Buddhism had taken its rise in northern India in the sixth century before Christ as a reforming movement and a protest against the religious system of the time. Its founder was Gautama, a man of noble blood, who after years of inner struggle had found peace of mind and had endeavored to transmit his secret to others. Sharing the beliefs of his times, he taught that life was a long chain of reincarnations and that it meant poverty, suffering, disease, and death. Suffering, he had discovered, was caused by men's desires and longings. To get rid of it one must quench desire. The stage at which one reached the perfect elimination of desire was called Nirvana and with its attainment the chain of reincarnations with their entailment of suffering was broken. This victory over desire was to be achieved by a combination of methods whose chief practical emphasis was upon a life of meditation, renunciation, and unselfish service. The material world was transient, and man was to learn to think of its goods as a delusion and to free himself from all longing for them. As Gautama taught it, Buddhism had little to say about the gods. If they existed they were subject to change and would pass away, and had best be ignored. Man could achieve salvation by his own strength unaided by the divine. After Gautama's death his system underwent a transformation. It accumulated beliefs and practices alien to the spirit of its founder, whom, however, it deified and made a member of a new pantheon. It spread north and south and in the process was modified by each age and people that accepted it. The northern form, called Mahayana, "the Greater Vehicle," evolved in the countries to the northwest of India. It there accumulated many non-Indian elements, developed an art under Greek and Persian influences, and in the organization of its celibate priesthood, its services, and many of its doctrines came so strangely to resemble Eastern and Roman Catholic Christianity that early Roman missionaries could account for the likeness only on the ground of malicious imitation by the devil. In later years scholars have attempted to trace a historical connection between Christianity and Buddhism, and have proved that during the early Christian centuries there was some contact between the two. There was commerce between India and the Roman Orient; the widespread Manichæism was a mixture of Christian, Persian, and Buddhist teaching; and Nestorian missionaries were to be found in Central Asia. Just how much Buddhism and organized Christianity owe to each other, however, has yet to be finally determined. The southern form of Buddhism, called Hinayana, "the Lesser Vehicle," although it departed widely from the simplicity of Gautama, more nearly resembled the primitive faith than did the Mahayana school.

It ought to be added that Buddhism, especially in its Mahayana form, had a highly developed philosophy. It was by no means a mere collection of superstitions, although, of course, it was not without a crasser side that appealed to the multitude. It had engaged the attention of thousands of earnest, keen minds, who had found in it intellectual satisfaction and spiritual light. They had left on it the impress of their thought and had helped to make of it a faith that not only had a message for the simple but could command the respect and engage the life-long devotion of the most highly educated.

Shortly after the time of Christ the northern form of Buddhism was carried to China along the trade routes of Central Asia opened by the Han dynasty, and in the next few centuries, reënforced by the southern form, it achieved great popularity and took its place among the three chief faiths of the empire.

At the beginning of the third century after Christ the Han dynasty collapsed, and with it Chinese unity. In the earlier years of the intermittent civil war that followed, the Chinese were naturally not inclined to push out to neighboring nations with their culture. At the end of a century and a half or two centuries, however, some of the states into which the empire was divided became strong enough to exert an influence on their neighbors, and Buddhist missionaries found their way from China to Korea. By the middle of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh century reunion was in sight. Under a short-lived dynasty followed by a much stronger one, the T'ang (620-907), China achieved union, her boundaries were extended beyond any previous limits, and a great development in commerce, art, literature, and religion followed. For a time she was the largest and most prosperous state in the world. To her capital at Si-an-fu came envoys from the peoples of Eastern and Central Asia. Merchants were to be met there from even the distant Roman empire, and Nestorian and Manichæan missionaries were to be found in competition, sometimes not altogether unfriendly, with the followers of Gautama. In the centuries between the Han and the T'ang dynasties, Buddhism had become extremely popular and it was but to be expected that the Chinese should desire to propagate it. What more natural, then, than that Buddhism and Chinese culture should go hand in hand to outlying states? And what more natural than that Japan should be dazzled by the splendor of its great neighbor and under the impulse of contact with its new life should undergo a transformation? One is reminded of the changes wrought in Japan and China in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by contact with Western peoples. The Christian missionary and the merchant and diplomat have gone hand in hand; the missionary, as a rule more altruistic and daring than the others, has been the most powerful agent of Occidental culture in the first stages of intercourse.

