F. (Frank) Brinkley.

A history of the Japanese people from the earliest times to the end of the Meiji era online

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From the Earliest Times to the End of the Meiji Era



Editor of the "Japan Mail"

With the Collaboration of BARON KIKUCHI

Former President of the Imperial University at Kyoto

With 150 Illustrations Engraved on Wood by Japanese Artists;
Half-Tone Plates, and Maps



It is trite to remark that if you wish to know really any people, it
is necessary to have a thorough knowledge of their history, including
their mythology, legends and folk-lore: customs, habits and traits of
character, which to a superficial observer of a different nationality
or race may seem odd and strange, sometimes even utterly subversive
of ordinary ideas of morality, but which can be explained and will
appear quite reasonable when they are traced back to their origin.
The sudden rise of the Japanese nation from an insignificant position
to a foremost rank in the comity of nations has startled the world.
Except in the case of very few who had studied us intimately, we were
a people but little raised above barbarism trying to imitate Western
civilisation without any capacity for really assimilating or adapting
it. At first, it was supposed that we had somehow undergone a sudden
transformation, but it was gradually perceived that such could not be
and was not the case; and a crop of books on Japan and the Japanese,
deep and superficial, serious and fantastic, interesting and
otherwise, has been put forth for the benefit of those who were
curious to know the reason of this strange phenomenon. But among so
many books, there has not yet been, so far as I know, a history of
Japan, although a study of its history was most essential for the
proper understanding of many of the problems relating to the Japanese
people, such as the relation of the Imperial dynasty to the people,
the family system, the position of Buddhism, the influence of the
Chinese philosophy, etc. A history of Japan of moderate size has
indeed long been a desideratum; that it was not forthcoming was no
doubt due to the want of a proper person to undertake such a work.
Now just the right man has been found in the author of the present
work, who, an Englishman by birth, is almost Japanese in his
understanding of, and sympathy with, the Japanese people. It would
indeed be difficult to find any one better fitted for the task - by no
means an easy one - of presenting the general features of Japanese
history to Western readers, in a compact and intelligible form, and
at the same time in general harmony with the Japanese feeling. The
Western public and Japan are alike to be congratulated on the
production of the present work. I may say this without any fear of
reproach for self-praise, for although my name is mentioned in the
title-page, my share is very slight, consisting merely in general
advice and in a few suggestions on some special points.


KYOTO, 1912.


During the past three decades Japanese students have devoted much
intelligent labour to collecting and collating the somewhat
disjointed fragments of their country's history. The task would have
been practically impossible for foreign historiographers alone, but
now that the materials have been brought to light there is no
insuperable difficulty in making them available for purposes of joint
interpretation. That is all I have attempted to do in these pages,
and I beg to solicit pardon for any defect they may be found to


TOKYO, 1912.



