CHAPTER X. THE LIFE OF THE "SAMURAI" IN OLD JAPAN
Arai Hakuseki has given us a picture of the character and the life of the samurai of Old Japan. He lived in the middle period of the long peace which followed the victories of Tokugawa Ieyasu, while the power of the Shogun was still unshaken, and the thought of coming changes had not entered the minds of the most progressive men. His autobiography was written for his own family, in 1716, and it was given to the public only in 1890 when a variety of manuscripts by the author were printed. It has therefore the advantage of being written by a Japanese for Japanese, without thought of foreign reader or critic, and it gives a picture of life truer than may be possible in these more self-conscious days, when Japan has adopted a policy and is never unmindful that the world watches its success. Arai does not describe Japan for the traveller, nor for the student, but he writes when his day's work is done with the unconsciousness of the man whose environment is unchallenged and whose ideas are the expression of an orthodox philosophy.
He claimed descent from the two most aristocratic of the princely families, but his grandfather had lost his estates and Arai refused to believe the stories told of him. Arai's father made his own way in life and at Arai's birth was past middle life and the trusted adviser of a petty noble. Arai describes him as a representative samurai: "As I remember my father he was very grey, his face was square, his forehead high, his eyes large and his beard heavy. He was short, large-boned, and strongly built. He showed no sign of emotion in his voice, nor did he laugh loudly or scold in an angry voice. His words were few, his movements dignified, and I never saw him surprised or lacking in self-control. When off duty he cleaned his room, hung up some ancient painting, arranged a few flowers of the season, and sat still all day or sketched flowers. He did not care for coloured pictures. When well he would not have his servants wait on him at meals. He ate two bowls of rice and a variety of other things, weighing them that he might not hurt himself by eating too much of any one. He did not pick and choose, but ate what was set before him, whether he fancied it or not, weighing the dishes in his hand to determine the quantity. He did not order his meals, though he insisted upon having the fresh food of the four seasons when it was in market, and ate it with the family. He was easily affected by wine and merely took the cup in his hand at the ceremonies. Tea he much liked.
"At home he wore carefully washed clothes, nothing soiled even in bed, and when he went out his clothes were fine and new, but not extravagant nor beyond his rank. He chose carefully the decorations for his fans, having his better ones decorated by famous artists, and still more particular was he as to the ornaments of his sword and armour. His life followed a strict and uninterrupted routine: he awoke at four in the morning, bathed in cold water and dressed his own hair. In very cold weather my mother wished him to use hot water for his bath, but he would not, because of the trouble to the servants. When he was past seventy fire was kept in the foot-warmer at night and, as water could be heated there without trouble to any one, he used it for his morning bath.
"My parents were Buddhists and after their bath they put on special garments and worshipped the Buddhas, and on the anniversaries of the death of their parents they prepared the rice without aid from the servants. When they awakened before dawn they sat up in bed and silently awaited the day, arising as soon as it was light enough for them to see.
"Father's road lay to the north, but he went out of the south gate, and turned to the east, returning he went to the west and entered by the north gate. His sandals had iron knobs and he walked with resounding steps, giving notice of his approach. All knew his tread and hushed crying babies at the sound."
In this the classical examples were followed: in the morning he turned to the east, and in the afternoon to the west, for he would not turn his back to the sun: he walked with loud steps, that he might not be thought to sneak upon any one unawares, and his whole conduct indicated a man of self-control and self-respect. He knew also the nature of his countrymen, as Arai illustrates:
"While still a young man father was put in charge of three samurai who were charged with murder. He accepted the position on condition that the swords of the men were returned to them. When this had been done he said to his prisoners: 'If you escape cut off my head and take it with you. I cannot fight three men.' So he took off his own sword, wrapped it in a cloth, and put it aside. Unarmed he ate and slept with them for ten days, when they were acquitted. They then told him how they had determined to fight him, three unarmed against one armed, but that they could do nothing when their swords were returned and his made useless. It were better to stand trial than for three men armed to attack one without a Sword."
