The Fate of a Japanese Reformer
FOR the last two decades the career of Japan has been startlingly acrobatic. Ever since 1868, when she made her great evolutionary somersault over the backs of six centuries, from a feudal state into the arena of modern life, she has been turning her whole social system topsy-turvy, in her haste to be fully abreast of the latter end of the nineteenth century ; and the rest of the world has wondered at the feat.
Unfortunately for this really remarkable performance, Dame Nature is not addicted to jumps herself, and objects to them in her offspring ; such lapse of continuity forming no part of the maternal scheme of education. In her domestic curriculum progress of the kind is inadmissible.
Not simply is development necessarily continuous, but different lines of life can only be linked while still relatively close. Nature never joins what time hath set too far asunder. We are witness to this in every-day physical reproduction. Extremes will not mate.
Symptoms of failure appear when the civilized weds with the savage. The savagery, however, is not in itself the bar. That it seems to be so is because, in most other cases of racial intermarriage, the couple are both of Aryan blood, and therefore cousins of no very distant degree. The real barrier consists, not in dissimilarity of customs, but in dissimilarity of descent. In other words, not the want of development of the one only, but the difference in development of the two, determines the fruitlessness of their connection.
A well-known foreign physician in Tokyo has found that among Eurasians, those, that is, half of European, half of Asiatic blood, the almost inevitable tendency is to the dying out of the family. In physique, the human gap between the opposite sides of our world is already too wide to be crossed. Yet anatomically the variance is trivial. A slight difference in the setting of the eye, one or two other variations, not more important, and you have the extent of the contrast. Psychically, the opposition is much more marked ; for it causes that strange inversion so striking to the one people in the other. If then in body, where science can detect so trifling a divergence, Nature finds an impassable gulf, what must her difficulty be in mind ! If intermarriage prove barren, will intercommunion of thought bear fiuit?
No such doubts, however, have disturbed Japan’s leading men. Quite oblivious to a possible impossibility, they have foisted foreign customs upon their country wholesale. The government has out-radicaled the radicals of any other land, and even the opposition has had its breath so taken away by the speed of the change as to have had none left with which to remonstrate. The government, indeed, has been a most remarkable experiment in empirics. A handful of men, educated in European modes of thought, has revolutionized not simply the political, but the social, the domestic, even the private customs of an entire community. The only point more surprising still has been the enthusiastic acceptance of the same by the thinking classes.
Among the most advanced of these statesmen was Mori Arinori. The fourth son of Mori Yujo, a samurai, or kniglit, of the retinue of the daimyo of Kagoshima, he was born in the castle in August, 1848. From early childhood he showed precocity, doing so well at school that he was selected, in 1865, as one of sixteen to be sent to England and America to study.
Laurence Oliphant had been in Japan, and was now initiating to the Brotherhood of the New Life at Chautauqua, New York. To him Mori was consigned. There the young Japanese was at once set to work at baking bread, as being the occupation for which he was most fitted, in accordance with the rules of the society. He became leavened with much other yeast besides.
If Fate meant to distinguish him. she could hardly have chosen her opportunity better; for, after two years abroad, he came home just in time for the revolution which ended in the restoration of the Mikado and the general introduction of foreign ideas. Entering thus upon his own life at the very moment his country entered upon that new phase of hers, a quasi-European existence, he espoused the new ways with all the ardor of a very young man. His career reads like a romance. From one political post to another, he was advanced through a whole gamut of governmental and diplomatic offices. He was successively Charge d’Affaires at Washington, Assistant Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister to China, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister at the Court of St. James, and finally member of the cabinet and Minister of Education. Indeed, he was several other things as well, in the mean time.
What he was, however, is more important than the posts he filled. For his was anything but a figure head. It teemed with ideas acquired in America, which, with more love than logic, he developed to undreamt-of extremes. He was the first to suggest the disarming of the samurai, or two-sworded knights, whose swords were more precious to them than life. Naturally the move was bitterly opposed; but he triumphed, and so changed the customs of the whole gentry class. An army of irresponsible swashbucklers became, by a stroke of the pen, a peaceable body of citizens. Indeed, many of them accepted government employ as student-spectacled policemen.
Another of his ideas was the holding man and wife to be equal, — an idea as anti-Oriental as it would be possible to conceive. Count Ito once said of him that though a Japanese by birth, he was a European by heart. He might almost have said an American. In England he became intimate with Darwin, Huxley, Tyndall, whom he greatly admired, and in America he corresponded with many distinguished men on educational and kindred topics. To him is due the postal union between Japan and the United States.
