CHAPTER IX. END OF MEDIAEVAL JAPAN
IN order to see a nation consolidated, it is necessary not only to have a nucleus serving as a centre, towards which the whole nation might converge, but to have at the same time the centralising power of that nucleus strengthened sufficiently to hold the nation solid and compact. Moreover, the constituent parts of that nation ought to have the capacity to respond to the action emanating from that common centre or nucleus towards those parts, and facilitate the reciprocal relation between the centralising and the centralised. More than that. There must be formed strong links between those component parts themselves towards one another. For if each part be linked only to a common centre and estranged from other parts, then there is a great danger of the breaking asunder of the whole, however strong the centralising force of that nucleus might be, and in case of the debilitation of that sole centre, there might remain no other force alive to keep the constituent parts compactly together. To impart, however, the consolidating force to those component parts, they should be instituted each as a separate organism. In other words, unless those parts constitute themselves each an an organic social and political body, provided with the power of acting within and without, they cannot form any close connection among themselves and with the central nucleus; and to be provided with such a power, or to become an organism, each part, too, must have in its turn its own nucleus, around which the rest of that part might converge. To speak summarily, for a strong centralisation there must be, besides one nucleus, or nucleus of the first order, a certain number of nuclei of the second or minor order, and sometimes there must be nuclei of the third and lower orders.
It might be deduced from what is said above that without a sufficient number of local centres, that is to say, without the existence of well-developed minor political organisms, the political centre, however powerful it might be, would not be able to hold a country together, lacking cohesion between those constituent parts. Japan had long been in such a disorderly state which continued until the middle of the Ashikaga period, that is to say, the middle of the fifteenth century. The political influence of Kamakura, though independent of Kyoto, was of very short duration, and Kyoto had continued on the whole as the sole political and social centre. If there had been in the provinces a place worthy to be called a city, besides Kamakura, it could only be sought in Hakata on the northern coast of Kyushu. Other places were hardly to be termed cities, being but little more than sites of periodical fairs at the utmost. The growth of the cities of Sakai and Yamaguchi is of rather later origin, dating from the middle of the Ashikaga age. The Emperor, the Shogun, and one metropolitan city had dominated the whole of the country for a long time, so that, superficially observed, Japan could be said to have been superbly centralised, and therefore excellently unified. In reality, however, the prestige of the Emperor declined, as well as the military power of the Shogunate, and Kyoto, the site of the imperial court and of the military government, lost the political influence it once had possessed. After all, nothing was found influential enough in the earlier Ashikaga age to serve by itself as a means of solidifying the nation, while there had not yet been formed those minor provincial centres around which communities of lesser magnitude might crystallise. Manors, which were the remnants of the former ages, were of course a kind of agricultural communities, and could be considered as social and economical units, but they were politically dependent on their proprietors living in Kyoto or somewhere else outside of those manors, and in cultural respects most of the manors counted almost for nothing. All Japan was thus thrown into a state of chaos, when the military power of the Ashikaga Shogunate was reduced to impotence.
This chaotic period of Japanese history has been generally considered as the retrogressive age of our civilisation, quite in the same sense in which the medieval age in European history has come to be designated as the Dark Ages. It is a great mistake, however, to stigmatise the Ashikaga period as having witnessed no progress in any cultural factor, just as it has been a fatal misconception of early European historians to think that medieval Europe was indeed dark in every cultural respect. Though the classicism of the former ages might seem a civilisation of a far higher stage when compared with the vulgarised culture of the later, or so-called Dark Age, yet the vulgarisation should not be necessarily branded as a backward movement of civilisation. The vulgarisation at least accompanies a wider propagation, a deeper permeation, and the better adaptation to the real social condition of the time, and should not be looked down upon as an absolutely decadent process. In the seemingly anarchical period of the early Ashikaga, Japan had been undergoing, in sooth, an important change in social and cultural respects. Nay, even politically a change of mighty consequence was in course of evolution. Having reached an extreme state of disorder, a germ of fresh order was gradually forming itself out of necessity. That the shugo of this period held sway over a district far more extensive than the land held by any of the shugo of the Kamakura period, is in a sense a remarkble political progress. Yamana, one of the most powerful of the Ashikaga shugo, is said to have possessed about one-sixth of the whole of Japan, and on that account was called Lord One-sixth. Such great feudatories were never possible in the Kamakura period. Most of these grand lords, though living mainly in Kyoto, as was stated in the previous chapter, had their provincial residences, which, too, were not so unpretentious as those of the djito of the Kamakura. Each lord maintained princely state, and around his court, a thriving social life must have grown up, making the beginning of the modern Japanese provincial towns. The governmental sites of the daimyo or feudatories of the Tokugawa period generally find the origin of their urban development in these residences of the shugo of the Ashikaga period.
