CHAPTER X. THE TRANSITION FROM MEDIAEVAL TO MODERN JAPAN
ANARCHY engendered peace at least. At the end of the Ashikaga Shogunate the minor territorial lords, who had sprung up out of the impotency of the Shogun, were swallowed up one after another by the more powerful ones. The rights of manorial holders, that is to say, of court- nobles, shrines, and temples, over estates legally their own, though long since fallen into a condition of semi-desuetude, were active, sensitive, yet powerful enough in the middle of the period to withstand the attempted encroachments of those territorial lords, who were de jure only managers of the estates entrusted to their care; but those rights began in course of time to lose their enforcing power, and were finally set at naught by the all-powerful military magnates. The link between the estates and their proprietors was thus virtually cut off, and each territory, which was in truth an agglomeration of several estates, came to stand as one body under the rule of a military lord, without any reservation to his right. In other words, each territory became a domain of a lord pure and simple, and it may be best explained by imagining a quasi-sovereign state in Europe formed by joining together a certain number of ecclesiastical domains, the lands of which were contiguous. It is true that the size of such territories varied, ranging from one so big as to contain several provinces down to petty ones comprising only a few villages; their boundaries, too, shifted from time to time. Notwithstanding this diversity in size and the inconstancy of the frontier-lines, these territories were similar to one another in their main nature, no more complicated by intricate manorial systems. If, therefore, there appeared at once some irrresistable necessity for national unification or some great historical figure, whose ability was equal to the task of achieving the work, Japan could now be made a solid national state far more easily than at any earlier period.
Besides this facilitation of the political unity, what most contributed to the settling of the general order was the resuscitation of the moral sense of the nation. The highly advanced Chinese civilisation introduced into our country at a time when it was comparatively naíve, had an effect which could not be termed exactly in all respects wholesome. The morals of the people, whose mode of life was simplicity itself, not having yet tasted the sumptuousness of civilised life, excelled those of higher civilised nations in veracity, soberness, and courage. Lacking, however, in the firm consciousness which must accompany any virtue of a standard worthy of sincere admiration, these attributes of the ancient Japanese, though laudable in themselves, could have no high intrinsic value, and were inadequate to stem the enervating influence of the elegantly developed alien civilisation introduced later on into the country. The ethical ties, which are indispensable at any time for maintaining the social order in a healthy condition, were gradually reduced to a state of utter dissolution in the later or over-refined stage of the Fujiwara period, especially among the upper classes. With the attainment of political power by the warrior class in the formation of the Kamakura Shogunate, there shimmered once some hope of the reawakening of the moral spirit, for fidelity and gratitude, which were the cardinal virtues of the Kamakura warriors, were efficient factors in refreshing and invigorating a society which had once fallen into a despicable languor and demoralisation. The ascendency of these bracing forces, however, was but transitory. This disappointment came not only from the shortness of the duration of the genuine military régime at Kamakura, but also from another reason not less probable. The admirable virtues of the warriors were the natural outcome of the peculiar private circumstances created in the fighting bodies of the time, and were on that account essentially domestic in their nature. As long as these warriors remained, therefore, mere professional fighters and tools in the hands of court nobles, the moral ties binding leaders and followers as well as the esprit de corps among these followers themselves had very slight chance of coming into contact with politics. In short, the majority of these warriors were not acquainted with public life at all, so that they were at a loss how to behave themselves as public men when, as the real masters of the country, they found themselves obliged to deal with political affairs. Public affairs are generally prone to induce men even of high probity to put undue importance upon the attainment of end, rather than to make them scrupulous about the means of arriving at that end; and if the moral sense of the people is not developed enough to guard against this injurious infection of private life from the meddling with public affairs, then their inborn and yet untried virtues may often fail to assert themselves against the influence of the depravity which can find its way more easily into public than into private life. Such was the case with the warriors of the Kamakura age. Through their ascendency the martial spirit of the nation, which had languished somewhat under the rule of the Fujiwara nobles, was once more revived, but their descendants at the end of that Shogunate could not be so brave and simple- hearted as their forefathers were. The extinction of the Minamoto family, too, relieved these warriors of their duty as hereditary liegemen of the Shogun, for henceforth both the Shogun, who was now of a different family from that of the Minamoto, and the Hôjô, the real master of the Shogunate, were to them superiors only in official relations. This disappearance of the object on which the fidelity of the warriors used to concentrate, made fidelity itself an empty virtue. At