Buddhism reached Korea in the second half of the fourth century and was accepted by at least some of the kingdoms into which the peninsula was divided. Southern Korea was, as we have seen, in close touch with Japan, and it was only a question of time until the Indian faith would find its way across the intervening straits to the islands. In 522, indeed, a Buddhist monk came directly from China to Japan; he met with little response, but a few yearslater, in 545 and again in 552, the king of a Korean state1 in close alliance with Japan sent Buddhist images and sacred books to the emperor in Yamato and advised the adoption of the new faith. Buddhism did not meet with immediate acceptance. There was, as might be expected, a party of conservatives who wished to reject it. The foreign religion, however, found an advocate in the powerful Soga family. In spite of pestilence and lightning that awakened the angry fear of the mob, the Soga persisted in erecting and maintaining a shrine for the new cult. Riots and even civil war followed, but in time the Soga prevailed, and completely dominated the throne. With their victory the success of Buddhism was assured. The Prince Imperial, Shotoku, one of the most brilliant leaders Japan has produced, was an ally of the Soga and an ardent disciple of the bonzes from the continent. The imperial court fell into line. Temples were built, monasteries were erected, and large numbers of men and women of noble birth renounced the world for the cloister. There were at various intervals during some centuries several women on the throne who aided the progress of the foreign cult by their fervor.

CHINESE AND OTHER CONTINENTAL INFLUENCES ON JAPAN When once espoused by the upper classes the new faith and its attendant civilization achieved popularity with the masses. As in the nineteenth century, a feeling of national pride would not brook any charge of being backward in the race for progress, and when once thoroughly convinced that China's culture was superior, the Japanese set themselves to adopting it and adapting it to their needs. The process was hastened as the years went by and the brilliant T'ang dynasty was established and became the master of eastern Asia. The T'ang generals by the conquest of Korea in 667 brought the civilization of the continent to Japan's very doors. Missionaries, merchants, artisans, and scholars from Korea and China journeyed to the islands. Japanese visited Si-an-fu, some of them as students supported by the government, and were dazzled by its wealth and splendor. Embassies were sent to the Chinese capital and came back to spread its fame. Japan was being swept into the life of the Far East and sought to conform herself to it.

The transformation, as might be expected, was most marked at or near the capital, and as in the nineteenth century, the distant rural districts were the slowest to change. The entire nation was involved, however, and all phases of its life were affected. Naturally enough, Buddhism flourished. Many temples were erected. Rich and poor took the vows of celibate Buddhist monks and large monastic communities came into existence. Buddhist ethics were preached, and there followed a greater kindliness in manners and a larger respect for animal life. The idea of reincarnation found acceptance, although never as fully as in India. Hinayana, the southern form of Buddhism, at first predominated, but in time it was chiefly the northern form, Mahayana, that prevailed and molded the forms of faith. The stately ritual of the temple services was introduced, and mightily impressed the Japanese, for until now they had been familiar with no other religious ceremonies than the simple ones connected with their native cult. The elaborate and matured philosophy of Buddhism had opposed to it no organized rival system. It raised and answered questions about existence and the divine which seem never seriously to have troubled the older Japanese, and hence drew attention to and met a genuine need.

The native cult was not abandoned. In later years, as we shall see, belief in it was reconciled with the acceptance of the new religion by the ingenious theory that its divinities were incarnations of the Buddha and of Buddhist saints. The two faiths continued to exist side by side with mutual tolerance. Shinto was reenforced and to a slight extent modified by Chinese contributions; its reverence for the dead, for instance, was strengthened by contact with Chinese ancestor worship.