The trade with China was another cause of the growth of modern Japanese cities, especially of those which are situated by the sea, such as Sakai, Osaka, Nagasaki, and this development of the maritime commercial cities led naturally to the general advancement of the humanistic culture of our country. Our intercourse with China, the fountain-head of the culture of the East, though it had been suspended between the governments since the end of the ninth century, had never been abandoned entirely, and merchant ships had continued to ply between the two countries almost without interruption. During the Kamakura Shogunate too, we have reason to suppose that this steady intercourse livened into considerable activity and bustling profitable to both sides, China, at that epoch of our history, being governed by the Sung and the Yuan dynasties successively. Sanetomo, the second son of Yoritomo and the third Shogun in Kamakura, was said to have built a ship in order to cross over to that country. The port then trading with China was Hakata, and the privileged ships, which were limited in number, must have been under the care and protection of the Shogunate. Those ships carried on board not only commodities of exchange, but passengers also, who were mostly priests. Some of the ships even appear to have been sent solely for trade in behalf of certain Buddhist temples. In this we see again the singular coincidence between the histories of Europe and of Japan. The Levantine trade of the Italian cities in the age of the Crusades counted among its participators many churches and priests also. It is needless to say that those Japanese priests, who went abroad accompanying adventurous merchants and came back loaded with profound religious knowledge, did at the same time conspicuous service in promoting the general culture of our country. What was most remarkable, however, was that there were not a few Chinese Buddhists, who came over to this country and settled here. Their main purpose was of course to propagate the doctrine of the Zen sect, which had got the upper hand in China at that time. They were cordially welcomed by the Shogunate, and later by the Imperial Court too, and were installed in the noted temples of Kamakura and Kyoto as chief priests, and besides their religious activities, these learned men contributed much toward the introduction of contemparary Chinese civilisation in general, in no less degree than did the Japanese priests. Among the various departments of knowledge which these priests imparted to the warriors and courtiers, one of the most important was instruction in the pure Chinese classics and in secular literature. There are still extant in our country not a small number of rare books printed in the Sung and the Yuan dynasty and imported hither at that time, and these manifest how rich in variety were the books then introduced to Japan. The founding of the famous library at Kanazawa near Kamakura, by a learned member of the Hôjô family in a time not far distant from that of the Mongolian invasion, may perhaps be attributed to the influence of some of these priests.
Without doubt the invasion of the Mongolian host put a momentary stop to this mutual intercourse. It seems, however, that the trade with China was revived soon after the war, and continued down to the time of the Ashikaga, without being interrupted materially even by the long civil war. Far from cessation or interruption, the official intercourse between the two states which had been broken off for some years was during this civil war restored to its former amicable condition. It was while the internecine strife was raging over the whole of the island Empire, that a change of dynasty took place in China. The Mongols were driven away to their original abode in the desert, and in their place reigned in China the new dynasty of the Ming, founded by a general of Chinese blood. This founder of the Ming sent an embassy to Japan to announce the inauguration of his line and to secure the coast of his empire from inroads and pillage by Japanese pirates, who, since several centuries, had been ravaging the Korean and then the Chinese coast, and became especially rampant during the civil war, being let loose by the unexampled lawless state of our country. The ambassador of the Chinese emperor, however, could not at once reach Kyoto, which was his destination. For at that time in Kyushu ruled an imperial prince who was a scion of the branch antagonistic to that which reigned in the