F. (Frank) Brinkley.

Japan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 3) online

. (page 7 of 16)
Online LibraryF. (Frank) BrinkleyJapan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 3) → online text (page 7 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

dence whatever of a disposition to impose restric-
tions on the comings and goings of Western
traders ; secondly, that the benefits of commerce,



as exemplified by the doings of those traders,
impelled Japan to immediate and enthusiastic
imitation. Portuguese ships were made free to
visit any part of the realm. To the Dutch and
the English, when they came in the early years
of the seventeenth century, similar freedom of
commerce was granted. They received written
authorisation, over the vermilion stamp of the
Tokugawa SKogun to " conduct trade without
molestation in any port or at any place in
Japan." There was no imposition of onerous
taxes or duties, and though presents had to be
offered to local officials and to the central gov-
ernment, their total value never exceeded five
per cent of the nominal cost of the cargo on
account of which they were made. Yet, eighty-
seven years after this auspicious inauguration of
foreign intercourse, Japan made an almost com-
plete reversal of her national policy, adopted an
exclusive attitude, substituted distrust and aver-
sion for the confidence and amity of her pre-
vious mood, and asserted her right of isolation
with fierce and unrelenting imperiousness.
What had happened to produce this remarkable
metamorphosis ?

Looking back to the commencements of
Japan's foreign intercourse, it is seen that close
upon the footsteps of the pioneers of trade fol-
lowed the pioneers of Christianity. They too
were hospitably received. It is true that the
sequel of their propagandism shows Japan re-



sorting to the fires of persecution and the cross
of the martyr with all the merciless vehemence
of contemporary Europe, and that the story of
their doings was thus projected upon the pages
of history in shocking outlines. But the mood
ultimately educated by the conduct of the Chris-
tian propagandists differed widely from the mood
with which they were originally welcomed. That
fact cannot be too emphatically asserted. If these
Portuguese and Spanish apostles of the Nazarene,
together with their Japanese disciples, fell victims
at the last to the wrath of the nation whose heart
they had come to win, the cause is to be sought
in their own faults and in the intrigues of their
foreign rivals rather than in the prejudice or
bigotry of the Japanese. They taught to Japan
the intolerance which she subsequently displayed
towards themselves, and they provoked its display
by their own imprudence.

The historical bases of these propositions are
easily traced. During the interval of two hun-
dred and sixty-one years 1281 to 1542 A. D.
that separated the great Mongol invasion of
Japan from the opening of intercourse between
the latter and Europe, the spirit of lawless ad-
venture prevalent throughout the Occident found
its counterpart in the conduct of the Japanese.
It might be supposed that their lust for fighting
would have been amply sated by the perpetual
domestic combats that kept their own country in
a ferment from shore to shore. But although



rich prizes fell to the share of the leaders in these
internecine struggles, the ordinary samurai gained
little by them. His pay was scanty, his prospect
of promotion limited, and it may well be that he
sometimes turned with loathing from the constant
necessity of bathing his hands in the blood of his
own countrymen. At all events, piracy became
a favourite occupation. The Japanese appear
to have regarded the littoral provinces of their
neighbours as fair fields for raid and foray. Some
historians suggest that the fiercely aggressive
temper of the time was kindled, or, at any rate,
fanned into active flame, by the Mongol assaults
which the great Khan made upon Japan. But
the course of events is not consistent with that
theory. The defeat of Kublai's armadas, on the
contrary, was succeeded by an interval of com-
parative quiescence, partly, no doubt, because the
Japanese appreciated the might of which such
formidable efforts were an evidence, and partly be-
cause their sea-going capacities still remained com-
paratively undeveloped. But from the middle
of the fourteenth century it became a species of
military pastime in Japan to fit out a little fleet
of war-boats and make a descent upon the coasts
of Korea or of China. The annals of the suf-
ferers, naturally more credible in some respects
than those of the aggressors, show that what the
Norsemen were to Europe in early ages, and the
English to Spanish America in times contempo-
rary with those now under consideration, the



