The "Connecticut Yankee" in Old Japan-Commodore Perry-The Elder Statesmen-Marquis Okuma-Selfmade Men-Viscount Shibusawa-The Power of the Daimyo-Samurai Privileges, Including That of Suicide- Education in Old Japan-Jigoro Kano and Jiudo-The Farewell Letter of a Patriot-Kodokwan and Butokukai- The Old Military Virtues-General Nogi-His Death With Countess NogiDESPITE the convulsions, overturnings, and transitions through which so many nations have lately been passing, Japan still holds the world's record for swift and stupendous change. The thing that happened to Japan staggers the imagination. History affords no parallel. The nearest parallel is to be found in the fiction of a great imaginative writer. An American or a European going to Japan at approximately the time of the Imperial Restoration of 1868, found himself, in effect, dropped back through the centuries after the manner of Mark Twain "Connecticut Yankee"; and the Japanese who lived through the transition which then began, met an experience like that pictured in Mark Twain's fantasy as having befallen the people of King Arthur's Court when modern knowledge was suddenly visited upon them.
The true story of Japan, however, surpasses in its wonder the invention of Mark Twain; for whereas the facts of history compelled the author of "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" to let ancient Britain backslide into her semibarbarism after the disappearance of the Connecticut Yankee, Japan not only changed completely but held her gains and continued to progress.
The beginning of the period of transition is customarily dated from the year 1853, when Commodore Perry first arrived, or from 1854, when he negotiated his treaty; but though that treaty did open the door through which the spirit of change was soon to enter, the actual modernizing of the nation did not start until 1868, when Yoshinobu Tokugawa, fifteenth of his line, and last shogun to govern Japan, relinquished his power to the Emperor.
Men able to remember the events of the Restoration are about as rare in Japan as are those who, in this country, remember the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, which occurred in the same year; and men who played important parts in the Restoration are of course rarer still-as rare, say, as Americans who played important parts in the Civil War. As for Japanese who can recall Perry's visit, they would correspond in years to those who, with us, can recollect the beginning of the struggle for Free Soil in Kansas. In neither land, alas, is there more than a handful of such old folk left.
It so happens, however, that in Japan several very remarkable men have survived to great age.
The three most powerful figures in politics at the time of my visit were the octogenarian noblemen known as the Genro, or Elder Statesmen: Field Marshal Prince Yamagata, Marquis Matsukata, and Marquis Okuma. Prince Yamagata, as a soldier, took an active part in the civil warfare attending the Restoration. Both he and Marquis Okuma were born in 1838-that is to say seven years before Texas was admitted to the Union as the twenty-eighth state. Marquise Matsukata was born in 1840.
Of these venerable statesmen, Prince Yamagata and Marquis Matsukata figured, I found, as great unseen influences; but Marquis Okuma, while perhaps not actually more active than his colleagues of the Genro, appeared frequently before the public, and was more of a popular idol, being often referred to as Japan's "Grand Old Man." In politics he had long been known as a great fighter and an artful tactician; also he was sympathetically regarded by reason of his having been, many years ago, the victim of a bomb outrage in which he lost a leg.
I knew of his having been thus crippled, but through some trick of memory failed to recall the fact when, one day, I found myself a member of a small party of Americans received by the Marquis at his house. We were with him for something more than an hour; perhaps two hours. During that time he stood and made an address, moved about the room, and even stepped out to the garden, yet I was not once reminded of his physical handicap.
I have never seen a person so seriously maimed who, in his movements, revealed it so little. And that at eighty-three years of age!
I should have guessed him twenty years younger. Lean, tall, wiry, alert, with close-cropped white hair and snapping black eyes, he appeared to be at the very apex of his powers.
That he was versatile I knew. All three of the Genro have at various times been Prime Minister, and have held other high offices under the Government, but Marquis Okuma's positions have been extremely varied, calling for the display of a wide range of knowledge and of talents. I was told that he had organized the Nationalist Party, published a magazine, edited a number of important literary and historical works, founded and presided over Waseda University, and had long been famed as a horticulturist.
