CHAPTER V. REMODELING OF THE STATE
JAPAN stood on the verge of a crisis, and it was saved from catastrophe by two causes. First, by the ceaseless importation of high Chinese civilisation, which steadily encouraged the political concentration; secondly, by the necessity of centralisation so as to push on vigorously the attack on the still powerful Ainu.
As I have mentioned several times before, the Ainu had been a losing party in the racial struggle with the Japanese, yet their resistance had been a very stubborn one, so that at the end of the sixth century they could still hold their ground against the Japanese on the southern boundary of the present provinces of Iwaki and Iwashiro, which roughly corresponds to latitude 37° N. The northern part of Japan, therefore, was still in constant danger of incursions by the hairy race. For a country in the infant stage of consolidation, as Japan was at that time, it was by no means an easy task to ward off the frequent inroads of that race, and at the same time to continue the process of the inner organisation of the state. One would perhaps wonder at my conclusion, starting from the consideration that the Ainu scare was not such a fearful thing as to influence the natural growth of a state formed by the stronger race. This misconception arises from the ignorance of the fact that the famous dictum "delenda est Carthago" was only pronounced after the first Punic war. Necessity by itself does not create the desire to secure what is necessary. The desire to attain any aim first comes into consciousness when one begins to feel strong enough to venture to attain it. When the Ainu was very powerful, the Japanese had to contend with them mainly in order to secure a foothold against them. It was none the less necessary for the Japanese to continue to struggle with the Ainu, when the former became strong enough to face the antagonist evenhanded. Lastly, the time arrived now when it became an urgent necessity for the Japanese to crush the Ainu, in order to achieve undisturbed a full political organisation in the domain within the four seas. In short, when the Japanese became so convinced of their might that they could not tolerate any rival within the principal islands, they found it even more indispensable to organise themselves as compactly as possible under one strong supreme head than ever before.
What most facilitated the centralisation under the imperial rule was of course the imported Chinese civilisation. To say sooth, several centuries of the slow infiltration of that high civilisation had already attained a great deal of influence, but it was rather a smuggled, and not a really legalised importation. Moreover, China her. self, the source from which the civilisation had to be imported, had been dismembered for a long time, so that until 581 A.D. the country could hardly be called a unified state at all. How could we expect to find in a country where no order ruled a model suitable to be employed as exemplar to effect a durable political reform. It is not strange, therefore, that, notwithstanding the long years of intercourse between the two countries, only a very slight change had been thereby occasioned in our country as regards our political organisation. Any change which was wrought in our political sphere by Chinese influence was effected in a very indirect way, having worked its way through multifarious social changes caused by the contact with the high alien civilisation. No direct political clue could be followed up from China to this country. To achieve the purpose of borrowing from China the necessary materials for the reconstruction of political Japan, we had to wait longer, that is to say, till the inauguration of regular intercourse between this country and China also politically unified and concentrated.
That memorable year came at last. In 607 A.D. Ono-no-Imoko was despatched as official envoy to China, which at that time was under the second emperor of the dynasty of Sui. Even before this date, however, since the accession of the Empress Suiko, as the result of the busy intercourse between us and the peninsular states, various arts and useful sciences of Chinese origin had been introduced into this country, among which astronomy, the oldest perhaps of all sciences everywhere in the world, was the most noteworthy. Connected with this science, the art of calendar- making was introduced for the first time into Japan. It would be a gross mistake, if we thereby conclude that we had no means of defining the dates of events prior to this introduction. Although we could not by ourselves make an independent calendarial system, yet the Japanese, at least the naturalised scribes, had already been acquainted with two chronological methods. The one was to define a date by counting from the year of the accession of a reigning emperor. The other method was that which had prevailed long since in China, that is to say, to define a date by counting according to the cyclical order of the twelve zodiacal signs, interlaced with the cyclical order of ten attributes, so that to complete one cycle sixty years were necessary. Some groups of scribes, perhaps, pursued the former method, while others favoured the latter. Contradictory statements and evident repetitions abundantly found in the Nihongi were thus occasioned by the existence of historical materials, dated according to two different chronological systems. For the compilers of the famous chronicle sometimes mistook one and the same event found in different sources and given in two different chronological systems, for two independent events resembling each other only in certain superficial respects. Otherwise they misunderstood two entirely distinct events having the same cyclical designation in date as a single occurrence, narrated in two different ways, ignoring the fact that there might have been two like events which happened at a chronological distance of sixty years or some multiple of that cycle of time. Confusion of this kind was unavoidable in ages where there was no established method of defining a historical date. It was a great gain, therefore, that astronomy and the art of calendar-making chanced to be introduced in 602 A.D., the tenth year of the reign of the Empress.
