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ratified by the Mikado, and without such ratification they have, say the Japanese, no binding force. It is not even certain that he could venture to ratify them in opposition to the will of the powerful Daimios, and it is questionable whether the treaties possess any legality beyond the territory of the Tycoon.
The history of Japan proves how precarious the life of this great officer is when he is suspected of inclining to a policy opposed to the feeling and supposed interests of the great aristocracy of the nation. The real position of the present Tycoon is involved in much uncertainty. He left Yeddo on a visit of ceremony to the Mikado at Miaco, but he had not, at the last advices, after a prolonged absence returned to his capital; and some persons well acquainted with Japan, bearing in mind the premature end of so many of his predecessors, have felt a doubt whether he was alive, and at least apprehended that he was a State prisoner at Miaco, and that the orders alleged to have been issued in his name to close the ports might have been forged by the disaffected Daimios, using his name and that of the Mikado for the furtherance of their political views.* The Tycoon has hitherto kept the great princes under some control by means of a vast system of bureaucracy and espionage, and he may have looked to possible future alliances with the Western Powers for the means of establishing a complete ascendancy over his turbulent advisers; and, perhaps, to the growth of a popular party as an effectual counterpoise to their authority in the State.
The existing state of society in Japan is not, to use a celebrated formula, calculated to confer ' the greatest happiness on the greatest number.' The general aspect of the population is one of poverty in harsh contrast to the amazing richness and fertility of the country :—
'Few signs,' wrote the British Minister in 1861,f ' of absolute destitution meet the eye, but masses of population with nothing evidently beyond tho barest necessaries of animal life, a roof covering the area of a fow mats, on which groups of eight, ten, or more men, women, and children crowded in the doorway as we passed, must be all huddled together more like cattle than human beings, at night, and with just as little provision for comfort or decency. Some few of tho larger towns had a better aspect, and a superior style of house in tho principal thoroughfares, but only where there were signs of trade. The inhabitants of the purely agricultural districts and towns were all
* Ob the other hand, we learn by a telegram received while these pages are passing through the press, that the Tycoon has adopted a flag (probably bearing a new device',, and has authorised foreign ships of war to fire upon all Japanese vessels that do not bear it. If this be so, the Tycoon must have broken with the princes, and a civil war has probably commenced.
t 'Correspondence respecting affairs in Japan,' 18C2.
povertypoverty-stricken. From such general features I draw the conclusion that although the fertility of tlio soil is great, and turned to tho best account by a plentiful supply of labour of tho cheapest kind, yet little superfluity is produced, or, if there bo any, it is absorbed almost entirely by the Daimios and their retainers, who are the non-productive classes, and proprietors, I believo, of nine-tenths of tho soil. Of peasant or other landed proprietors, out of the Daimios class, there seem to bo few, if any, except under altogether exceptional circumstances. Judging from tho manifest poverty of the frugal labourer, the wholo produce of tho soil, save tho barest pittance necessary to support life, must go to the Dainiio.'
The aversion of the ruling class to the introduction of European ideas is natural enough when the condition of the population and the contrast which it presents to their own enormous wealth and almost regal splendour is considered. The Daimios see clearly enough what the consequences would be of a free intercourse of foreigners with the people, and they therefore systematically close up every avenue by which they can be approached.
