Archive for the 'Japan core' Category

The Kamakura shogunate

November 28 2013

In Japan the period 935-1185 saw a progressive transfer of power and wealth from the exotic Imperial Court at Kyoto to provincial barons, and a concomitant lapse from domestic peace into civil disorder. The peace of the capital itself was disturbed more and more frequently and rudely by incursions of the armed forces of adjacent Buddhist monasteries. A civil war between two provincial families of Imperial descent, the Taira and the Minamoto, culminated in 1185 in the victory of Yoritomo Minamoto and his establishment of an effective dictatorship over the whole of Japan from a base at Kamakura – just beyond the southwestern extremity of the Kanto, the biggest of the rare plains on the main island, Honshu. [An hour out of Tokyo by train.] The Imperial Court and its sophisticated culture were allowed to survive at Kyoto, but the Kyoto Government was deprived of effective power. De facto, the Imperial Government at Kyoto had been controlled by regents belonging to the Fujiwara family since at least as early as 858, and, after Yoritomo Minamoto’s death in 1199, the regency for the Bakufu (military government) of the Shogun (Commander-in-Chief) at Kamakura was acquired in 1203 by the Hojo family, who stayed in the saddle till 1333 and maintained effectively, till about 1284, the regime that Yoritomo Minamoto had instituted.

Japan had never before been so efficiently governed as she was from 1185 to 1284, and the gross national product increased, though there was also an increase in the inequality of its distribution. Japan was fortunate in having a strong government during this century; for the Mongols invaded Japan in 1274, and again in 1281, after the completion of their conquest of the Sung Empire in 1279. On both occasions Japanese valour was assisted by storms that made havoc of the invaders’ ships. In 1274 the Mongols’ expeditionary force was small, and it broke off its attack after only one day’s fighting. In 1281 the invading force was on a large scale, and the attack was kept up for two months [before it was repulsed].

The military government of Kamakura was more in tune than the civil government at Kyoto with the cultural and social conditions of twelfth-century and thirteenth-century Japan. Yoritomo Minamoto and the Hojo regents who carried on his regime at Kamakura had contemporaries who played a corresponding role in the field of religion. The earliest forms of Mahayana Buddhism that were introduced into Japan via China and Korea were abstruse in their metaphysics – though some monasteries of these sects became crudely militaristic in their practice on Japanese soil. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Buddhism was presented to the Japanese people in simplified forms in which it was comprehensible and congenial to wider circles. A sect of Zen (Ch’an, Dhyana) Buddhism was introduced into Kamakura in 1191. The Zen spiritual technique of achieving sudden enlightenment through severely disciplined meditation was attractive to the soldiers [samurai].

Zen was the Japanese variant, introduced under the Kamakura shogunate, of Chán, a Chinese school of Mahayana Buddhism which emphasised dhyana, concentrated meditation.

Honen (1135-1212) [Jōdo-shū school] and Shinran (1173-1262) [Jōdo Shinshū school] appealed to the masses by concentrating on the repetition of the name of the bodhisattva Amida (Amitabha) as a talisman for securing admission, after death, to the “Pure Land”, Amida’s paradise.


Nichiren (1222-82) concentrated on chanting the praise of the Lotus Sutra. He was more akin to the ninth-century-B.C. Israelite prophets Elijah and Elisha than to any traditional Buddhist sage. Nichiren combated all other Buddhist sects, intervened actively in politics, got into trouble with the Bakufu, but won popularity by preaching resistance to the Mongols. Each of these twelfth-century and thirteenth-century Japanese simplified forms of Buddhism still had numerous adherents in the 1970s.

Toynbee himself, at the end of his life, knew and recorded a dialogue with Daisaku Ikeda.

Ikeda in his youth had joined a lay organisation founded in 1930 which propagated Nichiren Buddhism among the urban rootless called Soka Gakkai. In 1960 he became its President. In 1975 he set up Soka Gakkai International as an umbrella organisation for Soka Gakkai-affiliated groups around the world. After Toynbee’s death, the Nichiren Shōshū priesthood cut off relations with Soka Gakkai and Soka Gakkai International and excommunicated Ikeda.

Polly Toynbee on Ikeda.

