CHAPTER IV. GROWTH OF THE IMPERIAL POWER. GRADUAL CENTRALISATION
IT is a privilege of historians to look back. By looking back I do not mean judging the past from the standpoint of the present. Though it is quite obvious that past things should be valued first by the standards of the age contemporaneous with the things to be valued, it would be a great mistake, if we supposed that the duty of historians was fulfilled when they could depict the past as it was seen by its contemporaries. Historians are by no means bound to adhere to the opinions of the ancients in judging of what happened in the past. How a past thing was viewed and valued by its contemporary is in itself an important historical fact, which must be subjected to the criticism of historians. Not only to have a clear idea of the views held by the people of a certain period as regards contemporaneous events, a task which is not hopelessly difficult though not very easy, but also to know why such and such views happened to be held by those people at that time, is a duty far more important and difficult to discharge. Historians ought, besides, to make clear the absolute value of such views and the effects of them on the age in question as well as on the period that followed. However necessary it may be to be acquainted with the thoughts and beliefs of former generations, it is not indeed incumbent upon us to believe blindly what was believed in the past and to think on the same lines as was thought by the ancients. Who would not laugh at our folly, for example, if we should consider the whale of old times to have been a kind of fish, simply because the ancients did not know it to be a species of mammalia, though by such a supposition we might perhaps be very loyal to the old beliefs? As the result of investigations over long years, many things that have been held to be totally different by ancient peoples have been found to be similar to one another, nay, sometimes just the same. On the other hand, there have not been wanting examples in which essential differences, though considerable in reality, have been overlooked or thought to be negligible, and first discerned only after the researches of hundreds of years. In uncivilised times, generally speaking, men were rather quick to observe outward and superficial distinctions, while very slow to discover internal and essential variations. There was a time in the far-off days of yore, both in the East and in the West, when some people held themselves to be unique and chosen, and regarded others, who were apparently not as they were and spoke languages different from their own, to be decidedly inferior in civilisation to themselves, or to be more akin to beasts than to human beings. Were the Japanese then at the beginning of their history different from other peoples at a similar stage of development, or were they unique from the first? To give too definite an answer to such a question is always a mistake. Our forefathers were certainly different from other peoples in certain respects, but they had much in common with others too. To be unique is very interesting to look at, but it does not follow necessarily that what is unique is always worthy of admiration. Uniqueness is an honour to the possessor of that quality only when he is inimitably excellent on that account. On the other hand, to possess much of what is common to many is far from being a disgrace. Among things which are not unique at all may be found those which have universal validity, and are by no means to be despised as commonplace. Our forefathers had not a few precious things which were singular to themselves, but at the same time they had much in common with outsiders too, and by that possession of common valuables, the history of Japan may rank among those of civilised nations, being not only interesting but also instructive.
By the Japanese of later ages it was supposed that all people outside historic Japan were radically different from themselves, thus forgetting that their own ancestors had been of mixed blood. This proves, by the way, how easily the process of amalgamation and assimilation of different races was accomplished in ancient Japan. There was hardly a tinge of racial antipathy among our forefathers of old. Parallel with the sense of discrimination against other people, which must have been founded on the perception of superficial differences and on that account not deep-rooted, there prevailed among them an ardent love for all sorts of things foreign, and they extended a hearty welcome to all the successive immigrants into Japan, from whatever quarter of the world they might come. Far from being maltreated, these immigrants were not only allowed to pursue their favourite occupations of livelihood, but were even entrusted with several important posts in the government and in the Imperial Household. Our forefathers did not hesitate, too, to import sundry foreign, especially Chinese, customs and institutions, with or without alteration. Such spontaneous importation readily accomplished, evidently implies that Japan was considered by the ancient Japanese to have had much in common with China, so that the same ways of living might be followed, and similar legislation might be put into practice here as well as there. More than that. Our ancestors naïvely believed themselves able to see the same effects produced by the same legislation here as in China, like ignorant farmers, who sometimes foolishly expect to be able to reap the same harvests by sowing the same kinds of seed, forgetting the differences in the nature of the soil. So eager were they to transplant everything foreign into Japan. At the present time, there are similarly many who think that things foreign can be planted in this country so as to bear the same fruit as in their original homes, and who therefore would try to import as many as possible. The only difference between them and the ancient Japanese lies in the fact that their preferences are for things European instead of things Chinese. Now-a-days the Japanese are frequently described as a people who entertain an inveterate antagonism to foreigners. Can such an opinion hold ground in the face of the indisputable evidence of Japan's importation of so many foreign things, material as well as spiritual?
