William Elliot Griffis.

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predominant even over Buddhism. Thence, it was carried beyond sea to the
Japanese Archipelago, where for possibly fifteen hundred years it has
shaped and moulded the character of a brave and chivalrous people. Let
us now turn from China and trace its influence and modifications in the
Land of the Rising Sun.

It must be remembered that in the sixth century of the Christian Era,
Confucianism was by no means the fully developed philosophy that it is
now and has been for five hundred years. In former times, the system of
Confucius had been received in China not only as a praiseworthy
compendium of ceremonial observances, but also as an inheritance from
the ancients, illumined by the discourses of the great sage and
illustrated by his life and example. It was, however, very far from
being what it is at present - the religion of the educated men of the
nation, and, by excellence, the religion of Chinese Asia. But in those
early centuries it did not fully satisfy the Chinese mind, which turned
to the philosophy of Taoism and to the teachings of the Buddhist for
intellectual food, for comfort and for inspiration.

The time when Chinese learning entered Japan, by the way of Korea, has
not been precisely ascertained.[7] It is possible that letters[8] and
writings were known in some parts of the country as early as the fourth
century, but it is nearly certain, that, outside the Court of the
Emperor, there was scarcely even a sporadic knowledge of the literature
of China until the Korean missionaries of Buddhism had obtained a
lodgement in the Mikado's capital. Buddhism was the real purveyor of the
foreign learning and became the vehicle by means of which Confucianism,
or the Chinese ethical principles, reached the common people of Japan.
The first missionaries in Japan were heartily in sympathy with the
Confucian ethics, from which no effort was made to alienate them. They
were close allies, and for a thousand years wrought as one force in the
national life. They were not estranged until the introduction, in the
seventeenth century, of the metaphysical and scholastic forms given to
the ancient system by the Chinese schoolmen of the Sung dynasty (A.D.

Japanese Confucianism and Feudalism Contemporary.

The intellectual history of the Japanese prior to their recent contact
with Christendom, may be divided into three eras:

1. The period of early insular or purely native thought, from before the
Christian era until the eighth century; by which time, Shint[=o], or the
indigenous system of worship - its ritual, poetry and legend having been
committed to writing and its life absorbed in Buddhism - had been, as a
system, relegated from the nation and the people to a small circle of
scholars and archæologists.

2. The period from 800 A.D. to the beginning of the seventeenth century;
during which time Buddhism furnished to the nation its religion,
philosophy and culture.

3. From about 1630 A.D. until the present time; during which period the
developed Confucian philosophy, as set forth by Chu Hi in the twelfth
century, has been the creed of a majority of the educated men of Japan.

The political history of the Japanese may also be divided into three

1. The first extends from the dawn of history until the seventh century.
During this period the system of government was that of rude feudalism.
The conquering tribe of Yamato, having gradually obtained a rather
imperfect supremacy over the other tribes in the middle and southern
portions of the country now called the Empire of Japan, ruled them in
the name of the Mikado.

2. The second period begins in the seventh century, when the Japanese,
copying the Chinese model, adopted a system of centralization. The
country was divided into provinces and was ruled through boards or
ministries at the capital, with governors sent out from Ki[=o]to for
stated periods, directly from the emperor. During this time literature
was chiefly the work of the Buddhist priests and of the women of the
imperial court.

While armies in the field brought into subjection the outlying tribes
and certain noble families rose to prominence at the court, there was
being formed that remarkable class of men called the Samurai, or
servants of the Mikado, which for more than ten centuries has exercised
a profound influence upon the development of Japan.

In China, the pen and the sword have been kept apart; the civilian and
the soldier, the man of letters and the man of arms, have been distinct
and separate. This was also true in old Loo Choo (now Riu Kiu), that
part of Japan most like China. In Japan, however, the pen and the sword,
letters and arms, the civilian and the soldier, have intermingled. The
unique product of this union is seen in the Samurai, or servant of the
Mikado. Military-literati, are unknown in China, but in Japan they
carried the sword and the pen in the same girdle.