The Bishop of Victoria seems to have accurately comprehended the state of Japan, and to have predicted a political crisis such as has now occurred. 'Between the haughty and exclusive aristocracy,' he says, 'and the lower classes of society a wide chasm exists. The mercantile class sometimes contains individuals of considerable wealth, but merchants arc held in low repute. The great Daimios are said in many instances to have greatly diminished in wealth. Several princes formerly possessed, like the present Prince of Kanga, a million of kokus of annual revenue, who have since suffered a decay in their territorial income or a division of their princely estates. They are reported also to view with disfavour the possible rise of a rich mercantile class in their midst, as a social element politically dangerous to their own retention of power. In some respects the state of Japan resembles the political condition of English society in the times of our Plantagenet princes; and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that an enlightened and resolute Tycoon might imitate the policy of our Edward IV. in fostering a middle class as a counterpoise to the power of the great barons, and building up the royal prerogative on the liberties and privileges of a newly-enfranchised mercantile and trading portion of the population. A liberal Tycoon encouraging foreign intercourse and promoting the interests of domestic commerce, might compensate himself for the enmity of the Daimios in the growth of a commercial and popular party in the state. Even a civil war among the territorial grandees, excited by the grave
questions questions of their foreign policy and relations towards the outer world of mankind, might, like the English wars of the Roses, issue in the downfall of the exclusive power of Japanese princes and barons, and at length inaugurate better government in Japan.' *
The Japanese are endowed with many qualities which, under wiser rule, would render them worthy of esteem. They possess a certain nobility of character (if we may so call it), which not even their great moral corruption has been able altogether to destroy. They possess quickness, shrewdness, and tact, above all other Asiatics. They are intellectual in an eminent degree ; all can read, and are fond of reading. Even the agricultural labourer will snatch a few minutes from his work to indulge in the perusal of some favourite book In manners (as we have already observed) they have nothing to acquire from Europeans. The bearing of the humblest peasant is marked by a natural courtesy; while that of the middle and higher classes is distinguished by a studied dignity and refinement. To these natural and acquired graces of character there is, however, one serious drawback. A more licentious people does not exist. The very toys of the children are designed to inoculate the infant mind with vice; shame is unknown, and indecency of language and conduct is all but universal. Government and religion equally countenance and sanction vice. Deception is universal, and all classes laugh immoderately when detected in a lie.j They have no real religion, nor do they affect any. All contemplate death with indifference and speak of it with levity. The higher classes are keen, sceptical, and sarcastic, believing nothing, hoping nothing, dreading nothing. Their only religious rites are scenes of festive mirth, combined with abominable immorality. It is astonishing that a thousand years of such misgovernment as would have utterly barbarised any other people should have left so much that is humane, polished, and amiable in their character. But it would be opposed to the attributes of human nature if a people, in spite of all the outward indications of enjoyment, could be really happy in a state of society where there is no natural play of the passions, no healthy stir of life, and none of its animating moral excitements. Political apathy has long been the characteristic of Japan, and the dull level of life has been broken only at
* 'Ten Weeks in Japan.'
t 'The impossibility of ever obtaining truth in great things or in small from the officials whatever their rank (the highest to the lowest are equally false), and their unceasing and determined efforts to mislead, form one of the great difficulties of our position.'—Sir Iiutherford Alcock to Lord liussell, July, 1861. 'Correspondence,' p. 4.
distant distant intervals, like the surface of their fair country, by portentous and desolating convulsions. The same^ education, the same manners, and the same vices, have prevailed from generation to generation, and the people live in constant dread of the laws and of each other. YVe appear now to be on the point of being brought into closer relations with this remarkable country. The great aristocracy have apparently determined to risk the consequences of a rupture with all the Treaty Powers, rather than acquiesce longer in a policy which they foresee must sooner or later lead to a great diminution of their importance, and perhaps jeopardize the security of their great possessions together with their hereditary position in the State. They dread war less than revolution; but they do not seem to be aware that revolution will be the inevitable result of war. They hope, perhaps, again to banish foreigners, as they banished them before, and that peace will then for ever reign within their walls and plenteousness within their palaces. It would seem that our relations with Japan cannot be placed on a satisfactory footing until the Tycoon succeeds in establishing his ascendancy over the powerful Daimios, and acquires such an increase of political strength as shall enable him to reverse the traditional policy of the empire. In the conflict which appears inevitable,* the Mikado, the great princes, and the priesthood will probably be ranged on one side, and the Tycoon and his supporters on the other. Redress for the insults and injuries which the foreign Powers have received will be sought not at Yeddo but at Miaco, and the provincial capitals, fortresses, and castles of the princes who have defied them. The Ministers of the Tycoon have, there is reason to believe, striven to avert this crisis, but in vain. In their communications with the foreign Envoys they have declared, and perhaps with truth, that although they made treaties, they have not the power to compel their observance. The spirit of hostility to foreigners has, however, we firmly believe, no existence among the people. Protected, as they suppose, by their great fortresses, the Daimios doubtless think that any attempt to force the defiles and penetrate the rice-grounds, in which the interior of their country abounds, would only result in disaster to any army that might attempt it. It is earnestly to be hoped that the necessity for so hazardous an operation may not arise. But if the existing difficulties should be adjusted, grave complications, we fear, will arise when the period comes for opening Yeddo, Osaca, and other great ports in 1868. If the result of any contest with European Powers should be the subversion of
See note * to p. 476.
the the power of the Daimios, the people of Japan will have no reason to regret it. These great princes possess no claim on our sympathy or respect; for of all forms of government that of a domineering oligarchy is the most pernicious and degrading. It is despotism in its most oppressive form, and in Japan is equally inconsistent with the progress and the happiness of the people.
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