Buddha Daibutsu, Kamakura

Mid-thirteenth century bronze Amida Buddha (a giant Buddha or Daibutsu) at the Jōdo-shū Kōtoku-in temple, Kamakura

Mankind and Mother Earth, A Narrative History of the World, OUP, 1976, posthumous

From Nagasaki to Yokohama

August 16 2013

Nagasaki was founded by the Portuguese in the second half of the sixteenth century on the site of a small fishing village.

From 1641 to 1853, the sole point of contact between Japan and the West were Dutch traders living on the artificial island of Deshima in Nagasaki Bay, in Kyushu, a long way from both Kyoto and Tokyo. The Tokugawa shoguns ruled in Edo (Tokyo) from 1603 to 1868.

Under sakoku, which had been set up by a series of laws in the 1630s, no foreigner, Western or not, could enter, nor could any Japanese leave, the country without permission on penalty of death. The rule did not change for Japanese until the Meiji restoration. The Dutch could not freely enter Japan, nor could Japanese enter the Dutch colony. Sakoku was Japan’s response to the challenge of the first encounter with the West, from 1542.

There was some trade with China and Korea, and with the virtually-independent Ryūkyū Kingdom to the south and the Ainu aborigines to the north. Chinese traders were permitted to reside in their own colony in Nagasaki (on Deshima?). Relations with the Chinese and the Dutch in Nagasaki fell under the direct jurisdiction of the Bakufu. Relations with Korea, the Ryūkyū Kingdom and the Ainu were controlled by feudal daimyo. In the Ryūkyū Islands and Korea, the clans in charge of the trade built trading towns outside Japanese territory. Was this done in defiance of the Bakufu? Did any traders visit China?

In 1853, Commodore Perry and his warships arrived in Tokyo Bay, just south of the small fishing village of Yokohama, to force Japan to trade. Was the colony on Deshima wound up in 1853 or slightly later?

The free port of Yokohama opened on June 2 1859 and became Japan’s new main port of entry. Edo (Tokyo) already had a port. Yokohama overtook it, but at some point it was overtaken by Tokyo: the largest ports today are Tokyo, followed by Yokohama, followed by Nagoya. Others, in no particular order, are Kobe, Osaka, Chiba, Kitakyushu, Nagasaki.

Perhaps one can symbolically end the Yokohama era in 1966, when the development plan for Narita airport, the new Tokyo airport which would displace Haneda, was published. After sustained resistance from farmers and others, it opened in 1978.

Five roads from Edo

October 17 2012

The Five Routes (五街道Gokaidō) were five roads (kaidō) that started at Nihonbashi (the Japan Bridge over the Nihonbashi River, a tributary of the Sumida River; a river named after a bridge) in Edo, ie Tokyo, during the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868).

The most important was the Tōkaidō, which linked Edo with Kyoto, the seat of the irrelevant Emperor.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun, started the construction of the roads. Post stations (宿場shukuba) were set up so that travellers could rest and buy supplies. Enlarge map (will open in a separate window).


The Ōshū Kaidō had 27 stations, running north to Mutsu Province (now in Fukushima Prefecture, the area affected by the recent earthquake). Ōshū is another name for Mutsu.

The Nikkō Kaidō, Nikko Road, had 21 stations, connecting with Nikkō Tōshō-gū (now in Tochigi Prefecture).

The Kōshū Kaidō had 44 stations, connecting with Kai Province (now Yamanashi Prefecture) and ending at the Shimosuwa-shuku, the 29th stop on the Nakasendō. Kōshū is another name for Kai.

The Nakasendō (or Kisokaidō), Central Mountain Road (or Kiso Road), the longest, had 69 stations and ran through the centre of Honshu to Kyoto.

The Tōkaidō, East Sea Road, the most famous, had 53 stations and ran along the Pacific coast to Kyoto. Hiroshige made a series of prints of The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō. (He made another of Famous Restaurants of the Eastern Capital.)

That makes 214 organised stops on a feudal Gokaido. The Japanese had no mental barriers to overcome when it came to organising railways and subway systems.

At the beginning of her authentically recorded history, Japan was a unitary empire, and in 1868 she became a unitary empire again. During the seven centuries ending in 1868 [from the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate, which lasted from 1185 to 1333, until the Meiji “restoration”] the political map of Japan was a mosaic of local states which had been held together during the latest two and a half of those centuries [Tokugawa shogunate, 1603-1868] under the hegemony of the most powerful of them, but, except for Sakai, these Japanese states had not been city-states. They had been feudal states, each of them ruled from a castle by a baron [daimyo] commanding a war-band of retainers [samurai].