Arai briefly describes his mother: "She wrote a good hand, composed verses, read many books, was a skilful player of go and on the musical instruments. She thought women should weave cloth and make clothes, so she made father's and mine. I have some of her making yet. The proverb says, 'Like marry like,' and so was it with my parents, they were alike in words and actions."
Arai's father was involved in troubles in the clan, and in his old age lost his position, and he and his wife shaved their heads and took up their residence in the temple of Tokyo, of which they were parishioners. The mother died when she was sixty-three, "leaving father and son," Arai writes, "in loneliness inexpressible." The father died when he was eighty-two, Arai being then in good circumstances, having retrieved the fortunes of the family.
Arai's education was severe. Evidently his father did not aid him, but his mother gave him all her assistance. He began to write when he was three and to study poetry when he was six. At eight an immense task in writing the Chinese ideographs was set him, keeping him at work until late at night. When the days were short he moved his table out on the veranda, and when he grew sleepy and began to nod his friend threw a pot of cold water over him. So he went to work again, and as he gradually became dry and sleepy again his friend threw a second pailful of water over him and with its aid he completed his assigned task. From his ninth year he conducted his father's correspondence, and from his thirteenth his lord's. At eleven he was taught to fence and took up martial exercises to the neglect, he tells us, of his books, reading now chiefly stories of the wars. At seventeen he found a book which taught him something of the "Way," so he turned to the Chinese classics and gave his strength to them. He thus sums up his studies: "As I review my life it would appear that I should have made much greater progress had I had good teachers, as I began to write at three, study poetry at six, and the 'Way' at seventeen. When I had time for study I was poor and when books were many I had no time to read. In this matter none has been more unfortunate. That I have so far succeeded is because I followed father's advice and attacked the most difficult task first.'"
Arai took the same side as his father in the troubles in the clan and suffered with him, when after the death of his lord the heir came to power, and sought his advisers from the party which had opposed his father. Arai became a ronin, a masterless gentleman, and no longer officially a samurai. He supported himself in various ways, but in his extremity he kept his pride. Repeatedly he was sought in marriage by rich merchants for their daughters, but though offered large portions with the bride he refused with scorn, preferring to suffer as a samurai to living in luxury as a merchant. So, too, he refused to seek employment under any other noble until restored to favour by his own master, for had he not been taught that "though lord ceases to be lord, servant does not cease to be servant," and that "no man can serve two lords"? Hence he waited until at last, his unjust reproach removed, he entered again into the position of an active samurai, bringing comfort to his aged father, who had strongly commended the sacrificing course of his son, like him preferring poverty to indignity.
Characteristically, though Arai mentions the women he refused to marry, he tells us nothing of his wife, and mentions his children only in the most incidental way, as, also, he mentions his servants. Of the latter, for example, he tells us that in one instance when he was reduced to extremities two insisted upon following him, and when he told them he could neither pay them wages nor provide them food, they replied that it would be strange indeed if two able-bodied persons could not provide for themselves and also serve him. So they had their way and went along.
After various adventures he became tutor to the heir of the Shogun, and on his accession to the throne Arai was made court lecturer, a position of high honour, and, in Arai's hands, of commanding influence. Never did preacher take his task more seriously, for to him the Chinese philosophy was the expression of the final truth of the universe and the inspired guide for man. It set forth "the Way of Heaven and Earth and Man." During nineteen years Arai lectured more than 1299 times before his lord on the Chinese ethics, philosophy, history, and poetry. He describes the scene thus: "Yearly when the lectures began we had an opening ceremony and the courses of study for the year were determined, and at the close of the ceremony I was given two suits of clothes. Lectures began on the fifteenth day of the first month and continued, even on ordinary festivals, to the end of the twelfth month, being interrupted only by very great occasions. When I became feeble my lord bade me come in the evening in hot weather and in the middle of the day in cold. He had one firebox put between us when the weather was severe, and another behind me. When it rained or snowed he sent a servant to bid me stay at home. Usually he wore his robes of ceremony at the lecture, excepting in summer, when he wore his unextended robes and the skirt of a samurai. He did not sit on the dais, but on the mats nine feet away from me, and even in the hottest weather he did not use his fan nor brush away the mosquitoes, and if he chanced to have a cold he carefully averted his head when he blew his nose. Though the lecture lasted two hours, all sat immovable throughout. Spring and autumn he took me with him to his villa, where I had a special apartment, with wine and tea. Often he asked me to write verses. He gave me costumes at the four seasons and gifts of gold and silver at the close of the year. When he became Shogun he sent very fine silks to my wife and children in the spring and in the summer thin silks and cakes. He often sent these last, and it became the custom, though it was done for no one else."