3. This class of men had become fully formed by the end of the twelfth
century, and then began the new feudal system, which lasted until the
epochal year 1868 A.D. - a year of several revolutions, rather than of
restoration pure and simple. After nearly seven hundred years of
feudalism, supreme magistracy, with power vastly increased beyond that
possessed in ancient times, was restored to the emperor. Then also was
abolished the duarchy of Throne and Camp, of Mikado and Sh[=o]gun, and
of the two capitals Ki[=o]to and Yedo, with the fountain of honor and
authority in one and the fountain of power and execution in the other.
Thereupon, Japan once more presented to the world, unity.

Practically, therefore, the period of the prevalence of the Confucian
ethics and their universal acceptance by the people of Japan nearly
coincides with the period of Japanese feudalism or the dominance of the
military classes.

Although the same ideograph, or rather logogram, was used to designate
the Chinese scholar and the Japanese warrior as well, yet the former was
man of the pen only, while the latter was man of the pen and of two
swords. This historical fact, more than any other, accounts for the
striking differences between Chinese and Japanese Confucianism. Under
this state of things the ethical system of the sage of China suffered a
change, as does almost everything that is imported into Japan and
borrowed by the islanders, but whether for the better or for the worse
we shall not inquire too carefully. The point upon which we now lay
emphasis is this: that, although the Chinese teacher had made filial
piety the basis of his system, the Japanese gradually but surely made
loyalty (Kun-Shin), that is, the allied relations of sovereign and
minister, of lord and retainer, and of master and servant, not only
first in order but the chief of all. They also infused into this term
ideas and associations which are foreign to the Chinese mind. In the
place of filial piety was Kun-shin, that new growth in the garden of
Japanese ethics, out of which arose the white flower of loyalty that
blooms perennial in history.

In Japan, Loyalty Displaces Filial Piety.

This slow but sure adaptation of the exotic to its new environment, took
place during the centuries previous to the seventeenth of the Christian
era. The completed product presented a growth so strikingly different
from the original as to compel the wonder of those Chinese refugee
scholars, who, at Mito[9] and Yedo, taught the later dogmas which are
orthodox but not historically Confucian.

Herein lies the difference between Chinese and Japanese ethical
philosophy. In old Japan, loyalty was above filial obedience, and the
man who deserted parents, wife and children for the feudal lord,
received unstinted praise. The corner-stone of the Japanese edifice of
personal righteousness and public weal, is loyalty. On the other hand,
filial piety is the basis of Chinese order and the secret of the amazing
national longevity, which is one of the moral wonders of the world, and
sure proof of the fulfilment of that promise which was made on Sinai and
wrapped up in the fourth commandment.

This master passion of the typical Samurai of old Japan made him regard
life as infinitely less than nothing, whenever duty demanded a display
of the virtue of loyalty. "The doctrines of Koshi and Moshi" (Confucius
and Mencius) formed, and possibly even yet form, the gospel and the
quintessence of all wordly wisdom to the Japanese gentleman; they became
the basis of his education and the ideal which inspired his conceptions
of duty and honor; but, crowning all his doctrines and aspirations was
his desire to be loyal. There might abide loyal, marital, filial,
fraternal and various other relations, but the greatest of all these was
loyalty. Hence the Japanese calendar of saints is not filled with
reformers, alms-givers and founders of hospitals or orphanages, but is
over-crowded with canonized suicides and committers of _hara-kiri_. Even
today, no man more quickly wins the popular regard during his life or
more surely draws homage to his tomb, securing even apotheosis, than the
suicide, though he may have committed a crime. In this era of Meiji or
enlightened peace, most appalling is the list of assassinations
beginning with the murder in Ki[=o]to of Yokoi Héishiro, who was slain
for recommending the toleration of Christianity, down to the last
cabinet minister who has been knifed or dynamited. Yet in every case the
murderers considered themselves consecrated men and ministers of
Heaven's righteous vengeance.[10] For centuries, and until
constitutional times, the government of Japan was "despotism tempered by
assassination." The old-fashioned way of moving a vote of censure upon
the king's ministers was to take off their heads. Now, however, election
by ballot has been substituted for this, and two million swords have
become bric-à-brac.

