CHAPTER XV. TOKYO
Kyoto is the representative of Old Japan; made the capital of the Empire in the eighth century, it was laid out after the Chinese fashion in formal regularity, and adorned with all the resources of art. After more than a thousand years it is still the most beautiful city in the Far East; but its life has departed and it is no longer a factor in the activities of the nation. Government, commerce, literature, the interests of ambitious men centre in Tokyo, while the sister city has only the empty title "Western Capital," the memories of the past, and the affection of lovers of the antique, the beautiful, and the unusual. It is the delight of the æsthetic tourist, and many regret that all Japan has not remained unchanged so that it might add its picturesque variety to a world become monotonously alike.
But Japan does not desire to offer attractions to the traveller as her chief end, but seeks a worthy place in the world so that she will not be looked at as a curiosity, but will be desired as a friend or feared as a foe,-that is, the Japanese looks at life precisely as does the American. So he who would study the real Japan and know its purposes and powers must not linger in Kyoto, but must go to Tokyo.
The town is modern, becoming of importance only in 1590, when Tokugawa Ieyasu made it his capital. He and his successors built a huge castle, and forced the barons to build mansions, some within the castle enclosure, and merchants and artisans to come from Kyoto and Osaka. Thus the town was furnished with inhabitants. The spaces outside the castle for the most part were filled with cheap shops and dwellings, of the lightest construction, with roofs of shingles, boards, or thatch. In the eighteenth century, tiles replaced the more inflammable roofing, and storehouses of mud furnished protection against the ravages of the constant conflagrations. A number of straggling villages were joined into a city, the whole making a tangled mass of confused, narrow, crooked streets without plan or symmetry.
With comparatively few alterations, the town still retains these characteristic features, the names of the ancient villages remaining to designate different quarters and the same names of streets repeated over and over. The palace of the Emperor occupies the centre of the castle by the side of the beautiful garden made for the pleasure of the Shogun: within the moats the mansions of the daimyo are replaced by the commonplace, modern structures erected for the departments of the Government and for the Parliament: some of the feudal mansions scattered throughout the city have been destroyed and others have given way to institutions of the new era, one, Kaga, to the elaborate buildings of the university, and another, Mito, to the arsenal, with its ancient garden, which was planned by a refugee Chinaman, still preserved in its unrivalled beauty.
The other changes are also utilitarian: the outer wall of the castle has been levelled and the moat, where the lotus grew, has been filled to make place for a tram; some streets are straightened and others widened, and one is lined with shops built in modified European fashion, and railway stations are already a common feature of the town. But as one looks across the wide expanse of roofs from an eminence, or drives through the interminable miles of streets with the low shops and dwellings of grey, unpainted wood, notwithstanding electric lights, and postmen, and policemen in modern uniform, he feels that the talk of progress is exaggerated and that the town is now as it ever has been save that the picturesque features are gone, leaving only the commonplace.
The tourist soon tires: the modern structures are not interesting, and for the rest the park in Shiba, with its mortuary shrines for the dead Shoguns, is at one end of the town, and the park in Ueno, with more mortuary shrines and the museum, at the other, and, besides, the great Buddhist temple in Asakusa, the Shinto shrine at Kudan, the garden at the arsenal, the tombs of the forty-seven ronin,-many a man has gone the rounds in a day, and many another has found two days too long and has hastened away to Nikko or Myanoshita or Kyoto in search of something more attractive to a man of taste.
Yet is the town full of absorbing interest. It has its stories of the past with their enchantments of history and romance, and still more the throbbing life of the present, for here is the working out of one of the most vital problems of our age. In Japan all ways lead to Tokyo, and hither come ambitious youth from the provinces. Here are the Court of the Emperor, the Parliament, the heads of the Government, the most active politicians, the editors of the great newspapers, the men famous in literature and science and commerce; famous wrestlers, and actors, and jugglers, and geisha, with the tea houses and gardens everywhere talked about, and shops and museums and all the activities and amusements of the past and present to be found by him who looks for them. They must be looked for, since there is nothing like the display and movement of a capital of one of the fourth-rate kingdoms of the West, no great park or avenue where one may see the world, or opera where society displays itself, or great social functions for wealth and vanity. New Japan has not had time to develop a world of amusement and of fashion. Society is official, a certain grade admitting to the presence of the Emperor and ensuring invitations to dinners, balls, and fêtes. These seem perfunctory, another duty to be performed, another foreign custom to be adopted, but alien to the real life, something belonging to the new routine, like the uniform and, like it, to be discarded when the work is done. Even a garden party at the palace is like a thousand similar functions in other lands (gentlemen will wear frockcoats, the cards direct, in English and Japanese) save for a glimpse of palace ladies at a distance in brilliant Oriental magnificence, and the matchless beauty of the chrysanthemums; and a disquieting rumour reaches me that now not only the Empress but all the ladies of the palace on these occasions wear Parisian gowns.
