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In order to understand the social condition, it will be necessary to consider the nature of the paternal rule in its legal aspects. To modern imagination the old Japanese laws may well seem intolerable; but their administration was really less uncompromising than that of our Western laws. Besides, although weighing heavily upon all classes, from the highest to the lowest, the legal burden was proportioned to the respective strength of the bearers; the application of law being made less and less rigid as the social scale descended. In theory at least, from the earliest times, the poor and unfortunate had been considered as entitled to pity; and the duty of showing them all possible mercy was insisted upon in the oldest extant moral code of Japan, — the Laws of Shōtoku Taishi. But the most striking example of such discrimination appears in the Legacy of lyéyasu, which represents the conception of justice in a time when society had become much more developed, its institutions more firmly fixed, and all its bonds tightened. This stern and wise ruler, who declared that "the people are the foundation of the Empire,” commanded leniency in dealing with the humble. He ordained that any lord, no matter what his rank, convicted of breaking laws “to the injury of the people,” should be punished by the confiscation of his estates. Perhaps the humane spirit of the legislator is most strongly shown in his enactments regarding crime, as, for example, where he deals with the question of adultery — necessarily a crime of the first magnitude in any society based on ancestor-worship. By the 50th article of the Legacy, the injured husband is confirmed in his ancient right to kill, — but with this important provision, that should he kill but one of the guilty parties, he must himself be held as guilty as either of them. Should the offenders be brought up for trial, lyéyasu advises that, in the case of common people, particular deliberation be given to the matter: he remarks upon the weakness of human nature, and suggests that, among the young and simple-minded, some momentary impulse of passion may lead to folly even when the parties are not naturally depraved. But in the next article, No. 51, he orders that no mercy whatever be shown to men and women of the upper classes when convicted of the same crime. "These," he declares, "are expected to know better than to occasion disturbance by violating existing regulations; and such persons, breaking the laws by lewd trifling or illicit intercourse, shall at once be punished without deliberation or consultation.1 It is not the same in this case as in the case of farmers, artizans, and traders.”... Throughout the entire code, this tendency to tighten the bonds of law in the case of the military classes, and to loosen them mercifully for the lower classes, is equally visible. lyéyasu strongly disapproved of unnecessary punishments; and held that the frequency of punishments was proof, not of the ill-conduct of subjects, but of the ill-conduct of officials. The 91st article of his code puts the matter thus plainly, even as regarded the Shōgunate: “When punishments and executions abound in the Empire, it is a proof that the military ruler is without virtue and degenerate.”... He devised particular enactments to protect the peasantry and the poor from the cruelty or the rapacity of powerful lords. The great daimyō were strictly forbidden, when making their obligatory journeys to Yedo, “to disturb or harass the people at the post-houses," or suffer themselves "to be puffed up with military pride.” The private, not less than the public conduct of these great lords, was under Government surveillance; and they were actually liable to punishment for immorality! Concerning debauchery among them, the legislator remarked that "even though this can hardly be pronounced insubordination," it should be judged and punished according to the degree in which it constitutes a bad example for the lower classes (Art. 88).2 As to veritable insubordination there was no pardon: the severity of the law on this subject allowed of no exception or mitigation. The 53d section of the Legacy proves this to have been regarded as the supreme crime: "The guilt of a vassal murdering his suzerain is in principle the same as that of an arch-traitor to the Emperor. His immediate companions, his relations, — all even to his most distant connexions, — shall be cut off, hewn to atoms, root and fibre. The guilt of a vassal only lifting his hand against his master, even though he does not assassinate him, is the same.” In strong contrast to this grim ordinance is the spirit of all the regulations touching the administration of law among the lower classes. Forgery, incendiarism, and poisoning were indeed crimes justifying the penalty of burning or crucifixion; but judges were instructed to act with as much leniency as circumstances permitted in the case of ordinary offences. "With regard to minute details affecting individuals of the inferior classes," says the 73d article of the code, "learn the wide benevolence of Kōso of the Han [Chinese] dynasty." It was further ordered that magistrates of the criminal and civil courts should be chosen only from "a class of men who are upright and pure, distinguished for charity and benevolence." All magistrates were kept under close supervision, and their conduct regularly reported by government spies.
