Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 1, 1879
Mr. Bingham to Mr. Evarts.
Tokei, Japan, July 23, 1879. (Received September 1.)
Sir: I have the honor to inclose herewith a copy of an interesting letter from the pen of Mr. E. J. Reed, M. P., published by him in the London Times under date the 31st of May last, and reproduced in the Japan Daily Herald of the 21st instant.
The writer very significantly remarks that—
It is Great Britain and America that have wrought the deepest effects upon this ancient nation, now taking a high and worthy place among the civilized communities of the earth. * * * It is plain, however, although America has for the most part been singularly fortunate in her representatives of all kinds in Japan, the mind of the country, with its own ancient traditions, turns chiefly to this “land of old and just renown.”
* * * * * * *
I have, &c.,
Mr. Reed, M. P., on Japan.
To the Editor of the Times:
Sir: On leaving home in October last for Japan it was my intention (in accordance with a habit I have contracted in traveling) to offer you occasionally for insertion in the Times a letter setting forth some of the matters of interest which presented themselves abroad. On reaching Japan, however, I found everything so exceedingly novel and so entirely outside the range of one’s usual experiences in other countries, that I deferred for a time the attempt to offer you any remarks upon what I saw. Having now, however, completed a stay of several months in the couutry, during which I had unusual opportunities of studying it, I venture to offer a few general observations upon it. I should not do so even now were it not that the Whitsun holiday relieves your space of Parliamentary debates, while the treaty with Yakoob Khan and Sir Garnet Wolseley’s mission of peace have tranquilizer the public mind and afforded it leisure, to a portion of which Japan may well lay claim.
In my opinion, Japan is a country which the British people will take more and more into their regard just in proportion as they learn more and more of it. By the British people I do not mean those alone whose eyes are so intensely set on mere trade that they can see nothing else; I mean those also who regard and care for the imperial relations of Britain with other states, and those, too, whose interest is quickened by matters of art, science, religion, and social progress. Many foreigners besides our countrymen have taken a lively interest in Japan and favored her with their advice and assistance; but if we except the French impress which her army bears and the German characteristics of her medical schools and systems, it is Great Britain and America that have wrought the deepest effects upon this ancient nation, now rapidly taking a high and worthy place among the civilized communities of the earth. As Great Britain and America have a common language (with some odd, but minor differences), it is difficult to measure their respective influences upon Japanese life and institutions as they now exist. It is plain, however, that, although America has for the most part been singularly fortunate in her representatives of all kinds in Japan, the mind of the country, with its own ancient history and traditions, turns chiefly to this “land of old and just renown.” At both of the interviews which His Majesty the Emperor did me the honor of according me, I gathered from his words that the country and the people from which I came were present to his mind as he framed his kindly and gracious sentences, and daily intercourse with his ministers continually demonstrated that His Majesty’s sentiments were warmly shared by them. It must not be inferred from this that the political relations between the two countries are such as they ought to be. I may have opportunity hereafter to show that we are holding the Emperor of Japan and his ministers in a position which must occasion, and does occasion, ceaseless and unspeakable pain to them, without the smallest advantage to ourselves, and I am quite certain that when once the existing state of things becomes known to Parliament and understood by the country, its amendment will be sure to follow. Still, whatever causes of discontent the Japanese Government may have, and however pained they may be, their disposition is to respect and work with us, and if estrangement comes they will deeply regret it. It is characteristic of the refined manners of the Japanese that throughout my stay among them no mention of the painful part of their relations with us was ever made until my departure was at hand, and then only in reply to searching inquiries of my own.