His religious views were equally advanced. He was so much impressed by the disassociation of church and state in America that he wrote a pamphlet advocating such divorce in Japan, whose Mikado is and always has been the Son of Heaven. The essay was written in English, printed in the United States, and may be read by the curious in an alcove of the Boston Athenæum. For himself, he was a conscientious agnostic. His agnosticism was harmless, his conscientiousness the contrary ; for it impelled him to action peculiarly distasteful to the Shintoists. He not only cared not a straw for the religion of his forefathers, but as Minister of Education he excluded it from any part in national instruction. He believed that the time had come when superstition was no longer essential to the life of the masses. He believed no less than New Japan generally ; only he acted more.
But perhaps the most radical of all his projects was that of a universal language. This was not to be Japanese, of course, but English, which the Japanese were all to learn, and which English-speaking peoples, on their part, were to simplify in grammar and spelling on certain scientific principles. He suggested this comprehensive scheme first to certain Americans. It failed to meet with that ready acquiescence which its rationality seemed to him to merit. This rather interfered with his pushing the plan at home, and setting the nation in a body to learn a foreign tongue.
It was a set of men more or less of this mind who overthrew the Shogunate, and into whose hands the government arbitrarily passed. It was not, however, a part of their purpose to have it remain thus, nominally. Their ambition was bureaucratic rather than oligarchic. They proposed to rule, if you please, but they meant to do so after the most approved modern fashion. Their authority must not only flow from the divinity of the Emperor, but follow a conduit cut on the Americo-European plan. To accomplish this end they first formed themselves into a self-responsible cabinet. The cabinet was a copy of a European model; the self-responsibility was all their own.
They then set about to legalize this somewhat anomalous position. Not that they felt insecure in the least. Their idea was other. They simply wished to do as Western nations did. They wanted their body politic, like their own persons, clothed after the most approved European cut. It was futile to hint that such guise did not become them; they meant to become it. Every self-respecting nation had, they noticed, a constitution ; therefore they must have one, too. The fact that all these other constitutions had sprung directly or indirectly from popular demand failed to strike them as any reason why theirs should not be imposed by imperial rescript. That the people were without wish or will in the matter was irrelevant. So they promised to all whom it might concern a Japanese national constitution, to take effect in the year of grace 1890. That year looked perspectively remote when they made the pledge, but promised time nears at a gallop. Before very long it became necessary to fix a day for the official promulgation of the great event. They appointed the 11th of February, 1889.
The choice of the day was not significantly happy. It is true, the selection bore out what would seem to be the modern version of the old saw, — still be on with the old love till you be fairly off with the new; for the 11th of February had from time immemorial been observed as the anniversary of Jimmu Tenno, the mythic founder of the imperial house, and therefore of the only government the islands had ever known. But the connection was of doubtful honor. Indeed, to the thinking there seemed a certain satire about it; for Jimmu Tenno, if he was anything better than a myth, was a monarch of the good oldfashioned kind ; one who, were he half the king he is reputed to have been, would have turned in his grave at the bare idea of a constitution, to say nothing of the disgust at finding his name associated with it. To the unthinking the choice offered still greater objection, for it merged two possible holidays in one. The pleasure-seekers found themselves no gainers. The anniversary of Jimmu Tenno they were certain of already. The permission, therefore, to celebrate another object at the same time, instead of seeming a gift, left them with the feeling that, somehow or other, they had been imposed upon. If political capital was expected from the celebration, it should have been given a day of its own.
This economy in holidays was regrettable; for though it linked sentimentally the past to the future, it much dimmed the lustre of the last, which was not the object of the authorities. The authorities, however, had more fundamental drawbacks to contend with; for even if the occasion had been single in intent, it is doubtful whether there would have been much enthusiasm for it among the people at large. The masses were not up to the occasion. Properly to celebrate a political event, it is helpful to have at least an idea of what it is all about. An opinion, however questionably got, conduces to zeal. Now the Japanese public had never had its opinion asked before on national affairs, and, not unnaturally, had none ready for the emergency.
Such blankness of mind was no feature of the student or foreign-tinctured class, who, on the contrary, had very decided views on this and every other subject, with many of which the government was quite willing to dispense. As for the masses, their only rule of life was the highly philosophic one : whatever is, is right, — not the most combustible material for a spontaneous outburst of enthusiasm.
Nevertheless, rejoice they should, the government was resolved; if not spontaneously, by administrative action. Having created the supply, the ministers of state were bound there should be a suitable demand. They ordered the local officials to see that all made merry, and then they put their hands in the executive pocket for the necessary material, and induced wealthy sympathizers to follow suit. With this slight initial shove things went superbly; for the Japanese character is remarkably given to holiday-making, and carries off an occasion of the kind in the best possible manner. Preparations were begun on a colossal scale. The rejoicings were to resound from one end of Japan to the other, but the crowning display was, of course, to be in the capital.
