CHAPTER IV. THE FEUDAL WARS
Two great families began the strife in the twelfth century A.D. and then for four hundred years obscure struggles ensued. Family fought against family, East against West, and adventurer with adventurer. Civilisation almost perished, as the cities were destroyed and sometimes the people lost heart and refused to till the ground. The emperors lost even the semblance of power and remained in ceremonious confinement. The court nobles shared the same fate, the Shogun (generalissimo) trying to hold the actual power, while a body of feudal lords was formed which fought each other and governed the provinces. At intervals strong leaders appeared who conquered a peace and made opportunity for a revival of civilisation and the development of art and luxury; but no family long survived and soon fighting would be resumed. Such history need not be repeated in detail, as it was partisan strife with no principles involved and no constitutional development. Heroic acts, self-sacrifice, and striking deeds there were, but loyalty was to persons, so that the warfare led no whither.
The system became more and more complicated. The Emperor, as we have seen, was left to a life of empty state in Kyoto, his capital, supposed to start the machinery of government and then to remain apart. Never were de facto and de jure powers more widely separated. Why in all these centuries did no strong soldier end the elaborate farce and make himself in title as in fact supreme? Possibly for the reason which led the Cæsars to preserve so long the fiction of a republic, or, possibly, because it was not unnatural, but expressive of a stage in the development of the Japanese and congenial to their minds.
For, sometimes, the Shogun went the way of the Emperor and prime ministers ruled, leaving two empty shades of power above them. Even in the feudatories it was impossible long to make nominal and real supremacy one, and the same separation followed, the barons (daimyo) becoming luxurious weaklings, while ambitious underlings ruled in their stead. Often the varying rulers were debauched and forced to abdicate that their infants might have the name to rule while the substance of authority was held by more common and more virile hands.
Learning fell into disrepute and was left to priests. The university was given up, medicine made no advance, and law gave way to the caprice of soldiers and gentlemen. The gentleman (samurai) was the soldier and, more and more separated from the common people, gained special rights and privileges. He corresponded to the knights of Europe, but his soldierly loyalty was tempered neither by devotion to the Church nor to woman. Loyalty was the one virtue, and yet the story is disfigured by countless acts of treachery. Some of the great leaders were monsters of cruelty and lust, stopping at nothing when their ambitions or their desires were at stake. Even the monks partook of the spirit of the age, as monasteries became fortresses, bishops were barons, and armies of priests defied the strongest barons. One line of bishops ruled a great province for a century.
The connection with China and Korea was never wholly broken, and there were repeated importations of new forms of art, and new customs of life for successive waves of influence were felt and always from the same quarter. Once, indeed, it seemed as if an impulse were to be received from another source, and had it been effective and permanent the story of East and West would have been greatly altered.
For in the sixteenth century was the episode of foreign intercourse. Europeans went to Japan, where a warm welcome greeted merchants and missionaries. Commerce prospered, and missionaries made many converts. The Roman Church believed that it had added another empire to its wide dominion, when Xavier went to Japan in 1549, and for forty years the priests who followed him laboured without hindrance and with distinguished success. Then hostilities began. It was an unfortunate time in Europe and in Japan alike. Protestant was arrayed against Catholic, and foreign commerce was little removed from piracy. European enmity was transferred to Japanese soil, and the different nationalities accused each other to the rulers of Japan. Even in the Roman Church order quarrelled with order, the native converts outdoing their teachers in violence. As Buddhism had used force, so Catholic barons attempted to uproot it by force and commanded their subjects to be baptised. Success proved dangerous, for Christian barons fought in the feudal wars, and in the final great war enlisted on the wrong, that is, the weaker, side. So the Church went down in their overthrow. Buddhism proved again that it could persecute, religious intolerance adding fury to political strife. The missionaries were charged with political intrigue and the desire to establish foreign domination, but there is no proof that such designs were seriously entertained. In any case, a decree was formulated expelling foreigners and punishing the profession of Christianity with death. The history of the Church contains no chapter more bloody than the account of its destruction in Japan. Christians in multitudes refused to recant, and were put to death. Some of the foreign priests courted martyrdom, defying the Government. The persecutions lasted for fifty years and ceased only when there remained none to be persecuted. As Protestantism was destroyed in Spain, so perished the Roman Church in Japan, and for two centuries the laws remained, constantly proclaimed but without victims. Yet when at last foreigners again came to Japan, more than three hundred years after Xavier, missionaries found communities who in secret had kept the faith, without priest, or sacrament, or open assembly, or sacred books. From father to son the tradition had been handed down, so that when the day of freedom again dawned four thousand Roman Catholics hailed its coming, a fact to be pondered by those who think the Japanese fickle and without firmness of convictions or permanence of faith.
