Europeanisation

The Europeanisation of Japan is universally spoken of as a sudden and recent metamorphosis, dating from the opening of the country during the life-time of men not yet old. But this implies a faulty and superficial reading of history. Europeanisation commenced over three hundred and fifty years ago, namely, in A.D. 1542, when three Portuguese adventurers discovered the Japanese island of Tane-ga-shima, and astonished the local princelet with the sight and sound of their arquebuses.

The Europeanisation of Japan has been a drama in three acts. First, the Hispano-Portuguese act, beginning in 1542 and ending with the religious persecution-the extermination rather-of 1617-38. This act offers a succession of stirring scenes. Scarcely even in our own day have changes more sudden been effected. To begin with, the art of war was revolutionised, as well for defence as attack. Japanese feudal barons had had their castles before then, no doubt. The exact construction of those early castles, stockades, or by whatever other name we might most fittingly denote such wood and plaster strongholds, is a curious question which must be left to Japanese antiquarians to decide. The first castle built in the style which now survives in some few perfect and numerous ruined examples, was that erected at Azuchi in the province of ömi by Oda Nobunaga, who lived from 1534 to 1582. His active career thus coincided with the first wave of European influence, the Portuguese having arrived when he was a child of eight years old, the earliest Catholic missionaries (1549) when he was a lad of fifteen. Nobunaga became the leading spirit among the warriors of his age; in fact, he may be said to have dictated laws to the empire, and moreover he was a declared patron of the Christians, though scarcely one of whom they could be proud, as his hands were stained with many crimes. It is related that when he had reared his famous castle, "he placed the Christian God [a crucifix?] on the top of the keep)." Significantly enough, the Japanese name for a "castle keep," tenshu, is identical in sound with the translation of the name of "God" adopted by Japanese Catholics. But whereas the latter is written with Chinese characters having a perfectly clear and appropriate meaning, namely literally "Lord of Heaven," a "castle keep" is written "heavenly protection," a transcription not particularly appropriate, which suggests the thought that it may have been hit on merely as an expedient to distinguish the later from the earlier acceptation of the term. Once introduced, the new-fashioned castle architecture spread rapidly throughout the empire; for those were days of storm and stress. Christianity spread too, some of the southern Daimyös going so far in their zeal as to prohibit the exercise of any other religion,-an act of intolerance which was afterwards dearly expiated. At any rate, the seed of religion then sown was never thoroughly eradicated. Christianity remained as a subterranean force, which rose to the surface again two or three centuries later, when some entire districts were found to be Christian (see Article on MISSIONS). Spain and Portugal's minor contributions to the Europeanisation of Japan are no longer easy to trace, partly because persecution destroyed records, partly because the subject has never yet been thoroughly investigated. A knowledge of bread, with its name pan, certainly came thence. Capes (Jap. kappa, from Portuguese "capa") and playing-cards (Jap. karuta, from Portuguese "carta") may be mentioned among the loans whose names bewray them. Sponge-cake, whose Japanese name kasuteira remains "Castille" scarcely disguised, is another humble but agreeable contribution from the same quarter; mosquito-nets are another still more valuable. Before their introduction the fire of green wood, which is still used in some remote rural districts, was the only known method-a most disagreeable method as we can testify from personal experience-of driving away those insect pests. Doubtless a thorough sifting of Japanese customs, beliefs, and products would bring to light a number of interesting details.

In the second act of the drama of the Europeanisation of Japan, the scene is the islet of Deshima in Nagasaki harbour, the actors are Dutchmen. No religious zeal this time, nothing military, nothing heroic of any sort. Even scenes of screaming farce are brought before our eyes, when the deputation of Dutch traders convoyed to Yedo to offer their congratulations on the accession of each Shōgun, are set to amuse His Highness by singing songs, dancing, and pretending to be drunk. But such buffoonery was discontinued at the end of the seventeenth century. Some of the members of the Dutch factory were distinguished men. More than once, too, German scientific investigators, anxious for information concerning the secluded empire of Japan, enrolled themselves in the service of the factory, as a stepping-stone to the acquisition of such knowledge. Those Japanese who, despite official interdict, retained a thirst for foreign learning, naturally sought the company of such kindred spirits, and the results to Japan, though at first meagre, were valuable and permanent. The elements of mathematics, geography, botany, and other sciences and of the all-important art of medicine were obtained from this source. So were various European products,-glass, velvet, woollen fabrics, clocks, telescopes, etc.,-and it is to be presumed, European business methods, at least in outline. Even scraps of literature filtered through, for instance Esop's "Fables," which were translated as early as (about) 1670. Precise details are difficult to obtain, because of the censorship which rigorously, though not quite successfully, repressed Dutch studies except in one closely watched bureau of the administration at Yedo. But we know enough to be able to say positively that during the two centuries from 1650 to 1850, the little Dutch settlement at Nagasaki was constantly looked to by eager minds as a fountain of intellectual light.

At last, but not quite suddenly even then,-for Commodore Perry's famous expedition was preceded by others on a smaller scale, both Russian and English,-a fresh impetus was given to the Europeanisation of the country by its partial opening to foreign trade and residence in 1859, and its complete opening in 1899. This last, or Anglo-Saxon act of the drama-for in it Anglo-Saxon influence has predominated-is still being played out before our eyes. Once more the great art of war has suffered a sea-change, and in every branch of intellectual and social activity the pulse of a reinvigorated life runs quick. Foreigners have often stood in amaze at Japan's ability to swallow so many new ideas and institutions whole. They have dubbed her superficial, and questioned the permanence of her conversion to European methods. This is because they fail to realise two things,-the innate strength of the Japanese character, and the continuous process of schooling which has enabled this particular race to face the new light without being blinded.

Another is thus added to the long list of instances proving that great historical changes never take place per saltum, and that those nations alone may be expected to put forth flowers and fruits in the future whose roots are twined solidly around the past. From the dawn of history to the present day, Japan, in her attitude towards foreign ideas-be they Chinese, mediæval Portuguese, old-fashioned Dutch, nineteenth century European-has shown herself consistently teachable. Periods marked chiefly by large importations from abroad have, it is true, alternated with periods chiefly devoted to the working up of that material into forms suitable to local needs. But neither process has ever been wholly discontinued, and the result-spread over fourteen centuries-has been a steady growth alike social, intellectual, and territorial, with but rare intervals of even apparent relapse. The superficiality attributed to her assimilation of imported civilisations exists only in the superficial knowledge of the would-be critics.