I. The Historiographer's Art in Old Japan

II. Japanese Mythology

III. Japanese Mythology (Continued)

IV. Rationalization

V. Origin of the Japanese Nation: Historical Evidences

VI. Origin of the Nation: Geographical and Archaeological

VII. Language and Physical Characteristics

VIII. Manners and Customs in Remote Antiquity

IX. The Prehistoric Sovereigns

X. The Prehistoric Sovereigns (Continued)

XI. The Prehistoric Sovereigns (Continued)

XII. The Protohistoric Sovereigns

XIII. The Protohistoric Sovereigns (Continued)

XIV. From the 29th to the 35th Sovereign

XV. The Daika Reforms

XVI. The Daiho Laws and the Yoro Laws

XVII. The Nara Epoch

XVIII. The Heian Epoch

XIX. The Heian Epoch (Continued)

XX. The Heian Epoch (Continued)

XXI. The Capital and the Provinces

XXII. Recovery of Administrative Authority by the Throne

XXIII. Manners and Customs of the Heian Epoch

XXIV. The Epoch of the Gen (Minamoto) and the Hei (Taira)

XXV. The Epoch of the Gen and the Hei (Continued)

XXVI. The Kamakura Bakufu

XXVII. The Hojo

XXVIII. Art, Religion, Literature, Customs, and Commerce in the
Kamakura Period

XXIX. Fall of the Hojo and Rise of the Ashikaga

XXX. The War of the Dynasties

XXXI. The Fall of the Ashikaga

XXXII. Foreign Intercourse, Literature, Art, Religion, Manners,
and Customs in the Muromachi Epoch

XXXIII. The Epoch of Wars (Sengoku Jidai)

XXXIV. Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu

XXXV. The Invasion of Korea

XXXVI. The Momo-Yama Epoch

XXXVII. Christianity in Japan

XXXVIII. The Tokugawa Shogunate

XXXIX. First Period of the Tokugawa Bakufu; from the First
Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu, to the Fourth, Ietsuna

XL. Middle Period of the Tokugawa Bakufu; from the Fifth
Shogun, Tsunayoshi, to the Tenth Shogun, Ieharu

XLI. The Late Period of the Tokugawa Bakufu. The Eleventh
Shogun,Ienari (1786-1838)

XLII. Organization, Central and Local; Currency and the
Laws of the Tokugawa Bakufu

XLIII. Revival of the Shinto Cult

XLIV. Foreign Relations and the Decline of the Tokugawa

XLV. Foreign Relations and the Decline of the Tokugawa (Continued)

XLVI. The Meiji Government

XLVII. Wars with China and Russia


1. Constitution of Japan, 1889

2. Anglo-Japanese Agreement, 1905

3. Treaty of Portsmouth, 1905



Japan about 1337: Northern and Southern Courts

Japan in Era of Wars, 1577: Distribution of Fiefs

Japan in 1615: Feudatories

Japan, Korea and the Mainland of Asia


Capt. F. Brinkley, R. A.

The Emperor Jimmu

The Shrine of Ise

Prehistoric Remains: Plate A

Prehistoric Remains: Plate B

Prince Shotoku

Kaigen Ceremony of the Nara Daibutsu

Thirty-six Versifiers (Painting by Korin)

Cherry-Viewing Festival at Mukojima

Kamakura Daibutsu

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

Court Costumes

Tokugawa Shrine at Nikko

The Emperor Meiji (Mutsuhito)

Sinking of the Russian Battleship Osliabya

Admiral Togo






IN the earliest eras of historic Japan there existed a hereditary
corporation of raconteurs (Katari-be) who, from generation to
generation, performed the function of reciting the exploits of the
sovereigns and the deeds of heroes. They accompanied themselves on
musical instruments, and naturally, as time went by, each set of
raconteurs embellished the language of their predecessors, adding
supernatural elements, and introducing details which belonged to the
realm of romance rather than to that of ordinary history. These
Katari-be would seem to have been the sole repository of their
country's annals until the sixth century of the Christian era. Their
repertories of recitation included records of the great families as
well as of the sovereigns, and it is easy to conceive that the favour
and patronage of these high personages were earned by ornamenting the
traditions of their households and exalting their pedigrees. But when
the art of writing was introduced towards the close of the fourth
century, or at the beginning of the fifth, and it was seen that in
China, then the centre of learning and civilization, the art had been
applied to the compilation of a national history as well as of other
volumes possessing great ethical value, the Japanese conceived the
ambition of similarly utilizing their new attainment. For reasons
which will be understood by and by, the application of the
ideographic script to the language of Japan was a task of immense
difficulty, and long years must have passed before the attainment of
any degree of proficiency.