Another not less important boon which we received from China through the peninsular states was the gradation of official ranks. Anterior to this period we had something like a hierarchical system with the emperor as the political and social supreme, but the system, if it could be called such, was nothing but a chain of vassalship fastened very loosely. It was far from a well-ordered gradation, which is in reality the beginning of equalisation and could only be effected by a very strong hand. The dignity of the emperor could be excellently upheld by having under him gradated subjects, but the gradation itself did not hinder those subjects from thinking that they were equals before the emperor as his subjects. This gradation came into practice in the year 604 A.D.
In the same year the famous "Seventeen Articles" was also promulgated. This was a collection of moral maxims imparted to all subjects, especially to administrative officials, as instructions. The principle pervading the articles unmistakably betrays that much of it was borrowed from Chinese moral and political precepts. The only exception is the second article, which encouraged the worship of Buddha. It was natural that such articles should be decreed by Prince Shôtoku, who was under the tutorship of a Korean priest and a naturalised peninsular savant.
Having so far adopted the elements of Chinese civilisation secondhand through the peninsular states, we could savour the taste of refinement enjoyed by the then highly advanced nation on the continent, embellish thereby life in the court and in high circles, and promote not a little our political centralisation. We were thus put in the state of one whose thirst becomes much aggravated after taking a sip of water. At the helm of the state was a very intelligent personage, Prince Shôtoku, nephew and son-in-law of the Empress and heir-presumptive to the throne. It was natural for him and the progressive minister, Umako of the Soga, to crave for more of the Chinese knowledge and enlightenment. The peninsular states, which were never very far advanced in civilisation, had transmitted to us all that they could teach. There was little left in which those states were in advance of us. Then where should we turn to obtain more learning and more culture except to China herself?
Diplomatic considerations were also an inducement for us to be drawn towards China more closely than before. Just at this time we were gradually losing our ground in the peninsula as the result of the constant incursions of ascendant Shiragi into the Japanese protectorate, and of the perfidious policy of Kutara, which feigned to be our ally only for the sake of playing a dubious game against her neighbours, and paid more respect to China than she did toward Japan. Kokuri in the north, the strongest of the three peninsular states and the danger to waning Kutara, was just, at a critical time, menaced by China under the quite recently established dynasty of Sui. No wonder that Japan wished to know more about China, the country with which we had been already communicating directly as well as indirectly, though very sporadically. An envoy to China was the natural consequence.
Yang-ti, the second Emperor of the Sui dynasty was very ambitious and enterprising. His invasion of Kokuri, though it collapsed in utter failure, was conducted on such a grand scale that it reminds us of the Persian invasion of Greece under Xerxes, described by Herodotus. This Yang-ti was much flattered at receiving an envoy from the island far beyond the sea. Perhaps he rejoiced the more at finding an ally in the rear of Kokuri, which he was then intending to invade. So he received the Japanese envoy quite cordially, and on the latter's homeward journey the Emperor ordered a courtier to escort the envoy to Japan. This escort was on his return to China accompanied by the same envoy whom he had escorted hither. Ono- no-Imoko, who was thus twice sent to China as envoy, must have seen much of that country, and probably fetched many articles to delight the eyes of the Japanese of the higher classes, who were enraptured with everything foreign. What was the most important event connected with the second despatch of the envoy, however, was the sending abroad with him of students to study Buddhist tenets and also to receive secular education in China. They stayed in that country for a very long while, far longer than those who have been sent abroad by the Japanese government in recent years have been accustomed to stay in Europe and America, so that they lived in China as if they were real Chinese themselves, and were deeply imbued with Chinese thoughts and ideas. Two of the eight students who accompanied Ono-no-Imoko to China, returned to this country after a sojourn of more than thirty years, during which they witnessed a change of dynasty, and the rise of the T'ang, the dynasty in which Chinese civilisation reached its apogee. One of the two students who returned quite a Chinese to Japan, happened to become a tutor of a prince who afterwards ascended the throne as the Emperor Tenchi, the great reformer. By the way, it should be noticed that all of the eight students despatched were men of Chinese origin without exception, being naturalised scribes or their descendants.
