne. These alternately gained the upper hand until both became united in a third party, the Unionists, which laid the foundations of our present administrative system.
The ascendancy of these different parties each in its turn marks the successive steps by which the political life of the nation was returning to its ancient form. We had now reached a point where the possibility of assuming an international position opened before us a mighty vista. The dragon was curving backward for his final spring. It was a curious example of social embryology that Japan should have assumed atavistic forms before its rebirth.
Of the two original parties, the Federalists, under the leadership of the lord of Satsuma, represented the various daimios. Their position prevented them from welcoming any abrupt change in the government, and they hoped for some sort of federation whereby they might control the shogunate. Their ideal government was that of the end of the sixteenth century, when, before the consolidation of the Tokugawa shogunate, the newly unified empire was governed by a council made up of five of the most powerful daimios; in fact, they wished for a revival of the feudal age. Their foreign policy made a virtue of necessity, and, like the shogunate, accepted the inevitable in commercial relationships with the West.
The Imperialists sought their ideal further back in our history than the Federalists, and desired the restitution of imperial bureaucracy as it had existed before the feudal period. It was not only radical, but revolutionary in its propositions, inasmuch as it aimed at the abolition of the shogunate and even of the daimiates. Those who composed the Federal party were the kuges, hereditarily connected with the throne, the ronins, and the Shintoists, the ardor of the last augmented by religious zeal for the descendant of the Sun Goddess. The lord of Choshiu, whose family had long secretly nursed a feud with the Tokugawas, also joined the rank of the Federalists. All of these were fired with a burning enthusiasm for the cause of the Mikado. They had no foreign policy except that of antagonism. This was due not so much to their hatred of the West as to their exasperation with the shogunate for signing treaties with the foreigner regardless of the wishes of the Mikado.
The Unionists, who later appeared on the scene, were men of advanced thought who considered that the unity of Japan should be accomplished at any cost, and that the crisis through which we were passing involved international as well as national problems. All had received scholastic training, for the most part in the Oyomei School; they had also acquired a certain amount of Western knowledge, the assimilation of which the liberal policy of Abe- Isenokami had rendered possible. They were to be found even among the Tokugawa samurai, the late Count Katsu- Awa being a noteworthy example. The main strength of this party, however, lay in the young samurai of Satsuma, Choshiu, and Tosa, whose patriotism furnished the backbone of New Japan, and the survivors of whom now command deep respect as the "Elder Statesmen." The Unionists, second to none in their adoration of the Mikado, worked for the full restoration of his sovereignty; but their theory of administration, in returning to the democratic ideas of ancient China, stretched still further back into antiquity even than those of the others. In the idealized Confucian state all men were equal and the head of the government ruled, not on account of his descent, but by virtue of his personal rectitude. Wisdom was sought in a council of elders, and popular opinion was consulted in various ways. All should take up arms against an invasion; but as soon as war ceased the sword should be beaten again into the plowshare and the works of peace resumed. European and American republics, as at first understood by our scholars, reminded them curiously of the Golden Age of the Celestial Land. In one of the letters of Sakuma-Shozan, a noted Unionist leader, he says, "It is wonderful that among the barbarians should be preserved the laws of the ancient sages!" Untutored as yet in the darker side of Western politics, they fell into ecstasies over those achievements of modern nations which seemed to them an actualization of their ideals. In George Washington they saw the Emperor Yaou of China relinquishing his throne to the ablest citizen of the realm. Wonder is the mother of knowledge. Treatises on international law were read with the same respect which was rendered to the codes of the Chow dynasty. Montesquieu, with his triune theory of government, was hailed as the Book of Mencius. Far from despising the West, the Unionists laid themselves at its feet. It was not the novelty but the similarity of what they found that attracted them. Sakuma-Shozan first proposed to the authorities the employment of European instructors in all branches of study. He was also the first Japanese who adopted European costume.
We may mention, in passing, that this idiosyncrasy of dress was actuated by a love of symbolism. It was the expression of a desire on the part of the progressionist to cast off the shackles of the decadent East and identify himself with the advance of Western civilization. Our kimono meant leisure, while the European dress meant activity, and it became the uniform of the army of progress, like the chapeau rouge in revolutionary France. Nowadays a rection has set in, and native costume is more generally worn by the progressives. Few of our ladies affect European costume except at court.
Sakuma-Shozan paid dearly for his pro-foreign leanings: in 1866 he was assassinated at Kioto by the ronins of the imperial party. Yet despite conservative antagonism, Western knowledge became more and more sought after as time advanced, until it has now become an inherent part of our national culture. It must always be remembered, however, that the original movement toward the acquirement of foreign knowledge was fostered by the historic spirit. If there had been no common point of contact, an Oriental race like ours would never have adopted Occidental ideas with the enthusiasm that we did.
Of the three parties above mentioned, the Federals were at first in the ascendant. In 1862 two imperial embassies, escorted by the lords of Satsuma and Tosa, left Kioto for Yedo, carrying orders to the Shogun to give the higher positions under his administration to certain powerful daimios, and furthermore commanding him to pay personal homage to the throne, a ceremony neglected since the days of the fourth Shogun. The Tokugawas had now no power to refuse, and as the result of these commands Prince Keiki was made chief adviser of the Shogun, the lord of Nabeshima his tutor, the lord of Echizen prime minister of the cabinet, and the lord of Awa director of military affairs. The first action of the new cabinet was to abolish the custom by which the daimios were obliged to leave hostages at Yedo and they themselves periodically to pay homage to the Shogun, both of which usages formed so important a part of the Tokugawa system. Another of their reforms was the replacement of the Tokugawa garrison at Kioto by one under the command of a Federal daimio. Their choice for this position fell on the lord of Aidzu, who later stood forth as the champion of the Federal policy after most of the other daimios had joined the Unionists.