Returning to the point, did Japan become a country resembling China, as was wished by the Sinophil Japanese of old times? On the contrary, the uniqueness, which lay at the foundation of the political and social life of our country, was not thereby much impaired. Even now it is clear to everybody that Japan is not behind any other country in possessing what is unique. It must be borne in mind, however, that what the ancient Japanese thought to be sufficient to distinguish themselves from other people was not the same as that which makes the modern Japanese think their country to be unique. At the same time it can be said that ancient Japan, while unique in some respects, was in a similar condition, social and political, as other countries were at a similar stage of their civilisation. What, then, was the state of Japan in the beginning of her history? It is this which I am going to describe.
In a foregoing chapter I stated that the Japanese, whatever ethnological interpretation be given to them, can hardly be considered as autochthons. Most probably the greater part of them was descended from immigrants; in other words, their forefathers were the conquerors of the land. What then was the chief occupation of these conquerors? To this question various answers have been already given by different historians. Some hold that argiculture was the main occupation to which our ancestors looked for a living, while others maintain that they chiefly depended for subsistence on more unsettled sorts of occupation, that is, on hunting or fishing. All that can be ascertained is that the forefathers of the Japanese did not lead, at least in this country, a nomadic life, so that both cattle and horses were rare or almost unheard of in very ancient times. It is very probable, too, that in whatever occupation the original Japanese might have been chiefly engaged, they must have been also acquainted with the elements of agriculture at the same time. No reliable evidence, however, can be found to answer this question. In this respect the certitude of the early history of Japan falls far short of that of the German tribes, which, though not civilised enough to have left records of their own, were yet fortunate enough to be described by writers of more civilised races, especially by the Romans. Early Japan seems not to have had as intimate an intercourse with China as the early Germans had with Rome, so that we have great difficulty in ascertaining any details about social and political conditions as well as the modes of life of the ancient Japanese, in the same way as that in which we are acquainted with the early land-system of the Germans, their methods of fighting, and so forth. As to the land-system of early Japan, almost nothing is known about it until the introduction of the Chinese land-distribution procedure in the first half of the seventh century. We cannot ascertain whether there was anything which might be compared with the early land-system of the Teutons. The introduction of the elaborate organisation of the T'ang dynasty into our country may be interpreted in two ways. It may be assumed that a land-distribution similar to that of the Chinese had already existed in Japan, and that this facilitated the introduction of the foreign methods, which were of the same type but more highly developed, or we may deny the previous existence of any such arrangement in our country, reasoning from the fact that the newly introduced foreign system could not take deep root in our country on account of its incompatibility with native traditions. What, however, we can state with some degree of certainty concerning the early history of Japan, prior to the introduction of Chinese institutions, is that the people, or rather groups of people, figured in the social system as objects of possession quite as much as did landed property.
The land of Japan, so far as it had been conquered and explored by our forefathers up to the Revolution of the Taikwa era in the first half of the seventh century, consisted of the imperial domains and the private properties held by subjects by the same right as that by which the emperor held his domains. In other words, the relation of the emperor with his subjects was not through lands granted to the latter by the former, but was a personal relation. The idea of vassalage due to the holding of crown lands seems not to have been entertained by the early Japanese. From the point of view of the free rights of the landholders, ancient Japan resembles early German society. Only the way which the tenant took possession of his land can not be ascertained so definitely as in the case of allod-holding in Europe. There is no doubt, however, that not only land but persons also formed the most important private properties. Needless to say, people who dwelt on private land were ipso facto the property of the landowner. Without any regard to land a seigneur of early Japan could own a certain number of persons, and in that case the land inhabited by them naturally became the property of their master.