The peninsular states became rather jealous of our direct intercourse with China, for they could not at least help fearing that thenceforth they would not be able to play off China and Japan against each other as they had done up to that time. They, therefore, tried to flatter us by sending to this country envoys more frequently than before. It was at one of these ceremonial court receptions of an envoy from Kokuri, that Soga- no-Iruka, the son of Yemishi of the Soga and the grandson of Umako, was killed by the Prince Naka-no-Ôye, afterwards the Emperor Tenchi, and by Nakatomi-no-Kamako, afterwards Kamatari. The father of Iruka soon followed his son's fate, and with him the main branch of the quondam all-powerful family of the Soga came to an end.
The fall of the house of the Soga may be ascribed to several causes. In the first place, it became an absolute necessity for the growth of the imperial power to get rid of the too arrogant Soga ministers, because to bear with them any longer would have endangered the imperial prestige itself. Secondly, as soon as the family of the Soga had ceased to fear its rivals, it began to be divided within itself by internal strife. Lastly, a quarrel about the imperial succession brought about the interweaving of the above two causes. The Prince Naka-no-Ôye, being the eldest son of the Emperor Jomei, was naturally one of the candidates to the throne. As his mother, however, was the Empress Kôkyoku, and therefore not of the Soga blood, the Prince was in fear lest he should be put aside from the order of the succession. Besides, he was very much enraged at the overbearing attitude of Yemishi and his son. The Nakatomi family to which Kamatari belonged was one of the five old illustrious names, and had been chiefly engaged in religious affairs. Kamatari deeply deplored the fact that his family had long been overshadowed by that of the Soga. Being qualified as a capable statesman, he foresaw the political danger to which Japan was exposed at that time. The lateral branches of the Soga family, actuated perhaps by jealousy against the main branch, joined the Prince and Kamatari in annihilating the far too overgrown power which threatened the imperial prerogative. Japan thus safely passed this political crisis. The next task was the thorough reconstruction of the social and political organisations, and the establishment of a uniform system throughout the whole Empire.
A series of grand reforms was inaugurated in the year 645 A.D. in the name of the reigning Emperor Kôtoku, who was one of the uncles of the Prince on his mother's side, and ascended the throne as the result of wise self-denial on the part of the Prince. The first reform was the initiation of the period name, a custom which, in China, had been in vogue since the Han dynasty. The period name which was adopted at first in Japan in the reign of the Emperor was Tai-Kwa. This Chinese usage, after it was once introduced into our country, has been continued until today, though with a few short interruptions.
The next step in the reform was the nomination of governors for the eastern provinces. Before this time we had already provincial governors installed in regions under the direct imperial sway, that is to say, in provinces where imperial domains abounded and imperial residences were located. These provincial governors depended wholly on the imperial power, and could at any time be recalled at the Emperor's pleasure. That such governors were now installed in the far eastern provinces bordering on the Ainu territory shows that, as these provinces were newly established ones, it was easier to enforce the reform there than in older provinces, in which time-honoured customs had taken deep root and chieftains ruled almost absolutely, so that even those radical reformers hesitated for a moment to try their hand on them.
The change, in the same year, of the imperial residence to the province of Settsu, near the site where the great commercial city of Osaka now stands, was also one of the very remarkable events. Imperial residences of the older times had been shifted here and there according to the change of the reigning emperor. No one of them, however, as far back as the time of Jimmu, the first Emperor, seems to have been located out of the provinces of Yamato, except the dwelling- place of the Emperor Nintoku. The removal of the imperial residence in 645 A.D. to the province of Settsu, where facilities for foreign intercourse could be secured, signifies that the imperial house was turning its gaze toward the west, with eyes more widely open than before.
The second year of the reform began with far more radical innovations than the first, that is to say, the abolishment of the group-system and of the holding of lands by landlords. All the lands privately held by local lords and all the people subjected to group-chieftains were decreed to be henceforth public and free and subject only to the Emperor. The designation of local lords and group-chieftains were allowed to be kept by those who had formerly possessed them, but only as mere titles. In order to allow this reform to run smoothly, the Prince Naka-no-Ôye himself set the example by renouncing, in behalf of the reigning Emperor, his right over his clients numbering five hundred twenty four and his private domain consisting of one hundred eighty-one lots.