Chinese writing and literature achieved popularity. The Chinese written character had been known, as we have seen, for some time, but its use had been confined to a comparatively narrow circle. It was now studied more extensively, although for years the common people and even the higher classes away from the capital did not use it. The task of adapting it to Japanese needs was no light one. The two languages, Japanese and Chinese, were apparently entirely unrelated. One was polysyllabic, the other monosyllabic, and their grammatical constructions were very different. The Chinese characters, moreover, do not form an alphabet, but are pictographs, ideographs, and phonograms. Thus , in another form , is man, and was originally meant to represent two human legs: or is hand, and was in the beginning , a crude attempt at a picture of the five digits; and (meaning two) combine to form , meaning the duties between two men or man and man, and rather crudely translated "benevolence." Most of the characters are phonograms. Thus there is a character now pronounced fu and meaning primarily "to brood on eggs." Combined with it forms and represents another word also pronounced fu and meaning a prisoner of war. Combined with , meaning grass, it forms which represents a word which is also pronounced fu and means the inner skin of a kind of water plant. And these examples could be multiplied by the hundreds. In adapting these characters to Japanese use, two methods could be employed. They could be used phonetically; that is, a Japanese word could be reproduced by Chinese characters with regard not to their meaning, but merely to their sound in Chinese. Thus the Japanese word for mountain is yama. It could be written by two Chinese characters pronounced ya and ma, say for example (ya), a particle implying doubt, and (ma), meaning horse. This, however, is clumsy, as the Chinese characters do not suggest the idea, and there are syllables in Japanese for which there exist no corresponding Chinese sounds or characters. On the other hand, the Japanese word could be represented by the Chinese character having the same meaning. In this latter way the Chinese word itself might be taken over into the language. Thus yama was written by the Chinese character , meaning mountain, and given either its Japanese pronunciation, yama, or its Chinese pronunciation, shan or san. The famous volcano Fuji is either Fujiyama or Fujisan. Both methods of adapting the Chinese characters were used at first and great confusion resulted, but the established method gradually came to be the latter, i. e., emplying the character which represented not the Japanese sound but the idea. This brought into the Japanese language many new words, since the character could be given either its Chinese or its Japanese pronunciation. There also came into the language many new ideas. Chinese came to bear much the same relation to Japanese that Latin does to English. The feat of adapting Chinese was no easy one. So unrelated were the two languages originally that it was probably as difficult to use Chinese characters to write Japanese as it would be to use them to write English.

With the written character came Chinese literature in all its wealth-philosophy, history, poetry, cosmogony, and science. It was the accumulation of centuries of development. There were the writings not only of Confucius, Mencius, and their contemporaries, of Laotze and the early Taoist worthies, but the rich store produced under the brilliant Han dynasty and the new flood that was issuing from the facile pens of the T'ang scholars. It was on the whole a literature as able and as rich as that which came down to northern Europe from ancient Greece and Rome. Under its influence a Japanese literature began. The legends and stories of the earlier days were recorded, materials that later entered into the Kojiki and the Nihongi.

With the language and literature came art. Painting and sculpture had reached a high stage of perfection in China, first under the Han and than under the T'ang. Buddhism had brought with it to China a well developed iconography, combining Indian, Greek, and Central Asiatic elements. Under its stimulus the Chinese genius had produced works which in technique, feeling, and insight were of a very high order. The scanty remnants are still the delight of lovers of the beautiful in all nations. The latent Japanese genius was aroused by the examples presented and began to produce in great abundance pictures of Gautama and of various sacred episodes. Buddhist statues and carvings were imported; architecture became prominent for the first time; Buddhist temples were erected on the model of those on the continent, marked contrasts to the unpretentious buildings that had done for the Shinto worship and the flimsy structures in which even royalty had been wont to live. Inspired by the construction of temples, better and more permanent dwellings were erected for the emperor and the nobility.

Various handicrafts were introduced from Korea and China and the Japanese became familiar with new utensils and implements, with better textiles and industrial methods. Chinese medicine and military science were brought in. The Chinese calendar was formally adopted. Chinese costumes were introduced, and their use and form carefully regulated by law. Roads were built, probably for the first time. Communication by land now supplemented that by boats, heretofore the chief means of transportation. Ship- building was improved and commerce grew. A system of weights and measures was adopted. The importation of the precious metals stimulated the Japanese to open mines of their own. Silver was discovered in the islands and shortly afterward, copper. With the working of native ores came the minting of money. In the early years of the eighth century the first true coins were struck; as in China they were mostly of copper.

There was an immigration of Koreans and Chinese. Some of course were Buddhist missionaries, drawn partly by zeal and partly by ambition. Some were handicraftsmen. Others were merchants who were interested in exploiting the resources of the newly opened islands. Still others were scholars, attracted by the rewards offered by the court and the nobility for men of learning. As a result, an infusion of Korean and Chinese blood found its way into Japanese veins, increasing the complexity of a stock that was already a composite of several races.

There were great social transformations. Wealth increased and with it the difference between rich and poor was accentuated. A greater emphasis was laid upon agriculture. The Japanese family was modified and strengthened by contact with Chinese ideals, which were, briefly, that orderly family life and its attendant veneration for ancestors are the basis of society. They found Japan not entirely unprepared to accept them, for the family systems of the two countries were fundamentally the same, but they greatly strengthened and modified existing tendencies. Chinese ethics, an outgrowth of the family system, effected a change in Japanese moral standards.


