CHAPTER III. THE PAST IN ITS SIGNIFICANCE TO THE PRESENT
IN compressing into the space of a few pages the history of Japan, which covers a period of twenty centuries, I shall try to make you acquainted with those larger landmarks in the genetic development of my people which may be of general interest to students of Culturgeschichte. Though I shall try to be chronological in my presentation, I despair of any narration of concrete events in successive order. I shall endeavour to make a continuous story of our political and social evolution, but I shall not afflict you with long, outlandish names, however great and glorious they may sound in our own ears, unless they stand for something that is still concerned with living issues. I may have to recount some anecdotes which, trifling in themselves, typify the spirit of an age. My idea is to cast a cursory glance at the past in its vital relations with the present, and with this end in view I must beg of my audience to borrow the hat of Fortunatus, or the more fashionable cap of Monsieur Maeterlinck's Tyltyl and turn its diamond, so that time and space may be shortened at our discretion. Only, I shall ask you not to turn it too far, for then there will be nothing left for me to say.Our history may be roughly divided into five periods, namely:
- The Ancient-(including the legendary age, which is strictly pre-historic) from the founding of the Empire down to the middle of the seventh century, and including the introduction of Buddhism.
- The Early Mediæval-beginning with the radical political reforms of the seventh century and ending with the close of the twelfth century, covering epochs specially important in the history of art.
- The Late Mediæval-beginning with the rise of the military clans at the end of the twelfth century and concluding with the sixteenth century-an essentially heroic age under militant feudalism.
- The Modern-which was the age of the Tokugawa Shogun, characterised by peaceful feudalism and by encouragement of art and learning.
- The Present-beginning with the coronation of the present Emperor in 1868 and covering the period of occidentalisation.
1. The history of Japan, like the history of every people, has, before daylight clearness, its age of dusky twilight, when all its forms are obscure. This is the age of myths, of the legends of deities, and of the achievements of demi-gods, whose actions are not to be reckoned by a mortal's standard of time or space. Disjointed narratives of exceedingly commonplace personages, anecdotes of heroic deeds, tales of impossible characters -in some particulars too accurate and revoltingly realistic-fill the first few pages of our annals. Animistic stories that would rejoice the heart of a child or that may complement the Metamorphosis of Ovid, are told in our book of Genesis. The beings of this dusky period furnish no end of material whereby the fanciful may work out theories in anthropology, sociology, and folk-lore.
The account of this early age has been handed down as oral tradition in more or less metrical relation, and was first put into writing under the title of Kojiki (Records of Ancient Things), in the early part of the eighth century. The work of compilation was an intellectual feat of an extraordinary character, because the compiler had to use Chinese letters or ideographs to convey the sound of the Japanese language. This feat has been aptly compared by Captain Brinckley to the task of a man who has set himself to commit Shakespeare's plays to writing by the aid of the cuneiform characters of Babylon.
Within a decade of this compilation, another was undertaken and called Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan), and this was written in genuine Chinese style. These two works, together with a third Koga-Shu (Ancient Records), of much lesser renown, form our earliest historical documents. The narrators never claimed Divine inspiration, plenary or otherwise, when they recounted the story of creation;-how the Creator and the Creatrix, Isanagi and Isanami, (or in English translation the Male-that-invites and the Female-that-invites) met on the Floating Bridge of Heaven;-how when they thrust the gem-headed spear into the abyss of the sea and took it out, the drops which fell from its point congealed and formed the first of our islands. The historiographer continues to relate the birth of other islands, of the children born of the twin deities, and a long tale is told of the Sun-goddess, the chief of the native pantheon. Whether she was a real being of flesh and blood, or whether she was an embodiment of a solar myth or whether she was symbolic of a benignant and light-bringing government; whether the dominion over which she ruled was an actual geographical locality or whether it was an aïrial region, science has not decided any more definitely than it has some other questions-such as, whether the so- called deities, the culture heroes, were colonists, some from the continent and others from the Southern isles, or whether they were representations of earthly and heavenly powers, or whether the gem-pointed spear was the javelin of a primitive folk, or whether it meant, as Dr. Warren in his Paradise Found suggests, the axis of the earth; whether the so-called Floating Bridge of Heaven was a canoe in which the daring couple found their way to Japan, or whether it implied a grander conception which connects this little planet of ours with the heavenly bodies above; -these queries and others, yes, even the form of the Sun-goddess herself, we leave behind in the shade for Imagination and Science to decipher, while we now move forward to the time when the crepuscular dawn brightens into daylight, and when we can discern figures somewhat more plainly.