The Emperor, who was the greatest seigneur as the owner of vast domains and of a large number of persons, ruled at the same time over many other seigneurs, the big freeholders of land and serf. It may be supposed also that there might have been many minor freemen besides, who were not rich enough to possess sufficient serfs to cultivate their grounds for them and, therefore, were obliged to support themselves by their own toil. Nothing positive is known, however, about them, if they ever really existed. The right of a seigneur over his clients was almost absolute, even the lives and chattels of his clients being at his his disposal, though the seingeur himself lay under the jurisdiction of the Emperor. Some of the seigneurs were men of the same race as the imperial family, their ancestors having helped in the conquest of the country. Others were scions of the imperial family itself. It is very probable, nevertheless, that no insignificant portion of this seigneur class was of a blood different from that of the imperial family, having sprung from the aboriginal race, or from immigrants other than the stock to which the imperial family belonged.
The extent of the land over which a seigneur held sway, was in general not very great, so that it cannot be fairly compared with any modern Japanese province or kuni. Side by side with these seigneurs who were lords of their lands, there was another class of seigneurs, who were conspicuous, not, strictly speaking, on account of the land which they de facto possessed, but on account of their being chieftains of certain groups of people. Some of these groups were formed by men pursuing the same occupation. Groups thus formed were those of fletchers, shield-makers, jewellers, mirror-makers, potters, and so forth. Performers of religious rites, fightingmen, and scribes, too, were grouped in this class. It must be especially noticed that groups of men- at-arms and of scribes contained a good many foreign elements, far more distinctly than other groups. Scribes, though their profession as a craft was of a higher and more important nature than others, were, as was explained in the last chapter, exclusively of foreign blood. On account of this there was more than one set of such immigrants, and we had in Japan several groups of scribes. As to soldiers or men-at-arms, those who served in the first stage of the conquest of this country must have been of the same stock as the conquering race. Later on, however, quite a number of men who were not properly to be called Japanese, as, for example, the Ainu and the Haito, began to be enlisted into the service of the Emperor, and notwithstanding their difference in blood from that of the predominant stock, their fidelity to the Emperor was almost incomparable, and furnished many subjects for our old martial poems.
All these were groups organised on the basis of the special professions pursued by the members of each respective group, although many of the groups might consist eventually of persons of homogeneous blood. Besides these groups there was another kind based solely on identity of blood, that is to say, on the principle of racial affinity. When we examine the circumstances of the formation of such groups, we generally find that a body of immigrants at a certain period was constituted as a group by itself by way of facilitating the administration. Sometimes several bodies of immigrants, differing as to the period of immigration, were formed into one large corps. In the corps thus formed, there would have naturally been people of various occupations, connected only by blood relationship.
