The principal aim of this work, written at the request of the Yamato Society as the first of its projected series of publications, is to furnish a synopsis, or perhaps rather to give a general sketch, of the history of Japan. The public to which it is tendered is not those professional historians and students of history now abounding in our country, who are already perplexedly encumbered with, and engrossed by, a superfluity of overdetailed materials and a plethora of contradictory conjectures and hypotheses. In short, the book is, strictly speaking, intended for those Europeans and Americans who would like to dip into the past, as well as peer into the future, of Japan, -Japan, not as a land of quaint curios and picturesque paradoxes only worthy to be preserved intact for a show, but as a land inhabited by a nation striving hard to improve itself, and to take a share, however humble, in the common progress of the civilisation of the world.
Having such an aim on the one hand, it becomes on the other a matter of urgent necessity for the author to exercise great caution against extolling bombastically our national merits or falling into a coarse and futile jingoism. To be ostentatious proves, after all, some lack of sincerity and impartiality, and is the very vice which should be avoided by historians worthy of the name. In order to guard against such a blunder, however, and attain as far as possible the aim I have set before me, I thought it wisest to approximate the standpoint from which the book was to be written as nearly as possible to that of a foreigner, free from our national prejudices and at the same time intensely sympathetic with our country. Of course, it can hardly be disputed that to place oneself unerringly on the standpoint of another, different widely in thought as well as in nationality, is an affair very easy to talk of, but exceedingly difficult to put into practice. I dare not presume that I have been at all equal to the task. Still it may be of some use for the reader to learn beforehand whither my earnest efforts are directed.
There is some truth in the saying that the time is not yet ripe for a conscientious Japanese scholar to write a history of our country covering all ages, ancient and modern, especially if that history is to be canvassed in a small volume of some three or four hundred pages. The reason generally alleged is that too many important questions in the history of Japan remain yet undecided. It is to be doubted, however, whether there can be found any country in the whole world whose historical problems are all definitely solved. Therefore it would be folly to wait till the Yellow River becomes pellucid, as a Chinese proverb has it. Since the opening of our country, we have had many foreign scholars investigating ourselves, our origins and our history, which in most cases have been misunderstood and misrepresented. By some we are overestimated, flattered, caressed, and cajoled. By others we are undervalued, despised, and condemned. We are sometimes elevated to a rank so high that no earthly nation could ever deserve it, and sometimes we are mercilessly relegated to a stage of savagery, to get back to which we should have to forego our cherished long history, the beginnings of which are lost in the myths of ages. Such an astonishing oscillation of opinion as regards the estimation of the merits and demerits of the Japanese nation and its history is more than to be endured. Surely the cause of being undervalued at one time lies in being over- estimated at another, and vice versa. We must put an end to this oscillation and must be fairly represented, and in order to avoid misrepresentation we must portray ourselves as fairly as we can. We ought not to wait for the appearance of foreign authors, capable, unprejudiced, and deeply interested in our country.
It seems that there are not a few foreign publicists who suppose that Japan is not yet sufficiently advanced in her civilisation to require long years of study to understand her. This is why there is such a number of tourist-writers, who skip over the whole country in a few weeks, and are presuming enough to make sweeping assertions about all sorts and conditions of things Japanese with which they come into touch at haphazard. Again, there is another class of writers, who would like to rate the Japanese nation and its history much higher than the above. mentioned do, and who know that it is not such a very easy matter to understand them. Unluckily, however, they are generally of the opinion that it is only they, and not the Japanese, who are competent to take up the task of interpretation, if those things are to be understood at all. Standing upon this point of view, they would gladly accept any kind of materials furnished by the Japanese, but flatly refuse to listen to any theories or arguments devised by Japanese scholars, and systematically repudiate almost all conclusions arrived at by the latter. Writers of such a type think that the intellectual capacity of the Japanese as a nation is not yet so high as to be able to elaborate logical argumentations. These two sets of foreign writers mentioned above sometimes praise us sans phrase, it is true. They are not, however, with their eulogistic and gracious verdict, the sort of champions to dispel the misrepresentations and misunderstandings under which we suffer.
Moreover, for Japanese historians, the need has never been more urgent than now to make a trial in writing a history of their own country for the sake of foreign readers. On account of the Great War, the so-called European Concert, that is to say, the Areopagus of a few nations, will be superseded by the Concert of the World. The post-bellum readjustment and reconstruction, national as well as international, of countries belligerent and neutral will be an overwhelming task such as the nations of the world have never before undertaken. Perhaps there will follow a long period of peace, but the feeling of nations toward one another will in all natural probability continue sensitive and acute, and will not easily subside. And in such a nervous and critical age as that, Japan's position will be an exceedingly difficult one. Hitherto every move she has made, every feat she has achieved, has been made an object of international suspicion, especially in recent times. Japan, however, cannot help making progress in the future, whether welcomed by other nations or not, for where there is no progress, there is stagnation. Hence arises the imperative necessity, at the juncture, of an attempt by the Japanese to explain themselves through telling their own history, and by so doing procure thorough understanding of themselves, their character and characteristics, not only as they now really are, but as they used to be in the past. That is the one object which I have pursued in this volume.
In preparing this work I acknowledge that I am greatly indebted to my colleagues in our University of Kyoto. Warmest thanks are due to Professor A. H. Sayce of Oxford, who, during his sojourn in our ancient metropolis, kindly revised that part of my manuscript dealing with the early history of Japan. It is also my greatest pleasure to acknowledge my gratitude to Mr. Edward Clarke, B.A. (Cantab.), Professor of English Language and Literature in this College, who went to a great deal of trouble in revising my awkward English through the whole volume.
College of Literature, Kyoto Imperial University, October, 1918.