Before proceeding further, I may intercalate a remark or two on the subject of the name of our country. The land now called Japan was in its earliest, legendary days, called by a long poetical name, "The Country in the Midst of Luxuriant Reed-Plains," owing perhaps to the prevalence of marshes. After its conquest by Jimmu, the appellation "Yamato" (Mountain Portal?) was used to designate the country under his sway. In the Middle Ages, in official correspondence with China, the name "Hi-no-moto," "The Source of the Sun," was adopted. At one time "East" was used as against "West," by which China was meant; but the poetical designation, "The Land of the Rising Sun," best describes its location. The Chinese characters which were used in spelling Hi-no-moto gradually came, for brevity's sake, to be pronounced-à la chinois- Nippon. The later Chinese pronunciation of these characters was perverted by Marco Polo, who spelled it Jipangu, from which all the European names for Nippon are derived. This sinified form certainly is a time-saving improvement upon the first august title-"Toyo ashi hara no Nakatsu Kuni!" But from the marshland-revenons à nos moutons!
The fantastic episodes to which I have only slightly alluded by way of suggestion, have for their background the province of Izumo, which is situated on the south-western coast of Japan, just opposite the coast of Korea, and the legends may well be of Korean origin, preserved by the first settlers in Japan. As history begins to be less mythical, the scene shifts from that part of the main island to the southern part of Kyushu, where we meet a people claiming descent from the Sun-goddess rising to prominence. It is not unreasonable to conjecture that they were a band of immigrants of Malay blood from the southern islands.
In its advance eastward and northward, and in the course of fifteen years of fighting, this brave band brought the different tribes along its route under one government, at the head of which appears the founder of our royal dynasty-given the posthumous, honorific name of Jimmu Tenno, "the Emperor of Godlike Valour."
The date of his ascension to the throne is fixed upon the eleventh of February, 660 B.C., and the day is still observed as the anniversary of the foundation of our Empire, and is with us a time of universal rejoicing, such as the Fourth of July is with you, excepting that we are not advanced enough to express our jubilation and patriotism with the help of fire-crackers. To the Emperor it is a solemn occasion, when he worships before the shrine of his ancestors, to thank them for the heritage they have left him, and for their constant protection.
For several centuries after the death of the first Emperor, there is not one among his successors who distinguished himself in any way. Like some tedious chapters in the Bible, history barely mentions their names and their diuturnal reigns. So strangely devoid of events, right after the subjugation of the savage tribes, are these reigns, that some historians have cast a doubt upon their very existence. An hypothesis has been advanced that, in those early ages, a year was counted from equinox to equinox, and hence its duration was only six months. It is also thought quite probable that, in editing and inditing ancient records, there was a miscalculation in the sexagenary cycle (a form of calendar in vogue in the East, according to which twelve years make one course and five courses, or sixty years, make a cycle), and until historical criticism establishes a more certain date, an error of about ten cycles-that is of six hundred years-may be suggested as a solution of these unnaturally long, uneventful reigns. This would bring the inauguration of our Empire almost within a half-century before Christ, and the demise of our first founder within a, year of the Christian era. It is also believed by some annalists and ethnologists that this curtailment of six centuries brings our history into better accord with some records of China and Korea, as well as with some anthropological discoveries of recent date. India, China, and Korea were then already at the height of their civilisation.
At whatever date the reign of Jimmu Tenno may be fixed, be it 660 B.C. or only 60 B.C., it is not unlikely that in his time, as well as in the reigns succeeding his, constant exchange in trade and in thought went on between Japan and the continent on the one hand, and with the Southern Seas on the other. Peaceful communication was now and then interrupted by warlike demonstrations, as in the case of the invasion of Korea about 200 A.D., by our more or less mythical Amazonian Empress Jingu. If diplomatic courtesies were but seldom exchanged, private individuals must have passed to and fro. The first official communication with China took place in the latter part of the third century (285 A.D.), when a Korean envoy brought with him a copy of tha Analects of Confucius. This first introduction of letters marks an epoch in our history. Until this time the Japanese had not possessed any mode of writing. Under Korean teachers, eager students soon mastered the Chinese ideographs and the sciences that China had to teach us.
The intellectual enlightenment, as well as the material progress which followed in the train of Chinese studies, was overwhelmingly great. The Court adopted Chinese customs and costumes; the learned and the rich strove in imitating celestial manners. Chinese art was bodily accepted, and its canons blindly followed. Upon Chinese models radical reforms were made in the laws. A new partition and distribution of land were even enforced. A student at leisure might amuse himself by drawing parallels between the inflow of Chinese traditions into Japan and of Greek traditions into Italy-even comparing the coincident geographical circumstance of Japan's turning her back to the continent of Asia, as does the Apennine peninsula to Hellas.
While the Chinese leaven was thus vigorously working among us, by the middle of the sixth century, another, and perhaps a stronger germ of fermentation, of Hindu origin, found its way into our Court, whence it soon spread far and wide and deep; but as I shall speak of Buddhism again in my lecture on religions in Japan, I shall not devote much time to it here, but will proceed to the second epoch of our history.
