Organization (1603-1638)

We enter now upon a very important period in the history of Japan. It may also be called the Yedo Period, because its influences centered in the city of Yedo which Iyeyasu later selected as his capital. It is the period of the most perfect organization of Japanese feudalism. When Iyeyasu became Shōgun in 1603, he set himself to organize the central and the provincial governments in such a way as to maintain the power in his own family, and he succeeded in founding a dynasty which kept the administration of affairs for 265 years. As has already been pointed out in chap. v, the Tokugawa, unlike the Fujiwara, but like the Taira and the Minamoto, based their power "on the possession of armed strength which the throne had no competence to control"; transferred the center of political gravity "to a point altogether outside the Court, the headquarters of a military feudalism"; and thus "governed in spite of the Emperor." It is not within the limits of this book to go into the details of "the Tokugawa administrative machine," as it has been aptly labeled by Murdoch, who briefly describes it as "a most intricate and complicated system of governmental machinery, with checks and counter-checks and 'regulators' innumerable." There were three points of great importance: " first, to elaborate some system for the effective control of the feudal nobles; secondly, to establish a good understanding with the imperial Court in Kyōto; and thirdly, to organize the administrative machinery in a skilful and permanent manner."

The second point was accomplished

by giving, on the one hand, a full measure of recognition to the divinity of the throne's occupant, and by enforcing, on the other, the theological sequence of that doctrine. . . . . The imperial Court was organized in Kyōto with all pomp and circumstance; . . . . but, as for the sovereign's actual power, it did not extend beyond. . . . functions of no importance whatever. . . . . The control of [public] affairs rested absolutely in the hands of the Shōgun.
The first and third points were practically accomplished together. In the first place, all the feudal lords were divided into two classes: fudai, or vassals of the Tokugawa family, and tozama, or outside lords. Several of the former were relatives of the Tokugawa family, and most of them were especially honored with the name Matsudaira. Three of these formed the Go-sanke, or "Three Honorable Families," of Owari, Kii, and Mito, from which a Shōgun might be selected in case the main line failed. Among the tozama, the five most prominent princes were Kaga, Sendai, Aizu, Chōshu, and Satsuma, who enjoyed special privileges.

Iyeyasu also established a lower grade of nobility known as hatamoto, who had small holdings with varying incomes and held important official positions in the Shōgun's government. Below these was a still inferior class called gokenin; and again below these were the samurai, or the common soldiers. But even the samurai were the highest of the four classes of society. It was positively enjoined that the other three classes of "farmers, artisans, and merchants may not behave in a rude manner toward samurai. "

Moreover, Iyeyasu rearranged the feudal fiefs in such a way that the Emperor in Kyōto was practically encircled and imprisoned by Tokugawa vassals, while his own new city of Yedo, which was made his capital in 1615, was girded by friendly fiefs. Iyeyasu was an early adept at gerrymandering!

And later Iyemitsu compelled all the lords to reside in Yedo half of each year and kept their wives and children there as hostages; so that Tokugawa was absolutely supreme.

But there are other events to claim attention during this interesting period. On April 11, 1600, Will Adams, after an unfortunate voyage in a Dutch vessel called "De Liefde," landed on the coast of Bungo, in Kiūshiu, and thus was probably the first British subject to set foot in Japan. After a short imprisonment, during which the Portuguese tried by slander to compass his death, he was set at liberty and kept about the Shōgun's court, where he made himself useful in many ways, especially in shipbuilding. In 1605 Iyeyasu gave the captain of the "Liefde" a kind of "license for the Dutch nation to trade with Japan"; and eventually a Dutch vessel, "Red Lion," was dispatched to Japan, and arrived, on July 6, 1609, at Hirado. There a factory was established and carried on a more or less profitable business for about thirty years, when it was moved to Nagasaki.

It was also in 1609 that Don Rodrigo de Vivero, the retiring governor of the Philippines, when attempting to return to New Spain, was driven by a storm to Japan, and his vessel was completely wrecked off the coast of Bōshiu. He was kindly received by Iyeyasu, with whom he succeeded in concluding a kind of treaty of alliance, trade, and commerce with the king of Spain. In 1610 Japan sent her first ship to Mexico (New Spain); and Spanish trade with Japan was carried on for fourteen years (1610-1624).

It was only a few years later that, in accordance with instructions from the English East India Company, Captain John Saris, in the "Clove," arrived at Hirado (June 11, 1613), to open trade between England and Japan. Saris, too, received a cordial welcome from Iyeyasu and succeeded in negotiating a charter granting privileges of trade. This led to the establishment of the English factory at Hirado; but, "after a troubled and troublous existence of ten years, it was finally dissolved."