P^v^VV sJ ^ ?,_= 'Sfe


Japanese were to China. They made descents
upon the Shantung Promontory, the same place
where their posterity, in modern days, were des-
tined to annihilate China's naval forces at Wei-
haiwei, and carried their raids far inland, looting
and destroying villages and towns, and then march-
ing back leisurely to the coast, where they shipped
their booty and sailed away when the wind suited.
They repeated these outrages, year after year, on
an increasing scale, until the provinces of Fuhkien,
Chekiang, Kiangsu, and Shantung in other
words, littoral regions extending over three de-
grees of latitude were almost wholly overrun
by the fierce freebooters. It is related in Chinese
history that the commonest topics of conversation
in this unhappy era were the descents of the Japan-
ese on the dominions of the Middle Kingdom,
the vessels taken by them, the towns pillaged and
sacked, the provinces ravaged. They are spoken
of as " sovereigns of the sea," and although forty-
nine fortresses were erected by the much harassed
Chinese people along the eastern coasts, and al-
though one man out of every four of the sea-board
population was enrolled in a coast-guard army,
the raiders made nothing of such obstacles. The
immemorial iteration of Chinese military ex-
periences was again exemplified. Defeated gen-
erals laid accusations of incapacity and treachery
at each other's doors, and being all alike de-
nounced by the censors, the best were recalled
and punished and the worst left in command.



The Japanese pirates, it should be remembered,
were not backed by any reserve of national force ;
they were private marauders, mere soldiers of
fortune, without even the open countenance or
support of a feudal chieftain, though undoubtedly
their enterprises were often undertaken in the
secret interests of some local magnate. It stands
to China's lasting humiliation that she was at last
compelled to treat the freebooters as a national
enemy, and to move a large army against them.
There is, indeed, an element of comicality in the
situation as it existed at the time of which we
write, China always perched upon a pedestal of
ineffable loftiness, addressing her neighbours in
forms of speech rigidly adapted to the height at
which she supposed herself to stand above them,
and solemnly registering the visits of their ambas-
sadors as tribute-bearing missions ; Japan lightly
contemptuous of such pretensions, thrusting the
magnificent Empire's envoys into prison and keep-
ing them there for months on some transparently
petty pretext, crossing her neighbour's borders
whenever and wherever she pleased, and carrying
away everything of interest or of value that came
under her hand, yet never hesitating to send
openly and courteously for a Buddhist sutra, a
celadon vase, or a brocade altar-cloth, if a desire
for such objects suggested itself.

Korea underwent at Japan's hands experi-
ences only a degree less harassing than those
suffered by China, but failed altogether to find

1 06


a remedy. Her feeble and ill-judged measures
of retaliation served merely to provoke fresh

The interest of this chapter of Japanese history
consists not merely in the materials that it fur-
nishes for estimating the quality of Japanese
enterprise and of Japanese righting capacity in
the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but also in
the indications that it contains of the country's
attitude towards foreign commerce and foreign
intercourse at that epoch ; that is to say, com-
merce and intercourse with China and Korea,
for the time here considered was prior to the
coming of Europeans. Foreign commerce was
regarded, not as a factor of national wealth, but
as a means of enriching a few privileged indi-
viduals. Its profits were, for the most part,
confined to two great families, the Ouchi in the
case of China, and the So in the case of Korea, and
restrictions were imposed upon its dimensions
solely for the purpose of keeping it within reach
of the prescribed control. Speaking generally,
it may be said that the patronage of one feudal
chief or court noble involved the opposition, or
aroused the jealousy, of some other, and not until
the unification of the nation in modern times
created a common interest in promoting factors
of prosperity, did foreign commerce cease to be
hampered by personal rivalries and political am-
bitions. As for foreign intercourse, its con-
veniences alone were considered, the obligations



that it imposed being practically neglected.
Japan drew freely upon China and Korea for
whatever contributions they could make to her
literary, religious, and artistic equipments, but at
the same time she allowed her subjects to pursue
toward both countries a course of lawless violence
that must have speedily involved her in war had
either the Koreans or the Chinese seen any hope
of engaging her successfully. There was no hope,
however. She beat back their armadas ; she
carried fire and sword into their territories with-
out even the semblance of a national effort ; she
imprisoned their envoys ; she showed her total
fearlessness of them in a hundred ways. But
she never opposed the comings and goings of
their peoples to and from her own territories.
There was no isolation on her side.

