CHAPTER III. JAPAN BEFORE THE INTRODUCTION OF BUDDHISM AND CHINESE CIVILISATION
BEFORE entering into a description of the early history of Japan, it may be of some service to the foreign reader to learn when the authentic history of Japan begins. Generally it is not an easy matter to draw a distinct line of demarcation between the historic and the prehistoric age in the history of any country, and in order to get rid of this difficulty, an intermediate age called the proto-historic was invented by modern scholars, and has been in vogue up to now. It is true that, by making use of this term, one aim was surely attained, but two difficulties were thereby created in lieu of one dismissed. We were freed indeed from the hard task of making a delicate discrimination between the historic and the prehistoric age, but at the same time we took up the burden of distinguishing the proto-historic age from both the historic and the prehistoric! And these new difficulties cannot be said to be easier to meet than the old, so that it may be doubted whether it was wise to intercalate the proto-historic age between the two, if the promotion of scientific exactitude was the main purpose of such an intercalation. A polygon, however the number of its sides be augmented, can never make a circle in the exact sense. I shall not, therefore, try to adhere scrupulously to the above-mentioned threefold division in discharging the task which I have undertaken.
Let me turn then to the line of demarcation between the historic and the prehistoric age without troubling myself about the proto-historic. This line must be drawn by first making clear the signification of the historic age, and not by defining the term "prehistoric." What, then is the historic age? It may be defined as an age, the authentic history of which can, in a large measure, be ascertained, or as an age which has an historical record, contemporary and fairly reliable. It is to be regretted that we cannot dispense with such precautionary expressions as 'to a large measure' and 'fairly', but we cannot avoid retaining them, and therein lies the true difficulty of making an exact demarcation. Moreover, an age, the history of which was regarded at one time as impossible of being ascertained, often may become ascertainable as the result of ever-increasing discoveries of new materials as well as of the new methods of their deciphering. In other words, the demarcation, however conscientiously made at one time, is liable to be shifting, and the reason for the demarcation gradually changes pari passu. As the word prehistoric has now begun to be used independently of 'historic', the historic age may be better defined as an age which has a civilisation advanced enough to have a record of its own. So far a country may be said to be in an historic age, even at an epoch the historical sources of which are considered not to be extant anywhere, only if the standard of civilisation be high enough for that. Unless we adopt this definition, the line of demarcation may shift more and more into antiquity, as the result of ever-increasing discoveries of new materials as well as of the methods of their interpretation, and the demarcation itself will become of very little value. So far a country may be said to be in an historic age, even at an epoch the historical sources of which are considered not to be extant anywhere. But how can we know whether a country has reached a stage of civilisation advanced enough to have its own record? It is almost impossible to discover this point without resorting to authentic historical sources. And in order that we may so resort, those sources must be extant. In this way if we want to make the demarcation full of significance, we have to beg the question ad infinitum.
In the history of Japan, too, what is said above holds true, and the demarcation, however dexterously made, will not assist much in the study of it. Among foreigners, however, the question how far can we go back with certainty in the history of Japan, is a very popular topic, and has been discussed with very keen interest. For the ake of elucidation, therefore, I will give a short account of the early chronicles concerning the history of our country.