metropolis supported by the Ashikaga, and the prince-governor, as he was then the master of the historic trading port of Hakata, intercepted the Chinese ambasdor on his way, received him, and sent him back. This happened in the year 1369. Seven years afterwards this very prince sent an envoy to the Chinese government, perhaps with the object of obtaining some material assistance from beyond the sea, in order to make himself strong enough to overpower his enemy in Japan, the Ashikaga party. As the sender was a prince of the blood imperial, the envoy sent by him seems to have been regarded as if he were the representative of the real government of Japan, and the intercourse between the two countries thus began to take official form again. When the civil war ended in the ultimate victory of the Ashikaga party and the annihilation of all its opponents, this international relation initiated by the prince of Kyushu was taken up by Yoshimitsu, the third Shogun of the Ashikaga, who sent an embassy to the Chinese government of the Ming in the year 1401. After this we see successive exchanges of embassies between the Chinese government and our Ashikaga Shogunate, the latter vouchsafing the orderliness of our trading people on the Chinese coast and promising to bridle the piratical activities of our adventurers, and the former giving in return munificent presents to the Shogunate. At that time what our forefathers suffered most from was the scarcity of coins, for although the beginning of the coinage in our country is so old that it has been lost in the remotest past, yet for a long period not enough care was exercised to provide the country with sufficient money in coins of different denominations to cover the necessities of the growing industries. No wonder that the presents of copper coins by the emperors of the Ming were gladly received by the Shogunate, and this Chinese money, together with that obtained by sale of our commodities, was in wide circulation throughout Japan, many of them having remained to this day, and served as auxiliary coins. Among other things of Chinese provenance earnestly coveted by us, perhaps the most desired were books. Besides these two articles, copper coins and books, many rarities and useful commodities must have been imported by these ships, which carried the envoys on board, and rendered a not insignificant service in altering for the better the general ways of living of the people of our country.
The chief emporium of the trade with China in the early Ashikaga period was of course Hakata in Kyushu as before. As the family of the Ôuchi, however, held the strait of Shimonoseki, the gateway of the Inland Sea, and as Hakata itself came afterwards under the rule of the same family, the Chinese trade had been for a long time controlled or rather monopolised by this lord of the province of Nagato. The prosperity of the inland city of Yamaguchi, the residential seat of the Ôuchi family, is to be ascribed also to the same circumstance. Moreover, the growth of the port of Sakai in the easternmost recess of the Inland Sea owes its origin to the fact that the city was once under the lordship of the same Ôuchi, and a close historical connection was thereby created between it and the port of Shimonoseki. It was by the co-operation of many other political causes, however, that the centre of the foreign trade was shifted from Hakata to Sakai, and when intercourse with western nations was opened, it was the latter and not the former, which became the staple market of import and export.
The growth of the Japanese cities, actuated by the political and commercial conditions of the country as stated above, is a phenomenon which had much to do with the progress of our civilisaion in general. Notwithstanding the manifold drawbacks necessarily accompanying urban life, cities have been, since very ancient times, one of the most potent agents in the history of the East as well as of the West, in raising the general standard of culture to a high level. Rural life, whatever sonorous praise be chanted for it, would not have been able by itself to elevate the standard of manners and behaviour much above a blunt rustic naïveté. In this respect we can observe a remarkable difference between the Ashikaga and the preceding ages, a difference quite similar in nature to that which existed between the eleventh and the twelfth centuries in the history of Europe. The sudden increase, in Japan, of printed books in number and variety shows it more than clearly.
