Abdication

The abdication of monarchs, which is exceptional in Europe, has for many ages been the rule in Japan. It came into vogue in the seventh century together with Buddhism, whose doctrines led men to retire from worldly cares and pleasures into solitude and contemplation. But it was made use of by unscrupulous ministers, who placed infant puppets on the throne, and caused them to abdicate on attaining to maturity. Thus it was a common thing during the Middle Ages for three Mikados to be alive at the same time,-a boy on the throne, his father or brother who had abdicated, and his grandfather or other relative who had abdicated also. From A.D. 987 to 991, there were as many as four Mikados all alive together:-Reizei Tennö, who had ascended the throne at the age of eighteen, and who abdicated at twenty; En-yü Tennö, emperor at eleven and abdicated at twentysix; Kwazan Tennö, emperor at seventeen and abdicated at nineteen; and Ichijö Tennö, who had just ascended the throne as a little boy of seven. Under the Mikado Go-Nijö (A.D. 1302-8) there were actually five Mikados all alive together, namely Go-Nijö Tennö himself, made emperor at seventeen, had his four abdicated predecessors:-Go-Fukakusa Tennö, emperor at four and abdicated at seventeen; Kameyama Tennö, emperor at eleven and abdicated at twenty-six; Go-Uda Tennö, emperor at eight and abdicated at twenty-one; and Fushimi Tennö, emperor at twenty-three and abdicated the same year. Sometimes it was arranged that the children of two rival branches of the Imperial family should succeed each other alternately. This it was, in part at least, which. led to the civil war in the fourteenth century between what were known as "the Northern and Southern Courts;" for it was of course impossible that so extraordinary an arrangement should long be adhered to without producing violent dissensions.

After a time, it became so generally recognised that the monarch in name must not be monarch in fact, and vice versâ, that abdication, or rather deposition (for that is what it practically amounted to), was almost a sine quâ non of the inheritance of such scanty shreds of authority as imperious ministers still deigned to leave to their nominal lords and masters. When a Mikado abdicated, he was said to ascend to the rank of abdicated Mikado. It was no longer necessary, as at an earlier period, to sham asceticism. The abdicated Mikado surrounded himself with wives and a whole Court, and sometimes really helped to direct public affairs. Nor was abdication confined to sovereigns. Heads of noble houses abdicated too. In later times the middle and lower classes began to imitate their betters. Until the period of the late revolution, it was an almost universal custom for a man to become what is termed an inkyo after passing middle age. Inkyo means literally "dwelling in retirement." He who enters on this state gives over his property to his heirs, generally resigns all office, and lives on the bounty of his children, free to devote himself henceforth to pleasure or to study. Old age being so extraordinarily honoured in Japan, the inkyo has no reason to dread Lear's fate. He knows that he will always be dutifully tended by sons who are not waiting to find out "how the old man will cut up." The new government of Japan is endeavouring to put a stop to the practice of inkyo, as being barbarous because not European. But to the people at large it appears, on the contrary, barbarous that a man should go on toiling and striving, when past the time of life at which he is fitted to do good work.

Book recommended - The Gakushikaiin, by Walter Dening, printed in Vol. XV. Part I. of the "Asiatic Transactions", p. 72 et seq.