Among the old chronicles of Japan there are two which are especially conspicuous. The one is the Kojiki, the other the Nihongi. It is generally admitted that these two chronicles are the oldest extant and the most substantial of all the historical sources of ancient Japan. The compilation of the former was concluded in 712 A.D. by a savant called Oh-no-Yasumaro, while that of the latter was undertaken by several royal historiographers, and finished in 720 A.D. under the auspices of Prince Toneri. That the compilation of the two great chronicles took place successively in the beginning of the eighth century is one of the symptoms showing the dawning of the national consciousness of the Japanese, to which I shall refer in the following chapters. In their characteristics, these two chronicles differ somewhat from each other. The materials of the Kojiki were first made legible and compiled by Hieta- no-Are, an intelligent courtier in the reign of the Emperor Temmu, and afterwards revised by the aforesaid Oh-no-Yasumaro. Considering that there was only a very short time left at the disposal of Yasumaro to spend in revising the work before dedicating it to the Empress Gemmyo, it can be safely concluded that Yasumaro did not try to make any great alteration, and the Kojiki remained for the most part as it had been compiled by Hieta-no-Are. The other chronicle, the Nihongi, was finished eight years after the Kojiki, and submitted to the Empress by Prince Toneri, the president of the historiographical commission. If we suppose this commission to be a continuation of what was inaugurated by the royal order of the Emperor Temmu in the tenth year of his reign, then the commission may be said to have taken about forty years in compiling the chronicle. In some respects the Kojiki may be regarded as one of the byproducts of the compilation, Hieta- no-Are being probably one of the assistants of the commission. The essential difference between the two chronicles is that the Kojiki was exclusively compiled from Japanese sources, written by Japanese as well as by naturalized Koreans, and retained much of the colloquial form of ancient Japanese narrated stories, while in the case of the Nihongi many Chinese historical works were consulted, and historical events were so arranged as to conform to what was stated in those Chinese records. Many bon mots, it is true, were often borrowed from ancient Chinese classics, and this ornamented and exaggerated style was often pursued at the expense of historical truth, and on that account most of the later historians of our country give less credit to the Nihongi than to the Kojiki, though this scepticism about the former is somewhat undeserved.
It is beyond question that the two chronicles mentioned above are the oldest historical works written in Japan, now extant. They are not, however, the earliest attempts at historical compilation in our country. Just a hundred years before the compilation of the Nihongi was finished, the Empress Suiko, in the twenty-eighth year of her reign, that is, in 620 A.D. ordered the Crown Prince, known as Shôtoku, and Soga-no-Umako, the most influential minister in her court, to compile the chronicles of the imperial house, of various noted families and groups of people, and a history of the country with its provinces. If these chronicles had been completed and preserved to this day, they would have been the oldest we have. Unfortunately, however, by the premature death of the Crown Prince, the compilation was abruptly terminated, and what was partly accomplished seems to have been kept at the house of Soga-no-Umako, until it was burnt down by his son Yemishi, when he was about to be executed by imperial order in 645 A.D. Fragments of the archives, it is said, were picked up out of the blazing fire, but nothing more was ever heard of them. There is a version now called the Kujiki, and this has been misrepresented to be that very chronicle, which, it was feigned, was not really lost, but offered in an unfinished state to the Empress the next year after the death of prince Shôtoku. If this be true, the record which was burnt must have been one of several copies of the incomplete chronicle, which, as Euclid would say, is absurd! It is now generally agreed that the chronicle is spurious, though it may contain some citations from sources originally authentic.
Whatever be the criticism on the chronicle Kujiki, there is no doubting the fact that the work of compiling a history was initiated in the reign of the Empress Suiko, and partly put into execution. Not only that. There might have been many other chronicles and historical manuscripts in existence anterior to the compilation of the Nihongi, and afterwards lost. In the Nihongi are mentioned the names of the books which were consulted in the course of compilation. Among them may be found the names of several sets of the annals of a peninsular state called Kutara, various Chinese historical works, and a history of Japan written by a Korean priest. Some of the books are not named explicitly, and passages from them are cited as "from a book" merely, but we can easily perceive that they were mostly from Japanese records.
So far I have spoken about chronicles which were compiled of set purpose as a record of the times and worthy to be called historical works. As to other kinds of manuscripts, for instance, various family records and fragmentary documents of various sorts, there might have been a considerable number of these, and it is probable that they were utilized by the compilers of the Kojiki and of the Nihongi, though the latter mentions very few of such materials, and the former is entirely silent concerning its sources. The question then arises how this presumably large number of manuscripts came to be formed. We have no written character which may be called truly our own. All forms of the ideographs in use in our country were borrowed from China, intact or modified. And in ancient Japan an utter lack of knowledge of the Chinese characters prevailed for a long time throughout most classes of the people. If this were so, by whom were those documents transcribed? In the reign of the Emperor Richû, circa 430 A.D., scribes were posted in each province to prepare archives, a fact which implies that the emperor and magistrates had their own scribes already. Who then were appointed as the scribes? To explain this I must turn for a while to the history of the Korean peninsula and its relations with China.