Days before the time, the streets of Tōkyō took on that general scaffolding look so suggestive of coming festivity. Rows of bamboo shot up, sentinel-like, in front of the houses. Some of them were still tufted with leaves, seeming suddenly to have grown where they were. Between the poles were stretched strings, and from the strings were hung paper lanterns. Similar lanterns festooned the house eaves. The streets stood decked in necklaces of mammoth pearls ; for the lanterns, globular in form, being of paper, showed opaque by day and diaphanous by night. They were painted in part with Chinese characters in crying vermilion, commemorative of the day.
Their number must have been something enormous. The men in the business did nothing else for weeks beforehand, as unfortunates who happened to need lanterns for more private purposes found to their dismay ; and Tōkyōites lighted themselves with the leavings of the illumination for weeks afterward. But this was a mere detail of the pageant’s cost. At the moment neither pains nor purses were spared; for the glory of the national birthday was to outshine all previous shows, and cast into the shade all such as might follow.
But the gems of the statical half of the display were the triumphal arches. These were, indeed, works of art as well as of architecture. It was an excusable curiosity that held men at the street corners gaping up at them as they grew. They bridged, at fitting intervals, the main thoroughfare of the city. Standing at the hither end, one looked through a vanishing vista of arcade ; each portal framing the one behind it, and none of them in the least alike. First rose the arch over the Shimbashi, in mammoth imitation of a Buddhist torii, with dozens of paper lanterns set in the evergreen body of its crossbeams, spelling out a millennium of prosperity for the imperial house. Next beyond it showed an airy skeleton affair, as lithe as the other was heavy, — the slender suggestion of a portal to some Shinto shrine, — garlanded with flowers. Beyond this appeared one of still another type, blazoning good luck in golden characters on a dark green ground,— oranges imbedded in fir. While in the far distance there stood out last the arch over the Nihombashi, its evergreen piers as solid to the eye as the masonry they counterfeited ; for it simulated a suspension bridge, a bridge upon a bridge, spanning in effigy the real Nihombashi beneath, — two curves bending to meet till they kissed in the middle.
All this and much more was being rapidly made ready. Signs of expectation of the approaching national birth were visible everywhere; for its fond parents meant the new body politic should not want for a suitable cradle, however long afterward they might intend to keep it in leading-strings. Not only along the line of the official procession, but in much less honored spots, the streets were beribboned beyond recognition.
So much for the statics of the affair. Its kinematics were even more remarkable. The popular part of the pageant was to be a matsuri, but a matsuri on a gigantic scale. Now a matsuri is a religious festival of a most jovial countenance; it is something of a cross between a Neapolitan carnival and a Seville Holy Week, with the human horse-play of the one to relieve the divine dullness of the other. In this case there was added a touch of humor very close to pathos ; for the old system helped to do buffoon duty to the new.
But a matsuri needs no preface. Deeply religious in principle, these festivals are delightfully mundane in practice. Through their mothers the churches, they are, of course, own cousins of all the carnivals; so that the resemblance is not accidental. Whether, indeed, the strain due to being gloomily good tends to make the temperament when relieved take to buffoonery, certainly like causes have begotten like effects.
A matsuri is one all-compelling grin. It starts from some temple or temples, whose courtyards fill with booths, while the neighboring streets deck themselves with lanterns. From these ganglia nerves in the shape of processions of dashi proceed to thrill the city. A dashi is a triumphal chariot of divine extraction; a cart drawn indifferently by men or bulls, and carrying structures to beggar belief. The grotesque in a body finds foothold there, while topping the mass of monstrosities sits the placid figure of the god, not so firm in seat but that the jolts make him nod approval upon the crowd, as he is trundled erratically along. In this comico-serious manner the dashi perambulates the town, to slow music of its own furnishing. Every now and then the whole thing halts. The pandemonium, however, does not stop, nor the pantomime which it accompanies ; for in the front part of the cart, on the ground floor, stands a man, grotesquely masked, gesticulating to the crowd, and backed by strangely instrumented musicians. Not uncommonly he mimics the god-fox, always a highly popular impersonation. His action bears out his mask to the bewitchment of small boys, who trot along by its side when the dashi moves, regardless of all else, and then tumble back into the crowd in affright at some personally directed leer.
The masks are terrors which never lose their delight. Indeed, they are first tried on in the bosom of the performer’s family, where they are the occasion of many terrible nightmares to its juvenile members.
We are all children of a larger growth, especially the Japanese; for with the masses too the means of the coming celebration quite eclipsed its end. They looked eagerly forward, like children to whom Christmas is toyfully material; an affair of the present, not the past. The whole city stood on the tiptoe of expectation, as the day drew near. At last all was ready. The national bonfire was successfully laid, which the morrow’s light was to touch into a blaze.