In Japan the Great North-East Road, running up the south-eastern side of the Main Island [Honshu] from the civil capital at Kyoto in the interior to the successive military capitals at Kamakura and Yedo [Kyoto had also been the military capital under the Ashikaga shoguns, from 1337 to 1573], served first to secure the conquests made by the Far Eastern Civilization in Japan at the expense of the Ainu barbarians and afterwards to bring and keep Yamato [the area around Nara in which the Japanese state first emerged] under the domination of the Kwanto [Kantō] – as the new northern marches came to be called, after the name of the road by which they had been opened up. Under the Tokugawa régime, which provided the Far Eastern Society in Japan with its universal state, this trunk road and its branches ministered to the policy of the Shogun’s government at Yedo as an instrument not only for keeping an eye on the impotent Imperial Court at Kyoto, but also for the more formidable task of keeping to heel the feudal lords all over the Empire – especially those “Outside Lords” (Tozama) whose houses had once been rivals of the Tokugawa in the grim struggle for power at the climax of a Japanese Time of Troubles.

These daimyō were required by the Shogun to reside in Yedo, with their principal retainers, for so many months in the year, and to leave their wives and families there as hostages when they themselves were in residence in their fiefs, with the triple object of keeping them under supervision, loosening their personal hold on the fiefs from which they drew their political and military strength, and weakening them financially by putting them under social pressure to live, while in the capital, in a style beyond their means. [Footnote: See Sansom, G. B.: Japan, a Short Cultural History (London 1932, Cresset Press), p. 436; Sadler, A. L.: A Short History of Japan (Sydney 1946, Angus & Robertson), p. 217.] The migration, twice a year, of these feudal lords, with their retinues, between their fiefs in the provinces and their residences in the capital was one of the distinctive features of Japanese life in the Tokugawa Age; and the grand trunk road and its ramifications were the media of communication for their perpetual coming and going. While the Government were interested in seeing the means of communication kept up sufficiently well to serve this police purpose, they were equally interested in seeing to it that they should not be kept up well enough to tempt disaffected feudal forces into planning a convergent march on the capital; and they “deliberately refrained from building bridges and otherwise facilitating communications on the main lines of approach to Yedo”. [Footnote: Sansom, op. cit., p. 437. Perhaps their scholars had reminded them of the unintended and untoward service that the roads built by Ts’in She Hwang-ti had once rendered to the rebels who had overthrown his regime a few years after his death […].]

He says that the Tōkaidō ran from Kyoto to Edo. It would be better to put it the other way round.

He is implying that a road existed between the Kanto and Yamato regions before the seventeenth century. As it must have done.

Tōkaidō, 1865, by Felice Beato

Daimyo residences, Edo, 1865 or ’66, demolished after the Shogunate ended; coloured print after Felice Beato

Hiroshige’s 55th print: the end of the Tōkaidō and arrival at Kyoto (the first shows the beginning of the journey at Nihonbashi)

Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970 (first quotation)

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The Ashikaga shogunate

May 23 2012

Background in May 21 post.

An attempt to re-establish a civilian government […] was made immediately after the downfall, in A.D. 1333, of the military regency which had been ruling Japan from Kamakura since A.D. 1184. [Footnote: See Sansom, G. B.: Japan, A Short Cultural History (London 1932, Cresset Press), p. 319: Murdoch, J.: A History of Japan, vol. i (London 1910, Kegan Paul), p. 539. The civilian Imperial Government at Kyoto had made one previous attempt, as early as A.D. 1221 [the Jōkyū War], to overthrow the Kamakura Bakufu (ibid., p. 442).] This rally, however, was abortive. Within five years the restored civilian régime had been superseded by a new military regency which was not the less true to type because it made the conciliatory gesture of establishing its official headquarters at Kyoto – the ancient Imperial Capital – instead of simply entrenching itself in the north-eastern stronghold from which Japan had been ruled for 150 years by Minamoto Yoritomo and his successors. This swift reversion to Militarism was the first symptom of a fresh rout. In the days of the Shoguns of the Ashikaga Dynasty who succeeded one another at Kyoto from A.D. 1338 until the last of the line was hustled off the stage by Hideyoshi in A.D. 1597, Japan suffered worse tribulations than she had known in the days of the previous line of Shoguns who had succeeded one another at Kamakura from 1184 to 1333.