Wu-ti, the most enterprising emperor of the Han dynasty, was the first to push his military exploration into the Korean peninsula, and from 107 B.C. onward the northern parts of the peninsula were successively turned into Chinese provinces. This was the beginning of the infiltration of Chinese civilisation into those regions. Afterwards on account of the internal disturbances of the Chinese empire, her grip on the conquered provinces became a little loosened, but at the beginning of the third century A.D. a strong independent Chinese state constituted itself on the east of the river Lyao, and Chinese influence thereby once more extended itself vigorously over he northern half of the peninsula: a new province was added to the south. In the districts which had thus become Chinese provinces, not only were governors sent from China, but a number of colonists must also have settled there, so that through them Chinese civilisation continued to infiltrate more and more, though very slowly, into the peninsula. This infiltration lasted till the middle of the fourth century, when the Chinese provinces in the peninsula were overrun and occupied by the Kokuri or the Koreans properly so called, who came from the northeast, and by this invasion of the barbarians the progress of civilisation in the peninsula was for a time obstructed. Still there might have remained a certain number of the descendants of the older Chinese colonists, and it is possible that they still retained some vestige of the civilisation introduced by their ancestors. The history of the peninsula at this period may be well pictured by comparing it to the history of Britain with its lingering Roman civilisation at the time of the Saxon conquest. It is just at the end of this period that Japan came into close contact with the peninsular peoples.
It is almost impossible to ascertain from reliable sources how far back we can trace our connection with the peninsula. According to a chronicle of Shiragi, a state which once existed in the southeast of the peninsula, one of the Japannese invasions of that state is dated as early as 49 B.C. Since the value of the chronicle as historical material is very dubious, it is dangerous to put much faith in this statement at present. We may, however, venture to assume that in the first half of the third century A.D. the intercourse between Japan and Korea became suddenly very intimate. Japan invaded the peninsula more frequently than before, and our emissaries were despatched to the Chinese province established to the north of it. Nay, not only that, some of them penetrated into the interior of China proper, as far as the capital of Wei, and on the way back seem to have been escorted by a Chinese official stationed in the peninsular province. Memoirs by those Chinese who had thus opportunities of peeping into a corner of our country, were incorporated by Chen-Shou, a Chinese historian at the end of the third century, in his general description of Japan, a chapter in the San-kuo-chih, which has remained to this day one of the most valuable sources concerning the early history of our country. This intercourse between the peninsula and Japan, sometimes friendly and sometimes hostile, happened to be accentuated by the expedition of the Empress Jingu to Shiragi in the middle of the fourth century. Soon after this expedition, Chinese civilisation, which had achieved a considerable progress during the long Han dynasty, began to flow into Japan, and effected a remarkable change in both the social and the political life of our country. For just at this time the two northern states of the peninsula, Korea or Kokhuri and Kutara, advanced rapidly in their civilisation, so that a school to teach Chinese literature was founded in the former, while in the latter a post was instituted in the royal service for a man of letters. And Shiragi, another state in the south-eastern part of the peninsula, ceased to be a barrier to communication between those two peninsular states and Japan, as it had been before the expedition of the Empress.
Among the boons conferred by the introduction of Chinese civilisation through the intermediation of the peninsular states, that which had had the most beneficial and enduring effect was the use of the written character. It cannot be said with certainty that the Chinese characters were totally unknown to the Japanese before the afore- said expedition of the Empress. On the contrary, there are several indications from which we can surmise that they had chances to catch glimpses of the Chinese ideographs. It is beyond the scope of probability, however, to suppose that these ideographic characters were used by the Japanese themselves at so early a period, in order to commit to writing whatever might have pleased them to do so. At the utmost we cannot go further than to assume that certain immigrants from the peninsula, some of whom probably came over to this country before the expedition, as well as their descendants, might have used the Chinese ideographs. Among the immigrants some may have been of Chinese origin while others were of peninsular origin, but imbued with Chinese culture. But even in these cases the use of the characters must have been limited to recording their own family chronicles or simple business transactions. It can be believed, too, that the number of those who were acquainted with the written characters at that time was very small even among the immigrants themselves. It is needless to say that public affairs were not yet committed to writing. That up to the time of the expedition the standard of civilisation in the peninsular states stood not much higher than that of Japan may also account for the illiteracy which had continued so long.
