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for the grievances of their followers generally
found redress, and the authority of the feudal
chiefs as well as of the Shogurfs government grew
steadily more apocryphal whenever the " mat-
banner and bamboo spear" of the farmer extorted
consideration from the two-sworded samurai.

To these factors working for the fall of feuda-
lism must be added increasing disaffection among
the samurai themselves, owing to their virtual
loss of caste in the presence of tradesmen who
had acquired a new knowledge of the value of
wealth, and of land-owners who lived sumptuous
lives without any derogatory labour, and owing,
above all, to their own penury, which compelled
them to seek means of subsistence in manual toil.
With nothing to lose and everything to gain,
these men were ready to throw themselves into
any intrigue. It cannot be supposed that they
cared much about theories of government. Yet
they took trouble to rouse the Court nobles in
Kyoto to a sense of the evils of divided power,
as between the Emperor and the S/wgun, and
to expose the national defects of feudalism.
They failed to produce any immediately visible
effect upon the current of events, but their action
unquestionably contributed to the general feeling
of unrest and dissatisfaction that was then grow-
ing up throughout the country.





It was at this time also that the Yedo Court
began to be divided against itself. There was a
party of the SKogun (lyeharu, 1760-1786), a
party of his favourite mistress, a party of the
chief minister, a party of the heir apparent, and
a party of the Mito family. To trace the lines
of this division would be wearisome and useless.
Sufficient to say that it was chiefly caused by a
departure from the fixed order of succession in
choosing an heir, the title of the " Three Fami-
lies " being set aside in favour of lyenari, a scion
of the Hitotsubashi house.

The ethics of the nation were at their worst
in the days (1760-1786) of the SKogun lyeharu.
Bribery was practised openly and shamelessly.
Pauperism prevailed extensively in the chief
cities, with its usual accompaniments of theft
and incendiarism. Conflagrations became so
common in Yedo that the citizens learned to re-
gard them as one of the inevitable ills of daily
life. In 1760 one-half of the city was reduced
to ashes, and eleven years later a fire, burning
for ten days, swept over five districts, killed four
hundred persons, and laid waste a space ten miles
long and two and a half in width. Several of
the great nobles began to assume a defiant mien
towards the SKogun. Men of learning were re-
garded as interesting curiosities rather than as
public benefactors. Society abandoned itself to
excesses of all kinds. The queen of the day was
the professional danseuse, and even among men



skill in dancing and singing constituted the
highest title to consideration. The plutocrat
took precedence of the bushi. The officials that
conducted the administration were corrupt and
incompetent. For a moment this evil state of
affairs was checked by the shock of natural ca-
lamities. In the autumn of 1771 a hurricane
swept over the country and destroyed a great
part of the crops. In the spring of 1773 a
pestilence killed ninety thousand people in four
months. In 1782 a volcanic eruption (Mount
Asama) buried a .number of villages under mud
and rocks. In 1783 a famine reduced the
people to such extremities that they subsisted on
dogs, cats, rats, herbs, roots, and bark. Matsu-
daira Sadanobu, chief minister of the Shogun
lyenari (1787-1838), called to power by these
catastrophes, introduced drastic reforms, and
might have effected a lasting improvement had
he not wrongly gauged the tendency of the time.
He failed to detect the forces working to pro-
duce a reaction against the despotic sway which
Chinese literature and Chinese philosophy had
exercised almost uninterruptedly since the begin-
ning of the Tokugawa epoch, and he devoted all
his energies to an attempt to bring the nation
into one ethical fold with Chu, the great Confu-
cian commentator, for pastor. Any procedure,
however arbitrary, seemed justifiable in the eyes
of this statesman, provided that it conduced to his
great aim of unifying national thought. He