The history of printing in Japan goes back to the middle of the eighth century, but at the beginning the matter printed was limited to detached leaflets. What was printed the earliest in the form of a book and is still extant, bears the date of 1088. After that, however, very few books had been printed for a long time. Moreover, those few were exclusively religious. It was in the year 1247 that one of the commentaries on the Lun-yü, the famous work of the teachings of Confucius, was put into a reprint, after the model of a contemporary Chinese edition, that is to say, of the Sung age. That this non-religious or non-Buddhist work was first edited in Japan in the middle of the Kamakura period, proves the enlargement of the circle of readers in Chinese classics by the participation of the warrior-class. Such editing of secular Chinese works, however, was discontinued for three-quarters of a century, and was not resumed until 1322, only ten years before the outbreak of the long civil war. The book printed at the latter date was after one of the Chinese editions of the Shu-king, another piece of Confucian literature. This was followed by the reprinting of many other non-religious Chinese works. The civil war too astonishes us not only in that it did not hinder the continuance of the reprints of useful Chinese originals, but also in that the number of books reprinted has suddenly increased in general since this period. Among the books issued during the war, a commentary on the Lun-yü, of a text different from that above mentioned, and said to have been made at Sakai, was the most remarkable. The edition was dated 1364, and reprinted again and again in several places. In this case the place where the printing was first undertaken demands also our attention. Hitherto almost all the books had been published in Kyoto, except some tomes of Buddhist literature, which occasionally had been edited in the convents at Nara or Kôya. But now printing began to be undertaken not only in these historical and sacred places, but in purely commercial cities of quite recent growth, as Sakai. It is said that about this time several kinds of books of Chinese literature were edited in the city of Hakata, and that it was a naturalised Chinese who had started the undertaking there. Another tradition tells us that two Chinese block- engravers came and settled at Hakata, and engaged in their professional business, which contributed much to the increase of reprinted books. Shortly after the civil war, in the beginning of the fifteenth century, books were printed in other places more remotely situated in the provinces, such as Yamaguchi and Ashikaga. The last- named was the cradle of the Shogunate House of the Ashikaga, and there just at this time a college was founded, or according to some, restored, by Norizane Uyesugi, one of the most influential retainers of the Shogunate in eastern Japan. Thus, in the latter half of the fifteenth century, the reprinting of Chinese classics became a fashion throughout the empire. In addition to the ever-increasing number of books reprinted at Kyoto and Sakai, we find now those printed at places as far remote as Kagoshima in the west. In the east there seems to have lived in the neighborhood of Odawara, a new political centre, at least one engraver, engaged in block-cutting for books.
Summing up what has been stated above, the increase of the number of book-editing localities meant the increase of minor cultural centres in the provinces, that is to say, the wider diffusion of civilisation in the empire.
Another important fact to be specially noticed is that the varieties of books reprinted became gradually multifarious. Though those books printed in the Ashikaga age were mostly reproductions of Chinese works, and very few purely Japanese books were edited until the end of the age, yet those Chinese works themselves, which were reprinted, became more and more diversified in kind. Not only Buddhist and Confucian classics, and works of purely literary character, especially poetical works and books on versification, but several medical works also were reprinted and issued in the later Ashikaga age. The study of medicine had been revived since the civil war by the intercourse with China, and soon after the war, some Japanese students went abroad to learn the science there. The reprinting of medical books, therefore, was to be considered as a token of the growing necessity for medical students ever increasing in our country, and the beginning of the revival of scientific education.
As to the works of Japanese authors which were put into print, the first publication seems to have been that of religious treatise in Chinese by the priest Hônen, printed at the beginning of the Kamakura period, and the work was many times reprinted afterwards. Another work by the same priest, which was written in Japanese, was issued at the end of the same period. During the civil war numerous works, mostly in Chinese, by the Japanese Zen priests were published, among which the history of Buddhism in Japan, entitled the Genkô-shakusho, was the most noteworthy, and was therefore reprinted over and over again. A chronological table of the history of Japan, and two editions of the Jôyei Laws were subsequently printed. A text-book for children, to train them in the use of Chinese ideographs, was first printed at the close of the Ashikaga period, and the demand for the appearance of such a book proves that the education of children began to arouse the general attention.
From what is said above, we can safely conclude that during the course of the Ashikaga period, the level of civilisation of our country had been raised in a marked degree, and that at the same time there arose one after another numerous cultural centres in the provinces, which were in their main features nothing but Kyoto on a small scale, but nevertheless contributed not the least to the betterment of national civilisation in general owing to their common rivalry. One would perhaps entertain some doubt as to the veracity of the assertion, that in an age such as of the Ashikaga, when political anarchy was in full play, so remarkable an advancement had been steadily achieved by our forefathers. If he would, however, look at the history of the Italian renaissance, then he would not be at a loss to see that political disorder does not necessarily thwart the progress of civilisation, but on the contrary often stimulates it.