February in Tōkyō is not the February the word calls up to us. Nature’s dead season there is remarkably shortlived. Already the plum-trees were in full blossom. The white flowers stood out in vivid relief against the still leafless twigs and the bare branches, in merry mockery of winter. The starry petals seemed snowflakes caught in their fall by the trees, and held there captive ; for it was cold enough and the sky like lead on the eve of the appointed day. As the night fell, real flakes fell with it. They silvered what part of the branches the flower flakes had left, and they ermined the ground like the plum petals when the blossoming is past. They were falling still when the gray morning of the 11th came glimmering in from the stormy Pacific.
The natural day promised as inauspiciously as the calendar one. It looked uncommonly as if the chief remembrance of it which its observers were likely to carry away would be a part of its cold temporarily embodied in their own persons. The inclemency of the weather, however, in no wise prevented the imperial rites from taking place with due matutinal dispatch. The hour, it is true, was, according to Far-Eastern idea, exceeding late ; the appointed time being eight A. M. But this abnormal tardiness was not due to the state of the sky, but to the court’s conversion to Western fashion. Native inclination would have had the hour four or five A. M., and the day’s doings would all have been over before the morning was well aired. This had happened shortly before, on the occasion of a court journey into the country, undertaken more in the olden style. The court left the palace at some impossibly small hour of the morning, traveled to Hachioji, and there encamped for the night at eleven o’clock of the forenoon. So hasting to begin the new day are those of earth’s inhabitants who receive it first. One would suppose that they, of all folk, could afford to wait.
At eight, therefore, with Far-Oriental punctuality, — which is most unpunctual by being far ahead of time, — the proper officials assembled in the palace to witness the celebration, by the Emperor in person, of the anniversary of Jimmu Tenno, an ancestral rite of immemorial usage. At nine his Imperial Majesty with his suite proceeded to the sanctuary, where he read the imperial oath, a prayer to the gods his ancestors, prepared, of course, by the ministers of state. In it he invoked the divine blessing upon what he was about to do, informing those deities incidentally, with a wisdom not unworthy certain Christian sects, that his seemingly new departure was in fact included in their own original idea. This done, he repaired to the throne room, preceded by the band playing the new national anthem, and followed by the Empress and her ladies. The court, composed of the ministry, representatives of the peers, the diplomatic corps, and officers of the government down to a certain rank, was already in waiting. One man was not there. The place of Viscount Mori, Minister of State for Education, was vacant. But his absence was forgotten at the entrance of the Emperor, who forthwith delivered himself of the promulgation speech, an epitome of the past, present, and future ; similar in intent to the oath, and devised by the same powers behind the throne, but addressed to his subjects instead of his ancestors. He finished with the preamble to the Constitution. The prime minister then advanced, and received the document itself from the imperial hands. This closed the ceremony. The Constitution, like some wedding-ring, had made the mystic circle, and come back again to its startingpoint.
As the Son of Heaven left the throne room, and thus brought the indoor half of the day to an end, the clouds suddenly parted, broke into detached squadrons of scud that rolled off to leeward, and the sun shone forth in dazzling distinctness from the midst of a perfect blue sky. Such as were so minded regarded this as of most happy augury. The sunshine came rather too late to do much material good, since it simply converted some of the snow into worse mud ; but its effect on the spirits of the people was all that could he wished.
The people, on their part, had not been idle. They also had risen betimes. Those who chanced to wake first speedily roused their more sluggard neighbors by the din they made outside the wooden shutters. Fortunately for the national enjoyment, the national costume is quickly donned, and no one need stay at home to look after the baby, since that household loadstone is habitually strapped to the back of some small sister, to share her wanderings.
Everybody, therefore, was soon in the streets; some to get the dashi started, more to see them do it. By the former and their friends the carts were slowly hauled out from their hiding-places of back yards, alley corners, and similar nooks, emerging like butterflies from their chrysalids. Each of course gathered a crowd of both sexes and all ages, who stood around innocently impeding matters. At last the bulls were safely yoked in, the performers all seated, and amidst a general hubbub, dominated by a drum bass and a flute treble, with the god-fox twinkling to the crowd, the dashi lumbered off to the meet.
