From our Tokio Correspondent undated
On The Times - 1887-12-27
In two recent letters I described at length the chain of incidents and causes that had led to a postponement of the task of treaty revision and to Cabinet changes, the chief feature of which was the resignation by Count Inouye of the portfolio of Foreign Affairs.
The more these events are considered the greater seems the reason to regret them, for the sake of all the interests concerned.
Happily there is no ground for apprehending that the interruption of the treaty negotiations signifies any change or faltering in Japan's foreign policy, or any undue delay in reaching the final goal.
On the contrary, the Cabinet's determination to carry the matter to a successful issue on the broad lines laid down by Count Inouye has been emphatically indicated in more ways than one.
But in the present state of Japan's codes and Courts and in the present mood of the foreign representatives her negotiators would be obliged to assent to concessions and guarantees upon which it would be easy for adversaries and thoughtless critics to pass a hostile judgement.
None, indeed, but those profoundly acquainted with the subject and well alive to the growing influence that foreign intercourse has produced upon internal politics and public opinion in Japan, can form a true conception of the dangers besetting a Japanese statesman condemned to steer the bark of treaty rivision between the shoals and quicksands of foreign diplomacy on the one hand and the rocks of his countrymen's unquiet patriotism on the other.
No Japanese, perhaps, by Count Inouye and his fellow statesmen, fully reccognized another aspect of the situation-namely, that between Japan's comparative insignificance in Western eyes and the altogether novel character of the international recognition she was seeking the only possible path to immediate revision of the treaties lay in a compromise which must needs present some outwardly distasteful features.
Upon that conviction Count Inouye acted, facing boldly the risk of his countrymen's disapproval.
No sooner, however, did the tenor of the draft convention become known than a popular outcry was raised against some of its clauses, an outcry dictated partly by honest patriotism and to some extent by party intrigue.
To the Cabinet itself the proposed covenant, with its labyrinth of stipulations and guarantees - superflous if Japan was worthy of trust, and useless if she was not - seemed an impracticable and offensive instrument.
Nothing, remained, therefore, but to postpone the negotiations.
It was an unfortunate issue in many respects.
The best that can be said in its favour is that it may serve to rivet the future attention of all concerned on a new and embarrassing factor in the treaty problem - the ever-increasing soreness and sensitiveness of the Japanese public in respect of their country' status vis-a-vis Western Powers.
Count Inouye's retirement from the Foreign Office, which was the inevitable outcome of the situation thus created, is nothing less than a calamity to Japan, and a severe blow to the intellectual strength of the Cabinet.
Its one redeeming feature is that, by his acceptance of the minor post of Court Councillor, his commanding talent and energies and wide experience remain at the service of his colleagues in the Government.
In the fine part which Count Inouye has played throughout his public career there is, perhaps, no finer feature than this sacrifice of personal pride and ambition to the interests of his country, his party, and the great cause he has at heart.
To explain in all their bearings the main-springs of his conduct would necessitate an inconveniently wide survey of Japan's recent and present political condition.
Briefly put, the cardinal difficulty which besets the task of government in Japan during her rapid progress from feudalism to a constitutional system is that of directly admixing the old and the new.
In the field of education, in the fields of administrative and material reform, and in the field of politics, this difficulty is everywhere apparent.
As regards the last of these, it will be remembered that two great impulses, one political, the other intellectual, contributed to the mediatization of the Government in 1868.
The political impulse was the hostility of southern and western Barons to the rule of the Tokugawa Shogun; the intellectual impulse was the desire of thoughtful men for administrative and other reforms.
On a judicious amalgamation of factors representing these two elements depended, and still depends, the stability of the reformed Government.
Direct passage from a military oligarchy to the absolute rule of reason and intellect would, indeed, be impossible in any country.
As a result, we find in Japan men of conspicuous ability associated with colleagues whose chief commendation is hereditary rank, but whose names and connexions readily command the reverence and trust of masses still swayed by the instincts of clanship and by the fealty of vassals to their lord.
Naturally, also, there is found in the components of this amalgam a preponderance of representatives of the great clans by whose aid the Restoration was chiefly effected.
Satsuma and Choshu figure largely in the roll.
Without the Sat-Cho combination, as it is termed, the life of the Government would be soon cut short.
With it, they present a formidably strong fusion of the two influences, hereditary and intellectual.
In it, however, Inouye of Choshu has hitherto held a brilliant and commanding position.
His retirement from the Cabinet is serious enough.
His secession in toto from the Government ranks would be still more serious, especially at a time when certain hostile political sections threaten to form up into an imposing line.
Yet worse would be the passage of a statesman of his calibre from office into active opposition.
No greater disaster could befall Japan at this epcoh than the displacement of the present Government; therefore it is that Count Inouye has chosen to efface himself rather than weaken the stability of the Cabinet, or endanger the interests of his country.
Turning once more to the subject of treaty revision, we see that, in spite of the temporary pause which has been necessitated by adverse circumstances, Japanese statesmen are as fully bent as ever on reaching a happy settlement of the question at the earliest moment possible.
In the intense earnestness with which Count Inouye has throughout pursued his weary task may be detected some considerations lying deeper than the ordinary instincts of patriotism.
To his astute mind it must have been long apparent that Japan's very independence might eventually come to be menaced by a protracted maintenance of international barriers applicable only to a condition of Pagan semi-barbarism.