With the Church destroyed and foreigners banished, Japan entered upon a period of national seclusion, intercourse even with the Chinese being subjected to severe restrictions. The Dutch obtained scanty privileges on humiliating terms, and through them came intelligence of the Western world, but this intelligence was denied to the people, and among the rulers was prized only by a few men of exceptional intellectual curiosity. The knowledge of the outer world faded away and nothing remained save a hatred of Christianity and a dread of foreign dominion. For European intercourse had been a mere episode without permanent impression, excepting its transformation of the policy of the Government into rigid exclusion. When in the nineteenth century the West again came into contact with the East, the policy seemed characteristic, and its sudden reversal indicative of fickleness. But Japan is not self-centred like China, nor is it dominated by caste like India. Its isolation was the exception, an episode due to special causes, in a history characterised in its whole development by hospitality and receptivity.
At the close of the four hundred years of feudal warfare a group of great men shaped the policy of the Empire and after more hard fighting at home and in Korea gave peace to the Empire. The fighting must not detain us, not even the invasion of Korea. In it one of the two commanders was a Christian and thousands of Catholics were with him. It was a war undertaken in part from the love of conquest, and in part from the exigencies of politics at home. It achieved success in the beginning, but terminated in failure, though it destroyed Korean prosperity and inflicted losses from which that kingdom has not yet recovered. It added also another impulse to the reviving art industries of Japan. The ruler of Japan was Hideyoshi, one of the many characters in the history who combined opposite qualities. He was a great warrior and a great promoter of the arts of peace: he was magnanimous to defeated enemies, yet revelled in wanton cruelties; he was a wise administrator and a shameless debauchee: he surrounded himself with able men, but was unable to give permanent peace to the country or to transmit his power to his descendants. His most trusted lieutenant was Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was his equal in war and his master in intrigue. After Hideyoshi's death, Ieyasu turned against his lord's son, defeated him in battle, destroyed his power, and took the Empire for himself. The Christians in these wars fought loyally on the losing side and suffered the inevitable consequence.
Had Tokugawa Ieyasu been merely a successful soldier his power would have disappeared like that of so many who had preceded him, but he was a statesman of the clearest insight and mastered the situation. He had conquered a peace like many another: unlike them, could he preserve it? He had gained supreme power: could he transmit it to his descendants? He solved both problems with entire success, his peace enduring for two centuries and a half, and his family remaining in power for fifteen reigns. He made the House of Tokugawa unquestionably first in martial power; he gave his men-at-arms rank equal to that of the feudal nobles; he rewarded his chief soldiers and the members of his family with lands and rank, so arranging their fiefs that they controlled all the strategic points; he dispossessed opposing barons, or gave them less important fiefs, or hemmed them in and made them powerless by the disposition of barons bound by firm ties to the fortunes of his house; he treated the Emperor with respect, but left him without power, forbidding the feudal lords to enter the city where he dwelt; and finally, he forced the barons to maintain mansions in Yedo, the Tokugawa capital, where they were to remain half their time, and where they left members of their families in their absence as hostages. The nobles went to Yedo with retinues of retainers, and at great expense. Were there signs of too great power, they were given exhausting tasks as honours, or other means were found for their impoverishment. The city was like a vast permanent camp, the Shogun dwelling secure in the centre, and the barons skilfully arranged as checks upon each other so that no chance for a successful plot or for an insurrection ever came even to the desperate courage of a Japanese.
Thus Ieyasu succeeded where Napoleon failed. The great Frenchman desired to be at the head of a family of kings, to rearrange the map of Europe, to make Paris its capital, and to compel all sovereigns to maintain mansions there for residence a portion of the time. Had he succeeded in his dream Europe too might have enjoyed the advantages of inglorious peace, resting content in submission to sovereign power. But as even a Napoleon did not think of taking the Papal crown, so Ieyasu was content with the substance of power, and did not aspire to be emperor, leaving the Mikado his dignity, his ceremony, and his undisturbed leisure.
The Orient is supposed by many students to want the power of organisation and attention to details, which are held to be the endowments exclusively of the modern Western mind, and, therefore, the success of the Japanese in their conduct of war is thought exceptional and mysterious. We forget the great Oriental empires of the past, and we forget, or do not know, that the reorganisation of Japan in our day with its mastery of modern civilisation and its insight into the situation and its patient attention to details is only a new exhibition of a power manifested repeatedly before, never manifested more clearly than in the reorganisation of the Empire by Ieyasu, a reorganisation which proved its perfectness by its endurance of the tests of two centuries and a half.
