Sleep of Japan (1638-1853)

This Period has received various appellations and characterizations. Though it was not completely free from insurrections and bloodshed, it has appropriately been called an era of "Great Peace." It was the period, as Okakura expresses it, of the "hibernation of Japan within her chrysalis," when "we [Japanese] were as one buried alive," and when "every element of individuality was crushed under the weight of unbending formalism." And he adds: "Our life grew to be like those miniature and dwarf trees that were typical products of the Tokugawa Age." In like manner, the late Count Terashima, when Foreign Minister, once, "pointing to a grove of firtrees which had been trimmed and trained by generations of gardeners into quaint and not unpleasing but stunted shapes," said to Aston: "There is an emblem of the Japanese nation under the Bakufu (Shōgunate). That is what Chinese learning did for us." This period, to quote Okakura again, "affords the peculiar spectacle of a society perfectly isolated and self-complete, which, acting and reacting upon itself, produced worlds within worlds, each with its separate life and ideals, and its own distinct expressions in art and literature." But this time of "self- concentration" was not unnaturally a Renaissance in literature and art, an era of the "Revival of Learning," or at least "the Golden Era of Chinese literature in Japan." And from some points of view this may truly be called the time when Japan reached "the acme of her ancient greatness," especially in the arts of peace.

One writer has said that "the history of the Tokugawa Period is, politically speaking, a singularly uneventful one"; and he adds that, "apart from fires and earthquakes, there are few striking events for the annalist to record." Nevertheless this era is one worthy of special study. And at the very outset one interesting point must be noted, that all the history centers around the Shōguns, while the emperors or empresses are comparatively figureheads.

It was, as we have seen, under the administration of Iyemitsu, the Third Shōgun, that both the internal and the external policies of Japan were crystallized. During the period of the Fourth Shōgun (Iyetsuna), Yedo suffered (1657) from one of those immense conflagrations which were called "Yedo's flower," because, not only in this case, but in all other instances, she emerged, phoenix- like and more beautiful, from her own ashes. Iyetsuna was a patron of literature and had Hayashi, a great savant, compose an immense historical work. This was also the time when Mito was the center of learning and literature under the inspiration of its famous Prince Mitsukuni, or Gikō, who, with the aid of both Japanese and Chinese scholars, compiled the Dai Nihon Shi, which "stands at the head of Japanese histories." And from 1642 to 1662 was the period of Koxinga's supremacy in Formosa. Moreover, it was in 1666 that Louis XIV of France prepared a letter to the Emperor of Japan to ask for the French East India Company the privileges of trade in Japan, but this letter, for some reason or other, was not sent. And in 1673 the English East India Company made one more vain attempt to renew trade with Japan.

The Fifth Shōgun, Tsunayoshi (1680-1709), also largely "contributed to the spread of literary pursuits." He is the one who "built in Yedo, and liberally endowed, a temple dedicated to Confucius"; and he is also the one who gave frequent audience to the great Dutch scholar Kaempfer, and is even said to have "facilitated his acquisition of the knowledge" of Japan and the Japanese. In his time, too, occurred the vendetta of the Forty-seven Rōnins (1701, 1702) and the last eruption of Mount Fuji (1707). His reign was a glorious period for dogs, because he, having been born in a "dog year," ordered canines to be regarded as sacred animals. "A higher degree of protection was afforded to them while he lived than was given to human beings, and injuries to them were punished by more severe penalties."

Just about half of Tsunayoshi's administration was taken up by the famous Genroku Era (1688-1703), which has been "compared to the Age of Pericles, the days of Louis XV, and the Venetian prime." It was the "heyday of Japanese art and culture." "There were masters in every branch of art. . . . . Pottery was represented by Ninsei and Kenzan, architecture by the great Zingoro [ Jingoro], sculpture by Ritsuō, and the metallurgic art by Sōmin." Ninsei and Kenzan, as well as Hōzen and "most of the great names in Japanese Keramics, were associated with the Kyōto factories." Ritsuō is also called by Hartmann "the most skilful lacquerer the world has ever known," but Dick says that "the greatest of all names in lacquer is that of Ogata Kōrin," who, "as a lacquerer, stands alone." Hartmann acknowledges that he "achieved great triumphs as a lacquerer," but is "best known as a painter," and he calls Kōrin "the great genius of the period." Dick also characterizes him as "perhaps the greatest decorative artist Japan has produced." Both proved the truth of Gonse's statement that "Japanese lacquered objects are the most perfect works that have issued from man's hands."