If the reasoning by which this conclusion is arrived at be a little intricate, it is, at least, full of interest.
To find its starting-point we must go back a few decades, to the epoch of the early treaties.
What was then Japan's state of receptivity for the foreign exotics which were soon to be planted in her soil?
What, especially, was her condition in respect of Paganism - that broadest of all distinctions between the East and the West, that primary cause of the whole system of capitulations as originally established in the Ottoman Empire more than three centuries ago?
It would certainly seem that the term Pagan in its ordinary sense was hardly applicable to Japan.
She has, in fact, no indigenous religion.
Shintoism, her original cult, is a ritual only.
It has neither creed nor moral code, and its deities are essentially human.
To Shintoism, some 16 centuries ago, was allied Confucianism, a mere system of ethics, inculcating nothing higher than filial reverence, domestic piety, and man's duty to his neighbour, and harmonizing in all respects with the traditions and practice of feudalism.
Then, three centuries later, came Buddhism, destined, not to overthrow either of its predecessors, but rather to supplement and in part amalgamate with them, and ultimately to play two distinct roles in Japan.
Into the hearts of the samurai and upper classes it never made its way as a religion.
But even to them, though its social and moral tenets and ideals were unacceptable-because out of harmony with the spirit and active practice of loyalty, and distinctions of property and caste, which formed the very mainstays of feudalism-it at least presented the attractions of an artistic and civilizing cult, teaching the beauties of nature, and supplementing exploits of arms by the achievements of the brush and the pen.
Thus, though the Samurai adhered to Confucianism, and therefore remained practically without a religion, they were content to tolerate Buddhism so long as it was not aggressively hostile to the ethics of feudalism.
But among the lower orders, on the other hand, the new creed fared much better.
To them it appealed by its gorgeous ritual and adjuncts, its imposing temples and splendid apparatus, its peaceful tone, and its tendency to soften the rigid spirit of caste.
Next, in the middle ages, came Christianity, the career and fate of which are well known to every reader of Japanese history.
Christianity failed, not from any original veto or hostility to its advent, but from the militant tactics of its propagandists.
These, by their indiscretion and mutual treachery, in time brought about its downfall.
In their hands it became a political engine, threatening the very integrity of Japan, and arousing the hostility of the feudal chiefs, by whom it was finally proscribed.
With its extirpation arose that Joi, or barbarian-expelling spirit, which made every Japanese patriot a stubborn disciple of the policy of national isolation.
Just as Christianity was hated, not for its own sake but as an instrument of political machinations, so foreigners were hated, not for their own sakes but as the propagandists of Christianity.
From this rapid survey of Japan's past in respect of religion and cult, it will at once be recognized how great a transformation has been effected by the events of recent years.
With the fall of feudalism fell also fully one half of the ground work of Confucianism.
With the removal, partly from necessity and partly by choice, of the barriers which had so long separated Japan from the outer world, disappeared also, in the nature of things, the anti-Christian prejudice that had erected them.
Foreign intercourse came to wear a friendly and altogether new aspect.
As for Japan herself, the spectacle which she presented was not that of a Pagan people, clinging obstinately to semi-barbarous systems, and harbouring prejudices inconsistent with the just treatment of Christians.
It was the spectacle of a nation not pledged to any form of religious creed, eager to welcome the philosophical, scientifc and juristic systems of the West, and unconsciously looking for an ethical code to replace that which, under the new impulse, had become little more than a dead letter.
Clearly the time and the conditions were exceptionally favourable to the success of those extensive measures of reform which were now undertaken by Japan's new rulers.
That the latter were strong in this conviction is apparent from the boldness of the their course.
That they were justified in it can hardly be disputed, looking at the rapidity and smoothness of their country'progress during the last 19 years.
But it also followed that the greater the success of the new order of things, the more offensive, humiliating, and even dangerous to Japan would become, year by year, the restrictions of treaties which shackled her in the chains of semi-isolation, and were applicable only to a barbarous or semi-barbarous race.
As means of communication of all kinds increased, the farce of confining foreign merchants within the limits of a half-dozen settlements on the coast would daily become more preposterous.
Such restrictions would also become more and more inoperative as ingenuity and enterprise were applied to their evasion.
Devices and pretexts would gradually be found for trading with the interior, living out of bounds, and holding real property in forbidden quarters.
In short, conditions and interests never contemplated by the treaties would be created, in spite of all safeguards, and Japan would at length find herself brought face to face with perils as threatening as those which have already reduced Egypt to a state of pitiable helplessness.
To Japanese statesmen-and to none more forcibly than to Count Inouye-these risks must have been long apparent.
It is little wonder, then, that the urgency of treaty revision has had for them a significance far deeper and more immediate than any which appears on the surface.
While recognizing and acting upon Japan's preparedness to assimilate the best products of Western civilization, they have also foreseen that the arbitrary and prolonged maintenance of international barriers having no foundation but the hypothesis of Pagan semi-barbarism must inevitably beget anomalies calculated to imperil the very independence of their country.
To the friends of Japan it must be a matter for regret, though hardly a matter for surprise, that the guarantees exacted by the foreign representatives were not framed in a more liberal spirit, and that the profound purposes of Count Inouye's policy could not be achieved without concessions from which the nation recoiled as an ordeal at once undeserved and unprofitable.
Going Back to Article List