The third kind of group was quite unique in the motive of its formation. It was customary in ancient times in Japan to organise a special group of people in memory of a certain emperor or of some noted member of the imperial family. This happened generally in the case of those personages who died early and were much lamented by their nearest relations. Sometimes, however, a similar group was formed in honour of a living emperor. As it was natural that groups thus formed paid little attention to the consanguinity of their members, it is presumable that they might have consisted of persons of promiscuous racial origin. On the other hand, it is also clear that there could be no necessity for conglomerating intentionally men of heterogenous racial origin in order to effect a mixture of blood between them. Such a motive is hardly to be considered as compatible with the spirit of the age in which the scrutinising of genealogies was an important business. Added to this, the organisation of a group out of people of different stocks would have incurred the danger of making its administration exceedingly difficult. As to the profession pursued by persons belonging to such a group, any generalisation is difficult. Some groups might have been organised mainly from the need of creating efficient agricultural labour, in order to provide for the increasing necessity of food stuffs; in other words, from the need for the exploration of new lands. Other memorial groups might have been formed for the sake of providing for the need of various kinds of manual labour, and must have contained men of divers handicrafts and professions, so as to be able to provide for all the daily necessities of some illustrious personage, to whom the group was subject. When men of promiscuous professions formed a group and produced sundry kinds of commodities, the custom of bartering must have naturally arisen within it, but the stage of bartering in a market, periodically opened at a certain spot, such as is described in the San-kuo-chih, must have been the result of a gradual development. Moreover, it would be a too hasty conclusion to say that such a group was a selfproviding economic community. On the other hand, to suppose that such a group was a corporation something like the guilds of medieval Europe would be absurd. Though the members of a guild suffered greatly under the oppression of its master, still no relation of vassalage is recognisable in the system. In old Japan, however, men grouped in the manner described above belonged to the chieftain of that group, that is to say, they were not only his subjects but his property, to be disposed of at his free will. As to the groups which pursued a special craft, I do not deny the existence of the practice of bartering between them. In a society in the stage of civilisation of old Japan, no one could exist without some sort of bartering, and the ruling hand was not so strong and rigorous as to be able to prohibit an individual of the group from exchanging the work of his hands with those of men of neighbouring groups, even when the lord of the group wished contrariwise. And it must be kept in mind that though a member of the group of a special profession pursued that profession as his daily business, yet he must have been engaged in agricultural work also, tilling the ground, presumably in the midst of which his house stood. Agricultural products thus raised could perhaps not cover all the demands of his family for subsistence. But, on the other hand, that all the victuals they required were supplied by barter or by distribution on the part of the chieftain of the respective group is hardly to be imagined.
A group pursuing the same occupation was of course not the only one allowed to pursue it, nor was their habitation limited to one special locality.
In other words, there were many groups which were engaged in the same occupation, and those groups had their residence in different provinces. It is not clear whether all the groups pursuing the same craft were under the jurisdiction of a common chieftain. The fact is certain, however, that many groups engaged in the same craft often had a common chieftain, notwithstanding their occupying different localities. The chieftain of a group was sometimes of the same blood as the members of the group, as in the case where the group consisted of homogenous immigrants. The chieftains of immigrant craft-groups, the number of which was very much limited in this country, belonged to this category. Sometimes, however, the chieftain of such a craft-group was not of the same stock as the members of the group under him, though the latter might be of homogenous blood. This was especially the case when a group was that of arms-bearers composed of Ainu or Haito. These valiant people were enlisted into a homogeneous company, but they were put under the direction of some trustworthy leader, who was of the same racial origin as the imperial family or who belonged to a race subjected to the imperial rule long before. Lastly, in the case where a group was a memorial institution, it is probable that the chieftain was nominated by the emperor without regard to his blood relationship to the members of the group under him.
Summing up what is stated above at length, there were two kinds of seigneurs who were immediately under the sovereignty of the Emperor; the one was the landlord, and the other was the group-chieftain. It is a matter of course that the former was at the same time the chieftain of the serfs who peopled the land of which he was the lord, while the latter was the lord de facto of the land inhabited by himself and his clients, so that there was virtually very little difference between them. As regards their rights over the land and the people under their power it was equally absolute in both cases. The principal difference was that the right of the former rested essentially on his being the lord of the land, and that of the latter on his being the chieftain of the people. How did such a difference come into existence?
The fact that there were many landlords who were not of the same stock as the imperial family, might be regarded as a proof that they were descendants of the chiefs who held their lands prior to the coming over of the Japanese, or, more strictly, before the immigration of the predominant stock. They acquiesced afterwards in, or were subjected to, the rule of the Japanese, but the relation between the Emperor and these landlords was of a personal nature, and the right of the latter over their own land remained unchanged. Later on many members of the imperial family were sent out to explore new lands at the expense of the Ainu, and they generally installed themselves as masters of the land which they had conquered. These new landlords assumed, as was natural, the same power as that which was possessed by the older landlords mentioned above. The power of the imperial family was thus ex. tended into a wider sphere by the increase in the number of the landlords of the blood royal, but at the same time the power of the Emperor himself was in danger of being weakened by the overgrowth of the branches of the Imperial family.