Each at once became a moving centre of attraction, drawing a throng in its wake as a boat draws water. Its approach was heralded by a hurlyburly as of something let loose. The professional noise from the musicians and the unprofessional accompaniment of small boys gave it, while still out of sight round a corner, an imposing preface. Before the thing itself trundled into view appeared the vanguard, a band of pantomimers on foot. Admirably gotten up, they took the street with Rabelaisian nonchalance, pranking it with pleasing buffoonery. For characters and costume they drew indiscriminately upon either hemisphere : clowns with pasteboard noses and stovepipe hats caricaturing from ineptitude their very originals ; pseudo-samurai with mammoth carrots stuck in their belts for swords, and an admirable swashbuckler gait copied for the occasion. Both sides of the world did equally good service ; for the populace had learnt enough of the one and still remembered sufficient of the other to appreciate a burlesque of either. Sex, too, played its part in satire. Men dressed as girls stalked nonchalantly along, their clothes and their carriage comically at odds. Girls, on the other hand, paraded as men. The whole geisha guild of the Shimbashi ward came out thus, simulating the knights of the olden time, and marched in battalion, their tresses done up in the historic cue.
The dashi themselves were of various device. One was built exclusively of butts of sake (the native wine) ; empty ones, indeed, but, as their hollowness was not superficially apparent, of appropriate bacchanal look. Possibly they started full. Certainly sake enough was drunk during the day. Thirty thousand tubs of it are said to have been guzzled by citizens; which, omitting the incapable and the personal prohibitionist, gives a pretty high average of content per man. A second cart presented a pagoda perambulant; three unsteady stories rising into the air, the lowest a convenient coop for the musicians. The god-fox flirted his fan and grimaced horribly in front. Others bore curiously evolved thrones, bordered by branches of plum blossoms and banners of the rising sun, with the effigy of the god perched atop.
So the chariots passed by, one after the other, to rendezvous in the large open space just outside the Tiger Gate of the palace grounds, through which his Imperial Majesty was to come, on his way to a military inspection on the Champ de Mars. Soon this open space, a distressing desert in its every-day existence, was a surging mass of expectant humanity, with the tops of the dashi rising from out it like the church spires in the panorama of a town. Nature set the show in winter brilliants of her own. The snowfall had transformed the earth into what the Japanese call “ a silver world.” Then the opportune sun fused the silver till it dropped in strings of diamonds from a thousand house eaves, to shatter in sparkles on the ground. And over it all lay the golden sunshine, save where the houses threw a bluish mantle of shadow athwart the thoroughfare, for the holiday-makers to tread upon.
Eventually his Majesty appeared. First to ride out came a body of lancers, uniformed in European fashion. Following these ambled some mounted police, likewise foreign clad. Then more lancers. After a properly impressive gap came carriages, of European make, containing various officials and princes of the blood. These immediately preceded the state equipage, a fine affair just out from England. A couple of outriders heralded it, while the vehicle itself was drawn by six horses sat by postilions neatly dressed in their new foreign livery. Bowing within were the Emperor and Empress, in appropriate European clothes.
This real-imitation pageant held the loyalty of the populace beautifully. There was their Emperor, and with a kind of foreign halo about him too. He typified even in externals an excellence it was the secret striving of so many to attain. It was European as well as imperial. Think of that, they all thought.
Nevertheless, the thing to see was not the observed, but the observers. Not that they were any the less decked in borrowed plumage, but that they were so sublimely unconscious of the caricatures they cut. They were so many walking examples of how not to dress. The lay figures in a second-rate haberdashery window could have given them a lesson in lifelikeness. For a good half of the crowd had been badly bitten with the foreign mania, and were at present in all stages of sartorial development, from the business grub to the official butterfly. A lot of tadpoles in the act of turning into frogs could not have been more oblivious to their strange transitional appearance.
Fortunately, the other half of the crowd was quite as well worth seeing, from a different standpoint, not of humor, but of beauty, — a quaint, picturesque beauty, strangely in keeping with even its natural surroundings : men in silk kimono of a plain dark blue or brown, except where, on the back and sleeves, the crest had been left to show in the dyeing, their feet cased in white cloven socks, raised a couple of inches out of the mud on well-cut clogs ; women whose glory lay partly in the dressing of their hair, partly in their sash, huge bowed behind, — this last the object of untold thought; first in the choice at the shop amidst the rarest of flowered silks and satins, and then in the tying of it up at home. For there is an art in the matter difficult to acquire, — an art concealed, of many assisting strings invisible to the world. Truly a panier of flowers. And then the children ! With them color ran riot; for, except in the obi, or sash, brilliant dyes are not the fashion in after years. But with the children any hue is proper, and every hue is worn. In blues and scarlets and dove color, they tripped about on their pretty little pattens, their topknots stuck with all manner of toy pins. As for the young girls, they made pictures of themselves to carry away with one. From the creamy camellias in their jet-black hair to the purple velvet thongs between their toes, the eye lingered wherever it looked. The turn of the neck was enough to turn the head of another, and ways so charming one could follow anywhere.