The conception of the State in the Chinese philosophy is like Plato's,-the philosopher should be king. But Sages are few, and common men must shape their lives by the transmitted wisdom of the past. So Arai regarded himself as the teacher of practical righteousness and did not hesitate to rebuke his master. Like many a samurai he was almost a Puritan in his notions, and taught the Shogun to avoid the very appearance of evil. He reproved him for appearing in private theatricals in the palace, and when, in Arai's absence, some dancing-girls were brought to the Court, Arai on his return sent in his resignation and withdrew it only on elaborate explanations and apologies. He was conscious not only of the evil effects of luxury and of vice, but he valued public opinion, and seemed mindful of the unseen presence of the illustrious dead and of the generations yet to come, and would have conduct so ordered that one might meet his peers of the present, the past, or the future without concealment and without reproach.
In affairs of State Arai had as high ideals as in private life. There was need for reformation. The fifth Shogun of the Tokugawa family ruled from 1680-1709. He was at once a superstitious Buddhist and a patron of the Chinese philosophy, but his life illustrated the virtues of neither faith. Profligate and prodigal in his private life, loose and partial in his administration of public affairs, things went rapidly from bad to worse. The finances were deranged, the currency was debased, taxes were increased, the administration of justice was debauched, and religious superstition at the instigation of Buddhist priests protected birds and dogs at the cost of human lives. The historian tells us that the heads of men who had been executed because of injuries to animals, chiefly to dogs, filled thirty casks, and he sums up the situation thus: "That such a deteriorated Government did not find any one to lead a rebellion when men's minds were full of it was because of the transmitted virtue of the Tokugawa family." We more prosaic and unbelieving foreigners would say, because the fifth Shogun died and was succeeded by the sixth, whose philosopher at Court was Arai Hakuseki.
The sixth Shogun ruled from 1709 to 1712, and his infant son succeeding lived only until 1715. During these six years Arai was the power behind the throne. He lived a strenuous life, and sought a root-and-branch reformation. In some things he succeeded, but in most he failed. His time was too short, the abuses were too great, and the foes of the public weal were too thoroughly entrenched. Let me quote an instance to show how one squalid "touch of nature makes the whole world kin."
"Things were bought and sold by public tender, opened in the presence of officials and merchants, the lowest offer to be accepted and payment to be on completion of the work. But there were gifts to officials when the tenders were sent in, and thank-offerings when the work was done. Those who gave nothing got nothing, however low their bids. No official failed to get rich and the treasury was exhausted. Things which were worth an hundred ryō cost ten thousand, the merchants also getting rich. So they divided the public wealth between them." Arai expresses his judgments without reserve: most of the officials were corrupt, some were stupid, some were pedants, and only two or three stood manfully with him for the correction of abuses.
More foreign to our habits of thought was Arai's regard for the minutiæ of etiquette. Nothing was too detailed for his notice, the shape of the roof of a gateway, the colour of his foot-gear, the style and shape of his scabbard, the position he should occupy, the form of words to be used,- all had profound significance, and were worthy of the study of a statesman. Again we note the influence of the Chinese philosophy, which places propriety among the greater virtues and makes rites as important as righteousness. Sometimes Arai's punctiliousness had to do with grave matters of State. When, for example, a Korean embassy visited the Court of the Shogun, Arai studied every detail of its reception with the utmost care, profoundly investigating the ancient precedents and insisting upon many changes in the more recent usage. He compelled the visitors to treat the Shogun as a king, and he would yield neither to the Koreans, nor to Japanese officials, nor to the Shogun himself. At the great State dinner he kept the Shogun himself waiting for an hour until he forced the Korean ambassador to yield a matter of precedence which was in dispute; and finally, Arai carried his last point by his fierce determination to kill both the Japanese minister who opposed him and himself if he could not have his way. The Koreans yielded, but, on their return home, suffered death for their compliance, and for generations no other embassy followed them.