Thus it was not until the time of the Empress Suiko (593-628) that
the historical project took practical shape. Her Majesty, at the
instance, doubtless, of Prince Shotoku, one of the greatest names in
all Japan's annals, instructed the prince himself and her chief
minister, Soga no Umako, to undertake the task of compiling
historical documents, and there resulted a Record of the Emperors
(Tennoki), a Record of the Country (Koki), and Original Records
(Hongi) of the Free People (i.e., the Japanese proper as
distinguished from aliens, captives, and aborigines), of the great
families and of the 180 Hereditary Corporations (Be). This work was
commenced in the year 620, but nothing is known as to the date of its
completion. It represents the first Japanese history. A shortlived
compilation it proved, for in the year 645, the Soga chiefs,
custodians of the documents, threw them into the fire on the eve of
their own execution for treason. One only, the Record of the Country,
was plucked from the flames, and is believed to have been
subsequently incorporated in the Kojiki '(Records of Ancient
Things).' No immediate attempt seems to have been made to remedy the
loss of these invaluable writings. Thirty-seven years later the
Emperor Temmu took the matter in hand. One of his reasons for doing
so has been historically transmitted. Learning that "the chronicles
of the sovereigns and the original words in the possession of the
various families deviated from the truth and were largely amplified
with empty falsehoods," his Majesty conceived that unless speedy
steps were taken to correct the confusion and eliminate the errors,
an irremediable state of affairs would result.

Such a preface prepares us to learn that a body of experts was
appointed to distinguish the true and the false, and to set down the
former alone. The Emperor did, in fact, commission a number of
princes and officials to compile an authentic history, and we shall
presently see how their labours resulted. But in the first place a
special feature of the situation has to be noted. The Japanese
language was then undergoing a transition. In order to fit it to the
Chinese ideographs for literary purposes, it was being deprived of
its mellifluous polysyllabic character and reduced to monosyllabic
terseness. The older words were disappearing, and with them many of
the old traditions. Temmu saw that if the work of compilation was
abandoned solely to princely and official littérateurs, they would
probably sacrifice on the altar of the ideograph much that was
venerable and worthy to be preserved. He therefore himself undertook
the collateral task of having the antique traditions collected and
expurgated, and causing them to be memorized by a chamberlain, Hiyeda
no Are, a man then in his twenty-eighth year, who was gifted with
ability to repeat accurately everything heard once by him. Are's mind
was soon stored with a mass of ancient facts and obsolescent
phraseology, but before either the task of official compilation or
that of private restoration had been carried to completion the
Emperor died (686), and an interval of twenty-five years elapsed
before the Empress Gemmyo, on the 18th of September, 711, ordered a
scholar, Ono Yasumaro, to transcribe the records stored in Are's
memory. Four months sufficed for the work, and on the 28th of
January, 712, Yasumaro submitted to the Throne the Kojiki (Records of
Ancient Things) which ranked as the first history of Japan, and which
will be here referred to as the Records.


It is necessary to revert now to the unfinished work of the classical
compilers, as they may be called, whom the Emperor Temmu nominated in
682, but whose labours had not been concluded when his Majesty died
in 686. There is no evidence that their task was immediately
continued in an organized form, but it is related that during the
reign of Empress Jito (690-696) further steps were taken to collect
historical materials, and that the Empress Gemmyo (708-715) - whom we
have seen carrying out, in 712, her predecessor Temmu's plan with
regard to Hiyeda no Are - added, in 714, two skilled littérateurs to
Temmu's classical compilers, and thus enabled them to complete their
task, which took the shape of a book called the Nihongi (Chronicle of

This work, however, did not prove altogether satisfactory. It was
written, for the most part, with a script called the Manyo syllabary;
that is to say, with Chinese ideographs employed phonetically, and it
did not at all attain the literary standard of its Chinese prototype.
Therefore, the Empress entrusted to Prince Toneri and Ono Yasumaro
the task of revising it, and their amended manuscript, concluded in
720, received the name of Nihon Shoki (Written Chronicles of Japan),
the original being distinguished as Kana Nihongi, or Syllabic
Chronicles. The Nihon Shoki consisted originally of thirty-one
volumes, but of these one, containing the genealogies of the
sovereigns, has been lost. It covers the whole of the prehistoric
period and that part of the historic which extends from the accession
of the Emperor Jimmu (660 B.C.) to the abdication of the Empress Jito
(A.D. 697). The Kojiki extends back equally far, but terminates at
the death of the Empress Suiko (A.D. 628).


In the year 713, when the Empress Gemmyo was on the throne, all the
provinces of the empire received orders to submit to the Court
statements setting forth the natural features of the various
localities, together with traditions and remarkable occurrences.
These documents were called Fudoki (Records of Natural Features).
Many of them have been lost, but a few survive, as those of Izumo,
Harima, and Hitachi.