The present condition of Japan and its future prospects cannot be in the least degree understood unless careful regard is had to its history, and more particularly to its history during the last few years. For the first thousand years of our era the Mikados of Japan were the real governors of the country; but from that time forward, down to our own time, a series of military chieftains successively held the Mikados in isolation and impotence, themselves conducting the actual government as they pleased. The last of these military usurpers, the Tokugawa family, held the governing power from 1603 down to 1868, and Keiki, its latest representative, although he resigned his high office of shogoon in November, 1867, made a desperate struggle for renewed power early in the following year, and only retired from the contest after the three-days’ battle of Fushimi had destroyed the hopes of his principal partisans. The Tokugawas had governed the country on a highly-organized feudal system, under which their vassals and retainers were the masters of the people. In the extremely brief space of the eleven years which have elapsed since the overthrow of this system, and in face of considerable uprisings in 1868 of the remaining partisans of the Tokugawas, and the formidable revolt of Saigo in 1877, the restored government of the Mikado or Emperor has covered the country with schools, in many of which English is taught; has established postal and telegraphic systems which would be creditable to any European country; has given perfect freedom to the person, and full security to property in every part; has organized a police system which not only performs its own [Page 654] duties efficiently, but greatly aided the troops during the revolt of Saigo in Satsuma; has provided and trained an army which is considered to be sufficient for all the purposes of the State, and bought and built a navy which would effectually debar any foreign minister from inflicting wanton injury upon its people, or from impulsively menacing the government with naval violence—things, both of them, far from unknown in Eastern waters. While accomplishing the foregoing objects the Government of Japan has had to incur and discharge great expenses incidental to the change of system from feudalism to freedom; because it wisely preferred to pension, as far as possible, the daimios and samurai whom it displaced, rather than be engaged with them in internal hostilities, which must have cruelly injured the innocent people. Yet, in spite of all, it has contrived to maintain its foreign credit unimpaired, having promptly met every pecuniary obligation outside of the country; and although, under the heavy exceptional pressures which I have named (to which several others might be added), its paper money is at present at a varying discount, the evil is being remedied by measures which must heartily commend themselves to us, viz, the reduction of expenditures in every department of the state and the simultaneous revision of its sources of revenue.
The great political and social change which has passed and is passing over Japan is very visible and full of interest to the visitor. In keeping the accounts of the state, for example, there is a curious mixture of Japanese and European systems, native characters being employed in the written parts in conjunction with Roman figures. After examining the books of the finance department, the naval accounts, &c., I feel sure that under the existing ministers the country will be allowed to benefit as rapidly as possible by the extended adoption of our methods. As regards outward appearances in the naval and military services there is but little beyond the faces of the officers and men to distinguish them from European forces. In the civil departments of the government there is a great mixture of European and native costumes, the native largely predominating. On one occasion I had the honor of dining with the cabinet and with two princes and princesses of the imperial house who occupy stations near to the throne. The dinner was a European one, and all the gentlemen dressed in European style; but the ladies wore the native costume. This was usually the case in the houses of the ministers; but the wives of those ministers who have traveled abroad wear European dress. Some of the ministers reside in European and some in native houses. In the great cities of the interior, such as Kioto and Osaka, there are extremely few Europeans to be seen, and almost the only European houses belong to them or to the government. In the barracks for troops and in some schools the old system of living has been changed for the new. In the ancient capital, Nara, I saw no European whatever, and but one European building, the government school; and the same is true of scores, I may say hundreds, of large cities and towns through which we passed.
I felt deeply interested in the education of the country, and visited the principal schools of most of the cities in which we staid. On one occasion, in the western capital of Kioto, I was asked by the American teacher of a girls’ school if I desired to hear the pupils read English, and was surprised to find that several of the native children read it with fair fluency. In a boys’ school of the same city a youth of fifteen stood up and declaimed Grattan’s “Eulogium upon William Pitt” in well-modulated tones, and with no imperfection of accent that his teacher was not responsible for. The great drawbacks to native education in Japan are its language and its caligraphy. The language is a complex hieroglyphic system, and the caligraphy a system of drawing or painting. Every schoolboy has to learn at least 1,000 different characters; in the elementary schools of the government 3,000 have to be taught. A man with pretensions to scholarship must be acquainted with about 10,000, and a very learned man with that number multiplied many times. My friend Captain Brinckley, R. A., of Tokei, a master of the Japanese language and the author of the first work written in Japanese by a foreigner, informed me: “It may be roughly said that a Japanese must devote at least ten years’ persistent and earnest study to the acquisition of his own language if he desires to possess a knowledge of it sufficient for the purposes of an educated man.” The mechanical art of handling the brush so as to paint the characters with skill and rapidity occupies no small part of a learner’s time. If our country could be induced to take a friendly interest in this beautiful far-off land of Japan, there is no good reason why the Anglo-Saxon tongue should not become the language of the country, which would be a better defense for it against Asiatic aggression than many ships and fortresses, and at the same time a great furtherance to that adoption of a common language which the colonial empire of England and the United States of America promise to the world. Unhappily, the learned men of Japan, having acquired their eminence by such laborious study, are averse to the adoption of an easier language, and so are many other Japanese conservatives. But their conservatism, like that of others, will be brushed aside by the omnipotence of natural forces. I feel satisfied that the general adoption in Japan of our language—which already appears upon its coinage and otherwise officially—would very greatly promote and quicken [Page 655] the development of the country; and, on the other hand, the retention of the present language will work incalculable mischief. Language is but an instrument, of course, and no student who has to devote ten years to its preparation can be expected to compete in literature or science with those who possess a language that can be acquired in a year or two.