Such was the state of affairs when (1542) the
first Europeans came to Japan.

Christianity and foreign commerce presented
themselves, hand in hand, and there is no doubt
that the marked success which the former achieved
at first was due, in large part, to the favour with
which the latter was regarded as a means of
furnishing wealth and novel weapons of war
to the feudal chieftains in their combats and
armed rivalries. The alien creed was, in fact,
drawn from the outset into the vortex of Japanese
politics, and by an evil chance its early patrons,
though powerful at the moment, were destined
soon to be stripped of their possessions and their



influence. But its sun had risen high above the
horizon before the first clouds made their appear-
ance. In thirty years two hundred thousand
converts were won, three monasteries, a college,
a university, and upwards of fifty churches were
built, and it seemed as though the thirty-six
provinces of which Japan then consisted might
soon be included in the pale of Christendom.
Such results, when compared with the achieve-
ments of missionaries in the present times, suggest,
at first sight, either that the methods of mediaeval
propagandism were superior to those of modern,
or that some special receptivity for religious truth
existed among the Japanese of the sixteenth cen-
tury. But the fact is that the imported faith
profited largely by two adventitious aids, its com-
mercial associations and the marked disfavour into
which Buddhism happened to have fallen at that
epoch. The latter point, already briefly touched
on in a previous chapter, deserves elaboration.

At the moment when the question of the
State's attitude towards Christianity had to be
answered, Oda Nobunaga, the first of the great
triumvirate who finally rescued Japan from inter-
necine strife, was approaching the zenith of his
power in the central and northern districts. He
aimed at restoring the administrative authority
of the Emperor and putting an end to the san-
guinary struggles carried on by the feudal chiefs
throughout the Empire. His splendid successes
soon placed him in a position to decide whether



the foreign creed, already counting many disci-
ples in the south, should be sanctioned or pro-
scribed in the capital. Historians delight to put
wise epigrams into the mouths of illustrious men.
It is related of Nobunaga that he dismissed the
Christian problem by curtly observing that, since
Japan already possessed a dozen different sects of
religion, he saw no reason why she should not
have a thirteenth. He may have couched his
decision in that language, but as to the real mo-
tives of the decision there cannot be much doubt.
He regarded the Buddhists as enemies of the
State. During nearly seven centuries the arro-
gant pretensions of the priests had grown more
and more defiant of official control. From an
early era it had been the custom to entrust to
them the care of mortuary tablets and the guar-
dianship of tombs. Immense importance natur-
ally attached to the discharge of such functions
in a country where ancestral worship informed
all religion. Besides, it has already been shown
that the representatives of the Indian creed were
closely associated with the progress of moral en-
lightenment and material prosperity, and that
they figured prominently in maintaining relations
with Japan's continental neighbours. If to that
record the fact be added that, from the close of
the seventh century, Buddhism had been em-
ployed to some extent by Japanese statesmen as
an aid to the unification of the nation, and, at a
later time, by Japanese sovereigns in their strug-



gles against usurping clans, it is possible to appre-
ciate the important position held by it in every
sphere of the people's life. Rich gifts and ex-
tensive tracts of land were bestowed upon the
temples, now by a superstitious sovereign or
crafty statesman ; now by some powerful feudal
noble who desired to associate heaven with the
prosecution of his ambitious designs, and in any
national crisis, such as the Tartar and Mongol
invasions, the coffers of the State were emptied
into the sacred treasure-chests. Prominent among
the ancient superstitions of Japan was a belief
that all evil influences had their abode in the
northeast, the Demons' Gate (Kimori). Due
northeast of the Imperial Palace in Ky5to stood
the mountain of Hiyei, and there, to guard the
Court against demoniacal approaches, Dengyo, a
celebrated Buddhist priest of the ninth century,
founded a monastery which by and by grew to
be a town of three thousand buildings, inhabited
by from thirty to forty thousand monks, the
great majority of whom could wield a halberd
much better than they could intone a litany. The
example set at Hiyei-no-yama or Hiyei-zan,
as the place is now called was soon followed by
other congregations of religionists, and the pow-
erful bands of tonsured soldiers (Sohei] thus organ-
ised became one of the most turbulent and
unmanageable elements in the State. Theological
questions troubled them little. They interested
themselves much more vividly in the fortunes of the