Another humane aspect of Tokugawa legislation is furnished by its dictates in regard to the relations of the sexes. Although concubinage was tolerated in the Samurai class, for reasons relating to the continuance of the family-cult, lyéyasu denounces the indulgence of the privilege for merely selfish reasons: "Silly and ignorant men neglect their true wives for the sake of a loved mistress, and thus disturb the most important relation.... Men so far sunk as this may always be known as Samurai without fidelity or sincerity." Celibacy, condemned by public opinion, — except in the case of Buddhist priests, — was equally condemned by the code. "One should not live alone after sixteen years of age," declares the legislator; "all mankind recognize marriage as the first law of nature." The childless man was obliged to adopt a son; and the 47th article of the Legacy ordained that the family estate of a person dying without male issue, and without having adopted a son, should be "forfeited without any regard to his relatives or connexions." This law, of course, was made in support of the ancestor-cult, the continuance of which it was deemed the paramount duty of each man to provide for; but the government regulations concerning adoption enabled everybody to fulfil the legal requirement without difficulty.
Considering that this code which inculcated humanity, repressed moral laxity, prohibited celibacy, and rigorously maintained the family-cult, was drawn up in the time of the extirpation of the Jesuit missions, the position assumed in regard to religious freedom appears to us one of singular liberality. "High and low alike," proclaims the 31st article, "may follow their own inclinations with respect to religious tenets which have obtained down to the present time, except as regards the false and corrupt school [Roman Catholicism]. Religious disputes have ever proved the bane and misfortune of this Empire, and must be firmly suppressed."... But the seeming liberality of this article must not be misinterpreted: the legislator who made so rigid an enactment in regard to the religion of the family was not the man to proclaim that any Japanese was free to abandon the faith of his race for an alien creed. One must carefully read the entire Legacy in order to understand Iyéyasu’s real position, which was simply this: that any man was free to adopt any religion tolerated by the State, in addition to his ancestor-cult. lyéyasu was himself a member of the Jōdo sect of Buddhism, and a friend of Buddhism in general. But he was first of all a Shintōist; and the third article of his code commands devotion to the Kami as the first of duties: — "Keep your heart pure; and so long as your body shall exist, be diligent in paying honour and veneration to the Gods." That he placed the ancient cult above Buddhism should be evident from the text of the 52d article of the Legacy, in which he declares that no one should suffer himself to neglect the national faith because of a belief in any other form of religion. This text is of particular interest: —
“My body, and the bodies of others, being born in the Empire of the Gods, to accept unreservedly the teachings of other countries, — such as Confucian, Buddhist, or Taoist doctrines, — and to apply one's whole and undivided attention to them, would be, in short, to desert one's own master, and transfer one's loyalty to another. Is not this to forget the origin of one's being?"
Of course the Shōgun, professing to derive his authority from the descendant of the elder gods, could not with consistency have proclaimed the right of freedom to doubt those gods: his official religious duty permitted of no compromise. But the interest attaching to his opinions, as expressed in the Legacy, rests upon the fact that the Legacy was not a public, but a strictly private document, intended for the perusal and guidance of his successors only. Altogether his religious position was much like that of the liberal Japanese statesman of to-day, — respect for whatever is good in Buddhism, qualified by the patriotic conviction that the first religious duty is to the cult of the ancestors, the ancient creed of the race.... lyéyasu had preferences regarding Buddhism; but even in this he showed no narrowness. Though he wrote in his Legacy, "Let my posterity ever be of the honoured sect of Jōdo," he greatly reverenced the high-priest of the Tendai temple, Yeizan, who had been one of his instructors, and obtained for him the highest court-office possible for a Buddhist priest to obtain, as well as the headship of the Tendai sect. Moreover the Shōgun visited Yeizan to make there official prayer for the prosperity of the country.