Especially noteworthy was the reorganization which took place in the state. Prince Shotoku, as we have seen, was an ardent advocate of the new religion. He was equally in favor of the new culture. He was a student not only of Buddhism, but of the great historic classics of China, the writings of Confucius and his school, and was an eager and intelligent admirer of the political machinery of the T'ang. It was due partly to his initiative that a complete reorganization of the government took place. In 604 he issued his "constitution" in seventeen articles, sometimes called Japan's first written code of laws. This was not an elaborate legal document, however, enumerating specific crimes and prescribing penalties, but an attempt to apply in a somewhat general way Buddhist and Confucian ethical principles to official life. It was a body of moral maxims sent out as instructions to the dignitaries of the state to guide them in the performance of their duties. Reverence for Buddhism and loyalty to the emperor were insisted upon, a high standard of personal rectitude was encouraged, and justice and integrity were commanded in the fulfillment of public duty. In 645, after the death of Shotoku, a complete reorganization of the state took place, so thorough that this date may be regarded as the time when the real revolution in government occurred. Additional reforms followed under succeeding monarchs, usually along the lines marked out in 645, for over a period of nearly a century. In 701, for example, a revised code of statutes was promulgated which dealt with practically all phases of official life.

The changes made during these years consisted mainly in an attempt to adapt to Japan the governmental system of China. The process was revolutionary and not altogether successful. China was a great agricultural, industrial, and commercial state whose organization headed up in an absolute monarch through a hierarchy of officials carefully chosen by competitive civil service examinations. The government existed in theory for the good of the people and was interested in everything pertaining to their welfare. Now, the Japanese were a military and an agricultural folk; their state was small and was made up of a cluster of principalities under local chieftains loosely acknowledging the headship of a hereditary ruler who was supposed to be descended from the gods. The attempt was made to reproduce in this very alien surrounding a political organization which had been developed to meet an entirely different set of needs. Temporarily, for many decades indeed, it seemed to succeed. The capital was located permanently at Nara in Yamato, and was not as formerly moved on the death of each sovereign. At Nara a city was laid out on the plan of the great Chinese capital, Si-an-fu. Here the emperors resided from 709 to 784, when the seat of government was transferred to a new site, the present Kyoto, and a new and larger city was built, also on the lines of the Chinese prototype. This was the home of the emperors until the nineteenth century.

The permanent location of the capital, however, came almost at the culmination of a series of changes which entirely altered the administration of the kingdom. The outstanding feature of the "reforms" was the increase in the power of the Japanese monarch. His position already had much of sanctity attached to it. It was now made even more commanding, the source of all authority. The adoption of the Chinese system, in fact, seems to have been made under astute ministers and rulers who deliberately planned to use it to strengthen the power of the throne against that of the nobles, and to eliminate as far as possible the hereditary principle from every office but that of the monarch. It was in the main the constitution which had been evolved in China in the victorious struggle of the emperor against the hereditary local princes. One of the earliest evidences of the growing authority of the Japanese monarch is to be found in the "constitution" of Prince Shotoku. Still further proof was afforded by the fall of the powerful Soga family, an integral part of the program of the reforms of 645. For years the Soga had dominated successive monarchs, but they were now deposed, and less than seventy years later were exterminated.

It must be added that the Chinese theory of imperial succession was not accepted. In the continental empire the monarch was believed to hold his office by virtue of the "Mandate of Heaven," and if the ruling house proved unworthy that mandate might be withdrawn and given to another. Hence rebellion against a corrupt dynasty was justified, and family followed family on the throne. The position was sacred, but the occupant might be unworthy, and if so, he could be removed. The Japanese did not accept this theory. In fact, the reformers emphasized with renewed force the sanctity of the imperial family, and its unbroken descent from the gods. Rebellion against the throne was held to be the height of impiety. A change of dynasty would have been utterly abhorrent.