It was a curious thing to hear him speak in a language I could not understand, yet to feel so strongly his gift for swaying men with oratory.
The experience reminded me of that of a newspaper man I know, who accompanied William Jennings Bryan on one of his political speech-making tours long ago.
"I was a dyed-in-the-wool Republican," he told me, in recounting the experience, "and did not believe in Bryan or his measures, yet I continually found myself carried away by his oratory. While he was speaking he made me believe in things I didn't believe in. I would want to applaud and cheer him like the rest of the audience.
"Afterwards I would go back to the train and sober up. I wanted to kick myself for letting him twist me around his finger like that. But the next time I heard him the same thing would happen. It wasn't what he said; it was his voice and phrasing and his magnetism."
I have no doubt that a Japanese unacquainted with English would sense Bryan's elocutionary power precisely as I did that of Marquis 0kuma; indeed I am not sure that a foreigner, unfamiliar with the language of the orator, is not in a sense the auditor who can best measure his power.
Marquis Okuma's features indicated extraordinary pugnacity, yet I should say that his pugnacity was under perfect control. He could exhibit both passion and icy coolness, and I believe he could turn on either at will, as one turns on hot or cold water. If he was William Jennings Bryan he was also Henry Cabot Lodge.
It is worth remarking that these Elder Statesmen are without exception self-made men. None of them was born with a title; all were members of modest samurai families; all rose through ability.
In this respect, as in many others, comparisons between the governmental system of Imperial Japan and that of Imperial Germany that was, do not hold. Japan is not governed by a hereditary ruling class. The government service is open to all men, under a system of competitive examinations, and promotion does not go by family or favour, but is in almost all cases a recognition of ability exhibited in minor offices. Young men in the consular service are in line for ambassadorships and may reasonably hope, if they exhibit great talents, ultimately to reach the highest offices.
It would seem, moreover, that in Japan as in some other lands, aristocratic and wealthy families do not, as a rule, produce the strongest men. Thus I was informed that, of the entire cabinet of Prime Minister Hara, but one member was a man of noble family, that one having been Count Oki, Minister of Justice. And even Count Oki was only of the second generation of nobility.
In the business world the same rule applies. The titled business men of Japan have risen, practically without exception, from humble beginnings. I was told that one of them, whom I met, had begun life as a pedlar, and was proud of it. Looking up another business genius in the national "Who's Who," I find the following statement, which may be assumed to have been furnished by the gentleman to whom it refers:
Arrived in Tokyo in '7l, with empty purse; proceeded to Yokohama, supporting himself by hawking cheap viands.If the honorary title, "Grand Old Man of Japan," had not already been conferred, and I had been invited to make nominations, I should have gone outside the realm of politics and cast my vote for Viscount Eiichi Shibusawa.
Had the Viscount been, at the time of the Restoration, a member of one of the great clans responsible for the return of the reins of government to Imperial hands, his career might have resembled more closely the careers of the three old nobles of the Genro. But whereas Prince Yamagata, Marquis Matsukata, and Marquis Okuma were respectively men of Choshu, Satsuma, and Saga-clans that cast their lot with the coalition that returned the Emperor to power-ViscountShibusawa was on the other side, having been a retainer of the last shogun.
The spoils went, naturally enough, to the victors. Strong men belonging to the clans which had supported the Imperial House became the strong men of the centralized government. Even to-day, when clans, as such, no longer exist, the old clan sentiment survives, with the result that men of Satsuma and Choshu origin are most influential in politics. The militaristic tendency sometimes noticed in the action of the Japanese Government is said to be largely due to this fact, for the clan of Satsuma was in the old days notorious for its warlike inclinations, and there is evidence to show that those inclinations have, to some extent survived. Naval officers are to-day drawn largely from old Satsuma families, while Choshu furnishes many officers to the army.