In painting there are several names worthy of mention. If we take them up somewhat in chronological order, and go back to almost the beginning of this period, we have first Tanyu, "a very Japanese Whistler," "one of the greatest masters of the Kano School." His masterpiece is the four lions painted in Chinese ink on wooden panels in one of the temples at Nikkō. Later came "one of the most striking personalities among Japanese painters - Hanabusa Itchō, the last of the great Kano painters." The Tosa School was represented by Mitsuoki, "the greatest flower painter Japan has produced." It was likewise in the first half of the century that Iwasa Matahei began to represent the scenes of everyday life, and, according to Dick, founded the Ukiyoye School, which soon became popular. And Kōrin, already mentioned, has been characterized as "one of the most individual of all Japanese artists," and "the most personal of painters - the most Japanese of the Japanese." In literature we find first the name of Kaibara, who was a voluminous and valuable writer, and is perhaps best known by the Onna Daigaku, or "Great Learning for Women." There is also Bashō, the famous maker of "epigrams," which, in his case, translates the Japanese word haikai. This is a kind of poem of only seventeen syllables, arranged in three phrases in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables respectively. Such a poem certainly reaches the "extreme limit of brevity and conciseness," as well as of suggestiveness. In this era, too, Chikamatsu, who has been called "the Shakespeare of Japan," was having his plays performed in Yedo. Aston says that he is "unquestionably the most prominent figure in the history of the Japanese drama." His most famous play portrays Koxinga, the Chinese pirate mentioned above (p. 86).

While the Genroku Era was a time of great splendor, magnificence, and glory, it was also an "age of abuses," of extravagance, and of dissipation. But the next two Shōguns, Iyenobu and Iyetsugu, having the assistance of the scholar and statesman, Arai Hakuseki, succeeded in effecting reforms. It was at this time that a Catholic priest named Sidotti made an attempt to enter Japan in disguise, for missionary labors, but was arrested and sent to Yedo, where he was kept in confinement and finally died. With Sidotti, Arai had interesting interviews, and afterward wrote out his impressions of Western civilization, even of Christianity.

Yoshimune, the Eighth Shōgun (1716-1745), also so efficiently carried on the administration that the Kyōhō Era (1716-1736) is known as an "age of reforms," and it is very common to find references to "the peace of the Kyōhō Era." His policy in developing agriculture was so successful, and rice consequently became so cheap, that he has been dubbed "the Rice-Shōgun." And he was the one who "repealed the law which forbade the importation of books," so that both "Dutch and Chinese books were permitted to be brought in." He also encouraged the revival of the Japanese classical literature. He was himself a student of astronomy and invented astronomical instruments. Thus "the astute and comprehensive reforms of Yoshimune, followed by the prudent rule of his son Iyeshige, carried the administration of the Shōgunate to its acme of efficiency."

On the other hand, the administration of Iyeharu (1760-1786) was marked by calamity and corruption. The former included conflagrations in Yedo in 1760 and 1771, a hurricane, and a pestilence, an eruption of Mount Asama (1782), and a famine (1783), which "reduced the people to such extremities that they subsisted on dogs, cats, rats, herbs, roots, and bark," and by which more than a million people are said to have perished.

As the next Shōgun, Iyenari, was a minor, the Regent, Matsudaira, "a man of great wisdom and wide erudition," succeeded in bringing about another reform with the aid of many other able officials. And when the Shōgun attained his majority, he also proved very capable and fortunately held office for fifty years. Many feudal barons, too, like Uyesugi of Yonezawa, were distinguished for administrative ability. Moreover, there was at this time an emperor, Kōkaku, whose name is worth mentioning, because he was "a sovereign of great sagacity." Therefore, "the age is generally spoken of as that of the wise Emperor in the West [ Kiōto] and of the clever Treasurer in the East [Yedo]." The closing years of the eighteenth century are known in Japan as "the Kwansei Peace," from the era which extended from 1789 to 1800, which were far from peaceful years in Europe. It was toward the close of the eighteenth century, during the long reign of Kōkaku (1779-1817) and the long administration of Iyenari (1787-1837), that efforts began to be actively made again to open communication between Japan and the outside. And it is, perhaps, not strange that the initiative was taken by Japan's nearest neighbor, Russia. In 1792, Lieutenant Laxman was sent out from Okhotsk to return some shipwrecked Japanese, and reached Hakodate and Matsumae, but was "dismissed with presents and an ample supply of provisions." The Resanoff embassy of 1804 and 1805 was a failure; and Captain Golownin and a small party, while surveying the Kurile Islands, were captured by the Russians and imprisoned in Hakodate and Matsumae for over two years (1811-1813). In 1818, Captain Gordon of the British navy entered Yedo Bay in a small brig and attempted, but in vain, to get a cargo of goods.