least among the circle of warriors in the age in which fidelity was everything and all other virtues were but ancillary to it, this loss must have been a great drawback to the improvement of the morality of the nation. The demoralisation of the influential class had thus set in since the latter part of the Kamakura age. No wonder that during the civil war which ensued many of the prominent warriors changed sides very frequently, almost without any hesitation, obeying only the dictates and suggestions of their private interests. That this civil war, which ended without any decisive battle being fought, could drag on for nearly a century, may be best understood by taking this recklessness of the participants into consideration. The inconsistency in their attitude or the want of fidelity towards those to whom they ought to be faithful was not restricted to their transactions in public affairs only, but extended also to the recesses of their family life. Parents could no more confide in their own children, nor husband in his wife, and masters had always to be on guard against betrayal by their servants. After the civil war there were many periods of intermittent peace in the first half of the Ashikaga régime, but that was not a result of the firm and strong government of the Shogun. They were rather lulls after storms, brought about by the weariness felt after a long anarchy.
The culmination of this deplorable condition of national demoralisation falls to the epoch of the next civil war, that is to say, of the Ohnin era. It is in this period that we witness a great development of the spy system and of the usage of taking hostages as a security against breach of faith. Even such means, however, proved often inefficient to guard against the unexpected treachery of supposed intimate friends, or a sudden attack from the rear by trusted neighbours. Desertion, though not recommended as a laudable action, was nevertheless not considered a detestable infamy, especially when it was carried out anterior to the pitching of the camps against the enemy, and deserters or betrayers were generally welcomed and loaded with munificent rewards by, their new masters. Was it possible that such a ruthless state could continue for long without any counteraction? If any one had once betrayed his first master for the sake of selfish interests, could he claim after that to be a sort of person able to enjoy the implicit confidence of his second master? Examples of repeated breaches of faith abound in the history of the time. It was from the general unreliableness caused by such habitual acts of treachery, that the practice of giving quarter to deserters and facile surrenderers began gradually to diminish. And the result was that the danger of being killed after having surrendered or capitulated became a cause to induce those warriors, who would otherwise have easily given up their master's cause, to remain true to him to the end. This is one of the reasons why, after so long a domination of this miserable defmoralisation, we begin frequently to come upon those beautiful episodes which showed the solidarity of clans admirably maintained and the utter loyalty of vassals to their lord, fighting to the death under his banner. The process, however, of ameliorating the morals of the nation should not begin from the relation of master and servant, but slowly start from within families. One could not refrain from feeling the imperative necessity of trustworthy mutual dependence among members connected by ties of blood, amidst the dreary environs in which no hearty confidence could be put in any one with safety. That the Hsiao-king, a Chinese moral book treating of the merits of filial piety, was widely read in educated circles of the time, and that several editions of the same book have been published since the middle of the Ashikaga period, show how great a stress was put on the encouragement of domestic duties. With the family, made a compact body, as the starting point, the reorganisation of social and national morals was thus set on foot. The growth of the tendency of liegemen to share the same fate as their lord is to be looked upon as a kind of extension of this family solidarity, as it came not from the consideration of the mere relation between a master and his servants, but rather from that of the hereditary transmittal of such a relation on both sides, just as it was at the beginning of the Kamakura Shogunate. There was no doubt therefore that the smaller the size of the territory of a lord, the easier the consummation of the process of its compact consolidation, which was necessarily cemented by a close mutual attachment between the lord of that territory and his dependents within and without his family. Not only that. If that territory was small and weak, and in constant danger of being destroyed or annexed by powerful neighbours, then the same process of consolidation was effected very swiftly. The territory in the province of Mikawa, which was owned by the family of the Tokugawa, was one of many such instances. This territory was so small in size, that it did not cover more than a half of the province, and moreover it was surrounded by the domains belonging to the two powerful families of Oda and Imagawa on the west and east, so that the small estate of the Tokugawa family was constantly harassed by them, and maintained as a protectorate now by the one and then by the other of the two. On that account nowhere else was there a stronger demand for a close affinity between a territorial lord and his men, than in this domain of the Tokugawa's. Consequently we see there not only an early progress in territorial consolidation, but along with it the resuscitation of an acute moral sense, especially in the direction necessary and compatible to the maintenance and development of a military state.
