Crossing In The North Pacific By Sea: From 2500 BC
Human beings have made the first crossing to the islands of Japan from the Asian mainland, but it is not known exactly when. However, a society capable of sustaining themselves by gathering and hunting and having ability to produce Neolithic wares is revealed by the first human traces.
From the cord design of the pottery, the Jomon culture is the way this society is better known by. Archaeological findings in eastern Siberia are similar to this society. Probability is that in around 8000 BC, the first crossing to the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido was made by people. They crossed along the Kuril Island line or from Sakhalin.
In Japan a distinct Neolithic community is found, from around 250 BC. First traces of it, the Yayoi culture are discovered from the Tokyo Street. It is assumed that along the line of the Ryukyu Islands, they reached Japan from the south, as their main cultivation was rice.
Immigrants in large numbers arrive, through Korea, a century or two later. China’s bronze culture is brought and later iron. With Korea there are constant links from this time onwards including invasions of the mainland by the Japanese.
Sumo: 23 BC
The first contest, of the sumo wrestling national and spectacular sport is held, as per tradition in 23 BC. Sukune, the legendary patron saint of sumo wrestlers wins it.
In Japan this is a prehistoric period. The date is too early and too precise. During early historic times, the dramatic events are also told by sumo tradition. For example, Emperor Buntoku’s two sons, wrestle for the throne in AD 858. The father is succeeded by the winner. Sumo is linked closed, with training of the military caste, the Samurai, in subsequent years.
The Large Independent Yamato Clan: From The 4th Century AD
In Japan, the first political structure is based on the clans (or uji) that are independent, large and with strong leaders. For its chieftain who is to be seen later as emperor, sufficient ascendancy is established by the clan in the 4th century that occupies the Yamato plain. Nintoku, the 4th century emperor’s status is judged by the extent of earth mound at his Sakai tomb. A great triple moat surrounds it and it is 35 yards high and 500 yards long.
A much more secular role is played by any clan leader and the imperial dynasty. In the indigenous religion of Japan, the Shinto, the leader has vital functions to perform.
Shinto The Leader: From The 4th Century AD
From the mainland migrate the first inhabitants of Japan. With them they bring their own shamanism which exists from the time of prehistoric Asia. Various phenomena that are reverence worthy, important places and famous people are added by the Japanese to the pantheon of forces of nature and spirits. This results in kami or local deities in abundance. The name Shinto is given to the worship of these Gods. Roughly it means the ‘way of the Gods’.
A strong clan system emerges. Special honor is given by each clan to a specific God which is considered to be ancestor of all the group members, especially the clans’ ancestor leader,.
Imperial pre-eminence is attained by the Yamato clan’s forebear by the 4th century AD. Amongst the Gods, prominent place is held by the forebear. Above all others in the heavens, shines the Sun empress. The empress is claimed as ancestor by the Yamato clan. Descent of emperors from the sun is chronicled by a commissioned creation story.
Shinto is used for political purposes by the imperial family. In the 20th century, this is an important issue. This ancient religion at a deeper level remains a growing popular system of religious devotion. Buddhist elements which arrive later in Japan are absorbed by Shinto which lacks any sacred text or official ritual. In doing this, it does not lose its sense of conviction.
Buddhism And The Soga Family : 6th – 7th Century
The cause of Buddhism is furthered by the imperial family’s minor branch, ‘The Soga’. In 536, minister to the crown is Soga Iname. The Korean state of Paekche sends a present for the emperor in 538. The gift is a Buddhist image along with few Buddhist texts written in Chinese.
A letter is sent along this missionary gift. This message which emphasizes that for any civilized state, the most proper religion is Buddhism, is taken to heart by Soga Iname. In reaction, he builds the very first Buddhist temple in his own house, in Japan.
Soga family members increase their power gradually during the rest of the 6th century. A pattern of diminishing the emperor to a figurehead is also pioneered by them. This system of divide and rule gradually becomes Japan’s characteristic especially under the shoguns, in later centuries.
Soga Umako assassinates the emperor and replaces him with his more pliable younger sister in 592. From the imperial family, Prince Shotoku Taishi, a junior member is appointed as regent then by Umako. But this young prince surprisingly has his own ideas as ruler.
Confucianism and Shotoku: 593-622
The Chinese system of government is seen by the scholarly Shotoku as the right way forward for Japan. He tries introducing Confucian bureaucracy, on the basis of merit, to replace the more warlike competiveness of the Japanese clan society. As compared to the Soga family he actively sponsors Buddhism. Till today, survive the pagoda and Horyuji in Nara dating from 607
The popular constitution of 17 articles and Shotoku are associated. The effort is to establish an imperial administration that is centralized on the basis of the Chinese pattern. The formal discussion about this is about number of effective reforms. However in the 7th century, the direction continues after the Soga family falls.
A group of nobles, including one from the Fujiwara family of regents assassinate two members of the Soga family in 645.
‘The Taika reforms’ which is a new imperial programme is announced by the new regime. The trend towards complete rule by the imperial courts’ centralized bureaucracy is continued by them. In comparison to merit, promotion proves to be more in terms of hereditary rank.
The Japanese court has been nomadic till early 8th century, moving from one town to another. Imperial bureaucracy is increasing in weight now making the requirement for a capital city imminent. The empress orders that in the Yamato plain a capital city shall be constructed.
It is on Xi’an, the T’ang capital that Nara is closely modelled. Now at a peak is the craze for all Chinese things as well as the impact of Buddhism. In 685 the order passed is that a Buddhist family shrine must exist in each household. Also beautiful monasteries line up avenues of Nara. For less than a century Nara, which sees the first Japanese culture flowering, continues as the capital city after which the next move is to Kyoto,.