There is every reason to believe that within the territories of the Shōgunate proper, comprising the greater part of the Empire, the administration of ordinary criminal law was humane, and that the infliction of punishment was made, in the case of the common people, to depend largely upon circumstances. Needless severity was a crime before the higher military law, which, in such cases, made no distinctions of rank. Although the ring-leaders of a peasant-revolt, for example, would be sentenced to death, the lord through whose oppression the uprising was provoked, would be deprived of a part or the whole of his estates, or degraded in rank, or perhaps even sentenced to perform harakiri. Professor Wigmore, whose studies of Japanese law first shed light upon the subject, has given us an excellent review of the spirit of the ancient legal methods. He points out that the administration of law was never made impersonal in the modern sense; that unbending law did not, for the people at least, exist in relation to minor offences. The Anglo-Saxon idea of inflexible law is the idea of a justice impartial and pitiless as fire: whoever breaks the law must suffer the consequence, just as surely as the person who puts his hand into fire must experience pain. But in the administration of the old Japanese law, everything was taken into consideration: the condition of the offender, his intelligence, his degree of education, his previous conduct, his motives, suffering endured, provocation received, and so forth; and final judgment was decided by moral common sense rather than by legal enactment or precedent. Friends and relatives were allowed to make plea for the offender, and to help him in whatever honest way they could. If a man were falsely accused, and proved innocent upon trial, he would not only be consoled by kind words, but would probably receive substantial compensation; and it appears that judges were accustomed, at the end of important trials, to reward good conduct as well as to punish crime.3... On the other hand, litigation was officially discouraged. Everything possible was done to prevent any cases from being taken into court, which could be settled or compromised by communal arbitration; and the people were taught to consider the court only as the last possible resort.
The general character of the Tokugawa rule can be to some degree inferred from the foregoing facts. It was in no sense a reign of terror that compelled peace and encouraged industry for two hundred and fifty years. Though the national civilization was restrained, pruned, clipped in a thousand ways, it was at the same time cultivated, refined, and strengthened. The long peace established throughout the Empire what had never before existed, — a universal feeling of security. The individual was bound more than ever by law and custom; but he was also protected: he could move without anxiety to the length of his chains. Though coerced by his fellows, they helped him to bear the coercion cheerfully: everybody aided everybody else to fulfil the obligations and to support the burdens of communal life. Conditions tended, therefore, toward the general happiness as well as toward the general prosperity. There was not, in those years, any struggle for existence, — not at least in our modern meaning of the phrase. The requirements of life were easily satisfied; every man had a master to provide for him or to protect him; competition was repressed or discouraged; there was no need for supreme effort of any sort, — no need for the straining of any faculty. Moreover, there was little or nothing to strive after: for the vast majority of the people, there were no prizes to win. Ranks and incomes were fixed; occupations were hereditary; and the desire to accumulate wealth must have been checked or numbed by those regulations which limited the rich man's right to use his money as he might please. Even a great lord — even the Shōgun himself — could not do what he pleased. As for any common person, — farmer, craftsman, or shopkeeper, — he could not build a house as he liked, or furnish it as he liked, or procure for himself such articles of luxury as his taste might incline him to buy. The richest heimin, who attempted to indulge himself in any of these ways, would at once have been forcibly reminded that he must not attempt to imitate the habits, or to assume the privileges, of his betters. He could not even order certain kinds of things to be made for him. The artizans or artists who created objects of luxury, to gratify æsthetic taste, were little disposed to accept commissions from people of low rank: they worked for princes, or great lords, and could scarcely afford to take the risk of displeasing their patrons. Every man's pleasures were more or less regulated by his place in society, and to pass from a lower into a higher rank was no easy matter. Extraordinary men were sometimes able to do this, by attracting the favour of the great. But many perils attended upon such distinction; and the wisest policy for the heimin was to remain satisfied with his position, and try to find as much happiness in life as the law allowed.