The reawakening of the high moral sense in the nation and the formation of compact self- constituted territories, virtually independent but amply liable to the influence of unifying forces, were the phenomena in the latter half of the Ashikaga period. That the country was slow in becoming nationalised and unified must be attributed to the insufficiency of that reawakening and the insolidity of those quasi-independent territories. The general culture of the time, which was humanistic in nature, was powerless for the moment to facilitate this movement which was national and moral at the same time. Humanistic as it was, it was able to pervade the provinces, and gave to Japan a uniform colour of culture. That was already, indeed, a stride forward on the way to national unification. Nay, it may be said that the impulse to that very unification was given by that very culture. Generally, however, the humanistic culture of any form has no particular state of things as its practical goal, and therefore cannot necessarily lead to an improvement in the morals of any particular nation, nor does it always stimulate the desire for the national unification of a certain country. On the contrary, it often counteracts these movements, and seemingly contributes toward accelerating the demoralisation and dismemberment of a nation, for individualism and selfishness get often the upper hand when such a culture becomes ascendant. The fruit which the Renaissance of the Quattrocento bore to Italians was just of this sort, and the direct influence which the humanistic culture of the later Ashikaga produced on Japan was not very much different from that. The culture, which had spread widely all over Japan, rather tended to loosen moral ties, and at least diminished the social stability. Persons, of a character morally most depraved, such as traitors, murderers, and so forth, were not infrequently men of high culture. Most of the rebellious servants of the Ashikaga Shogun were said to have been highly-accomplished literati. Some of them were addicted to the perusal of the sensational novels produced in the golden age of classical literature in Japan, such as the Ise- and the Genji-monogatari, and others were composers of short poems fashionable in those days, rejoicing at their own display of flighty wit, while not a few of them were liberal patronisers of the contemporary art, especially of painting. What a striking parallelism to those Popes and their nephews, in the time of the Renaissance, whose patronising of arts is as renowned as their atrocious vices!
If the culture inborn or borrowed from China was unable to save the country from a moral and political crisis, what was the fruit borne by the seeds of the new exotic culture, that is to say, of Christianity, sown just at this juncture? I will not dilate here on the relation between religion and morality in general. Suffice it to say that religious people are not always virtuous. Bigots are generally men of perverse character, and mostly vicious. This is a truism. It has been so with Buddhism and many other religions. Why should it be otherwise only in the case of Christianity? As regards the general culture of our country, the introduction of Christianity is a very important historical fact, the influence of which can by no means be overlooked. Though the secular culture which was introduced into Japan as the accessory of the Christian propaganda was of a very limited nature, and though the free acceptance of it was cut short soon after its circulation, yet this new element of civilisation brought over by the missionaries was much more than a drop in the ocean. However difficult it be to perceive the traces of the Western culture in the spirit of the age which was to follow, it cannot be denied that it left, after all, some indelible mark on our national history. That it had spread within a few decades all over the contemporary Japan, from the extreme south to the furthest north, should also not be left out of sight. Thenceforth the Fables of Æsop have not ceased to be told in the lamplit hours in the nurseries of Japan. We see Japan, after the first introduction of Christianity, painted in a somewhat different colour, though the difference of tincture may be said to be extremely slight. The knowledge at least that there were outside of China, many people in the far West, civilised enough to teach us in several branches of science and art, opened the eyes of the island nation to a wider field of vision, and began to alter the views which we had entertained about things Chinese. Previously, for anything to become authoritative, it had been enough if the Chinese origin of that thing could be assured. The overshadowing influence which China had wielded over Japan at the time of the Fujiwara régime was revived in different form in the middle Ashikaga period, the former being China of the T'ang, while the latter that of the Sung, Yuan, and Ming. In short, China had long continued as a too brilliant guiding star to the Japanese mind, Korea, by the way, having been regarded only as one of the intermediaries between the "flowery" Empire and our country. It would be, of course, a hasty judgment to conclude that the introduction of Christianity instantly let the scales fall from the eyes of the Japanese as regards China, and aroused thereby a fervent national enthusiasm of the people, but at least it was a strong impetus to the awakening of the national consciousness, and led indirectly to the political unification of the country. In this respect the introduction of the new religion had a salutary effect on our history.
