Most persons in this country if they were asked what was the religion of the Japanese people would probably answer Buddhism. As a matter of fact, though Buddhism was introduced into Japan from Korea as far back as 552 A.D., it is not and never has been the preponderating religion in Japan. At the same time I quite admit that it has had a marked effect on the religious life of the people, and that it again has been influenced by the ancient Shinto (literally, "The way of the gods") belief of the Japanese people. This belief, a compound of mythology and ancestral worship, was about the first century largely encrusted by Confucian doctrines or maxims, mostly ethical, imported from China. Of the precise doctrines of Shintoism but little is even now known. It has apparently no dogmas and no sacred book. I am aware that there are the ancient Shinto rituals, called Nurito, and that in reference to them a vast amount of more or less erudite commentary has been written. The result, however, has not been very enlightening. I think that Kaemfer succinctly summed up the Shinto faith in reference to the Japanese people when he remarked, "The more immediate end which they propose to themselves is a state of happiness in this world." In other words, if this assertion be correct, Shintoism preaches utilitarianism. As to the origin of this religion there is very much the same uncertainty and quite as large an amount of theorising as is the case in reference to the Japanese race and language. The most generally received opinion is that Shintoism is closely allied with, if not an offshoot of, the old religion of the Chinese people prior to the days of Confucius. Originally Shinto was in all probability a natural religion, but, like all religious systems, it has developed or suffered from accretions until the ancient belief is lost in obscurity. The author of a now somewhat out-of-date book, entitled "Progress of Japan," asserts that the religion of the Japanese consists in a "belief that the productive ethereal spirit being expanded through the whole universe, every part is in some degree impregnated with it and therefore every part is in some measure the seat of the Deity; whence local gods and goddesses are everywhere worshipped and consequently multiplied without end. Like the ancient Romans and Greeks they acknowledge a supreme being, the first, the supreme, the intellectual, by which men have been reclaimed from rudeness and barbarism to elegance and refinement, and been taught through privileged men and women not only to live with more comfort but to die with better hope." Such a religion, however it may be described, seems to me to be in effect Pantheism.
When Buddhism was introduced into Japan the Buddhist priesthood seems to have made no difficulty about receiving the native gods into their Pantheon. Gradually the greater number of the Shinto temples were served by Buddhist priests who introduced into them the elaborate ornaments and ritual of Buddhism. The result was a kind of hybrid religion, the line of demarcation between the ancient and the imported faith not being very clearly defined. Hence perhaps the religious tolerance of the Japanese for so many centuries, even to Christianity when first introduced by St. Francis Xavier. About the beginning of the eighteenth century there was something akin to a religious reformation in Japan in the direction of the revival of pure Shintoism. For a century and a half subsequently Shintoism held up its head, and eventually, as the outcome of the Revolution of 1868, which marked a turning-point in the history of Japan, Buddhism was disestablished and disendowed and Shinto was installed as the State religion. Simultaneously many thousand of Buddhist temples were stripped of their magnificent and elaborate ornaments and handed over to Shinto keeping; but the downfall of Buddhism was merely of a temporary nature. Nevertheless Shinto is, ostensibly at any rate, still the State religion. Certain temples are maintained from public funds and certain official religious functions take place in Shinto edifices.