Personal ambition being thus restrained, and the cost of existence reduced to a minimum much below our Western ideas of the necessary, there were really established conditions highly favourable to certain forms of culture, in despite of sumptuary regulations. The national mind was obliged to seek solace for the monotony of existence, either in amusement or study. Tokugawa policy had left imagination partly free in the directions of literature and art — the cheaper art; and within those two directions repressed personality found means to utter itself, and fancy became creative. There was a certain amount of danger attendant upon even such intellectual indulgences; and much was dared. Æsthetic taste, however, mostly followed the line of least resistance. Observation concentrated itself upon the interest of everyday life, upon incidents which might be watched from a window, or studied in a garden, — upon familiar aspects of nature in various seasons, — upon trees, flowers, birds, fishes, or reptiles, upon insects and the ways of them, — upon all kinds of small details, delicate trifles, amusing curiosities. Then it was that the race-genius produced most of that queer bric-à-brac which still forms the delight of Western collectors. The painter, the ivory-carver, the decorator, were left almost untroubled in their production of fairy-pictures, exquisite grotesqueries, miracles of liliputian art in metal and enamel and lacquer-of-gold. In all such small matters they could feel free; and the results of that freedom are now treasured in the museums of Europe and America. It is true that most of the arts (nearly all of Chinese origin) were considerably developed before the Tokugawa era; but it was then that they began to assume those inexpensive forms which placed æsthetic gratification within reach of the common people. Sumptuary legislation or rule might yet apply to the use and possession of costly production, but not to the enjoyment of form; and the beautiful, whether shaped in paper or in ivory, in clay or gold, is always a power for culture. It has been said that in a Greek city of the fourth century before Christ, every household utensil, even the most trifling object, was in respect of design an object of art; and the same fact is true, though in another and a stranger way, of all things in a Japanese home: even such articles of common use as a bronze candlestick, a brass lamp, an iron kettle, a paper lantern, a bamboo curtain, a wooden pillow, a wooden tray, will reveal to educated eyes a sense of beauty and fitness entirely unknown to Western cheap production. And it was especially during the Tokugawa period that this sense of beauty began to inform everything in common life. Then also was developed the art of illustration; then came into existence those wonderful colour-prints (the most beautiful made in any age or country) which are now so eagerly collected by wealthy dilettanti. Literature also ceased, like art, to be the enjoyment of the upper classes only: it developed a multitude of popular forms. This was the age of popular fiction, of cheap books, of popular drama, of storytelling for young and old.... We may certainly call the Tokugawa period the happiest in the long life of the nation. The mere increase of population and of wealth would prove the fact, irrespective of the general interest awakened in matters literary and æsthetic. It was an age of popular enjoyment, also of general culture and social refinement.
Customs spread downward from the top of society. During the Tokugawa period, various diversions or accomplishments formerly fashionable in upper circles only, became common property. Three of these were of a sort indicating a high degree of refinement: poetical contests, tea-ceremonies, and the complex art of flower-arrangement. All were introduced into Japanese society long before the Tokugawa régime; — the fashion of poetical competitions must be as old as Japanese authentic history. But it was under the Tokugawa Shōgunate that such amusements and accomplishments became national. Then the tea-ceremonies were made a feature of female education throughout the country. Their elaborate character could be explained only by the help of many pictures; and it requires years of training and practice to graduate in the art of them. Yet the whole of this art, as to detail, signifies no more than the making and serving of a cup of tea. However, it is a real art — a most exquisite art. The actual making of the infusion is a matter of no consequence in itself: the supremely important matter is that the act be performed in the most perfect, most polite, most graceful, most charming manner possible. Everything done — from the kindling of the charcoal fire to the presentation of the tea — must be done according to rules of supreme etiquette: rules requiring natural grace as well as great patience to fully master. Therefore a training in the tea-ceremonies is still held to be a training in politeness, in self-control, in delicacy, — a discipline in deportment.... Quite as elaborate is the art of arranging flowers. There are many different schools; but the object of each system is simply to display sprays of leaves and flowers in the most beautiful manner possible, and according to the irregular graces of Nature herself. This art also requires years to learn; and the teaching of it has a moral as well as an æsthetic value.