Earliest Known Printed Buddhist Texts In Japan And Korea: 750-768
In East Asia, one noteworthy achievement of Buddhists is the invention of printing. The lead is taken by Korea. A sutra printed in 750 in Korea on a single sheet of paper is the earliest known printed document in the world. Mass circulation is done in a bold experiment by Japan, closely following Korea. Huge editions of a lucky prayer or charm is commissioned by the empress in Nara, the devoutly Buddhist region in 768. To complete the project took 6 years and millions copies were printed to distribute amongst pilgrims. Many continue to exist.
First Texts Reach Japan: 8th Century
A strong influence is that Chinese script and Chinese literature from China reach Japan in the 4th century perhaps. This is the period when the first texts reach Japan, when the Japanese language is still to be written down. Chinese characters are adapted by the first Japanese scribes to suit the requirements of a different language. This is a strained alliance has not been resolved even today.
It is from the 8th century when court life began at Nara, that earliest surviving Japanese works are seen. There are compilations of Japanese poems in magnificent anthology, history and legends.
In 712 the historical works are ‘Records of Ancient Matters’ or the Kojiki. In 720, the ‘Written Chronicles of Japan’ or the Nihongi, follow. Scholars of the courts gathered oral sources to create historical works. When needed, they were read to the emperor. History of Japan up to 697 is bought about in the Nihongi while legend is mainly dealt with in the Kojiki.
An anthology written by more than 450 authors and consisting of around 4500 poems, ‘Manyoshu’ is compiled by a group of poets in 759. Its powerful, direct and simple verses, especially in the form of tanka – (short 5-line form) become a lasting and important part of literary tradition of Japan.
Kyoto Or Heian: From 794
In 794 the court moves to the new capital city which is modeled on the Chinese example of X’ian just like the earlier capital Nara was. However in one respect it differs. As its immediate neighbors, there are no temples and monasteries in the imperial palace. In Japan the rulers continue to remain Buddhist but the lesson they learn is that state and religion must be kept apart; abbots and rich monks should not be allowed to meddle with governance.
Heian-kyo (capital of tranquility and peace) is the first new city. Kyoto (‘capital’) a simpler name is however given to it soon.
Towards the end of the 8th century, emerges a great significant and new title in the history of Japan. Ainu, the more primitive people (living beyond the imperial territory’s northern border) are tough to control for the Kyoto government. Sei-i-tai-shogun (great general for subjugation of the barbarians) is the bombastic title given to the general who goes to calm them down.
He gives up the title after a mission is successful. Feudal lords holding power during military dictatorships will revive the title and make it familiar as ‘shogun’ a shortened form, in the later centuries.
Relations Between Japan And China: 607-894
Japan is on a number of missions to Xi’an at the T’ang capital. Japan admires having everything that is Chinese. In 607, the first ambassador sails to Japan and returns back with a Chinese envoy the next year. In 838, the 12th mission departs. However for more than half a century there is a gap after which in 894 another ambassador is selected.
His argument is that the T’ang Dynasty is in difficulty, hence refuses to go as ambassador. The trouble is that in China, Buddhists are persecuted and so Japan should have nothing to do with its erstwhile mentor. The report he presents is accepted. China continues to influence Japan but it will adapt its local needs to foreign themes, with much more confidence.
The Power Of The Fujiwara Family: 9th – 11th Century
At Kyoto in the early centuries, the most significant development is the Fujiwara family’s rise to power. In 645 at the ending of the line of Soga regents, one ancestor had been of prominence. A similar powerful role is acquired by his descendants, in court 200 years later. Kampaku – (translated usually as ‘chancellor’) a new office is created by them for themselves in 877.
A simple device is used by them so that hereditary power can be exercised by them in this role. Brides for the imperial house will henceforth come only from their family. Hence for 200 years, almost every emperor is a Fujiwara chancellor’s grandson or a son-in-law.
One of them who controls the court for more than 30 decades (995-1027) manipulates this system skillfully. He is Fujiwara Michinaga, grandfather to four emperors and father-in-law of another 4 emperors.
Among males in the imperial family the mortality rate would be considered high in normal circumstances. However, since another custom that is handy, is introduced by the Fujiwara, so such an implication doesn’t occur. So that emperors live a life of ease at a monastery, they are encouraged to consider early retirement. Most are happy to do this as imperial duties involve wearisome rituals. Royal youths in a succession are freely selected by the chancellors. Fujiwara wives or mothers can manipulate the royal youths.
The Fujiwara clan presides in Kyoto. It is the brilliance of court life that determines the Fujiwara clan’s success in this maintaining this system. Nobles are enticed into taking up a courtier’s role. They elect to reside in the capital, using funds their distant estates provide.
In Kyoto lives the elegant and sophisticated high society. More than sexual morality it is very concerned with standards of taste. Two great works, written by women which stand out in Japanese literature, depict this court life brilliantly.
The Classics In Japan: 10th – 11th Century
With the capital of Japan at Kyoto, the Heian period is famed as subtle and elegant by literature, just like the style of the court. In civilized life, one essential element considered is poetry, just as in China. A favorite pastime amongst people is conducting competitions in writing of verses. If a poet is good enough then the court prefers to have him. Messages written to a mistress by a lover are welcome in poetic form, especially if a flower arrangement accompanies it.
In the Manyoshu tradition followed in earlier times, an anthology of poems is commissioned by the emperor in 905. Short tanka in its entirety is contained in Kokinshu, the new collection. In its subsequent influence it is much more restricting and more artificial as compared to its predecessor.
Many of the prose works, especially by women is this classical period’s greatest glory. Journals of life in court are one vital strand. Kagero nikki written by a noblewoman in 974-977 is the earliest to survive. However, Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon is the best known, by far.