The territories owned by great feudatories or daimyo in the Ashikaga age were by no means compact entities definitely bounded. Their frontiers constantly shifted to and fro according to frequently recurring waxings and wanings in strength of this or that daimyo, and these fluctuations depended, in their turn, on the results sometimes of petty skirmishes and sometimes of political intrigues, so that an unwavering steadiness was the least thing to be expected at that time. This politically unsettled condition of Japan, however, was in a certain sense a boon to our country, for it took away all the hindrances which lay in the way of internal communication, and paved the path to the ultimate political unity of the empire. I do not say of course that travelling at that time was quite safe from any kind of molestation, but the main obstacles to communication were rather of a social than of a political nature. In other words, they were of kinds which could not be got rid of in a like stage of civilisation, even if Japan had been politically not dismembered, and adventurous merchants did not shrink from facing such difficulties. No need to speak of those piratical traders, who went out from the western islands and the coastal regions of the Inland Sea on their devastating errands to the Korean and the Chinese coasts. The less warlike merchants ventured to trade with the Ainu, who had retired into the island of Hokkaidô, and had not been heard of since the beginning of the Ashikaga period.
Among the itinerants travelling a long distance may be counted the professional literati also, the experts in the art of composing the renga, the short Japanese poems. They went about through. out the provinces, visiting feudal lords in their castles, teaching them the literary pastimes, thus imparting their first lesson in æsthetic education to those who had never tasted it. Courtiers, too, weakminded as they were, travelled great distances, to call on some rich bourgeois or powerful daimyo, who were thinking of becoming their munificent patrons, and taught them, besides the afore-said art of composing Japanese poems, the sport of kicking leather balls and other leisurely pastimes which had been the favourites among the courtiers in Kyoto, and received in return a generous hospitality and fees for the lessons which they gave. Buddhist priests were the third set of busy travellers of the time. Missionary activities had not much relaxed since the Kamakura period, though no influential sect had been started in this age. Every nook and corner of the island empire had received the footprints of these religious itinerants, and some of the more enterprising priests even crossed the sea to the island of what is now Hokkaido in order to preach to the Ainu dwelling there. Pilgrims to the shrines of Ise, where the ancestress of the Imperial line was enshrined, may also be counted among the busy interprovincial travellers.
All these wanderers served not only to transmit to distant provincial towns the culture engendered and nourished in the metropolis, but also to make the intercourse between the minor cultural centres more intimate than before, so as to spread a civilisation of a uniform standard and nature throughout the whole of the empire. Japan was thus for the first time unified in her civilisation in order to prepare herself for a solid political unification.
Let me repeat that Japan of the Ashikaga age had within herself no constant political boundaries nor any other artificial barriers to impede the people of one province nor of the territory of one daimyo from going to another province or the territory of another daimyo, and this, in a great measure, facilitated communications between the inhabitants of different provinces. The fact that the college at Ashikaga in eastern Japan was, notwithstanding its insufficient accommodation, thronged with pupils from various parts of the country, even from a province so far off from Kyoto as Satsuma, proves that bad roads and poor means of conveyance did not obstruct the Japanese of that time from traversing great distances in order to get a liberal education, and such activity and lively traffic would naturally tend to the formation of big emporiums here and there within the empire. Unfortunately the geographical features of our country did not allow it to see a great number of such large commercial cities formed within it, as the Hanseatic towns had been formed in medieval Germany, although we find very close resemblances between Germany of the twelfth and of the thirteenth century and Japan under the Ashikaga régime as regards their political conditions. The only one of the Japanese cities which had ever attained such a height of prosperity as to be fairly matched with the free cities of the Hansa was Sakai in the province of Idzumi.
