THE arrival in this country of an embassy from Japan, the first political delegation ever vouchsafed to a foreign nation by that reticent and jealous people, is now a topic of universal interest. It is well understood, that, by the efforts of the government of the United States, the traditional policy of Japan, which for more than two hundred years forbade all freedom of intercourse with the surrounding world, has been so effectively subverted that its reëstablishment is now impossible. Within eight years the barriers of Japanese seclusion have been removed, and the extreme prejudice against foreign communications almost obliterated. That this has been accomplished with a prudent and just regard for the rights and feelings of this singular race, the appointment of an embassy to the particular government which first successfully invaded its long cherished privacy abundantly proves.
The countries of Japan and China, and everything directly concerning them, have always claimed a peculiar consideration. Their self-imposed isolation, the mystery with which they have sought to surround themselves, the extraordinary habits and character of the people, the evidences of an earlier civilization in China — formerly supposed also to have extended to Japan — than is recorded of any other existing nation, account for the curious attention that has been bestowed upon them. Although now known to be entirely distinct, the Chinese and Japanese, by reason of the similarity of their occupations, customs, religion, written language, dress, and so forth, were for along time looked upon as kindred races, and esteemed alike. Probably even at this time popular appreciation makes little distinction between the two countries. But since the necessities of commerce have recently compelled a somewhat vigorous interference with their seclusion, we begin to get a clearer understanding of the subject. We find, that, while, on close examination, the imagined attractions of China disappear, those of Japan become only more definite and substantial. The old interest in China is transferred to its worthier neighbor; for, in spite of all Celestial and Flowery preconceptions, it is impossible to view with any sincere interest a nation so palsied, so corrupt, so wretchedly degraded, and so enfeebled by misgovernment, as to be already more than half sunk in decay ; while, on the other hand, the real vigor, thrift, and intelligence of Japan, its great and still advancing power, and the rich promise of its future are such as to reward the most attentive study. Its commanding position, its wealth, its commercial resources, and the quick intelligence of its people— not at all inferior to that of the people of the West, although naturally restricted in its development — give to Japan, now that it is about to emerge from its chrysalis condition, and unfold itself to the outer world, an importance far above that of any other Eastern country.
We propose to relate, with necessary brevity, what is most important of the little that is known of this interesting people. All records bearing upon the subject are imperfect, and the best of them are more profuse in speculation and surmise than in solid fact. The information possessed has been drawn bit by bit from the reluctant Japanese. The difficulties of investigation have been almost insurmountable,— no visitor, during two hundred years, having been allowed the slightest freedom of association with the people, or opportunity for travel. With very few exceptions, foreigners have been confined to the extremest limit of the islands, and forbidden even to leave the coast; and in no case has any disposition been shown to satisfy the curious demands of those who have attempted to break through the national reserve.
The origin of the Japanese is still involved in obscurity, and the date of the settlement of the islands is unknown. The boldest theory is, that a tribe proceeded thither directly from the land of Shinar, at the division of the races. In support of this, the purity of the Japanese language, which, in its primitive form, bears very slight affinity to any other tongue, and the evident dissimilarity of the people to those of any other Asiatic country, are adduced. The more general belief is, that the Japanese are an offshoot of the Mongol family, and that their emigration to these islands was at so remote a period that tradition has preserved no recollection of it. The favorite idea, that the first settlements were by Chinese, has long been set aside, except by the Chinese themselves, whose custom is to claim the origin of everything, and who still assume to consider Japan as a sort of province under their dominion. The fact is, that, to the Japanese, a Chinaman is the most worthless and contemptible object in Nature. The Chinese have, however, a fanciful legend in which they find an irresistible argument upon their side of the question. A certain Emperor, they say, seeking to prolong his life, demanded of the court physician an elixir of immortality. The physician modestly declared his ignorance of any such preparation, but, after receiving a significant hint, involving the loss of his head, recollected himself, and acknowledged that an herb of immortality did certainly exist, but that its delicacy was so rare it could be properly culled only by the most chaste hands. He thus succeeded in securing three hundred brave young men, and the same number of virtuous young women, whose twelve hundred chaste hands were at once consecrated to the plucking of the magical plant, which was declared to grow only in the islands of the sea. Once out of the Emperor’s reach, all thought of the particular duty in hand was instantly abolished, and superseded by a successful effort to establish a new nation, which in time resolved itself into Japan.