Shortly after the Empress Jingu's incursion into Korea the literary culture of the peninsular states rose suddenly to a higher standard than that of our country, and enabled them to send into Japan men versed in writing and reading Chinese characters. At the same time their immigration was encouraged by the Japanese emperors, and some of the literati were enlisted into the imperial service. As Japan had at that time a quasi-caste system, everybody pursuing the profession which he had inherited from his forefathers, and people belonging to the same profession forming a group by themselves, several groups were thus formed, which made reading and writing their exclusive profession. Almost all the scribes appointed in the reign of the Emperor Richû must have belonged to one of the families in those groups. As a matter of course members of the imperial family and those belonging to the aristocracy began in process of time to be initiated in the elements of Chinese literature; but still, writing, as a business, continued to be entrusted to the members of the groups of the penman's craft, and they, too, rejoiced in monopolising posts and professions which could not dispense with writing, as secretaries, councillors, notaries, and ambassadors to foreign countries, and the like. Naturally chroniclers and historians were to be found solely among them, and there remains little doubt that far the greater part of the historical manuscripts consulted by the compilers of the Nihongi were written by those professional scribes.
It is not much to be wondered at that the art of writing was entrusted to certain groups of people, while the dominant class in general remained illiterate. What is most strange is that such a condition could continue for a very long time in our country, the learned groups, who had, in their hands, the key of public and private business, being subjected to the rule of the illiterate. Could it not be explained by supposing that the ruling class of ancient Japan, though destitute of book education, yet was endowed with natural abilities, which were more than enough to cope with the literary culture of that time? If otherwise, then their prestige should have been easily shaken by the class of literati within a short interval. It is to be regretted that we have very few sources to prove positively the ability and attainments peculiar to the Japanese of that time, but this long continuance of the illiteracy of the ruling class may serve as a negative proof, that at least the ruling class was a gifted people, more gifted than was to be surmised from their illiteracy.
Here the reader would perhaps ask, must the condition of ancient Japan remain shrouded in mystery forever? Will it be utterly impossible to know something positive about it? On the contrary, however vague, uncertain, and incredible legends and sources concerning them may be, still we may extract some positive knowledge from our scanty and often questionable materials, so as to obviate the necessity of groping hopelessly in the dark. That the ancient Japanese were averse from any kind of pollution, physical as well as mental, can be unmistakably perceived, evidence being too prevalent in numerous legends, and it can also be attested by many manners and customs preserved until the later ages. This is the real essence of future Shintoism. About the rite of the misogi, or bathing, I have already spoken in the foregoing chapter. Wanting literary education, they did not know what hypocrisy was, and were quite ignorant of the art of sophistication. Being utterly naïve, it was not uncommon that they erred in judgment. But once aware of their fault, they could not help going to lustrate themselves and make atonement, in order to get rid of sin. Warlike and superbly valiant, they were very far from being vindictive. Traits of cruelty are hardly to be found in the mythological and legendary narratives. The ancient Japanese were, we have good reason to believe, more humorous than the modern Japanese.
The description of Japan in the San-kuo-chih furnishes many interesting data besides what I have stated above. We learn from it that our ancestors were not in the least litigious, and thieves were rare. Transgressors of the law were punished with confiscation of wives and children. In case of the more serious crimes, not only the criminal but his dependents also were subjected to severe penalties. Women were noted for their chastity. Elders were respected, and instances of longevity sometimes reckoning a hundred years of age were not rare. Augury was implicitly believed in, and when people were at a loss how to decide in public affairs as well as in private, they used to set fire to the shoulder bone of a deer, and by the cleavage thereby produced, divined the will of the deities. When they had to set out for a long voyage, they accompanied a man, who took upon himself the whole responsibility for the safety of the voyage and the health of all on board, by subjecting himself to a hard discipline, and leading a very ascetic life. If any of the crew fell ill, or the tranquillity of the voyage was disturbed, he was called on to put his life at stake. Periodical markets used to be opened in several provinces, where commodities were exchanged. Tribute was paid by the people in kind. Cattle and horses were rarely to be seen. Though iron was known in making weapons, yet arms made of other materials such as bone, bamboo, flint, and so forth were still to be found in use here and there.