The city of Sakai, as its name, which means in the Japanese tongue "the Boundary," denotes, was situated just on the boundary line of the two adjoining provinces Settsu and Idzumi, and at the quondam estuary of the river Yamato. The frontier-line, however, and the course of the river, were afterwards changed, so that the city is now entirely included within the province of Idzumi, and there is no river running near the city. The fact that it was once a border town shows that it could never have been the seat of the provincial government. Neither had it ever been the residence of any powerful feudal lord during the whole military régime. Moreover, nature has bestowed no special favour on the city. The bay of Sakai is very widely open, affording no protection against the west wind. In addition to that, it has been very shallow since old times. Even in an undeveloped stage of ship-building, the port was unfit for the mooring of vessels of a size as large as the junks trading with China were at that time, so that they had to be equipped somewhere else in a neighbouring harbour, and then brought and anchored far off from the shore in the bay of Sakai. The only geographical advantage of the port lay in the fact that the shortest sea-route to the island of Shikoku started thence. The first impulse to the development of the city seems to have been given during the civil war, for it was the nearest access to the sea for one of the parties which had its stronghold in the mountainous region of the province of Yamato, adjacent to Idzumi. At the end of the war, the port came, as before stated, under the rule of the family of Ouchi, and from Ôuchi it passed into the hands of the family of Hosokawa, also one of the chief vassals of the Ashikaga Shogunate, holding the north-eastern part of the island of Shikoku, and Sakai serving the family always as the landing-place of its followers, when they were on their way to Kyoto, to pay their respects to the Shogun or to fight there for their own interests. On account of this usefulness the harbour-city of Sakai had been granted privileges by the hereditary chief of the Hosokawa, as a recompense for the assistance given by the merchants of the city, and those same privileges, in extent, amounted to almost as much as the municipal freedom enjoyed by the free cities of Europe. The administration of the city was in the hands of a few wealthy merchants, and was rarely interfered with by its feudal lord. Among the merchants there were ten, at first, who monopolised the municipal government, each of them being very rich as the proprietors of certain storehouses on the beach, the rents of which paid them a good income. In the later Ashikaga age, however, we hear the names of the thirty-six municipal councillors of Sakai. This increase in the number might perhaps have been the result of the growth in opulence of the citizens. In short, though the city had been under the oligarchical rule of the wealthy merchants of the city, like Venice and Florence in medieval Italy, yet it was none the less autonomous, which is quite an exceptional case in the whole course of the history of our country.
The golden age of the city of Sakai dates from the year 1476 or thereabouts, when a squadron trading with China first sailed out from the harbour. Until that time all the vessels plying between this country and China used to set out from Hakata or from Hyogo, which is nearly the same thing as Kobe. Although the adventurous merchants of Sakai carried their trade before this time as far as the islands of Loo-choo, and often participated in the Chinese trade also, yet no vessel had ever started from there for China till then. That Sakai became at this date a chief trading port dealing with China might presumably have been owing to the intercession of its hereditary lord Hosokawa, but the determining cause of this assumption of such an honourable position among the commercial cities of Japan must have been the indisputable superiority of the material strength of the city. Many of the higher vassals of the Shogunate borrowed money from the merchants of Sakai in order to equip their soldiers. Nay, even the Shogunate itself had often to mortgage its landed estates to the merchants of the city in order to save its treasury from running short. The wealth of the citizens enabled them to fortify their city very strongly, by surrounding it with a deep moat, and to enlist into their service a great number of knights-errant, who abounded in Japan at that time. These, together with the consciousness of indispensable assistance rendered to the Shogunate, to various great feudatories and condottieri, emboldened the citizens to defy the otherwise formidable military powers, and those warriors, on the other hand, who owed much to the pecuniary aid of the Sakai merchants, could but treat the latter with great consideration, which was unwonted at that time. Although the citizens of Sakai were not entirely free from the sufferings of the war, for they had often to quarter soldiers in their houses, yet no battle was allowed to be fought within the city, notwithstanding that a most sanguinary war was raging all around in the empire.
It was natural, therefore, that, after the civil war of the Ohnin era, Sakai should be considered safer to live in than Kyoto. Sakai became the asylum for the civilisation of Japan, to save it from utter destruction. Poets, painters, musicians, and singers, who had found living in the turbulent metropolis intolerably hard, sought shelter in Sakai, and there occupied themselves quietly with their own professions. Various handicrafts, such as lacquering, porcelain-making, and weaving were all started there with enormous success. Especially as to the weaving, it is said that this industry, which had once flourished and been afterwards abandoned in Kyoto on account of the political disturbances there, was not only continued at Sakai, but also improved by the Chinese weavers, who repaired to the city and taught the natives the art of making various costly textiles of Chinese invention. In some respects the textiles of the Nishijin, now one of the specialties of Kyoto, may be said to be the continuation of the Sakai looms.
Another kind of industry, which developed in the city in the later Ashikaga period, was the manufacture of fire-arms. Immediately after the introduction of fire-arms by a Portuguese in the year 1541, a merchant of Sakai happened to learn the art of making guns somewhere or other in Kyushu, and after his return to the city he began to practise there the business he had learnt. Sakai thus became the origin of the propagation, in central and eastern Japan, of the use of the new arm.
