Things Japanese/History and Mythology
History and Mythology. To the eye of the critical investigator, Japanese history properly so-called opens only in the latter part of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth century after Christ, when the gradual spread of Chinese culture, filtering in through Korea, had sufficiently dispelled the gloom of original barbarism to allow of the keeping of records.
The whole question of the credibility of the early history of Japan has been carefully gone into during the last five-and-twenty years by Aston and others, with the result that the first date pronounced trustworthy is A.D. 461, and it is discovered that even the annals of the sixth century are to be received with caution. We ourselves have no doubt of the justice of this negative criticism, and can only stand in amaze at the simplicity of most European writers, who have accepted, without sifting them, the uncritical statements of the Japanese annalists. One eminent German professor, the late Dr. Hoffmann, actually discusses the hour of Jimmu Tennō's accession in the year 660 B.C, which is much as if one should gravely compute in cubic inches the size of the pumpkin which Cinderella's fairy godmother turned into a coach and six. How comes it that profound erudition so often lacks the salt of humour and the guidance of common sense?
Be this as it may, criticism is not at all a "Japanesey" thing; and as Japanese art and literature contain frequent allusions to the early history (so-called) of the country, the chief outlines of this history, as preserved in the works entitled Kojiki and Nihongi, both dating from the eighth century after Christ, may here be given. We include the mythology under the same heading, for the reason that it is absolutely impossible to separate the two. Why, indeed, attempt to do so, where both are equally fabulous?
Before, then, the beginning of the world of men, there existed numerous generations of gods. The last of these "divine generations," as they are termed, were a brother and sister, named respectively Izanagi and Izanami, who, uniting in marriage, gave birth to the various islands of the Japanese archipelago and to a great number of additional gods and goddesses. The birth of the God of Fire caused Izanami's death, and the most striking episode of the whole Japanese mythology ensues, when her husband, Orpheus-like, visits her at the gate of the under-world to implore her to return to him. She would fain do so, and bids him wait while she takes counsel with the deities of the place. But he, impatient at her long tarrying, breaks off one of the teeth of the comb in his hair, lights it and goes in, only to find her a hideous mass of putrefaction, in the midst of which are seated the eight Gods of Thunder. Eight, be it observed, is the mystic number of the Japanese, as six is the mystic number of the Ainos whom their ancestors drove out.
Returning to south-western Japan, Izanagi purifies himself by bathing in a stream, and as he does so, fresh deities are born from each article of clothing that he throws down on the riverbank, and from each part of his person. One of these deities was the Sun-Goddess Ama-terasu, who was born from his left eye, while the Moon-God sprang from his right eye, and the last born of all, Susa-no-o, whose name means "the Impetuous Male," was born from his nose. Between these three children their father divides the inheritance of the universe.
At this point the story loses its unity. The Moon-God is no more heard of, and the traditions concerning the Sun-Goddess diverge from those concerning the Impetuous Male Deity in a manner which is productive of inconsistencies in the rest of the mythology. The Sun-Goddess and the Impetuous Male Deity have a violent quarrel, and at last the latter breaks a hole in the roof of the hall in Heaven, where his sister is sitting at work with her "celestial weaving-maidens," and through it lets fall "a heavenly piebald horse which he had flayed with a backward flaying." The consequences of this impious act were so disastrous that the Sun-Goddess withdrew for a season into a cave, from which the rest of the eight hundred myriad deities with difficulty allured her. The Impetuous Male Deity was thereupon banished, and the Sun-Goddess remained mistress of the field. Yet, strange to say, she thenceforward retires into the background, and the most bulky section of the mythology consists of stories concerning the Impetuous Male Deity and his descendants, who are represented as the monarchs of Japan, or rather of the province of Izumo. The Impetuous Male Deity himself, whom his father had charged with the dominion of the sea, never assumes that rule, but first has a curiously told amorous adventure and an encounter with an eight-forked serpent in Izumo, and afterwards reappears as the capricious and filthy deity of Hades, who, however, seems to retain some authority over the land of the living, as he invests his descendant of the sixth generation with the sovereignty of Japan.
Of this latter personage a whole cycle of stories is told, all centring in the province of Izumo. We learn of his conversations with a hare arid with a rat, of the prowess and cleverness which he displayed on the occasion of a visit to his ancestor in Hades, which is in this cycle of traditions a much less mysterious place than the Hades visited by Izanami, of his loves, of his triumph over his eighty brethren, of his reconciliation with his jealous consort, and of his numerous descendants. We hear too of a Lilliputian deity, who comes across the sea to request this monarch of Izumo to share the kingdom with him.