Buddhism, acclimatised though it has been in Japan for thirteen centuries, is still a foreign religion, but it has played, and to some extent still plays, an important part in the life and history of the nation, and it has, as I have said, materially influenced the ancient faith of Japan and in turn been influenced by it. I have no intention of describing, much less tracing, the history of Buddhism, whether in Japan or elsewhere. It is a subject on which many writers have descanted and in regard to which much might still be written. There is no doubt whatever that Buddhism as it exists to-day, whether in Ceylon, India, China, or Japan, is widely different from the religion of its founder. Many of its original doctrines were purely symbolical and poetical. These have been evolved into something they were certainly never intended to mean. That the principles of the Buddhist religion are essentially pure and moral no one who has any knowledge of it can deny. It preaches above all things the suppression of self, and it inculcates a tenderness and fondness for all forms of life. According to Griffis, "Its commandments are the dictates of the most refined morality. Besides the cardinal prohibitions against murder, stealing, adultery, lying, drunkenness and unchastity, every shade of vice, hypocrisy, anger, pride, suspicion, greediness, gossiping, cruelty to animals is guarded against by special precepts. Among the virtues recommended we find not only reverence of parents, care of children, submission to authority, gratitude, moderation in times of prosperity, submission in times of trial, equanimity at all times, but virtues such as the duty of forgiving insults and not rewarding evil with evil." This is a pretty exhaustive moral code, and though Buddhism has often been taunted with the fact that its followers do not practically carry out its precepts and live up to the level of its high moral teaching, Buddhism is not, I would suggest, the only religion against which such taunts can be levelled.
The history of Buddhism ever since its introduction into Japan has been an eventful one. It has had its ups and its downs. It came into the country under royal auspices, it has nearly always enjoyed the royal favour, and I think its existence, during at any rate the first few centuries it was in the country, has been due to that fact rather than to any pronounced affection on the part of the mass of the people for it. One Emperor, Shirakawa by name, is recorded to have erected more than 50,000 pagodas and statues throughout the country in honour of Buddha. Many of these works are still, after many centuries, in an excellent state of preservation, and are of deep interest not only to the antiquarian but to any student of the religious history of a nation. The Buddhist priests, like the Jesuits in European countries, during many centuries captured and controlled education in Japan and showed themselves thoroughly progressive in their methods and the knowledge they inculcated. Art and medicine were introduced under their auspices and, whatever one may think of, or whatever criticism may be passed on the religion itself, it is impossible, in my opinion, to deny that Buddhism on the whole has had a vast and, I venture to think, not an unhealthy influence on every phase of Japanese national and domestic life. The strength and weakness of Buddhism have undoubtedly lain in the fact that it possessed and possesses no dogmatic creed. It concerned itself almost entirely with self-mastery, self-suppression, the duty of doing good in this world without looking forward to any reward for the same in the next. It preached benevolence in the true meaning of that word in every shape and form. It taught that benevolence was the highest aspiration of a noble spirit. Benevolence was, indeed, the master virtue, the crown, the coping stone, of all virtues. As the term is used in Buddhist teaching, it may be regarded as the synonym of love and a close study of the teaching of Buddhism on this subject must impress any thinking man strongly with the idea that it was very much the teaching of Christ in reference to the love of one's neighbour. Buddhism in Japan at any rate has not been conservative; it has gone the way of most religious systems, has been subject to development and has evolved from time to time different sects, some of which have held and preached dogmas which would, I think, have astounded, and I feel certain would have been anathematised by, the founder of Buddhism. The principal of the sects now existing in Japan are the Tendai, Shingon Yoko and Ken, all of which, I may observe, are of Chinese origin. Besides these there are the Shin and the Nichiren evolved in Japan and dating from the thirteenth century. Respecting the metaphysics of Buddhism and their effect on the Japanese people I cannot, I think, do better than quote from that great authority on all things Japanese, Mr. Basil Hall Chamberlain, whose writings have done so much, not only to awaken an interest in Japan but to give correct ideas respecting the life of the people. He remarks, in this connection, "The complicated metaphysics of Buddhism have awakened no interest in the Japanese nation. Another fact, curious but true, is that these people have never been at the trouble to translate the Buddhist canon into their own language. The priests use a Chinese version, the laity no version at all nowadays, though to judge from the allusions scattered up and down Japanese literature they would seem to have been more given to searching the Scriptures a few hundred years ago. The Buddhist religion was disestablished and disendowed during the years 1871-4--a step taken in consequence of the temporary ascendency of Shinto. At the present time a faint struggle is being carried on by the Buddhist priesthood against rivals in comparison with whom Shinto is insignificant: we mean the two great streams of European thought--Christianity and physical science. A few--a very few--men trained in European methods fight for the Buddhist cause. They do so, not as orthodox believers in any existing sect, but because they are convinced that the philosophical contents of Buddhism in general are supported by the doctrine of evolution, and that this religion needs therefore only to be regenerated on modern lines in order to find universal acceptance."