A thousand years of training in the ethics of Confucius - which always
admirably lends itself to the possessors of absolute power, whether
emperors, feudal lords, masters, fathers, or older brothers - have so
tinged and colored every conception of the Japanese mind, so dominated
their avenues of understanding and shaped their modes of thought, that
to-day, notwithstanding the recent marvellous development of their
language, which within the last two decades has made it almost a new
tongue,[11] it is impossible with perfect accuracy to translate into
English the ordinary Japanese terms which are congregated under the
general idea of Kun-shin.

Herein may be seen the great benefit of carefully studying the minds of
those whom we seek to convert. The Christian preacher in Japan who uses
our terms "heaven," "home," "mother," "father," "family," "wife,"
"people," "love," "reverence," "virtue," "chastity," etc., will find
that his hearers may indeed receive them, but not at all with the same
mental images and associations, nor with the same proportion and depth,
that these words command in western thought and hearing. One must be
exceedingly careful, not only in translating terms which have been used
by Confucius in the Chinese texts, but also in selecting and rendering
the current expressions of the Japanese teachers and philosophers. In
order to understand each other, Orientals and Occidentals need a great
deal of mutual intellectual drilling, without which there will be waste
of money, of time, of brains and of life.

The Five Relations.

Let us now glance at the fundamentals of the Confucian ethics - the Five
Relations - as they were taught in the comparatively simple system which
prevailed before the new orthodoxy was proclaimed by Sung schoolmen.

First. Although each of the Chinese and Japanese emperors is supposed to
be, and is called, "father of the people," yet it would be entirely
wrong to imagine that the phrase implies any such relation, as that of
William the Silent to the Dutch, or of Washington to the American
nation. In order to see how far the emperor was removed from the people
during a thousand years, one needs but to look upon a brilliant painting
of the Yamato-Tosa school, in which the Mikado is represented as sitting
behind a cloud of gold or a thick curtain of fine bamboo, with no one
before the matting-throne but his prime ministers or the empress and his
concubines. For centuries, it was supposed that the Mikado did not touch
the ground with his feet. He went abroad in a curtained car; and he was
not only as mysterious and invisible to the public eye as a dragon, but
he was called such. The attributes of that monster with many powers and
functions, were applied to him, with an amazing wealth of rhetoric and
vocabulary. As well might the common folks to-day presume to pray unto
one of the transcendent Buddhas, between whom and the needy suppliant
there may be hosts upon hosts of interlopers or mediators, as for an
ordinary subject to petition the emperor or even to gaze upon his dragon
countenance. The change in the constitutional Japan of our day is seen
in the fact that the term "Mikado" is now obsolete. This description of
the relation of sovereign and minister (inaccurately characterised by
some writers on Confucianism as that of "King and subject," a phrase
which might almost fit the constitutional monarchy of to-day) shows the
relation, as it did exist for nearly a thousand years of Japanese
history. We find the same imitation of procedure, even when imperialism
became only a shadow in the government and the great Sh[=o]gun who
called himself "Tycoon," the ruler in Yedo, aping the majesty of
Ki[=o]to, became so powerful as to be also a dragon. Between the Yedo
Sh[=o]gun and the people rose a great staircase of numberless
subordinates, and should a subject attempt to offer a petition in person
he must pay for it by crucifixion.[12]

As, under the emperor there were court ministers, heads of departments,
governors and functionaries of all kinds before the people were reached,
so, under the Sh[=o]gun in the feudal days, there were the Daimi[=o]s or
great lords and the Shomi[=o]s or small lords with their retainers in
graduated subordination, and below these were the servants and general
humanity. Even after the status of man was reached, there were
gradations and degradations through fractions down to ciphers and indeed
to minus quantities, for there existed in the Country of Brave Warriors
some tens of thousands of human beings bearing the names of _eta_
(pariah) and _h[=i]-nin_ (non-human), who were far below the pale of

The Paramount Idea of Loyalty.