Perhaps the prettiest trait of the crowd was its mannerliness. It was a crowd of all ages and both sexes; a veritable representative gathering, and not the rising to the surface of a people’s scum. The rough element so inevitable elsewhere was conspicuously absent. There is this great gain among a relatively less differentiated people. If you miss with regret the higher brains, you miss with pleasure the lower brutes. Bons enfants the Japanese are to a man. They gather delight as men have learned to extract sugar, from almost anything. And delight hath this about it, that the more you radiate, the warmer you feel. Even the sake seemed gifted to produce the maximum of self-satisfaction with the minimum of annoyance to others. Nothing marred the merriment of the hour. Day fireworks rose, burst into balloons, and sailed away.
And it was all the work of the executive. A paternal government had said Play, and its children were playing to their hearts’ content.
As the twilight settled over the city, a horrible rumor began to creep through the streets. During the day the thing would seem to have shrunk before the mirth of the masses, but under cover of the gloom it spread like night itself over the town. It passed from mouth to mouth with something of the shudder with which a ghost might come and go. Viscount Mori, Minister of State for Education, had been murdered that morning in his own house. The blow had been struck by an unknown man just as the minister was setting out for the palace. Rumor said no more.
Mori murdered ! and on that day, of all days ! It was like the shock of one of their own earthquakes.
This, then, was the reason of his non-appearance at the palace. At the moment liberty was being granted to the people by the government, the Minister of State for Education had been killed by the hand of one of that very people.
This was something more than a common murder. The time chosen was too significant. The blow had been aimed not simply at Mori the man, but at Mori the minister. There was something political, something social, under it all; an impersonality of import that made it at once personal to everybody. Conjecture imagined what it would. Nothing more was known that night.
With the morning the story took on substance. It changed from phantom to fact, but it looked little less ghastly by daylight. Mori was still alive. He had not been killed on the spot, no thanks to the would-be assassin. But whether he survived remained to be seen ; he was very badly wounded, and the surgeons could not tell. What had happened was this;—
While Viscount Mori was dressing, on the morning of the 11th, for the court ceremony of the promulgation of the new Constitution, a man, unknown to the servants, made summons on the big bell hung by custom at the house entrance, and asked to see the minister on important business. He was told the minister was dressing, and could see no one. The unknown replied that he must see him about a matter of life and death, — as indeed it was. The apparent gravity of the object induced the servant to admit him to an antechamber and report the matter. In consequence, the minister’s private secretary came down to interview him. The man, who seemed well behaved, informed the secretary that there was a plot to take the minister’s life, and that he had come to warn the minister of it. Truly a subtle subterfuge; true to the letter, since the plot was all his own. More he refused to divulge except to the minister himself. While the secretary was trying to learn something more definite, Mori came downstairs, and entered the room. The unknown approached to speak to him; then, suddenly drawing a knife from his girdle, sprang at him, and crying, “This for desecrating the shrines of Ise!” stabbed him twice in the stomach. Mori, taken by surprise, grappled with him, when one of his body-guards, hearing the noise, rushed in, and with one blow of his sword almost completely severed the man’s head from his body.
Meanwhile, Mori had fallen to the floor, bleeding fast. The secretary, with the help of the guard, raised him, carried him to his room, and dispatched a messenger for the court surgeon.
The clothes of the unknown were then searched for some clue to the mystery ; for neither Mori nor any of his household had ever seen him before. The search proved more than successful. A paper was found on his person, setting forth in a most circumstantial manner the whole history of his crime, from its inception to its execution, or his own. However reticent he seemed before the deed, he evidently meant nothing should be hid after it, whether he succeeded or not. The paper explained the reason.
Because, it read, of the act of sacrilege committed by Mori Arinori, who, on a visit to the shrines of Ise, two years before, had desecrated the temple by pushing its curtain back with his cane, and had defiled its floor by treading upon it with his boots, he. Nishino Buntaro, had resolved to kill Mori, and avenge the insult offered to the gods and to the Emperor, whose ancestors they were. To wipe the stain from the national faith and honor, he was ready to lose his life, if necessary. He left this paper as a memorial of his intent.
The police were at once sent for, and the paper, together with the body, was made over to them.
In the mean time, the messenger dispatched to summon the court surgeon failed to find him at home. It was almost a foregone conclusion with such a man on such an occasion. Like other dignitaries, he had already left for the palace. The messenger, therefore, returned alone, and, as the distances in Tōkyō are enormous and the means of locomotion primitive, much precious time was lost. On his return he was sent off again for the surgeon next highest in rank ; with the same result. It was scarcely an opportune time for standing on ceremony, for Mori was simply, but surely, bleeding to death. At last a surgeon was found. As events proved, it was already too late. All was done that could be done, but Mori had lost too much blood. He lingered, seemed to rally, and then, sinking gradually again, died in the night of the following day.