As to the betterment of the individual morals of the contemporary Japanese, however, the influence of Christianity cannot be said to have been wholesome in all ways. It probably did as much mischief as good during its brief prosperity. Any cult, which may be styled a universal religion, contains a strong tincture of individualism in its doctrines, and any creed of which individualism is a main factor often easily tends to encourage, against its original purpose, the pursuit of selfish objects. In this respect even Christianity can offer no exception. What, then, could it preach, at the end of the Ashikaga régime, to the Japanese who were already individualistic enough without the new teaching of the western religion, besides the intensifying of that individualism to make it still more strong and prevalent? Moreover, the very moral doctrine of the Christianity introduced by Francis Xavier and his successors was nothing but the moral of the Jesuits of the sixteenth century, who maintained the unscrupulous teaching that the end justified the means, the moral principle which has been universally adjudged in Europe to be a very dangerous and obnoxious doctrine. Could it have been otherwise only in our country as an exceptional case? But if these missionaries had all been men of truly noble and upright character, they should have been able perhaps to raise the standard of our national morals by personal contact with the Japanese, notwithstanding the moral tenets of their religion. Unfortunately, however, most of them were of debased character, with the exception of St. Francis Xavier and a few others. We need not doubt the ardent desire of these missionaries to save the "souls" of the Japanese, and thus to recover in the East what they had lost in the West. But by whatever motive their pious undertakings may have been prompted, their religious enthusiasm and their dauntless courage do not confute the charge of dishonesty. That the majority of them were grossest liars is evident from their reports addressed to their superiors in Europe, in which the numbers of converts and martyrs in this country were misrepresented and ridiculously exaggerated, in order bombastically to manifest their undue merits, exaggeration which could not be attributed to a lack of precise knowledge about those matters. What could we expect from men of such knavish characters as regards the moral regeneration of the contemporary Japanese?
As these missionaries, however, were at least cunning, if not intelligent in a good sense, it would not have been impossible for them to achieve something in the domain of the moral education of the nation, if they could only have understood the real state of Japan of that time. On the contrary, their comprehension of our country and of our forefathers was far wide of the mark. Most of them had expected to find in Japan an El Dorado inhabited by primitive folks of a very low grade of intelligence, where they could play their parts gloriously as missionaries by preaching the Gospel in the wilderness. They had not dreamt that the culture possessed by the Japanese of that time, though for the most part borrowed from China, was superior to that of some still uncivilised parts of Europe, for the difference in the form of civilisation deceived them in their judgment of the value of Eastern culture. When they set their feet on Japanese soil, therefore, they soon discovered that they had been grossly mistaken, and then running to the opposite extreme they fell into the error of overestimation. Yet they did not stop at this. This first misconception on the part of the missionaries about Japan left in them an ineradicable prejudice. They became very niggards in seeing things Japanese in an impartial light, and constituted themselves consciously or unconsciously fault-finders of the people, and unfortunately the Japan of that time furnished them with much material to corroborate their low opinion. The result was that while on the one hand the Japanese were praised far above their real value, they were stigmatised equally far below their real merits. Regrettable as it was for Japan to have received such reprehensible people as pioneers of Western civilisation, it was also pitiable that Christianity, which had been fervently embraced by a large number of Japanese, was once rooted out chiefly on account of the incredible folly of these missionaries, who fermented trouble and embroiled themselves in numberless intrigues, which were quite useless and unnecessary as regards the cause of Christianity. It would, in good sooth, have been absurd to hope to have the morality of the people improved by the personal influence of such reckless adventurers.
