The Old-time Anti-Foreign Sentiment- Prince Yoshinobu Tokugawa-Emperor and Shogun- Prince Yoshinobu becomes Shogun-His Highness, Akitakê, Goes to France- -Humorous Episodes-The Defeat of Prince Yoshinobu's Army-Various Explanations-The Restoration the Emperor- Prince Yoshinobu's Retirement-The Viscount's Theory- Prince Keikyu Tokugawa-A Roosevelt Anecdote -Swords and WatchchainI WAS a boy of fourteen," said Viscount Shibusawa "when your Commodore Perry came to Japan. At that time, and for a considerable period afterwards, I was 'anti-foreigner'-that is, I was opposed to the abandonment of our old Japanese isolation, and to the opening of relations with foreign powers.
"The majority of thoughtful men felt as I did. Our trouble with the Jesuits, in the latter part of the sixteenth and early part of the seventeenth century came about through a fear which grew up amongst us that the Jesuits were trying to get political control of Japan. This fear brought about their expulsion from the country, as well as some persecution of themselves and their converts, and it was then that our policy of isolation began. More lately we had seen the Opium War in China, and that had added to our conviction that foreign powers were merely seeking territory, and that they were utterly unscrupulous.
"When I reached the age of twenty-five, I became a retainer of Yoshinobu Tokugawa, a powerful prince, kinsman of Iyemochi Tokugawa, who was then Shogun. Not being of noble family, I did not belong to Prince Yoshinobu's intimate circle, but was a member of what might be termed the middle group at his court.
"He was then acting as intermediary between the Shogun and the Imperial Court at Kyoto-for though the Shogun ruled the land, as shoguns had for centuries, there was maintained a fiction that he did so by imperial consent.
"When Iyemochi died, the powerful daimyos nominated my lord, Prince Yoshinobu, to succeed him. I was opposed to his accepting the office, for the country was then in a very unsettled condition, and I felt sure that the next shogun, whoever he might be, would have serious difficulties to encounter; especially with the important question of foreign relations to the fore, and with such powerful lords as those of Satsuma, Choshu, Tosa, and Hizan becoming increasingly hostile to the shogunate and increasingly favourable to the Imperial House.
"The fact that Prince Yoshinobu had acted as intermediary between his kinsman, the fourteenth Shogun, and the Imperial Court at Kyoto, made it a delicate matter for him later to accept the shogunate. Moreover, though he belonged to the Tokugawa family, his branch of the family, the Mito branch, had continually insisted upon Imperial supremacy in Japan. However, circumstances compelled him to accept the office. I was greatly disappointed when he did so.
"This occurred two years after I became his retainer. I was now vice-minister of his treasury, with the additional duties of keeping track of all modern innovations and supervising the new-style military drill, with rifles, which we were then taking up.
"Shortly after becoming Shogun, Yoshinobu decided to send his brother, Akitaké, to France to be educated, and he appointed me a member of the entourage that was to accompany the young man. I was then twenty-seven years old.
"We sailed in January 1867-a party of twenty- five, among whom were a doctor, an officer who went to study artillery, and various others besides Akitaké's seven personal attendants.
"For international purposes the Shogun was now called Tycoon, for the word 'shogun,' meaning 'generalissimo,' carried with it no connotation of rulership; whereas 'tycoon' means 'great prince' -and of course it seemed proper enough for a great prince to treat with foreign powers. As brother of the Tycoon, Akitaké' received, in Europe, the title 'Highness'
"Matters looked very ominous for the shogunate at the time we left Japan, but I felt that the best thing for me to do was to go abroad and learn all I could, with a view to being better able to serve my country when I should return.
"The members of our party wore the Japanese costume, including topknots and two swords. I, however, devised a special elegance for myself. I heard that the governor of Saigon, where our ship was to stop, intended to welcome our party officially, so I had a dress coat made." The Viscount shook with laughter as he recalled the episode. "It wasn't a dress suit-just the coat. And when we got to Saigon I wore that coat over my Japanese silks, in the daytime.