Such was the state of our country as witnessed by Chinese visitors in the first half of the third century A.D. Their observations might not have been very accurate, but they strangely coincide in general with conclusions which could be drawn from Japanese sources. The author of the Sankuo-chih, moreover, says that there was a great resemblance in manners and customs between Japan and the island of Hai-nan on the southern coast of China. This assertion may be highly suggestive as to the ethnological study of Japan. An ancient custom of Japan called kugatachi, a kind of ordeal to prove one's innocence by dipping a hand into boiling water and taking out some article therefrom unhurt, is said to have been practised by the people of Hai-nan too. To believe hastily, however, in a racial connection between the Japanese and the inhabitants of Hai-nan is a very dangerous matter. Another fact that cannot be overlooked in the Chinese narratives is a passage concerning the continual warfare in Japan, though only a short description of it is given in them.
In the preceding chapter I have spoken about the heterogeneity of the Japanese as a race. Among the various racial factors, however, none was able to keep for a long time its racial independence and separateness from the bulk of the Japanese except the Ainu. Other minor factors were lost in the chaotic concourse of races or swallowed up in the midst of the most powerful element. Even the Kumaso, who were once the strongest element in the island of Kyushu, succumbed to the arms of the Japanese not long after the peninsular expedition of the Empress Jingu. The Ainu, too, intermingled with the dominant race wherever circumstances were favourable to such a union. Having been the predecessors of the Japanese, however, in the order of settling in this country, and having moreover been the next most powerful race to it, the Ainu only have been able to retain their racial entity, though continuously decreasing in numbers, up to the present time.
In the long history of the antagonism between the Japanese and the Ainu, which covers more than a thousand years, the Ainu were on the whole the losing party, retreating before the Japanese. Surely, however, they must have made a stubborn resistance now and then. That they formerly occupied the island of Kyushu, we know from the archaeological remains. But, from reliable historical records, we cannot know anything certain about the race, until the time when they are to be found fighting against the Japanese in the northern part of Hon-to. Still it is beyond doubt, that there must have been not a few intervening phases, and one of the phases, which is important, coincides with the period when the visit of the Chinese officials took place.
Most of the countries of the world may be divided into two or more parts, the people of each of which differ from those of the others in mental and physical traits. Boundary lines in this case generally conform to the geographical features of the land, but not necessarily so always. If we have to draw lines dividing the island of Hon-to in accordance with linguistic considerations, it is more natural to divide it first into two rather than into three or more parts, and the dividing line here is not the most conspicuous geographical boundary. The line begins on the north at a spot near Nutari, on the Sea of Japan, a little eastward of the city of Niigata in the province of Yechigo, and after running vertically southward, on the whole keeping to the meridian of 139° 1/3 E. till it reaches the southern boundary of the province, it turns abruptly to the west along the boundary between Yechigo and Shinano, which lies nearly on the latitude 36° 5/6 N.; and then it runs again toward the south along the western boundary of the provinces Shinano and Tôtômi, which is almost identical with the meridian 137° ¼ E. This is of course an average line drawn from several linguistic considerations, such as accentuation, dialectic peculiarities and the like, but at the same time, besides the linguistic differences there are other kinds noticeable on both sides of the line. It would not therefore be very wide of the mark, if we adopt this line as a boundary dividing Hon-to with regard to the difference in the standard of the civilisation in general. No other line drawn on the map of Japan can divide it in such a way as to make one part so distinctly different from the other. If the reader will glance at the map, he can easily see that the line does not well agree with the geographical features, especially in those parts running vertically southward. No insurmountable natural barrier can be found, particularly on the Pacific coast. Consequently the best interpretation of the boundary line must come not from geography, but from history.