Japan was ready to be transformed into a solid national state, and at the same time to emerge from a chaotic medieval condition to enter the modern status. The cultural milieu, however, though it might have been ripe for change, must have found it difficult to get transformed by itself, and wanted an infusion of some new element to create an opportunity for the change. A new element did come in, but it proved to be unable to effect any wholesome alteration, so that in order to create that opportunity the only possible and promising way was to resort first to the political unification of the country, and thus to start from the political and so to reach social and individual regeneration. And for that political unification the right man was not long wanting. We find him first in Nobunaga Oda, then in Hideyoshi Toyotomi, and lastly in Iyeyasu Tokugawa.
The first task was naturally to break down the authority of numerous traditions and conventions which had kept the nation in fetters for a long time. This task was an appropriate one for such a hero as Nobunaga, who was imperious and intrepid enough to brave every difficulty coming in his way. He was born in a family which had been of the following of the house of Shiba, one of the branches of the Ashikaga, and had continued as the hereditary administrator of Owari, a province which formed part of the domain of its suzerain lord. When the power of the house of Shiba decayed, the Oda family asserted its virtual independence in the very province in which it had been the vicegerent of its lord, and it was after this assertion of independence that our hero was born. Strictly speaking, therefore, his right as a territorial lord was founded on an act of usurpation, that is to say, Nobunaga's claim as the owner of the province had no footing in the old system of the Ashikaga, so that he was destined by his birth to become a creator of the new age, and not the upholder of the ancient régime. The province over which he held sway has been called one of the richest provinces in Japan, and was not far from Kyoto, which was, as often stated before, still by far the most influential among the political and cultural centres of the empire. He and his vassals, therefore, had more opportunities than most of the territorial lords and their vassals living in remote provinces, of getting sundry knowledge useful to make his territory greater and stronger. In the year 1860 he defeated and killed his powerful enemy on the east, Yoshimoto Imagawa, the lord of the two provinces, Tôtômi and Suruga. This was his first acquisition of new territory. Four years after, the province of Mino, lying to the north of Owari, came into his possession. In 1568 he marched his army into Kyoto to avenge the death of the Shogun Yoshiteru, and installed his brother, who was the last of the Ashikaga line, as the new Shogun. Then one territory after another was added to his dominion, so that the Shogun was at last eclipsed in power and influence by Oda, without ever having renounced his hereditary rights. Nobunaga's dominion reached from the Sea of Japan to the Pacific shore, when he met at the height of his career of conquest a premature death by the hand of a traitor.
It is not, however, on account of the magnitude of the territories which he annexed, that Nobunaga figures in the history of Japan, for the land conquered by dint of his arms did not cover more than one-third of the island of Honto. His real historical importance lies not there, but in that he destroyed the old Japan and made himself the harbinger of the new age, though the honour of being creator of modern Japan must be assigned rather to Hideyoshi, his successor. Since the beginning of our history, the Japanese have always been very reluctant, in the cultural respect, to give up what they have possessed from the first, while they have been very eager and keen to take in the new exotic elements which seemed agreeable or useful to them. In other words, the Japanese have been simultaneously conservative and progressive, and immoderately so in both ways. The result of such a conservation and assimilation operating at the same time was that the country has gradually become a depository of a huge mass of things Japanese and Chinese, no matter whether they were desirable or not. If any extotic matter or custom once found its way into this country, it was preserved with tender care and never-relaxing tenacity, as if it were some treasure found or made at home and would prove a credit to our country. In this way we could save from destruction and demolition a great many historical remains, material as well as spiritual, not only of Japanese but also of Chinese origins. There may still be found in our country many things, the histories of which show that they had once their beginnings in China indeed, but the traces of their origins have long been entirely lost there. Needless to say that the religious rites and other traditions of our forefathers in remotest antiquity have been carefully handed down to us. This assiduity for preserving on the part of the Japanese can best be realised by the existence