During the 990s, Sei Shonagon is a lady-in-waiting to the empress . Her text is delightful; it is more a mainstream book rather than a journal. Her thoughts and impressions are recorded as unlinked passages in it. With complete clarity and brightness, the scene’s visual impact which is later seen in Japanese color prints is conveyed in vivid tone poems.
In the entire Japanese literature and particularly of the Heian period, the most distinguished writer is another lady of the court. Murasaki Shikubi is the pseudonym she is known by. In 1001 she is widowed and from 1005 is part the entourage of the empress. Had she written nothing besides the dairy about court life in the years 1007 to 1010, her name would have lived in literature. Genji Monogatori (‘The Tale of Genji’) is an extremely ambitious work of hers.
This chronicle of court life is considered as first novel of the world. It focuses with psychological subtlety and rich characterization on different women Prince Genji favored.
Clans At War: 10th – 12th Century
The concept of a Confucian bureaucracy administered centralized rule is the main import from China. Northern China plains found this system best suited. To administer large public projects like flood control, a regime as strong as this is needed.
In Japan’s isolated valleys and rocky landscape it doesn’t seem to be appropriate, as here the pattern is more likely to be of endemic warfare and strong local loyalties. At Kyoto, the shimmering court loses control to a major part of Japan by the 10th century, to bands of warriors out to steal people.
Local chieftains merge themselves with leaders of one or the other of two best known clans, Minamoto and Taira both of which claim descent from emperors from bygone eras. Between both groups occurs a full-scale war by the middle of the 12th century.
In 1160 Taira is the first to win outright. At Kyoto, Kyomori, their leader places himself into the power structure in a fashion that is time-honored. To add a new tier to the system he gets the Taira daughters married into the Fujiwara and imperial families. The Fujiwara perfects this government system. However it’s a short-lived power.
Taira is defeated on land and sea by Minamoto in 1184 and 1185 in two big battles. In heroic stories of Japan, these wins become popular elements.
An unromantic and shrewd member, Yoritomo, from the Minamoto clan comes to power with this victory. In popular literature, relationship of Yoritomo with Yoshitsune, his younger half-brother is also a favorite theme. A strategist by nature, Yoritomo lets his brother do the actual fighting and win battles. He tries capturing him, in self-interest and jealousy later. When Yoritomo’s men corner Yoshitsume, he commits suicide in northern Japan. In this story, the romantic lead is Yoshitune. However in Japanese history, a significant figure is Yoritomo.
Kamakura And Yoritomo: From 1185
From south of modern Tokyo, from the seaside base at Kamakura, a campaign is conducted by Yoritomo against the Taira clan. In 1185, with the win, it becomes headquarters of a military regime that exercises real power in the nation. However the emperor continues to reside in Kyoto in his palace. Kamakura is made the military headquarters ‘Bakufu’ by Yoritomo. The Bakufu is the term used for a government form that continues to exist for 7 centuries in Japan.
Sei-i-tai-shogun the ancient military title is given to Yoritomo by the emperor in 1192, once the position is given a definite structure. In the long succession of strong shoguns, Yoritomo is the first.
Samurai And Shoguns: 11th-19th Century
Samurai, the new class of warriors makes it possible to have a central thread of Japanese history which is the shoguns military rule. During the clan warfare of the 11th and 12th centuries, they emerge and get themselves established as local aristocracy of territories that are independent and small.
By serving regional landlords that are more powerful, the status of the samurai enhances in a pattern that is same as Europe’s contemporary feudalism. A result of this is that a pyramid of loyalty leads up to the shogun himself, Japan’s military overlord once warfare has given way to peace.
The samurai’s code of honor becomes a more absolute commitment of discipline and loyalty, with oriental perfection which no other feudal warrior in Europe practices. In ways similar to Confucianism, it is formalized as an ideal behavior, ‘bushido’. It is formalized with additional emphasis on physical skill and courage, both martial virtues.
Sepukku, known in Japan is the ultimate ritual suicide that safeguards the honor of the samurai. In the west it is called Hara-kiri usually.
Various Buddhism Sects In Japan: 12th – 13th Century
At Kamakura is Daibutsu, a vast sculpture in bronze, one of the most famous monuments in Japan. Cast in 1252, it is not the historical Gautam Buddha though it depicts Buddha sitting in peaceful meditation. He is known as Amitabha Buddha and revered to as Amida, in Japan.
In Japan one of the many new sects is the cult of Amida, termed as ‘Pure Land’ Buddhism. It comes from China and during the Kamakura shogunate becomes naturalized. It is based on a sutra in which enlightenment as Buddha is achieved by Amida. The assurance it provides is that all those who adore the Buddha can live with him in pure land for ever. In the Sukhavativyuha Sutra, such a Promise has been made.
A Buddhism sect known as Zen in Japan and Chan in China is made very much their own by the Japanese. In the 12th century, Zen reaches Japan. It lays great emphasis in finding the truth within one self and on intuition. Importance of discipline is also stressed upon by it.
The new samurai class finds it appealing and during the shogunate, it becomes religion of the state almost. In some aspects distinctive in cultural life of the Japanese, the Zen masters encourage the Tea Ceremony (which is linked closely with traditional ceramics of Japan).
The only sect that has its roots completely in Japan is the most aggressive of Buddhist sects. Teachings of a fiery poet, Nichiren are followed in the sect. The poet criticizes shoguns in Kamakura for which he spends most of his life in exile. The shoguns favor the devotees of Zen Buddhism and Pure Land on whom he pours scorn.
Nichiren, like prophets of the Old Testament, prophesies disaster falling on his compatriots who are misguided. Many see the 1274 invasion by the Mongols as a fulfillment of the prophecies he made. Even today a large Buddhist sect in Japan faithfully follows his teachings.
The Tea Ceremony And Japanese Pottery: 13th – 16th C.