But it may be well, now, to turn our attention to the art and literature of the eighteenth and the earlier portion of the nineteenth century. There are three writers who lived at different times during this period; but they must be mentioned together, because they constitute the glorious triumvirate of scholars who worked in apostolic succession along the same lines. These are Mabuchi (1697- 1769), Motoöri (1730-1801), and Hirata (1776-1843), whose aim was to restore the Japanese language and literature to the prominent place usurped by the Chinese language, literature, and philosophy. Another phase of this movement was the revival of pure Shintō. And in the line of historical literature they had as allies, not only the standard history Dai Nihon Shi, already mentioned, but also Rai Sanyō famous Nihon Gwaishi, which appeared about 1837(?). All preached Nationalism and Imperialism.

It was in the latter part of the period under consideration that Japanese romance attained distinction. "The first to give to the [Japanese] world the romantic novel pure and simple" was Kiōden (1761-1816), whose masterpiece, according to Aston, is Inadzuma Hiōshi. The most famous novelist, however, and in the general estimation of the Japanese their greatest, is Bakin, who has been called "the Scott of Japan." The most famous of his novels, even of all Japanese novels, is Hakkenden, an enormous work of 3,000 pages, devoted to the "Story of Eight Dogs." Some Japanese critics have suggested that it should be classed among epic poems. Another novelist worthy of mention is Ikku, who was notorious on account of his eccentricities and Bohemian habits. His masterpiece is Hizakurige, a humorous novel like Pickwick Papers, giving realistic pictures of the life of his time.

The list of eighteenth-century painters starts with Ōkyo, "sometimes regarded as the founder of the Shijō, or naturalistic, School." The now method, "instead of endeavoring to interpret Nature, endeavored to so present Nature that she should deliver her own message." The same school later turned out Sosen, "the greatest animal painter of Japan," "the Japanese Landseer," and "one of the world's greatest animal painters."

An outgrowth of this "natural" school of painting was the art of color printing with woodcuts, by which many artists displayed their talents. "It was during a period of about half a century, say between 1760 and 1810, that the finest work was turned out." A few of these artists should be mentioned. "Kiyonaga led the Ukiyoye to greater height of technical perfection than it had ever reached before." Utamaro has been called "the greatest painter of Japanese women," and unfortunately "fell into a Bohemian way of life among the actors and courtesans who served as his models." Shunsho, Toyokuni, and Kunisada may be only named. Hiroshige, who is "generally regarded as the foremost landscape painter of Japan," carries us along to the end of the period under consideration. Mention might also be made of the Ōsaka School, which from 1820 to 1860 produced prints "with curious and well-defined characteristics."

Hokusai well deserves a paragraph by himself. In Japan, critics place him only in the second rank of artists on account of "the vulgarity of his subjects" and his "mere juggling with colors." But European critics consider him "the greatest of Japanese painters," and Whistler has called him "the greatest pictorial artist since Van Dyke." He is "the greatest exponent of the realistic school"; "he alone looked out upon life with an unfettered eye, and sought to render faithfully what he saw therein." His works are voluminous, and the best known are Mangwa, "wonderful encyclopedia of Japanese life and art"; " Thirty-six [and Hundred] Views of Fuji"; "Waterfalls"; "Famous Bridges"; "Tōkaidō"; and "Twelve Scenes from the Chiushingura." The two series of views of Fuji have been characterized as "a splendid epic, instinct with poetry and beauty and romance and yet filled to the full with the keenest and most kindly humanity." His Mangwa "covers the whole ground of Japanese life and legend, art and handicraft." On his deathbed he said: "If Heaven had lent me but five years more, I should have become a true painter"; but he did not need more time. He sometimes signed his productions with the appellation, "Old Man Mad with Painting"; and his epitaph reads: "Here lies Hokusai, a famous artist - honest and true."