This, although satisfactory to the Chinese, fails to convince less credulous investigators. While the Japanese and Chinese have, perhaps, more common characteristics than can be readily explained with our present knowledge of them, yet no fact is better demonstrated than that they are wholly distinct races. There is an opinion, for which there is reasonable ground, that one of the earliest rulers of Japan was a Chinese invader, who founded the dynasty of the Mikados, or Spiritual Emperors ; but, if this were so, it is evident that the conquerors must have mingled with the native inhabitants, and soon lost their identity. This would in a measure account for the prevalence of certain Chinese habits and customs in Japan.
The question of Japanese origin remains yet undecided. Its earlier history, previous to the year 660 B. C., is mostly fabulous. There are the usual legends of dignitaries in close relationship with every member of the solar system, who were accustomed to reign an indefinite number of years, — generally some thousands. Beginning with 660 B. C., we have something authentic. At that time a warrior whose name signified “ the divine conqueror”—(the supposed Chinese invader) — entered Japan, and assumed the control of its destinies. He called himself “ Mikado,” and established his court at Miako, in Nipon, the largest of the group of islands, where he built temples and palaces, both spiritual and secular. Claiming to rule by divine right, he exercised the sole functions of the government, which, upon his death, descended to his heir, and thenceforward in direct order of succession. The Mikado, by reason of his superhuman dignities, was invested with a sanctity that gradually became irksome, shutting him out, as it did, from all fellowship with men, and compelling him to forego all familiar intercourse with even the highest nobles around his throne. Consequently arose the custom of abdication at a very early age by the Mikados, in favor of their children, for whom they acted as regents, circulating freely, upon their descent to mere mundane authority, with the rest of the court. By this course, however, the integrity of the government was weakened, and, dissensions arising, the stability of the throne was endangered by the aggressions of some of the more powerful princes. In the twelfth century, it happened that a Mikado, particularly alive to the vanities of the world, not only gave up his station to his son, then three years old, but also renounced the labors of the regency, which were intrusted to the infant monarch’s grandfather, whose first exercise of power was the immediate imprisonment of the abdicator. This was worse than had been bargained for, and a contest ensued, which terminated in favor of the ex-Mikado, owing to the valor of a young warrior prince named Yoritomo. The prisoner was released, and himself assumed the regency; but from that moment the strength of the Mikados was gone. Yoritomo, having demonstrated that his power was superior to that of the spiritual lord, demanded and obtained the rank and title of “ Ziogoon,”— General, or General-in-Chief. He at first divided with the Mikado the duties of the government, but by degrees succeeded in concentrating in himself the real supremacy. From him descended the temporal sovereignty of Japan, which has ever since overbalanced the spiritual authority, although the first nominal rank is still accorded to the Mikado.
In the year 1295, the existence of Japan was first announced to the Western world. Marco Polo, returning front his Asiatic travels, related all that he had learned of a vast island lying to the east of China, and even designated its position on his maps, He called it Zipangu, the name he had heard in China. This narration was not received with much credit, and was, until the sixteenth century, generally forgotten. It is a singular fact, that the record left by Marco Polo had a strong influence in deciding the convictions of Christopher Columbus, whose expectation in sailing from Spain was to discover the island spoken of by the Venetian voyager. But the ambition of Columbus was otherwise satisfied, and Japan was not visited by the representatives of any Western nation until the year 1543, or 1545, when a party of Portuguese, among whom was Ferdinand Mendez Pinto, were driven by a storm upon the coast, and forced to take shelter in the province ol Bungo, upon the island of Kiu-siu. The account of this visit, given by Pinto, is lull of interest, and, notwithstanding the questionable character that clings to his writings, is without doubt correct in almost every particular.
At the time when fortune threw these wanderers upon the Japanese coast, there was no disinclination to admit strangers, or to communicate with them in the most liberal manner. They were warmly received, and treated with great consideration. The same friendship appeared to animate both parties. The Portuguese made presents of arms and ammunition to the Japanese, who, with ready skill, soon discovered the methods of manufacturing others for themselves. The Japanese consented that Portuguese commerce should be introduced, and the King of Bungo authorized an annual visit, from a Portuguese ship. Thus commercial relations were established, and at the same time a religious mission, led by St. Francis Xavier, was despatched to Japan. The prospects of trade and the new principles of religion were welcomed with equal readiness. The visitors were restricted in no manner whatever. Converts to Christianity were almost without number. Whan Xavier departed from Japan, in 1551, ho left behind him thousands of ardent and enthusiastic professors of his faith, and a religious sentiment that promised speedily to extend its influences throughout the land.