As to the chieftains of groups, they must have been of later origin than the landlords, for to be a virtual possessor of land only as the consequence of being chieftain of the people who happened to occupy the land shows that the relation between the people and the land inhabited by them was the result of some historical development. Moreover, the grouping of people acording to their handicrafts must be a step far advanced beyond the pristine crowding together of people of promiscuous callings. It is also an important fact which should be taken into consideration here again that the greater part of the craft- groups consisted of immigrants. From all these data we may safely enough assume that the chieftains who were at first placed at the head of a certain group of people perhaps came over to this country simultaneously with the predominant stock, or came from the same home at a time not very far distant from that of the migration of the predominant stock itself, and that they distinguished themselves by their fidelity to the emperor; in short, these chieftains might have been mostly of the same racial origin as the imperial family, except in the case of groups formed by peninsular immigrants of later date. The increasing organisation of such groups, therefore, must have led to the aggrandizement of the power of the imperial family; but there was, of course, the same fear of a relaxation of the blood-ties between the emperor and the chieftains akin in blood to him.
Such are the general facts relating to the social and political life of Japan before the seventh century. If its development had continued on the lines described above, the ultimate result would have been the division of the country among a large number of petty chieftains, heterogenous in blood and in the nature of the power which they wielded, and with very relaxed ties between themselves and the emperor. We can observe a similar state of things even today among several uncivilised tribes, for example, among the natives of Formosa and in many South Sea Islands. Japan, however, was not destined to the same fate. How then did it come to be consolidated?
Centralisation presupposes a centre into which the surroundings may be centralised. This centre or nucleus for centralisation may be an individual or a corporate organism. As regards the latter, however, in order to become a nucleus of centralisation, it must be solidly organised, which is only possible in an advanced stage of civilisation.
For Japan in the period of which I am speaking, such a centre could create only a very loose centralisation, which could be broken asunder very easily. To have Japan strongly centralised, it was necessary for her to have an individual, that is to say the Emperor, as a nucleus of centralisation.
We have seen the process by which the predominant stock of the Japanese grew in power and influence, as well by exploring new lands and installing there men of their own stock as lords, as by organising more and more new groups out of the immigrants who came over to this country, and, perhaps, also out of a certain number of autochthons. Within the predominant stock itself the imperial family was no doubt the most influential. Most of the new landlords were recruited from the members of that family, and many memorial groups were instituted in their honour and for their sakes. Stretches of land which were exploited by these clients and on that account stood under the rule of the family increased gradually. Such an estate was called miyake, which meant a royal granary, a royal domain. The number of these domains constantly grew as time went on. Not only in the neighbourhood of the province of Yamato, in which the emperors of old time used to have their residence, but also in several distant provinces new miyake were organised. It is no wonder that they were more generally instituted in the western provinces, especially in the coastal provinces of the Inland Sea and in the island of Kyushu rather than in other directions, because it was natural that the imperial house, which is said to have had its first foothold in the west, should have had a stronger influence in those parts than in provinces close to lands still retained by the Ainu and not yet occupied by the Japanese. Still it is a credit to the power of the imperial house that in the first half of the seventh century, we can already find such royal domains in the far eastern provinces of Suruga and Kôtsuke.
The method of increasing the miyake was not limited to the exploitation only of new ground previously uncultivated. Some of the chieftains were loyal enough to present to the emperor a part of their own dominions or a portion of their clients, with or without the lands inhabited by them. Confiscation, too, was a method often resorted to, when the crimes of some of the landlords, such as complicity in rebellion, insult to high personages of the imperial family, and so forth, merited forfeiture. Sometimes there were penitents who made presents of their lands or people, in order either not to lose or to regain the royal favour. In these sundry ways the imperial family was enabled to increase its domains to a very large extent, domains which, it should be noted, were cultivated mostly by groups of immigrant people, generally superintended by capable men of the same groups who knew how to read, write and make up the accounts of the revenue.