made it an imprisonable offence to investigate or
teach any philosophy save that of the Sung ex-
pounder of the Analects. Of course such an
attempt to coerce men's intellects strengthened
the moral revolt it was intended to check. The
study of Japanese literature and Japanese history
acquired fresh popularity. It has been already
shown that this study owed its inception to the
great Mitsukuni (Komon), feudal chief of Mito,
under whose patronage a hundred-volume history,
Dai-Nihon-sht, was compiled in the second half
of the seventeenth century. A still profounder
scholar, Motoori Norinaga, wore the mantle of
Mitsukuni in the second half of the eighteenth
century, and threw all his intellectual strength
into the cause of a revival of whatever was purely
Japanese, whether of language, of literature, of
religion, or of tradition. Strange to say, the S/w-
gun and his chief minister, although they sought
so earnestly to popularise Confucianism as ex-
pounded by Chu, ultimately tolerated the Japan-
ese revival and even encouraged it, opening an
academy for its advocates, and themselves taking
a share in the investigations. They did not see
that Japanese history was a story of perpetual
usurpations on the part of rival clans, of encroach-
ments upon the prerogatives of the sovereign and
thefts of his authority, of the culture and dignity
of the Court nobles despite their many faults,
and of the neglected right of the Emperor to ex-
ercise administrative power. An incident of the



time furnished an object lesson in these princi-
ples. The Emperor (Kdkaku), desiring to give a
certain title to his father, sent an envoy to Yedo
to consult the Shogun. But it happened just
then that the SKogun contemplated giving a simi-
lar title to his own father. The proposal from
the Kyoto Court was regarded as a deliberate
scheme, and when the Emperor's envoys pressed
it, they were actually punished by the Shogun.
Voices were now raised loudly denouncing the
arbitrariness of the Tokugawa. They did not
as yet become audible in influential quarters, but
they nevertheless indicated the growth of a sen-
timent fatal to the permanence of the Yedo

It will be easily understood that although the
revival of pure Japanese literature, of the Japan-
ese religious cult and of the ethics connected
with it, was in effect a rebellion against the des-
potic sway of Chinese authority, the latter had
in fact prepared the route to the goal indicated
by the former. For whereas Confucianism taught
that a ruler's title is valid only so long as his ad-
ministration conduces to the welfare of the ruled,
Shinto showed the people whither they should
turn for relief from the incompetent and injurious
sway of the Shoguns. Thus, though the two
stood nominally opposed to each other, both
had the same political tendency.

At this epoch a new factor of disturbance
appeared upon the scene : the Russians began


to push southward from Kamchatka. There
was nothing like deliberate aggression on a large
scale, but only a gradual movement with occa-
sional incidents of violence and trespass. So
insignificant indeed, were these evidences of
foreign enterprise, that sixteen years passed before
the officials in Yedo obtained intelligence of
what was going on in the north, and they then
persuaded themselves that rumour had greatly
distorted the facts. But in truth this resurrection
of the problem of foreign intercourse opened the
last chapter of the history of Japanese feudalism.


Chapter V


DURING all these years, from the early
part of the seventeenth century until
the last quarter of the eighteenth,
vague conceptions of Occidental civili-
sation and Occidental sciences had been filtrating
into the country through the narrow door of
Dutch trade in Nagasaki. The study of medi-
cine chiefly contributed to indicate how wide
the interval between the civilisations of the
West and the East had grown since the beginning
of Japan's policy of isolation. To prosecute
such a study with any measure of success despite
the difficulties presenting themselves, showed
significant earnestness in the pursuit of knowl-
edge. Everything had to be done in secret,
since discovery signified the severest punishment.
In truth, the indomitable energy of a few obscure
students who procured a rare volume from the
Deshima factory at almost incredible cost, and,
without the aid of an instructor or a dictionary,
taught themselves the language in which it was
written, is a story of reality stranger than fiction.
But the movement had nothing of a national



character ; it did not extend beyond a small
coterie of students, and the people in general
remained ignorant of such researches. Presently
Ono Riushihei, a member of this band of stu-
dents, compiled a remarkable book. It con-
tained a singularly accurate account of the
manners and customs as well as of the military
and naval organisations of Occidental States ;
it warned Japan that the Russians would one
day show themselves a formidable enemy on her
northern border, and it urged the advisability
of building a fleet and constructing coast-
defences. The Yedo authorities denounced the
work as misleading and injurious, seized all the
copies, burned them, and placed the author in
confinement. Seldom have events so completely
and rapidly vindicated a prediction. Riushihei's
punishment had not lasted quite five months
when a Russian ship arrived at Yezo, pretexting
a desire to restore to their homes some castaway
Japanese sailors. Riushihei was at once released
from confinement, and the wisdom of his views
received general recognition.