The government openly encouraged the diffusion of Christianity. The Ziogoon Nobanunga, who then reigned, having been importuned by native priests to expel the foreign missionaries, inquired how many different religions there were in Japan. “ Thirty-five,” was the reply. “ Well,” said he, “ where thirty-five sects can be tolerated, we can easily bear with thirty-six. Leave the strangers in peace.” Some of the most powerful princes espoused the Christian religion, and about the year 1584, a mission, consisting of two young Japanese noblemen, attended by two counsellors of less rank, was sent to Rome by the subordinate kings of Bungo and Arima, and the Prince of Onlura, in testimony of the devotion of those rulers. The people themselves hastened to the new faith with such zeal as to win the warmest affections of all the missionaries who went among them. Xavier wrote of them, “ I know not when to cease, in speaking of the Japanese; they are truly the delight of my heart.”
So long as the mild teachings of Xavier and his Jesuit band prevailed, the cause of Christianity advanced and prospered. But their field of labor was soon invaded by multitudes of Dominicans and Franciscans from various Portuguese settlements in Asia. By the persistent exercise of their best faculties for mischief, these friars succeeded without much delay in working irreparable injury where their predecessors had eflected so much good. They quarrelled, first among themselves, and then with the Jesuits, until their strifes became the mockery of the people. The native priests of the Siutoo and Buddhist religions took advantage of this state of tilings to make a bold stand against the spread of the new doctrines. They organized a force in the dominions of Omura, destroyed a Jesuit settlement and church, and marched about in open rebellion against the authority of the Prince. This movement, however, was checked without difficulty, and the insurgents were overthrown in battle. The church was rebuilt at the place now known as Nagasaki, which, an inferior village at that time, soon became the centre of Portuguese commerce, and grew to great importance among Japanese cities. But the friars continued their intrigues and tumults, in spite of the growing contempt shown by the Japanese. Many of the Rouian clergy, moreover, assuming too great confidence in their easily gained power, began to defy the usages of the country, and to adopt airs of superiority quite at variance with the notions of the inhabitants upon that subject. At the commencement of this altered condition of affairs, the Ziogoon Nobanunga, who certainly was not unfavorably disposed to the Christians, was assassinated, and his office and rank, after a series of violent struggles, which lasted five years, fell to a man of humble origin, but great talents, named Fide-yosi. This person had in his youth served Nobanunga in the most menial capacity, but, owing partly to his remarkable abilities, and partly to the circumstances which threw the succession into so much confusion, he contrived to place himself, in the year 1587, at the head of the nation. He then married the Mikado’s daughter, and assumed the name of Taiko-sama, with a view, perhaps, of dissociating himself as completely as possible, in his exaltation, from the obscure individual Fide-yosi, with whom, otherwise, he might not unnaturally be confounded.
The new Ziogoon cared very little for the operations of the Christians, while they kept themselves free from interference in the political affairs of the country, and respected its customs. But the offensive spirit of the Portuguese laity was not to be repressed. Their manners grew more intolerable, from year to year. In time the progress of conversion almost ceased, and yet the Portuguese, blind to danger, disdained to retrace their steps. At length the Ziogoon, having journeyed through that part of the country mostly under Christian influences, suddenly determined to rid himself of so dangerous an element, and issued an order for the expulsion of all missionaries throughout the empire. This was resisted by some of the converted nobles, and particularly by the young prince of Omura, whose obstinacy was punished in a very summary way,— the Ziogoon seizing upon the port of Nagasaki, and transferring it to his own immediate government. On paying a heavy ransom, however, the prince was permitted to resume authority in Nagasaki, and Taiko-sama, busily occupied with more important affairs of state, neglected to enforce his decree of expulsion, and left the Christians undisturbed for some years, until a new evidence of affront once more aroused his indignation against them.
A Japanese nobleman and a Portuguese bishop, riding in their sedans, met, one day, on a high-road of Nagasaki. The duty of the bishop, according to the law of the country, was to alight and respectfully recognize the nobleman. But, instead of doing this, he refused to tarry, and even turned his head to the other side. Full of wrath, the nobleman made bitter complaint to the Ziogoon, who from that time turned Ins heart more resolutely than ever against the presumptuous and insolent foreigners. He again assumed the direct government of Nagasaki, and was about to adopt more vigorous measures, when he unexpectedly died, leaving the Christians a few remaining years of probation.
Taiko-sama was undoubtedly the greatest monarch that ever reigned in Japan. He succeeded in bringing for tire first time into complete subjection the numerous powerful princes who had previously held an almost undivided sway in the larger provinces. By this means he consolidated the strength of the nation, and was enabled to undertake some very brilliant conquests. A letter sent by him to the Portuguese viceroy of Goa shows his own estimate of his power, and his general opinion of the insignificance of the external world.