The immediate sequel to the establishment of the Ashikaga Shogunate was the unprecedented scandal of a schism of the Imperial House itself into two rival courts. This enormity, which was a sin against religious ritual as well as a breach of political etiquette, had to be atoned for by fifty-five years of civil war (gerebatur A.D. 1337-92); and, even when the Ashikaga Shogunate – acting in the name of the court which was its puppet – eventually succeeded in suppressing the rival court which had refused to acknowledge its title, the tale of calamities did not cease. In the fifteenth century of the Christian Era a feudal anarchy which the Shoguns were impotent to reduce to order goaded an intolerably oppressed peasantry into a chronic state of revolt and stimulated the monasteries to militarize themselves – in flat defiance of all precepts of both the Greater and the Lesser Vehicle – as the only alternative to becoming the lay militarists’ victims. In the War of Onin (gerebatur A.D. 1467-77) the Imperial City of Kyoto was devastated by street-fighting between contending provincial forces who made the capital their arena. In the sixteenth century the Shoguns were overtaken by the ignominious fate which their predecessors had inflicted on the Emperors. The Shogun’s de jure powers were now exercised de facto by a Kwanryo [technically the governor of the eight provinces of the Kanto region]; and this travesty of government by the deputy of a deputy was perhaps the one thing worse than no government at all. [Footnote: The century between the opening of the War of Onin in A.D. 1467 and Nobunaga’s assumption of dictatorial powers de facto in A.D. 1568 seems to have been the worst phase of the whole of the Japanese “Time of Troubles” (Sansom, op. cit., pp. 394. 5 and 419-40).] [In the same way, the shikken regents had ruled on behalf of the Kamakura shoguns.] This was the state of misery to which Japan had been reduced by the second paroxysm of her “Time of Troubles” [the first was under the Kamakura shoguns] before her convulsed and writhing frame was forced into a strait-waistcoat by the successive exertions of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi and Ieyasu (militabant A.D. 1549-1615).

The ensuing Pax Tokugawica – the Universal State which ended a Time of Troubles which had begun, in Toynbee’s view, with the military revolutions of the twelfth century – was cut short by the second collision of Japan with the West.

Kamakura is northeast of Kyoto, but should it be described as a “north-eastern stronghold”?

Other footnotes in this passage give further references to Sansom and Murdoch.

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

A Japanese city-state

May 21 2012

Japan […] has produced only one solitary city-state, Sakai.

Sakai, near Osaka, was an autonomous city run by merchant citizens which flourished during the Muromachi or Ashikaga shogunate, 1337-1573.

Ashikaga is the name of the clan. Muromachi comes from the Muromachi Street of Kyoto where the third shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, established his residence.

At the beginning of her authentically recorded history, Japan was a unitary empire, and in 1868 she became a unitary empire again. During the seven centuries ending in 1868 [from the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate, which lasted from 1185 to 1333, until the Meiji “restoration”] the political map of Japan was a mosaic of local states which had been held together during the latest two and a half of those centuries [Tokugawa shogunate, 1603-1868] under the hegemony of the most powerful of them, but, except for Sakai, these Japanese states had not been city-states. They had been feudal states, each of them ruled from a castle by a baron [daimyo] commanding a war-band of retainers [samurai].

The shoguns were military dictators. Kamakura was the city, thirty miles southwest of Tokyo, where the Kamakura shoguns were based. The most decentralised of the shogunates had been the Muromachi.

The establishment of the shogunate or bakufu at the end of the twelfth century saw the beginning of a de facto samurai control of Japan which lasted for seven hundred years, until the Meiji Restoration.

So three shogunates:

Kamakura (at Kamakura) 1185-1333
Muromachi or Ashikaga (at Kyoto) 1337-1573
Tokugawa (at Edo) 1603-1868

Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the Tokugawa shogunate at Edo, was from the Matsudaira clan of daimyos in Mikawa province and gained supremacy at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600.

In what way did the pre-Tokugawa shoguns not “hold together” the feudal states? Was it a matter of the degree of centralisation? Parts of Mikawa province (and others?) were administered directly by the bakufu. I assume that it also controlled directly some land around Edo.

Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970

The Laws of the Military Houses

November 26 2008

In the Roman Empire and other universal states in the days of their decline, attempts were made to arrest the course of deterioration by “freezing” an existing legal or social situation. The Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan was perhaps unique among universal states in applying this prescription of “freezing” from first to last and in achieving the tour de force of arresting change in the outward forms of social life (though not, of course, in the inward realities) over a span of more than 250 years.