This last-mentioned legend repeats itself in the sequel. The Sun-Goddess resolves to bestow the sovereignty of Japan on a child of whom it is doubtful whether he were born of her or of her brother, the Impetuous Male Deity. Three embassies are sent from Heaven to Izumo to arrange matters; but it is only a fourth that is successful, the final ambassadors obtaining the submission of the monarch or deity of Izumo, who surrenders his throne, and promises to serve the new dynasty (apparently in the under-world) if a palace or temple be built for him and he be appropriately worshipped. Thereupon the child of the deity whom the Sun-Goddess had originally chosen descends to earth,—not to Izumo in the north-west, as the logical sequence of the story would lead one to expect,—but to the peak of a mountain in the south-western island of Kyūshū.
Here follows a quaint tale accounting for the odd appearance of the béche-de-mer, and another to account for the shortness of the lives of mortals, after which we are told of the birth under peculiar circumstances of the heaven-descended deity's three sons. Two of these, Hoderi and Hoori, whose names may be Englished as "Fire-Shine" and "Fire-Fade," are the heroes of a very curious legend, which includes an elaborate account of a visit paid by the latter to the palace of the God of Ocean, and of a curse or spell which gained for him the victory over his elder brother, and enabled him to dwell peacefully in his palace at Takachiho for the space of five hundred and eighty years,—the first statement resembling a date which the Japanese historians vouchsafe. Fire-Fade's son married his own aunt, and was the father of four children, one of whom, "treading on the crest of the waves, crossed over to the Eternal Land," while a second "went into the sea-plain," and the two others moved eastward, fighting with the chiefs of Kibi and Yamato, having adventures with gods both with and without tails, being assisted by a miraculous sword and a gigantic crow, and naming the various places they passed through after incidents in their own career. One of these brothers was Kamu-Yamato-Iware-Biko, who (the other having died before him) is accounted the first human emperor of Japan—the first Mikado. The posthumous name of Jimmu Tennō was given to him more than fourteen centuries after the date which the historians assign for his decease.
Henceforth Yamato, which had scarcely been mentioned before, and the provinces adjacent to it, become the centre of the story, and Izumo again emerges into importance. A very indecent love-tale forms a bridge which unites the various fragments; of the mythology; and the "Great Deity of Miwa," who is identified with the deposed monarch of Izumo, appears on the scene. Indeed, during the rest of the story, this "Great Deity of Miwa" and his colleague the "Small August Deity" (Sukuna-Mi-Kami), the deity Izasa-Wake, the three Water-Gods of Sumi, and the "Great Deity of Kazuraki" form, with the Sun-Goddess and with a certain divine sword preserved at the temple of Isonokami in Yamato, the only objects of worship specially named, the other gods and goddesses being no more heard of. This portion of the story is closed by an account of the troubles which inaugurated the reign of Jimmu's successor, Suisei Tennō, and then occurs a blank of (according to the accepted chronology) five hundred years, during which absolutely nothing is related excepting dreary genealogies, the place where each sovereign dwelt and where he was buried, and the age to which he lived,—this after the minute details which had been given concerning the previous gods or monarchs down to Suisei inclusive. It should likewise be noted that the average age of the first seventeen monarchs (counting Jimmu Tennō as the first) is nearly ninety-six years if we follow the Kojiki, and over a hundred if we follow the accepted chronology, which is based chiefly on the divergent statements contained in the Nihongi. The age of several of the monarchs exceeds a hundred and twenty years.
The above-mentioned lapse of a blank period of five centuries brings us to the reign of the emperor known to history by the name of Sujin Tennō, whose life of one hundred and sixty-eight years (one hundred and twenty according to the Nihongi) is supposed to have immediately preceded the Christian era. In this reign, the former monarch of Izumo or god of Miwa again appears and produces a pestilence, of the manner of staying which Sujin is warned in a dream.
In the following reign an elaborate legend, involving a variety of circumstances as miraculous as any in the earlier portion of the mythology, again centres in the necessity of pacifying the great god of Izumo; and this, with details of internecine strife in the Imperial family, of the sovereign's amours, and of the importation of the orange from the "Eternal Land" (Luchu?), brings us to the cycle of traditions of which Yamato-take, a son of the Emperor Keikō, is the hero. This prince, after assassinating one of his brothers, accomplishes the task of subduing both western and eastern Japan; and notwithstanding certain details unacceptable to European taste, his story, taken as a whole, is one of the most pleasing in Japanese legend. He performs marvels of valour, disguises himself as a woman in order to slay the brigands, is the possessor of a magic sword and fire-striker, has a devoted wife who stills the fury of the sea by sitting down upon its surface, has encounters with a deer and with a boar who are really gods in disguise, and finally dies on his way westward before he can reach his home in Yamato. His death is followed by a highly mythological account of the laying to rest of the white bird into which he ended by being transformed.