This increase in number of miyake was in itself the increase of the wealth of the imperial family, and the increase of its power at the same time. It is a matter of course that such growth of the imperial family contributed largely to the increase of the imperial power itself, and was therefore a step toward centralisation. With a family as centre, however, a strong centralisation was impossible at a time when there was no definite regulation concerning the succession. The law of primogeniture had not yet been enacted. Princesses were not excluded from the order of succession. In such an age too strong a centralisation with the family as its inucleus, if it had been possible, could only have been a cause of constant internal feuds. The interests of certain members of the imperial family might have come into collision with those of the reigning Emperor, and indeed such clashes were not rare.
Besides this weakness which was like a running sore in the process of centralisation, there was another great drawback to the growth of the imperial power. This was the increase in power and influence of certain chieftains. At first there were many chieftains of nearly equal power, and as none among them was influential enough to lord it over all the others, it was not very difficult for the imperial family to avail itself of the rivalry that prevailed among them and to control them accordingly. Some families among the chieftains, however, began to grow rich and powerful like the imperial family itself, while the greater part of them remained more or less stationary, so that a wide gap between the selected few and the rest as regards their influence became perceptible. Thus five conspicuous families, those of Ohtomo, Mononobe, Nakatomi, Abe, and Wani, first emerged from the numerous members of the chieftain class. The family of the Soga, which was descended from Takeshiuchi, the minister of the Empress Jingu, became afterwards very prominent, so that only two of the former five, namely, the Ohtomo and the Mononobe, could cope with it. Among the three which became prominent in place of the former five, the older two continued to be engaged exclusively in warlike business, while the third provided both ministers and generals. The magnitude of their influence in the latter half of the fifth century can be well imagined from the fact that the Emperor Yûryaku complained on his death bed that his vassals' private domains had become too extensive.
Such was the result which, it was natural to anticipate, was likely to accompany the growth of Japan under the rule of a predominant stock. It could not be said, however, to be very beneficial to the real consolidation of a coherent Empire. For a sovereign, even if he had had strength enough to exercise absolute rule, it must have been far more difficult to govern a few powerful chieftains than to rule over many of lesser influence. It is needless to say that such must have been the case in an age when the relations of the reigning emperor and of the imperial family were not well organised in favour of the former. Many like examples may be cited from the early history of the Germans, especially from that of the Merovingian and the Carlovingian dynasties. Among the few prominent chieftains, a certain one family, primus inter pares, might become exceedingly powerful and then overshadow the rest. In Japan, too, there was not lacking a majordomo who was growing great at the cost of the imperial prerogative.
This tendency was too apparent not to be perceived by the sagacious emperors of succeeding ages. Increasing their material resources, therefore, was thought by them the best means of strengthening themselves and of guarding against the usurpation of their power by ambitious vassals. Long before the Korean expedition of the Empress Jingu, accordingly, the increase of the royal domains was assiduously aimed at. The Korean expedition itself may be considered as one of the evidences of the endeavour to develop the imperial power. For to lead an expedition oversea necessarily connotes a consolidated empire. War, however uncivilised the age in which it is carried on, must be, more than any other undertaking, a one man business. So we can not err much in supposing that, at the time of the expedition, the centralisation of the country with the emperor as its nucleus was already in course of progress. Without being socially organised and consolidated, it would have been very hard to muster a people not yet sufficiently organised in a political sense. It was enacted just about this time, that all the royal granaries or domains which were situated in the province of Yamato, where successive royal residences had been established, should be the inalienable property of the reigning emperor himself, and that even the heir to the throne should not be allowed to own any of them. This enactment may be said to have been the beginning of the separation of the interests of the reigning emperor himself from those of the imperial family, and it has a great historical importance in the sense that the process of centralisation with an individual, and not a family, as its centre, was already in course of development.