The "Reformation" of 1868 in Japan followed much the same course in regard to religious matters as the Reformation in England. It laid vandal hands on Buddhist temples and ornaments of priceless value. The objective point of this religious Reformation was presumably very much the same as that which occurred in this country, viz., a reversion to simplicity in religion. The Shinto Temple which is invariably thatched is a development of the ancient Japanese hut, whereas the Buddhist Temple, which is of Indian origin, is tiled, and as regards its internal fittings and ornamentation is elaborate in comparison with the plain appearance of the Shinto edifice.
So far as the Japan of to-day is concerned these two religions may be regarded as moribund, although their temples are still thronged by the lower classes of the people. They exist because they are there, but they have no vitality, no message for the people, and it is questionable whether any of Japan's great thinkers or the educated classes in the country, whichever religion they may nominally belong to, have faith or belief in it. A man may have, or for sundry reasons profess, a creed in Japan as in other countries without believing in it. Custom and prejudices are as strong there as elsewhere, and it is often easier to appear to acquiesce in a religion than to openly reject it.
There are, I know, some optimistic persons who believe, or affect to believe, that Christianity is in due course destined to replace the ancient faiths in Japan. They point to what was effected by St. Francis Xavier in the sixteenth century, and they imagine that the Japan of the twentieth century is only waiting to finally unshackle itself from Shintoism and Buddhism before arraying itself in the garb of Christianity. Well, Christian missions have had a fair field in Japan for many years past, and though many members of those missions have been men of great piety, zeal, and learning, they have made comparatively little headway among and have exercised extremely little influence on the mass of the Japanese people. Indeed, the fair field that all Christian missions without distinction have had, in my opinion, accounts for the small amount of progress they have made. Because all the leading Christian denominations are there--Roman Catholicism, Church of England, Greek Church, Congregationalists, Methodists, Baptists, Salvation Army, Society of Friends, and others--all preaching and proclaiming their own particular dogmas and all lumped together by the Japanese under the generic title of Christians. The Japanese may, I think, be excused if he fails to differentiate between them. He views and hears their differences in dogma. He observes that there is no bond of union, and frequently considerable jealousy among these numerous sects. Each claims to preach the truth, and the Japanese concludes that as they cannot all be right they may possibly all be wrong. It is only on this assumption that it is possible to account for the little headway made by Christianity in Japan in view of the labour and money devoted by different religious bodies to its propagation for many years past. There is, let me add, no marked hostility to Christianity in Japan--only indifference. The educated Japanese of to-day is, I believe, for the most part an agnostic, and he views Shintoism, Buddhism, Christianity alike, except in so far as he regards the first two as more or less national and the last as an exotic.
At the commencement of the seventeenth century the Japanese Christians are stated to have amounted in numbers to one million. At the present time it is doubtful if they total up to one hundred thousand. And this despite the splendid religious organisations that exist, the facilities that are given for the propagation of the Christian faith, and the opportunities which were certainly not in existence three hundred years ago. Into the causes of this comparative failure of Christianity in Japan to-day as compared with its marvellous progress in the sixteenth century, I do not propose to enter. The enthusiasm of a Francis Xavier is not an everyday event, and the Japanese of the sixteenth century was, mayhap, more impressed by the missionaries of those days, arriving in flimsy and diminutive vessels after undergoing the perils and hardships of long voyages, having neither purse nor scrip nor wearing apparel except what they stood up in, than he is by the modern missionary arriving as a first-class passenger in a magnificent steamer and during his residence in the country lacking none of the comforts or amenities of life. Or it may be that the Japanese mind has advanced and developed during the past three centuries, has now less hankering after metaphysical subtleties, and fails to comprehend or to sympathise with abstruse theological dogmas and doctrines. If Christianity appealed to him as in the days of Francis Xavier as the one faith professed by the Western world, it would probably impress him to a far greater extent than it does at present when, as I have before said, he views Christianity as a disorganised body composed of hundreds of sects each rejecting, and many of them anathematising, what the others teach. He considers there is no need for investigation until Christianity has itself determined what is the precise truth that non-Christian countries are to be asked to accept.