nobles or the sovereigns from whom they derived
their own wealth, and since they soon learned to
employ the shrewd device of combining esoteric
and exoteric influences by carrying the holy car
of Buddha in their armed processions, their enmity
became as formidable as their alliance was valu-
able. Nothing bears stronger testimony to the
religious instincts of the Japanese than the fact
that, despite the violent incursions perpetually
made by the monks into the domain of politics,
from the time of Shirakawa's reign (10731087)
down to the second half of the sixteenth century,
the monasteries almost invariably escaped the
destruction that overtook the strongholds of
nobles whose cause they espoused. But Nobu-
naga measured out ruthless justice to these trucu-
lent religionists. A soldier before everything,
he had no compassion for any obstacle that
barred his military path. If he did not shrink
from putting his own brother and his wife's
father to the sword, neither did he hesitate to
deluge a monastery with blood before he reduced
it to ashes, or to set up, with imperious incon-
stancy, his own effigy among the images of the
gods whose fanes he had annihilated. Some of
the most powerful Buddhist associations had sided
with his political enemies, and he determined not
only to root them out, but also to destroy per-
manently their mischievous potentialities.

It was at the moment when this fury against the
Buddhist priests had reached destructive heat, that






the Jesuit fathers applied to Nobunaga for a
charter of propagandism, and received from him
an extensive grant of land in Kyoto, a yearly al-
lowance of money and authority to take up their
residence in the capital. The Owari chieftain
does not seem to have entertained any respect
for Christianity. Religion, in whatsoever guise,
occupied an insignificant space on his moral
horizon. His unique motive was to set up an
opponent to the doctrine that had begotten such
troublesome factors in the realm. Christianity
was nothing to him for its own sake. As a rival
of Buddhism it might be much.

From using the foreign faith for political pur-
poses to suspecting it of political designs the
interval was short, and Nobunaga's intelligence
soon traversed it. His scrutiny of the Jesuits'
methods their profuse almsgiving, their tend-
ance of the sick, their exercise of unprecedented
medical skill convinced him that they aimed
at something more than saving men's souls, and
he had begun to revolve plans for their expulsion
when death overtook him at the hand of a
traitor. But even the brief favour extended by
him to Christianity had been disapproved by the
man who avenged his fate and succeeded to his
power, Hideyoshi, the Talko.

The annals of the Jesuits ascribe to the mean-
est and paltriest motives the animosity that the
Taiko ultimately displayed towards their faith.
It is impossible to accept their evidently preju-

VOL. HI. 8 I I o


diced verdict. The TaiKo, like all Japanese of
his era, was without any experience of interna-
tional intercourse, but his statecraft rose to the
height of genius. It is inconceivable that a man
of such profound insight could fail to detect the
political import of the credentials from secular
authorities with which the Jesuit fathers came
provided, or to appreciate the material character
that the conquests of the Cross might be made
to assume. He had learned by heart every lesson
that the annals of his own country could teach.
He knew how Buddhism, originally an instru-
ment in the hands of Japanese statesmen, had
ultimately defied their authority, raised itself
even above the Imperial Court, and developed
military strength with which the most powerful
feudal nobles hesitated to cross swords. The
story of the very sect against which the animos-
ity of his leader and patron, Oda Nobunaga,
burned most relentlessly, showed what even a
creed of gentle tenets and refining influences like
Buddhism might become in the hands of militant
propagandists. He perceived that Christianity
evinced nothing of the eclecticism or adaptability
which had prevented a collision between Bud-
dhism and the ancestral cult of the Japanese.
He saw that the Jesuit fathers spurned all com-
promise ; that the disciple of every other faith
was to them an infidel, a pagan, a child of the
devil ; that their fierce zeal, heated white in fires
of which no reflection had yet been cast on the