A division between civil and military officials was made. No longer were the duties of the soldier and the administrator to be combined as in the earlier days, when the nation was, in many respects, a congeries of tribes and families rather loosely united by allegiance to the royal house, but a sharp division of functions was introduced on the model of the system in use in China. A hierarchy of civil officials was created and these were to be chosen partly on the basis of noble blood, and partly by means of civil service examinations based largely on the classics of the Confucian cult. Capacity for administration was thus measured, as on the continent, by the ability to produce an elegant and learned essay in Chinese. To prepare candidates schools were established in the capital and the provinces. A central ministry of eight departments was organized, after the system in use at Si-an-fu. Codes of laws were issued, inspired by Chinese models. The attempt was made to insure justice for every member of the body politic, even to the humblest. Although the old noble families were retained, many of the existing social gradations were abolished, and a new division of classes was introduced. All Japanese, irrespective of rank, were to be subject to the emperor and to his courts and his laws. Any might freely petition the monarch for the redress of grievances.

Military conscription was introduced, again under the influence of the continent. From a third to a fourth of the able-bodied citizens were to be in the service at one time.

All the soil was appropriated by the emperor. A few families had previously been monopolizing most of the land, reducing the mass of the rural population to a condition resembling serfdom, and threatening the power of the crown. State ownership was now asserted, the land was redivided, and each man and woman was given a share. To prevent the soil from being engrossed again by a few landowners and to allow for the growth of population, a redistribution of the fields was to take place every six years. Tracts of land were allotted to officials, whose salaries were to be paid by the income from their estates and not by exactions from the peasants. Forced labor was reorganized and was to be partly commuted for taxes in farm produce. A premium was put on reclamation by granting a larger degree of private ownership in lands acquired through it; the Japanese still occupied only a part of the surface of the islands and expansion must be encouraged. The system of taxation was made over: officials were for the most part exempt, but an effort was made to effect an equable levy upon the people at large.

The entire population was divided somewhat on Chinese lines into groups made up of five households each, and into larger units of fifty households. These groups were for purposes of police and mutual defense. In true Chinese style the collective responsibility of a group for the conduct of each of its members was insisted upon. The criminal code of the great continental empire was taken over, although in a modified form, and for more than a century was the standard by which Japanese cases were tried.

It must be remembered that these innovations in administration wrought by contact with the culture of the continent were not as sudden as this brief summary might lead one to believe. They were embodied in various codes which embrace a period covering most of the seventh and part of the eighth century. The modification of national life under the influence of intercourse with the mainland was the predominant fact in Japan's history from the middle of the sixth to late in the eighth century. It recurred, although at long intervals and with less prominence, until the coming of the Europeans in the nineteenth century, every new burst of culture in China making itself felt in Japan. By the end of the eighth century, however, the T'ang dynasty had begun to weaken and the brilliancy of its culture had become dimmed. China for the time could not exert as strong an influence as she had under the earlier monarchs of that house.


It is also to be noted that the Japanese were not blind imitators. As in the nineteenth century, they were eager to take from foreign civilizations what seemed suited to their needs. They were keenly sensitive and feared so greatly the epithet "barbarian" that they exerted every effort to equal in culture the most advanced peoples with whom they were acquainted. From the very first, however, they tried to adapt what they borrowed to the needs of their peculiar situation, and as time went on they more and more modified what they had received and were stimulated to make contributions of their own. They began thinking for themselves in matters of religion, and in the latter part of the eighth and the early part of the ninth centuries, the Tendai and the Shingon sects arose, each based on ideas introduced from China, but owing its introduction and much of its form to a Japanese. Tendai attempted to reform the current Buddhism chiefly by introducing a more nearly perfect philosophy and a greater asceticism. It made salvation possible, not after numbers of reincarnations through immeasurable periods of time, but here and now by a knowledge of the Buddha nature that could be acquired through wisdom. It was also marked by an elaborate hierarchy. Its founder, one Saicho (known to posterity as Dengyo Daishi), lived from 767 to 822. He spent many years in China studying the parent sect, and on returning to Japan became very popular. Shingon introduced an esoteric system of faith and conduct, teaching three great secret laws regarding body, speech, and thought. These three secrets had to do with proper postures, magic formulæ, and prayers, and helped make possible a communion with the deities and union with the Infinite. It resembled the Gnosticism of the early Christian centuries of the West, with which, indeed, some have attempted to establish a historic connection. Its founder, Kukai, known to posterity as Kobo Daishi, was a contemporary of Saicho. Like the latter, he visited China and there learned the principles of the sect that he later propagated in his native land. He was famous in his generation as saint, artist, and calligrapher.