From what has been described above, the reader would easily understand that the intellectual level of the citizens of Sakai stood much higher than that of the average Japanese of that time. Wit and pleasantry were the accomplishments highly prized there, so that the city produced out of its inhabitants a large number of versatile diplomatists, story-tellers, and buffoons. As their economic conditions were very easy, the social life of the city was polished, enlightened, and even luxurious. The manufacture of saké, the Japanese favourite drink made from rice, was highly developed in the city, and the fame of the Sakai-tub was renowned the country round. To protect the brewers, the Shogunate issued an order forbidding the importation of saké into the city. The tea-ceremony and the flower-trimming, two fashionable pastimes already in vogue at that time, were eagerely practised here by wealthy merchants. Many famous experts in this sort of amusement were found among the inhabitants of the city, and they were generally connoisseurs highly skilled in the fine arts, as Sen-no-Rikyû, for example. Various curios, native and foreign, were bought and sold there at exorbitant high prices.
The prosperous condition of the city induced many Buddhists, especially the priests of the Jôdo-shinshû, the most active sect of Japanese Buddhism at that time, to try their propaganda in the city. They had numerous temples built, and by lending to the merchants their influence at the Shogun's court obtained from it the privilege of trading with China, thus making common cause with the citizens of that port. The earlier Christian missionaries, too, endeavoured to make this city the centre of their movement. It was indeed at the end of the year 1550, that Francis Xavier, who was not only the greatest missionary whom Japan has ever received from the West, but also one of the greatest men in the world too, arrived at the city from Yamaguchi on his way to Kyoto. Though he could achieve nothing noteworthy during his short stay here, on account of illness, yet by him the first seed of Christianity was sown in the central regions of the empire, and ten years later the first Christian hymn was sung in the church founded in the city.
The civilisation of the city of Sakai represented that of the whole empire in the later Ashikaga age, manifested in its most glaring colours. The essential character of the civilisation was not aristocratic, but bourgeois. The lower strata of the people still had nothing to do with it. It is true that we can recognise already at this period the beginning of the proletariat movement. The frequent disturbances raised by apaches in the streets of Kyoto and the insurrections of agricultural workers in the provinces, remind us of the Peasants' War in the time of the Reformation in Europe. Their demands as well as their connection with the religious agitation of the time closely resembled those of the followers of Goetz von Berlichingen. They could not, however, secure any permanent result by their insurrections, so that the character of the civilisation remained essentially bourgeois, not having suffered any marked change from those disturbances.
The civilisation of the bourgeois cannot but be individualistic, and its main difference from that of the aristocracy lies also herein. It has been so in Europe, and it could not have been otherwise in our country. The fact that individualism got the upper hand in the Ashikaga age may be proved by a phenomenon in the history of Japanese art. Portrait-painting had made some progress already in the Kamakura period, as was stated in the foregoing chapter. The artistic development in this branch of painting made it independent of religious pictures. The portraitpaintings of the age, however, even those executed by such eminent masters as Takanobu and Nobuzane, are only images of the typical courtier or warrior, not to mention the stiffness of the style. Very little of the individuality of the persons represented was manifested in them. The scrollpaintings, to which the attention of most of the artists of the age was directed, contained pictures of many persons, but to depict scenes was the chief aim of scroll-paintings, so that no serious pains were taken in the delineation of individuals. That portrait-painting remained thus long in an undeveloped stage cannot be explained away simply by the tardiness of the progress of arts in general. The chief cause must be attributed to the fact that the contemporary civilisation was lacking in individualistic elements. Unless there is a rise of the individualistic spirit in a certain measure, no real progress in portraiture can be expected.
In the Ashikaga period, a large number of scroll-paintings had been produced as before, but they were mostly inferior in quality to those of the preceding age. On the other hand, we notice a vast improvement in the portrait-painting of this period. It may be due to some extent to the influence of the Zen sect, the sect which prevailed among the upper class of that time, for its creed is said to be strongly individualistic. Mainly, however, it must have come from the general spirit of the age, which, though it could not be said to have been free from the influence of the same sect, was induced to become individualistic more by social and economical reasons than by religious ones. By painters of the schools of Tosa and Kano were painted numerous portraits of eminent personages, such as the Shogun, courtiers, great feudatories, priests, especially of the Zen sect, literati, artists, experts in tea-ceremony, and so forth. Their pictures were generally made after death by order of the near relatives, friends, vassals or disciples of the deceased, to be a memorial of the person whom they adored or revered. Not a small number of those paintings are extant to this day, showing vividly the characteristics of those illustrious figures in Japanese history.