It was in this period also that etiquette was cultivated to its uttermost, — that politeness became diffused throughout all ranks, not merely as a fashion, but as an art. In all civilized societies of the militant type politeness becomes a national characteristic at an early period; and it must have been a common obligation among the Japanese, as their archaic tongue bears witness, before the historical epoch. Public enactments on the subject were made as early as the seventh century by the founder of Japanese Buddhism, the prince-regent, Shotoku Taishi. "Ministers and functionaries,” he proclaimed "should make decorous behaviour4 their leading principle; for their leading principle of the government of the people consists in decorous behaviour. If the superiors do not behave with decorum, the inferiors are disorderly: if inferiors are wanting in proper behaviour, there must necessarily be offences. Therefore it is that when lord and vassal behave with propriety, the distinctions of rank are not confused: when the people behave with propriety, the government of the Commonwealth proceeds of itself.” Something of the same old Chinese teaching we find reechoed, a thousand years later, in the Legacy of lyéyasu: "The art of governing a country consists in the manifestation of due deference on the part of a suzerain to his vassals. Know that if you turn your back upon this, you will be assassinated; and the Empire will be lost." We have already seen that etiquette was rigidly enforced upon all classes by the military rule: for at least ten centuries before lyéyasu, the nation had been disciplined in politeness, under the edge of the sword. But under the Tokugawa Shōgunate politeness became particularly a popular characteristic, — a rule of conduct maintained by even the lowest classes in their daily relations. Among the higher classes it became the art of beauty in life. All the taste, the grace, the nicety which then informed artistic production in precious material, equally informed every detail of speech and action. Courtesy was a moral and æsthetic study, carried to such incomparable perfection that every trace of the artificial disappeared. Grace and charm seemed to have become habit, — inherent qualities of the human fibre, — and doubtless, in the case of one sex at least, did so become.
For it has well been said that the most wonderful æsthetic products of Japan are not its ivories, nor its bronzes, nor its porcelains, nor its swords, nor any of its marvels in metal or lacquer — but its women. Accepting as partly true the statement that woman everywhere is what man has made her, we might say that this statement is more true of the Japanese woman than of any other. Of course it required thousands and thousands of years to make her; but the period of which I arn speaking beheld the work completed and perfected. Before this ethical creation, criticism should hold its breath; for there is here no single fault save the fault of a moral charm unsuited to any world of selfishness and struggle. It is the moral artist that now commands our praise, — the realizer of an ideal beyond Occidental reach. How frequently has it been asserted that, as a moral being, the Japanese woman does not seem to belong to the same race as the Japanese man! Considering that heredity is limited by sex, there is reason in the assertion: the Japanese woman is an ethically different being from the Japanese man, Perhaps no such type of woman will appear again in this world for a hundred thousand years: the conditions of industrial civilization will not admit of her existence. The type could not have been created in any society shaped on modern lines, nor in any society where the competitive struggle takes those unmoral forms with which we have become too familiar. Only a society under extraordinary regulation and regimentation, — a society in which all self-assertion was repressed, and self-sacrifice made a universal obligation, — a society in which personality was clipped like a hedge, permitted to bud and bloom from within, never from without, — in short, only a society founded upon ancestor-worship, could have produced it. It has no more in common with the humanity of this twentieth century of ours — perhaps very much less — than has the life depicted upon old Greek vases. Its charm is the charm of a vanished world — a charm strange, alluring, indescribable as the perfume of some flower of which the species became extinct in our Occident before the modern languages were born. Transplanted successfully it cannot be: under a foreign sun its forms revert to something altogether different, its colours fade, its perfume passes away. The Japanese woman can be known only in her own country, — the Japanese woman as prepared and perfected by the old-time education for that strange society in which the charm of her moral being, — her delicacy, her supreme unselfishness, her child-like piety and trust, her exquisite tactful perception of all ways and means to make happiness about her, — can be comprehended and valued.
