CHAPTER XIV. EPILOGUE
JAPAN of the past fifty years since the Revolution of the Meidji may be said to have been in a transition period, although we do not know when nor how she will settle down after all. As a transition period in the history of any country is generally its most eventful epoch, so our last half century has been the busiest time the nation has ever experienced. Not only that. We were ushered into the wide world, just at the time when the world itself began to have its busiest time also. The opening of the country at such a juncture may be compared to a man in deep slumber, who is aroused suddenly in the dazzling daylight of noon. Moreover, Japan has had another and not less important business to attend to, that is to say, she had to trim herself, and complete her internal reconstruction, a task which may not perhaps come to its completion for a long time to come. Excitation must be the natural outcome to anybody placed in such a position. Japan has over-worked indeed, and is yet working very hard. She has achieved not a little already, and is still struggling to achieve more. If we would try to describe the history of Japan during these fifty years, we should have more to tell than the history of the preceding twenty centuries. That is not, however, possible in the scope of this small volume. Another reason why we need not expatiate on this period of our national history is because it is comparatively better known to foreigners than the history of old Japan, though we are not sure that it is not really misunderstood. The root, however, of the misapprehension of Japan of the Meidji era lies deep in the misapprehension of the history of her past, for one who can understand rightly Japan of the past, may not err much in comprehending Japan of the present. I will not, therefore, describe in detail the contemporary history of Japan, but will content myself by giving merely a cursory view of it.
It was none but the samurai, the mainstay of feudal Japan, who brought about the momentous change of the Meidji, and it was the samurai of the lower class, who acted the chief part in the Revolution. The savants, however they might have proved useful in fanning the nationalistic spirit among the people, were after all not men of action. Only the samurai, when permeated with this spirit, could effect such a grand political change. There may be no doubt that the samurai undertook the task for the sake of the national welfare, and most of all not to restore the already rotten régime which had once existed before the advent of the Kamakura Shogunate. But this evident truth was known neither to the court- nobles, who dreamt only of seeing their past glory recovered, nor to those idealists of ultra-conservative trend, who sincerely believed that the history of nearly twelve centuries might be simply ignored and the golden days of the Nara period be called back into life once more. The latter strongly urged the personal government of the Emperor and the restoration of the worship of the national gods to its ancient glory, while the former strove to recover the reins of government into their own hands. It was the result of their compromise, that the political organisation of the Taïhô era was formally revived, though with not a few indispensable modifications. Think of the statute of eleven hundred seventy years before recalled to reality again, and of a country, governed by a such a petrified statute, entering the concourse of the nations of the world in the nineteenth century. How comical it would have been if such a retrogression had been allowed to proceed even for a generation? The first to be disappointed were the court-nobles. The expectation of the ultra-conservatives was also far from being fulfilled. The country was in urgent need of a new legislation conformable to the new state of things, and the restored statute was soon found to be utterly inadequate to serve the purpose. The quixotic movement of the bigoted Shintoists to persecute Buddhism, which led to the lamentable demolition of many Buddhist sculptures and buildings of high artistic merit, was to subside as soon as it was started, for it was now the age of complete religious toleration, which was extended even to Christianity soon afterwards.
The most extravagant expectation of the ultra- conservatives was thus frustrated, but the conservative spirit in the nation, which was by no means to be swept away at all found its devotees among the class of the samurai. Though they were the real makers of the Revolution, yet the loss of their privileges and material interests which it entailed, touched them sorely. A very small fraction of them served the new government as officials and soldiers of high and low rank, and could enjoy life much more comfortably than they did in the pre-Meidji days. The greater part of the samurai, however, were obliged to betake themselves to some of the callings which they were accustomed to look down upon with disdain, for if they did not work, the compensation which they received from the government did not suffice to sustain them for long. Some of them preferred to become farmers, and those who persisted in that line generally fared well. Many others turned themselves into merchants, and mostly failed; being accustomed to the simplicities of the life and the code of soldiers, and utterly unversed in the complexities of the code commercial, and the trickeries of the life merchants; and the small capital obtained by selling their compensation-bonds was soon squandered.
What wonder if they began to regret and whine for better days of the past? Discontentment became rampant among them; but the inducement to its disruption was provided by the diplomatic tension with Korea.