Regarding the influence of the Buddhist and Shinto religions during the many centuries they have existed in the country on the lives of the people, I propose to make a few remarks. Too often one hears or reads of speakers and writers describing Japan as a country steeped in paganism and addicted to pagan habits and customs with all (somewhat indefinite this!) that they involve. To describe Buddhism as paganism merely shows a lamentable amount of ignorance; nor should I be inclined to include Shintoism in a term which, whatever its precise meaning, is invariably intended to be opprobrious! After all, any religion must be largely judged by its effects on the lives of its adherents, and judged by that standard I do not think, as regards the Japanese, either Buddhism or Shintoism ought to be sweepingly condemned. If many of the customs and practices of both religions seem silly or absurd; if either or both inculcate or lead to superstition, it can at least be said of both that they teach a high moral code, and that the average Japanese in his life, his family relations, his philosophy, his patriotism, his bodily cleanliness, and in many other respects, offers an example to other nations which deem themselves more highly civilised, which possess a purer religion and too often, with that lack of charity which is frequently the result of an excess of ignorance, unsparingly condemn the Japanese as "pagans" or "heathens."
[Illustration: A CHERRY BLOSSOM PARTY FROM A PRINT BY HIROSHIGE]
THE CONSTITUTION--THE CROWN AND THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
A Constitution, if we are to accept the dogmatic assertions of those who have written with a show of learning on the subject, ought to be evolved rather than established by any parliamentary or despotic act. The history of the world certainly tends to prove that paper Constitutions have not been over-successful in the past. There assuredly has been no lack of them in the last century or so, and although some, if not all, of them have been practically tried, a very few have attained any considerable measure of success. The English Constitution has long been held up to the rest of the world by writers on Constitutional history as a model of what a Constitution ought to be, for the somewhat paradoxical reason that it is nowhere clearly, if indeed at all, defined. It is largely the outcome of custom and usage, and it is claimed for it that on the whole it has worked better than any cut-and-dried paper Constitution would have done.
Nevertheless there does not appear to be any good and valid reason why a Constitution should not be as clearly defined as an Act of Parliament. Undefined Constitutions have worked well at certain periods when there was a tacit general consent as to their meaning, but they have not always been able to withstand the strain of fierce controversy and the coming into existence of factors which were undreamt of when these Constitutions were originally evolved, and definitions or additions or amendments thereto have, accordingly, become necessary.
The promulgation of a Constitution for Japan in February, 1889, was an event of great interest to the civilised world. There were, of course, at the time a large number of persons who prophesied that this Constitution would go the way of many others that had preceded it--that it would, in fact, be found unworkable and, being so found, Constitutional Government in Japan would eventuate, as it had elsewhere, in the resumption of autocratic rule as the only alternative to anarchy. It is pleasing to be able to record that these prophecies have, after nearly eighteen years' experience, not been fulfilled, and that the Japanese Constitution, well thought out and devised as it was, seems not only likely to endure but is admirably adapted to all the circumstances and needs of the country.
In order to fully comprehend the events that gradually led up to the establishment of Constitutional government in Japan, and the precise place of the Crown and aristocracy in that government, it is, I think, essential to make a rapid review of past events in that country.