2. The adoption of Buddhism as a state and popular religion is synchronous with what is known in our history as the Nara period, corresponding to the eighth century of the Christian era (710-785 A.D.). It was the first great epoch of our authentic history and is so called because-whereas the seat of government, or what amounts to the same thing, the residence of the sovereign, used to move from place to place with the beginning of each new reign-early in this century, Nara, in Central Japan, was selected as a permanent place for the capitol, and the physical stability of the Government, if I may so term it, was for the first time secured. If the Government and the Court were not as yet sharply distinguished, a nucleus of that germain distinction was now introduced. The ancient identification of state and religion- our word matsurigoto, meaning either the art of government or the observance of religious rites- still continued, and was, in fact, endorsed by the teaching of Confucius, who taught kingship by divine right or, perhaps more properly, kingship as divine duty. The Court, the Government, and the Church were all collected at Nara, the city itself being laid out in regular squares after the approved Chinese fashion, with gates and sequestered quarters for different social ranks. It is even surmised by modern philologists that the very name "Nara" is an ancient Korean term for capital. Here were fostered with tender care and displayed in lavish splendour all the arts learned from the continent. Buddhist images of all descriptions were cast in precious metals and bronze; magnificent temples, still standing and said to be the oldest wooden edifices in the world, were built with an elegance of decoration that now is the wonder of the art-world. Schools and universities were also started during this age. I have often wondered whether the effect of Korean culture upon ancient Japan was not analogous to Etruscan influence upon Rome; while the part played by China was comparable to what Greece did for Italy.
Japan afforded an asylum for the continentals who sought refuge from the misgovernment and wars of their own home lands. Colonies of Koreans were given land in different parts of the country. Artisans were invited and settled in the towns. About the middle of the seventh century, the ruling sovereign wrote of the amalgamation of different races in this stanza:-
"Oranges on separate branches grown, When plucked are in one basket thrown."In 815 A.D. a census was taken in Kyoto, which showed the distribution of population according to classes: (1) the royal; (2) the divine; (3) the barbarian,-meaning respectively those connected by blood with the reigning family, the Japanese (or rather those who were in the train of the first Emperor), and the immigrants from the continent, as well as the pre-Japanese occupants of the soil. The returns showed that one-third of the population belonged to the last category.
Thanks to Buddhism, the manners of our people were greatly softened. We do not hear of the soldiers of that time. We hear only of monks and nobles. Instead of war-drums stirring us to imitate the actions of the tiger, were heard the tranquil tones of temple bells. In place of steel armour and weapons, rustled Chinese silks and brocades. Literature, though it retained some traces of rugged, pristine vigour, began to show signs of feminine fastidiousness. Priests and nobles vied in writing love-poems and amatory epistles. It was indeed a golden age of poetry, and if it lacked manly vigour, it certainly showed elegant finesse, both in sentiment and in diction. This period is conspicuous, too, for having a number of women who distinguished themselves in belles-lettres. That the fair sex enjoyed great social freedom is evident from contemporary records, though they strangely enough omitted to claim the right of suffrage!
Not a few European students of history have observed that the predominance of the gentle sex in intellectual pursuits has proved a precursor of social decadence. Though America may reverse this verdict of historians, the Nara period confirmed it only too well. With all its refinement, or rather because of this very refinement, in art and literature, the manly tasks of government and warfare came to be sadly neglected. The Emperor had for some time ceased to take a direct personal part in the government, this onerous and terribly terrestrial labour being left to his subjects, especially to the family of the Fujiwaras, who- as all mortals under similar conditions are tempted to do-exercised this delegated power to the aggrandisement of their own house. In their hands the imperial throne was elevated in reverence "above the shelf of blue clouds,"-an expression which anticipates the modern English phrase "to be shelved"-so that the person of the Emperor was believed too sacred for profane eyes to behold.
Needless to add, the royal power was reduced to a mere name-nay, to the shadow of a name. Not infrequently pressure was brought to bear upon emperors to abdicate at an early age. One babe was crowned at the age of two, only to abdicate at the age of four. Nor was he a lone example of august infancy. There was an instance of the throne being occupied by a child of five, and in several cases boys of ten years were placed upon it. Adult rulers, who might prove troublesome by asking questions about their rights and duties, were speedily persuaded to retire into monasteries. By dexterous manipulation did the regent family- first the Fujiwaras and subsequently the Tairas- manage to concentrate all political power in their own hands; but as these families abused this power for selfish gratification, their real influence grew weaker and weaker, so much so that it was not seriously heeded in the provinces, where powerful men and influential families took slight cognisance of the central authority, and practically dominated villages and counties, attaching to their persons guards of soldiers-very much as did the robber barons of the Rhine, or the manorial lords of England. These local magnates were the men who afterwards became feudal lords, or daimyos, and their retainers developed into the samurai of later days.