The use of the Chinese written character was made easier by introducing syllabic signs, the Katagana (square forms) and the Hiragana (script forms), which were simpler to learn and helped to make the written language conform more nearly to the vernacular than it had in its purely Chinese dress. They are in use to this day and are familiar to all who have ever glanced at Japanese papers or books. Native schools of art and literature were developed. Even the administrative machinery was not a blind copy but an attempt at intelligent eclecticism.

The new system of administration had no sooner been completed than it began to reveal a growing discrepancy with real conditions. This was partly because the adaptation of Chinese models to the local situation had not been perfect: the attempt to transfer institutions which had been devised to meet entirely different conditions, unless most carefully done, could not fail to end in disaster. There were three outstanding results: the control of the monarchy by the Fujiwara family through a series of regencies, the rise of a kind of feudalism, and the growth of a military class in numbers and power, culminating in its control of the government.


The Fujiwara family, next to that of the emperor the most illustrious in Japan, claims for itself divine origin. As early as the seventh century it had begun extensively to lay its hands on the government. Its founder, the high-minded and able Kamatari, had laid the foundation for its greatness by his part in the reforms of 645. As the strong emperors who helped in the great reorganization of the administration were succeeded by weak ones, the Fujiwara clan gradually tightened its hold in the government. It assumed but few military positions, for these by the borrowed Chinese standards were held to be socially inferior, but gradually obtained most of the important civil offices for the possession of its scions. These held the chief governorships of the provinces and the leading positions at court. The plan of choosing the members of the civil bureaucracy that was in use in China had never been applied in its entirety to Japan, and the reformers of 645 had filled the offices partly from the noble families. Even as much of the continental system as had been adopted was gradually allowed to fall into disuse. The theory of short tenure, which prevented an office from being monopolized by any one person or family, was little by little ignored. The terms of office were first lengthened, then reappointments were allowed, and eventually the various positions were held for life and transmitted to the occupants' heirs. The Fujiwara filled the bureaucracy with its own members and made the offices hereditary, so that the institutions designed to weaken the power of the nobles and to strengthen the position of the monarch were used to defeat their own object. The Fujiwara, as imperial councilors, had the privilege of opening all petitions before they were handed to the throne. They saw to it that the emperors' consorts were chosen from their own women, and that heirs to the throne were selected only from among sons of Fujiwara mothers. Even to-day the empress is one of the family, as have been most of her predecessors for more than a thousand years. Members of the clan were finally appointed regent and in all but name became the rulers of the kingdom. The family never, it is true, sought to usurp the throne; they rather sought to elevate its nominal dignity. But as the position became more sacred they saw to it that its occupant had less and less to say in matters of actual government. Finally, as soon as an emperor reached an age at which he might conceivably assert himself he was forced to take the vows of a Buddhist monk and retire to the cloister, to make way for a minor who could offer no opposition to Fujiwara ambitions. There frequently were several such ex-emperors living at one time.

This Fujiwara supremacy was not attained without a struggle, for from time to time the monarchs asserted themselves. Thus the emperor Kwammu (782-805), one of the most vigorous of the wearers of the imperial crown, removed the capital from Nara to the present Kyoto (794), apparently in an attempt to free the court from the traditions of luxury and royal impotence that had begun to associate themselves with the older city, and also possibly in the hope that by placing the capital more nearly in the center of the Japanese state he might more effectively control its administration. Another from the vantage of his retirement in a monastery sought to direct the affairs of the nation through the infant puppets that were set up in his stead. Occasionally other families sought to wrest from the Fujiwara their power.

The descendants of the great Kamatari were not to be deprived of their offices. The high posts at the court continued to be filled by them until the end of the old system in the nineteenth century. They were, however, rendered impotent by the introduction of a form of government by the military class. The Fujiwara were left in the possession of their titles but they were to become powerless in the provinces and in all but the immediate entourage of the imperial court. This change was brought about by a gradual evolution which was partly the result of the weakness of the system that the Fujiwara themselves had created, and partly of the growth in power of the military class. The period of Fujiwara supremacy was one of great luxury. The court at Nara and Kyoto was maintained on a most expensive scale. Elaborate palaces were built and a costly standard of living was maintained. The court nobility gave themselves over to writing poetic couplets, to flower festivals, love intrigues, gambling, and the refinements of a beauty-loving but sensual existence. Many arts and pastimes were developed, partly on Chinese models, and were the basis of much of that beauty and refinement that were to be so much admired by westerners who saw Japan in the early nineteenth century. Exquisite fabrics were produced, and fine paintings and carvings appeared. Architecture was improved: palaces and temples were built in profusion. Music was perfected. The position of dancing girls arose almost to the dignity of a profession. Festivals for viewing the flowers, for gazing at the newly fallen snow, for enjoying the moonlight, were introduced. Great sums of money were spent on Buddhist temples and monasteries and on elaborate religious exercises. Huge, costly metal images became the rage. At times half or more of the revenue of the state was spent for religious purposes. As the effeminacy and moral degeneracy of the court increased its devotion to religious exercises was intensified. Buddhism was never more popular. So powerful did the priesthood become that it is of record that one Buddhist monk became the paramour of the empress who at that time sat alone on the throne, and aspired to become monarch.

