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statesman of Japan to enunciate the doctrine
that the people are the basis of a nation, and
to put it into practice by encouraging agricul-
ture, protecting farmers against fiscal extortion,
and endeavouring to propagate the tenets of a
high morality among plebeians as well as samurai.
Assassination, the common fate of too ardent
reformers, terminated his noble career, but did
not check the philosophic impulse he repre-
sented. It found a still more ardent and radical
exponent in Kumazawa Banzan, chief factor of
the Okayama fief. This memorable publicist's
ethics were that every one in authority had a
mission to fulfil, namely, to promote the pros-
perity and happiness of those over whom he

1 See Appendix, note 25.



ruled; that the Emperor was the true head of
the nation, the Shogun only his representative;
that official attempts to extirpate Christianity
were futile, for, if a true creed, it would survive
all opposition, and, if false, it would die a natural
death ; that Buddhism was destined to be a
source of national trouble, and that its priests
would ultimately become vagrant thieves ; and
that the samurai were virtually bandits, subsisting
on unearned salaries and regarding the Emperor
as a mere effigy, the people as dirt.

At the time when these theories were pro-
claimed by Banzan, any profession of Christianity
involved terrible punishment ; every unit of the
nation had to be inscribed on the nominal roll
of some Buddhist temple and to be prepared to
bear public testimony to anti-Christian sentiment
by trampling upon a picture of the Cross ; the
Buddhists bathed in the favour of the two
Courts ; the SKogun's power overshadowed the
whole Empire, and the samurai, of whom Banzan
himself was one, had lost nothing of their old
prestige nor forfeited anything of their exclusive
privileges. Courage to stand in open and fla-
grant opposition to such conditions savours of
fanaticism. But Banzan had nothing of the
fanatic. In Okayama where, as chief factor, he
wielded large powers, his irrigation works, his
conservation of forests, his encouragement of
general education, and his suppression of priestly
abuses furnished a striking object lesson in the



practical application of his doctrines. It does
not appear that, for a considerable time at any
rate, his philosophy provoked any resentment.
He enjoyed the full confidence of his feudal
chief, and when he followed the latter to Yedo,
every second year, the magnates of the Sfioguns
Court took pleasure in listening to his disserta-
tions. But the samurai ultimately roused official
prejudice against him, and he had to retire from
public life. His theories, however, had taken
root. In Mito there arose a school of thinkers
who adopted his doctrine as to the proper func-
tions of Imperialism in the administration of
State affairs, though they reversed his verdict
against Buddhism, their conviction being that
the unification of the nation could be best
effected by the cooperation of the Buddhist and
Shinfo creeds.

Mito was the baronial capital of the province
of Hitachi, which had been given in fief to a
younger son of lyeyasu. Owari and Kishu were
assigned to his other sons, and these three fam-
ilies enjoyed the privilege of furnishing an heir
to the Shogun, should the latter be without direct
issue. Mito, therefore, ought to have been a
most unlikely place for the conception and prop-
agation of principles subversive of the SKoguns
administrative autocracy. But what happened in
Mito at the close of the seventeenth century was
a natural result of the trend that lyeyasu himself
had given to public thought by wholesale encour-



agement of the study of Chinese philosophy,
lyeyasu, as has been shown above, did not possess
sufficient knowledge of that philosophy to fore-
cast the effect of its adoption, and similarly his
grandson, Komon of Mito, swayed by the spirit
of pure studentship, discerned nothing of the
goal to which the new researches and specula-
tions must lead the literati of his fief. He and
they, for the sake of history and without any
thought of politics, undertook a retrospect of
Japanese annals, and their frank analysis, having
been embodied in a book called Dai-Nikon Shi,
furnished conclusive proof that the Emperor was
the prime source of administrative authority, and
that its independent exercise by the Sfiogun must
be regarded as a usurpation. They did not at-
tempt to give practical effect to their discoveries.
The era was essentially academical. But its
galaxy of scholars projected into the future a
light which burned with growing force in each
succeeding generation, and ultimately burst into
flames that consumed feudalism and the Shogun-
ate. No such result suggested itself to the men
of the time, however. Not until the lapse of
several years had furnished a true perspective did
it become possible to perceive that all these cur-
rents of unwonted thought the democracy of
Masatoshi, the anti-feudalism of Banzan, the
Shinto revival of Masayuki and Ansai, the
imperialism of Komon, the Confucianism of
Fujiwara Toru and Hayashi Doshin flowed



towards a common issue, national unification and
the restoration of the governing authority to the