In the domain of law the Tokugawa régime, so far from regarding equality before a uniform law as being a desirable ideal, exerted itself to accentuate and perpetuate a caste division between the feudal aristocracy [daimyos] and their [samurai] retainers on the one side and the rest of the population on the other which was one of the worst of the wounds that the Japanese Society had inflicted on itself during a foregoing Time of Troubles. The cue was given by Tokugawa leyasu’s predecessor and patron Hideyoshi in an edict of A.D. 1587 (popularly known as “the Taiko’s Sword Hunt”) [Taikō was a title given to a retired kampaku, or adviser to an emperor, and is often applied to Hideyoshi] ordering all non-samurai to surrender any weapons in their possession. The recently and arduously established central government further sweetened the pill for the feudal lords whom it had deprived of their long-abused de facto local independence by leaving them a very free hand to maintain and develop as they pleased, in all matters that the central government did not consider pertinent to the preservation of its own authority, the variegated “house laws” which the ruling family of each fief had gradually hammered out and enforced, within the limits of its own parochial jurisdiction, during the later stages of the foregoing Time of Troubles, particularly during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries of the Christian Era. The edict entitled “the Laws of the Military Houses” which Tokugawa leyasu promulgated in A.D. 1615, on the morrow of his crushing retort to the last challenge to his absolute authority,

“is a document which, like the formularies and ‘house laws’ of earlier times, is not so much a systematic collection of specific injunctions and prohibitions as a group of maxims, in somewhat vague language, supported by learned extracts from the Chinese and Japanese classics.”

This quotation and those that follow are from Sir George Sansom, Japan, A Short Cultural History, Cresset Press, 1932. Page references are in footnotes.

“This ‘Constitution’ … was regarded by the Shogunate as fundamentally unchangeable. It was re-affirmed by each shogun on his succession, in a solemn ceremony attended by all his vassals; and, though circumstances sometimes forced them to alter it in detail, they never admitted or even contemplated any deviation from its essential principles, and they punished without mercy any breach of its commands.”

This in spite of the edict being vaguely-worded and in spite of the freedom allowed to the feudal lords in specifics.

It is noteworthy that under this ultra-conservative régime a tendency towards the standardization of local laws did nevertheless declare itself.

“Within their own fiefs the barons enjoyed a very full measure of autonomy. … But the Shogunate, without interfering, used to keep a sharp watch on the conduct of the feudatories, and it was one of the chief duties of the censors (metsuke) and their travelling inspectors to report upon affairs in the fiefs. For this and similar reasons there was a general tendency among the daimyō to assimilate their administrative and judicial methods to those of the central authority, and the legislation in which the Shoguns freely indulged soon began to displace the ‘house laws’ of the fiefs where it did not clash with local sentiment and habit.”

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Social change under the Tokugawa Shogunate

November 22 2008

The Tokugawa régime [1603-1868] set itself to insulate Japan from the rest of the World, and was successful for nearly two and a half centuries [just over two if you reckon from 1641 to 1853] in maintaining this political tour de force; but it found itself powerless to arrest the course of social change within an insulated Japanese Empire, in spite of its efforts to petrify a feudal system, inherited from the preceding “Time of Troubles”, into a permanent dispensation.

“The penetration of money economy in Japan … caused a slow but irresistible revolution, culminating in the breakdown of feudal government and the resumption of intercourse with foreign countries after more than two hundred years of seclusion. What opened the doors was not a summons from without but an explosion from within. … One of [the] first effects [of the new economic forces] was an increase in the wealth of the townspeople, gained at the expense of the samurai and also of the peasants. … The daimyō and their retainers spent their money on luxuries produced by the artisans and sold by the tradesmen, so that by about the year [A.D.] 1700, it is said, nearly all their gold and silver had passed into the hands of the townspeople. They then began to buy goods on credit. Before long they were deeply indebted to the merchant class, and were obliged to pledge, or to make forced sales of, their tax-rice. … Abuses and disaster followed thick and fast. The merchants took to rice-broking, and then to speculating. … It was the members of one class only, and not all of them, who profited by these conditions. These were the merchants, in particular the brokers and money-lenders, despised chōnin or townsmen, who in theory might be killed with impunity by any samurai for mere disrespectful language. Their social status still remained low, but they held the purse and they were in the ascendant. By the year 1700 they were already one of the strongest and most enterprising elements in the state, and the military caste was slowly losing its influence.” [Square brackets in the original.] [Footnote: Sansom, G. B.: Japan: A Short Cultural History (London 1931, Cresset Press), pp. 460-2. See further eundem: The Western World and Japan (London 1950, Cresset Press), chaps. ix-xi (pp. 177-289).]

