Gateway to the Classics: A Boy of Old Japan by Robert van Bergen
A Boy of Old Japan by  Robert van Bergen


The severe defeats suffered by Choshiu had reduced the number of samurai of the clan. After thinking deeply upon the matter, Ito proposed to the Council a measure which met with the most strenuous opposition, and, being earnestly supported by Inouye, was at last adopted with many an ominous shake of the head. It was, namely, that the ranks should be recruited from among the young and strong members of the people. The older members of the council urged, not unnaturally, that the samurai would never suffer such an infringement upon the privileges of their rank. Both Ito and Inouye had more confidence in the loyalty of the samurai, and they were right. The very best of foreign rifles had been purchased by Inouye and arrived in due time. Then the instructors came, and drilling went on from morning to night. The young men of the people vied with the samurai in zeal and enthusiasm, they were all equally and regularly paid and well treated. After some time artillery began to arrive, and a corps of men was detailed to learn gunnery. Among all the young men there was none more zealous than Ekichi. After a year's drill, when officers were appointed he was made a lieutenant.

In the shadow side of the dual part in the Japanese character, there is no passion so strong as that of revenge. Subterfuge, the most dastardly treachery, are praiseworthy and commendable, if they serve to obtain revenge for the killing of a near relation. The written constitution of old Japan (Legacy of Iyeyasu), prescribed:

"In respect to revenging injury done to master or father, it is granted by the wise and virtuous (sage) that you and the injurer can not live together under the canopy of heaven.

"A person harboring such vengeance shall notify the same in writing to the Criminal Court; and although no check or hindrance may he offered to his carrying out his desire within the period allowed for that purpose, it is forbidden that the chastisement of an enemy be attended with riot.

"Fellows who neglect to give notice of their intended revenge are like wolves of pretext, and their punishment or pardon should depend upon the circumstances of the case."

Ekichi suspected Sawa. If he had been asked for the reason, he would have been at a loss, except that he had seen him at Kyoto on the day of the flight of the kugé. He had never liked the spy, and he had worshiped his father. The lesson of self-control, thoroughly mastered by him, enabled him to bend his mind upon his studies. But the moments which he allowed himself for relaxation, were spent in brooding upon revenge.

Inouye suspected it, and for that reason had taken him with him to Yokohama. While there he had found time to go to Kanagawa where he called upon the physician in his samurai dress. The family scarcely recognized their former houseboy who, in gratitude for former kindness, presented his late employer with a choice piece of lacquer. Inouye had watched Ekichi keenly during this visit, and had noticed the absolute self control with which he received the advances of the barbarians. At dinner, he simply imitated Inouye but with such perfect self-possession, that it seemed as if he had been using knife and fork all his life, although it was the first time he saw them.

At Yokohama, too, his face expressed no emotion at what he saw; only when in passing the hatoba, Inouye remarked that his father had worked here, the boy prostrated himself and saluted. He was utterly unconscious of the laughter of some rude barbarians. Inouye noticed, however, that he asked for the names in English, after he had heard him converse in that language.

When they returned to Nagato, he had asked to be enrolled in the army and his request was granted. Inouye had offered to teach him English, an offer which was gladly accepted, and he made such progress that he was able to read understandingly and to keep up a fair conversation.

The Tokugawa in the meanwhile was boasting of how the Shogun would annihilate Choshiu, and in 1865 Iyemochi himself took the field. The foreigners at Yokohama were permitted to witness the march of the redoubted troops. They came straggling by, as an eye-witness describes in bands of three or four, a motley array, with very little stomach for the business in hand. The same witness states that, upon arrival at Odawara the majority of the higher samurai applied for leave of absence on account of sickness; whereupon they were told that they could go, but that their revenues would be taken from them, whereupon they recovered their health. They remained that year quartered at Kyoto and Osaka, for the Shogun did not care to lead such an army against a brave and desperate clan. He tried to induce other clans to join him, but they refused flatly.

Stung by the ridicule heaped upon them by Japanese and foreigner alike, the Tokugawa troops at last opened the campaign, in the summer of 1866. Instead of attempting to overwhelm the clan by sheer force of numbers, Iyemochi divided his army into three divisions, each of which was separately routed by Choshiu. This restored the prestige of the clan, while it ruined that of Tokugawa.

In every battle Ekichi had excelled for coolness and courage, and it was predicted that he would rise as his father had done before him. In the latter part of September the news was brought to Nagato that Iyemochi, the Shogun was dead. Shortly later it also became known that Tokugawa Keiki had succeeded, but by appointment from Tenshi Sama.

The death of Tenshi Sama Osahito, better known by his posthumous name of Komei Tenno, and the succession of his son Mutsuhito, then a boy of fifteen produced a great change. Ito and Inouye held frequent and long conferences, and the former was often absent from the clan.

Their own experience within Choshiu's narrow limits, had convinced them that they were on the right track. The whole strength of Choshiu's clan had been called out, and had repeatedly defeated the overwhelming forces of the Tokugawa; but it had been able to do so only after acquiring the principles of foreign art of war. Ito disliked and mistrusted the foreigners, whereas Inouye's experience as well as his strong power of discernment rather inclined him toward them. Both, however, were agreed in their love of their country; and both agreed that the Japanese must acquire every particle of knowledge in the possession of the barbarians. More than that: their manners, habits, and customs, must he studied and such as served in any way to strengthen the national life, must he introduced and adapted. But before anything could he done in that direction, the Tokugawa must be laid low. Nothing could possibly be done so long as a clan so degenerate was foremost in the country.

Ito went to Satzuma, and met OKubo, Saigo, and Terashima. In OKubo and Terashima he met men who felt and thought like he. Saigo, a splendid specimen of manhood, over six feet in height, was equally predisposed against the Tokugawa, but was not able to look beyond the clan. As there was no warrant against any of these men except those of the Choshiu clan, they moved to Kyoto, and the rebuilt capital again became a hotbed of intrigue.

Tokugawa Keiki declined the appointment of Shogun, but was compelled to accept. The councillors of the several Tokugawa clans were very well aware that their sun had set, and urged his appointment as of a man who was personally popular with the other clans. But Keiki perceived that the days of the Shogunate were past. It is not improbable that he himself perceived, as Ii Naosuke had done before, that united Japan only would be able to maintain its independence and such a Japan could not exist under two heads. He offered repeatedly to resign, but the Gosho had no liking for the idea of leaving its repose. The majority of the members clung to the ideas of Nijo. As to the boy emperor, he had no more voice than his father had had before him, or than Mori possessed within Choshiu's clan. In the regeneration of Japan, no help could be expected from Miya, Kugé, or Daimiyo, long since converted into puppets by the very duality of the national character. The men who undertook the work were unknown nobodies; but it was exactly by such men that the different clans had been ruled separately, and by combining together they could rule all the clans, that is Japan, collectively.

Strictly speaking, therefore, there was no vital change in the affairs of Japan so long as the government was nominally in the hands of a figurehead, and in reality in those of the samurai. In all these troubles, the people had no share, nor did they take any interest in them, except when their own personal interests were directly affected. In the eyes of the dominating class the people had no existence: and when, in the documents of those days the word "people" is used, it refers solely to the samurai.

Although Aidzu was still in possession of Kyoto, and in charge of the gates of the Gosho, the half-hearted orders of Keiki permitted the leaders of Satsuma and other clans to communicate with their friends within the Council, and once again the men who were for repose at any cost felt the ground moving from under their feet. They brought pressure to bear upon the Shogun, and he once again offered his resignation. It was accepted on the 9th of November, 1867, but upon condition that for the present he should continue the administration.

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