The first to appreciate the tendency of these
philosophic revolutions was Arai Hakuseki, a
minister of the sixth SKbgun, lyenobu. He pro-
posed to avert the danger by fortifying the autoc-
racy of the Yedo administration. Following
his counsels, the SKogun began to exercise the
right of appointing and removing all officials
throughout the Empire, and changed the uni-
forms and titles of his own officials so as to trans-
form the Yedo Court into a replica of that of
Kyoto. He styled himself " King " for the pur-
pose of giving audience to a Korean ambassador,
and he made arrangements to receive an Imperial
Princess for his consort. These aggressions
might have been carried so far as to radically
alter the course of Japanese history had not the
SKbgun died after three years of rule, had not his
successor also died before emerging from child-
hood, and had not the eighth SKogun, Yoshi-
mune, read the signs of the times incorrectly.
Arai and his almost equally sagacious coadjutor,
Mabe Norifusa, were now dismissed from office,
and a strictly conservative policy was inaugurated,
lasting for thirty years (1716-1745). Yoshi-
mune and his ministers, though not unconscious
of the tide of change that was setting strongly
throughout the national life, failed to analyse its
causes and endeavoured to stem rather than to


direct it. They observed unprecedented luxury
on the part of merchants and farmers and equally
conspicuous poverty among the samurai, and they
imagined that the only way to mend this to
them incongruous state of things was to enforce
a system of strict economy, and to restrain by
sumptuary laws the growing extravagance of the
inferior classes.

But the sources of the change were beyond
the reach of such methods. During the first
one hundred and thirty years of Tokugawa rule
the samurai, no longer required to lead the frugal
life of camp or barracks, and occupying a posi-
tion midway between the aristocracy and the
people, began to live beyond their incomes.
They ceased to be able to support retainers, and
found difficulty in meeting the pecuniary engage-
ments of every-day existence, so that money ac-
quired new importance in their eyes and they
gradually forfeited the respect which their tradi-
tional disinterestedness had won for them in the
past. At the same time the abuses of feudalism
grew more and more conspicuous as the tranquil-
lity of the Empire deepened. A large body of
hereditary soldiers, supported from generation to
generation at public charges, may find an excuse
for existence when war affords an opportunity
for their employment, but they become an anom-
maly and a burden when fighting has passed out
of sight and even out of memory. In the middle
of the eighteenth century the samurai presented



themselves to the people in the light of useless
office-holders, who checked the advancement of
men of talent, maintained towards the commoner
an attitude of pretension based upon obsolete
claims, preserved the continuity of their hereditary
emoluments by the device of adoption, clamoured
constantly for the creation of new sinecures, and
losing, under the stress of poverty, their old in-
dependence of character, became suppliants for
monetary assistance from men whom they still
professed to despise, and even went so far as to
sell their family names. On the other hand, the
agricultural and commercial classes alike acquired
new importance. In the case of the former the
change was to some extent factitious. A legal
veto existed against either the permanent sale of
land or its division where the process resulted in
an area of less than two and a half acres or a
producing capacity of less than ten koku (fifty
bushels, approximately). Thus, in order that an
estate might be shared with a brother or appor-
tioned among two sons, it must have a super-
ficies of at least five acres, or a producing
capacity of one hundred bushels. The result
was that, in very many cases, second sons or
younger brothers became labourers or tenants,
and small land-holders disappearing, a class of
" gentleman farmers " came into existence, who
lived on their rents and were strangers to physi-
cal toil in any shape. Meanwhile the enor-
mous sums disbursed every year in Yedo for the