The succeeding reign is a blank, and the next transports us without a word of warning to quite another scene. The sovereign's home is now in Kyūshū—the south-westernmost island of the Japanese archipelago;—and four of the gods, through the medium of the sovereign's consort, who is known to posterity as the Empress Jingo, reveal the existence of the land of Korea, of which, however, this is not the first mention in the histories. The Mikado disbelieves the divine message, and is punished with death for his incredulity. But the empress, after a special consultation between her prime minister and the gods, and the performance of various religious ceremonies, marshals her fleet, and, with the assistance of the fishes both great and small and of a miraculous wave, reaches Shiragi (one of the ancient divisions of Korea), and subdues it. She then returns to Japan, the legend ending with a curiously naive tale of how she sat a-fishing one day on a shoal in the River Ogawa in Kyūshū, with threads picked out of her skirt for lines. The date of the conquest of Korea, according to the orthodox chronology, is A.D. 200.
The next episode is the warrior-empress's voyage up to Yamato,—another joint in the story, by means of which the Yamato cycle of legends and the Kyūshū cycle are brought into apparent unity. The Nihongi has even improved upon this by making Jingo's husband dwell in Yamato at the beginning of his reign and only remove to Kyūshū later, so that if the less skilfully elaborated Kojiki had not been preserved, the tangled skein of the tradition would have been still more difficult to unravel. The empress's army defeats the troops raised by the native kings or princes, who are represented as her step-sons, and from that time forward the story runs on in a single channel, with Yamato as its scene of action.
China likewise is now first mentioned, books are said to have been brought over from the mainland, and we hear of the gradual introduction of various useful arts by Chinese and Korean im migrants. Even the annals of the reign of Jingo's son, Ōjin Tennō, however, during which this civilising impulse from abroad is said to have commenced, are not free from details as miraculous as any in the earlier portions of the history. The monarch himself is said to have lived a hundred and thirty years, while his successor lived eighty-three (according to the Nihongi, Ojin lived a hundred and ten, and his successor Nintoku reigned eighty-seven years). It is not till the next reign that the miraculous ceases, a fact which significantly coincides with the time at which, says the Nihongi, "historiographers were first appointed to all the provinces to record words and events, and forward archives from all directions."
This brings us to the beginning of the fifth century of our era, just three centuries before the compilation of the annals that have come down to us, but only two centuries before the compilation of the first history of which mention has been preserved. From that time forward the story in the Kojiki, though not well told, gives us some very curious pictures, and reads as if it were trustworthy. It is tolerably full for a few reigns, after which it again dwindles into more genealogies, ending with the death of the Empress Suiko in A.D. 628. The Nihongi, on the contrary, supplies full details as far as A.D. 701, that is, to within nineteen years of the date of its compilation.
The reader who has followed this summary, or who will take the trouble to study the original Japanese texts for himself, will perceive that there is no break in the story—at least no chrono logical break—and no break between the fabulous and the real, unless it be in the fifth century of our era, or more than a thousand years later than the date usually assumed as the starting-point of authentic Japanese history. The only breaks are topographical, not chronological.
This fact of the continuity of the Japanese mythology and history has been fully recognised by the leading native commentators, whose opinions are those considered orthodox by modern Shintōists, and they draw from it the conclusion that everything in the standard national histories must be accepted as literal truth, the supernatural equally with the natural. But the general habit of the more sceptical Japanese of the present day, that is to say, of ninety-nine out of every hundred of the educated, is to reject or rather to ignore the legends of the gods, while implicitly believing the legends of the emperors, from Jimmu Tennō, in B.C. 660, downwards. For so arbitrary a distinction there is not the shadow of justification. The so-called history of Jimmu the first earthly Mikado, of Jingo the conqueror of Korea, of Yamato-take, and of the rest, stands or falls by exactly the same criterion as the legends of the creator and creatress Izanagi and Izanami. Both sets of tales are told in the same books, in the same style, and with an almost equal amount of supernatural detail. The so-called historical part is as devoid as the other of all contemporary evidence. It is contradicted by the more trustworthy, because contemporary, Chinese and Korean records, and—to turn from negative to positive testimony can be proved in some particulars to rest on actual forgery. For instance, the fictitious nature of the calendars employed to calculate the early dates for about thirteen centuries (from B.C. 660 onward) has not altogether escaped the notice even of the Japanese themselves, and has been clearly exposed for European readers by that careful investigator, the late Mr. William Bramsen, who says, when discussing them in the Introduction to his Japanese Chronological Tables, "It is hardly too severe to style this one of the greatest literary frauds ever perpetrated."
But a truce to this discussion. We have only entered into it because the subject, though perhaps dry, is at least new, and because one's patience is worn out by seeing book after book glibly quote the traditional dates of early Japanese history as if they were solid truth, instead of being the merest haphazard guesses and baseless imaginings of a later age. Arrived at A.D. 600, we stand on terra firma, and can afford to push on more quickly.