The task of applying ideographic script to phonetic purposes is
exceedingly difficult. In the ideographic script each character has a
distinct sound and a complete meaning. Thus, in China shan signifies
"mountain," and ming "light." But in Japanese "mountain" becomes yama
and "light" akari. It is evident, then, that one of two things has to
be done. Either the sounds of the Japanese words must be changed to
those of the Chinese ideographs; or the sounds of the Chinese
ideographs must alone be taken (irrespective of their meaning), and
with them a phonetic syllabary must be formed. Both of these devices
were employed by a Japanese scholar of early times. Sometimes
disregarding the significance of the ideographs altogether, he used
them simply as representing sounds, and with them built up pure
Japanese words; at other times, he altered the sounds of Japanese
words to those of their Chinese equivalents and then wrote them
frankly with their ideographic symbols.

In this way each Japanese word came to have two pronunciations:
first, its own original sound for colloquial purposes; and second,
its borrowed sound for purposes of writing. At the outset the spoken
and the written languages were doubtless kept tolerably distinct. But
by degrees, as respect for Chinese literature developed, it became a
learned accomplishment to pronounce Japanese words after the Chinese
manner, and the habit ultimately acquired such a vogue that the
language of men - who wrote and spoke ideographically - grew to be
different from the language of women - who wrote and spoke
phonetically. When Hiyeda no Are was required to memorize the annals
and traditions collected and revised at the Imperial Court, the
language in which he committed them to heart was pure Japanese, and
in that language he dictated them, twenty-nine years later, to the
scribe Yasumaro. The latter, in setting down the products of Are's
memory, wrote for the most part phonetically; but sometimes, finding
that method too cumbersome, he had recourse to the ideographic
language, with which he was familiar. At all events, adding nothing
nor taking away anything, he produced a truthful record of the myths,
traditions, and salient historical incidents credited by the Japanese
of the seventh century.

It may well be supposed, nevertheless, that Are's memory, however
tenacious, failed in many respects, and that his historical details
were comparatively meagre. An altogether different spirit presided at
the work subsequently undertaken by this same Yasumaro, when, in
conjunction with other scholars, he was required to collate the
historical materials obtained abundantly from various sources since
the vandalism of the Soga nobles. The prime object of these
collaborators was to produce a Japanese history worthy to stand side
by side with the classic models of China. Therefore, they used the
Chinese language almost entirely, the chief exception being in the
case of the old poems, a great number of which appear in the Records
and the Chronicles alike. The actual words of these poems had to be
preserved as well as the metre, and therefore it was necessary to
indite them phonetically. For the rest, the Nihon Shoki, which
resulted from the labours of these annalists and literati, was so
Chinese that its authors did not hesitate to draw largely upon the
cosmogonic myths of the Middle Kingdom, and to put into the mouths of
Japanese monarchs, or into their decrees, quotations from Chinese
literature. "As a repertory of ancient Japanese myth and legend there
is little to choose between the Records and the Chronicles. The
former is, on the whole, the fuller of the two, and contains legends
which the latter passes over in silence; but the Chronicles, as we
now have them, are enriched by variants of the early myths, the value
of which, for purposes of comparison, is recognized by scientific
inquirers. But there can be no comparison between the two works when
viewed as history. Hiyeda no Are's memory cannot be expected to
compete in fullness and accuracy with the abundant documentary
literature accessible to the writers of the Chronicles, and an
examination of the two works shows that, in respect to the record of
actual events, the Chronicles are far the more useful authority".*

*Aston's Nihongi.