The one idea which dominated all of these classes,[13] - in Old Japan
there were no masses but only many classes - was that of loyalty. As the
Japanese language shows, every faculty of man was subordinated to this
idea. Confucianism even conditioned the development of Japanese grammar,
as it also did that of the Koreans, by multiplying honorary prefixes and
suffixes and building up all sociable and polite speech on perpendicular
lines. Personality was next to nothing and individuality was in a
certain sense unknown. In European languages, the pronoun shows how
clearly the ideas of personality and of individuality have been
developed; but in the Japanese language there really are no pronouns, in
the sense of the word as used by the Germanic nations, at least,
although there are hundreds of impersonal and topographical substitutes
for them.[14] The mirror, of the language itself, reflects more truth
upon this point of inquiry than do patriotic assertions, or the protests
of those who in the days of this Meiji era so handsomely employ the
Japanese language as the medium of thought. Strictly speaking, the ego
disappears in ordinary conversation and action, and instead, it is the
servant speaking reverently to his master; or it is the master
condescending to the object which is "before his hand" or "to the side"
or "below" where his inferior kneels; or it is the "honorable right"
addressing the "esteemed left."

All the terms which a foreigner might use in speaking of the duties of
sovereign and minister, of lord and retainer and of master and servant,
are comprehended in the Japanese word, Kun-shin, in which is
crystallized but one thought, though it may relate to three grades of
society. The testimony of history and of the language shows, that the
feelings which we call loyalty and reverence are always directed upward,
while those which we term benevolence and love invariably look downward.

Note herein the difference between the teachings of Christ and those of
the Chinese sage. According to the latter, if there be love in the
relation of the master and servant, it is the master who loves, and not
the servant who may only reverence. It would be inharmonious for the
Japanese servant to love his master; he never even talks of it. And in
family life, while the parent may love the child, the child is not
expected to love the parent but rather to reverence him. So also the
Japanese wife, as in our old scriptural versions, is to "see that she
_reverence_ her husband." Love (not _agapé_, but _eros_) is indeed a
theme of the poets and of that part of life and of literature which is,
strictly speaking, outside of the marriage relation, but the thought
that dominates in marital life, is reverence from the wife and
benevolence from the husband. The Christian conception, which requires
that a woman should love her husband, does not strictly accord with the
Confucian idea.

Christianity has taught us that when a man loves a woman purely and
makes her his wife, he should also have reverence for her, and that this
element should be an integral part of his love. Christianity also
teaches a reverence for children; and Wordsworth has but followed the
spirit of his great master, Christ, when expressing this beautiful
sentiment in his melodious numbers. Such ideas as these, however, are
discords in Japanese social life of the old order. So also the Christian
preaching of love to God, sounds outlandish to the men of Chinese mind
in the middle or the pupil kingdom, who seem to think that it can only
come from the lips of those who have not been properly trained. To "love
God" appears to them as being an unwarrantable patronage of, and
familiarity with "Heaven," or the King of Kings. The same difficulty,
which to-day troubles Christian preachers and translators, existed among
the Roman Catholic missionaries three centuries ago.[15] The moulds of
thought were not then, nor are they even now, entirely ready for the
full truth of Christian revelation.

Suicide Made Honorable.

In the long story of the Honorable Country, there are to be found many
shining examples of loyalty, which is the one theme oftenest illustrated
in popular fiction and romance. Its well-attested instances on the
crimson thread of Japanese history are more numerous than the beads on
many rosaries. The most famous of all, perhaps, is the episode of the
Forty-Seven R[=o]nins, which is a constant favorite in the theatres, and
has been so graphically narrated or pictured by scores of native poets,
authors, artists, sculptors and dramatists, and told in English by
Mitford, Dickens and Grecy.[16]