It must indeed be recorded, in justice to the
perspicacity of the Sfiogurfs ministers, that from
the very beginning of the series of disturbing
episodes which thenceforth occurred in connec-
tion with foreign policy, they partially appreci-
ated the hopelessness of offering armed opposi-
tion to the coming of Western ships. Bound,
on the one hand, to respect the traditions of



international seclusion handed down to them
through ten generations, they understood, on the
other, that the measures adopted to enforce
these traditions had crippled the nation's powers
of resistance. Instead of following the high-
handed example of lyeyasu and lyemitsu, they
confined themselves to politely informing the
Russians that a return visit from them was not
desired. The Russians paid no attention to this
rebuff. They repeated their visits six times in
the course of the next twenty years, at one
moment assuming a friendly mien, at another
raiding Japan's northern islands or landing to
effect surveys ; to-day kidnapping Japanese sub-
jects, to-morrow restoring them with apologies.
It is certain that had not the Napoleonic wars
withdrawn Russia's attention from the Far
East, she would either have forced foreign inter-
course upon the Japanese before the close of the
nineteenth century's second decade, or annexed
all the Empire's northern islands. Japan was
helpless. A semblance of armed preparation
was made in 1807 by bestowing the SKogun's
daughter on Date, feudal chief of Sendai, ap-
pointing him to guard the shores of Hokkaido,
and building forts to defend the approaches to
Yedo Bay. But it is doubtful whether any real
value was attached to these measures. Ulti-
mately the trivial nature of Russian aggression
inspired the Japanese with some confidence, and
when by and by English vessels also began to

1 60

sib is-vsteAw to atohteib ntetrwom erft ni easrfeqiL ed) yd

10} riguoi ooj e'ic



This travelling conveyance Is used by the Japanese in the mountain districts or wherever the roads

are too rough for Jinrikishas.


appear in the northern seas, the SKbgwis offi-
cials took heart of grace, and issued orders that
any foreign ship coming within range of Japanese
guns should be cannonaded.

It has been shown that from the middle of
the eighteenth century the literary studies of the
nation began to create a strong current of thought
opposed to the system of dual government repre-
sented by the two courts of Yedo and Kyoto.
Possibly had nothing occurred to furnish signal
proof of the system's practical defects, it might
have long survived this theoretical disapproval.
But the crisis caused by the advent of foreign
ships and by the forceful renewal of foreign inter-
course afforded a convincing proof of the Sho-
gunate's incapacity to protect the State's supposed
interests and to enforce the traditional policy
of isolation which the nation had learned to
consider absolutely essential to the Empire's

When confronted by this crisis, the Yedo ad-
ministration had fallen into a state of great finan-
cial embarrassment. In spite of a forced loan
of a million ryo levied from the citizens of Osaka,
the Stiogun's ministers were obliged, in 1818, to
revert to the pernicious expedients of debasing
the currency, and arbitrarily readjusting the ratio
between gold and silver, which they now fixed
at six to one. A sudden and sharp appreciation
of commodities, the disappearance of gold from
circulation, and general discontent ensued. The



treasuries of the feudal chiefs also became de-
pleted, the purchasing power of all incomes
having been greatly reduced by the financial
abuses of the Shogunate. Many of the nobles
were heavily indebted to wealthy merchants, and
few retained any sentiment of loyalty towards the
Yedo Court. Japan was now visited by a calam-
ity to which she is particularly liable, scarcity of
bread-stuff owing to failure of the rice-crop, which
is of as much importance to her as wheat and
beef combined are to England. A three years'
famine afflicted the nation, from 1833 to 1835.
Starving folk began to wander about committing
outrages, and one of the Shogurfs trusted vassals, a
man 1 of the highest repute, headed an abortive
rebellion. Then, in 1838, the Yedo Castle was
destroyed by fire, and a special levy, in the form
of a heavy income tax, had to be resorted to.