Brinkley says that "the Tokugawa Era (1620-1850) is justly regarded as the golden period of the bronzecaster's art," and was marked "by a long series of beautiful works executed for the mausolea of the Tokugawa in Yedo and Nikkō, and for other temples and shrines throughout the Empire." This same period, Dick says, "especially in its earlier stages, is pre-eminently the period of the minor arts, which then reached a perfection which has not been attained before or since." This may be illustrated by only one example, that of the netsuke, the carver of which Dick calls "the greatest master of the art of multum in parvo that the world has seen."

During all this period under consideration, the Dutch, who were the only persons allowed to carry on trade with Japan, were the only means of communication with the outside world. Thus it was through them that the Japanese and other nations gained knowledge of each other, and, in spite of official restrictions, succeeded in learning a great deal from each other. We are indebted to men like Caron, Kaempfer, Thunberg, Titsingh, von Siebold, and others for pictures of Japanese life. And the Japanese were likewise indebted to such men for important knowledge, especially scientific, obtained at first secretly and at risk of life, but none the less influencing Japanese thought. The Dutch certainly helped make Modern Japan.

Inasmuch as the Chinese influences were so powerful in literary circles during this period, it is not strange that Confucianism was the prevailing philosophy (mental and moral) of the time. It is true that Japanese Confucianism was quite different in many respects from Chinese Confucianism. Japanese scholars at first followed the school of Chu Hi, known in Japan as Shushi; but afterward many of them adopted the Ōyōmei doctrines; and these they always modified to suit the Japanese needs. The chief Chinese scholars were Arai, Kiusō, and several generations of the Hayashi family. Among the military class, the usual eclecticism succeeded in evolving from Shintō, Confucianism, and Buddhism a syncretic system known as Bushidō ("The Way of the Warrior"), which made the Japanese knight (samurai) a peculiar type and most profoundly influenced Japanese character. As Murdoch points out, feudal Japan produced "no Pascal, no Newton, no Leibnitz, and no Watt"; but she produced a Ninomiya Sontoku, ethical economist.

The Twelfth Tokugawa Shōgun was Iyeyoshi (1837- 1853). It was in 1837 that the "Morrison," coming to Japan without armament of any kind, but on an errand of mercy to return shipwrecked Japanese, was fired on in both Yedo and Kagoshima bays. In 1844, William II of Holland sent a letter to recommend the opening of Japan to foreign trade. Two years later Commodore Biddle carried a friendly letter from President Polk for the Emperor; and his purpose was "to ascertain whether the ports of Japan were accessible"; but he was asked to depart immediately. In 1848, the "Ladoga," an American whaler, was wrecked off Matsumae in the island of Yezo; and the survivors were kept in confinement, first in Matsumae and afterward in Nagasaki. In 1849, they were released and taken away by Commander Glynn in the "Preble."

In the closing days of Iyeyoshi's administration Japan, especially Yedo, was stirred by an event of which probably few, if any, realized the full significance. On July 7, 1853, Commodore Perry with his "black ships" "sailed into the Sea of Sagami and into Japanese history," and dropped anchor off Uraga. As a Japanese writer has expressed it, "the American fleet stole into the quiet waters of Yedo Bay, which had never before been plowed by a Western vessel, and amid the roaring of cannon, loudly knocked at the door of Uraga to awaken us from our long sleep." Perry was, as usual, ordered to go to Nagasaki, and, not as usual, declined to obey. He insisted that he would stay there and deliver the letter and the presents from President Fillmore to the Emperor. On the following Sunday the American fleet strictly refused to receive visitors and observed the Sabbath. For the first time in modern days in Japan the strains of a Christian hymn were heard. Meanwhile the authorities at Yedo were discussing the course to be pursued with this persistent and patient "barbarian." They finally decided to receive the letter in order to get rid of the troublesome visitor, and only hoped that this would end the matter. Therefore, on July 14, 1853, the accredited representatives of the Shōgun, a pavilion specially erected for the purpose at Kurihama, near Uraga, formally received from the accredited representative of the United States government a letter from the President to the Emperor. This was done, as stated in the official receipt for the letter, "in opposition to Japanese law." Thus, when the Japanese authorities broke their own laws, the downfall of the old system was inevitable. This act was a clear confession that the old policy of seclusion and its prohibitions could no longer be strictly maintained. Japan awoke from sleep; Old Japan received its death-warrant; and New Japan was born on July 14, 1853.