“ This vast monarchy,” he wrote, “ is like an immovable rock, and all the efforts of its enemies will not be able to shake it. Thus not only am I at peace at home, but persons come even from the most distant countries to render me that homage which is my due. Just now I am projecting the subjugation of China; and as I have no doubt that I shall succeed in this design, I trust that we shall soon be much nearer to each other..... As to that which regards religion, Japan is the kingdom of the Kamis, that is to say, of Xim, which is the principle of everything..... The [Jesuit] fathers are come into these islands to teach another religion ; but as that of the Kamis is too well established to be abolished, this new law can only serve to introduce into Japan a diversity of religion prejudicial to the welfare of the state. That is why I have prohibited, by imperial edict, these foreign doctors from continuing to preach their doctrine. ..... I desire, nevertheless, that our commercial relations shall remain upon the same footing.”
In regard to the religion of Japan, which Taiko-sama lucidly and felicitously expounds by pronouncing it the religion “ of the Kamis, [Princes, or Nobles,] that is to say, of Xim, which is the principle of everything,” it may be assumed that the Ziogoon had little thought of any theological troubles that might arise. His apprehensions were purely of a political nature. It is related that the captain of a Spanish man-of-war, in attempting to explain the secret of the vast colonial possessions of Spain, incautiously told Taiko that the introduction of Christianity into heathen nations was the first step, and the only difficult one, conquest naturally and easily following. Such an avowal was not likely to be lost upon so acute a mind as Taiko’s, and it may very probably have been one of the immediate causes which induced his extreme hostility to the diffusion of Christianity.
Taiko’s warlike declarations were by no means vain boasts. He did invade China, and spread such terror among the timid Celestials that they yielded him all possible submission, giving him a number of Corean provinces, a daughter of their Emperor in marriage, and the promise of an annual tribute to Japan, in token of Japanese supremacy. The tribute not appearing at the proper time, the Ziogoon immediately despatched a few armies to the Corea and again destroyed the Celestial balance of mind. These forces, however, were soon after recalled, in consequence of Taiko-sama’s death.
During the first year of the reign of his successor, Ogosho-sama, the Dutch appeared in Japan. A fleet of five ships, sent from Holland by the Indian Company, had been dispersed in the Pacific, and, sickness breaking out among the crews, only one ship remained. On board was an English pilot, a man of some education, named William Adams, who suggested visiting Japan, which was finally decided upon. In April, 1600, the Dutch vessel anchored in the harbor of Bungo, and the crew were cordially received by the people. But they found formidable enemies in the Portuguese and Spaniards of Nagasaki, who assailed them with the most unjust aspersions, and endeavored in every way to turn the prejudices of the Japanese against them. Notwithstanding this, however, the Dutch were kindly treated, although never permitted to leave the country again, on account of the suspicions aroused by the imputations of the Portuguese. William Adams was taken in charge by the Ziogoon himself, who found the Englishman so valuable and instructive a person that he would never hear of his leaving the imperial presence.
In 1609, other Dutch ships came to Japan, and, the scruples of the Ziogoon having been set at rest, commercial relations were entered into. The Dutch established a factory at Firando, in opposition to the Portuguese factory at Nagasaki. A rivalry arose, heightened by the political and religious feud between the nations, which was actively carried on for a number of years. The Portuguese at first beset the Ziogoon with importunities for the expulsion of the Dutch; but Ogosho-sama, in the most catholic spirit, intimated, that, if devils from hell should take a fancy to visit his realm, they should be treated like angels from heaven, so long as they respected his laws.
In the midst of the jealous struggles of Dutch and Portuguese, came a new application for Japanese favor. In June, 1613, a vessel, despatched for the purpose by the English government, arrived at Firando, bearing letters and presents from King James I. to the Ziogoon. These were graciously received, and a commercial treaty of the most favorable character was at once negotiated. Among other not less important privileges, the Ziogoon gave to English merchants the following: — “Free license forever safely to come into any of our ports of our Empire of Japan, with their ships and merchandise, without any hindrance to them or their goods; and to abide, buy, sell, and barter, according to their own manner with all nations ; to tarry here as long as they think good, and to depart at their pleasure ”; also, “ that, without other passport, they shall and may set out upon the discovery of Jesso or any other port in or about our Empire.” The Ziogoon also sent a letter, assuring the English monarch of his love and esteem, and announcing that every facility desired in the way of trade would be gladly granted, even to the establishment of a factory at Firando. A settlement was accordingly made at that place, and commercial communications were continued until about 1623, when they were voluntarily abandoned by the English. It appears that their affairs were less successful than those of the Dutch, who were stationed at the same port; but, whether from their own misapprehension of the kind of merchandise needed for Japan, or from the opposition of their rivals, who sought, in this case as in others, to secure for themselves the monopoly of trade, is uncertain.