to this day of very old wooden buildings, some of which, in their dates of erection, go back to more than twelve hundred years ago. Besides this conservative propensity of the nation, the history of our country has also been very favourable to the effort of preserving. We have had no chronic change of dynasties as in China, nor have we experienced any violent revolution, shaking the whole structure of the country, as the French people had. Though our history has not lacked in civil wars and political convulsions, their destructive force has been comparatively feeble, and one Imperial house has continued to reign here from the mythic Age of the Gods! With this permanent sovereign family as the point d'appui, it has been easier in Japan than in any other country to preserve things historic. Things thus preserved, however, have not all been worthy of such care. As we have been obliged to march constantly with hurried steps in our course of civilisation, little little has been left to us to pause and discriminate what was good for preservation from what was not. We have betaken ourselves occasionally to the process of rumination, but it did not render us much assistance. Not only rubbish has not been rejected, as it should have been, but the things which proved of good service at one time and subsequently wore out, have been hoarded over-numerously. Think of this immense quantity of the slag, the detritus, of the civilisations of various countries in various ages all dumped into the limited area of our small empire! No people, however vigorous and progressive they may have been, would have been able to go on briskly with such a heavy burden on their backs. The worst evils were to be recognised in the sphere of religious belief and in the transactions of daily official business. Red tape, home-made and that of China of all dynasties, taken in haphazard and fastened together, formed the guiding-lines of the so-called "administrative business" in the time of the court-nobles' régime. The prestige of these conventionalities was so powerful that even after the installation of the Shogunate, that is to say, after the establishment of the government which really meant to govern, the administration, promising to be far more effective than that of the Fujiwara's, had to be varnished with this conventionalism. Kiyomori, the first of the warriors to become the political head of the country, failed, because he was ignorant of this red-tapism. The Shogunate iniated by Yoritomo tried at first to keep itself aloof from this influence, but could succeed only for a short duration. The second Shogunate, the Ashikaga, had been overrun almost from its inception by the red tape of the courtiers' régime, as well as by the routine newly started in Kamakura. The humanistic culture, which glimmered during the latter part of this Shogunate, was by its nature able to find its place only where conventionalism did not reign, but it soon began to give way and be conventionalised also. Until this red-tapism was destroyed, there could have been no possibility of the modernisation of Japan.
Superstitions of all sorts, when fixed in their forms and launched on the stream of time to float down to posterity with authority undiminised by age, make the worst kind of convention. We had a great mass of conventions of this type in our country. Various superstitions, from the primitive forms of worship, such as fetichism, totemism, and so forth, to the highest forms of idolatry, survived notwithstanding the introduction of Bud. dhism. Buddhism, too, has produced various sects which were rather to be called coarse superstitions. Taoism was also introduced together with the general Chinese culture. Not to mention that Shintoism, which was by its original nature hardly to be called a religion, but only a system or body of rites inseparable from the history of our country, became blended with the Buddhist elements and was preached as a religion of a hybrid character. Thus a concourse of different superstitions of all ages had their common field of action in the spirit of the people, so that it has became exceedingly difficult to tell exactly to what kind of faith this or that Japanese belonged; in other words, one was divided against one's self. To put it in the best light, religiously the Japanese were divided into a large number of different religious groups. Religion is generally spoken of in Europe as one of the characteristics of a nation. If it is insufficient to serve as an associating link of a nation, at least the difference in religious belief can draw a line of marked distinction be. tween different nations, and thus the embracing of the same religion becomes indirectly a strong uniting force in a nation. Such a co-existence of heterogeneous forms of religious beliefs painted the confessional map of Japan in too many variegated colours, a condition which was directly opposed to the process of national unification, of which our country had been placed in urgent need for a very long time. In short, it was hard for us to expect from the religious side anything helpful in our national affairs.