In ancient times the Mikado was both the civil ruler and the military leader of his people. Under him there were exercising authority throughout the land about 150 feudal lords. Feudalism of one kind or another prevailed in Japan until 1868. Towards the end of the sixteenth century the feudal principle was apparently on the decline. In the year 1600, however, Tokagawa Iyoyasu, with an army composed of the clans of the east and north defeated the combined forces of those of the west and south at the battle of Sakigahara and proclaimed himself Shogun. The feudal lords of the various clans throughout the country then became his vassals and paid homage to him. The Tokagawa family practically governed the country till the Revolution of 1868, when the present Emperor took the reins of government into his own hands and finally abolished feudalism and with it the authority of the Daimios. Many persons even now believe that the Shogun, or Tycoon as he was usually called in Europe, was a usurper. As a matter of fact he received investiture from the Mikado, and his authority was, nominally at any rate, a derived one. At the same time there is no doubt that the real power of the State was in his hands while the de jure ruler lived in the capital in complete seclusion surrounded by all the appanages and ceremonial of royalty.
Up to the year 1868 Japan was divided into numerous provinces governed by Daimios, or territorial lords, each of whom maintained large standing armies. They were all subject to the Shogun, while retaining the right to rule their particular provinces in ordinary matters. In 1868 the Shogun fell, and there can be little doubt his fall was to some extent brought about by the concessions which had been made to foreign Powers in regard to the opening of the country to foreign trade. In 1868 the Shogun repaired to Kyoto, the first time for 250 years, and paid homage to the Mikado. Feudalism was then, as I have said, abolished, the Emperor took the reins of authority into his own hands, formed a central Government at Tokio and reigned supreme as an absolute monarch.
"The sacred throne was established at the time when the heavens and earth became separated." This has long been an axiom of Japanese belief, but it has been somewhat modified of late years, even the assertion of it by the Sovereign himself. A leading Japanese statesman who has written an article on the subject of the Emperor and his place in the Constitution has asserted that he is "Heaven descended, sacred and divine." I do not think that the modern Japanese entertains this transcendental opinion nor, indeed, do I find that the Emperor himself has of late years put forward any such pretensions. For example, in the Imperial proclamation on the Constitution of the Empire on February 11, 1889, the Emperor declared that he had "by virtue of the glories of our ancestors ascended the Throne of a lineal succession unbroken for ages eternal." Whereas in the Imperial Rescript declaring war against China on August 1, 1894, he contented himself with asserting that he was "seated on a Throne occupied by the same dynasty from time immemorial." The italics are mine, and the difference in the pretensions which I desire to emphasise is certainly remarkable.
When granting a Constitution the Emperor, as has been and probably will be the custom of all monarchs so acting, declared that the legislative power belonged to him but that he intended to exercise it with the consent of the Imperial Diet. The convocation of the Diet belongs exclusively to the Emperor. It has no power to meet without his authority, and if it did so meet its acts and its actions would be null and void. In this respect the Diet is on precisely the same basis as the English Parliament. According to the Constitution the Emperor, when the Diet is not sitting, can issue Imperial ordinances which shall have the effect of law so long as they do not contravene any existing law. The article authorising these ordinances defines that they shall only be promulgated in consequence of an urgent necessity to maintain public safety or to avert public calamities, and all such ordinances must be laid before the Diet at its next sitting, and in the event of the same not being approved they become null and void.
To my mind, one of the most interesting portions of the Constitution is that which lays down succinctly and tersely the rights and duties of Japanese subjects. In this section there are contained within about fifty lines the declaration of innumerable rights for which mankind in various parts of the world during many hundreds of years fought and bled and endured much suffering. Just let me mention a few of them. No Japanese subject shall be arrested, detained, tried or punished unless according to law. Except as provided by law the house of no Japanese subject shall be entered or searched without his consent. Except in the cases provided by law, the secrecy of the letters of every Japanese subject shall remain inviolate. The right of property of every Japanese subject shall remain inviolate. Japanese subjects shall enjoy freedom of religious belief. Japanese subjects shall enjoy liberty of speech, writing, publication, public meetings and associations. Japanese subjects may present petitions. We have in these few brief provisoes the sum total of everything that, in effect, constitutes the liberty of the subject.
