CHAPTER VI. HŌJŌ TYRANNY
The word "tyranny" is used here, not only in the modern, but also in the ancient, sense, and refers, therefore, not merely to arbitrary exercise of power, of which there were plenty of instances during this period, but also to the illegal assumption of authority. Indeed, this era might be named "Hōjō Usurpation." It will be remembered that Yoritomo obtained for a wife Masago, the capable daughter of a noble named Hōjō. When Yoritomo died, the truth was evident of that Japanese proverb, Taishō ni tane ga nashi, or, "To a general there is no seed"; for, although he had children, there was no worthy heir. His son Yoriiye nominally succeeded as Shōgun; but he preferred "a life of pleasure and gayety" to the onerous duties of government. Therefore the administration of affairs naturally fell into the hands of his maternal grandfather, Hōjō Tokimasa. Later there was established in connection with the Shōgunate at Kamakura the office of Regent (Shikken), or Vice-Gerent, by whom the Empire was governed through a puppet Shōgun of a puppet Emperor. This state of affairs continued for one and a third centuries, and was generally marked by cruelty and rapacity. "The Hōjō have never been forgiven for their arbitrary treatment of the Mikados. . . . . To this day, historian, dramatist, novelist, and storyteller delight to load. them with vilest obloquy. . . . . The country folks of eastern Japan have a great annual ceremony for the extermination of a destructive worm called the 'Hōjō bug.' "
This era is also called the Kamakura Period, because that place, founded by Yoritomo, became a second capital and the first center of influence. This is the name given to the period in Japanese literature; and the subtitle, "Decline of Learning," characterizes the era. We may therefore dismiss the literature with the statement that the only great work, but that a real classic, is the Hōjōki, by Chōmei, who has been called "the Japanese Wordsworth," but is more nearly "the Japanese Thoreau." The resemblance of the name of this little book to that of the period is only apparent. Hōjō means "ten feet square" and indicates the size of the hut in which Chōmei lived his hermit life; and ki means "record." The book was written in 1212.
Within a few years after Yoritomo's death several changes had taken place in the personnel of the administration. In 1203 his son Yoriiye was deposed in favor of his brother Sanetomo, and was murdered the next year. In 1205 Hōjō Tokimasa retired and was succeeded by his son, Yoshitoki, who received the title of Shikken and ruled in conjunction with his sister, Masago, Yoritomo's widow. Brinkley says that "these were a great pair," who, by good government, "won a high place in the esteem and love of the people." In 1219 Sanetomo was assassinated by Yoriiye's son in revenge for his father's death, and ended the direct line from Yoritomo. From 1220 begins the line of so-called "Shadow Shōguns," who were mostly children of the Fujiwara family or the imperial house. "The situation of affairs in Japan at this time was deplorable." The Hōjō family "ruled both at Kyōto and Kamakura with resistless authority," which culminated in such a hitherto "unprecedented incident of Japanese history" as interference with the order of imperial succession. But, when once such a precedent had been established, it was not difficult to find a good excuse for repeating the performance.
Hōjō Yasutoki, who was Shikken from 1224 to 1242, was a man of great ability. "He was a true friend of the farmer in his seasons of famine and trial and a promoter of legal reforms and the arts." He gave up part of each month to hearing complaints. Anyone who had a complaint or petition need only strike a bell which hung in front of the Record Office, and he would receive prompt attention. Hōjō Yasutoki drew up a code of fifty-one articles, which "may be called a combination of a constitution, a criminal code, a civil code, and a code of civil procedure."
His grandson, Tokiyori, was also an able ruler, who "practiced economy in his administration and showed much consideration for the agricultural classes." In 1256 he retired to a monastery and delivered the regency to his son Tokimune. But the latter, being only six years old, was under the care of a tutor, Nagatoki, of the Hōjō family. "Thus it had come about that a tutor now controlled the Regent; who was supposed to control the Shōgun; who was supposed to be the vassal of the Emperor; who, in turn, was generally a child under the control of a corrupt and venal Court. Truly, government in Japan had sunk to its lowest point!" It was in the time of the regency of Tokimune (1268- 1281), and of the reign of the Emperor Go-Uda (Uda II, 1274-1287), in the year 1281, that an event occurred which, temporarily at least, quieted factional strife and united the Japanese nation in self-defense. This was an attempted invasion of Japan by the Mongol hordes of Kublai Khan. A large fleet of Chinese junks, armed with catapults and other engines of destruction new to the Japanese, brought an army estimated at 100,000 men, and attacked Dazaifu, on the island of Kiūshiu. Then ensued a terrible contest, the outcome of which was for a while doubtful. In fact, rumors circulated that the invaders had overrun Kiūshiu and were pushing on to Kyōto! "From the monasteries and temples all over the country went up unceasing prayer to the gods to ruin their enemies and save the land of Japan. The Emperor and ex-Emperor went in solemn state to the chief priest of Shintō, and, writing out their petitions to the gods, sent him as a messenger to the shrines at Ise." These petitions seem to have been answered by the wind-god, who sent a typhoon, which, like the storm which saved England from the Spanish Armada, preserved Japan from the Tartar Armada. "Thus the only serious attempt at the invasion of Japan which has ever been made was completely frustrated" - by a "Divine Wind."
One interesting outcome of this Mongol invasion was that the Venetian traveler, Marco Polo, who happened to be living then at the Court of Kublai Khan, was able to learn something about Japan and publish it in his book. That was about the first information obtained by Europeans concerning Japan.
About the same time the Hōjō power was enhanced, and the dependence of the imperial house upon the Hōjō regents became more marked, when the latter made arrangement that two lines of the imperial family should reign alternately, so that neither line might become too powerful.