horizon of Japan, drove them from the outset to
excesses of intolerance presaging a national catas-
trophe as soon as Buddhism found itself forced
to fight for its life. The Taiko owed much of
his remarkable success to a fine sense of propor-
tion. He possessed the gift of measuring with
precision the strength of offence or defence that
a given combination of men or things would
develop under certain contingencies. Nothing
is more improbable than that he underestimated
the immense potentialities for resistance, or, if
need be, for aggressive destructiveness, possessed
by Japanese Buddhism in his time ; an imperium
in imperio y dowered with vast stores of wealth,
wielding a military organisation which, were its
various parts combined against a common foe,
would hold the whole realm at its mercy, and
historically capable of efforts so strong even for
the petty purposes of a sectarian squabble that
their supreme exercise in a life-and-death struggle
with Christianity could not be contemplated
without the gravest misgivings. Vaguely, per-
haps, but still in outlines sufficiently distinct to
suggest a lurid picture, these eventualities must
have presented themselves to his strong intelli-
gence, and as the cries of dying priests and the
crash of falling temples reached his ears from
Kiushiu where the Christian propagandists were
harrying their opponents with the faggot and the
sword, he may well have begun to appreciate
the dimensions of the impending catastrophe.


He did not, however, immediately take steps to
evince his disapproval of militant Christianity,
nor when the time seemed ripe for proscribing it
did he proceed to extremities. The crucifixion
spear does not appear to have suggested itself to
him as a prudent weapon for combating moral
convictions. It is true that in the heat of his
first anti-Christian demonstration he caused two
men to be executed, and it is also true that he
deprived a Christian noble of his fief by way of
penalty for the constancy of his faith. But, for
the rest, he remained content with the razing
of a few chapels, and with a public declaration
that he would not tolerate, on the part of Chris-
tian propagandists, any recourse to the violent
methods of which the country had garnered
such painful experiences in the case of the
Buddhist Sohei, and of which the Christians had
already shown themselves ready employers.
There is nothing to indicate that, had Christian-
ity thenceforth relied solely on legitimate
weapons, the pulpit, education, and example,
paying due respect to the laws of the land and
extending to others the toleration that it claimed
for itself there is nothing to indicate that it
might not have retained, strengthened, and ex-
tended the footing it had gained in Japan, and
that the Japanese might not then have finally
entered the arena of international intercourse and
competition, instead of isolating themselves for
nearly three centuries until they had been almost



hopelessly distanced in the race of material

But a new influence now made itself felt.
The Jesuits were assailed by an enemy from
within the fold. Hitherto they had been with-
out sectarian rivals in Japan. Their precedence
in the field was regarded as constituting a title to
its monopoly, and a Papal Bull had assigned the
Far-Eastern islands as their special diocese.
Now, however, the Spaniards took steps to dis-
pute their ascendancy by sending an envoy from
the Philippines to complain of some alleged
illegality on the part of Portuguese merchants.
In the envoy's train came a number of Francis-
cans, and when the Jesuits remonstrated, and
called attention to the Papal Bull, the Francis-
cans gave an ingenuous reply. They had observed
the Bull, they said, since they had not come as
religionists but as members of an ambassador's
suite, and having thus by lawful means sur-
mounted the difficulty of getting to Japan, there
was no longer any just impediment to their
preaching there. Very soon they made their
presence felt in a pernicious manner. Hitherto
the Japanese had been left to draw their own
conclusions as to the political contingencies of
Christian propagandism. Thenceforth they re-
ceived ample material for suspicion from the
Portuguese and the Spaniards themselves, for
each roundly accused the other of aggressive
designs against Japan's integrity. Hideyoshi



strictly interdicted any attempt at religious prop-
agandism on the part of the Franciscans, whose
presence in the capital he had sanctioned in an
ambassadorial capacity only. The Franciscans
paid not the smallest heed to his veto. Possibly
they justified their disobedience by some casuistry
as convincing as their retort to the Jesuits. If
so, they failed to make the point clear to Hide-
yoshi. He ordered their arrest, and sent them,

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryF. (Frank) BrinkleyJapan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 3) → online text (page 7 of 16)