The Diet of Japan, like the Parliament of Great Britain, consists of two Houses--a House of Peers and a House of Representatives. The House of Peers is composed of (1) the members of the Imperial family, (2) Princes and Marquises, (3) Counts, Viscounts and Barons who are elected thereto by the members of their respective orders, (4) persons who have been specially nominated by the Emperor on account of meritorious service or by reason of their erudition, (5) persons who have been elected, one member for each city and prefecture of the Empire, by and from among the taxpayers of the highest amount of direct national taxes on land, industry, or trade, and who had subsequently received the approval of the Emperor. It will be seen that the members of the Imperial family, the Princes and Marquises, have an inalienable right to sit in the House of Peers, the latter rank on attaining the age of 25 years. In regard to Counts, Viscounts, and Barons there is no such right. Those ranks, like the Peers of Scotland and Ireland, meet together and select one-fifth of their number to represent them in the House of Peers for a term of seven years. Any subject over thirty years of age nominated by the Emperor for meritorious service or erudition remains a life member. Those returned by the cities and prefectures remain members for a period of seven years. It is provided by the Constitution that the number of members of the House of Peers who are not nobles shall not exceed the number of the members bearing a title of nobility.
The question of the necessity for the existence of a second chamber and the composition thereof has been keenly debated in this and other countries of recent years. It seems to me that in this matter Japan has hit upon the happy mean. She has combined in her House of Peers the aristocratic or hereditary element in a modified degree with the principle of life membership by which she secures the services and counsel of the great intellects of the land, and such as have done the State good service in any capacity. At the same time she has not excluded the representative element from her second chamber--a fact which must largely obviate any possibility of the House of Peers becoming a purely class body. A second chamber so constituted must obviously serve an extremely useful purpose in preserving an equilibrium between political parties, in preventing the rushing through and passing into law of hastily considered measures. For the composition of her second chamber, Japan has taken all human means possible to obtain whatever is representative of the stability, the intellect, the enterprise and the patriotism of the country.
The composition of the House of Representatives, which answers to our House of Commons, is as interesting as that of the Upper Chamber. When the Constitution was first promulgated the principle of small electoral districts obtained, one member being elected for each district. This system was found or believed to be faulty, and hence, after some years' experience, large electoral districts combined with a single vote have been instituted. It may be interesting to relate that both systems, the large and the small districts, were drafted by an Englishman, Mr. Thomas Hair. Cities whose population exceeds 30,000 are formed into separate electoral districts while a city with less than 30,000 inhabitants is, with its suburbs, constituted a district. The number of members allowed to each district depends on the population. For a population of 130,000 or under one member is allowed, and for every additional 65,000 persons above the former number an additional member is allotted. The number of members in the House of Representatives is 381, or little over half that of which our House of Commons consists. The population of the two countries is almost identical, and experience serves to show that the number of Members of Parliament in Japan is sufficiently numerous for all practical purposes and that any material addition thereto would be more likely to impede than to accelerate the wheels of legislative progress. Neither the Japanese Constitution nor the Electoral Law makes any provision for the representation of minorities, that aim of so many well-meaning persons in different countries. In Japan the majority rules as everywhere, and minorities must submit.
Manhood suffrage is not yet a fait accompli in Japan. Under the present law to qualify a Japanese subject to exercise the franchise he must pay 15 yen (about 30s.) or more, indirect taxation. Only a Japanese subject can vote at elections. No foreigner has any electoral rights, but if he becomes a naturalised Japanese subject he obtains all the privileges appertaining to that position.