There now ensues a period of three or four decades without any event of importance, up to the time of the Regent Takatoki (1316-1326) and the Emperor Daigo II (Go-Daigo, 1318-1339). The latter was an able man, "who had acquired intimate knowledge of politics during many years of life as Prince Imperial," and "had conceived plans for restoring the reality of administrative power to the throne." The first result of this attempt was victory for the Hōjō, who, in 1330, banished the Emperor to the island of Oki, and set up a successor, who is not, however, officially recognized as having reigned.
Now two famous characters appear on the scene of action: they are Nitta Yoshisada and Kusunoki Masashige, who, together, and with the aid of Ashikaga Takauji, succeeded in effecting the restoration of the exiled Emperor. Nitta, moreover, led an army against Kamakura, which, by taking advantage of ebb-tide, he was able to attack from three sides. After a severe and bloody contest the loyalist forces gained the victory, the Hōjō regent committed suicide, and the Hōjō Tyranny was at an end (1333).
Moreover, the city of Kamakura, "with its great triumphs of architecture, was almost entirely destroyed"; and little remained of "all the beauty and magnificence of Yoritomo's proud capital, . . . . the first city in the Empire, . . . . the home of all that was best in art and literature, in the refinement and luxury of life, as well as of trade and industry." And, in 1915, there is not much left to show that Kamarura was once such a flourishing place.
While the political affairs of this period are saddening, there is something worthy of record in the progress of art. As it was an era of sanguinary warfare, it is natural that the manufacture of the sword, called "the soul of the samurai," should have been well developed. It was in the reign of Go-Daigo that Masamune, the greatest of all swordsmiths, and his pupil, Muramasa, flourished. Dick says: "The Japanese blades are unsurpassed by the most famous swords of Damascus, India, and Persia; and the craft of the swordsmith was looked on as the most honourable of all handicrafts." And Brinkley says: "If the Japanese had never produced anything but this sword (katana), they would still deserve to be credited with a remarkable faculty for detecting the subtle causes of practical effects, and translating them with delicate accuracy into obdurate material."
This is also the period in which lived Katō, who spent six years (from 1223) in China studying the methods practiced there, and is called "the father of Japanese pottery."
The tea-plant had been first brought to Japan early in the ninth century, but had become practically unknown.
It was reintroduced near the end of the twelfth century, when it came immediately into general use.
This period of the glory of Kamakura is naturally the one in which was wrought the Dai Butsu, or Great Buddha, of that place.
This is also the period of Unkei, who, according to Dillon, "is probably the greatest sculptor that Japan has produced."
Strange as it may seem, this sanguinary era was one of large development of Buddhism. Four new sects, all of which have remained powerful to the present day, originated in the thirteenth century.
The Zenshiu, or Contemplative sect, "seeks salvation by meditation and a divine emptiness," so that, as Dr. Knox adds: "Its favorite hymn might well be 'Oh, to be nothing, nothing.' " It arose as a reaction against the multiplication of idols, and "indicated a return to simpler forms of worship and conduct." Its doctrines may be summed up in the following injunction: "Look carefully within, and there you will find the Buddha." Its disciples have been variously called "Quietists," "Quakers," "Mystics"; and yet this creed also "immediately attracted the samurai"! This was largely due to the fact that, in Zen, each believer must work out his own salvation by austere discipline and could thus develop the measure of self-control needed by a true knight.
The Jōdo, or Pure Land, sect was the first to teach the doctrine of salvation by faith in Amida. The Pure Land is a kind of Paradise, where Amida lives. And the only way to enter that heaven is "to cleave to Amida." This sect requires a simple rule of life in the frequent repetition of the phrase Namu Amida Butsu ("Glory to Amida the Buddha"). It is perhaps needless to add that being thus carried to heaven "on flowery beds of ease" made this sect very popular! It was "really a religion of despair rather than of hope" - a religion of self-abandonment.
But one of the disciples of the founder of the Jōdo sect established what he called "Jōdo Shinshiu," or "The True Sect of Jōdo." Later, however, the connection with Jōdo was lost, and the new sect has since been known merely as Shinshiu ("True Sect"), or Ikkōshiu ("Only Sect"). It also preaches justification by faith in Amida, and is in many respects "the Protestantism of Buddhism." It is very liberal, as it abandons fasting, celibacy, isolation from society, penances, pilgrimages, charms, and amulets. It teaches that "morality is of equal importance with faith," i.e., that faith and works are co-ordinate. Knox, in his book, mentioned above, says: "It remains the largest and the most influential, the most zealous, and, unburdened by a cosmology or a philosophy, most able to adapt itself to modern conditions."
The latest sect is the one known as the Hokke, or the Nichiren, sect. The former name is derived from the name of its principal Sutra ("Holy Book"); the latter comes from the name of its founder. Its constant formula is the phrase, Namu-myōhō-renge-kyō ("Oh, the Sutra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Law"). It teaches "a form of pantheism, pure and simple: the Buddha is all, and all is Buddha." The whole life of its founder, Nichiren, is full of miracle and wonderful adventure, of which the most marvelous was his escape from death at the hands of the executioner sent by Hōjō Takayori. Murdoch calls Nichiren "a strange compound of old Hebrew prophet, Dominican friar, and John Knox." He also says that Nichiren's preaching "undoubtedly did much to stimulate a spirit of nationality." The disciples of Nichiren, following their master, are the most bigoted and intolerant of sectarians, the "high-church Buddhists," "the Jesuits of Japan." On account of their appeal to "what strikes the eye and the ear," they have been called "the Salvation Army of Buddhism." They foster the use of charms and amulets and believe in demoniacal possession.