I have no space here to dwell upon the intricate history of the differences between Korea and our country in the later seventies of the nineteenth century. Suffice it to say that the militaristic party in and out of the government favoured the war with Korea, while the opposing party was against it, considering it injurious to sound national progress, especially at a time when it was an immediate necessity for the welfare of the country to devote all its resources to internal reconstruction. The war party with Takamori Saigô at its head seceded from the government. Saigô had been a great figure since the Revolution, as the representative samurai of the Satsuma, and had a great many worshippers, so that even after his retirement his influence over the territory of Satsuma was immense. At last he was forced by his adorers, whose ill-feeling against the government now knew no bounds, to take up arms in order to purge the government, which seemed to them too effeminate and too radical. Not only the warlike and conservative samurai of Satsuma, but all the samurai in the other provinces of Kyushû, who sympathised with them, rose up and joined them. Siege was laid by them to the castle of Kumamoto, the site of regimental barracks.
So far they had been successful, but owing to insufficiency of ammunition and provisions, they could not force their way much farther. Moreover, the Imperial Army recently organised, recruited mostly from the common people by the conscription system, proved very efficient, owing to the use of Snider rifles, although at first the new soldiers had been despised by the insurgents on account of their low origin. The siege of Kumamoto was at last raised; the remnant of the defeated forces of Saigô retired to a valley near the town of Kagoshima; Saigô committed suicide; and the civil war ended in the victory of the government in September 1877, seven months after its outburst.
This civil war is an epoch-making event in the history of the Meidji era, in the sense that it was a death blow to the last and powerful remnant force of feudalism, the influence of the samurai. Though the samurai-soldiers who fought on the side of Saigô were very few in number compared with the host of the samurai within the whole empire, and though not a few samurai-soldiers fought also on the opposite side, still it was clear that the insurgents represented the interests of the samurai as a class better than the governmental army, and the defeat of the former had, on the prestige of the class, an effect quite similar to that which was produced in Europe of the later Middle Ages by the use of firearms and the organisation of the standing army, and significantly reduced the traditional influence of knights on horseback. It is for this reason that the democratisation of the nation markedly set in after the civil war, and with it the territorial particularism, which had been weakened by the Revolution, has been rapidly dying away. Political parties of various shades began to be formed. The works of Montesquieu and Rousseau were translated into Japanese, and widely read with avidity. The cry for a representative government became a national demand. Against the hesitating government riots were raised here and there. To sum up the history of the second decade of the Meidji era, we see that it strikingly resembles French history in the first half of the nineteenth century. The rise of the influence of the new-born bourgeois class in modern Japan may be said to have dated from this epoch. Europeanisation in manners and customs became more and more striking year by year.
What is unique in our modern history is that, parallel with the growth of the democratic tendency in the nation, the imperial prestige effected a remarkable increase. This seemingly contradictory phenomenon may be explained easily by considering how our present notion of fidelity to the Emperor has evolved. The divine authority of the Emperor did not suffer any remarkable change after his personal régime ceased, though his political prestige had been eclipsed by the assumption of power by the Fujiwara nobles. Even after the establishment of the Shogunate, nobody in Japan had ever though it possible that the Emperor could be placed in rank equal to or under a Shogun or any other sort of dictator, however virtually powerful he might have been. Through all political vicissitudes the Emperor has remained always the noblest personage in Japan, and in this sense he has been the focus toward which the heart of the whole nation turned.
The relation of the Emperor to the people at large, during these periods of eclipse, was indirect. Between them intervened the Shogun and the daimyo as actual immediate rulers, so that fidelity to the Emperor had been spoken of only academically, and their fidelity, in a concrete sense, had been solely centered in their immediate master, who reciprocated it by the protection he extended directly over them. Thus fidelity on the one hand and protection on the other hand had been conditioned by each other, and because the bond was naturally an essential link of the military régime, it was strengthened by its being handed down from generation to generation. In short, the fidelity of the Japanese may be said to be a product of the miliary régime, and owes its growth to the hereditary relation of vassalage. As all the ideals and virtues cherished among the samurai class used to be considered by plebeians as worthy of imitation, if practicable in their own circles, fidelity was also understood by them in the same sense as among the military circles, that is to say, as a soldierly virtue in a subordinate toward his superior. So it grew to be more disciplinary, self-sacrificing and devotional, than in the times before the military régime. This condition of the national morals had continued to the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, with occasional relaxations, of course. But now that the Shogunate and the daimyo were eliminated from the political system, the foci toward which the fidelity of the people had been turned ceased to exist, and the fidelity remained, as it were, to be a cherished virtue of the nation though without a goal. It sought for a new focus, looked up one stage higher than the Shogun, and was glad to make the Emperor the object of its fervent devotion. Soon it developed almost into a passion, because the nation became more and more conscious of the necessity of a well-centred national consolidation, and it could find nowhere else a centre more fit for it than the Emperor. His prestige could increase in this way pari passu with the growth of the democratic spirit in the nation. It is not, therefore, a mere traditional preponderance, but an authority having its foundation in modern civilisation.