maintenance of the great establishments that the
feudal chiefs kept there, enriched the merchants
and traders so greatly that their scale of living
improved, and, like the land-owners, they in-
dulged freely in the extravagances typical of the
time, tobacco smoking, sake drinking, vermicelli
eating, and sugar consuming. The wealthy city-
tradesman and the opulent provincial landlord
could not fail to acquire an increasing perception
of the gulf between the impecunious samurai and
themselves. They resented his airs without ap-
preciating his spirit. Excluded from the small-
est share in the central administration, they had
no sense of national duty, nor did they recognise
any public obligation except the payment of
taxes, any ethical principle except obedience to
parents, or any limit to pleasure-seeking except
lack of money. Religious influences were very
feeble. Christianity had disappeared, and Bud-
dhism was discredited by the conduct of its
priests, who thought more of gratifying the flesh
than of saving souls. Houses of ill-fame stood
facing the entrances to temples and shrines, and a
street in Yedo was frequented solely by the vota-
ries of unnatural vices. The samurai themselves
were rapidly drawn into this vortex of self-indul-
gence. Until the final quarter of the seven-
teenth century the bushi of the northeastern
districts preserved their martial spirit and made
comparatively few incursions into the realm of
amatory passion, Osaka being then the chief



centre of moral intemperance. But the develop-
ment of the drama which took place at this
epoch, quickly familiarised the citizens of Yedo
and even its samurai with the southern concep-
tion of love. Romance and emotionalism took
the place of martial ideas and soldierly stoicism.
The strict sumptuary laws of the Tokugawa,
while ostensibly observed, were in reality evaded
by the use of costly linings for coats and the
wearing of silk undergarments, and the lower
classes, emerging from their old position of
penury and degradation, seemed to be seeking
in a sudden access of voluptuous license com-
pensation for long centuries of social ostracism.
All these changes were contemporaneous with
the remarkable intellectual awakening alluded to
above, which culminated in the almost fanatical
philosophy of Ito Jinsai, a man of singular mag-
netism and burning eloquence, who for forty
years never ceased to travel through the country,
preaching the Analects of Confucius and the
Teachings of Mencius as the only true moral
guides, and winning disciples in every part of
the Empire except the almost inaccessible prov-
ince of Hida and the islands of Sado and Iki.
Almost on the same level of intellectual capacity
and power of moving his fellows was Ogyu Sorai,
who taught that morality could not have a psy-
chological basis, but must be founded on the
practical side of natural and human life. The
original ideas of these two students and their



fluent speech created a new epoch. Sorai took
for models the poetry of the Tang dynasty and
the literature of the Sut and the Kan, and his
methods were assisted by men of letters who had
immigrated from China, and whose instruction
in the sounds of the ideographs had the effect of
imparting unprecedented value to rhetoric. Yet
these drafts upon China's wealth of philosophy
and erudition served rather as grounds for new
departures than as models for exact imitation.
The tendency of the era was towards originality
in everything. History received treatment that
might almost be called scientific at the hands of
Arai Hakuseki. The emotions and passions
of humanity found a great dramatic portrayer
in Chikamatsu Monzayemon. Elegance and
conciseness of phraseology had an unsurpassed
exponent in Matsuo Basho, the celebrated com-
poser of impressionist stanzas. Keichiu success-
fully rehabilitated the memory of Japan's ancient
age of classic poetry, the age which produced
" The Collection of a Thousand Leaves " (Man-
yoshiu}. Kitamura Kigiu performed a similar
office for the Heian epoch. Kada Azuma-maro
and his great pupil, Kamo Mabuchi, purged the
Japanese language of its exotic elements, and re-
vivified popular faith in the divinity of the Throne
and in the traditions of Imperial government.
In brief, men's thoughts shook off the trammels
of convention ; material prosperity asserted its
superiority over caste distinctions ; the nation,




freed from the long stress of anarchy and warfare,
began to project its intelligence along original
lines ; domestic literature refused to be ignored
in favour of foreign ; Japanese ideas found inspi-
ration at home instead of seeking it solely in
China ; the facts of history marshalled them-
selves in protest against the arbitrary acts of its
makers ; the commoner ceased to recognise the
social gulf between himself and the samurai, and
symptoms of distaste for the old systems and the
old usurpations became more and more apparent.
It was to such a tide of change that the SKogun
Yoshimune and his ministers attempted, in the
first half of the eighteenth century, to oppose
barriers of economic precepts and sumptuary reg-
ulations. Arai Hakuseki (1709-1712) had con-
ceived that the only way to save the Shogunate
was by a renewed exercise of the despotic forces
which had established it, whereas Yoshimune
sought safety in retrenchment of expenditures
and curtailment of spectacular displays which,
though wasteful in his eyes, really conduced to
maintain the dignity of the Yedo Court. As
between the two policies, that of Arai would
probably have served the occasion better, but that
of Yoshimune was inspired by clear appreciation
of the virtues which alone could make feudalism
tolerable. The loyalty and courage of the samu-
rai, his noble contempt for money, his simple
habits and frugal life had constituted a moral
title to the position he occupied. Yoshimune