This era was, indeed, a period of great commercial activity, when "wealthy traders of Kifishiu traveled abroad to a great extent for business purposes" and "great numbers of merchants came to Japan from Annam, Siam, Luzon, and other places of the south, as well as from the southern districts of China and from India." During the last decade of the preceding century, as has been mentioned in the preceding chapter, a Japanese adventurer named Harada had gone to the Philippines to trade and had succeeded in filling Hideyoshi's ambitious mind with the wild plan of requiring the Spanish governor to acknowledge him (Hideyoshi) as sovereign. An imperious letter of that kind was actually written but never delivered. One Yamada, in the early part of the seventeenth century, got as far as Siam, where he organized the Japanese settlers, helped the king in quelling rebellions and in defeating a Spanish army which invaded Siam, and thus "rose to be Prime Minister of the Kingdom." But by 1633 "no Japanese vessel might go on a foreign voyage, except the nine vessels. . . . that had special permits bearing the vermilion seal of the Shōgun." And in 1636 a set of regulations was issued limiting Japanese ships to 500 koku burden. "And thus was the mercantile marine of Japan regulated off the face of the deep."

During the first years of the Tokugawa Feudalism the government showed no hostility to Christianity, so that until 1612 "no Japanese Christian had suffered merely on account of being a Christian." But from that year several suffered on account of being mixed up in political intrigues. In January, 1614, Iyeyasu delivered his first and last blow at Christianity by an edict that "the members of all religious orders, whether European or Japanese, should be sent out of the country; that the churches which had been erected in various localities should be pulled down; and that the native adherents of the faith should be compelled to renounce it."

The year before that edict was issued Date, the powerful chief of the Sendai clan, had sent a prominent Japanese Christian, named Hasekura, together with Sotelo, a Franciscan friar, on an embassy to the Pope. They had audience of Pope Paul V on November 30, 1615; but Hasekura did not return to Japan till 1620, and afterward renounced his faith.

Meantime, Hideyoshi's son, Hideyori, living in Osaka in great style, and possessing considerable influence, threatened the life of the Tokugawa Dynasty. As early as 1605 Iyeyasu had nominally retired from the position of Shōgun and had 'been succeeded by his own son, Hidetada; but the veteran still kept his hand on affairs by acting as regent. And, as the growing influence of the Taikō's son seriously threatened his own family, and as Ōsaka seemed to be a center of rally for all disaffected persons, Iyeyasu picked a quarrel by pretending to be offended by the inscriptions on the new bell of a temple in Kyōto. No explanations on the part of Hideyori's friends were accepted, and in 1614 Iyeyasu set out from Suruga (now Shizuoka), his home in retirement, with a large army against Osaka. The castle there was so bravely defended that it seemed practically impregnable. But Hideyori's leaders foolishly decided to stake all on a great battle outside and were completely overthrown. Hideyori then committed suicide. "So fell Ōsaka Castle; and so was the House of Toyotomi destroyed."

Iyeyasu did not long survive this final victory, but died the following year (1616). And in 1617 his body was interred in the tomb prepared at Nikkō, which has since become so famous both for its natural and for its artificial beauties. And among the decorators of that tomb was Hidari Jingoro, "the left-handed carpenter who became the greatest wood-carver of the day," and who is the only person worthy of mention in connection with the art of the sub-period under consideration. He has been called "the Japanese Phidias" and is most famous for his sleeping cat, in which he seems to have succeeded in showing in wood " the fine and very delicate distinction between death and sleeping life."

While Iyeyasu was a general of great ability, he was more of a constructive statesman: his talent lay in "consolidating the power which had been acquired by his predecessor." Murdoch says: "What strikes one most in connection with Iyeyasu is his consummate judgment. If genius can be accurately defined as an infinite capacity for taking pains, then Tokugawa Iyeyasu was certainly possessed of a large measure of genius." Moreover, quite unlike Nobunaga or Hideyoshi, he was inclined to literature and became "the noted patron of learned men." He gathered scholars around him; "caused the Confucian classics to be printed"; and generally favored education, of which these classics were the essential part. They consisted of the Four Books (The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, The Confucian Analects, and The Sayings of Mencius) and the Five Canons (The Book of Changes, The Book of Poetry, The Book of History, The Canon of Rites, and Spring and Autumn).