Beyond carrying through these reforms, the Federal party accomplished but little. The program of instituting radical changes while preserving the Tokugawa rule soon placed them in a dilemma, while petty jealousies and dissensions began to spring up in their ranks. The lord of Satsuma, who alone might have controlled the daimios, had to return to his territory on account of complications with the English. By the spring of 1863 we find the Federals thoroughly disunited, all of the daimios who had taken office the previous year having resigned except Prince Keiki and the lord of Aidzu.
Meanwhile the Imperialists were becoming anxious over the turn of events. To them the daimios seemed to be lacking in loyalty to the Mikado. They even suspected Satsuma of trying to supplant the Tokugawas. The Federal attitude of complacency toward the foreigners was repugnant to them as showing a disregard of the imperial wishes. The disintegration of the Federal party now offered an opportunity for the Imperialists to take the helm of state. In April, 1863, they obtained imperial authority to close the ports and expel the foreigners, a measure which the Tokugawas refused to sanction and which the daimios would not take seriously. The Imperialists, however, were not daunted by this rebuff, and the lord of Choshiu showed his contempt of Tokugawa authority by firing at the foreign vessels which passed the shores of his territory in their passage through the Strait of Bakan.
This rash act raised the opposition of the Federal party and caused its reconsolidation. Seven of the younger kuges were accused of surreptitiously obtaining the imperial sanction to this anti-foreign demonstration and were obliged to flee for their lives, while the samurai and ronins of the Choshiu clan were forbidden the city of Kioto. They attempted to take the Federal guards of the palace gates by surprise in order to make appeal directly to the Mikado, but were repulsed with great loss. Attempted uprisings in three different parts of the country met with failure, and the whole body of Imperialists had to seek refuge in Choshiu. A joint army led by the lords of Owari and Echizen soon surrounded the fugitives and compelled the lord of Choshiu to execute three of his chief officers as an atonement for his misdemeanor, while he was obliged to retire into a monastery to await further orders. Owari and Echizen were not desirous of inflicting further punishment, and the invading armies were soon withdrawn. The lord of Aidzu was dissatisfied with this comparatively light form of chastisement, and prevailed upon the Shogun to lead in person a second invasion of Choshiu.
It was now that the Unionist party was formed. In their opinion, it was suicidal for the nation to be involved in internal disputes when foreign interference might be expected at any time. A second invasion of Choshiu, if successful, would reinstate the Tokugawas in power, something which neither the Federals nor the Imperialists were desirous of bringing about. The initiative came from the lord of Tosa, who succeeded in reconciling the leaders of the rival clans of Satsuma and Choshiu. A triple alliance was secretly formed by these three daimios.
The Tokugawa army started from Yedo for the second invasion of Choshiu without the support of the Federal daimios, most of whom, with the exception of Aidzu, had already fallen under the influence of the Unionists and lent only their nominal assistance to the expedition. The golden fan of Iyeyasu, hereditary insignia of the Tokugawas, which had carried all before it in the bloody battles of the sixteenth century, was at last to meet with defeat. Outgeneraled at every point, the Tokugawa army was unable to stand against the determined soldiers of Choshiu and had to beat an ignominious retreat. To add to the troubles of the Tokugawas, the Shogun died in the winter of 1866, shortly before the passing away of Komei Tenno, the imperial father of our reigning Majesty. This event gave an excuse to the Tokugawas for concluding a truce, which, however, virtually yielded the victory to the lord of Choshiu. The seven court nobles who had sought refuge in Choshiu were allowed to return and were reinstated in their former rank. It was about this time that Marquis Ito and other students who had been in Western countries returned from abroad and were welcomed by the Unionist leaders on account of the knowledge they had thus acquired. The party was now well equipped with ideas of constructive progress and constitutional government.
Prince Keiki, formerly a candidate for the shogunate and later adviser of the Shogun, was himself called upon to become the last of the shoguns, but the time had long passed when he might have had an opportunity of proving his ability. True to the principles inculcated by his father, the prince of Mito, his supreme devotion was to the Mikado, and he was convinced of the futility of trying longer to maintain the struggling fortunes of his own house. It needed no persuasion to induce him to give up his title and to restore entire authority to the throne. He was, in fact, unconsciously a thorough Unionist at heart. His most trusted counselor, the late Count Katsu-Awa, was one of the Unionist leaders, though the rest of his vassals and daimios were, like the lord of Aidzu, Federals of the most pronounced type. It is said that when, in the fall of 1867, the envoys of the lord of Tosa came to urge his resignation, he bade them wait and at once drew up the memorable document in which he relinquished all the powers which had been intrusted to his family for nearly three hundred years.
The lord of Aidzu and some of the Tokugawa samurai objected to this sudden surrender of the shogunate and raised revolts in Osaka and the northern provinces. But, bereft of their leader, the Shogun, they were unable to make effective resistance to the Unionist army under the joint command of the great Saigo of Satsuma and Omura of Choshiu. In the following year, after some desperate battles, they were all reduced to submission. Japan once more bowed to the military authority of the Mikado. The Restoration was complete.