The political anarchy combined with the individualistic tendency of the age could not fail to lead to the moral dissolution of the people. To the same effect, too, the literature of the time, which was a revival of that of the Fujiwara period, contributed. The classical authors of Japanese literature at the height of the Fujiwara period were now perused, commented upon, and elucidated with devouring eagerness, the most adored among them being Murasaki-Shikibu, whose famous novel, Genji-monogatari, was regarded mystically and held to be almost divine. The nature of this literature was for the most part realistic, or rather sentimental, verging sometimes on sensuality. It was, however, clad in the exquisitely refined costume of beautiful diction and choice turns of phrase, borrowed or metamorphosed from the inexhaustible stores of Chinese literature. As to the revived form of literature in the Ashikaga period, the difference between it and that of the old time was so remarkable, that it could not be overlooked. Vulgarisation usurping the place of refinement, and coarse sensuality reigning rampant was the outcome of the cultivation of the classical literature. The moral tone of the stories and novels produced in this decadent age unmistakably reflects how low was the ebb of the sense of decency of that period, fostered by the naturalistic tendency manifested in the Fujiwara classics.
These depict the dark side of the age, but in order not to be one-sided in my judgment, let me tell also about its bright side. The culture of the Ashikaga had from the beginning a trend to grow more and more humanistic as it approached the end of the period. One more aspect in the history of Japanese painting proves it to the full. Landscapes and still-life pictures, which had been formerly painted only as the accessories of religious images or as the background in the scroll paintings, before which the main subjects, that is to say, the personages in stories were made to play, began now to form by themselves each a special independent group of subjects for painting. This shows that the people of the time had already entered a cultural stage able to enjoy the arts for art's sake. Many pictures of such a kind by the brush of noted Chinese masters were imported into our country, and several clever Japanese artists also painted after them. Some of our artists, like Sesshû, went over to China to study the art of painting there. The differentiation of the school of Kano from the older Tosa was another result of this development. Most of these pictures were executed in the form of kakemono, or hanging pictures, so called from their being hung in a special niche of a drawing room or a study. Screens, or byobu, mounted with pictures, became also a fashion. In general, the furnishing of a house was now a matter of a certain educated taste, and various systems were devised and formulated by accomplished experts.
The delicacy of the æsthetic sense in indoor- life was moreover enhanced by the laborious etiquette of fashionable tea-parties held by aristocrats and bourgeois alike. The tea-plant itself is said to have been introduced from China into our country in the reign of the Emperor Saga, that is to say, at the beginning of the ninth century. Its use, however, as the daily beverage was of a far later date. Yôsai, the founder of the Zen sect in Japan, wrote in the early Kamakura period a commendation on tea as the healthiest drink of all. Still, for a long while after him, tea seems to have been used exclusively by Buddhists as a tonic. It was in the Ashikaga age that tea came first into general use among the well-to-do classes of the people. As the production of it was, however, not so abundant as now, it was not used daily as at present, but occasionally, with an etiquette conducted with exquisitely refined taste, both hosts and guests rivalling one another in displaying their artistic acquirements by delivering extempore speeches in criticism of the various articles of art exhibited, or in amusing themselves with mystic dialogues of the Zen creed, or the lively exchange of witty repartees.
After all, the tendency of the culture of the later Ashikaga period was in the main humanistic. There was no political authority so firmly constituted, nor were conventional morals of the time so rigorous, as to be able to put an effective check on any liberal thinker, nor to intervene in the daily life of the people. Thought and action in Japan has never been more free than in that age. That Christianity could find innumerable converts from one end of the empire to the other within half a century after its introduction, may be accounted for by supposing that the ground for it had been prepared long before by this exceedingly humanistic culture. In this respect we see the dawn of modern Japan already in the later Ashikaga age. What a striking similarity to the Italian renaissance! Japan was now in the throes of travail-the time for a new birth was fast approaching. Conditions on the whole were favourable. All that was wanted for this were the moral regeneration of the people and the political reconstruction of the Empire.