Not only in the case of Japan, but in Western countries too, broad rivers or big mountain chains do not necessarily form the lines of internal and external division. The great Balkan range could not hinder the Bulgarians of East Roumelia from uniting with their brethren to the north of the mountain. The Rhine, the most historic river in the world, has never in reality been made a boundary between France and Germany which could last for long, and the antagonism of the two countries, which has continued for many centuries, is the result of the earnest but hardly realisable desire on both sides to make the river a perpetual boundary. More than that, even inside Germany the Rhine joins rather than divides the regions on both sides of it.
Take again for example the boundary between England and Scotland. If we follow merely the geographical conditions, we may shift the boundary line a little northward, or perhaps southward too, with better or at least equal reason. In order to account for the present boundary, we cannot but look back into the history of the district, from the age of the Picts and Britons downward. If it had been a dividing line of shorter duration dating only from the Middle Ages, it would not have been able to maintain itself so long, and the differences of not only dialects but of temperament and various mental characteristics would not have been so decisive.
We have no Picts-wall, no limes in our country, but the boundary line delineated above divides Japan into two parts, the one different from the other in various ways, more remarkably than, could be effected by drawing any other boundary line elsewhere. Then where lies the reason which makes the Ainu line so significant? It must be attributed to the fact that the line stood for many centuries as a frontier of the Japanese against the Ainu. In other words, the Ainu must have made the most stubborn resistance on this line against the advancing Japanese. Japan had to become organised and consolidated in a great measure, so as to be called a well-defined entity, before the Japanese could penetrate beyond the line to the east and north. The exploration of Northern Japan is the result of this penetration and of the infiltration of the civilisation which had come into being in the already compact south. Thus the difference between the two parts grew to be a clearly perceptible one. In some respects it can be well compared to the difference between Cape Colony and the two states, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, which were formed by the emigrants from the former.
The fortress of Nutari had been for a long time the outpost of the Japanese against the Ainu on the side of the Sea of Japan. With this fortress as a pivot the boundary line gradually turned toward the north, pushed forward by the arms of the Japanese. The movement must have been made at a very unequal pace in different ages, and where the progress was very slow or stopped short and could not go on for a long time, there we may draw another boundary line, thus marking several successive stages. Politically to efface the significance of these lines was thought to be necesary for the unification of the Empire by the Emperors and their ministers in successive ages, and in that respect more than enough has been achieved by them. Apart from political considerations, however, those lines, which mark the boundaries in successive phases, are almost per- ceptible to this day. And none of those lines is so full of meaning as the one which I have emphasised above. At first sight it would seem strange that while the fortress of Nutari remained stationary as an outpost for a very long time, there cannot be found any corresponding spot on the Pacific side east of the line. But the difficulty may be cleared away easily, if one thinks of the fact that the line was moved on more swiftly to the right than to the left where the fort Nutari was situated.
In the first half of the third century after Christ the Japanese were still fighting on the line against the Ainu. And the time when the Chinese officials came over to this country falls in the same period. In the description given in the San-kuo- chih the names of about thirty provinces under the suzerainty of the court of Yamato are mentioned, to identify all of which with modern names is a very difficult and practically a hopeless task. But this much is certain, that none of them could have denoted a province east of the line. Moreover, we can tell from a passage in the same work that the war with the Ainu at that time had been a very serious one for our ancestors, for it is stated that the course of the war was reported to the Chinese official stationed in the peninsular province by the Japanese ambassador despatched there.
Turning to the southwestern part of Japan, it cannot be said that the whole island of Kyushu was already at the disposal of the Emperor of that time. In the region which roughly corresponds with the province of Higo, a tribe called the Kumaso defied the imperial power, and continued to do so to an age later than the period of which I have just spoken. It was perhaps not earlier than the middle of the fourth century that their resistance was finally broken. South of the Kumaso, there lived another tribe called the Haito in the district afterwards known as the province of Satsuma. Some of the tribesmen were wont to serve as warriors in the army of the Emperor from very early times, especially in the imperial bodyguard. Still the imperial sway could not easily be extended to their home. The last insurrection of the Haito tribe is recorded to have happened at the end of the seventh century. That these southern tribes were subdued more easily than the Ainu on the north, may be attributed to the fact that their numbers were comparatively small, and that they might have been more akin in blood to the important element of the Japanese race than the Ainu were.