About that time occurred the greatest event of Japanese history, the conversion of the nation to Buddhism (approximately A.D. 552—621). So far as can be gathered from the accounts of the early Chinese travellers, Chinese civilisation had slowly—very slowly—been gaining ground in the archipelago ever since the third century after Christ. But when the Buddhist missionaries crossed the water, all Chinese institutions followed them and came in with a rush. Mathematical instruments and calendars were introduced; books began to be written (the earliest that has survived, and indeed nearly the earliest of all, is the already mentioned Kojiki, dating from A.D. 712); the custom of abdicating the throne in order to spend old age in prayer was adopted,—a custom which, more than anything else, led to the effacement of the Mikado's authority during the Middle Ages.
Sweeping changes in political arrangements began to be made in the year 645, and before the end of the eighth century, the government had been entirely remodelled on the Chinese centralis ed bureaucratic plan, with a regular system of ministers responsible to the sovereign, who, as "Son of Heaven," was theoretically absolute. In practice this absolutism lasted but a short time, because the entourage and mode of life of the Mikados were not such as to make of them able rulers. They passed their time surrounded only by women and priests, oscillating between indolence and debauchery, between poetastering and gorgeous temple services. This was the brilliant age of Japanese classical literature, which lived and moved and had its being in the atmosphere of an effeminate Court. The Fujiwara family engrossed the power of the state during this early epoch (A.D. 670—1050). While their sons held all the great posts of government, their daughters were married to puppet emperors.
The next change resulted from the impatience of the always manly and warlike provincial gentry at the sight of this sort of petticoat government. The great families of Taira and Minamoto arose, and struggled for and alternately held the reins of power during the second half of the eleventh and the whole of the twelfth century. Japan was now converted into a camp; her institutions were feudalised. The real master of the empire was he who, strongest with his sword and bow, and heading the most numerous host, could partition out the land among the chief barons, his retainers. By the final overthrow of the Taira family at the seafight of Dan-no-ura in A.D. 1185, Yoritomo, the chief of the Minamotos, rose to supreme power, and obtained from the Court at Kyōto the title of Shōgun, literally "Generalissimo," which had till then been applied in its proper meaning to those generals who were sent from time to time to subdue the Ainos or rebellious provincials, but which thenceforth took to itself a special sense, somewhat as the word Imperator (also meaning originally "general") did in Rome. The coincidence is striking. So is the contrast. For, as Imperial Rome never ceased to be theoretically a republic, Japan contrariwise, though practically and indeed avowedly ruled by the Shōguns from A.D. 1190 to 1867, always retained the Mikado as theoretical head of the state, descendant of the Sun-Goddess, fountain of all honour. There never were two emperors, acknowledged as such, one spiritual and one secular, as has been so often asserted by European writers. There never was but one emperor,—an emperor powerless, it is true, seen only by the women who attended him, often a mere infant in arms, who was discarded on reaching adolescence for another infant in arms. Still, he was the theoretical head of the state, whose authority was only delegated to the Shōgun as, so to say, Mayor of the Palace.
By a curious parallelism of destiny, the Shōgunate itself more than once showed signs of fading away from substance into shadow. Yoritomo's descendants did not prove worthy of him, and for more than a century (A.D. 1205—1333) the real authority was wielded by the so-called "Regents" of the Hōjō family, while their liege lords, the Shōguns, though holding a nominal court at Kamakura, were for all that period little better than empty names. So completely were the Hōjōs masters of the whole country that they actually had their deputy governors at Kyōto and in Kyūshū in the south-west, and thought nothing, of banishing Mikados to distant islands. Their rule was made memorable by the repulse of the Mongol fleet sent by Kublai Khan with the purpose of adding Japan to his gigantic dominions. This was at the end of the thirteenth century, since which time Japan has never been attacked from without.
During the fourteenth century, even the dowager-like calm of the Court of Kyōto was broken by internecine strife. Two branches of the Imperial house, supported each by different feudal chiefs, disputed the crown. One was called the Hokuchō, or "Northern Court," the other the Nanchō, or "Southern Court." After lasting some sixty years, this contest terminated in A.D. 1392 by the triumph of the Northern dynasty, whose cause the powerful Ashikaga family had espoused. From 1338 down to the close of the sixteenth century, the Ashikagas ruled Japan as Shōguns. Their Court was a centre of elegance, at which painting flourished, and the lyric drama, and the tea ceremonies, and the highly intricate arts of gardening and flower arrangement. But they allowed themselves to sink into effeminacy and sloth, as the Mikados had done before them; and political authority, after being for some time administered less by them than in their name, fell from them altogether in 1573, although the last representative of the line continued to bear the empty title of Shōgun till his death in 1597.