It will readily be supposed, too, that the authors of both works
confused the present with the past, and, in describing the manners
and customs of by-gone eras, unconsciously limned their pictures with
colours taken from the palette of their own times, "when the national
thought and institutions had become deeply modified by Chinese
influences." Valuable as the two books are, therefore, they cannot be
accepted without large limitations. The Nihon Shoki occupied a high
place in national esteem from the outset. In the year following its
compilation, the Empress Gensho summoned eminent scholars to the
Court and caused them to deliver lectures on the contents of the
book, a custom which was followed regularly by subsequent sovereigns
and still finds a place among the New Year ceremonials. This book
proved to be the precursor of five others with which it is commonly
associated by Japanese scholars. They are the Zoku Nihongi
(Supplementary Chronicles of Japan), in forty volumes, which covers
the period from 697 to 791 and was finished in 798; the Nihon Koki
(Later Chronicles of Japan), in forty volumes - ten only
survive - which covers the period from 792 to 833; the Zoku Nihon Koki
(Supplementary Later Chronicles), in twenty volumes, which covers the
single reign of the Emperor Nimmyo (834-850) and was compiled in 869;
the Montoku Jitsu-roku (True Annals of Montoku), in ten volumes,
covering the reign of Montoku (851-858), and compiled in 879, and the
Sandai Jitsu-roku (True Annals of Three Reigns) in fifty volumes,
covering the period from 859 to 887 and compiled in 901. These five
compilations together with the Nihon Shoki are honoured as the Six
National Histories. It is noticeable that the writers were men of the
highest rank, from prime ministers downwards. In such honour was the
historiographer's art held in Japan in the eighth and ninth


Before beginning to read Japanese history it is necessary to know
something of the chronology followed in its pages. There have been in
Japan four systems for counting the passage of time. The first is by
the reigns of the Emperors. That is to say, the first year of a
sovereign's reign - reckoning from the New Year's day following his
accession - became the 1 of the series, and the years were thenceforth
numbered consecutively until his death or abdication. This method
might be sufficiently accurate if the exact duration of each reign
were known as well as the exact sequence of the reigns. But no such
precision could be expected in the case of unwritten history,
transmitted orally from generation to generation. Thus, while
Japanese annalists, by accepting the aggregate duration of all the
reigns known to them, arrive at the conclusion that the first
Emperor, Jimmu, ascended the throne in the year 660 B.C., it is found
on analysis that their figures assign to the first seventeen
sovereigns an average age of 109 years.

The second system was by means of periods deriving their name (nengo)
from some remarkable incident. Thus, the discovery of copper in Japan
was commemorated by calling the year Wado (Japanese copper), and the
era so called lasted seven years. Such a plan was even more liable to
error than the device of reckoning by reigns, and a specially
confusing feature was that the first year of the period dated
retrospectively from the previous New Year's day, so that events were
often recorded as having occurred in the final year of one period and
in the opening year of another. This system was originally imported
from China in the year A.D. 645, and is at present in use, the year
1910 being the forty-third of the Meiji (Enlightenment and Peace)

The third system was that of the sexagenary cycle. This was operated
after the manner of a clock having two concentric dials, the
circumference of the larger dial being divided into ten equal parts,
each marked with one of the ten "celestial signs," and the
circumference of the smaller dial being divided into twelve equal
parts each marked with one of the twelve signs of the zodiac. The
long hand of the clock, pointing to the larger dial, was supposed to
make one revolution in ten years, and the shorter hand, pointing to
the small dial, revolved once in twelve years. Thus, starting from
the point where the marks on the two dials coincide, the long hand
gained upon the short hand by one-sixtieth each year, and once in
every sixty years the two hands were found at the point of
conjunction. Years were indicated by naming the "celestial stem" and
the zodiacal sign to which the imaginary hands happen to be pointing,
just as clock-time is indicated by the minutes read from the long
hand and the hours from the short. The sexagenary cycle came into use
in China in 623 B.C. The exact date of its importation into Japan is
unknown, but it was probably about the end of the fourth century A.D.
It is a sufficiently accurate manner of counting so long as the tale
of cycles is carefully kept, but any neglect in that respect exposes
the calculator to an error of sixty years or some multiple of sixty.
Keen scrutiny and collation of the histories of China, Korea, and
Japan have exposed a mistake of at least 120 years connected with the
earliest employment of the sexagenary cycle in Japan.

Online LibraryF. (Frank) BrinkleyA history of the Japanese people from the earliest times to the end of the Meiji era → online text (page 1 of 108)