Amid all these troubles the Dutch at Naga-
saki sent information to Yedo that British vessels
might be expected at any moment, carrying some
shipwrecked Japanese subjects. The Dutch, it
may be observed, lost no opportunity of arousing
Japanese suspicion against the English. Com-
mercial rivalry was not more scrupulous in those
days than it is at present. It happened that a
man of exceptional ability and resolution, Mizuno
Tadakuni, was then at the head of the Yedo ad-
ministration. He issued an order that, for what-
ever purpose foreign ships came, they must be

1 See Appendix, note 26.


driven back. But there were at that time several
Japanese students of foreign affairs in Yedo.
Some had been pupils of the intrepid traveller,
Siebold, and some had acquired their information
from books only. These men appreciated the
true character of foreign civilisation, and were at
once too patriotic and too courageous to subserve
their conviction to considerations of personal
safety. The necessity of combining the frag-
ments of knowledge that each had been able to
collect independently induced them to form a
society, and in spite of the odium attaching to
their action, and in spite of being called the
" barbarian association " by the public, they pur-
sued their researches unceasingly. When news
reached them that the S/iogun's chief minister
had issued the order spoken of above, they de-
cided that duty to their country demanded an
open protest against such a mistaken and danger-
ous policy. Two of the leading members com-
piled a volume, setting forth, in plain terms, the
truth, as they conceived it, especially with regard
to England. They presented copies of the book
to prominent officials of the Administration.
The immediate consequence of this heroic act
for it merits no lesser epithet was that the
members of the society were seized and thrown
into prison. But the brochure did not fail of all
effect. It strengthened the chief minister's con-
viction that unless the nation made a supreme
effort to organise its defences, no hope of resist-



ing foreign aggression could be entertained ; it
probably helped to inspire the radical reforms,
both economical and military, that were then
undertaken, and it may have had much to do
with the minister's subsequent revocation of his
anti-foreign order. For the order was actually
revoked within a few years of its issue ; not,
indeed, because the Shogun's Government had
become reconciled to foreign intercourse, but
because they recognised the advisability of avoid-
ing war with such formidable enemies as the men
from the Occident were now seen to be.

It is not to be supposed that in this matter of
renewing her relations with the outer world,
Japan was required to make any sudden decision
under stress of visible menace. She had ample
notice of the course events were taking.

A French ship, coming to the Riukiu Islands
in 1846, pretexted the probable advent of the
English as an argument to induce the islanders
to place themselves under French protection.
In the same year the King of Holland sent to
the Yedo Court some scientific books and a map
of the world, with a covering letter advising
that the country should at once abandon its
policy of isolation. It is related that this map
of the world produced a profound impression in
the S/iogun's capital, but as the Japanese had
become acquainted with the terrestrial globe in
1631, they must have already known something
of their country's comparative insignificance.



Again, in 1849, the King of Holland notified
the SKogun that an American fleet might be
expected in Japanese waters the following year,
and that, unless Japan agreed to enter into friendly
relations, war must follow. His Majesty enclosed
in his despatch an approximate draft of the
intended treaty, and a copy of a memorandum
addressed by America to European nations, jus-
tifying her contemplated action on the ground
that it would inure to the advantage of Japan as
well as to that of the Occident.

The year 1853 saw this warning fulfilled.
Commodore Perry entered Uraga Bay, near
Yokosuka. He had four ships and five hundred
and sixty men. In Yedo his force was supposed to
be ten ships and five thousand men ; in Kyoto
it became one hundred ships and one hundred
thousand men.

The event created as much astonishment and
alarm as though no notice of its probability had
ever been received. The S/iogun's ministers
issued orders that so soon as the foreign vessels
entered Yedo Bay, the fire-bells should be rung
in quick time, and every one, donning his fire
uniform, should hasten to his post. The Impe-
rial Court in Kyoto directed that at the seven
principal shrines and at all the great temples
special prayers should be offered for the safety of
the nation and for the destruction of foreigners.
Such measures vividly illustrated the helplessness
of Japan to meet the crisis that now threatened.