Each House of Parliament in Japan possesses a president and vice-president, who are elected by the members. The president of each House receives an annual allowance of 4,000 yen (about £400) and the vice-president 2,000 yen (about £200). The payment of Members of Parliament is in vogue in Japan. The elected and nominated, but not the hereditary, members of the House of Peers, and each member of the House of Representatives, receives an annual allowance of 800 yen (about £80). They are also paid travelling expenses in accordance with the regulations on the subject. It may be interesting to state that there is a clause in the Constitution which enacts that the president, vice-president, and members of the two Houses who are entitled to annual allowances shall not be permitted to decline the same! It says much for the estimate of patriotism entertained in Japan when the Constitution was promulgated that such a clause as this should have been considered necessary.
Debate in both the Japanese Houses of Parliament is free and the proceedings public. There will be no occasion for the uprising of a Wilkes in Japan to obtain permission to publish Parliamentary Debates. The Constitution, however, contains a proviso for the sitting of either House with closed doors upon the wish of the president or of not less than ten members, the same being agreed to by the House, or upon the demand of the Government with or without the consent of the House. When in the former event a motion for a secret sitting is made, strangers have to withdraw from the House and the motion is voted on without debate. The proceedings of a secret meeting of either Chamber are not allowed to be published.
The Japanese Constitution, which is certainly a document containing not only provisions of an epoch-making nature but most elaborate details in regard to even minor matters, includes in seven or eight lines one or two excellent rules in regard to what is termed "The Passing of the Budget." Under these rules, when the Budget is introduced into the House of Representatives the Committee thereon must finish the examination of it within fifteen days and report thereon to the House, while no motion for any amendment in the Budget can be made the subject of debate unless it is supported by at least thirty members.
The Constitution of Japan, as I have remarked, contains a vast amount of detail. The framers of that Constitution seem to have been endowed with an abnormal amount of prevision. In fact they foresaw the possibility of occurrences and made provision for those occurrences that nations which are, or which consider themselves to be, more highly civilised have not yet taken any adequate steps to deal with. For example, Article 92 of the Constitution enacts that in neither House of Parliament shall the use of coarse language or personalities be allowed, while Article 93 declares that when any member has been vilified or insulted either in the House or in a meeting of a Committee he shall appeal to the House and demand that proper measures shall be taken. There shall, it is decreed, be no retaliation among members. The Constitution also contains several salutary regulations in reference to the disciplinary punishment of members.
The establishment of a Parliament in Japan has produced parties and a party system. I suppose that was inevitable. In every country there is, and as human nature is constituted there always will be, two parties representative of two phases of the human mind: the party in a hurry to effect progress because it deems progress desirable, and the party that desires to cling as long as possible to the ancient ways because it knows them and has had experience of them and looks askance at experiments--experiments for which that somewhat hackneyed phrase a "leap in the dark" has long done service. I have no intention, as I said in the Preface, of dealing at all with Japanese politics. There is no doubt a good deal of heat, and the resultant friction, evoked in connection with politics in Japan as elsewhere. Perhaps this young nation--that is, young from a parliamentary point of view--takes politics too seriously. Time will remedy that defect, if it be a defect. At the same time, I may express the opinion that, however severe party strife may be in Japan, and though the knocks given and received in the course thereof are hard and some of the language not only vigorous but violent, the members of all parties have at heart and as their objective point the advancement of Japan and the good of the country generally.
The Japanese Constitution, though not a very lengthy, is such an all-embracing document that in a hurried survey of it, it is possible to overlook many important features. It provides for the establishment of a Privy Council to deliberate upon important matters of State, but only when consulted by the Emperor. It enforces the responsibility of the Ministers of State for all advice given to the Emperor and decrees that all laws, Imperial ordinances and Imperial rescripts of any kind relating to affairs of State, must be countersigned by a Minister of State. The Constitution also defines the position, authority, and independence of the judges. That Constitution contains a proviso all-important in reference to the upright administration of the law, a proviso which it took years of agitation to obtain in this country, that no judge shall be deprived of his position unless by way of criminal sentence or disciplinary punishment. All trials and judgments of the court of law are to be conducted publicly. Provision is made, when there exists any fear of a trial in open court being prejudicial to peace and order or to the maintenance of public morality, for the same to be held in camera. I may add, before I take leave of the Constitution, with a view of showing how all-embracing as I have said are the various matters dealt with therein, that it defines and declares that the style of address for the Emperor and Empress shall be His, Her, or Your Majesty, while that for the Imperial Princes and Princesses shall be His, Her, Their, or Your Highness or Highnesses.