In Japanese culture, Zen priests are linked with two elements that are very characteristic. One is the Tea ceremony involving polite formalities for which pottery is exclusively designed and the other is elegant simplicity of ceramics in Japan.
Kato Shirozaemon, a potter from Japan is taken to China by a Zen monk in 1223 to study methods of creating ceramics. In the Song dynasty, this is one period in which perfection of simplicity is achieved by Chinese potters. The perfection is rivaled then by Japanese who evolve their very own styles and in the same vein.
Kato establishes himself at Seto after coming back home. Seto, having as many as 200 kilns in the district, become a pottery manufacturing centre. Status of the classical pottery of the Japanese region is ever since retained by Seto.
Temmoku is most of the Seto output, including bowls and stoneware cups having iron brown or black glaze, which imitates contemporary style in China. As the Tea Ceremony – ‘with mood of rustic simplicity’ of the Samurai class gains more popularity, this becomes much in demand. Raku is the most popular simplicity of Japan which is a result of Korean influence rather than China.
The Kamikaze And The Mongols: 1274 – 1281
An eye is cast by Kublai Khan on rich islands located on the other side of the Korea Strait. He is overlord of Korea and much in control of China. A Mongol army sails in Korean ships for Japan, in 1274.
Though they are gallant and individual Samurais, they seem to be no match for the Mongol cavalry in disciplined lines, armed with swords, lances, bows and arrows and javelins. For the Mongols when much of the fleet is blown up and destroyed it seems that victory is not possible. They remain left aground at hostile places after which they suffer huge losses.
After 7 years the emperor of China is Kublai Khan. Sailing from Korea and China both, he launches against Japan another great expedition. Troops are better organized and protective sea walls are in place. Ability of the Japanese increases to hold Mongols at bay for months together till the typhoon season starts.
Forces of nature destroy much of the Mongol fleet once again. Kamikaze, ‘Divine Wind’ is the name coined for the storms which has saved them on two occasions. An attempt is made by a same dramatic intervention of human version, in World War II and that too with blind courage.
Ashikaga Shogunate: 1338-1573
After invasion of the Mongols, power is retained by the Kamakura for just a couple of generations. At Takauji, at one of their vassals a civil war takes place which they win in 1338. Military headquarters or the bakufu is shifted to Kyoto which is the imperial family’s residence already.
A member of the Ashikaga family is Takauji, hence Ashikaga shogunate is the new administration at Kyoto which lasts from 1338 t0 1573. Considering the culture of Japan, the era is known as Muromachi more commonly from Kyoto district where their government is established by the Ashikaga.
Compared to their antecedents in Kamakura the shoguns of Ashikaga are not in firm control of Japan. The nation is in a permanent civil war state from 1467 till 1573 when the shogunate is bought to an end. However as far as Japan’s cultural life is concerned, huge contribution is made by Ashikaga.
Spaces exclusively designed for the Tea Ceremony, gardens and Zen temples are created. In 1397 Yoshimitsu, the shogun, constructs the popular Golden Pavilion in a villa type in Kyoto, so as to spend retirement years there (this becomes a Buddhist temple after his death). Another passion for Ashikaga is theatre.
Noh Theatre: From The 14th Century
In 1374, a father Kanami and his eleven year old son, Zeami Motokiyo perform before Yoshimitsu, the shogun in Kyoto, at the Imakumano shrine. In traditional theatre form, innovations are made by Kanami. The innovations known as sarugaku-noh are from China originally. The shogun is pleased with whatever he sees. He likes the young and talented Zeami’s performance in particular. He absorbs the family into his service.
The more simple ‘noh’ is the name in which Noh theatre begins in Japan. It is also the beginning of around 500 years of Shogun’s patronage of this refined and cultured theatrical style.
In 1374 at that day, in just few decades is established the whole repertoire of Noh plays as well as style of Noh performance and production. In the new style, author of the first plays is Kanami. The bulk which sustains is written by Zeami. Some more are the works of Zenchiku, the son-in-law of Zeami. In the 15th century, since the death of Zenchiku, Noh plays in only a small number have been written.
Death Of Zenchiku: 15th Century
All male actors along with orchestra and small chorus dance and sing scenes from legend, in Noh. Great passion is implied with the immense solemnity and slowness with which they sing and dance. Placement of particular props, made of cypress wood, for the scene and its dimensions are indeed changeless.
This exquisite art form appears to start life as a national, rare and classic treasure. It reaches a huge audience in the first 2-3 centuries. A more popular style is adopted by an offshoot of Noh in the 17th century.
The new departure called kabuki becomes the mainstream theatre in Japan. The preserve of the nobility and the court, the earlier form of Noh, fossilizes to perfection.
Japanese Christians: 1543-1550
In Japan the first European arrives but it is a freak visit. A storm blows a China bound Portuguese merchant vessel to Kyushu’s southern tip. Kyushu welcomes the strangers. On board they have muskets which are of particular interest to Japan, and which they copy successfully.
For trading purposes, other Europeans also start visiting after the freak visit. Later they visit for evangelization in 1549. Francis Xavier along with his Japanese convert, Anjiro are bought by a Chinese junk that year to the Kyushu Island. The Jesuit is taken by Anjiro to Kagoshima his hometown. He gets introduced to the significant people in the district.
Between the Jesuits and Japanese ruling class there is very naturally an affinity. The new order in Loyola is in essence an aristocratic elite valuing honor and obedience, applying ideals of the warrior caste to spiritual campaigns and highly hierarchical. Much that can be admired is recognized by the Japanese in Christianity.
In Japan, the early years of the Jesuits happens at same time as the rise to power of Oda Nobunaga, the warlord. Buddhism’s local influence is resented by the warlord. By the time Xavier goes sailing away from Japan a year later, he has converted around 1000 Japanese to Christianity. The inception of Christian success in Japan in a stronger trend is his victory.