I have spoken only of her moral charm: it requires time for the unaccustomed foreign eye to discern the physical charm. Beauty, according to our Western standards, can scarcely be said to exist in this race, — or, shall we say that it has never yet been developed? One seeks in vain for a facial angle satisfying Western æsthetic canons. It is seldom that one meets even with a fine example of that physical elegance, — that manifestation of the economy of force, — which we call grace, in the Greek meaning of the word. Yet there is charm — great charm — both of face and form: the charm of childhood — childhood with its every feature yet softly and vaguely outlined (effacé, as a French artist would call it), — childhood before the limbs have fully lengthened, — slight and dainty, with admirable little hands and feet. The eyes at first surprise us, by the strangeness of their lids, so unlike Aryan eyelids, and folding upon another plan. Yet they are often very charming; and a Western artist would not fail to appreciate the graceful terms, invented by Japanese or Chinese art, to designate particular beauties in the lines of the eyelids. Even if she cannot be called handsome, according to Western standards, the Japanese woman must be confessed pretty, — pretty like a comely child; and if she be seldom graceful in the Occidental sense, she is at least in all her ways incomparably graceful: her every motion, gesture, or expression being, in its own Oriental manner, a perfect thing, — an act performed, or a look conferred, in the most easy, the most graceful, the most modest way possible. By ancient custom, she is not permitted to display her grace in the street: she must walk in a particular shrinking manner, turning her feet inward as she patters along upon her wooden sandals. But to watch her at home, where she is free to be comely, — merely to see her performing any household duty, or waiting upon guests, or arranging flowers, or playing with her children, — is an education in Far Eastern æsthetics for whoever has the head and the heart to learn.... But is she not, then, one may ask, an artificial product, a forced growth of Oriental civilization? I would answer both "Yes" and "No." She is an artificial product in only the same evolutional sense that all character is an artificial product; and it required tens of centuries to mould her. She is not, on the other hand, an artificial type, because she has been particularly trained to be her true self at all times when circumstances allow, — or, in other words, to be delightfully natural. The old-fashioned education of her sex was directed to the development of every quality essentially feminine, and to the suppression of the opposite quality. Kindliness, docility, sympathy, tenderness, daintiness — these and other attributes were cultivated into incomparable blossoming. "Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever: do noble things, not dream them, all day long" — those words of Kingsley really embody the central idea in her training. Of course the being, formed by such training only, must be protected by society; and by the old Japanese society she was protected. Exceptions did not affect the rule. What I mean is that she was able to be purely herself, within certain limits of emotional etiquette, in all security. Her success in life was made to depend on her power to win affection by gentleness, obedience, kindliness —; not the affection merely of a husband, but of the husband's parents and grandparents, and brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, — in short of all the members of a strange household. Thus to succeed required angelic goodness and patience; and the Japanese woman realized at least the ideal of a Buddhist angel. A being working only for others, thinking only for others, happy only in making pleasure for others, — a being incapable of unkindness, incapable of selfishness, incapable of acting contrary to her own inherited sense of right, — and in spite of this softness and gentleness ready, at any moment, to lay down her life, to sacrifice everything at the call of duty: such was the character of the Japanese woman. Most strange may seem the combination, in this child-soul, of gentleness and force, tenderness and courage, — yet the explanation is not far to seek. Stronger within her than wifely affection or parental affection or even maternal affection, — stronger than any womanly emotion, was the moral conviction born of her great faith. This religious quality of character can be found among ourselves only within the shadow of cloisters, where it is cultivated at the expense of all else; and the Japanese woman has been therefore compared to a Sister of Charity. But she had to be very much more than a Sister of Charity, — daughter-in-law and wife and mother, and to fulfil without reproach the multiform duties of her triple part. Rather might she be compared to the Greek type of noble woman, — to Antigoné, to Alcestis. With the Japanese woman, as formed by the ancient training, each act of life was an act of faith: her existence was a religion, her home a temple, her every word and thought ordered by the law of the cult of the dead.... This wonderful type is not extinct — though surely doomed to disappear. A human creature so shaped for the service of gods and men that every beat of her heart is duty, that every drop of her blood is moral feeling, were not less out of place in the future world of competitive selfishness, than an angel in hell.
1 That is to say, immediately put to death.