At twenty-seven years of age, Viscount Shibusawa had by his ability become vice-minister of the Shogun's treasury. Naturally, then, after the fall. of the shogunate, he went in for finance. He founded the First Bank of Japan-literally the first modern bank started there-and, prospering greatly became a man of large affairs. Repeatedly he was offered the portfolio of Finance under the Government, but always refused it. A few years ago he retired from active business, and as has already been mentioned, gave his time thereafter to all manner of good works.
When I met him he was nearing his eighty-second birthday. He distinctly remembered Perry's arrival in Japan and the events that followed. I wished to get the story of a representative man who had seen these things, and therefore asked him to grant me an interview. This he was so kind as to do, allowing me the better part of two days-for interviewing through an interpreter, even though he be the best of interpreters, is slow work.
We talked in a pretty brick bungalow in the Viscount's garden. Outside the door was an English rose-garden, with bushes trained to the shape of trees.
Prior to that time I had always seen the Viscount wearing a frock coat or a dress suit, but here at home, on a day free from formalities, he was clad in the silken robes that Japanese gentlemen put on for comfort-though they might well put them on for elegance, too.
Short, stocky, energetic, with a strong neck and large round head, the face seamed with deep wrinkles, he was one of the most extraordinary-looking men I had ever met. He radiated force, courage, honesty. I knew a Sioux chief, long ago, who had a face like that, even to the colour, and to the deep wrinkles of humour about the mouth and eyes. Nor, in either case, did the promise of those wrinkles fail.
When, having likened Viscount Shibusawa to an Indian chief, I also liken him to a barrel-bodied, square-jawed, weather-beaten old British squire of the perfect John Bull type, I may overtax the reader's imagination; yet there was in him as much of the one as of the other.
He was born in the country, coming of a good but not aristocratic family. The Japan of his youth and early manhood was divided into some two hundred and fifty or three hundred feudal districts, each ruled by a daimyo, or chieftain, having his castles, his court, his concubines, his retainers- among the latter soldiers in armour, equipped with swords, spears or bows and arrows, and wearing hideous masks calculated to terrify the foe.
These chiefs had absolute power over the people and lands in their domains. They could make laws, issue paper money, levy taxes, impose labour and punishment on the people, or arbitrarily take from them property or life itself.
It was a land without railroads, without steam power, without window-glass; a land in which nobles journeyed by the highroads in magnificent processions, surrounded by their soldiers, mounted and afoot, their lacquered palanquins, their coolie bearers; a land in which, when great lords passed, humble citizens fell to their knees and touched their foreheads to the ground; a land of duels, feuds, vendettas, clan wars; a land in which the samurai, or gentry, alone were allowed to wear swords, and in which one of the privileges most highly prized by the samurai was that of dying by his own hand, if condemned to death, instead of by the hand of the executioner. Involved with the privilege of hara-kiri, or seppuku, was a property right. The property of a man beheaded by the executioner was confiscated, whereas one committing hara-kiri could leave his estate to his family.
The education of young men varied in those times according to rank. Youths of the aristocracy were instructed in the Chinese classics, which in Japan take the place of Latin and Greek with us. Medicine and astronomy were also taught. The sons of lesser samurai received a training calculated to fit them for practical affairs. All those entitled to wear swords studied swordsmanship, and the process by which they learned it was sometimes severe, for it was the custom of masters to attack the pupil suddenly from behind, or even when he was asleep at night, on the theory that he should be ready at all times to defend himself. A samurai found killed with his sword completely sheathed was disgraced. At least two inches of the blade must show in proof that the dead man had attempted a defence. Jiu-jutsu was also taught to many samurai youths, and in this, as in swordsmanship, it was the practice of instructors to make surprise attacks upon their pupils.
Viscount Shibusawa's recollections of old days, as he recounted them to me, will make a separate chapter, but before that chapter is begun, let me mention several points of samurai tradition-among them jiu-jutsu, and the more advanced art or science of jiudo, developed by my friend Mr. Jigoro Kano.
As after the Restoration the craze for all things American and European spread through Japan, the old arts of jiu-jutsu, which for more than three centuries had been practised by samurai, fell into disuse. Before that time there had been many different schools of jiu-jutsu, teaching a variety of systems, but as the old masters of the art became superannuated no followers were arising to take their places.