"Our lack of experience with European ways caused many amusing things to happen. For instance, when we were in the train crossing the Isthmus of Suez-there was no canal Lhen-one member of the party, unaccustomed to window-glass, threw an orange-peel, expecting it to go out of the window. The peel hit the glass and bounced back falling into the lap of an ofticial who had come to escort us across the isthmus. We were much embarrassed.
"Later, in Paris, another absurd thing occurred. You must understand that in Japan it is customary for guests, leaving a house where they have been entertained, to wrap up cakes and such things and take them home. One member of our party, who had never seen ice-cream before, attempted this, wrapping the ice-cream in paper and tucking it in the front of his kimono. Needless to say, the ice- cream was no longer ice-cream when he got back to the hotel, and he himself was not very comfortable.
"The Paris Exposition of 1867 was in progress when we arrived. When it was over we travelled through Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Italy, and England. Originally it was Planned that after our official tour we should settle down to study, and I was eager for this time to come. However, it was not long before we received news that the shogunate had fallen.
"The news was puzzling. I could not gather what was happening in Japan. First I heard that Yoshinobu, as shogun, had publicly returned full authority of the Emperor, but later came word of the battle of Toba-Fushimi, in which troops of the Imperial Party defeated troops of the Shogun. This made it appear that Yoshinobu had played false, first publicly relinquishing the shogun's power and then fighting to maintain it. These seemingly conflicting acts puzzled me, for I knew that Yoshinobu was a man of the highest honour.
"Presently came a messenger from Japan saying that Akitaké had become head of the Mito branch of the Tokugawa family, which made it necessary for us to abandon our plans and return. We sailed from England in December 1867, reaching Japan in November 1868, eleven months later.
"I was dumbfounded by the changes I found. Though I knew that the Shogun Government had fallen I had not visualized what that would mean. My lord, Yoshinobu, was held prisoner in a house in Suruga. Learning that he was allowed to see his intimate friends and retainers, I journeyed to Suruga, where I had audience with him several times. I found him reticent, and was able to get from him little information as to the mysterious course he had pursued.
"After having been held prisoner for a year he was released, but he continued for thirty years to reside in the neighbourhood of Suruga, leading a secluded life. Not until thirty-one years after his resignation of the shogunate did he come to Tokyo. Four years later the Emperor created him a prince of the new régime. This showed pretty clearly that the Emperor had not mistrusted him.
"For twenty years after my return to Japan I was unable to get at the bottom of this matter. I tried to get some explanation from Yoshinobu himself, but he evaded my inquiries. Meanwhile the question was constantly discussed in Japan. Those hostile to Yoshinobu contended that he had not acted with sincerity, having been led by the burdens connected with the opening of foreign relations, to lay down the shogunate, and having later changed his mind and fought to retain it. On the face of it, this seemed true. Yoshinobu was called a coward and a traitor, and was severely criticized for having escaped after the battle of Toba-Fushimi.
"On the other hand, those who supported Yoshinobu asserted that he had acted logically and wisely: that he had seen that his government was going to fall, and had been entirely honest in surrendering the shogunate prior to the battle. These adherents insisted that he had not wanted a battle, but had set out for Kyoto to see the Emperor with a view to arranging details, especially with regard to the future welfare of his retainers. "But when a great lord travelled, in those times, he travelled with an army, and Yoshinobu's defenders maintained that this was what had brought on the battle-that when the men of Choshu and Satsuma learned that Yoshinobu was moving toward Kyoto with his soldiers, they came out and attacked him, believing, or pretending to believe, that he was on a hostile errand.
"At this time the Emperor was but seventeen years of age, and the Government was in the hands of elder statesmen of the Imperial Party. The Emperor himself probably had no idea on what errand Yoshinobu was approaching Kyoto; and whether the elder statesmen knew or not, they belonged to clans hostile to the shogunate, and preferred to fight.
"Many years passed before the truth began to become clear. At last, when the old wounds were pretty well healed, I undertook the compilation of a history of Yosbinobu's life and times. Finally I asked him point-blank about the events connected with his resignation and the subsequent battle. He told me that he had indeed started to Kyoto on a peaceful errand, but that when the forces sent out by the great clansmen appeared, hie could not control his own men. He had neither sought nor desired battle. Feeling that his highest duty was to the Emperor, he withdrew from the battle, taking no part in it, and returned whence he had come, going into retirement. He knew, of course, that the battle would put him in a false light, and he decided that the wisest and most honourable course for him to pursue was to show, by his life in retirement, his absolute submission to the Emperor.