In Japan lives a Korean family making pots. One of the potters,Tanak Chojiro makes a unique type of hand molded bowls giving them an uneven shape. The pots are at times enlivened or dapples with flash of color, dark tone is used usually and they have thick glaze in lead. Any connoisseur is sure to get excited with beauty of these pots, very perfectly usable for the Tea Ceremony.
In 1588, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the influential warlord Tea Master is shown this bowl. A gold seal with ‘Raku’ inscribed on it is awarded by him to creators of the bowl. Thus the bowls get their name and become well known ware for the Tea Ceremony.
Kakiemon The Exquisite Porcelain: 17th Century
In the history of ceramics, Japan contributes hugely in the following century. Overglaze painting method in introduced by potter family member Sakada Kakiemon in 1644. He has kilns in northwest Kyushu in Arita. Milky white exquisite porcelain wares are produced by Kakiemon II and Kakiemon III, his two sons in the 1670s. The hexagonal and square utensils are decorated with brightly colored and elegant bird and plant motifs. Against the white background the decoration covers little surface area but stands out with great intensity.
This is the time when Japanese wares are imported by the Dutch. It is at Europe the Kakiemon style gains dominance.
Japanese And Indian Castles: 16th – 17th Century
Some of the finest castles or fortified palaces across the globe date from the same period in Japan and India. The castles of the 16th and 17th century are intricately decorated pavilions that rise above secure walls.
The Hindu princes are the first to develop this tradition in India which the Moghul emperors bring to peak. From the small castles of local feudal chieftains, the castles in Japan gradually evolve. During Ashikaga shogunate civil wars, these castles prove to be a necessity practically.
Warlords of Hideyoshi and Nobunaga create the castles in Japan in late 16th century. After the previous period’s anarchy they are the ones to restore unified rule over Japan. Their power reflects in the grandeur of castles decorated richly with painted and carved ornament.
Himeji is the period’s most attractive castle to survive. It was built for Hideyoshi on earlier foundations. Elegant oriental roofs and white walls form a pyramid on 5 storeys of pavilions kind of indicating that they are concerned mainly with peace pleasures.
Togukawa Ieyasu Asserts Supremacy: 1573-1603
Three warlords in a succession bring an end to the chaos and civil war of almost 200 years in Japan. In the late 16th century, they work in conjunction with each other.
Forces are built up by Oda Nobunaga, first from a small power base till he takes Kyoto. Through the Ashikaga shotgun he rules for few years but in 1573, he banishes him, thus taking power into his own hands. By destroying thousands of temples without any compassion, he reduces the power of the Buddhists. He now encourages the Jesuits who have newly arrived.
Japan’s strong man, Nobunaga is followed by 2 of his own generals. Toyotomi Hideyoshi is the first one who makes his headquarters a castle in 1583 at an elevated terrace in Osaka.
Tokugawa Leyasu is a younger man, the chief ally of Hideyoshi being Nobunaga’s supporter. Hideyoshi presents his castle to Tokugawa at Edo in 1590. Leyasu makes Edo his base, which is now Tokyo. In 1598 after the death of Hideyoshi, the powerful Leyasu defeats all other enemies.
In 1600 at Sekigahara, supremacy is asserted forcefully by Leyasu in a battle. The status which two predecessors eluded, he now achieves. The shogun title is accorded to him by the emperor in 1603.
Tokugawa shogunate’s long period starts with the appointment and lasts till 1867. It is within a single family that the shogun’s all powerful office descends for more than 250 years. At the same time, the emperor’s largely ceremonial role stays in another family. Since 1192, this type of compromise had existed. However, the Tokugawa shoguns created a social structure that was highly controlled, which now makes the system inflexibly formalized.
The Tokugawa – Hereditary Commander Of The Japanese Army: 1603-1868
A social control system is introduced in the 17th century by the shoguns. Though it is unemotionally effective, it does not use terror in any way. In this feudalism form of control, land is held as fiefs from the shogun by the nobles or daimyo, after which it is packed out to their own liegemen who display the same kind of loyalty to the diamyo, as the daimyo owe to the shogun.
Similar power bases are built by the great nobles in their own regions due to which strength of the monarch reduces in Europe. By a filtering process, this drawback is avoided in Japan which has caused the system to be known as a centralized feudalism.
This Japanese feudalism has one distinguishing feature according to which, every other year has to be spent by the nobles in Edo. In alternate years,when they return, their heirs and families have to stay on at the capital thus becoming the shogun’s hostages.
The luxurious life in the capital and the attendant ceremony softens the situation’s stark reality. The daimyos are in debt often to moneylenders and merchants due to costs of maintaining the establishments in town and the country and commuting costs between the grand state and them. Thus the ability to withstand the shogun reduces further.
The Togukawa shoguns have attained a taste for complete control and become aware that influence of the foreigners can be a prospective danger. In the 17th century, as part of counterbalance to the Buddhists, the Jesuits are offered early encouragement which gets reversed now. The number of Japanese Christians by this time increase to around 300,000 perhaps.
All missionaries are ordered to exit Japan, by an official order in 1614. As per the order, all Japanese have to get themselves registered as belonging to any one Buddhist sect. Japanese Christians are meticulously searched for Inquisition style, in the following decades. They are searched for and gruesomely killed. On the beach around 70 people are crucified upside down and then left to drown in the high tide.
To ensure that foreign contamination is avoided, in 1624, it is made capital offence for any Japanese to make an attempt to leave the nation. In case anyone has left then they cannot return. Ocean-going vessel construction is made illegal. The Dutch are the only foreigners who retain contact with the shoguns. In Nagasaki harbor, a small man-made island is made available to them for the purpose of trading.
