Affairs in Japan
Tokio, Oct. 28, 1889
When discussing in my letter of the 21st inst., the late brutal attempt on Count Okuma's life, I referred briefly to certain squalls of discontent that have been brewing during the last few months in the political atmosphere of Japan, and I indicated that these had their origin in that ever-seething caudron of trouble, the Empire's foreign relations.
The truth is that, notwithstanding the cordial welcome with which the acceptance, first by America and then by Germany, of Count Okuma's new scheme of treaty revision was greeted, as I explained in former letters, by the nation at large, thorns sown since that time in the path of the Government by a few agitators, at first perhaps for purely party purposes, have grown into what now threatens to become a barrier of ugly and somewhat unmanageable dimensions.
It must, of course, seem at first surprising, and even unintelligible, that there should really have arisen in Japan itself any appreciable antagonism to the very excellent treaty programme which was set on foot by the Emperor's negotiators ten months ago, and which has already reached a stage, as far as the Western Powers are concerned, within sight of early and happy achievement.
Has Japan, then, so soon repented her of her ways?
Has the oft-foretold spirit of reaction set in?
These are questions which will at once occur, and which it is well to answer at this point before describing the chief features of the agitation.
The broad answer is that, while the srife of party politics undoubtedly has much to do with the present state of affairs, and while something must also be set down to the temperament of the people, the only opposition that at all partakes of a reactionary character is limited to a small and bigoted section, influenced chiefly by motives of sefishness.
The reasons put forward and maintained by the great bulk of the objectors show that in their opinion, so far from its being expedient for Japan, to withdraw or retrograde, the real bugbear is that the provisions of the new treaties-whose terms, by the way, have only been known to the public here since June last - fall short of that degree of equal treatment which the country has a right to expect.
That such a cry, once raised, should run like wildfire among this proud and excitable people is a matter less of surprise than of regret to those who know them best.
There is in reality very little in the present dillemma to cause astonishement when the circumstances of the hour and of the situation are taken into account.
The occasion, nevertheless, furnishes an interesting illustration, not only of the extraordinary rapidity with which the force of public opinion is at this opoch making heed in Japan, but of the untoward issues that were only to be expected from the endless wrangles and delays which have beset the whole weary question of the treaties.
It is not too much to say that the programme now being cavilled at would have been passed with acclamation two years ago.
To understand further the causes which have helped to create the present situation it is necessary to bear a few other points in mind.
The Japanes are, in the first place, a highly mercurial and impulsive race.
Secondly, the spirit of independence which characterizes a certain stratum - and that the most active politically - of the people, coupled with the old ties of clanship, nowadays manifests itself in a marked degree in the breaking up of the middle and upper classes of society into a number of political associations, just great enough to hinder the formation of any really commanding party, while at the same time powerful enough individually or in groups to obstruct and harass a Ministry.
Thirdly, any great Government measure of the present day is apt to be hindered by the caprices of what is often called Japanese fickleness - a trait which, though it undoubtedly exists at this epoch, cannot, if history is a guide, be taken as belonging to the original character of the nation, but must rather be regarded as newly born of all the violent upheavals and changes of the last two or three decades.
Fourthly, there is that power of public opinion, growing daily in scope and strength, to which I have referred in previous letters.
No longer have foreign diplomatists a handful of Ministers only to deal with.
Behind these there is now a large and watchful nation, and with that nation, a redundant Press, divided, like the people themselves, into many political factions.
And, few as are the newspapers whose writers can be said, for all their zeal and intelligence, to exhibit a high critical faculty, it cannot but be that, educated by this ubiquitous and absurdly cheap Press, the people at large are ever being made better acquainted with the position and rights of their country, vis-a-vis the rest of the civilized world, from a Japanese point of view; and that, as this knowledge grows, they become more impatient of delay, and more critical and exacting as to the terms of Japan's admission into the comity of Western States.
Lastly, it has been notorious for some time past that there was a want of perfect harmony in the Cabinet itself - a circumstance which, though the points of difference are understood to have had but little, if any, relation to the treaty problem, was previously a very helpful factor in the cause of the malcontents without.
Such has been the condition of men and things in this country at any time during the last few months.
I pass on to state briefly the outcries, practically three or four in number, that have been raised on the treaty question.
The most important and perhaps most respectable of them all is that which protests against the proposed employment of foreign Judges to administer Japanese law in cases where foreigners are concerned.
Two objections, one technical, the other sentimental, are urged against that proposal.
As to the former, it is alleged that such a step would involve a violation of the nineteenth article of the Constitution, which provides that "Japanese subjects may, according to qualifications determined in laws or ordinances, be appointed to civil or military offices equally, and may fill any other public offices."
This, say the objectors, not only conveys but absolutely limits the rights of office to Japanese subjects, inasmuchas the bestowal of appointment, such as the Judgeships, on foreign subjects even by special legislation (which would of course be essential), for a limited period, and for the attainment of a special national object - would necessarily curtail the rights conveyed by Constitution to the subjects of Japan.
Hence, in the opinion of these critics-who seem to be unable to distinguish between the equal eligibility of Japanese subjects to office which apparently all that the clause implies, and the right of monopoly, which is expressed - the alternative is that the foreign Judges should themselves be naturalized, a course evidently open to exception.