Meanwhile Japan had been discovered by the Portuguese (A.D. 1542); and the imprudent conduct of the Portuguese and Spanish friars (bateren, as they were called a corruption of the word padre) made of the Christian religion an additional source of discord. Japan fell into utter anarchy. Each baron in his fastness was a law unto himself. Then, in the latter half of the sixteenth century, there arose successively three great men,—Oda Nobunaga, the Taiko Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. The first of these conceived the idea of centralising all the authority of the state in a single person; the second, Hideyoshi, who has been called the Napoleon of Japan, actually made himself master of the whole country, and added the invasion of Korea (A.D. 1592—1598) to his domestic triumphs as a preliminary step towards the conquest of China. Shortly after his death in 1598, Ieyasu, setting Hideyoshi's youthful son aside, stepped into the vacant place. An able general, unsurpassed as a diplomat and administrator, he first quelled all the turbulent barons, then bestowed a considerable portion of their lands on his own kinsmen and dependents, and either broke or balanced, by a judicious distribution of other fiefs over different provinces of the empire, the might of those greater feudal lords, such as Satsuma and Chōshū, whom it was impossible to put altogether out of the way. The Court of Kyōto was treated by him respectfully, and investiture as Shōgun for himself and his heirs duly obtained from the Mikado.
In order further to break the might of the Daimyōs, Ieyasu compelled them to pass every alternate year at Yedo, which he had chosen for his capital in 1590, and to establish their wives and families permanently there as hostages. What Ieyasu sketched out, the third Shōgun of his line, Iemitsu, perfected. From that time forward, "Old Japan," as we know it from the Dutch accounts, from art, from the stage, was crystallised for two hundred and fifty years,—the Old Japan of isolation (for Iemitsu shut the country up, to prevent complications with the Spaniards and Portuguese), the Old Japan of picturesque feudalism, of harakiri, of a society ranged in castes and officered by spies and censors, the Old Japan of an ever-increasing skill in lacquer and porcelain, of aristocratic punctilio, of supremely exquisite taste.
Unchangeable to the outward eye of contemporaries, Japan had not passed a hundred years under the Tokugawa regime before the seeds of the disease which finally killed that regime were sown. Strangely enough, the instrument of destruction was historical research. Ieyasu himself had been a great patron of literature. His grandson, the second Prince of Mito, inherited his taste. Under the auspices of this Japanese Maecenas a school of literati arose, to whom the antiquities of their country were all in all,—Japanese poetry and romance, as against the Chinese Classics; the native religion, Shintō, as against the foreign religion, Buddhism; hence, by an inevitable extension, the ancient legitimate dynasty of the Mikados, as against the upstart Shōguns. Of course this political portion of the doctrine of the literary party was kept in the background at first; for those were not days when opposition to the existing government could be expressed or even hinted at without danger. Nevertheless it gradually grew in importance, so that, when Commodore Perry came with his big guns (A.D. 1853—4), he found a government already tottering to its fall, many who cared little for the Mikado's abstract rights caring a great deal for the chance of aggrandising their own families at the Shōgun's expense.
The Shōgun yielded to the demands of Pery and of the representatives of the other foreign powers—England, France, Russia—who followed in Perry's train, and he consented to open Yokohama, Hakodate, and certain other ports to foreign trade and residence (1857—9). He even sent embassies to the United States and to Europe in 1860 and 1861. The knowledge of the outer-world possessed by the Court of Yedo, though not extensive, was sufficient to assure the Shōgun and his advisers that it were vain to refuse what the Western powers claimed. The Court of Kyōto had no means of acquiring even this modicum of worldly wisdom. According to its view, Japan, "the land of the gods," should never be polluted by outsiders, the ports should be closed again, and the "barbarians" expelled at all hazards.
What specially tended to complicate matters at this crisis was the independent action of certain Daimyōs. One of them, the Prince of Chōshū, acting, as is believed, under secret instructions from the Court of Kyōto, fired on ships belonging to France, Holland, and the United States,—this, too, at the very moment (1863) when the Shōgun's government, placed between foreign aggression and home tumult, as between hammer and anvil, was doing its utmost to effect by diplomacy the departure of the foreigners whom it had been driven to admit a few years before. The consequence of this act was what is called "the Shimonoseki Affair," namely, the bombardment of Shimonoseki, Chōshū's chief seaport, by the combined fleets of the powers that had been insulted, together with Great Britain which espoused their cause on the ground of the solidarity of all foreign interests in Japan. An indemnity of $3,000,000 was exacted,—a last blow, which broke the Shōgunate's back. The Shōgun Iemochi attempted to punish Chōshū for the humiliation which he had brought on Japan, but failed, was himself defeated by the latter's troops, and died. Hitotsu-bashi (also called Keiki), the last of his line, succeeded him. But the Court of Kyōto, prompted by the great Daimyōs of Chōshū and Satsuma, suddenly decided on the abolition of the Shōgunate. The Shōgun submitted to the decree, and those of his followers who did not were routed,—first at Fushimi near Kyōto (ryth January, 1868), then at Ueno in Yedo (4th July, 1868), then in Aizu (6th November, 1868), and lastly at Hakodate (27th June, 1869), where some of them had endeavoured to set up an independent republic.