Moreover, the religious spirit of the nation reached its climax in this later Ashikaga period. Except in the age of the introduction of Buddhism and the beginning of the Kamakura era, enthusiasm for salvation has never, in all the course of Japanese history, been stronger than in this period. We witness now several religious corporations, the most remarkable of which were those formed by two violent and influential sects of Japanese Buddhism, Jôdo-shinshû or Ikkô-shû and Nichiren-shû or Hokke-shû. The followers of the latter, though said to be the most aggressive sectarians in our country, were not so numerous as the former, and were put under control by Nobunaga with no great difficulty. The former, however, was by far the mightier, constituting an exclusive society by itself, and its adherents spread especially over the provinces of central Japan, that is to say, wherever the arms of Nobunaga were triumphant. It presented therefore a great hindrance to the uniform administration of his domains.
Other Buddhist bodies, which had been not less formidable, not because their creed had numerous fervent adherents, but because they had an invisible historical prestige originating in very old times, were the monks of the temples and monasteries on Mount Hiyei, belonging to the Tendai sect, and of those clustered on Mount Kôya, of the Shingon sect. These two sects had long ceased active propaganda, but the temples had been revered by the Imperial house, and none had ever dared to put a check upon the arrogance of the priests and monks residing in them. As they had received rich donations in land from the court and from devotees, they had been able to live a luxurious life, and very few of them gave themselves up to religious works. Most of them behaved as if they were soldiers by profession, and were always ready to fight, not only in defence of the interests of the corporations to which they belonged, but also as auxiliaries of neighbouring territorial lords, when their aid was called for. Such had been the practice since the end of Fujiwara régime. The more their soldierly character predominated, the more their religious colouring decreased, and in the period of which I am speaking now, they were rather territorial powers than religious bodies. If we seek for their counterpart in the history of Europe, the republic founded by order of the Teutonic Knights in Prussia would fairly correspond to them, rather than ordinary bishoprics or archbishoprics. For the unification, therefore, they were also obstacles which could not be suffered to remain as they had been.
In order to achieve the national unification and to effect the modernisation of the country, it was necessary to dispense with all the red tape, the time-honoured superstitions and all other encumbrances lying in the way. It was not, however, an easy task to do away with all these things, for they had been held sacrosanct, so that to set them at defiance was but to brave the public opinion of the time. And none had been courageous enough to raise his hand against them, until Nobunaga decided to rid himself of all these feeble but tenacious shackles.
In the year 1571 Nobunaga attacked Mount Hiyei, for the turbulent shavelings of the mountain had sided with his enemies in the war of the preceding year, and burned down the Temple Yenryakuji to the ground. The emblem of the glory of Buddhism in Japan, which had stood for more than seven centuries, was thus turned to ashes. The next blow was struck at the recalcitrant priests of the temple of Negoro, belonging to the same sect as Kôya and situated near it. As for the Ikkô-sectarians with the Hongwanji as centre, the arms of Nobunaga were not so successful against them as against the other two temples, so that in the end he was compelled to conclude an armistice with them, but he was able in great measure to curtail their overbearing power. Of all these feats of arms, the burning of the temples on Mount Hiyei most dumbfounded Nobunaga's contemporaries, for the hallowed institution, held in the highest esteem rivalling even the prestige of the Imperial family, was thus prostrated in the dust, unable to rise up again to its former grandeur. It is much lamented by later historians that in the conflagration of the temple an immense number of invaluable documents, chronicles and other kinds of historical records was swept away forever, and they calumniated our hero on this account rather severely. It is true that if those materials had existed to this day, the history of our country would have been much more lucid and easy to comprehend than it is now, and if Nobunaga could have saved those papers first, and then burnt the temple, he would have acted far more wisely than he did, and have earned less censure from posterity. But history is not made for the sake of historians, and we need not much lament about losses which there was little possibility of avoiding. A nation ought to feel more grateful to a great man for giving her a promising future, than for preserving merely some souvenirs of the past. The bell announcing the dawn of modern Japan was rung by nobody but Nobunaga himself by this demolition of a decrepit institution.