A nation fallen into the silken languor and gilded euphemism of the Nara period, however delectable to the Epicurean, cannot escape political reaction, and such a reaction was brought about by the Emperor Kwammu, who, in order to effect a radical change, not only in administration but in the very spirit of the people, removed the capital, late in the eighth century, from Nara to the present site of Kyoto. That period of our history, during which the government had its seat here for nearly four hundred years (794-1196 A.D.), is known as the period of Heian, literally "Peace and Ease"--"Sans souci"-the name by which the capital was called. The reforms instituted by the heroic sovereign Kwammu included the separation of religion from politics-a task which sounds very modern in its conception and phraseology. He removed priests from posts of administration and restricted the number of religious ceremonies and rites performed in the Court. The building of temples was also prohibited, without special license from the authorities. New laws, savouring more of Confucian doctrines than of Buddhist precepts, were now the order of the day; but after the death of this Emperor the course of events fell very much into the old lines. If anything, moral degeneration and political corruption went farther than they had done during the previous epoch. We know how it was in England in the time of Charles the First, and especially how it was after the Restoration. Virility was sapped in the ruling classes and manly stamina undermined among the people. Society as a whole was steeped in sensual and sensuous amusements, and of this City of Peace it may be said that if war slaughtered its thousands, peace slew its tens of thousands. The hold which Buddhism had on the people was as great as ever, and there was untrammelled indulgence in learning and art. Superstitions, which curiously enough so often accompany luxury (is not superstition itself a sort of mental luxury?), brought the clergy more and more into prominence. And as religion was not rigidly concerned with morality, a dissolute clergy could exercise power without relinquishing pleasure.
They learned art primarily for outward embellishment, but also necessarily for the expression of their inner self; they trifled with learning chiefly for social entertainment but did not study in search of truth. Is it any wonder that art survived learning? Altogether it was an age of laxity of morals, of effeminacy of manners, of imbecility of religious faith. It was, however, this period that gave to Japanese civilisation many of those features which still remain objects of admiration. Its architecture, or what there is of it after the devastation of many conflagrations, its works of art, the gentle and graceful manners and customs of the people, our landscape-gardening, and painting and poetry- these are the greatest legacies left by this sybaritic age. Herein lie the present charms of Kyoto. We should have had more of these art-gifts, had they not been destroyed by the vandalism of the latter part of this period, when the military power of the Minamoto clan, which had been slowly forming in distant provinces, especially in the eastern part of the country, succeeded in putting a stop to the exercise of an effete authority on the part of the Court. The leader of this clan, Yoritomo, organised a system of feudalism and established his government in the town of Kamakura, not indeed as the usurper of royal power, but under the name of Shogun, the maréchal of His Majesty, as the vice-regent and the majordomo of the Emperor.
3. This ushers in the third era of our history,- namely, the militant age of feudalism, lasting for some four centuries, the early part of which is known as the Kamakura period and the latter as the Ashikaga. It is one of the most stirring and romantic epochs of our history. It is an epic age of heroism, of daring, of action and achievement. If literature is the mirror of the age, the writings of this period certainly reflect a spirit very different from that of those preceding it. We meet with very few of those debonair romances which in former times called forth sighs and blushes from ladies and nobles. We meet instead tales of adventure, combat, and battle-such as enliven the pages of Froissart and Scott.
The traditions of culture had not entirely died away. On the contrary, the samurai patronised and fostered different arts, and so we find in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the beginnings of the tea ceremony, and of flower arrangement. The artists of this age of hero-worship and of romantic adventures, naturally delight to paint portraits and the spirit of motion. Sculpture created statues of heroic size and character. This age bequeathed some few works of art and of literature which may claim immortality; but the best product of this period was men, and these of the type of Nietzsche's Uebermenschen-men of strong masculine calibre, who could wield a sword and govern a kingdom; a type of men who have become household names for terror and strength, as well as for generosity and tenderness. If history is, as Carlyle says, the biography of great men, the history of this militant age is beyond doubt the most eventful in our annals of feudalism. It has certainly left a marked impress upon the moral ideas of our people.
This age naturally brought into strong relief the figure of the warrior, the samurai. We speak of it as one of constant fighting and of horrible bloodshed; but warfare itself developed a cast of character, daring in deed, patient in endurance, subdued by a sense of the vanity of life and of the mutability of earthly things-a sense that Buddhism helped in large measure to encourage. To know the sadness of things was a characteristic of the true samurai. Hence the consummate product of this age is not a fierce fighter, but a strong personality, with the tenderest of emotions; a man who has under control all violent passions, whose tears are kept back by sheer force of will.