The government of the country was reorganised during 1867-8, nominally on the basis of a pure absolutism, with the Mikado as sole wielder of all authority both legislative and executive. Thus the literary party had triumphed. All their dreams were realised. They were henceforth to have Japan for the Japanese. The Shōgunate, which had admitted the hated barbarians, was no more. Even their hope of supplanting Buddhism by the national religion, Shintō, was in great measure accomplished. They believed that not only European innovations, but everything—even Japanese—that was newer than A.D. 500, would be forever swept away. Things were to go back to what they had been in the primitive ages, when Japan was really "the land of the gods."
From this dream they were soon roughly wakened. The shrewd warriors of Satsuma and Chōshū, who had humoured the ignorance of the Court and the fads of the scholars only as long as their common enemy, the Shōgunate, remained in existence, now turned round, and declared in favour, not merely of foreign intercourse, but of the Europeanisation of their own country. History has never witnessed a more sudden volte-face. History has never witnessed a wiser one. We foreigners, being mere lookers-on, may no doubt sometimes regret the substitution of commonplace European ways for the glitter, the glamour of picturesque Orientalism. But can it be doubtful which of the two civilisations is the higher, both materially and intellectually? And does not the whole experience of the last three hundred years go to prove that no Oriental state which retains distinctively Oriental institutions can hope to keep its territory free from Western aggression? What of India? What even of China? And what was Commodore Perry's visit but a threat to the effect that if Japan chose to remain Oriental, she should not be allowed to remain her own mistress? From the moment when the intelligent Samurai of the leading Daimiates realised that the Europeanisation of the country was a question of life and death, they (for to this day the government has continued practically in their hands) have never ceased carrying on the work of reform and progress.
The first and greatest step was when the Daimyōs themselves came forward to surrender their estates and privileges, when, in fact, the Japanese feudal system ended appropriately by committing harakiri. A centralised bureaucracy was set up on its ruins (1871). At the same time all social disabilities were removed, Buddhism was disestablished, an Imperial mint opened, and posts and telegraphs—followed next year by railways—were introduced. In 1873 vaccination, the European calendar, and European dress for officials were adopted, and the persecution of Christians was stopped. At the same time photography, meat eating, and other "Europeanisms" came pell-mell into vogue, not without official encouragement; and an edict was issued against wearing the queue. Steamship companies were established (1875-1885), torture was abolished, an immense financial reform was effected by the commutation of the Samurai's pensions (1876), a Bourse and Chamber of Commerce were inaugurated at Tōkyō (1878), new codes, inspired by the Code Napoleon, began to be published (1880), a Supreme Court of Justice was instituted (1883), and the English language was introduced into the curriculum of the common schools (1884). Most notable, next to 1873, were 1885-7, the years of the great "foreign fever," when Japanese society was literally submerged in a flood of European influence, such things as foreign dress for ladies, dancing, athletics, card-playing, etc., etc., coming in with a rush, while what is still remembered as the Ō-jishin, or "Great Earthquake," shook the political world. Then were administrative methods reformed, the hitherto excessive number of officials reduced, and new men, such as Itō and Inoue—names still the most famous in the land assumed the highest posts.
Meantime, this energetic government had put down no less than three provincial risings,—the Higo Rebellion of 1876, the far more dangerous Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, headed by the ex-loyalist leader Saigō Takamori, who had taken umbrage at the ultra-European leanings of his colleagues, and the Saitama insurrection of 1884. Radical discontent, too, had been kept in check by stringent regulations concerning the press and public meetings, and by the "Peace Preservation Act" which banished numerous agitators and suspects from the capital: and foreign relations with the neighbouring Asiatic states had been conducted with vigour, the Formosan pirates having been chastised by an armed Japanese force in 1874, and Luchu annexed by diplomatic means in 1879. During these years of breathless activity, Europeanisation was sometimes pushed into finical details. For instance, our dreary Philistine institution of exhibitions was swallowed at a gulp,—yards of tape, cakes of soap, etc., all complete, and brand-new orders of knighthood (1875) and aristocracy (1884) were created, sickly plants surely, which, in this age, may vegetate but cannot flourish. Such vagaries not unnaturally led many grave judges to shake their heads, especially abroad, where perhaps even to this day few thoroughly appreciate the fact that the Japanese of the old regime were no mere barbarians, but a community as highly cultured as it was intelligent,—a community moralised, humanised in the simple but wholesome school of the Chinese sages, knit together by the closest political and social bonds, and even to some slight extent penetrated by, or at least prepared for, European ideas by the Dutch influence emanating from Nagasaki, which was none the less real because it trickled underground.