For some years after the departure of the English, the contests between the Portuguese and Dutch grew more bitter and violent, and the arrogance of the Portuguese more unbearable, until at length, in 1637, the climax of their offences was reached, and the affections of the Japanese rulers, which, but for their own follies, would always have been with them, were turned into the most unrelenting hatred. The Portuguese, not content with the great privileges they already enjoyed, formed a conspiracy with certain of the native Christian princes to depose the Ziogoon, overturn the government, and take the power into their own hands. Letters containing the details of this plot were discovered by the Dutch, and straightway sent to the monarch. The statement has been made by Spanish writers, that this conspiracy had no existence excepting in Dutch invention, and that the proofs of guilt were all forged for the purpose of more completely destroying the Portuguese; but the evidence is too strong to be overthrown by any such allegation. The result was, that imperial edicts were immediately put forth, enjoining the expulsion of all Portuguese from the islands, and the utter extirpation of the Christian religion. For nearly two years there was a series of the most terrible persecutions. The Portuguese were at length banished, and the native converts who rose in rebellion against the decree were slaughtered by thousands, the Dutch themselves coöperating in the work of destruction. The history of these massacres is one of the most remarkable that the annals of Christianity can show. It stands forever, an ineffaceable record, covering with shame those pretended disciples of the religion of Christ, who by their reckless and wicked course uot only invited their own destruction, but compelled that of thousands of innocent fellow-beings, and interrupted for centuries the progress of the cause they had so poorly essayed to promote.
It is thus evident, that, for the system of seclusion which during nearly two hundred and fifty years was closely adhered to, the Japanese themselves are in no degree to be blamed. The fault lay with the representatives of two refined and enlightened nations, who, by a persistent career of selfish folly and pride, covered themselves with the deserved reproach of a people to whose untutored apprehension such extraordinary principles of civilization appeared unworthy of cultivation. That the Japanese were at first amiably and liberally disposed toward foreigners, their frank admission of the Portuguese, Spaniards, Dutch, and especially of the English, amply shows. Until constrained for their own safety to do so, they took no step toward interfering with the almost unlimited privileges they had granted. It is, indeed, difficult to condemn their course, when we consider the enormity of their provocation, and the dangers to which they believed themselves exposed. If Christianity has suffered, the errors of those who misrepresented it were the cause. How soon it may be possible to again attempt its introduction is doubtful; for, of all foreign evils, the Japanese look upon Christianity as the worst, viewing it simply as the covert means of conquest, and reducing to submission those over whom its influences extend.
Beyond the removal of their rivals, the Dutch had little upon which to congratulate themselves in this movement. The monopoly of trade was theirs, but with the most degrading and humiliating conditions. They were obliged to give up their factory at Firando, and take a new station upon the small island of Desima, in the harbor of Nagasaki. To preserve even the most limited intercourse with the Japanese, they were forced to relinquish .all sense of dignity and selfrespect. The history of their relations with Japan, for the past two hundred years, is a continual record of absolute contempt and pitiless constraint on the one hand, and the most abject and disgraceful servitude on the other.
During the excitements which followed the expulsion of the Portuguese, a second effort to enter Japan was made by the English; but, owing, it is supposed, to the interference of the Dutch, this attempt was wholly unsuccessful. In 1673, the East India Company despatched another vessel, which was also received with distrust. The Japanese had learned, through the Dutch, that the English king, Charles II., had allied himself by marriage to the royal family of Portugal. On this account, and on this only, the Japanese declared that no English ship could be admitted. Two other equally fruitless attempts were made in 1791 and 1803. In 1808, an English ship of war, by showing Dutch colors, gained entrance to the port of Nagasaki, where, instead of peaceably deporting himself, the captain began by capturing the Dutch officials who came on board, and setting at defiance the requisitions of the Japanese. This English ship had been cruising after the Dutch traders, England and Holland being at war at the time, and, failing to meet them, the captain concluded they had eluded him, and sought them at Nagasaki. A plan to attack the ship and burn it was devised by the Japanese, but before it could be carried out the Englishman had sailed. Conscious that his dignity was forfeited by this invasion, the Japanese governor of Nagasaki, notwithstanding he was in no wise censurable, in pursuance of the national custom, immediately destroyed himself, and his example was followed by twelve of his subordinate officers. The garrison of Nagasaki was reinforced, and the most warlike attitude was assumed by the inhabitants, who are noted for their courage. The affair caused great indignation, and is yet remembered to the discredit of the English. In 1813, only five years later, a somewhat similar stratagem was employed by the English. It was an ingenious scheme on the part of the English governor of Java, which had, within a few years, been ceded to England. The independence of Holland had ceased, and the governor of Java undertook, by despatching English vessels under the Dutch flag, to secure the trade which Holland had alone enjoyed. But the Dutch director at Desima refused compliance, and the plan fell through. Three other ventures, all resulting in the same way, were made by the English in 1814, 1818, and 1849.