The court and its masters, the Fujiwara, were gradually losing control of the provinces and of all but the districts around the capital. Taxes to pay the expenses of the court and especially of the Buddhist church reached enormous proportions. The cost of government was increased by the necessity of administering the additional territories occupied by the expanding nation. The expenses of administration were augmented without a corresponding increment in the revenue, and the growing burden of taxation fell more and more upon a few of the peasantry. A system of estates immune from taxation and virtually free from the control of the machinery of the capital was slowly forming, resembling in time the feudalism of the European middle ages. By the reforms of 645 the arable land of the country was to be redivided among the people at stated intervals. For a while this plan was fairly well carried out. As time passed, however, it fell into abeyance. The nation was expanding to the north and west, and most of the land that was reclaimed on the frontiers gradually, either by the direct grant or through the weakness of the central government, came to be held in perpetuity. As the nation grew, these reclaimed lands eventually formed the larger part of its area. Then for meritorious services or because of some special influence at court, individuals would be given estates to hand down to their descendants. Large tracts were similarly held by temples and monasteries as a permanent possession. Occasional edicts attempted to revive the periodical redistribution of lands, but failed to work a lasting cure. Owners of estates frequently extended their domains by forcibly annexing adjoining lands. The estates held in perpetuity were, too, as a rule partly or entirely exempt from taxation and the control of the representatives of the central government. This exemption was at first largely confined to temple lands and estates specifically granted by the government, and was recognized by formal charters, but in time it came to apply to all of the estates. For protection against disorder, or to escape taxation, many smaller landowners surrendered their holdings to the more powerful lords and monasteries and received them back as fiefs, a custom almost exactly corresponding to "commendation" in feudal Europe. Thus in time most of the area of the nation was comprised in great, immune estates and was practically lost to the jurisdiction of the Kyoto government. A governor often found that only one per cent. or less of the land of his provinces was subject to him, and so did not leave the capital to proceed to his post. Finally the vast majority of the landowners, great and small, in all the provinces but those nearest to Kyoto were bound to the central power only by a formal allegiance to the emperor. They levied their own taxes, quarreled and fought with each other, and administered a rude justice without reference to the Fujiwara-controlled court. By the end of the eleventh century the central government was ready to collapse. Brigandage and military service became the only refuges from the intolerable taxation laid by the court on the lands that were not in the manors, and robbers openly infested even the streets of the capital.


During the centuries that the Fujiwara were making themselves supreme at court, warrior families were strengthening themselves in the outlying provinces, especially in the north, and a military class was appearing. In the reforms of the seventh and eighth centuries the attempt was made to establish universal responsibility for military service, but this proved a failure. With the decline of the power of the central government, and the growth of disorder, the proprietors of the great tax-free estates were forced to depend on their retainers for police purposes and for aid against their neighbors. On these estates, then, there were to be found professional warriors who were recruited partly from the police, partly from the lords' own retainers, partly from wanderers from sections where the conditions of life had become intolerable, and partly from adventurous fellows for whom no career was open at home. These professional warriors gradually came to be controlled by a new nobility, purely military and feudal, and quite distinct from the older civil nobility that had its center at Kyoto. This military nobility was founded by members of the imperial family who, for reasons that need not here detain us, had assumed new family names and had become nobles of inferior rank. They had sought their fortunes away from the capital, in the provinces, as local officials and as managers of the estates that were held by the absentee civil nobility. As years passed they became the actual masters of the estates they managed, or of new estates, and the leaders of the warriors who formed the only source of protection in the midst of the general disorder. The strongest of these estates were in the west, where new lands were being reclaimed, and in the north, where a long war of expulsion was being waged with the aborigines. All these estates were far removed from the demoralizing luxury of the court, and by constant fighting among themselves and with the Ainu, a military class was developed, inured to hardship, loyal to its leaders, and paying but scanty respect to the fashionable fops who directed affairs at the capital. The warriors, or bushi as they were called, became in time a hereditary caste, closed to outsiders. They possessed an ethical code all their own, the basis of the later rather elaborate bushido ("way of the bushi") of which we are to hear more later.