But to return. The failure, in 1887, of long-protracted negotiations for treaty revision made of that year a turning-point in modern Japanese history. A strong reaction set in against foreigners and their ways, leading occasionally to murderous attacks on foreign residents and even to one on the present Czar of Russia, who happened, as Czarewitch, to be visiting Japan in 1891. Notwithstanding reaction, however, a long-promised Constitution, modelled to some extent on that of Prussia, was granted in 1889. Unfortunately it failed from the very beginning to work smoothly, and the average life of ministries has been only about twelve months. Summary suspension, following on violent altercations, has come to be looked forward to as the most likely fate of the yearly session. Meanwhile the gradual development of divers political parties in the state has helped to induce considerable exacerbation of feeling, and the spread of bribery and corruption has tended to lower the standard of public life. Besides the promulgation, from time to time, of the new codes (see Article on Law), the most important administrative events of the last few years have been the promulgation of the Local Self-Government Act in 1888, the granting of bounties for navigation and shipbuilding in 1896, and the adoption of the gold standard in 1897. In international politics, the revision of the treaties with the various great powers calls for prominent notice. That with England was concluded first, in August, 1894; that with the United States a few months later. Great patriotic satisfaction was felt when, in 1899, these new treaties came into force, bringing all resident foreigners within the scope of Japanese law. At the same time the whole country was thrown open to them for trade and residence, a change which must more and more tend to Europeanise even the remoter rural districts. Moreover, despite what has just been said about the imperfect working of the constitutional machine, the nation is gradually developing a true political instinct. Though Oriental by geographical position and sturdily national in sentiment, it has become Western in its aims and methods.
War has been an all-important factor during the last decade, all-important, because military successes have raised Japan to the rank of a great power. So long as her improvements were economic, administrative, scientific, and humanitarian merely, Europe looked on patronisingly, as at the college exercises of a clever, forward lad. But when this same lad showed himself to be a thorough man of war, Europe's tone began to change.
There have been three wars during the last ten years. The first, which took place in 1894-5, was waged against China to settle a long-standing dispute between the two empires about Korea. In it Japan demonstrated (what Europe should have discovered long ago) that the supposed political might of the Chinese empire was but a bubble waiting to be pricked. Within a year of the declaration of hostilities, China was forced to cede to Japan the peninsula of Liao-tung, besides paying a heavy indemnity. But European respect could not be gained all at once. Russia, which was then counted as irresistibly strong, wanted Liao-tung for herself; so she issued a summons to her humble follower France, and also to the Court of Berlin which was bound to that of St. Petersburg by ties of hereditary friendship. The three together forbade the cession of any territory on the Chinese mainland; and Japan, unprepared to face such a coalition, had to content herself with the island of Formosa. Her mortification was great, rejoicings over the victory gained were abandoned; particularly bitter was the disillusionment caused by Germany's having joined this unholy alliance,—Germany, whom official Japan had ever admired and striven to imitate, and whose hostile interference came as a bolt from the blue.
The second military expedition of the present reign took place in 1900. When the world looked on aghast at the spectacle of a handful of foreigners in Peking defending themselves against overwhelming odds, the Japanese contingent of the allied army was the first to bring rescue.
One incidental result of such close contact with European diplomacy and with European soldiers was to diminish the respect of the Japanese for Europe. They discovered that their revered Western instructor in science and the practical arts was no better morally than themselves,—less good, indeed; that his unctuous phrases and laboured circumlocutions were a mere veil for vulgar greed. At the same time it began to be suspected that as soldiers, too, the Westerners might be no braver than the Japanese,less brave perhaps. When therefore, in 1904, Russian aggression in Manchuria and Korea had become a standing menace to Japanese independence, and repeated protests proved unavailing, Japan silently and swiftly rushed on her gigantic foe, with the result, almost incredible to European self-sufficiency, that Russia's navy was practically annihilated in little more than two months. The conflict is still in progress on land. Whatever may be its final issue, one fact has deeply impressed all those who, by long residence among the Japanese and familiarity with their language, have been able to watch the attitude of all classes during the various wars and other changes here briefly sketched:—it is the fundamental sturdiness and healthiness of the national character. The assumed intellectual inferiority of Far-Eastern nations—at least of this Far-Eastern nation to Europeans has been disproved. Disproved, likewise, is the supposed moral inferiority of "heathen" nations at least of this "heathen" nation—to Christians. For no one fully cognisant of the events of the last forty years can allege that any Christian European nation could have shown itself readier to acknowledge its former errors, more teachable in all the arts of civilisation, franker and more moderate in diplomacy, more chivalrous and humane in war. If there be any "Yellow Peril," it must surely consist in Europe's own good qualities being surpassed by a higher grade of those same qualities in her new rivals. Such are the astonishing results of forty years of hard work on the part of a whole nation, which saw itself in a bad way, and resolutely determined to mend it.
