In theory the Mikado-heaven-descended, absolute, infallible-was always the head and fountain of all power. It belonged to him by a right divine, which none ever dreamt of disputing. The single and sufficient rule of life for subjects was implicit, unquestioning obedience, as to the mandates of a god. The comparatively democratic doctrines of the Chinese sages, according to whom "the people are the most important element in a nation, and the sovereign is the lightest," were ever viewed with horror by the Japanese, to whom the antiquity and the absolute power of their Imperial line are badges of perfection on which they never weary of descanting. A study of Japanese history shows, however, that the Mikado has rarely exercised much of his power in practice. Almost always has it been wielded in his name, often sorely against his will, by the members of some ambitious house, which has managed to possess itself of supreme influence over the affairs of state. Thus, the Fujiwara family soon after the civilisation of the country by Buddhism, then the Taira, the Minamoto, the Hōjō, and the Ashikaga during the Middle Ages, and the Tokugawa in modern times, held the reins of state in succession. Under these ruling families were numerous families of lesser though still high degree, the Daimyōs:-in other words, the polity was feudal. Even since the revolution of 1868, whose avowed object was to restore the Mikado to his pristine absolutism, it is allowed on all hands that at least a large share of the reality of power has lain with the two great clans of Satsuma and Chōshū, while the aim of the two clans next in influence-Tosa and Hizen-has been to put themselves in Satsuma and Chōshū's place. In 1889 there was granted a Constitution, which established a Diet consisting of two houses, and laid the foundation of a new order of things, a share in the government being thenceforth vested in the nobility and in those gentlemen and commoners whose property qualification entitles them to vote or to be voted for. Those possessing this privilege form a little over two per cent. of the total population. The members of the lower house-376 in all-receive each a yearly allowance of 2,000 yen (£200). A certain measure of popular control over local' affairs was also granted in 1889.
The administration is at present divided into ten departments, namely, the Imperial Household, Foreign Affairs, the Interior, Finance, the Army, the Navy, Justice, Education, Agriculture and Commerce, and Communications (that is, Railways, Posts, Telegraphs, etc.), each presided over by a minister of state. These, with the exception of the minister of the Household Department, constitute the Cabinet. The Cabinet is responsible only to the Emperor, by whom also each minister is appointed and dismissed at will; for government by party, according to the Anglo-Saxon plan, has not yet succeeded in establishing itself. Besides the Cabinet, there is a Privy Council, whose function is to tender advice. The empire is divided into prefectures (ken),- each with a governor,-which have, as in France, replaced the old historical "provinces." There are three capital cities, Tōkyō, Kyōto, and Ōsaka. An unusually large proportion of the revenue is raised by land taxation. Viewed from an Anglo-Saxon point of view, the Japanese are a much-governed people, officials being numerous, their authority great, and all sorts of things which with us are left to private enterprise being here in the hands of government. But the contrast is less in this respect between Japan and the nations of Continental Europe. Administrative changes are frequent; corrupt practices often come to light; political parties, too, form and dissolve and form again around men rather than around measures. Still, there is continuity, the aims of the government as a whole running on in the same groove, despite changes of personnel. The profound respect for the throne gives continuity. So does the character of Marquis Itō, the ablest man in Japan, who always takes the helm whenever the ship comes to some dangerous shoal or current.
In any case, and whatever its shortcomings, the ruling oligarchy has guided Japan with admirable skill and courage through the perils of the last five-and-thirty years. The nation may have- probably has-further administrative changes in store for it. One thing is certain:-these changes will all be along that road leading westward, which the men of 1868 were the first to open out. If it is true that the last fifteen years have witnessed a cooling towards Europeanism, this has been a matter of sentiment only, a return from cosmopolitanism to nationalism in matters of minor importance, and has affected nothing practical by so much as a hair's breadth. Inquisitive persons from home, who remember the Stuarts and the Legitimists and Don Carlos, sometimes ask whether there may not be a Japanese reaction in favour of feudalism. No! never,-not till the sun stops shining and water begins to flow uphill. (Compare ARTICLE ON CLANS.)
Books recommended - Japan, by Walter Dickson, gives perhaps the fullest account of the government in feudal days. See also Brinkley Japan and China for all periods.- Marquis Itō Commentaries on the Constitution of the Empire of Japan possess exceptional interest, as the utterances of the man who was mainly instrumental in framing that constitution. The historical statements in the Commentaries must, however, be received with extreme caution, the Marquis being less of a historian than of a statesman. To take but one instance among several:-in the authorised English version, all the Empresses are converted into Emperors. Thus we find "the Emperor Suiko," "the Emperor Genshō," and so on, which is exactly as if an English constitutional historian should refer to "the Emperor Maud" or "King Elizabeth!" There may, too, be observed throughout a tendency to minimise the differences that separate ancient from modern times. Along with the Commentaries, are printed the text of the Constitution itself and several other important documents of a cognate character.-Translations of all the more important government papers, and reports of the proceedings of the Diet will be found in the files of the Japan Mail, published at Yokohama.