For Japan it is a repressing seclusion. However this has interesting cultural and social results at local level. Need for luxury goods and funds for the daimyos provides business for merchants and money-lenders. In cities, wealth increases. Arts and theatre bring in more vitality to the rich city life.
The Floating World, Ukiyo-E – 18th Century
In Kyoto and Edo the extravagant urban life centers on the kabuki theatres and red-light districts, which are recognized as the floating world – Ukiyo-e. This is a Buddhist term which means the transient existence. Through pleasure, the connotation of escape is now acquired.
In Ukiyo monogatari, (Tales of the Floating World), the 17th century novel in Japan, the definition of the word is – Living just for the moment, turning our full attention to drinking wine, pleasures of the moon, maple leaves, the snow, the cherry blossoms, singing songs, refusing to get discouraged, like a gourd that flows the current of the river – which we term as the floating world’.
Kabuki: From The 17th Century
It is in the floating world of the cities or the ukiyo-e in which lie the origins of Kabuki, the popular theatre of Japan. To perform mimes and dances, a troupe is formed in Kyoto by O-Kuni, a young Shinto priestess, in around 1600. Her example is followed by courtesans of the city as they feel she is very successful so they copy her as a way of revealing themselves to prospective customers. Not only are the performances imprudent, but the admirers respond in a violently zealous way. In around 1629 an order is issued that all female performers should be banned from the stage.
The ban lasts for more than 200 years up to the Meiji period. However the No tradition is adopted by the male performers regarding taking up female roles for themselves. This move is helpful in satisfying appetite of the new audience for theatre.
Kabuki (meaning ka for singing, bu for dancing and ki for art) becomes an entertainment form in cafes which is extremely successful during the 17th and 18th centuries. Spectacular costumes are worn by actors and they perform on stage surrounded by a convivial audience on 3 sides and amongst scraps of stylized scenery. Drinks and food can be served to spectators in small box-type compartments.
It is from the already thriving ‘joruri’, the puppet theatre, that the new form first borrows scripts and plots in Japan. However for the kabuki theatre, plays are soon specially written out of which some become enduring favorites and much in demand. All through the centuries they are in demand from audiences.
A play of 1748 – Chushingura is an exceptional example, based on the real life dramatic incident, some 4 decades earlier. A lord is snubbed by another nobleman which outrages his loyal 47 ‘ronin’ or the retainers. A revenge is carefully plotted. The guilty noble is killed by the ronin. This honorable vendetta makes the shogun sympathetic. However all 47 are ordered to commit the Hara-kiri by the shogun in 1703. In Japan this is a sensational event. To make it dramatic on the stage, actors draw on their significant acting skills.
Faithful fans are acquired by the kabuki actors. Japan possesses required skills for printing colored images of stars in their roles as demanded.
Color Printing In Japan: 18th – 19th Century
In the printing story, an early role is played by Japan. Holy figures in simple woodcut images are provided to Buddhist pilgrims since many centuries. Images of courtesans and kabuki actors are hence supplied with the printing technology in place. Printing of portraits is done in color from about 1740. For each image requiring color, an extra wood block is cut out by the printers. Each color and block is linked with its own color after which it is pressed against the paper sheet.
The development makes Japan the first in the world as provider of top quality color prints at an attractive price.
The demand making this possible is linked with the floating world ‘ukiyo-e’. The 2 best liked subjects are courtesans and actors. Their flowing costumes are depicted with stylish designs with areas of flat color built in them. In the late 19th century, European art is influenced greatly with Japanese style.
Of the ukiyo-e school there are a number of individual masters with each having many followers. Utamaro gets popular in the 18th century for woodcuts of courtesans. In making prints of actors, the leading specialist is Toyokuni. In 1794-6 his (Views of Actors on Stage) Yakusha butai no sugata-e is published.
The greatest grandmaster, Hokusai of the ukiyo-e-school, pioneers another interest in landscaping in early 19th century. He is the one accredited for all Japanese images depicting intensely dramatic and stylized views of the holy mountain in Japan. From 1830, over the years he publishes it under the Fugaku sanju-rokkei (Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji) title.
Younger than Hokusai is Hiroshige, another landscape master. However he also publishes at during the same period. In 1831 he makes his name with (Famous Places of the Capital) Toto Meisho. While depicting weather in the landscape tone, the same element of elusiveness is brought about by him.
Just like the contracted society of Japan which the ukiyo-e depends upon and depicts, that art form is unable to sustain the unwanted interference of the outside world and Commodore Perry in the year 1853.
In Japan, disturbance is caused by the new links with the west. However this helps to carry Japanese color prints abroad. Ukiyo-e continues to exist in studios of French post-impressionists and impressionists when in Japan it is over and done with.
New Competitors In Asia: 1891-1904
It becomes obvious during the 1890s that in northeast Asia, a conflict is developing between two powers. Both are keen on benefiting from China’s continuing weakness and are in mood for expansion. Out of the two power one is Japan, an already a fighting-fit and emerging empire in Asia and the other is Russia, a European empire, an incompetent and vast contender.
In 1858 some decades back, Vladivostok is won by Russia from China. However Russia shows keen interest in the far east in the 1890s. The future Nicholas II, heir to the throne is sent on a distinguished tour of the region, in 1891.
For the far-east to open up, a huge engineering project work is initiated in Russia the same year. The very first sleepers are laid by construction gangs at Vladivostok on the Pacific coast and Chelyabinsk in the Urals, which will be accomplished eventually. It is known as the trans-Siberian railway in 1905.
With respect to Korea, Japan’s tendencies to expand is quite evident during these years, mainly as it is a rich coal and iron source and is also the closest neighbor. For Russia, Korea is of great interest also, however it is China’s ‘tributary kingdom’ by long tradition.