In lands thus made public, provinces were established, and governors were appointed. Under those governors served the former local lords and group-chieftains as secretaries of various official grades or as district governors, all salaried, paid in natural products, of course, since no currency existed at that time. In every province, a census was ordered to be taken, and arable lands were distributed according to the number of persons in a family, with variations with respect to their ages and sexes. The distribution had to be renewed after the lapse of a certain number of years, paralleled to the renewal of the census. The tax in rice was to be levied commensurate with the area of the lot of land distributed. Additional taxes in silk, flax, or cotton were to be paid both per family and according to the area of the distributed lot. Corvée was also imposed, and any one who did not serve in person was obliged to pay, in rice and textiles for a substitute. Besides these imposts, there were many circumstantial regulations concerning the tribute in horses, equipment of soldiers, use of post-horses, interment of the dead of various ranks, and so forth. These laws and regulations taken together are called the Ohmi laws, from the name of the province into which the Emperor Tenchi had removed his residence.
For three-score years after the promulgation of the reform of Taikwa, there were many fluctuations, sometimes reactionary and sometimes progressive, and many additions and amendments were made to the first enactments published. In general, however, they remained unchanged, and were at last systematized and codified in the second year of the era of Taïhô, that is to say, in 702 A.D. This is what the Japanese historians designate by the name of the Tai-hô Code.
After an impartial comparison of this code with the elaborate legislation of the T'ang dynasty, one cannot deny that the former was mainly a minute imitation of the latter. Preambles and epilogues issued at the time of the first proclamation were taken from passages of the Chinese classics, and there are many phrases in the text itself which plainly betray their Chinese origin. Many regulations were inserted, not on account of their necessity in this country, but only because they were found in the legislation of the T'ang dynasty.
There are of course not a few modifications, which can be discerned when carefully scrutinised, and these modifications are generally to be found in those Chinese laws which were impossible of introduction into our country without change. Some of them, having been planned originally in the largest Empire of the world and in an age as highly civilised as that of the T'ang, were too grand in scale, so that they had to be minimised in order to suit the condition of the island realm. Others had too much of the racial traits of the Chinese to be put at once in operation in a country such as Japan, which on its part had also sundry peculiarities not to be easily displaced by legislation originated in an alien soil. This was especially the case with respect to religious matters. Though it is a question whether Shintoism may be called a religion in the modern scientific sense, it cannot be disputed that it has a strong religious element in it. On that account, it had proved a great obstacle to the propagation of Buddhism, which was the religion embraced at first not by the common people but by men belonging to the upper classes, so that the latter, while earnestly encouraging the inculcation of Buddhism, were obliged to show themselves not altogether indifferent to the old deities. In behalf of the Shinto cult, special dignitaries were appointed, the chief of whom played the same part as the Pontifex Maximus of ancient Rome. Such an institution is purely Japanese and was not to be found in the Chinese model. Apart from these exceptions, however, the reform of the Tai-kwa era was essentially a Japanese imitation of a Chinese original.
What was the result, then, of the reform undertaken partly from national necessity, but partly also from love of imitation? Let me begin with the bright side first.
Whatever be the intrinsic merit of the reform itself, there is no doubt that the reform came from necessity. It was absolutely necessary that Japan, in order to make solid progress, should be centralised politically. The model which the reformers selected was the legislation of a strongly centralised monarchy. In this respect at least it admirably fitted the necessity of Japan at that time. In the year 659, fifteen years after the promulgation of the reform, an organised expedition consisting of a large number of squadrons, was despatched along the coast of the Sea of Japan as far north as the island now called by the name of Hokkaido. In the next year another expedition was sent across the sea to the continental coast, perhaps to the region at the mouth of the Amur. Though the frontier line on the main island was not pushed forward against the Ainu so rapidly as the progress along the western coast, owing to the obstinate resistance of the tribe on the eastern coast, yet the victory was wholly on the side of the Japanese. The removal of the imperial residence by the Emperor Tenchi in the year 667 to the side of lake Biwa, in the province of Ohmi, marks an epoch in the progress of the exploration north-easternward. For the new site, a little distant from the modern town of Ohtsu, is more conveniently situated than the former residences, not only in guarding and pushing the north-eastern frontier, but in keeping connection with the navigation on the Sea of Japan. The inland lake of Biwa, though not large in area, is one which must be counted as something in a country as small as Japan. Until quite recent times, communication between Kyoto, the former capital, and Hokkaido and the northern provinces of Hon-to was maintained, not along the eastern or Pacific shore, but via the Lake and the Sea of Japan. Even the eastern coast of the province of Mutsu seems to have had no direct communication by sea with the centre of the Empire. In order to reach there from the capital, men in old times were obliged to take generally a long roundabout way along the western coast, pass the Strait of Tsugaru, and then turn southward along the Pacific coast. This important highway of the sea route of old Japan was connected with Kyoto by the navigation across lake Biwa. The change of the imperial residence to the neighborhood of Ohtsu, which is the key of the lake navigation routes, had no doubt a great historic significance.