Iyeyasu's son and successor, Hidetada, insisted on the enforcement of the anti-Christian edict of 1614, at the evasion of which some of the lords had connived; and he sent several foreign priests and many Japanese Christians to death. Gubbins, in his paper on The Introduction of Christianity into China and Japan," writes as follows:

We read of Christians being executed in a barbarous manner in sight of each other, of their being hurled from the tops of precipices, of their being buried alive, of their being torn asunder by oxen, of their being tied up in rice-bags, which were heaped up together, and of the pile thus formed being set on fire. Others were tortured before death by the insertion of sharp spikes under the nails of their hands and feet, while some poor wretches, by a refinement of horrid cruelty, were shut up in cages and there left to starve with food before their eyes.
In 1622 occurred what is known as the "Great Martyrdom" at Nagasaki. "This name it well deserves on account of the number, dignity, and illustrious virtue of the victims, and the atrocious torments many of them endured." "Thirty Christians were beheaded, and twenty-five others, among them nine foreign priests, literally roasted to death, for their tortures lasted between two and three hours."

The following year (1623) Hidetada nominally retired in favor of his son, Iyemitsu, but "continued to wield the real authority down to his death in 1632." There was, moreover, no break in the continuity of the persecution of the Christians. In 1633 the new "torment of the fosse," or pit, was devised, which was truly of "the most devilish ingenuity." "A hole was dug in the ground, over which a gallows was erected. From this gallows the sufferer, swathed in bandages, was suspended by his feet, being lowered for half his length, head downward, into the hole, which was then closed by two boards which fitted together around the victim so as to exclude the light and air." About this time also was instituted a method of inquisition of "detestable solemnity " to distinguish Christians from non-believers. Everyone (man, woman, or child) was required to trample on an image of the Savior or of the Virgin Mary. If any refused, they were at once turned over to the proper officials for torture.

This "reign of terror," combined with "economic troubles," finally resulted in what is known as the great Christian revolt of Shimabara (1637-1638). A large number of Christians (men, women, and children) bravely withstood the attacks of the Shōgun's forces for two and one-half months, but finally, on April 12, 1638, were overwhelmed, and "massacred incontinently." This "practically extirpated Christianity in Japan for more than two centuries."

And, to the shame of the Dutch in Hirado, it must be recorded that, "to save at any price the commerce with Japan," the head of the Dutch factory there took one of his ships and bombarded the castle in which the Christians made their final stand.

Meantime, in 1636, regulations had been promulgated by Iyemitsu to the effect that "all vessels of sea-going capacity should be destroyed, and that no craft should thenceforth be built of sufficient size to venture beyond home waters."

Two years later (1638), because the Portuguese were suspected of having fomented the Shimabara revolt, an edict was issued that forbade any of the Portuguese to set foot on Japanese soil or to enter any Japanese harbor on any pretext whatsoever. "Henceforth. . . . all Portuguese ships coming to Japan were to be burned, together with their cargoes, and everyone on board of them to be executed." And such punishment was inflicted in 1640 upon some envoys from Macao. A few of the suite were spared to carry back the news to Macao; and they were shown a tablet with the following inscription:

So long as the sun warms the earth, let no Christian be so bold as to come to Japan, and let all know that if King Philip himself, or even the very God of the Christians, or the great Shaka [Buddha] contravene this prohibition, they shall pay for it with their heads!
In spite of attempts made by the Portuguese in 1639, 1640, and 1649 to renew trade with Japan, the old relations were never resumed. And when a Japanese writer tried to take stock of the results of the century of foreign intercourse, he counts up only "the adoption of gunpowder and firearms as weapons, the use of tobacco and the habit of smoking, the making of sponge-cake (and bread?), the naturalization into the language of a few foreign words, and the introduction of new and strange forms of disease."

Furthermore, the Dutch were compelled in 1641 to remove from Hirado to the small isle of Deshima, off Nagasaki, where they were practically imprisoned, but allowed to trade with one ship per year. It is a euphemism (or a joke) to call Deshima even a "small isle"; it was in fact only six hundred feet long and two hundred and forty feet wide. In this narrow spot, which was inclosed with high boards, covered with a projecting roof so that only high hills were visible, the Dutch were literally cooped up and held like prisoners. But they were willing to undergo all kinds of humiliation for the sake of the trade monopoly.

And, as Japanese were also prohibited from going abroad, Japan entered upon a period of seclusion, with two phases of exclusion and inclusion. Thus, although Japan was perhaps preserved from becoming a Catholic nation, Iyemitsu "arrested Japan's international development which then seemed full of promise," and doomed his country to a sleep of over two centuries.