In regard to no matter connected with Japan have I found so large an amount of misconception prevalent as in reference to the position of the Emperor of that country. The divine descent which is still sometimes claimed for the sovereigns of Japan and which has never, so far as I know, been officially repudiated, has caused some persons to regard the Emperor from a somewhat ludicrous standpoint. In this very prosaic and materialistic age, when very few persons have profound beliefs on any subject, the spectacle of one of the sovereigns of the earth still claiming a divine origin is one that appeals to the ludicrous susceptibilities of that vague entity "the man in the street." It is not well, however, that people should criticise statements in royal proclamations or in royal assertions too seriously. Even in this country there are documents issued from time to time bearing the royal sign manual which every one regards as interesting but meaningless formalities--interesting because they are a survival of mediæval documents which meant something some hundreds of years ago and still remain though their meanings have long since lapsed. And yet there are persons in this country who peruse such documents and know that they are simply words signifying practically nothing, who severely criticise the assertion of a long-used title by the Japanese Emperor upon issuing a royal proclamation. I am not aware whether his Imperial Majesty or his Ministers of State implicitly accept his divine descent, but this I do know--that those persons who regard the present Emperor of Japan as a State puppet, arrogating more or less divine attributes, are labouring under a profound delusion. There is no abler man in Japan at the present moment. There is no abler man among the sovereigns of the world. In fact, I should be inclined to place the Emperor of Japan at the head of the world's great statesmen. He is no monarch content to reign but not to govern, concerned simply about ceremonial and the fripperies and gew-gaws of royalty. He is a constitutional sovereign certainly. He has always shown the deepest respect for the Constitution ever since its promulgation, and never in the slightest degree attempted to infringe or override any portion of it. At the same time he is an effective force in the Government of Japan. There is nothing too great or too little in the Empire or in the relations of the Empire with foreign Powers for his ken. He, in a word, has the whole reins of government in his hands, and he exercises over every department and detail of it a minute and rigid supervision which is, in my opinion, largely responsible for the efficiency of the internal administration of the country as also for the place that Japan holds among the Great Powers of the world.
I cannot leave a consideration of this subject without referring to the assistance rendered to the Emperor by, as also to the debt Japan owes to, some six or seven great men in that country whose names I shall not inscribe here because to do so would be to some extent invidious, several of whom do not, as a matter of fact, hold any formal position in the Government of the country. The wisdom of these men has been a great boon for such a country as Japan, and if she is not now as sensible of it as she ought to be future ages will, I feel sure, recognise the debt that Japan owes to them. Some persons with an intimate knowledge of Japan have told me that it is not, after all, a constitutional State but in effect, though not in name, an oligarchy. This word has in the past often had unpleasant associations, and one does not like to apply it in reference to the Government of a progressive and enlightened country. Still the word strictly means government by a small body of men, and if in those men is included the larger part of the wisdom of the country, and they exercise their power solely and exclusively for the benefit of the country, I am not certain that such a form of government is not the best that could be devised. Of course, humanity being as it is, an oligarchy, has its dangers and its temptations. I will say, however, of the wise men of Japan, the men to whom I have been referring and who whether in office or out of office have exercised, and must continue to exercise, a marked and predominant influence on the government of the country, that their patriotism has never been called in question, and no one has at any time suggested that they were influenced by self-seeking or other unworthy motives, or had any aspirations save the material and moral advancement of Japan and her elevation to a prominent position among the Great Powers of the world.