Nishino had accomplished his end.
If one may say so in all humanity of so inhuman a thing as a premeditated murder, its reason was even more important than its immediate result; for its causes may at any moment seek repetition. They looked to be personal, but in fact they were more broadly based. It was not a man only that Nishino tried to kill; it was a new mode of thought. In the first place, Mori and Nishino were personally unknown to each other. Mori had never heard of Nishino, and Nishino knew Mori only by report. The one stabbed the other as the embodied expression of certain ideas.
The embodiment of the most advanced of the new ideas Mori certainly was. His ideas were anything but conservative, and he carried them out to the bitter end. He was no temporizer, no compromiser. What he thought he acted upon, regardless of collateral result. Naturally he was not popular. Among the Shintoists he was cordially disliked : first for his official regulations about them, and secondly for his personal attitude toward the faith. That he acted at Ise much as reported there is little doubt. His scheme of imposing a new vernacular by executive command was, to his sorrow, still-born. But he conceived other changes in the educational system quite as distasteful, which he rigidly carried out. His manner, too, was unfortunate.
A sad instance of this happened only a week before his death. He had made a new departure in the conduct of the university, which was not liked by the students. There was some collegiate disturbance in consequence, and the matter grew so grave that the minister promised to address them on the subject and explain matters. On the day fixed he began his attempt at conciliation by keeping them waiting, without the shadow of an excuse, for three quarters of an hour; not a very happy beginning, considering their frame of mind. He followed this, when at last he arrived, by abusing them most roundly instead of explaining anything, at which they hissed him ; whereupon, without waiting to finish, he drove off in a huff, leaving the students thoroughly incensed. Some people predicted trouble. Indeed, so roused were the students known to be that when the news of the murder first got abroad Nishino was supposed to be one of them.
Rumors that the minister’s life was in danger had been current for two or three days. This furnished Nishino with a plausible pretext to seek an interview. When he presented himself on the ill-fated morning, his story was not so intrinsically improbable as it otherwise might have seemed. The minister had thought little of the reports, but presented in this personal way they appeared perhaps to merit investigation. For this reason the secretary parleyed with the man. Otherwise the action of the minister is almost inexplicable. A man who comes to warn a high official of a design against that official’s life is himself suspect.
If Mori was thus a very definite sort of person, Nishino was quite as definite in his own way. He was neither a lunatic nor a fool. In general intellectual capacity he was rather above the average, and had received more education than many young Japanese. He is said, for example, to have surpassed most of his schoolmates, and to have had some small knowledge of English. He too was of the old samurai stock, and belonged to what is now called the shizoku class. But of the old samurai recklessness of life he had no personal experience. He was born too late ; for at the time of their general disarming he was a very small boy. His samurai traits, therefore, were all of inheritance or hearsay. On leaving school he was taken in as a clerk at the prefectorial office. Here he made a name for himself as a capital letter-writer. Consequently, he was given, two years later, a post in the Home department, which he was filling at the time he committed his crime. He had never shown signs of insanity. That he was reserved, rather moody, and made few friends is certain, and that in this little world of his own thought he brooded over the insult to the gods is also beyond a doubt. He seems to have heard of it accidentally, but it made so much impression upon him that he journeyed to Ise to find out the truth of the tale. He was convinced, and forthwith laid his plans with the singleness of zeal of a fanatic.
Thanks to Ids epistolary turn of mind, his whole conduct now stands as clear as autobiography can make it; for he wrote not one, but several letters on the subject. If he had been disposing of his own property instead of the person of another, he could hardly have been more explicit or more voluminous. Besides the letter found on his person, he left behind him two others, one to his father and another to his younger brother. He was the eldest son, as indeed his name Buntaro shows. Both letters were touching. Of his father he asked forgiveness for breaking his filial obligations. But the gods had been dishonored, and he must give his life to avenge the insult. He commended the care of his parents to his younger brother, and bade them both a heart-breaking farewell. To his brother he wrote exhorting him to be a better son than ever he had been ; not to follow his wayward course, but to be the more dutiful and loving to his parents that he was no longer near to help.
Both letters were so full of feeling that it is out of all reason to suppose them written for effect. Nor does the rest of his behavior support the supposition. He confided to no one his designs beforehand, and one’s life is rather a high price to pay for purely posthumous notoriety. It looks as if he were simply the creature of fanaticism.
Quite in keeping at bottom with the rest of his conduct, however much on the surface it may seem to belie the almost copy-book counsels in his letters, was the way he spent the last week of his life. He who up to that time had led a singularly gloomy existence proceeded to pass his last seven days in continuous dissipation. Since he had so short a time to live, he would live it fast. He plunged into unlimited yoshiwara. Yet even to this travesty of happiness he took with him no companion. He preferred to go alone. There he stayed. His closing days were spent, time, money, self, entirely with ces dames.