If we regard the year 1590 of the Christian Era, in which Hideyoshi overcame the last resistance to his dictatorship, as the date of the foundation of the Japanese universal state, we perceive that it took little more than a century for the rising of the lower layers of water from the depths to the surface to produce a bloodless social revolution in a society which Hideyoshi’s successor Tokugawa leyasu and his heirs had sought to freeze into an almost Platonically Utopian immobility. This social upheaval was a result of the operation of internal forces within a closed system, without any impulsion from outside the frontiers of the Japanese universal state.

The extent of the resultant change is impressive – and the more so, considering that, for a universal state, the Tokugawa Shogunate was culturally homogeneous to an unusually high degree. Apart from a little pariah community of Dutch business men who were strictly segregated on the islet of Deshima, the only heterogeneous element in the otherwise culturally uniform Japanese life of that age was a barbarian Ainu strain that was socially impotent in so far as it was not already culturally assimilated.

But the Dutch were not the only people permitted to trade: the Chinese traded, too, and lived in a special quarter of Nagasaki.

The Tokugawa Shoguns ruled from Edo or Tokyo. The rise of the merchants was the making of the city.

Deshima has since been absorbed by reclaimed land, becoming part of Nagasaki, but the settlement has been restored and can be visited.

The strictest period of isolation (sakoku) lasted from 1641, when the Dutch colony on Deshima was established, to 1853, when Commodore Perry arrived in Edo Bay with his warships. But a considerable branch of learning – Rangaku (literally “Dutch learning”, by extension “Western learning”) – was developed by Japan through its contacts with the Dutch enclave. Dutch learning allowed Japan to keep abreast of Western technology and medicine and was an incubator for the vaster project of learning and absorption which began after 1853 and gained strength after the Meiji restoration. It remained illegal for Japanese to leave Japan until after the restoration.


Deshima and Nagasaki Bay, c 1820 (British Museum). Chinese trading junks and two Dutch ships.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The Far East and the West

June 7 2008

After yesterday’s post, it might be interesting to read the published version of one of Toynbee’s 1952 Reith Lectures.

His series was called The World and the West. It was on themes that would be developed in the eighth volume of the Study, which was published in 1954. The titles were Russia and the West, Islam and the West, India and West, The Far East and the West, The Psychology of Encounters and The World and the Greeks and Romans. Since the Reithian theme this year is China, let us have the fourth. It isn’t about China per se, but about China’s and Japan’s encounters with the West.

In the last chapter it was suggested that our Western way of life was more foreign to the Hindus than it was to the Russians and the Muslims, because the Hindu way had in it no more than a minute dose of the Greek and Jewish ingredients that are the common heritage of Islam, Russia, and the West. The Far East has still less in common with the West than the Hindu world has in its cultural background. It is true that in Far Eastern art the influence of Greek art is noticeable; but this Greek influence reached the Far East through an Indian channel; it came in the train of an Indian religion – Buddhism – which captured the Far Eastern world as the Graeco-Roman world was captured by a Judaic religion, Christianity. It is also true that another Judaic religion – Islam – which spread over the greater part of India by conquest, also spread over the western fringes of China by peaceful penetration. Thus the Far East, like India, had already been played upon by influences from our Graeco-Judaic world before it was assaulted by our modern Western civilization in the sixteenth century; but in the Far East these pre-Western Graeco-Judaic influences had been even slighter than they had been in India. They had been too slight to pave the way for the kindred Western civilization’s advent. And so, when in the sixteenth century the Portuguese pioneers of the Western civilization made their first landfalls on the coasts of China and Japan, they descended there like uncanny visitants from some other planet.