VOL. in.


and the able officials he employed among
whom was the Solon of Japan, the great judge
Ooka Tadasuke sought to bring about a renais-
sance of these fine qualities by inculcating frugal-
ity and exemplifying it in the practice of the
S/iogun's Court, on the one hand, and by taking
steps to revive the popularity of military exercises,
on the other. At the same time, many improve-
ments were effected in the civil and criminal
laws ; encouragement was given to industry, and,
what is even more noteworthy, official vetoes
being removed from the study of foreign lan-
guages and sciences, the influence of Occidental
civilisation began to be felt.

All this was excellent in its way. The nation
appreciated it, and history calls the KyoKo era
(1716-1736) an "age of reforms" as distin-
guished from the Genroku era (16881703), an
" age of abuses," when the fifth Sfiogun Tsunay-
oshi, abandoning the paths of learning which had
originally held his feet, lapsed into a state of
debauchery and vice.

The KyoKo era may almost be considered the
prototype of the Meiji epoch, in which modern
Japan has been so ably led into the routes of
progress. A further analogy between the two
epochs is established by the fact that, just as the
Emperor's administrative power was restored in
Meiji days, so his prerogatives received unusual
recognition in 1745, when Yoshimune, desiring
to transfer the SKoguris office to his son, lyeshige,



sought the sanction of the Court in Kyoto. Such
an example of submissiveness had no precedent
in the annals of the Tokugawa. It stood at the
very antipodes of the policy advocated by Arai
Hakuseki, and it should probably be regarded as
a practical recognition of the doctrines advanced
by the Mito school of annalists. Had the Em-
peror desired to bring about the fall of the Sho-
gunate, an opportunity undoubtedly presented
itself at that juncture. But the Imperial Court
had learned to rely on the Tokugawa administra-
tion, and no idea of a radical change seems to
have been entertained. It is impossible not to
admire the spirit of Yoshimune's efforts, though
their inefficacy must tend to discredit them in
the pages of history.

This retrospect arrives now at the second half
of the eighteenth century, and one of the facts
that presents itself vividly is the disordered state
of the Tokugawa finances. The trouble began
in the Genroku era (1688-1703) when the Shogun
Tsunayoshi, while enacting laws of the most
stringent character against extravagance of all
kinds on the part of the people, set no limit
whatever to the indulgence of his own costly
caprices, so that the Tokugawa income of some
three million koku of rice in kind, and 760,000
riyo in gold, equivalent in all to about four
millions sterling, proved inadequate to defray the
outlays of the Yedo Court and the administrative
expenditures. The financiers of the time saw no



better remedy than the issue of debased coins.
Hagiwara Shigehide, the minister responsible
for the first resort to this device, held singularly
drastic views. It was his contention that the
copper coins struck at the mint were mere
tokens, deriving their value solely from the offi-
cial stamp they bore, and that they might as
well be made of potter's clay as of metal if the
former were sufficiently durable. By applying
this doctrine tentatively to the gold and silver
coins and boldly to the copper, he realised
several millions for the replenishment of the
treasury. But the evils inseparable from such
abuses soon presented themselves : prices of com-
modities rose, and hoarding became the fashion
of the time. Eleven years later (1706) the same
method was again employed, and on the accession
of lyenobu to the Shogunate (1709), Shigehide
made preparations to issue silver coins contain-
ing only twelve per cent of pure metal. Many
circumstances combined to augment the econom-
ical difficulties of the administration. The state
of poverty into which the samurai had fallen,
owing to causes already stated, rendered them
a menace to the public peace. In Yedo alone,
at the close of the seventeenth century, 7,690
military men were almost without means of
subsistence, and the authorities felt constrained
to come to their aid. Natural calamities con-
tributed to the embarrassment. In the year
1703 an earthquake shook down a large portion