To recapitulate my previous argument, in order to have a strongly organised Empire, first of all it was necessary at that time to put an end to the still growing power of the prominent chieftains, for the decrease in the number of chieftains only helped to make the remaining few stronger and more threatening. Secondly, not the imperial family but the reigning emperor himself must be made the nucleus of centralisation. This then was the necessity of our country and the goal of the endeavours of succeeding emperors. What most accelerated this process of centralisation, however, was the introduction of Buddhism and the systematic adoption of Chinese civilisation, imported, not through the intermediation of the peninsular states, but directly from China herself. The former contributed by changing the spirit of the age, so that innovation could be undertaken without risking the total dissolution of the not yet sufficiently consolidated Empire, while the latter facilitated the organisation of the material resources already acquired, and paved the way for their further increase.
It is commonly stated that in 552 A.D., the thirteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Kimmei, Buddhism was first introduced into Japan, for that is the date of the first record of Buddhism in the imperial court. Owing to the researches of modern historians, however, that date is no longer accepted as the beginning of Buddhism in Japan. Buddhism, which is said to have been first introduced into China in the middle of the first century after Christ, began to flow into the Korean peninsula some three hundred years later. Among the three peninsular states, the first which received the new religion was Korea or Kokuri, which was the nearest to China. The Korean chronicle says that in 364 A.D. Fu-Chien, a powerful potentate of the Chin dynasty, which existed in northern China at that time, sent an ambassador to Korea, accompanied by a Buddhist priest. Twelve years later than Korea, Kutara received Buddhism from southern China. Shiragi was the latest of the three to accept the new religion, for it was not until 527 A.D. that Buddhism was recognized in that state. Perhaps, however, the people of Shiragi had been acquainted with it at an earlier epoch, though it would not be surprising if this had not been the case. The geographical position of Shiragi obliged it for long to be the last state in the peninsula to receive Chinese civilisation. It is not the Buddhism of Shiragi, therefore, but that of Korea and Kutara which had to do with the history of our country.
At that time, in the southern part of the peninsula, there were many minor semi-independent communities under the tutelage of Japan. A resident-general was sent from Japan to whom the affairs of the protectorate were entrusted. Though the existence in the peninsula of a region subject directly to the Emperor of Japan, that is to say, the extension oversea of the Japanese dominion, is not certified to by any written evidence, the history of the early relations between Japan and the peninsula cannot be adequately explained, unless we assume that this imperial domain on the continent was the stronghold of Japanese influence over the peninsula, around which the minor states clustered as their centre. Kutara, which divided the sphere of Japanese influence from Korea, had been suffering much from the encroachment of the Koreans on the north. To counteract Korea, which allied herself with the successive dynasties in northern China, Kutara tried to court the favour of the states which came successively into existence in southern China. That Buddhism in Kutara was propagated by priests from China meridional may account for the intercourse which grew up between the peninsular state and the south of China. Still, however much Kutara might have desired assistance from that quarter, the distance was too great for it to have obtained any efficient relief, even if the southern Chinese had wished to afford it, so that Kutara was at last compelled to apply for help to Japan, which was the real master of the land bordering it on the south. This is the reason why soon after the expedition of the Empress Jingu, Kutara initiated a very intimate intercourse with our country. From that state princes of the blood were sent as hostages to Japan one after another, an unruly minister of that state was summoned to justify himself before an Emperor of Japan, a topographical survey of Kutara was undertaken by Japanese officials, and reinforcements were despatched thither several times from our country. After all, Japan was not the losing party in her peninsular relations. The knowledge of the Chinese classics was the most important boon the intercourse conferred on our country. Not less important was the introduction of Buddhism.
The doubt, however, remains whether Buddhism, which began to flow into Kutara in 376 A.D., could have remained so long confined in that state as not to have been introduced into Japan till 552 A.' D., notwithstanding the intimate relations between the two countries. The worship of Buddha must have been practised at an earlier period, most probably in private, by immigrants from the peninsular state, who had already imbibed the rudiments of the new religion in their original home. Moreover, in speaking of the propagation of Buddhism in Japan, we must look back into the history of our intercourse with southern China.