The art of Japan, by which I here mean its drawing and painting, is undergoing marked changes. Derived originally from Corea and China, it has in the course of centuries undergone many changes of style, at first being merely employed for the decoration of palace, developing later into a means of depicting ceremonial dresses, and separating into various schools of what we understand by pictorial art. None are more ready than the Japanese to acknowledge, however, that all which the art of Japan can boast of in grace of outline, freedom of stroke, and delicacy of coloring is borrowed from the foreign sources before named. In the matter of perspective the influence of European art is now becoming strongly manifested. Until late years Japanese painting was so thoroughly and constantly defective in this respect that it was a safe principle to lay down that wherever the laws of perspective were correctly observed in a picture it could not be a true example of Japanese art. These laws are now, however, becoming studied and understood by Japanese artists, and I have seen many examples of considerable merit in this respect. In fact, one cannot but view with surprise the skill with which some of the younger artists of Japan are adopting European methods. I have possessed myself of several proofs and illustrations of this, of which I may mention a set of photographs of battle scenes taken from a series of pictures illustrative of the recent contests in Satsuma. They might be taken for the work of one of the most vigorous battle-painters of France, but are all from the hand of a Japanese artist, who has manifestly studied in Europe. I must confess, however, that I fear the influence of Europe upon Japanese art will not be wholly for its benefit, some of the most charming effects of Japanese painters being produced by arrangements and dispositions which are unknown to, and probably irreconcilable with, our European system.
In the matter of religion Japan presents a most interesting field of study. The ancient Shinto religion, which is probably purely indigenous, has been revived as the religion of the Emperor, and the marvel is how it ever became replaced by Buddhism at the imperial court. If we may credit the ancient records, or even if we subject them to all reasonable correction, we find that Shintoism was the only religion of the country for nearly a thousand years before Buddhism found its way across the sea from Corea, and it was in the traditions of the ancient religion that the empire itself was rooted. The first historical Mikado was supposed to be the direct descendant of the Sun Goddess, from whom were derived the proofs of his divine descent, the insignia of his authority, and the pledge of permanence for his dynasty. Yet some of the Mikados were among the earliest converts to Buddhism, although the people for a time resisted the introduction of the strange gods. My visit to the country has convinced me that the Christian religion is not making the progress there which other European systems are making, and that there are reasons why its progress will continue to be very slow indeed for some time to come. These reasons grow out of historic events. There was a time, in the sixteenth century, when the Roman Catholic missionaries of Spain and Portugal had gained no less than two million converts in Japan to their form of Christianity. This prosperity encouraged them to seek still further extension of their system by arts which were not uncommon in the days of the Spanish Inquisition, but which alarmed and irritated the men in power. The consequence was that the persecutions which in certain provinces had been practiced upon the Japanese who refused to become Christians were now put in play against those who had become converts, and hostility to the new religion, or rather to the new religionists, aggravated by the fear of the national independence being betrayed, resulted in a vast and pitiless attempt to exterminate Christianity altogether from the country. It is the memory of these days that forms the obstacle to the present spread of Christianity in Japan. If Christianity were now presented for the first time to the Japanese, it would probably have “a free course, run, and be glorified.” There is nothing in the Shinto faith to present any great or lasting obstacles to the simple religion of the Gospels; and even Buddhism, as it exists in Japan, in one of its principal sects, seems to offer a singular, and to me wholly unexpected, approximation toward Christian doctrine. I refer to the Shinshu sect, who believe and teach the doctrine of salvation by faith, although the object of their faith is, of course, other than the object of the Christian’s faith. I had considerable intercourse with the chief ecclesiastics of the Eastern and Western Shinshu churches, and learnt from them that the close resemblance of our religion to theirs supplies them with a lively hope of converting England to their faith. The existence of such a feeling, which will no doubt be largely reciprocated in this country, shows at least that the antagonism between the Buddhism of Japan and the religious doctrines of Europe is not nearly so pronounced as many might suppose. An indication of great impending religious changes in Japan is to be found in the fact that the temples are already the scenes of extremely [Page 656] free discussions between the priests and the people. A discussion which took place in August last at the temple of Shin-kai-zhi, at Shinagawa, Tokei, during a discourse by a priest on “Infinite Vision,” furnished an illustration of this. Numerous members of the audience interrupted and cross-examined the preacher, one of them saying, “All that the priesthood affirms on the subject of heaven and hell is a mere fabrication.” Even this rudeness was meekly endured by the priest, who answered with patience and temper the various disputants. Reserving further remarks for another letter, I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,