The new life does not yet adjust itself to the old. Two distinguished Americans were at a dinner in the Maple Tree Inn, a club devoted still to the purest ways of Old Japan (though the last time I saw it it had electric lights!), where they could neither sit upon their feet, being great of girth, nor find a chair. So they were put on the boards for go, eight inches high, knees level with chins, in evening clothes, with stockinged feet covered with napkins, for at dinner in society the feet should not be seen, but at the conclusion of the feast the napkins were clutched and waved in the air as the guests arose like giants, in cotton socks, to make a few remarks. So in a score of instances old and new do not agree, but it is not by the ludicrous misfits of customs and costumes that we are to judge Japan. Nor yet by the old life which still remains. On the hills, a little withdrawn from the crowded streets of shops and common folks, are quiet avenues and peaceful lanes bordered with walls fringed with trees and vines, with elaborate gateways through which we catch glimpses of gardens and dwellings, homes where is a life such as we found in Kochi, though more elaborate, as befits the metropolis. Even if there be a foreign mansion the true home is in the semi- detached native dwelling in the rear, for Kyoto itself is not truer to the ways of Old Japan.
Without formal society, associations are with groups of friends, in clubs, and tea houses and gardens for men, while the ladies are expected to find their friends in their husband's family and their enjoyments chiefly within the confines of house and garden. Such homes and pleasures repeat the experiences of ages past, modified only slightly by the new era. Said the wife of a prominent statesman, in a time of great political unrest, when her husband's life was threatened and she never knew in the morning as he went to the Parliament whether he would return alive: "I do not know why his life is threatened, nor what he is contending for. I can only stay at home and pray and weep."
Nor shall we find modern Japan in the amusements or the pleasures of the people. The theatre, it is true, is in part reformed and saved for respectability, and the people go third class in the railway trains, and not toilsomely afoot on pilgrimages, but still the great religious festival is in honour of a rebel against an emperor, a criminal remembered and worshipped for his strength and daring, the most frequented shrine is to the memory of one who killed himself and his mistress, while the Yoshiwara is the most famous place of amusements, its establishments advertising in the papers and sending touts to meet trains at the stations. If one sees a procession, the firemen, or an association of guilds, or, better, some great religious festival with gorgeous floats and fantastic images, and mummers, and throngs of shouting, pushing, red-faced men, or if, visiting the most popular temples, he observe how the worship of Venus is side by side with the worship of Buddha, or, not to continue the list, if one be present when the city is stirred as by the attempt upon the life of Count Okuma, and learns that the assassin had a dozen funerals, even a lock of hair being thought worthy of that honour, he shall think the "Age of Enlightenment" only a name, and he may be inclined to put the nation into the class of unchanging Asiatic powers, with merely an especial power of imitation.
New Japan lives and moves in none of these, but in the group of men who have guided its course in the last thirty years; not merely the statesmen in power, but the statesmen in opposition, with the teachers and authors and editors and scientists and great merchants and soldiers. Altogether the men are not many compared with the millions of the people, but in them and in men like them is the hope for the future. What they have accomplished the world knows. While I write comes the further proof from Manchuria of the completeness of their success on the field where fate knows neither Asiatic nor European, but victory follows the battalions which are best trained and handled. It is a marvellous achievement, but it only illustrates what has been accomplished in other departments of life and work: and we have patronised them, as if any one of us, the humblest foreigner, were competent to instruct and criticise!
As the generals of Japan hold their own and more against Russia's best, so have its diplomats proved their equality with their peers from all lands. Years ago a friend who had exceptional opportunities for judging at first hand-a man who was not given to overmuch praise of the Government, having his personal grievance- said to me: "The foreign ministers are wholly unable to cope with the native statesmen." There were exceptions, but the governments were in grievous error which supposed that any one would do-any chance politician-for a mission to the Orient.