From the very outset the steps taken by the
Sh'ogun's administration were prophetic of its
downfall. A council of feudal chiefs was sum-
moned to consider the course that should be
pursued. Never previously, since the establish-
ment of the Tokugawa rule in Yedo, had the Sho-
gitn's ministers submitted any question, executive or
political, to the consideration of the feudatories.
A more signal abrogation of autocratic power
could not have been effected. The SKogun thereby
virtually abdicated his position as the nation's
administrative sovereign, and placed himself on
a level with all the territorial nobles who had
hitherto been required to render implicit obedi-
ence to his orders. It becomes interesting to
determine the motive and source of such a novel
departure. Some writers have been disposed to
treat it merely as an evidence of thoughtless
perplexity. Others regard it as a pusillanimous
endeavour to shift to the shoulders of the feuda-
tories a responsibility which the Shogunate found
unbearable. Both explanations may be p r tially
true. It is possible that the Yedo Government
did not perceive the full consequences of openly
recognising the right of the feudatories to a voice
in the management of State affairs. It is also
possible that the Shogun's advisers, too well in-
formed to contemplate serious resistance to
foreign demands, too timid of public opinion to
openly confess their conviction, hoped, by obtain-
ing from the feudatories a declaration in favour



of a pacific policy, to escape at once the disaster
of war and the odium of violating a national con-
viction. But whatever secondary value attaches
to these conjectures, it appears certain that the
suggestion to summon a conference of feudal
nobles emanated from the students of Chinese
philosophy. During the first century of Toku-
gawa rule these men occupied an academical
position. But in the year 1690, when the Sfwgun
Tsunayoshi ruled, a school called the " hall of
sages " (Seidb} was established in Yedo, and
scholars successful in its examinations became
eligible for official appointments equally with
proficients in military exercises. Many such
literati occupied administrative posts at the time
of the coming of the American ships, and
although their influence had hitherto been insig-
nificant, the peculiar nature of the crisis now
gave unwonted weight to their views. From
the writings of Confucius and Mencius they had
learned to attach respect to popular opinion, and
in obedience to their political creed, they coun-
selled recourse to the advice of the feudal nobles.
The S/iogun's ministers, in accepting that counsel,
probably reckoned on secretly swaying the nobles
to declare openly for peace. But the nobles, by
asserting their independence, showed that they
understood their new position. A majority pro-
nounced against foreign intercourse even at the
cost of war ; a few advised temporary concessions
pending the completion of preparations to expel


the intruders, and a still smaller number recom-
mended peaceful intercourse with the outer world.
It may be stated at once that subsequent events
threw great doubt on the sincerity of the advocates
of war. Those that had spoken honestly spoke
in ignorance, and fuller knowledge modified their
views; those that had spoken with knowledge
lacked the courage of their convictions, and for
the sake of appearance counselled a course which
they knew to be impracticable.

As for the SKbgun's ministers, their action
reflected the perplexity and duplicity of the time.
They issued an instruction so ambiguous that no
one could undertake to interpret it accurately.
It did not sanction foreign intercourse, but it did
not order warlike operations to enforce isolation ;
it directed that defensive measures should be vig-
orously pushed, but it did not intimate that their
completion would be the signal for driving away
the aliens ; it hinted that the honour of the
nation was involved in obeying the old tradi-
tions, but it counselled an amicable and forbear-
ing spirit. Very little perspicacity was needed
to detect the weakness of rulers speaking with
such an uncertain voice.

Another self-effacing step taken by the SKogun
was to address to the Court in Kyoto a formal
report of the advent of the American ships.
This, too, amounted to an open abrogation of
the administrative autocracy which formed the
basis of the Tokugawa system. lyeyasu had



definitely excluded the Kyoto Court from the
sphere of national affairs, and all his successors,
with one exception, had governed in obedience
to that principle. But now the SKogun lyeyoshi
seemed to place himself under the shadow of the
Imperial Court at the very moment when his
urgent duty, according to popular conception,
was to interpose between the Throne and the
danger menacing it from abroad.

The consequences of this step were even more
far-reaching than those that attended the Shogun-
ate's recourse to a council of feudatories. For
the renaissance of the literature and traditions of

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Online LibraryF. (Frank) BrinkleyJapan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 3) → online text (page 10 of 16)