Crises related to a succession occur in Korea, triggered by interference by Japan. However till 1894, diplomatic means are used to resolve the crisis. In that year, Japanese and Chinese armies use the excuse of an uprising to enter the kingdom and help the leader of Korea to put it down.
The consequence is war between Japan and China. Japan is overwhelmingly victorious. The peace treaty of Shimonoseki is inked in 1895 in which punitive terms are accepted by China. The terms include relinquishing of Taiwan to Japan as well as the Liaotung peninsula which is strategically important to the west of Korea and also a huge indemnity. This peninsula being controlled by the Japanese is more than Nicholas II, the tsar with his own ambitions in the region is ready to accept.
In the Triple Intervention, Germany and France are influenced to join diplomatic forces. Russia asserts that the Liaotung peninsula be returned by Japan to China. In compensation, a much larger indemnity is to be paid by China to Japan. Required loan for this would be provided by Russia.
In 1896, Nicholas II concludes a treaty with China to build up on this achievement. The right to construct is granted to him in return as he guaranteed the Chinese territory’s integrity. Besides this, he is also granted the right to shield with troops of Russia, a vital section of the trans-Siberian railway that passes through Manchuria.
At Liaotung Peninsula’s southern tip is strategically located the habour Lü-shun (or Port Arthur) which is seized by Nicholas II in 1898. With this any doubts the Japanese have about intentions of the Russians, are dispelled. This port was denied to Japan 3 years back.
Russia and Japan are also fighting in Korea in the meantime. A queen consort of the Korean King has taken shelter for 12 months in Seoul in the Russian legation. Japanese assassins kill her in 1895. When authority is recovered by the king, he is favorably disposed to favor Russia instead of Japan. A direct fight is highly predicted between the two powers. However it isn’t customary for the Japanese to any give forewarning.
The War Between Japan And Russia: 1904-1905
Almost 4 decades later in a preview of Pearl Harbor, a surprise and deadly attack is launched by a Japanese fleet in February 1904 on Port Arthur. A number of warships from Russia are shattered while remaining warships are barricaded in the harbor.
Near Seoul in Korea, an army from Japan lands in the month of March. Before June end, 3 other armies land in different parts of the region. A series of engagements occur in which the Russians and these forces meet in which Japan experiences clear victories and at other times the engagements are indecisive. From February to March 1905, the battle for Mukden (Shenyang now) for 3 weeks is the climax. In the battle more than 330,000 Russians prevails over 270,000 Japanese.
China has not been very strong against western armies, but now after decades the victories in Asia for the Japanese prove to be a thrilling experience. The new role of Japan as military power in modern day times is to be capped with Japan’s much more convincing demonstration.
It is clear to Russian strategists that Russia which has access to the scene of war by land can defeat Japan if it can wrest from it the control of the seas around Korea. A strategy to this end for long term is decided upon by the St. Petersburg government. After the 1904 summer the Baltic fleet gets into preparation and goes off on a journey half way around the globe, in October.
On the way out, some small disasters are experienced, but finally in May 1905, the large fleet arrives at the China Sea, truly impressively. The Japanese contingent consisting of faster and modern ships lies in wait at Tsushima Strait through which the warships of Russia head for Vladivostok.
Two thirds of the Russian ships capsize in the 2 day war, while six hobble back to neutral ports for safety, six are seized while just 4 touch Vladivostok. The journey lasting 7 months from home comes to a crushing and sudden end.
A peace treaty is mediated by Theodore Roosevelt, the American President by making an offer to both sides. The assurance is that the terms will be at advantage to Russia when the diplomats get together in New Hampshire at Portsmouth. Japan gets control of the Liaotung peninsula’s southern part and Port Arthur. Korea is identified by Russia as being placed within the Japanese instead of the sphere of influence of Russia.
International recognition is achieved by Japan for the first time for its expansionist program with the acceptance of its terms. Russia experiences adverse effects of the humiliation it faces nearer home as well as the east, resulting in the turbulence of the first year of its revolution.
Blitzkrieg Of Japan: 1941-1942
With ruthlessness that no other combatant can match, Japan makes an entry to the World War II. A blitzkrieg is achieved in just a few months to rival anything the Germans achieve. An attack is being prepared secretly which even Hitler isn’t aware of. The attack comes out of a clear sky literally.
In the mid-Pacific around 400 planes of Japan take off from aircraft carriers on 7th December 1941, in the wee hours of Sunday. The sleeping crew and the American fleet at the anchor at Pearl Harbor are their main target. In Hawaii, on the Honolulu island, stretches a deep water port, Pearl Harbor. At this harbor, all the 8 United States battleships are struck and 5 sink immediately. Besides this 188 planes get reduced to scrap and 11 war ships sink. In the sudden strike, more than 2400 Americans lose their lives.
In Guam, Singapore, Philippines, Hong Kong and Midway air attacks are launched by the Japanese on the same day on British and American airfields. On the tarmac, a large number of planes are destroyed. For the campaign the beginning is dramatic. With same intensity it continues for the next few months by air, land and sea.
Repulse the battle cruiser, and the Prince of Wales battleship of Britain sinks off the Malaya coast, with Japanese air strikes in the next 3 days. About 5000 Japanese soldiers land on Guam’s US base, overwhelming it rapidly. Bangkok is taken easily by them. After Pearl Harbor is attacked, all this occurs in the next 3 days. Still the pace slackens not even a little.
On Christmas day, Hong Kong surrenders. Japanese take over Sarawak by then. Soon after the New Year, Brunei falls to Japanese hands. Entire Malaya is held by the Japanese by the end of January, 1942. Amboina’s Dutch spice island, Singapore, Timor and Bali are brought in by the month of February. The Java Island, the prized possession in Southeast Asia is forfeited by the Dutch on 9th March. USA is not able to retain its last base in the Philippines by early May.