It is not possible to conclude this sketch of Japanese history with the usual formula, "Books recommended,"—for the reason that there are no general histories of Japan to recommend. The chapters devoted to history in the works of Griffis, Rein, David Murray, etc., hold, it is true, a respectable position as embodying the usual traditional account of the subject. Brinkley, too, in his Japan and China, lets in welcome light on one highly important side of the subject, namely, manners and customs and the growth of various arts. But in the domain of history proper his loose method, his failure to (mote original authorities, and above all his lack of the critical faculty render him an unsafe guide, except for the events of the last forty years whose gradual unfolding he has personally watched. Thus, a trustworthy history of Japan remains to be written,—a work which should do for every century what Mr. Aston has done for the earliest centuries only, and Mr. Murdoch for the single century from 1542 to 1651. Here more than anywhere else is it necessary to listen at backdoors, to peep through conventional fences, and to sift native evidence by the light of foreign testimony. We should know next to nothing of what may be termed the Catholic episode of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, had we access to none but the official Japanese sources. How can we trust those same sources when they deal with times yet more remote? There seems little doubt that the ruling powers at an}given time manipulated both the more ancient records and the records of their own age, in order to suit their own private ends. Some times, indeed, the process may have been almost unconscious. The modern Japanese themselves are beginning to awake to these considerations, so far as the centuries immediately preceding their own are concerned. Dr. Shigeno An-eki, for instance, the greatest living authority on Japanese history, has undertaken to prove how certain historical episodes were "cooked" under the Tokugawa dynasty of Shōguns. But the process of "cooking" still persists, as may be seen by any critical pair of eyes that will take the trouble to examine contemporary official documents, and more especially the text-books published for use in the schools. Quite interesting is the naivete of the effort so to trim and pare the records of the past as to make it appear that the spirit now ruling the nation has been, to use a consecrated phrase, "unbroken for ages eternal."
A little reflection will show that such manipulations of history are likely to be the rule rather than the exception in Oriental countries. The love of truth for truth's sake is not a general human characteristic, but one of the exceptional traits of the Modern European mind, developed slowly by many causes, chiefly by those habits of accuracy which physical science does so much to foster. The concern of ancient peoples and of Oriental peoples has always been, not so much truth as edification. Outside Europe and her colonies it is easy to manipulate records, because such manipulation shocks no one deeply, because the people are told nothing about the matter, and because, even if they were told, they have neither the means nor the inclination to be critical.
Meanwhile, in her attitude towards historical studies, as in all else, Japan is undergoing a metamorphosis. Her literati have been fired with the desire to emulate Europe the critical and accurate, and government has laudably, if somewhat spasmodically, encouraged their efforts, by occasionally devoting a small yearly sum to the defrayal of expenses. An enormous amount of historical material has been unearthed from the archives of the ex-Daimyōs, from temple records, and other miscellaneous sources, dealing not with state occurrences only, but with trade, industry, literature, manners and customs, everything in short that goes to make up the life of a nation. This text, arranged chronologically with widely varied illustrations, is slowly passing through the press, and is expected to fill 300 volumes of 1,000 pages each, while reproductions (some of them in facsimile) of over 100,000 documents will fill 200 volumes more of 600 pages each. 1915 has been announced as the probable date of completion. Such is the Dai Nihon Shiryō, or "Materials for the History of Great Japan," with its sequel the Dai Nihon Kobunsho, or "Ancient Documents of Great Japan,"—works evidently destined to rank among those which are "more admired than read," but which perhaps some future Japanese historian, without "cooking," in the bad sense of the term, will judiciously boil down into something more palatable to the ordinary reader. (See also Article on Treaties)
- Since this article was first published, the Japanese government, obscurantist in nothing but the teaching of history, has produced convincing proof of the advisability of orthodoxy in matters historical by dismissing Prof. Kume from his chair at the University of Tōkyō for no other offence than that of writing critically on the subject of the early Mikados. This step, taken in 1892, has duly served pour encourager les auires. Thus we find Mr. Haga, in his otherwise excellent little "Lectures on Japanese Literature" (國文學史十講), gravely informing his hearers that some of the odes preserved in the Kojiki and Nihongi were composed by the gods, some by Jimmu Tennō and other ancient Mikados, one by a monkey! The ridicule due to these absurdities must recoil on the government which imposes on highly educated men such humiliating restrictions.
- Taiko (大閤), which means "great councillor," was the recognised title of a retired regent (kwampaku); but being rarely applied to any except Hideyoshi, it has almost come to form part of his name in popular parlance.
- The "true inwardness" of Germany's interference on behalf of the inviolability of Chinese territory was revealed two years later (1897) by her seizure of the neighbouring district of Kiao-chonf.
- See his essay entitled Early Japanese History, printed in Vol. XVI. Part I. of the "Asiatic Transactions," and his elaborately annotated translation of the "Nihongi, published by the Japan Society in 1896. The former approaches the subject chiefly from the Chinese, the latter from the Japanese, side. Murdoch's work is entitled A History of Japan from A.D. 1542 down to the Present Time, but only Vol. I., bringing the story down to 1651, has yet appeared. Compare our notice of this excellent work on p. 67.