of the colossal walls of the castle moats in Yedo.
A conflagration followed, in which thirty-seven
thousand lives were lost, and a tidal wave de-
stroyed a hundred thousand people in the districts
of Sagami, Kazusa, and Awa. In 1708 the
mountain Fuji suddenly burst from quiescence
into violent eruption, and vast tracts of country
were devastated. It was in the year after this
last event that the debauched student and slave
of superstition, Tsunayoshi, died, bequeathing to
his successor a legacy of fanatical laws and finan-
cial confusion ; and it was then that the genius
and wise statecraft of Arai Hakuseki saved the
country from being flooded with another issue of
coins possessing scarcely any intrinsic value. Six
years sufficed to restore the currency to its old
standard of purity and to bring prices to their
normal level ; but when Arai had to surrender
his office in 1716, on the accession of the Shogun
Yoshimune, recourse was again had to debased
coins, and economical troubles again ensued.
Something of these embarrassments must be
ascribed to the drain of gold resulting from the
country's foreign trade. Japan, in the early days,
had little to sell to foreign merchants, but found
much to buy from them. The records say that
from 1596 to 1638 the exports of precious metals
amounted to six million riyo of gold (nine and a
half millions sterling), nine million pounds (avoir-
dupois) of silver, and some three million pounds
of copper. These figures represent, in the case



of gold, nearly one-half, and in the case of silver
almost the whole, of the coins struck at the mint
during the same interval. Dutch importers sold
as much as three and one fourth million dollars
(Mexican) worth of commodities annually to the
Japanese at that epoch, and not rarely two hun-
dred Chinese junks might be seen at one time in
the harbour of Nagasaki. Yet no attempt was
made to impose official restrictions upon the
amount of these import transactions, or on the
consequent exodus of specie, until the last quarter
of the seventeenth century, and not before 1715
were drastic measures adopted to enforce such
restrictions. The country's store of precious
metals had by that time been greatly reduced,
and financiers of mediocre acumen might be
excused if debasement of the currency suggested
itself as an easy, sufficient, and profitable method
of checking the outflow.

Other unwonted phenomena that gave much
concern to the Tokugawa rulers in the second
half of the eighteenth century were the rapid
growth of cities and the turbulence of agricul-
turists. The former was a natural result of the
system inaugurated by lyeyasu, which, by com-
pelling the feudal magnates to keep establish-
ments in Yedo, caused a multitude of tradesmen
to flock to the capital, and thus produced a rapid
centralisation of wealth. The S/iogun's ministers
saw not only that the scale of living became
constantly -higher, with a corresponding apprecia-



tion of commodities, but also that the vices
which flourish wherever men congregate,
threatened widespread demoralisation. Various
empirical attempts to check the growth of the
city proved altogether abortive. Samurai and
farmers were forbidden to sell their lands to
merchants, vetoes were imposed on the use of
costly articles or the wearing of rich apparel,
and philosophic doctrines were invoked to dis-
credit the plutocratic tendency of the time.
The chief effect of such efforts was to impair
the prestige of the Shogunate by their obvious
impotency. On the other hand, the heavy
expenditures imposed on the feudal chiefs for
the maintenance of their magnificent establish-
ments in Yedo, where each of them had urban
and suburban residences of palatial dimensions
standing in beautiful parks, compelled them to
have frequent recourse to the farmers for pecuni-
ary assistance. But the farmers, between whom
and the samurai the gulf had gradually grown
less as long-continued peace deprived the latter
of his uses and as poverty brought him into
contempt, were no longer the submissive serfs
of former times. Again and again they revolted
against the oppressions of the feudatories, and
on one occasion a vast concourse of rustics,
aggregating two hundred thousand, were with
difficulty restrained from marching upon Yedo
to present a statement of their grievances to the
S/iogun himself. It is true that the ringleaders


of these demonstrations were severely punished,
death being commonly meted out to them and
their families ; but they did not perish fruitlessly,

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Online LibraryF. (Frank) BrinkleyJapan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 3) → online text (page 9 of 16)