16 AUGUST 1930, Page 22

An Historical S urvey of Japan

Tins work—it took five years to write and it is surprising that it did not take longer—is now presented in translation in three volumes, each of some 500 pages, which contain an enormous amount of material new to Western nations. It is obvious that in dealing with so huge a mass no review can be other than a running commentary on matters which are in the reviewer's opinion of particular interest, but before referring to these it is necessary to give some idea of the structure of the whole. As might be expected in so special a study, its balance is entirely different from that of the usual history of Japan. Half the first volume brings us to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1543; the remainder covers rather more than the next half century, including the great campaign of Sekigahara which gave the rule of Japan to the Tokugawa family for 250 years, and it is to this latter period that the second and third volumes are devoted. . . Corning now to details, we find that the Nara period, with its almost miraculous aesthetic sense as revealed in its amazing sculpture and metal work, shows no comparable advance in the realm of economics. In fact, though the author does not stress the point, it is obvious that, while the Japanese with their extraordinary sense of beauty had successfully assimilated and informed with their own spirit the technique and artistry of the T'ang, they had failed to make a success of an economic system based in the main on an administrative hierarchy equally copied from the Chinese. This was largely on account of court patronage and the enormous amount of untaxable land of which the temples contrived to possess themselves. The gift by the Empress Koken on her retirement to Fujiwara Nakamaro of an iron mine and of the right to levy taxes on 3,000 houses and 100 cho (1 cho = 2i acres) of land, is a good example of one aspect of this failure ; the other is illustrated by the possessions of the Todaiji temple, which early in the ninth century governed 100,000 people and owned 10,000 che of land yielding 150,000 koku (1 koku = 3 bushels) of tice, an amount of grain which the author reckons as the equivalent, considering the population, of 700,000 to 800,000 koku in Tokugawa times.

Compare, this with the condition of the old Shinto shrines. The Miwa shrine in Yamato, one of the most popular and

revered, had at the height of its prestige an income of about 20,000 koku and was served by the population of 160 houses. It was then only to be expected that the system of land nationalization attempted by the Taika reformation came to nought, indeed the author is perfectly correct in speaking of the temples as forming " a state within a state."

Writing of the Ashikaga period, the author draws an interesting parallel between the trans-oceanic trade of Spain and Portugal in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the Japanese trade with China :-

" Students of history will find that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when Spain sand Portugal made their great extension of influence, the Church at the same time started a vast movement, sometimes as a pioneer of foreign.trade and sometimes as its backer.

. Priests were given assistance by commercial houses, [or] . . . some church acquired the monopoly rights of foreign trade and invested the vast profits thereby obtained in the expansion of foreign commerce. . . . The Japanese foreign trade with China in the Ashikaga epoch was carried out in the same way, our priests and temples being the chief factors in the business ; no history of our intercourse with China would be complete if its connexion with the temples and priests were ignored.. . . The same pheno- menon of history is found in both the West and East, with merely a difference in time, the Roman Catholic churches mingling in the trade movements in the fifteenth century, while Japanese temples commenced the participation early in the fourteenth century. . . . In foreign intercourse . . the Shogun, great lords and commercial people formed a combined flotilla under the managership of the temples and priests, and [this ]. . . continued over two hundred years in the Ashikaga epoch and onwards."

This leads to a stimulating discussion of the so-called " tributary ships " and of their cargo. Sulphur, copper, dyestuffs, swords, fans and pictures were the regular exports, the number of swords in 1483 reaching the high figure of 67,000, for which the Ming Court paid 8000 mon in copper coinage apiece. The profits of the trade were high ; one of the larger ships of the 1470 armada carried a crew of 52 and 120 passengers, including the chief envoy and his party, as well as four horses. It is not surprising that the magnitude of the operations and the resultant profits attracted public attention, and when in 1509 the trade ship sent two years before returned, the ladies of the Shogun's Palace, occupying thirty-six palanquins, journeyed some fifty miles from Kyoto to Ilyogo to inspect it.

By the beginning of the Tokugawa period the old " slave " system of service and land cultivation had largely passed away, though so late as the eighteenth century the condition of long term fudai servants may in practice have approached to servitude. It must, however, be remembered that there was no slave-raiding, and little of the selling abroad (an exception must perhaps be made' in the Kamakura period, when the slave trade as such was recognized and taxed) which made Western slavery abominable, and that probably the condition of individuals technically slaves differed scarcely, if at all, from that of retainers. Actually Ieyasu, the first of the Tokugawa shoguns, was keenly alive to the importance of gold as the standard of value for his reorganized State. Prompted by Spanish missionaries, who emphasized the advan- tage to Japan of entering into relations with Spain, he actually planned to despatch a Kyoto trader to Mexico riti the Philip- pines to exchange Japanese products for gold and silver ; he also endeavoured to open up trade with Manila, and re- quested the loan of Spanish shipwrights. These were not granted, for the Spaniards had no desire to teach the Japanese to build big ships, but it was agreed that the Spanish vessels should visit the' east coast of Japan. At this time, too, or soon after, 'there is evidence that 'gold was imported into Japan from China, from India (by English ships) and by the Portuguese. Moreover, Japanese sometimes invested in Western business ; during the few years before the trade got into Dutch hands the Lords Matsusrwa of Ilirado and Ilizen owned about 10 per cent. of the capital of a British firm trading at Hired°.

It would be possible to go on citing new facts and suggesting interesting correlations, but enough has been said to give the flavour of the book, which is not entirely hard reading. The chapters on the 'Igenroku age (end of seventeenth century), famed for its prosperity and luxury—bat also the age of the Forty-seven Ronin—contains a good deal that is amusing. Tsuneyoshfs exaggerated humanitarianism led to buckets of water being stood about the city to pour on fighting dogs, and soon after this homeless dogs were better housed and fed than middle-class citizens.

Interesting and important as these volumes are, there are two respects in which in translation they inflict unnecessary hardship on the reader and so fall short of what they well might be considering only the scholarship of the author. Whatever may be the case in the Japanese original, it may fairly be claimed that for so great a work articulation is loose. It would have been no great effort and it would have helped the reader enormously to add a series of short concise sum- maries of the periods differing, e.g., from the " Outline of the Ashikaga Period" (constituting Chapter XVI) by the omission of particular examples and proper names. More important is the absence of definition of Japanese measures and monetary units. For even if it be not difficult to look up such measures as cho and koku it is at least annoying, and it is a very different matter with regard to such terms as mon, ryo (there were gold and silver ryo) and other standards of a fluctuating coinage. For lack of such information whole pages of the book, even those concerned with such important matters as the Dutch trade with Nagasaki in the mid-eighteenth century, lose their interest, indeed become almost useless.