Of other European nations, Russia alone has sought to secure a position and influence in Japan. The proximity ot the islands to the Siberian coast, and the fact that they lie directly between the American and Asian possessions of that nation, render it important that Russia should forego no opportunity to extend its relations in this direction. It does not appear, however, that much has been accomplished. About the year 1780, a Japanese junk was wrecked upon an island belonging to Russia. The crew were taken to Siberia, and there detained ten years, after which an attempt was made to return them to their homes. They were conveyed in a Russian ship to Hakodadi, on the island of Yesso, but were refused admission, on account of the edict issued at the time of the Portuguese expulsion, forbidding the return of any Japanese after once leaving the country. In 1804, a second mission was sent by the Emperor Alexander I., with the purpose of effecting a treaty of some sort; but the ambassador, whose name was Resanofl, commenced operations by disputing points of etiquette with the Japanese, who, in return, treated him with more courtesy than ever, and insisted upon paying all his expenses while in their country, but sent him away unsatisfied. Enraged at his failure, Resanofl’ despatched two armed vessels to the Kurile Islands, where, under his directions, a wanton attack was made upon a number of villages, the inhabitants being killed or taken prisoners, and the houses plundered. This was an offence not to be forgiven ; and when, in 1811, Captain Golownin was despatched by the Russian government to make renewed applications, he was captured by stratagem, with one or two attendants, and imprisoned for several years. But he was always treated with kindness, and was finally released, without having received the slightest injury. He was intrusted, when sent away, with a message to the Russian government, setting forth the impossibility of any understanding between the two nations.
Previous to the expedition of Commodore Perry, few efforts to intrude upon the Japanese had proceeded from the United States. An unsuccessful attempt was made in 1837, by an American merchantman, to return a party of Japanese who had been shipwrecked on our Western coast. In 1846, Commodore Biddle was deputed to open negotiations, and entered the Bay of Yedo with two ships of war. Receiving an unfavorable answer to his demands, he immediately sailed away. In 1849, Commodore Glynn, having learned of the imprisonment of sixteen American sailors, who had been driven ashore on one of the Japanese islands, entered the harbor of Nagasaki with the United States ship Preble, and demanded the release of his countrymen. For a time a disposition was shown to evade his claim and to affect ignorance of the alleged captivity; but upon bis assuming a bolder and more determined tone, the native officials became suddenly conscious of the state ot affairs, and forthwith delivered up the seamen. Commodore Glynn then set sail, and until the visit of Commodore Perry, in 1853, the tranquillity of Japan was disturbed by no American intrusion.
It may be observed, that, of the nations which up to this time had undertaken to effect communications with Japan, all excepting the United States had given reasonable cause for offence, and some of them for deep enmity. The Dutch, though disliked, were tolerated ; but the Portuguese, Spanish, English, and Russians had forfeited the good opinion of the islanders by their unprovoked and unjustifiable aggressions. It is not improbable that the selection of the United States for their first foreign embassy may have been induced by the consideration that the relations between the Japanese and their American neighbors have always been pacific, and that they have never suffered injustice or ill-treatment at our hands.