In the preceding chapter I mentioned the description of our country given in the San-kuo-chih. There we are told that intercourse was carried on between Japan and northern China through the Chinese provinces in the peninsula. It was the two peninsular states arising out of the ruin of these Chinese provinces which paved the way for the intercourse of Japan with southern China. Not only did we obtain through Kutara knowledge about southern China under the dynasty of the East Chin, but the first Japanese ambassadors sent thither at the beginning of the fifth century could reach their destination only through the intermediation of Korea or Kokuri, which furnished our ambassadors with guides. After that there were frequent goings to and fro of the people of China and Japan, notwithstanding the rapidly succeeding changes of dynasty in southern China. It was through the intercourse thus initiated that several kinds of industry, more especially weaving, were introduced into Japan from southern China, and had a very deep and enduring effect on the history of our country. There were immigrants, too, from southern China into Japan, and among them, some were so pious as to build temples in the districts in which they settled, and to practise the cult of Buddha, which they had brought with them from their homes. Ssuma-Tateng of the Liang dynasty, who came over to Japan in 522 A.D., is one of the outstanding examples. Such was the history of Buddhism in Japan before the memorable thirteenth year of the Emperor Kimmei. The event which happened in that year, therefore, has an importance only on account of the pompous presentation by Kutara of Buddhist images and sutras to our imperial court.
Who, then, first countenanced, patronised, and was converted to the newly imported religion? Naturally the progressives of that age, among whom the Soga were the foremost. Unlike the two other conspicuous families of Ohtomo and Mononobe, who served exclusively as military lords, the family of Soga supplied not only the military, but the civil and dimplomatic services also. This naturally gave them very frequent access to the imported civilisation in contrast to the simple soldiers, who are generally prone to be more conservative than civil officials. As the chief administrator and chief treasurer, the Soga family could not dispense with the employment of secretaries, whose posts were monopolised at that time by groups of immigrant scribes. In this way the immigrants from the peninsula, afterwards reinforced by those coming direct from southern China, flocked to the palace of the Soga family, and they worked naturally for the increase of the power of their patron. In short, a large number of men, furnished with more literary education than the ordinary Japanese of the time, became the clients of the family.
Of the two rivals of the Soga family, that which was the first to decline in power was the Ohtomo. The next to decay was the family of the Mononobe. The fall of the rivals of the Soga must be attributed to the growth of the latter family, which owed much to the help given by the immigrants mentioned above. And as the introducers of Buddhism were to be found among these immigrants, it was very natural that the family of Soga should be among the first to be converted to the new religion. Thus the aggrandisement of the Soga family, the propagation of Buddhism which it patronised, and the progress of civilisation in general went on hand in hand. In the middle of the sixth century, that is to say, in the reign of the Emperor Kimmei, Iname was the head of the Soga family. In his time the Mononobe family could still hold its own against him, though at some disadvantage. When, however, Umako, the son of Iname, succeded his father, he was at last able to overthrow the power of his antagonist Moriya of the Mononobe, after defeating and killing him in battle, with the aid of the prince Shôtoku, who was also a devotee of the new religion.
Thus in the course of several hundred years the gradual process of centralisation had been slowly drawing to its goal. In the beginning of the seventh century at last, the noted families of old were all eclipsed by the single family of the Soga, which towered alone in wealth and power above the others. At the same time instead of having the imperial house as the nucleus of centralisation, the Emperor began to tower high above the other members of his family. He was the owner of a very vast domain and of a multitude of people of various classes. He was the head of the ancestral cult. The sacred emblem of his divine origin, which had formerly been kept in the imperial camp, was now removed from the palace for fear of profanation, and taken to its present resting-place in the province of Ise. Yet the removal did more to increase than to lessen the sanctity of his person. On the other hand, his authority was in danger of being usurped by the all-powerful mayor of the palace, the family of Soga, which had become too strong for the emperor easily to manage. The times became very critical. In order to push still further the process of centralisation which had been going on, and to make the empire better conslidated, some decisive stroke was necessary. And the revolutionary change was at last accelerated by the overgrown power of the Soga family, the opening of regular intercourse with China, and above all the strong necessity within and without to consolidate the empire more and more.