It cannot be denied, however, that history clothes our imperial house with special grandeur, which might not be sought in the case of any royal family newly come to power, and if conservatism would have a firm stand in Japan, it must be the conservatism which sprang from this historical relation of the people to the Emperor. This explains the sudden rise of the conservative spirit, which at once changed the aspect of the country at the end of the second decade of the Meidji eraIt happened just at the time when the current of Europeanisation was at its height and the realisation of the hope of the progressives, the promulgation of the Constitution and the inauguration of representative government, drew very near.
In February 1889 the Constitution long craved for was at last granted, and by virtue of it the first Imperial Diet was opened the next year. This adoption of the representative system of government by Japan used to be often cited as a rare example of the wonderful progress of a nation not European, and all our subsequent national achievements have been ascribed by foreigners to this radical change of constitution. Every good and every evil, however, which the system is said to possess, has been fully manifested in this country. We have since been continually endeavouring to train and accustom ourselves to the new régime, but our experience in modern party government is still very meagre, and it will take a long time to see all classes of the people appropriately interested in national politics, which is a requisite condition to reaping the benefit of constitutional government to the utmost. At present we have no reason to regret, on the contrary much reason to rejoice at, the introduction of the system.
After the constitution came many organic laws, the civil and penal code, and so forth, in order of proclamation. This completion of the apparatus necessary to the existence of the modern state improved in no small measure the position of our country in the eyes of attentive foreigners. What, however, contributed most of all to the abrogation of the rights of extraterritoriality enjoyed by foreigners on Japanese soil, the object of bitter complaint and pining on the part of patriots, was the victory won by our army in the war against China.
Before the outbreak of the Sinico-Japanese war, China had long been regarded not only by Western nations, but by the Japanese themselves, as far above our country in national strength, not to speak of the superiority of wealth as well as of civilisation in general. Though the victory of the expeditionary troops sent by Hideyoshi over the Chinese reinforcements despatched by the Emperor of the Ming to succour the invaded Koreans was sufficient to wipe off the military humiliation which our army had suffered on the peninsula nine hundred years before, and had much to do in enhancing the national self-confidence against the Chinese, the renewed imitation of her civilisation during the Tokugawa Shogunate turned the scale again in favour of China even to the eyes of the Japanese intelligents, and we had been constantly overawed by the influence of the big continental neighbour. So that the formal annexation of the Loochoo Islands in the first decade of the Meirji era against the opposing Chinese claim was considered to be a great diplomatic victory of the new government. The failure of the French expedition added also to the credit of the unfathomable force of the Celestial Empire. The grand Chinese fleet which visited our ports in the year previous to the war was thought to be more than our match, and made us feel a little disquieted. Contrary to our anticipation, however, battle after battle ended in our victory in the war of 1894-1895, and Korea was freed from Chinese hegemony by the treaty of Shimonoseki.
Though some of the important articles of the same treaty were made useless by the intervention of the three Western powers, the war proved on the whole very beneficial to our country. The growth of the consciousness of the national strength emboldened the people to develop their activity in all directions. Several new industries began to flourish. The national wealth increased remarkably so as to enable the government to adopt a monometallic currency in gold. Education, high as well as low, was encouraged by the increase of various new schools and by the strengthening of their staffs. We laboured very hard for the ten following years, and then the Russo-Japanese war took place.
It was indeed fortunate that we could win after all in the war in which we put our national destiny at stake. Not only in this war with Russia, but in that with China a decade before, we had been by no means sure of victory, when we decided to enter into them. It is such a war generally that proves salutary to the victorious party, when, after having been fought with difficulty, it ends in a way better than had been anticipated. It was so in the war of 1894-1895, and was not otherwise in that waged ten years later. These military successes, needless to say, increased still more the splendour of the imperial prerogative already magnificently revived. At the same time they countenanced the growth of conservatism. The impetus, however, which these wars gave to the general activity of the nation necessitated the people betaking themselves to the study and imitation of Western civilisation. And this Europeanisation, direct or through America, tended to make the nation more and more progressive. Thus conservatism in recent Japan has been marching hand in hand with liberalism, nay, even with radicalism, each alternately outweighing the other. This is why present Japan has appeared to be lacking in stability, especially in the eyes of foreign observers.