The statesmen proved their qualities by their power of self-control and their patience. Not only their contemptuous treatment by foreigners invited haste, but still more the impatience of their countrymen. Again and again the nation protested against delay, a protest urged with the assasin's bomb and sword, and attempted to force action at once and at any cost. The men in control were called "opportunists" without patriotism, principles, or care for anything but the spoils of office. But they did not falter in their immense task, seeking to make Japan respected abroad and worthy of respect at home. They yielded to neither danger,-they did not follow radical counsels and act at once according to theory, nor did they give over effort and let well enough alone; but they persevered and were content to do the next thing as opportunity offered, a kind of politics best adapted to the exigencies of a transition. The leaders of the opposition were, like themselves, ready to take advantage of every opening and to use all means for the furtherance of their ends. So it has been easy for the parties to coalesce, not only in times of national peril but for many common ends.
Politics are too much centred in loyalty to individuals, so that it is easier to form groups than parties. Yet we may readily understand the great issues which have been the chief subjects of dispute. The first great movement after the overthrow of the feudal system was the withdrawal of General Saigo from the coalition, and the consequent Satsuma rebellion. It was purely personal, the outcome of disappointed ambition.
Then came the formation of the Liberal League, under the leadership of Count Itagaki. It demanded the immediate establishment of a Parliament with a responsible ministry after the English fashion. Allied with the Liberals in general aims, but often antagonistic in tactics were the Progressives, organised by Count Okuma. In 1889 the Parliament was established, but the ministry was made dependent on the Emperor, that is, the opposition declared, upon the bureaucracy. Then ensued struggles, with intrigues, and temporary coalitions, and accusations, and all the accompaniments of modern parliamentary strife, and slow progress towards the goal, government by the lower House of the Parliament though a party majority. Only when the nation faces foreign foes is the strife forgotten, as all for the time are united by patriotic fervour.
Important as is the Government and invaluable as has been its leadership, politics has been by no means the only field in which the intelligence and patriotism of the samurai have displayed themselves. They have created educational institutions, and a literature, for the regeneration of a nation cannot be exclusively the work of the Government; and the orators, teachers, editors, and authors have formed the public sentiment which makes New Japan not merely the instrument of a class of ambitious men but the true expression of the aspirations of a people. How completely this new life has permeated the multitude is shown in the war with Russia, which excites the passionate enthusiasm of peasants and of coolies, as of officers and samurai.
The new spirit enters even the retired homes of the aristocracy, so that ladies take part in public functions; led by the Empress they hold bazaars for the support of hospitals, organise societies in connection with the Red Cross organisation, and take an active interest in the higher education of women. The men, too, give expression to the new spirit by societies for the promotion of purity of life and for the formation of higher ethical standards of living. New ideals are set forth and a more worthy social organisation sought.
Even from the ranks of the common people individuals prove themselves possessed of the spirit, the intelligence, and the capability of the samurai. For the gentry formed no caste distinguished by different blood or race, but were merely representative Japanese, and the time may come, as Count Itagaki dreams, when the whole people will be their equals in intelligence as now in patriotism and rights.
Kyoto contrasts with Tokyo as the past with the present. The former is beautiful, but it is finished; it is rich in achievement, but without promise for the future. It remains the joy of all who love Japan because it is so unlike the West, so unspoiled by crude minglings of Oriental with Occidental, so novel, so content, so apart from the strife and the aspirations of the modern world.
In the background one seems to see the interminable eras of the East: Japan in its beginnings with its belief in its land begotten by the gods, with its strange love for the marvellous and its worship of the mysterious, with its emotionalism and its artistic instincts not yet come to development: and to this was brought the religion of India, enriched by a thousand years of existence, by its travel through continents, and by the meditations and the fancies of millions of votaries. It gave to Japan the universe of the imagination and, instead of the narrow province of Yamato, extended existence through countless worlds and ages. It brought the philosophy of India and literary traditions. Combined with these were the ethics and the philosophy and literature and the civil organisation and the social etiquette of China. The East in its immensity and its vast antiquity served Japan, and Japan wrought with the material thus furnished, producing through its native genius the civilisation which remains unique and beautiful.