Have you not seen a picture of a Japanese warrior on his steed, pausing under a blooming cherry tree? Every Japanese child is familiar with the leader of a great army, who, in the course of his march, had to advance over a path strewn with the wind-blown petals of the cherry. Here he halted, deeming it desecration to trample upon the carpet of blossoms.
The samurai of those days looked upon the profession of arms, not as a matter of slaughter but as a means of mental and spiritual training. He went to battle, and he prepared for combat, not so much to gain a victory as to try his skill with his peer. Fair play and the square deal were the chief attractions of warfare.
We read of a young warrior of the sixteenth century, Kato by name, engaged in a duel with Suwoden. When the latter's sword broke, the former threw away his own weapon; for it was not fair to take advantage of the misfortune of one's enemy. In the grapple that followed, Suwoden got the better of Kato, but as Suwoden had his hand upon his enemy's throat, he said;-"It is not samurai-like for me, sir, to strangle you, who did not slash me when my sword was broken. Now I pay you back; we are on equal terms. This is only a skirmish, let us meet each other again in full battle array." They parted, and in a few days they confronted each other again at the head of their armies. While the battle was raging and the forces of both were in disorder, the two heroes came forth and were soon engaged in single combat. They both knew that Suwoden's was a losing cause. He himself felt that he came to die at the hand of one who had once saved his life; Kato on his part had come to the field with the determination to give a ray of hope by his own death, to his falling enemy, who likewise had spared his life. It was a strange conflict. Neither party seemed to make the right stroke. Both showed ridiculous weakness, as though they were ready to fall at the first thrust. And when through a mishap a slight touch of Kato's sword inflicted on Suwoden a shallow wound, he fell, exclaiming, "I am beaten, sir! Take my head to thy general as an addition to thy many trophies." Then Kato raised him up quickly, assuring him that the cut was not fatal; but the wounded warrior begged that his head be taken by one so worthy of it. According to the etiquette of war, this was done, and after his triumphal return, Kato interred, with due ceremony and with many hot tears, the mortal remains of his friend and opponent.
What do you think of a mode of warfare during the hottest engagements of which poetical tournaments took place or repartee was exchanged between the belligerent parties? The same ideals held sway even in the siege of Port Arthur. It so often happened in that siege that, when Japanese soldiers had occupied a trench, they left behind them a sad or comical letter in broken Russian or else a droll picture, for the Russians who might next take possession of it. Then the Russians would leave behind them some well-meaning memento for the next Japanese party that might retake the trench.
"War is hell";-but in mediæval warfare the sense of honour often robbed it of its horrors, its stigmata, and its subterfuges.
Women, too, imbibed in those militant times those virtues which we still admire in Spartan and Roman matrons. They did not as a rule advance to the front. It was their duty to stay at home, and attend to the training of their children. Naijo, the inner or interior help, was their avocation. So, to keep one's family intact and in good order, while the master was in the field, was what was expected of woman. But if for some reason or other she found that she was a hindrance, how unflinchingly she sacrificed herself! We read of a young man infatuated by a girl. When she found that her beauty kept him from marching to the front, she disfigured her face with a red-hot iron. We read of another young warrior who, soon after he left the threshold of his home, where he reluctantly bade his last farewell to his wife, received a note, a few lines of which will show her decision;-"Since we were joined in ties of eternal wedlock, now two short years ago, my heart has followed thee, even as its shadow follows an object, inseparably bound soul to soul, loving and being loved." Then she goes on to say, "Why should I, to whom earth no longer offers hope or joy, why should I detain thee or thy thoughts by living? Why should I not rather await thee on the road which all mortal kind must sometime tread?"
This again is only the prototype of what repeatedly happened during the Russo-Japanese War, when aged mothers were known to stab themselves in order to encourage their sons to go forth and not to have their thoughts drawn backward.
I have caused you to linger among our mediæval warriors perhaps longer than you care; for without understanding them, their ideas in regard to life, to duty, to right and to wrong, modern Japan will remain unintelligible. If you can grasp their view-point, many things which seem so queer and paradoxical in Japanese life will become clearer. That life may strike you at first sight as very un-christian; but, strange to say, it was just at the time when the power and honour of the samurai were at their height, that Christianity reached Japan and found a field white unto harvest -and this not among the down-trodden masses only, but among the bravest of the gentry and the most genteel dames.