Meanwhile, until 1852, the Dutch had held exclusive commercial privileges in Japan. In return for these, they submitted to all sorts of indignities. They were restricted to the narrow limits of the artificially constructed island of Desima, which is only six hundred feet in length, and two hundred and forty in breadth. Here they were confined within high fences fringed with spikes. Their houses were all of wood, no stone buildings being permitted, undoubtedly with a view to preventing the slightest chance of fortification. At the northern extremity of the island was a large water-gate, which was kept continually closed, under a guard, except upon the arrival of the Dutch vessels. These restrictions were in great part continued almost to the present day, and many of them are still in force. On the arrival of a Dutch ship, all the Bibles on board Were obliged to be put into a chest, which, after being nailed down, was given in charge of the Japanese officials, to be retained by them until the time of departure. All arms and ammunition, also, were required to be given up. The crew, on landing at Desima, were placed under rigorous surveillance, which was never relaxed. Even the permanent Dutch residents received but little better treatment. They were unable to make any open avowal of the Christian religion, and the Japanese officers who came in contact with them were Compelled to make frequent disavowals of Christianity, and publicly to trample the cross, its symbol, under foot. The island of Desima was infested with Japanese spies, whom the Dutch were required to employ and pay as secretaries and servants, while knowing their real office. If a Dutch resident aspired to occasional egress from his prison, it was necessary to petition the governor of Nagasaki for the privilege. As a general thing, the application was granted, but with such conditions as to destroy all possibility of enjoyment; lor, upon appearing in Nagasaki, the unfortunate Dutchman was set upon by a band of spies and policemen, who accompanied him wherever lie turned, and who were always pleasantly inviting themselves to be entertained at his expense,—a proposition which he was not at liberty to decline. These spies gradually got into the habit of taking with them as many of their acquaintances as they could gather together, until the cost ot a stroll about Nagasaki became too heavy to be endured. But there was no remedy ; he must either pay or stay at home; and even upon these extravagant terms, he was not allowed to enter any Japanese house, or to remain within the city after sunset. For the rare favor of visiting the residence of a native Nagasakian, a special petition was needed, and if granted, the number of spies on such an occasion was multiplied at a most appalling rate. The Dutch were, moreover, forbidden the companionship of their own countrywomen, and only the most degraded female class of Nagasaki "were allowed to visit them. In every way they were forced to acknowledge their inferiority and undergo deprivations and mortifications, lor which, let us hope, they succeeded in finding some compensation in the scant privileges of their trade.
At length the time arrived when the reluctant Japanese were to be taught the uselessness of further efforts to resist the advances of other nations. In November, 1852, an expedition, long contemplated and carefully prearranged, set sail from the United States under the command of Commodore M. C. Perry. Although this mission was the subject of much discussion abroad, no very general hope of its success was expressed. The opinion appeared to be, that, under all circumstances, Japan would still continue locked in its seclusion. The result proved how easily, by the exercise of firmness, prudence, and energy, all of which Commodore Perry displayed in every movement, the much desired end could be accomplished. The secret of two hundred years was solved in a day. The path once opened, there were plenty to follow it: Russia, England, and France were quick to share the benefits which had in the first place been gained by the United States. But thus far the best fruits of Japanese intercourse have fallen to the United States, and it seems clear that only a continuance of the same ability hitherto shown in the management of our affairs with that nation is needed to preserve to this country the superior advantages it now holds.
On the 8th of July, 1853, Commodore Perry, with two steamers and two sloopsof-war, entered the Bay of Yedo, having purposely avoided the port of Nagasaki, at which all strangers had previously been accustomed to bold communications with the government. In this, as in other movements, the Commodore acted independently of much opposing counsel. By first visiting the Loo-choo and Bonin islands, which are under Japanese control, and mostly peopled by Japanese, he had acquired a considerable knowledge of the character of those with whom he was to deal, and had been enabled to trace for himself a policy which the result proved to be eminently just and effective. He determined boldly to insist upon, rather than to beseech, the privileges he had been deputed to gain. Understanding perfectly the vexatious and embarrassing expedients by which the Japanese had been accustomed to hamper and resist the endeavors of even the best-disposed of their visitors, he resolved to listen to no suggestions of delay, and to push vigorously forward with his mission, in spite of every obstacle their wily ingenuity could oppose to him. Their assumptions of exclusiveness and superiority he met by precisely the same sort of display, allowing no familiarity on the part of the natives until all was definitely settled as he desired, and intrenching himself in a mysterious seclusion which rather exceeded even their own notions of personal dignity. Until one of the first noblemen in the nation was sent to treat with him, the Commodore shunned all intercourse with the people, and systematically refused to expose himself to the profane eyes of the multitude. I his unusual course took the Japanese quite by surprise, and, not without some feeling of trepidation, they bestirred themselves with unexampled alacrity to satisfy, so far as they were able, his reasonable demands. Of course it was impossible for them to set aside all their prejudices, and the record of their schemes to impede the Commodore’s progress, all of which were quietly overcome by his firmness and decision, is equally amusing and instructive.1 At the moment of his entering the Bay of Yedo, he was surrounded by guard-boats, and saluted with various warnings of peril, which might have deterred a less resolute man. But, wholly indifferent to Japanese guard-boats, he sent out his own for surveying purposes without hesitation, taking it for granted that perfect fearlessness would secure the crews from molestation. In answer to the remonstrances received at the outset, he simply pushed still farther up the hay, until, finding it impossible to obtain compliance with their requirements, the Japanese concluded to yield to his; and after as much hesitation as the Commodore thought proper to give them opportunity for, the letters from President Fillmore were received by the Emperor, or Tycoon,2 negotiations were opened, and, finally, a treaty, yielding all the important points that had been asked for, was agreed upon. This treaty proclaimed “ a perfect, permanent, and universal peace, and a sincere and cordial amity,” between the two nations ; designated certain ports where American ships should obtain supplies; promised protection to American seamen who should chance to be shipwrecked on the coast; and contained the important stipulation, that no further privileges should be vouchsafed to any other government except on condition of their being fully shared by the United States.