The House of Tokugawa was munificent patron of literature, art, and religion. The university was re-established, an indication of a revival of learning. Thenceforth letters were no longer the exclusive possession of priests, but became indispensable to the equipment of the gentleman, so that great schools were formed in the provinces. Chinese philosophy, history, and ethics were reintroduced, and shaped decisively all culture. Yet centuries of study of this foreign learning could not eradicate Japanese peculiarities, but even among the partisans for the strictest Chinese orthodoxy there remained characteristics which could not be transformed, for Japan could not be made Chinese, not even by the most assiduous study of Chinese literature and the most willing adoption of Chinese ideals.
The nobles vied in the arts of peace as they had competed in the art of war. Etiquette became matter of enactment and ceremony took its place among the greater interests of life. Some of the clans lost their warlike prowess, and others retained it by strenuous endeavour. The past was forgotten as the people came to think of the system under which they lived as if it were ordained by Heaven. A few specialists investigated "ancient matters" and knew the truth, but the Tokugawa family held historical investigation well in hand and permitted results to be made known only within limits. Religion, like the rest, was the instrument of the State. Buddhism never recovered from the effect of the feudal wars, and was unable as in the past to play a great part in the State, for the Tokugawa family endowed the establishment and controlled it. Gentlemen, enlightened by the Chinese philosophy, came to look upon religion as useful in its place, and to be given outward respect, but as having no immediate interest for men who had acquired a loftier guide to life.
Tokugawa Ieyasu had some great successors, but, of necessity, the succession of able men could not be maintained. The family went the way of other Oriental dynasties, it became effeminate, and was hedged around by ceremonies. The Shogun was a state prisoner, not knowing the world, but studying it in toy gardens and villages in his own castle enclosures. He no longer went forth at the head of his retainers to hunt, but was weak in body as in mind. The feudal nobles also were debauched, and their governments were managed by ambitious samurai, everywhere with intrigue and the old separation between de jure and de facto powers. The Government ran on by inertia, machinery taking the place of men, but Ieyasu and his grandson Iemitsu had planned it well. It might have run on still for generations, growing more and more complicated with age, for the forces which opposed the system had no cohesion in any common object. In 1853, however, a new factor entered: the guns of Commodore Perry were heard in Yedo Bay.
The highest achievement of the long period we have so hurriedly reviewed, from the beginning of the feudal wars in the twelfth century, was the formation of the character of the gentleman, the samurai. Under the Tokugawa régime the ideal was completed. By heredity he was a soldier, and he was trained to think unhesitating loyalty the chief end of man. For his master no labour nor any sacrifice was too great. To his duties as soldier he added those of administrator, for there was no division of the powers of government, but all were concentrated in this class. Even the control by the nobles was nominal, so that the leading samurai were men of affairs accustomed to deal with all the interests of the province.
They constituted also the learned class. In the seventeenth century it is true it was necessary to argue the point and to show that learning is not the province solely of the priest and that it does not make its votaries effeminate, but soon, under the sway of the Tokugawa family, it became a proverb that arms and learning are to the samurai like the two wings of a bird. The class numbered perhaps four hundred thousand men, to whom the ideals of loyalty and learning, the habit of command, and the experience of government were by inheritance; naturally they were the leaders as the rulers of the people.
Doubtless too often the ideal was not realised, and high-sounding maxims did not represent the practice, and yet, allowing as everywhere for the difference between the ideal and the real, it was the glory of Japan that it produced the ideal, and that so many men strove worthily to realise it in life.
Something should be added of the influence of the feudal system. It supplied an element of rivalry and kept the stronger clans alert. Some of them never forgot the earlier struggles, nor ceased to regard the House of Tokugawa as their enemy. This relationship supplied in a degree the want of foreign intercourse, keeping alive in its absence the feeling of patriotism. That was, it is true, only devotion to a clan, but it gained in intensity what it lost in breadth. The enforced residence in Yedo was not without its effect, bringing the representatives of the different clans into contact and supplying opportunities for peace. ful rivalry. Thus even during the long period of isolation and peace the empire represented the world in miniature, and supplied itself with the elements found elsewhere in the meeting of nation with nation and of race with race. Still it was in miniature, and the different factions were of one race and of one type, so that progress was meagre, and before the close of the period under review its possibilities had been exhausted. Without contact with other races and ideals further progress could not be.