Another remarkable event which contributed much to the remodelling of the state was the total overthrow of the Japanese influence in the Korean peninsula. About the middle of the sixth century Mimana was taken by Shiragi, and with it our prestige in the peninsula suffered a severe loss. Still for some time there remained to Japan a shadow of influence in the existence of the state of Kutara, though the latter was very unreliable as an ally. That state then began to be hard pressed by Shiragi and asked for our help. More than once we sent reinforcements, sometimes numbering more than twenty thousand soldiers. Arms and provisions were also freely given. Owing to the incompetence of the Japanese generals despatched, however, and the perfidious policy of Kutara, our assistance proved ineffective. As a counter to our assistance to Kutara, Shiragi invoked the aid of the T'ang dynasty, which was eager to establish its rule over the peninsula. In the year 650 Kutara was at last destroyed by the co-operation of the army of Shiragi and the navy of the T'ang. Next it was the turn of Kokuri to be invaded by the T'ang army. A Japanese army consisting of more than ten thousand men was sent in order to restore Kutara and to succour Kokuri. In 663 a great naval battle was fought between the Chinese squadrons and ours, ending in the defeat of the latter, for the former, consisting of 170 ships, far outnumbered the Japanese. With this defeat our hope of the restoration of Kutara was finally lost. The remnants of the royal family of Kutara and of the people of that state numbering more than three thousand immigrated into Japan. Kokuri, too, surrendered soon afterwards to the T'ang in 668, and long before this Shiragi had become a tributary state of China. The influence of the T'ang dynasty. prevailed over the whole peninsula.
Since this time we were reduced to defending our interest, not on the Korean peninsula, but by fortifying the islands of Tsushima and Iki and the northern coast of Kyushu. There was no breach of the peace, however, between Japan and China after the naval battle of the year 663, for after the downfall of Kutara we had no imperative necessity to despatch our army abroad, and therefore no occasion to come into collision with the Chinese army in the peninsula. China, on her part, did not wish to make us her enemy.
The rough sea dividing the two countries made it a very hazardous task to try to invade us, even for the emperors of the Great T'ang. A Chinese general who had the duty of governing the former dominion of Kutara sent embassies several times to Japan. At one time an embassy was accompanied by two thousand soldiers as retinue, but the purpose was plainly demonstrative. We also continued to send embassies to China. Peace was thus restored on our western frontier, though under conditions somewhat detrimental to our national honour.
The evacuation of the peninsula was a great respite to our national energy, howsoever it be regretted. First of all, Japan was not yet a match for China of the T'ang. Moreover, to keep up our prestige on the peninsula was too costly a matter for us, even if we had been able to sustain it, and by this evacuation we were saved from squandering the national resources which were not yet at their full. After all, for Japan at that time the urgent necessity lay not in geographical expansion abroad, and affairs on the peninsula were of far less importance when compared with driving the Ainu out of Hon-to. Against an enemy coming from the west, we could defend ourselves without much difficulty, the rough sea being a strong bulwark. It is quite another kind of matter to divide the Hon-to with the Ainu for long. Japan wanted a geographical expansion not without, but within.