It is indeed a remarkable feature of the missionary enterprise of this time, that it permeated the highest social classes as well as the lowest. Only in recent years, is it becoming clear what a deep and far-reaching spiritual influence it exercised on the new converts. Some of our historical personages (inclusive of women) noted for purity or strength of character, whose religious profession was not generally known, are now found to have been followers of Jesus. One can very easily imagine new religionists, in zeal for their faith, sometimes taking an imprudent course that would offend the more conservative of their countrymen. If history repeats itself, it seems to me that no history does so more frequently than ecclesiastical. A study of its earliest days and of those following the Reformation, will give a clue to the right understanding of the experience through which the Roman Catholic Church in Japan passed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Unfortunately for the papal-not to say Christian-cause, the one respect in which our church history differed from that of Europe, lay in the fact that the blood of our martyrs did not turn out to be "the seed of the church." Does this prove that the Japanese converts were so weak as to deny their Lord at the sight of the sword and of fire? Were they traitors and apostates? On the contrary, thousands of them willingly and joyously acknowledged the cross and died for it. Martyrdom was quite in the line of Bushido teaching. Equally samurai-like, if not Christ-like, was the step taken by a large band of believers, who rose in arms as the last resort of their faith. The so- called rebellion of Shimabara (1638) was the extreme measure of the Christians' protest against political and religious tyranny. It ended most disastrously for their cause, and with the summary slaughter of the best Christian knights ended all public profession of the religion of Christ. Henceforth Christianity was known as Ja-kyo, an evil faith, a religion that encourages treason, rebellion, deception, assassination, poisoning, and all clandestine tricks and magical incantations. To conjure the name of Yaso, as Jesus is pronounced in Japanese, was to call upon all the legions of evil spirits. Whoever survived the rebellion alluded to, was put to the sword. Every nook and corner was searched lest one should escape. A strict census was yearly taken by the Buddhist monasteries, for the Buddhist priests of those times were in no small measure responsible for the blood of the Christian martyrs.
The decisive stand Japan took against Christianity affords a most fruitful theme for speculation. If the country had been brought entirely under the control of the Jesuits, what would have been its fate? It is not probable that it would have lost its political independence and simply succumbed to Spanish rule; but it is conceivable that, but for the eradication of the incipient faith, Japan would now be a second or third-rate Catholic power in the East. If Japan had formed a part of Christendom, sequestrated and humble, and continued as such from the seventeenth century, it is presumable that the mental affinity between the East and the West would have grown closer. On the other hand, it is likely that the Catholic Church would have proved an additional factor in the conflicting and disturbing forces at work in the country and would have prevented Japan from realising the unique peace she enjoyed, and the arts she developed, as well as the racial homogeneity and compact nationalism she maintained- all of which marked the following epoch of her history.
4. The Shogunate, which represented the actual governing power, passed, after the eleventh century, from one family to another in quite rapid succession until the beginning of the seventeenth century, when it fell to the lot of Iyeyasu, head of the Tokugawa house, in whose hand it was centralised and elaborately organised.
On the ground that all the Spaniards and Portuguese were followers of the "evil sect," they were ordered to leave forever the "sacred soil of the divine land," as we call Japan. Before the close of 1639, there was thus left neither a missionary nor a merchant of either of these nationalities, except some few who were naturalised or who apostatised.
Thus was consummated by the founder of the Tokugawa family, the exclusive measures so jealously maintained by his successors for two and a half centuries. His policy did not stop here. It was asinclusive as it was exclusive. So rigorous was the Edict of 1637, that not only were foreigners forbidden to land on the Japanese coast, but the natives were prohibited from leaving it. Ships above a certain tonnage were not allowed to be built. Prior to this period, the Japanese had been free to go from and return to their country at will. Many had been the ships that plied between Java, Manila, Annam, Siam, Malacca, China, Korea, and India, and there are interesting pages regarding our colonial activity in the history of those times. Now all these enterprises received a death-blow by the stroke of a pen.
Cut off from the rest of the world by this exclusive and inclusive policy, there was formed a society impervious to ideas from without, and fostered within by every kind of paternal legislation. Methods of education were cast in a definite mould; press censure was vigorously exercised; no new or alien thought was tolerated, and if any head harboured one, it was in immediate danger of being dissevered from the body that upheld it; even matters of friseur, costume, and building were strictly regulated by the State. Social classes of the most elaborate order were instituted. Etiquette of the most rigorous form was ordained. It was during this period that the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and other devices for mollifying social manners reached a high degree of perfection. Even the manner of committing suicide by splitting one's bowels was minutely prescribed. Industries were forced into specified channels, thus retarding economic development. As no relations existed with foreign powers, international wars did not trouble us. Peace reigned within the Empire, but only such peace as would be possible in the slumber of the Middle Ages.
If, however, in the Middle Ages, clouds were gathering to burst amidst the thunder and lightning of the Renaissance and the Reformation, conditions in Japan were not dissimilar; for, in spite of political and economic inactivity, the Tokugawa period was pregnant with mighty forces -forces which, as we shall see, were soon to reveal themselves in the awakening life of the New Era.