These forty-seven men hated wife, child, society, name, fame, food and
comfort for the sake of avenging the death of their master. In a certain
sense, they ceased to be persons in order to become the impersonal
instruments of Heaven's retribution. They gave up every thing - houses,
lands, kinsmen - that they might have in this life the hundred-fold
reward of vengeance, and in the world-life of humanity throughout the
centuries, fame and honor. Feeding the hunger of their hearts upon the
hope of glutting that hunger with the life-blood of their victim, they
waited long years. When once their swords had drunk the consecrated
blood, they laid the severed head upon their master's tomb and then
gladly, even rapturously, delivered themselves up, and ripping open
their bowels they died by that judicially ordered seppuku which cleansed
their memory from every stain, and gave to them the martyr's fame and
crown forever. The tombs of these men, on the hillside overlooking the
Bay of Yedo, are to this day ever fragrant with fresh flowers, and to
the cemetery where their ashes lie and their memorials stand, thousands
of pilgrims annually wend their way. No dramas are more permanently
popular on the stage than those which display the virtues of these
heroes, who are commonly spoken of as "The righteous Samurai." Their
tombs have stood for two centuries, as mighty magnets drawing others to
self-impalement on the sword - as multipliers of suicides.

Yet this alphabetic number, this _i-ro-ha_ of self-murder, is but one of
a thousand instances in the Land of Noble Suicides. From the
pre-historic days when the custom of _Jun-shi_, or dying with the
master, required the interment of the living retainers with the dead
lord, down through all the ages to the Revolution of 1868, when at
Sendai and Aidzu scores of men and boys opened their bowels, and mothers
slew their infant sons and cut their own throats, there has been flowing
through Japanese history a river of suicides' blood[17] having its
springs in the devotion of retainers to masters, and of soldiers to a
lost cause as represented by the feudal superior. Shigémori, the son of
the prime minister Kiyomori, who protected the emperor even against his
own father, is a model of that Japanese kun-shin which placed fidelity
to the sovereign above filial obedience; though even yet Shigémori's
name is the synonym of both virtues. Kusunoki Masashigé,[18] the white
flower of Japanese chivalry, is but one, typical not only of a thousand
but of thousands of thousands of soldiers, who hated parents, wife,
child, friend in order to be disciple to the supreme loyalty. He sealed
his creed by emptying his own veins. Kiyomori,[19] like King David of
Israel, on his dying bed ordered the assassination of his personal

The common Japanese novels read like records of slaughter-houses. No
Moloch or Shiva has won more victims to his shrine than has this idea of
Japanese loyalty which is so beautiful in theory and so hideous in
practice. Despite the military clamps and frightful despotism of Yedo,
which for two hundred and fifty years gave to the world a delusive idea
of profound quiet in the Country of Peaceful Shores, there was in fact a
chronic unrest which amounted at many times and in many places to
anarchy. The calm of despotism was, indeed, rudely broken by the aliens
in the "black ships" with the "flowery flag"; but, without regarding
influences from the West, the indications of history as now read,
pointed in 1850 toward the bloodiest of Japan's many civil wars. Could
the statistics of the suicides during this long period be collected,
their publication would excite in Christendom the utmost incredulity.

Nevertheless, this qualifying statement should be made. A study of the
origin and development of the national method of self-destruction shows
that suicide by seppuku, or opening of the abdomen, was first a custom,
and then a privilege. It took, among men of honor, the place of the
public executions, the massacres in battle and siege, decimation of
rebels and similar means of killing at the hands of others, which so
often mar the historical records of western nations. Undoubtedly,
therefore, in the minds of most Japanese, there are many instances of
_hara-kiri_ which should not be classed as suicide, but technically as
execution of judicial sentence. And yet no sentence or process of death
known in western lands had such influence in glorifying the victim, as
had seppuku in Japan.

The Family Idea.

The Second Relation is that of father and son, thus preceding what we
should suppose to be the first of human relations - husband and wife - but
the arrangement entirely accords with the Oriental conception that the
family, the house, is more important than the individual. In Old Japan
the paramount idea in marriage, was not that of love or companionship,
or of mutual assistance with children, but was almost wholly that of
offspring, and of maintaining the family line.[20] The individual might
perish but the house must live on.

Very different from the family of Christendom, is the family in Old
Japan, in which we find elements that would not be recognized where
monogamy prevails and children are born in the home and not in the herd.
Instead of father, mother and children, there are father, wife,
concubines, and various sorts of children who are born of the wife or of
the concubine, or have been adopted into the family. With us, adoption

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 9 of 31)