Burma is the focus of attention for the Japanese, by this time. Nationalist China can receive goods from the west only through the extremely tough terrain which is the Burma road. Cutting off this lifeline is important for the Japanese. Whole of Burma is within the control of the Japanese by May end. Not only is India staring at danger but China also is threatened.
A coral reef around 1300 miles northwest of Honolulu, called Midway Island is the next one Japanese turns their attention to. A submarine and air base is developed here by the US. Four huge aircraft carriers and a huge Japanese fleet move towards Midway in early June 1942. The attack is foreseen by the Americans who wait for the Japanese fleet with their own carriers. The tide starts turning, for the very first time.
Planes launch an attack by sea from both sides. The 4 heavy aircraft carriers of the Japanese are sunk by the attack by US planes on 4th June. Losses are suffered by the Americans also who lose a carrier. However, in this war for the first time, a major reverse is experienced by the Japanese fleet. This same night the fleet sails home, hardly coming near the reef of mid-Pacific.
To Nagasaki In Six Months: 1945
In February 1945, United States moves towards Japan for the final act. The B-29 bombers’ sorties to Japanese targets involve flying around 3000 miles from the Marianas. If they are able to seize the small Iwo Jima island midway along the route, then the distance could be reduced to almost half.
Large numbers of Japanese troops, armed heavily, guard the strategically important island in a network of fortified caves and rock shelters. On 19th February, when they land, fierce resistance is met by the US marines. US advances inch by precious inch, with more than 20,000 men injured or dead on each side. On 16th March the island is in the hands of the US, finally.
A new warfare method is used by the Japanese to sink a US light carrier on the 2nd day of the attack. A pilot engages in a suicide attack and plunges his plane filled with explosives into the ship’s side. On 24th October 1944, in the history of Japan, kamikaze was a technique used in pioneering a strike in the Pacific on a US fleet. During the forthcoming months a huge number of Japanese pilots are ready to give up their lives.
When the Americans move on towards Japan, the largest kamikaze strike awaits them. Now that Iwo Jima is acquired, the next target is the Okinawa Island, located at 300 miles from Kyushu, which is the southernmost of the 4 main Japanese islands.
On 1st April 1945, troops of US land on Okinawa. No less than 355 kamikaze planes are launched at them 5 days later. A human guided kamikaze weapon called baka, sinks Abele the US destroyer on 12th April. Charged by rockets and loaded with explosives the baka is a glider which is packed with explosives and taken to the target by a bomber. On release, the rockets get ignited and the baka is steered to the designated site by the pilot who dies in the explosion.
After an expensive war in the whole Pacific campaign, Okinawa falls into the hands of US by June end. More than 100,000 Japanese people and 12,000 US citizens lose their lives in the war.
Kyushu is the next target to be invaded. However contemplating bombing Japan into submission seems more attractive than fighting them with the Japanese defense becoming fiercer and more courageous at each stage. Successes couldn’t be attained in Iwo Jima but for the use of a new US weapon, called napalm in the attack.
Timber buildings in a crowded area of Tokyo are hit with napalm on 9th March 1945. A quarter of buildings in Tokyo burn, millions become homeless and around 80,000 people lose their lives due to the fire storm. In major Japanese cities, heavy raids similarly occur in the next few weeks. However there is no indication that Japan would surrender in spite of facing such horrors.
The Atom Bomb, a new US weapon is planned for use on the Japanese to force surrender. The declaration calling for an unconditional surrender from Potsdam receives no response from Japan. Hence the idea of using the new bomb is authorized by President Truman.
With the bomb on board, a B-29, specially adapted, takes off from Tinian Island on 6th August 1945. At 8.15 am it explodes over Hiroshima and destroys the city to an extent of 4 square miles. Around 80,000 people face instant death. No immediate surrender takes place partly as Tokyo does not realize the level of horror immediately and also because the imperial system in Japan is rigid.
On Nagasaki a second bomb is dropped just 3 days later. On 8th August between both the events a war is declared on Japan by Stalin. On the occupied Manchuria, a predatory attack is launched by Stalin. Terms for surrendering specified at Potsdam are accepted as announced by Japan on 10th August.
One topic of extreme controversy is atom bomb’s use. The question was that if the bomb was used on a deserted island for demonstration then would Japan surrender? Would conventional warfare prevail eventually? Would either of these courses have led to the prolonging of war with even greater loss of life? These seem to be unanswerable questions. An argument on the other side is that evidence of Hiroshima, contradictorily made the Cold War, a period of relative peace in the world.
Occupations After The War
The Japanese surrender is separated from General MacArthur’s formal acceptance of it on 2nd September 1945, in Tokyo in a ceremony onboard Missouri US battleship by three weeks. Victory is celebrated by Allies in Japan on 15th August with V-J Day, during the interim period. August 15th is the equivalent of the V-E Day, celebrated in Europe 90 days earlier.
To make the Japanese people ready to accept the disaster that has fallen on them, a practical necessity is the intervening weeks of preparation. The Japanese have invincible faith as per tradition, on their god-like emperor. This has to be debunked, first of all. To provide explanation about this situation, Hirohito talks on the radio stating that defeat has to be accepted. Many of people get to know that the emperor has a voice that is so ordinarily human. Another thing they need to accept is that foreign occupation will come after the defeat.
Douglas MacArthur, takes charge of the government of occupied Japan. In name, it is an Allied enterprise, but the occupation in fact is completely a concern for the US. Completing the country’s demilitarization is the first job for MacArthur. After this is to follow is the introduction of democratic institutions so that imperial rule can be replaced.
The emphasis changes with the Korean War breaking out by 1950 and of Mao Ze Dong’s control of China. Building Japan as a defensive wall against Communism seems to be the most important need now. In 1952 when the Allied occupation ends, a capitalist, democratic and independent Japan emerges.