But the strangest and the most significant part of the affair was the attitude of the Japanese public toward it. The first excitement of the news had not passed away before it became evident that their sympathy was not with the murdered man, but with his murderer. Viscount Mori had certainly not been popular. But it is one thing to lament little over a man’s death, and another to commend, however covertly, his assassin. This becomes all the more significant when the feeling springs, not from personal, but impersonal grounds. Nishino was an unknown. No individual magnetism endeared him to the masses, for they had never even heard of his existence. Nor was he the representative of any political party. What he did, he did on his own prompting and responsibility alone.
Yet the sentiment was unmistakable. The details of the murder were scarcely common property before the press proceeded to eulogize the assassin. To praise the act was a little too barefaced, not to say legally dangerous, to be much indulged in, although one paper came as near doing so as it deemed consistent with safety. But to praise the man became a journalistic epidemic. He was at once raised to the pedestal of a hero and a martyr. The reasons given by the papers for this secular canonization were expressed with a vagueness that did more credit to their respect for the law than to their logic. Every detail of the deed, except only the deed itself, was lauded to the skies. Nishino, they said, had contrived and executed his plan with all the old-time samurai bravery. He had done it as a samurai should have done it, and he had died as a samurai should have died. They found a satisfaction in the manner of it almost impossible for a foreigner to conceive; even the choice of the tool came in for a share of praise. The substitution of a kitchen knife for a knightly katana was shown to have been made with the express intent of casting obloquy upon its victim.
Veiled as it was in the name of things, a murmur of suppressed approval pervaded the press. To a foreigner such posthumous ovation to an assassin sounded ghastly. It was not the cry of an uneducated mob carried away by brute instinct, but the sober writing of men presumably gifted with common sense. Nor was it the extravagance of a party suddenly intoxicated by gaining its end. The fate of no party hung on Nishino’s act.
The same bias showed itself in the criticism of collateral detail. The summary action of the guard in cutting the murderer down was severely censured. As if the guard had not been appointed to this very end ! If a body-guard is not to attack a man actively engaged in killing the person he is told off to protect, what is he to do ? Is he to wait till the murderer has quite finished, and then courteously take him into custody? The editorial principles out-philosophized the philosophy of the popular doggerel: —
Mary pushed her into the street;
Baby’s brains were dashed out in the airy,
Mother held up her forefinger at Mary.”
From the tone the articles took, one would have thought that Mori had murdered Nishino, instead of Nishino Mori. The papers demanded the guard’s arrest and trial. They also complained of the indecent manner, as they said, in which Nishino had been buried. In fact, they argued all they could on the wrong side. They became bathetic on the subject.
Comment of the kind was not confined to the press. Strange as it may appear, the newspapers said what everybody thought. For once in the annals of journalism paper and populace were at one.
There was no doubt about it. Beneath a surface of decorous disapproval ran an undercurrent of admiration and sympathy, in spots but ill hid. People talked in the same strain as the journalists wrote. Some did more than talk. The geisha, or professional singing-girls of Tōkyō, made of Nishino and his heroism a veritable cult. They raised him into a sort of demigod. His grave in the suburbs they kept wreathed with flowers. To it they made periodic pilgrimages, and, bowing there to the gods, prayed that a little of the hero’s spirit might descend on them.
The practice was not a specialty of professionals. Persons of all ages and both sexes visited the spot in shoals, for similar purposes. It became a Mecca for a month. The thing sounds incredible, but it was a fact. Such honor had been paid nobody for years.
On the Saturday of the week in which he was killed Mori’s funeral took place. It was a fine pageant, although the day was a sorry-looking one of clouds and rain. Everybody turned out. His fellow-ministers were there ; the university was there ; society was there. A long line of the new European-made carriages, now affected by persons of position, followed the bier to the Aoyama buryingground. A still longer line of people followed on foot, carrying tall sheaves of real and artificial flowers. Around the mortuary chapel, where these were stacked, the earth seemed suddenly to have leapt into bloom. Not till after the coffin had been lowered into its bit of ground, and the sun had set, did the sky show signs of clearing. A long rift opened in the west, and let a belt of sad green light be seen beyond. Then the color faded out.
His Majesty the Emperor was pleased to confer posthumous honors, according to the custom of the Far East, upon him whom he so deemed to have deserved them in life, and Mori dead became a greater man than Mori living had ever been. The immortal gods, then, were so little offended with Mori for the mode of his entrance to their shrines on earth that, through their representative and descendant, they ennobled him when he came to make his entrance to them in heaven.