To the sentimental objection, on the other hand, more respect and sympathy are due, even though it be somewhat illogical.
Every one can understand that the spectacle of an alien Judge administering Japanese Law from the Japanese bench, in respect of Japanese subjects, and in the name of the Japanese Emperor, is little likely to be welcome to a proud and sensitive race, even though they know that it is but a temporary sacrifice in exchange for which their country acquires concessions of such vastly greater weight as an unfettered tariff and judicial autonomy.
Where sentiment enters, however, practical considerations are apt fo disappear, and it then becomes intelligible enough that Japanese should be found ready to protest against even this minor form of curtailment of the Empire's Sovereign rights, and to maintain that, if Japan is to come to terms at all with the Western Powers, it must be by some process free from, such a humiliating condition as the appointment of alien Judges to her Courts of law.
The second class of dissentients comprises those who apparently will be content with nothing less than absolute unfettered equality in the country's foreign relations.
And of the ideas of this party are rather chimerical than practical, they at least furnish an interesing index of the mood that has grown out of long delay, long pondering, and perhaps some knowledge of that which in the game of poker is called "bluffing".
Thirdly, there are the antagonists who, without being reactionary in the sense of wishing to undo any part of that which Japan has done during the last 20 years, now profess to see a spectre of evil to the country, in an economical sense, in the prospect of the free admission of foreigners.
"Japan for the Japanese" is the cry of this party, a party reckoning in its ranks those conservative folks who believe that their own interests will be best safe-guarded, by keeping things as they are, and in whose timid minds the dread of foreign competition is a veritable and ever-present nightmare.
Whatever the age of this creed, its apostles have never till now succeeded, in obtaining a hearing.
But the present is the palmy time for all grumblers, however, unpractical may be the grounds of their discontent.
Japanese susceptibility has been growing in strength ever since, on breakdown of the Treaty conference in 1887, the nation learned the degree of recognition which foreign Powers were prepared to bestow on Japan's long years of patient effort, conciliation, and even partial self-effacement.
And out of the bitterness thus engendered has grown a new association the Kokusui-Hozon-To, or party for the preservation of Japanese qualities, have watched the too iconoclastic tendencies of modern Japan, has, in the temper of the present time, absorbed into its ranks elements that are alike unworthy of itself and decidedly obstructive to progress.
Meantime the dissolution of the Cabinet, long expected, has taken place.
The signal for the break-up was given by Count Ito, who tendered resignation to the Emperor on the 11th inst., and ten days later the rest of the members, Count Okuma, of course, excepted, resigned in a body, after a vain attempt to lead Count Ito to reconsider his decision.
By this step they may be held to have admitted their joint responsibility for the present state of political ferment, as well as their inability to carry on the affairs of the realm, owing to internal friction among themselves.
It is not expected that the changes of portofolios will be many.
All that is yet known is that Count Kuroda has been succeeded in the post of Minister Presdent of State by Prince Sanjo, formerly a noble of the Court at Kioto, who took a leading part in the Emperor's restoration in 1868, and afterwards held for many years the office of Daijo-Daijin, or Chancellor of the Empire, until, upon the recognition of the fabric of the Government which took place at the end of 1885, he accepted the post of Keeper of the Seals.
Beyond this all is conjecture.
But that the new Cabinet will have some very stiff work before it, and be ill-able to afford at this juncture especially, to be deprived of the services of more than a minimum of the experienced statesmen hitherto in office, is self-evident to every watcher of Japanese affairs.
As to the course the Government will take in respect of the treaty question, there is room for much interesting speculation.
It is now and indeed has been for some time, inevitable that the date fixed for bringing the three already concluded treaties into operation-barely the 11th of February next must be delayed.
But what then?
Will the Cabinet proceed with the remaining negotiations on Count Okuma's lines, braving their present hubhub of public opinion in the matter? Or will they drop the whole treaty question till some indefinite future time, meanwhile leaving things as they are?
Or will they make a bold effort to obtain from the Powers some relaxation of the condition relating to foreign Judges, which is the core that most rankles in the minds of so many of the people?
My own opinion - but it is no more than an opinion-, is that they will adopt the last of these courses, and that there need be no very serious difficulty in devising a method of solution which would be counted acceptable by both sides in the negotiation.
Further, I believe that, if the difficulty as to the Judges were removed, with its removal, would also disappear the political clouds now hanging over Japan.
The great point is, how would the Powers-England especially - be disposed to view any proposal providing an alternative for the foreign Judges?
Diplomatists, it is to be hoped, would succeed in finding some exit from the situation.
At least they would not fail to weigh well the new facts and aspects of the case, and to consider whether inflexibility on a point that has proved to be so hurtful to Japanese pride could not be made to give place to some expedient, which, while removing the sting of encroachment on the nation's sovereignity, would at the same time embody all necessary safeguards for the administration of justice where foreigners and their interests are concerned.
Inflexibility at such a juncture, could but have one of two results - either the total failure of all these years of negotiation, or success of such a doubtful kind that our admission to the interior would be handicapped from its very outset by the umbrage and dislike of a mortified and unwilling people.
The Times - Dec.27
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