The spirit of Asia has accomplished its mission: it has no further great gift to bestow upon the world. Man's mind, overpowered by nature, has failed to master it, therefore it has retired upon itself and has sought, in its own concepts, imaginations, retrospections, and hopes, to find reality. Had man no other methods and no other instruments this were his final achievement. Japan gives to us Asiatic civilisation in its most finished and perfect form, but it also shows us that without the introduction of new motives and the use of new methods there is nothing more to hope. The palace at Kyoto is vacant; its garden is the resort only of the curious, and its structure is the copy of numberless edifices which have preceded it. It is the monument of a completed history, but for the future men turn away from the rich plain, surrounded by great mountains, where the Japanese race so long found its centre, to the new residence of the Emperor, Tokyo.
Tokyo is confused and raw. Its imitations of Western ways are inharmonious, and it still holds fast to much that is unreformed and even heathenish. But it is the centre of absorbing interest to all who hope and believe in the progress of humanity. Can an Oriental people take on the civilisation of the West, learn its science, master its philosophy, absorb its ethical and religious ideals and yet retain its own peculiarities so that the result shall be a new and vigorous creation? Is it possible with such a history and with the vast influence of the ethical and religious environments of thousands of years to start upon a new career which shall lead to a different civilisation, based not upon fancies or introspections, but upon the truths which science discovers and which modern men adopt as fundamental?
Japan has made a beginning, and I have tried to indicate what are the forces which work to so great an end. First of all, there is the native genius, impressible, emotional, eager, self-confident; and there are the men of trained mind and self-sacrificing spirit, accustomed to leadership and in numbers sufficient to direct all departments of national activity, men with the mind to see, the will to choose, and the power to execute. Can Japan prove its right to hold the place it has won and to complete the task it has begun? Time only can answer, but the achievements of the present are the promise for the future.
In the past the Japanese appropriated the civilisation of China, assimilated it, and transformed it. Now none mistakes the civilisation of China for Japan's, nor supposes the art or literature or institutions to be identical. The world is richer for the intelligence and zeal which made Japan the willing pupil of its great neighbour. So shall it be again,-a new civilisation will replace the old, its principles and many of its forms from the West, but its spirit its own. It cannot be merely a mechanical imitation of any other social organisation, a monotonous and tiresome repetition, but it will be a distinctive growth, enriching the world by adding to its variety. On such an achievement depends the future of Asia, for, as we have pointed out, the Asiatic civilisation, philosophy, and religion have run their course and completed their cycle. For their own sake they need the stimulus of contact with a different civilisation, and with differing forms of truth. It is not a question of choice between two equal forms of civilisation.
In the Middle Ages a discussion of the relative merits of East and West was possible. It has become impossible, for the Occidental learns the processes of nature and masters them. Compare the long lines of carts pushed and pulled by human labour over terrible roads in China or in Japan with the great railway trains on an American railway, or a modern battleship with a Chinese junk. The Japanese understand the situation, and they only of the peoples of the East, and they choose freedom and self-government instead of submission to foreign rule, progress instead of stagnation, modern science instead of the metaphysics of the Chinese schools. And the West needs contact with the spirit and the thought and the art of the East. Only as these two so widely different civilisations, with such widely different histories and such widely separated environments, come together may we look for a new world-development, based upon the same common truths which shall form the foundation for progress, and be given independent expression in accordance with the characteristics of the varying nations, that mankind may have a future infinitely richer and nobler than its past. Many question whether such a result is possible, but Japan attempts the achievement. If it can succeed, China also and India will feel the impulse of the new life and will start upon a course full of promise; if it fail, doubtless upon the history of that vast portion of the human race which we designate as Asiatic will be written "Finis" and the future shall be but a wearisome repetition in more degrading forms of the past.
Meanwhile the Japanese think earnestly, not of these world problems but of their position among the nations; and they render us a service as they prove that the earth is not the exclusive possession of the white man, and show themselves worthy to be classed with the most advanced nations in science, in art, in enlightenment, and in war. They are not curiosities, to be prized for their novelties, nor are they inferiors to be patronised and governed, but they are men of like passions with ourselves, to be feared as foes and loved as friends, and to bear their part in the great task which was given men in the beginning "to subdue the earth" and make it the fit abode for enlightenment, truth, justice, beauty, and peace.