The communications between Commodore Perry and the Japanese were carried on in the most friendly manner. While the Commodore allowed no interference with what he regarded as his own rights in the case, he was careful to check any disposition on the part of his officers to defy those of the islanders. Thus the utmost cordiality was preserved throughout. The Japanese received the presents from the American government with delight, and were quite overcome at the sight of the steam-engine and the magnetic telegraph. A series of agreeable entertainments followed the signing of the treaty, in which the Japanese showed themselves especially alive to the civilizing influences of foreign cookery, and manifested a particular readiness of appreciation of such refinements as whiskey and Champagne, to whose beneficent influences they gave themselves up with ardor. Commodore Perry, on his departure, after freely visiting various Japanese ports, was intrusted with a number oi presents for the American government, and entreated to bear with him the assurance ot entire confidence and amity.
In August, 1853, subsequently to the arrival of Commodore Perry, a Russian squadron visited Nagasaki, but, after protracted negotiations, departed without obtaining a treaty. In September, 1854, Admiral James Stirling, on behalf of the English government, effected a treaty at Nagasaki, the terms of which were rather less liberal and advantageous than those granted to the United States. But the inevitable result of Commodore Perry’s success could not long be delayed. Since the time of his mission, the governments of France, England, Holland, and Russia have secured treaties guarantying important privileges. It appears, however, that the superiority of influence remains with the United States, owing, in a measure, no doubt, to the excellent abilities of the Consul-General, Mr. Townsend Harris, who has permitted no opportunity to escape of pressing the claims of his government. As early as July, 1858,lie negotiated a fair commercial treaty. Mr. Harris is the only foreigner who was ever permitted to enter the palace of the Tycoon of Japan without the degrading forms of submission formerly exacted from the Dutch. He was received there with every testimonial of respect. At a time when Mr. Harris was seriously ill, the Tycoon despatched his own physician to attend him, while her Majesty continually sent him the most delicate preparations of food, the work of her own imperial hands. The ease with which the missions of Lord Elgin and Baron Gros,3 in 1858, were accomplished, may fairly be attributed to the effects already produced by American influences. It was through Mr. Harris’s exertions that the Japanese embassy to this government was secured. The English government endeavored to obtain first this important mark of recognition, but, as it appears, unsuccessfully.
At the present moment, all seems favorable for the development of the long hidden resources of the Empire. But there are still difficulties in the way; for a powerful class of nobles, those who trace their descent from the ancient spiritual dynasty, are strongly opposed to the overthrow of the old system. It is only by constant struggles that the more progressive class can make way against them. The arrival of this embassy, and the recent visit of a Japanese ship to California, are hopeful signs; for these could have been permitted only on the abrogation of the old law of seclusion, proclaimed at the time of the Portuguese expulsion ; and such are the peculiar principles of the Japanese government, that, as will hereafter be shown, an important law like this cannot be revoked without a general change of its policy. Within the city of Yedo are now the representatives of three powerful nations, England, France, and the United States; others are seeking admission; and the period when Japan shall mingle freely with the world it has so long affected to contemn can hardly be long deferred.
In a future number we shall speak of the present condition of Japan, the forms of government, so far as known, its social state and prospects, and the character of the people, as represented in the embassy which is now receiving the hospitalities of our own government.
- The details are to be found in the Narrative of the Expedition, by Francis L. Hawks, D.D., LL.D., published by Congress at Washington, in 1856.↩
- As will be shown hereafter, the military functions of the temporal ruler long ago ceased, and the title of Tycoon has been substituted for that of Ziogoon.↩
- Mr. Oliphant’s account of Lord Elgin’s expedition (Narrative of the Earl of Elgin's Mission, etc., by Lawrence Oiiphant, Esq.) is one of the most valuable contributions from Japan. His observations, which at Yedo were more extended and unimpeded than those of any preceding visitor, are recorded in the most lively and charming manner. The history of the embassy of Baron Gros (Souvenirs d'une Ambassade en Chine et au Japon, par le Marquis de Moges) is less complete and entertaining, but by no means destitute of Interest.↩