The years immediately succeeding the RussoJapanese war formed the culminating period of the glorious era of Meidji, and also a turning- point of the national history. Up to that time foreign nations had been lavishing their kindness in the education of the novice nation, who seemed to them to be yet in her teens on account of having just entered into the concert of the world as a passive hearer. They did not know what would become of Japan, brought up and instructed in this way. In military affairs the English were our first masters, then came the French and the German. In the navy, the Dutch followed by the English were our instructors. In the sphere of legislation, the first advisers were the French, to whom the Germans succeeded. The latter also taught us their science of medicine, which to study in Japan the German language has become the first requisite. Besides what has been enumerated above, knowledge of all branches of industries, arts, and sciences has been introduced into our country in the highly advanced stage of the brilliant century. Who would have dreamt, however, of the victory of the Japanese over the Russians in January of 1904? In the war, it is true, a great many foreigners sympathised with the cause of the Japanese, simply because all bystanders are unconsciously wont to take the side of the weaker. The fall of Port Arthur and the annihilation of the Russian navy on the Sea of Japan were beyond all expectation. They now began to think that they might be also taken unawares by us, as they thought the Russians were, forgetting that they had ignored to study the Japanese. They rather repented that they had underestimated the real Japanese unduly, and thereby they have fallen into the error of overestimation. We do not think that a sheer victory on a battlefield can in any case be taken as a measure of the progress of civilisation in the victor. Moreover, in what field could we have been able to beat any European nation except in battle, if we could beat her at all? Almost all of our cultural factors we have borrowed from foreign countries, and therefore they are of later introduction, so that they could not be easily brought by our imitation, however adroit it might be, to a stage nearly so high as they had reached in their original homes. But as to the art of fighting only, we have come to practise it since the old times, and during the successive Shogunates it had been the calling most honoured and followed by us at the expense of other acquirements. In short, it was the speciality of old Japan, so that our success in arms could not testify to the sudden jump in other branches of our civilisation. Those foreigners, however, who had been accustomed to judge us from afar, looked only at the scientific and mechanical side of modern war, of which we had availed ourselves, and surmised that if we could stand excellently the test in this department, we must certainly have surpassed what they had expected of us in all respects. This surmise, which they felt not very agreeably, they flatly imputed to our dissimulation and feigning, and branded them as our national vices, instead of attributing the miscalculation to their self-deception and ignorance as regards things Japanese. On the contrary, we have had never the least intention to deceive any foreigner in the estimation of the merit of what we have achieved. Would it not be ridiculously absurd to assume the existence of such a tendency in any living nation in the world?
We have been thus overestimated and at the same time begun to be somewhat disliked by those short-sighted observers in foreign countries after our successful war with Russia. The pet nation of the whole world of yesterday was turned suddenly into the most suspected and dangerous nation of to-day! There have been many missionaries who had personal experience of our country, owing to their residence here for years, professing that they have tried their utmost to plead our cause. Unfortunately, their defence of us has not availed much, for a great part of them are used to depict us as a nation still evolving. Evolving they say, for our recent national progress is too evident a fact to be refuted, and they wish to ascribe it to their fruitful endeavours. Evolving, they say repeatedly, for they are fain to show that there is still remaining in Japan a wide field reserved for them to work, lest their raison d'étre in this country should otherwise be lost forever. In fact, we are now far enough advanced as a nation as not to require the tutelage of the missionaries of recent times.
I regret that we have among us a certain number of typical braggarts, who unfortunately abound in every country, and their shameless bluffing has often caused astonishment to unprejudiced observers in foreign countries. Nevertheless, we as a nation are neither far better nor far worse than any other in the world. To remain as a petrified state, with plenty of well-preserved relics of all ages, is what we cannot bear for our country. We know well that a nation which produces sight-seers must be incomparably happier and more praiseworthy than that which furnishes quaint objects for show to please those sight-seers. If there be any other nation that wishes to make its home a peepshow for others, let it do so. That is not our business. What we aspire to earnestly as our national ideal is to make our country able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the senior Western nations in contributing to the advance and welfare of world civilisation. We shall proceed toward this goal, however fluctuating foreign opinion about us may be for years or ages to come.