Arai is credited with most ambitious plans for his lord, even with the design of ending the dual Government once for all, dethroning the Mikado, and making the Shogun in fact as in name supreme. As a follower of Confucius and Mencius, he believed in no divine right of kings save the right conferred by fitness. He was familiar with the saying of Mencius, "I have never heard of a king's losing his power, though many a fellow has been driven from the throne." Arai had no faith in Shinto, but rationalised the ancient traditions and scoffed at the common notions of a divine ancestry for Emperor or people. Had the Shogun been of an equal resolution, or had the lives of the sixth and seventh Shoguns been spared, Arai might have effected this revolution with momentous consequences to Japan and to the world. But of his plans, whatever they were, he says, "Now all is ended like an unfinished dream."
Arai's breadth of mind was shown in his interviews with Father Sidotti. He was a Jesuit who in 1709 was left alone on the shores of southern Japan, disappearing from the knowledge of Europeans until the publication of Arai Hakuseki's papers in our day. Sidotti was sent as a prisoner to Yedo, where he was examined in 1715 by Arai. His offence in visiting Japan was double, first as a Christian missionary and second as a European, and both offences were punishable with death. Arai visited him repeatedly, setting down the substance of his interviews, and concluding thus:
He is "a very brave man, whose retentive memory holds vast stores of information, sincere, sober, earnest, self-denying, ready to appreciate goodness in others however slight, and with the meekness of a Sage. Born where that odious religion prevails he is not to be blamed that at the order of a superior he left an aged mother and a brother well advanced in years and came hither at the risk of life, enduring the perils and distresses which have overwhelmed him for these six years past. I cannot but wonder at his firm resolution. To put him to death is like shedding innocent blood and does not accord with the conduct of Sages. Nor will he recant to save his life. As he has come in ignorance of our laws instruct him in their severity and send him away." But Arai in this, as in much else, was too enlightened for his times. Father Sidotti was kept in confinement until his death, meanwhile converting the woman and man who served him.
When the infant Shogun died, in 1716, Arai with the other chief officials resigned, and he gives us his final words of relief. "As you know I rose by my own exertions from obscurity to a position high beyond my hopes. Such promotion is not common. With all modesty I may say it has been my duty to study all affairs of State since I became lecturer to the Shogun. For more than ten years I have scarcely known what I have eaten, and have been ill with anxieties day and night. With the accession of the infant Shogun I was still more troubled, but I purposed renewed diligence until death. But it has all ended like a dream.
"Men think I was content and that I am disconsolate! Not so! My release is like taking the burden from a feeble horse as he stands laden for a long journey. The favours of the present Shogun are double those of his predecessors, for he leaves me rank and emoluments and I grow old in peace. I am not ungrateful to my former masters, but what is more painful than a task beyond one's powers? Now I take no medicine, enjoy my food, and grow old in peace, content to leave the time of death to fate. That mind and body for one day should be at rest is the chief good. No pleasure can exceed that."
Arai shut his gate to visitors and devoted his remaining days to literary pursuits. He was historian, critic, poet, economist, and, most of all, statesman, the master of the learning of his time, independent of thought, and withal the active and ambitious man of great affairs.
The life of Arai gives us a glimpse into the real Japan, and as we study his life and his opinions we are impressed with his likeness to great men among ourselves. Could he have been transplanted into the Europe of his day he would have been at home with statesmen and scholars, as samurai of like position in our time prove themselves the peers of the leading men of Western lands.