Recent events in China have made us familiar with the fact that her present reigning dynasty dates back to 1644. That was the year when the capital of the former dynasty, the Ming, was captured. As two centuries previously the fall of Constantinople drove Grecian scholars into Italy, there to disseminate the seeds of the Renaissance, so the fall of Nanking made Chinese scholars seek refuge on our shores, there to spread anew the teachings of Chinese classics and ultimately to bring about the regeneration of the Island Empire.
The revival of Confucian classics reminded the scholars of Japan that their allegiance was due solely and singly to the Tenno (Emperor), and not to the Shogun. The simultaneous revival of pure Shinto, which inculcated the divine right and descent of the Emperor, also conveyed the same political evangel. Whispers, started among priests and savants that the Shogun must go, spread from ear to ear, and in spite of everything his authority could devise to stem the current, the new doctrine took wings from one end of the country to the other. He who ran might read the ominous signs of the times. The abrogation of the Shogun only awaited the slightest provocation, and this was supplied by the coming of an American-the appearance of Commodore Perry in our waters, in 1853. Very naturally he believed that the Shogun or Tycoon, as he was sometimes called, was the legitimate and ultimate power in the Empire, and opened negotiations with him. Better versed in world-politics than the Emperor's Court, which had not been in touch with actual affairs, the Shogunal government accepted the Commodore's proposals and signed a treaty of peace, commerce and navigation, in the spring of 1854. This high-handed proceeding on the part of the Shogun precipitated the crisis. Those who were opposed to him and advocated that the Emperor alone had the power to enter into foreign relations, were called Imperialists, and they demanded that the treaty be nullified and that the Shogun forfeit the authority he so unscrupulously abused.
Keiki, the last of the Shoguns, willingly surrendered it, because he knew well enough that he held it only in trust. Not so the feudal lords who had been created by his house. They naturally desired the continuance of the old régime. Many daimyos espoused the falling cause of the Tokugawa Shogun, but a still larger number of powerful houses arrayed themselves under the brocade banner of the Emperor. Ever since the Shimabara rebellion, people had not known war, and now the whole country was rent by a commotion from which no samurai could be free. The god of war decided in favour of the Imperial cause and the Tokugawas retired to private life (Prince Keiki, still living, is a respected gentleman of seventy- five) and the system of Shogunal government was abolished.
5. This episode in our history is often called a revolution; but the term is misleading, as it suggests many an event known by that name in Europe. "Restoration" will better express the character of this crisis, because the issue involved was the restoration of the Emperor to his legitimate authority. This was consummated in 1868, and marks the beginning of the present reign. It is from this date that we count the new era, the era of Meiji-"The Enlightened Reign,"-the present year (1912) being the forty-fifth of Meiji.
Though the Imperialist party commenced its hostility to the Tokugawas by opposing their policy of opening the country to foreign trade, a few bitter encounters with European gun-boats soon convinced them of the futility of exclusivism. It is, however, only just to state that a large number of those who publicly denounced the treaty, entertained in their hearts no hostile feeling regarding intercourse with western nations, and when they cried "Down with the western barbarians!" they used this slogan only to hide their real intention, which was the overthrow of the Shogunate. In the midst of national convulsions the Emperor died, leaving the throne to his son, the present ruler, Mutsuhito-then a lad of sixteen. Within a year of his coronation, the Imperialists gained a complete victory over the forces of the Shogun, so that by the year 1869 the country was pacified, and the duarchy, which had lasted from the twelfth century, was entirely dissolved, and an unhampered monarchy re-established. The young Emperor, fortunately of sterling character, commanding intellect, and good physique, signalised his new reign by proclaiming on oath, on the sixth of April, 1868, the five principles of his government, known as the Charter Oath of Five Articles. This proclamation was the Magna Charta of the Japanese Empire. It runs:
- An Assembly widely convoked shall be established, and all affairs of State decided by impartial discussion.
- All administrative matters of State shall be conducted by the co-operative efforts of the governing and the governed.
- All the people shall be given opportunity to satisfy their legitimate desires.
- All absurd usages shall be abandoned, and justice and righteousness shall regulate all actions.
- Knowledge and learning shall be sought for all over the world, and thus the foundations of the imperial polity be greatly strengthened.
The year 1871 saw the abolition of feudalism with the voluntary surrender of their fiefs by the daimyos themselves. At that time there was already in the minds of a few, as is also indicated in the first article cited, the vision of a constitutional government. The more radically-minded among them would have liked to have seen it realised at once; but calmer counsel prevailed, and the most advanced statesmen estimated that it would take two or three decades to prepare the nation for a limited monarchy. Not only was education made compulsory between the years of six and twelve, but education in the wider sense of self-governing citizenship was insisted upon. For instance, a deliberative body was formed, consisting of old and tried public servants, and soon after an annual assembly of provincial governors was convened. Publications relating to parliamentary forms of government were translated and disseminated. In short, every method was employed to prepare the nation for the final adoption of the constitution. I may say it took over twenty years, from the time a constitution was seriously discussed until the time when it was finally promulgated in 1889. Side by side with the preparation for civil liberty, reforms were set in motion in every social and political institution. A broad basis for intelligent democracy was to be secured by erasing social distinctions.