With the decay of the administrative system controlled by the Fujiwara it was only a question of time until the military chiefs should struggle for the mastery of the empire. The two outstanding soldier families were the Taira and the Minamoto, both claiming descent from cadet members of the imperial family and both made strong by long residence on the frontier. Generally speaking, the Taira led in the south and west, the Minamoto in the north and east, near the present Tokyo.

About the middle of the twelfth century the disintegration at Kyoto could no longer be concealed. The Buddhist monasteries and Shinto fanes erected by the gifts of many pious generations had some of them become the abode of armed monks and the refuge of desperadoes. They terrorized the weakened capital until the strong military chiefs of the provinces were called in by the distressed court to restore peace. Nothing loath, the Taira and Minamoto quickly responded. The warlike monks were put down, and then court intrigues and rivalries in the ranks of the Fujiwara led to civil strife which gave the two great soldier families further reason for interference. Finally the Taira and Minamoto fell to fighting for the control of the capital and the person of the emperor. So strong was the reverence for the past and for the imperial family that no one thought of usurping the throne or even the office of regent, for this last had been held traditionally by the Fujiwara. The military chiefs, however, did seek to place themselves so firmly in control that the emperor and court nobility, while retaining their ancient titles, could not hope to exert an appreciable influence on the administration.

In the long civil wars which followed, the Taira were first victorious and established themselves in Kyoto. Their leader, Kiyomori, became prime minister and virtual ruler of Japan. He killed the leader of the Minamoto, Yoshitomo, and exterminated as far as possible all other members of that family who seemed to give promise of seriously contesting his power. A few escaped, principal among whom were Yoritomo and Yoshitsune, two sons of Yoshitomo by different mothers. Yoritomo was spared because of his beauty and extreme youth and lived an obscure life of exile until he reached maturity. Yoshitsune's mother bought the life of her three sons by becoming the mistress of Kiyomori. All three boys were brought up in monasteries. The future of two of them does not concern us, but Yoshitsune is a name to be remembered, for he is regarded by Japanese as their greatest military captain. Kiyomori, after the defeat of his enemies, exercised an almost despotic power and became extremely arrogant. He was not a political genius of the first rank, however, and failed to organize the empire in a way that would prevent the recurrence of such disorders as had brought him into power. He died in 1180 and Yoritomo and Yoshitsune, now in the flush of vigorous manhood, raised the Minamoto banner. They were reënforced by an independent insurrection led by a cousin, Yoshinaka. Five years of war followed. The two brothers championed an ex-emperor who wished to be restored to the throne, while the Taira retained possession of the puppet child-monarch. Yoshitsune was the brilliant military leader and the idol of the Minamoto forces; Yoritomo was a crafty, able organizer, and was by force of character as well as birthright the head of the family. The Taira were driven out of Kyoto after a stubborn resistence, and were defeated in a memorable engagement near the present Kobe. They retired eastward and a final decisive battle was fought in the Straits of Shimonoseki. Here the Taira forces were overwhelmed: Kiyomori's widow, scorning capture, cast herself into the sea and carried to death in her arms the boy-emperor. Only a small remnant escaped, to live as outlaws in the fastnesses of Kiushiu. The exploits of the heroes of these memorable years have ever since been the delight of the story-tellers of the nation and are recounted to the admiring youth of each succeeding generation. After the final defeat of the Taira, the popularity of Yoshitsune aroused the apprehensions of Yoritomo. Yoshinaka had already been treacherously led into disloyalty and had been disposed of. Yoritomo now trumped up a charge of treason and ordered Yoshitsune's execution. The latter fled, but was betrayed, and committed suicide rather than be killed by his heartless brother. Yoritomo was supreme.

For further reading see: Griffis, The Mikado's Empire; the Kojiki and Nihongi; Lloyd, The Creed of Half Japan; Brinkley, Japan, Its History, Arts and Literature; Brinkley, A History of the Japanese People; Davis, Japan from the Age of the Gods to the Fall of Tsingtao; Asakawa, The Early Institutional Life of Japan; Longford, The Story of Old Japan.