In 1878, when Mr. Kano took up the study of jiu-jutsu, he saw that, through lack of interest, many of the fine points of the art were likely to be lost. In order to preserve as much of it as he could, he went to great pains to make himself proficient, not merely in one system of jiu-jutsu, but in several systems as taught by the several great masters then alive.
His first interest in jiu-jutsu arose through the fact that he had been a weak child and wished to make himself a strong man. I was reminded of Theodore Roosevelt's sickly childhood when Mr. Kano told me that; and it is interesting to recall that it was President Roosevelt who first caused jiu-jutsu to be widely talked of in the United States, and that he studied it, while in the White House, under one of Mr. Kano's pupils. Also I was interested to hear from Mr. Kano that, as a young man, he gave an exhibition of jiu-jutsu before General Grant, at Viscount Shibusawa's house in Tokyo.
Far from being a professional athlete, Mr. Kano is a gentleman of samurai family, a graduate of the Literary College of the Imperial University, a linguist, a traveller, an educator of high reputation, the holder of several decorations. Among other offices he has been head master of the Peers' School in Tokyo.
As the reader is doubtless aware, the theory of jiu-jutsu was to defeat the adversary, not by pitting force against force, but by yielding before the opponent's onslaughts in such a way as to turn his strength against him.
Jiudo, which means "the way or doctrine of yielding," is a combination, created by Mr. Kano, of all systems of jiu-jutsu interwoven with a plan of mental, moral, and physical training, calculated to elevate the art above any mere consideration of combat alone-although that side is by no means neglected.
Innumerable stories, exciting or amusing, might be told of the heroic adventures of celebrated jiudoists, but I know of nothing which sheds more light upon Mr. Kano's teachings, in their moral aspect, than does a letter written to him by Commander Yuasa of the Japanese Navy, a former pupil of the Kodokwan, the school of jiudo established by Mr. Kano in Tokyo. The letter was written by Commander Yuasa when he was about to take the steamer Sagami Maru and sink her at the harbour entrance in the third blockading expedition at Port Arthur. The following are extracts from it:
We shall do all that human power can, and leave the rest to Heaven. Thus we can calmly ride to certain death. I am happy to say that among the members of this forlorn hope are three of your former pupils: Commander Hirose, Lieutenant Commander Honda, and myself. May this fact redound to the credit of the Kodokwan.The writer of this letter was lost, as was also Commander Hirose, one of the brother officers he mentions. The other, Lieutenant Commander Honda, was wounded by a shell, but was rescued and lived to tell the tale.
Though I greatly regret that while living I could not do justice to the kindness you have shown me, still please accept as an expression of my gratitude the fact that I lay down my life for the sake of our country, as you have so kindly taught us, in time of peace, to be ready to do.
Foreigners visiting Japan and wishing to see jiudo demonstrated, are welcome at the Kodokwan, where, if notice is given, an interpreter is provided. There are now some twenty thousand practitioners of jiudo who look to the Kodokwan as headquarters and to Mr. Kano as their master.
Another place where jiudo may be witnessed is at the Butokukai-Association for the Inculcation of the Military Virtues-in Kyoto. The latter is a private organization, like an athletic club, with a fine temple-like building, and many branch establishments throughout the country. It has some two hundred thousand members, of which several thousands are active.
The primary idea of this organization is to keep alive certain old Japanese military arts, such as jiudo, archery, fencing, the use of lances and spears, and the employment of the curious lance-like naginata, which, with its curved blade and long handle, was used only by women.
Contests between men armed with dummy swords and women using wooden naginata are sometimes to be witnessed at the Butokukai, and are extremely interesting as recalling the days when the women of Old Japan fought beside their men, using the naginata as an offensive weapon, and a short dagger, worn in the fold of the obi, as a defensive weapon corresponding to the shorter of the two swords that men used to wear.