It was not only those proud priests that defied Nobunaga and thereby suffered a heavy calamity, but the flourishing city of Sakai met the same fate. As the city had been accustomed to despise the military force of the condottieri, who abounded in the provinces neighbouring Kyoto and were easily to be bribed by money to change sides, it misunderstood the new rising power of Nobunaga, and dared to defy him. The insolence of the citizens of this wealthy town irritated Nobunaga and was punished by him severely. The defence works of the city were razed to the ground, and the city was placed under the control of a mayor appointed by him. The only city in Japan which promised to grow an autonomous political body thus succumbed to the new unifying force.
Nobunaga was born, however, not to be a mere insensate destroyer of ancient Japan. He seems also to have been gifted with the ability of reconstruction, an ability which was not meagre in him at all. That his special attention was directed to the improvement of the means of communication shows that he considered the work of organisation and consolidation to be as important as gaining a victory. The countenance which he gave to the Christian missionaries might have been the result of his repugnance at the degradation or in. tractability of the Buddhists in Japan. Could it not be imagined, however, that he was prone, in religious affairs as well as in other things, to seek the yet untried means thoroughly to renovate Japan? It is much to be regretted that he did not live long enough to see his aims attained. When he died, his destructive task had not reached its end, and his constructive work had barely begun. It was he, however, who indicated that Japan was a country which could be truly unified, and that what had come to be preserved and revered blindly should not all necessarily be so; and the grand task of building up the new Japan, initiated by him, was transferred to his successor, Hideyoshi.
It was in 1582 that Nobunaga died in Kyoto, and in the quarrel which ensued after his death among his Diadochi, Hideyoshi remained as the final successor. The year after, Ôsaka was chosen as the place of his residence. He was of very low origin, so that he had even less footing in the conventional old régime than his master Nobunaga, and therefore was more fitted to become the creator of the new Japan. He continued the course of conquest begun by Nobunaga, and annexed the whole of historic Japan within eight years from his accession to the political power. The most noteworthy item in his internal administration was the land survey which he ordered to be undertaken parallel to the progress of his arms. The great estates of Japan were one after another subjected to a uniform measurement, and thus was fashioned the standard of new taxation. This land-survey began in 1590 and continued till the death of Hideyoshi. The proportion of the tax levied to the area of the taxable land must still have varied in different localities, but the mode of taxation was now simplified thereby to a great extent, for the old systems, each of which was peculiar to an individual estate, were henceforth mostly abrogated. The manorial system of old Japan was entirely swept away.
The unity of the nation under Hideyoshi, that is to say, Japan at the disposal of a single person, an illuminated despot, might have been really the result of the long process of unification gradually accentuated, but it may also be considered as one of the causes which brought about a still stronger national consciousness. The expulsion of the foreign missionaries and the prohibition of the Christian propaganda did not constitute a religious persecution in its strict sense. That Hideyoshi was no enthusiastic Buddhist should be accepted as a negative proof of it. Most probably he had no religious aversion against Christianity, but the intermeddling of those missionaries in the politics of our country infuriated him, for the demand for the solid unfication of the nation, embodied in him, was against such an encroachment. The persecution, which crowned many adventurers with the honour of martyrdom, is to be imputed to the lack of prudence on the part of those missionaries.
As to the motive of the Korean invasion undertaken by Hideyoshi, various interpretations have been put forth by various historians. Some explain it as mere love of adventure and fame. Others attribute it to the necessity of keeping malcontent warriors engaged abroad, in order to keep the country pacific. As Hideyoshi himself died while the expedition was still in progress, giving neither explanation nor hint of his real motive, it is very difficult for us to fathom his innermost thought. It would not be altogether a mistaken idea, however, if we consider it as an outcome of his unifying aspiration carried a few steps farther outside the empire.
When we consider his brilliant career from its beginning, the amount of work which he accomplished greatly exceeded what we could expect from a single ordinary mortal. He performed his share of the construction of new Japan admirably. As to the organisation of what Hideyoshi had roughly put together, it was reserved for the prudent intelligence of Iyeyasu to accomplish.