"In order fully to appreciate why Yoshinobu was so ready to lay down his power, the old Japanese (doctrine of loyalty to the throne must be fully grasped. This loyalty amounts to a religion, and permeates the whole life of Japan. That is why the shoguns who for so many centuries ruled Japan, never attempted to usurp imperial rank, but were satisfied, while usurping the power, to preserve the form of governing always as vice-regents.
"It is my personal belief that when Yoshinobu Tokugawa accepted the shogunate despite the opposition of his trusted retainers, he did so with the full intention of restoring to the Imperial House its rightful power. I used to ask him about this, and while he never admitted it, he never denied it. That, was characteristic of him. He was the most modest and self-effacing of men-the last man who would have claimed for himself the credit for performing a self-sacrificing and heroic act of patriotism. For him the performance of the act was sufficient."
Throughout my talk with Viscount Shibusawa I felt in him the passionate loyalty of the retainer to his lord. Where I had wished for reminiscences of a more personal nature, the Viscount, I could see, thought of himself first of all in his relation to the family of Prince Yoshinobu, the last shogun, whose retainer he was. He was not interested in telling me of his own career, but he was profoundly interested in seeing that I, being a writer, should understand the relationship of Prince Yoshinobu to the Imperial Restoration. His attitude reminded me of that of a noble old Southern gentleman, now dead and gone, who had been the adjutant of Robert E. Lee, and who loved Lee and loved to talk about him. When I talked with him it was the same. I had great difficulty in getting him to tell me about his own experiences.
The loyalty of the retainer to the family of his lord is also to be seen in the relationship between the Viscount and young Prince Keikyu Tokugawa, son of Yoshinobu. After the death of the father the Viscount continued to act as advisor to the son. He became his chief counsellor, and when, a few years since, he resigned from the board of directors of the First Bank of Japan-the bank which he founded five years after the Restoration-it was young Prince Tokugawa who succeeded to his empty chair.
The Prince, who is a member of the House of Peers, is known in the United States, having come here during the war as representative of the Japanese Red Cross.
Viscount Shibusawa is also a figure not unfamiliar to Americans, having visited this country several times. I am indebted to him for an anecdote illustrative of the prodigious memory of President Roosevelt.
"Eighteen years ago," he said, "when Mr. Roosevelt was president, I called upon him at the White House. We had a pleasant talk. He complimented the behaviour of the Japanese troops in the Boxer trouble, saying that they were not only brave but orderly and well disciplined. Then he spoke with admiration of the art of Japan.
"I said to him, 'Mr. President, I am only a banker, and I regret to say that in my country banking is not yet so highly developed as is art.'
"'Perhaps it will be,' he replied, 'by the time we meet again.'
"Thirteen years later, when I called upon him at his home at Oyster Bay, he took up the conversation where we had left off.
"'The last time I saw you,' he said, 'I did not ask you about banking in Japan. Now I want you to tell me all about it."'
As I was leaving the bungalow in the garden, late in the afternoon of the second day spent in interviewing the Viscount, the thought came to me that probably I should never again talk with a man who had lived through such transitions. I wanted a souvenir, and I wished it to be something emblematic of the changes witnessed by those shrewd, humorous old eyes.
Therefore, not without some hesitation, I asked the Viscount if he would be so kind as to put on his two samurai swords and let me take his photograph.
He dispatched a servant who presently returned from the house bearing the weapons. The Viscount tucked them through his sash, and I snapped the shutter, hoping fervently that the late afternoon light would prove to have been adequate.
As the reader may see for himself, the picture turned out well. Indeed it turned out better than I myself had anticipated, for besides the swords and silken robes of Old Japan, there may be seen in it a very modern note.
It was the Viscount's grandson who, when I showed him the photograph, called attention to that.
"Yes," he said, with a smile, "you have there the swords of Old Japan. But the watch-chain-that is an anachronism."