Samurai women were taught to defend themselves with the dagger, and to use it for suicide if in fear of defeat and dishonour. Families in which the samurai tradition is sedulously maintained still make it a custom to present their daughters, at the time of marriage, with daggers of this type, though such weapons are now recognized merely as emblems of a spirit to be preserved.
The great modern samurai hero of Japan was General Count Nogi , the hero of Port Arthur, in memory of whom a shrine was recently dedicated in Tokyo.
This shrine stands in the grounds behind the simple house in Tokyo where Count and Countess Nogi lived, and where they died together by their own hands. Nogi is canonized in Japan, and his house is held a sacred place, and is visited by thousands of persons each year.
The theory, upon which self-destruction is practised according to the old samurai tradition, and is widely approved in certain circumstances, is one of the things that baffles the Occidental mind.
I therefore asked Viscount Kentaro Kaneko, who knew General Nogi, to tell me the story of his death, and to explain to me how he came to commit seppuku.
"When Nogi was given command at Port Arthur," said the Viscount, "his two sons were officers under him. He told his wife to prepare three coffins, and to hold no funeral services until all three were ready to be buried together.
"In the assault on Port Arthur some thirty thousand Japanese soldiers gave up their lives. This sacrifice of life was at first much criticized in Japan, but public sentiment changed in face of the fact that the General lost both his sons. He returned to Japan a victor, it is true, but a most unhappy man. Always in his mind were thoughts of the families of the thirty thousand brave young men it had been necessary to sacrifice. He did not want to be acclaimed in the streets, but to be let alone. He went about in an old uniform and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible.
"One day at an audience with the Emperor Meiji, Nogi said to him as he was leaving, something to the effect that he should never see him again.
"The Emperor, gathering that Nogi was contemplating seppuku, called him back.
"' Nogi,' he said, 'I still have need of you. I want your life.'
So the General did not carry out his plan at that time, but lived on, as the Emperor had ordered him to do, becoming president of the school at which the sons of nobles are educated.
"All through the years, however, he was haunted by the memory of the thirty thousand soldiers he had been compelled to send to their death.
"When the Emperor Meiji died, Nogi was one of the guard of honour, made up of peers, who in rotation watched at the Imperial bier for forty days and forty nights.
"Then came the state funeral. On the day of the funeral Nogi wrote a poem which declared in effect, 'I shall follow in the footsteps of Your Majesty.' This poem he showed to Prince Yamagata, who took it to mean merely that Nogi would be in the procession following the Imperial remains to the grave.
"But when the guns announced the departure of the funeral cortège from the palace, Nogi was not there. Like the samurai of old, he desired to follow his dead master into the beyond. At the sound of the guns he took his short sword and committed seppuku, while in the next room Countess Nogi, his devoted wife, dressed all in white, cut the arteries of her neck. Thus the two died together, for the sake of the Emperor and the thirty thousand soldiers who had sacrificed their lives."
At no point is the outlook of the Oriental more completely at odds with that of the Occidental, than in the view it takes of suicide.
Whereas with us suicide is condemned as cowardly, being resorted to as a means of escape from the hardships of life, there will oftentimes be something highly heroic in a Japanese suicide. Unhappiness, it is true, does drive some Japanese to self-destruction, but in many other cases the suicide represents something more in the nature of a self-inflicted punishment for failure of some kind. Thus it is with the schoolboys who sometimes kill themselves because they have failed in their examinations. Likewise, while in Japan I heard of two railroad gatemen who had, by failing to close their gate when a train was coming, been responsible for the death of a man travelling in a ricksha. A few days after this accident both these gatemen suicided by throwing themselves beneath a train. For their neglect they paid voluntarily with their lives.
"And," said the Viscount, "we had in the old days another sort of suicide, examples of which sometimes occur even to this day. When a man believed profoundly in something, and was unable to attract attention to the thing in which he believed, he would sometimes commit seppuku as a means of drawing notice to it. He would leave a paper setting forth his beliefs, and people would give it attention, feeling that if a man was willing to die in order to emphasize a point, his message was worth considering."
The Viscount paused. Then rather reflectively he added: "It is as though he were to underscore his protest-in red."