The development of political consolidation received also much benefit from our renunciation on the west. Our national progress, and therefore our political concentration, got a great stimulus in the intercourse with the peninsula. If we had, however, meddled with peninsular affairs too long, we would not have been able to turn our attention exclusively to inner affairs. The reform laws had just been published, and they required time to be thoroughly assimilated. Unless amended and supplemented according to practical needs, those laws would be mere black on white, or sources of social confusion. Absolutely and without question we were in need of peace, and that peace was obtained by the evacuation. By this peace the reform legislation could work at its best possible. If it had not enhanced the merit of the new legislation, at least it developed the benefit of the reform to the full, and prevented much evil which might have arisen if it had been otherwise.
On the other hand, the dark side of the reform legislation must not be overlooked. In reality the Chinese civilisation of the T'ang dynasty was one too highly advanced to be successfully copied by Japan, a country which was just in its teens, so to speak, so far as development was concerned. As a rule, the codification of laws in any country denotes a stage in the progress of the civilisation of that country, where it became necessary to turn back and to systematise what had already been attained. In other words, codification is everywhere a retrospective action, and before it be taken up, the civilisation of that particular country should have reached a stage considered the highest possible by the people of that period. Otherwise it can do only harm. When the codification is far ahead of the civilisation the country possesses, then that nation will be obliged to take very hurried steps in order to overtake the stage where the codification stands. It is during these headlong marches that the dislocation of the social and political structure of a state generally takes place. In short, it may be called a national precocity, highly dangerous to a healthy development. The legislation of the T'ang dynasty, in truth, was even for China of that age too much enlightened, idealistic, and circumstantial to be worked with real profit to the state. It was, however, her own creation, while ours was an imitation. It would have been a miracle if Japan could have reaped the full harvest expected by a legislation nearly as advanced and as elaborate as that of the T'ang.
The above remark is especially true as regards the military system. The dynasty of the T'ang was in its beginning a strong military power. Its military system was not bad, so long as it was worked by very strong hands. On the whole, however, the political régime of the dynasty was not such a one as to favour the keeping up of a martial spirit. After the subjugation of the uncivilised tribes surrounding the empire, the martial spirit of the Chinese nation soon relaxed, and the country fell a prey to the invading barbarians whom the Chinese were accustomed to despise. We find in it the exact counterpart of the Roman Empire destroyed by the Germans. For the T'ang dynasty, it had been better to conserve the military spirit a little longer in order to protect the civilisation which it had brought to its zenith.
With stronger reasons, the need of a martial spirit ought to have been emphasised for Japan at that time. The Japanese military ordinance of the reform was modelled after the Chinese system, but of course on a smaller scale. The chief fault, however, was its over-circumstantiality, being even more circumstantial for Japan of that time than the original system was for China herself. Before the reform we had several bands of professional soldiers, which could be easily mobilised. That old system had gone. We had still to fight constantly against the Ainu. Nay, the warfare on that quarter was taken up with renewed activity, and we had to educate, to train the people who were not at all accustomed to military discipline. Having adopted a system resembling conscription, we were always in need of an accurate census. To have an accurate census taken is a very difficult matter even for a highly civilised nation. It must have been especially so for Japan. In the reformed legislation the census was the basis both for the military service and the land-distribution, taxation connected with it. The land distribution system, though there might have been some like element in the original custom of Japan, was yet on the whole another Chinese institution imitated, very circumstantially again. Moreover, though this reform seems to have been enforced throughout all the provinces at once, except the southernmost two, Ohsumi and Satsuma, in most of the provinces the part of the arable land brought under the new system must have been very limited. Perhaps only such land in the neighborhood of each provincial capital might have been distributed regularly. Added to that, the growth of the population and the increase of arable land necessitated a change in the distribution, and in the said legislation a redistribution every six years was provided for that change. In order to carry out this redistribution regularly and adequately a very strong government and wise management were needed. Otherwise either the system would be frustrated, or there would be no improvement of land.
Considered from the side of the people, the new legislation was not welcomed in all ways. New taxes are generally wont to be felt heavier than the accustomed ones. Besides these fresh imposts, military service was demanded, which was quite a novel thing to most of them. In fact, their burden must have been pretty heavy, for they could not enjoy a durable peace at all, on account of the interminable warfare against the Ainu. Many began to lead a roaming life, others avoided legal registration in order to escape from taxation and military service. Before long the fundamental principle of the grand reform collapsed, and a very expensive governmental system remained, which, too, gradually became difficult to be kept up. A change of régime seemed unavoidable.