The time-honoured social classification of citizens into the samurai, or military and professional men, the tillers of the soil, the artisans and lastly the merchants, was abolished.
The defence of the country was entirely remodelled. The place of the samurai as defenders of the country was taken by a standing army, raised by a system of conscription. The old samurai descended, as it were, into the lower orders, and in so doing elevated the moral tone of the masses by instilling their code of honour into their hitherto despised inferiors. The populace, being now amenable to military duties, were raised, so to speak, to the ranks of the samurai.
It was a great experiment to prove whether an army or navy, necessarily consisting according to conscription laws very largely of peasantry, could be made an efficient engine of territorial defence. The test of this experiment came when, in 1877, the so-called Saigo rebellion occurred, in which the flower of the Satsuma samurai, always noted for their bravery, was met by the Imperial troops, recruited by conscription. It was soon discovered, to our amazement and satisfaction, that in our peasantry was the material for an efficient army. As for the material for the navy, the brave fisher-folk of our coasts formed a more than adequate supply.
It was not only in military institutions that reforms were introduced and bore fruit, as has been demonstrated to the world at large in the three wars in which we have since been engaged- the wars with China in 1894-5, with Russia in 1904-5, and at the time of the Boxer revolt in 1900.
The progress made in the military and naval rægimes is but a small part of our national progress. In political life, the transformation was, if anything, more marvellous. When, as the result of twenty years' preparation, the nation was deemed ripe for representative government, the constitution was, in 1889, proclaimed in the name of the Emperor, and the first parliament took its seat the following year. This constitutional experiment-the first to be tried by an Asiatic people-was watched with much interest, if not curiosity, by outsiders. It is enough to state here that an experience of twenty years has deprived the constitution of the character of an experiment. It has come to stay on Asiatic soil. It even threatens to invade the continent in a far more radical form. As to party government, however, we have as yet only a feeble semblance of it; but here we feel no regret-in the face of recent examples this country has shown us.
The Gregorian calendar was adopted and the Christian Sabbath made a regular holiday. Laws were codified on the principles of the most advanced jurisprudence, yet without violating the best traditions of the people. Higher education in cultural and technical lines was encouraged and patronised. New industries were constantly introduced or old ones improved. Means of communication-shipping, railways, the telegraph and telephone-have been steadily extended. Changes in all the departments of national and commercial life are still transpiring; but an account of them would take me out of the pale of history into the story of the Present.
This statement is often repeated-that Japan has achieved in five decades what it took Europe five centuries to accomplish. The privilege of youth lies in the inheritance of the dearly-bought experience of age. We are forever indebted to our older sisters in the family of nations. Who can believe nowadays that the Western Powers at one time seriously discussed the partitioning of Japan? This was actually contemplated about forty years ago.
I have sketched in rough outline the course of our historical development to give you an idea that the institutions of modern Japan, introduced, as many of them are, from abroad, have all been the outcome of genetic growth, no great violence having ever been done to the law of continuity. It is often said that our progress is confined to our leaders; but you do not hear that a mob of the people destroyed a telegraph line or a railway track, or set fire to a schoolhouse.
Psychologists and sociologists have always looked upon the progress of Japan with no little suspicion. Le Bon and others of his school called the occidentalisation of Japan a thin veneer. They thought that our army, trained and armed after Western pattern, was only for show. They thought that our navy was a plaything, invincible only in peace, and probably invisible in war; for never, they said, could an Oriental organise or manage such an intricate machine as a modern gun-boat in the face of actual danger. They thought that our education in Western science and philosophy was but apish mimicry, for, they avowed, white philosophy and white science can never penetrate the brown head. I do not know where Monsieur Le Bon now stands; but the nations that have seen our people not only in times of peace and play, but in those dark hours which try men's souls, have judged differently. The American people, with their youthful optimism and broad human sympathy, have always been the first to recognise whatever steps we have taken in the onward march.
When other nations tried to bar our progress or slur our reputation, America always stood for us and with us. Indeed American sympathy has been a potent influence in the latest phase of our national life.
There are many pages in our recent history which will be unintelligible, unless the reader keeps in mind the presence of hostile and friendly foreign Powers. No nation of our day and generation can live in isolation, any more than can a lower organism, and as ecology decides what a plant will be, so does foreign environment determine a nation's course. Which nation has retarded and which accelerated our growth? Which offers, or will offer, a favourable, and which a fatal, condition? We shall speak in a future lecture of the part played by America in our national development-how her Stars heralded to the world the rising of our Sun.