The effect of this first modern Western visitation on the Far Eastern peoples’ feelings was mixed. It was an unstable mixture of fascination and repulsion, and, at this first encounter, the feeling of repulsion finally prevailed. This sixteenth-century wave of Western intruders was thrown back into the Ocean out of which it had broken so unexpectedly upon Far Eastern shores; and, after that, Japan, Korea, and China each closed her doors and set herself, as long as she could, to live as “a hermit kingdom”. This, however, was not the end of the story. After the modern Western intruders had been expelled from Japan in the seventeenth century and from China in the eighteenth century, they returned to the charge in the nineteenth century; and, at this second attempt, they succeeded in introducing the Western way of life into the Far East, as by then they had already introduced it into Russia and India and were beginning to introduce it into the Islamic world.

What differences in the situation can we see that will account for the difference in the result of these two successive Western attempts to captivate the Far East?

One obvious difference is a technological one. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Western ships and weapons were not so decisively superior to Far Eastern ships and weapons as to give the Western intruders the whip hand. In this first round in the encounter between the two civilizations, the Far Easterners remained masters of the situation; and, when they decided that they wanted to break the relation off, their Western visitants were: powerless to resist. But, when the Westerners reappeared off the coasts of China and Japan in the nineteenth century, the weight was in the Western scale of the balance of power; for, while Chinese and Japanese armaments were then still what they had been two hundred years back, the Westerners had made the industrial revolution in the meantime; they now came back armed with new-fangled weapons which the Far Eastern Powers could not match; and, in these new circumstances, the Far East was bound to be opened to Western influences in one or the other of two ways. A Far Eastern hermit kingdom that tried to meet the new technological challenge from the West by ignoring it would soon see its closed doors battered in by Western heavy guns. The only alternative was to keep the Western intruders at arm’s length by learning the “know-how” of nineteenth-century Western armaments; and this could only be done by voluntarily opening Far Eastern doors to the new Western technology before an entry was forced by Western conquerors. The Japanese were prompter than the Chinese in opting for, and acting on, this alternative policy of holding their own against the West by learning how to use and make the latest types of Western weapons; but the Chinese, too, in the end, acted just in time to save themselves from India’s fate of being subjugated by a Western Power.

This, though, is not the whole story. For, while the technological ascendancy gained by the West over the Far East through a Western industrial revolution may explain why the Far Eastern peoples found themselves compelled to open their doors to the Western civilization in the nineteenth century, we have still to explain why they had been moved to expel their Western visitants and to break off relations with the Western world in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This denouement of the first encounter between the Far East and the modern West is at first sight surprising; for, when the Westerners had made their first appearance above the Far Easterners’ horizon in the sixteenth century, the Far Eastern peoples had shown themselves readier to welcome these then quite unknown strangers and to adopt their way of life than they showed themselves three hundred years later, when the Westerners came again with the bad reputation that they had acquired on their first visit. Yet this second encounter, in which the Far Eastern peoples were decidedly reluctant to engage, ended in the reception of the Western way of life in the Far East, whereas the first encounter, which had begun with a welcome, had ended in a rebuff. What is the key to this remarkable difference between these two acts in the drama of the Far East’s encounter with the West?

The difference in the Far Eastern peoples’ reaction to the Western civilization on these two occasions was not arbitrary or capricious. They reacted differently because the challenges with which they were confronted on the two occasions were not the same. In the nineteenth century the Western civilization presented itself primarily as a strange technology; in the sixteenth century it had presented itself primarily as a strange religion. This difference in the aspect displayed by the intrusive Western civilization explains the difference in the reaction that it aroused in Far Eastern hearts and minds at its first and at its second coming; for a strange technology is not so difficult to accept as a strange religion is.

Technology operates on the surface of life, and therefore it seems practicable to adopt a foreign technology without putting oneself in danger of ceasing to be able to call one’s soul one’s own. This notion that, in adopting a foreign technology, one is incurring only a limited liability may, of course, be a miscalculation. The truth seems to be that all the different elements in a culture-pattern have an inner connexion with each other, so that, if one abandons one’s own traditional technology and adopts a foreign technology instead, the effect of this change on the technological surface of life will not remain confined to the surface, but will gradually work its way down to the depths till the whole of one’s traditional culture has been undermined and the whole of the foreign culture has been given entry, bit by bit, through the gap made in the outer ring of one’s cultural defences by the foreign technology’s entering wedge.

In China and Korea and Japan today, a century or more after the date at which our modern Western technology first began to penetrate these countries, we can see these revolutionary ulterior effects upon the whole of their culture taking place before our eyes. Time, however, is of the essence of this process; and a revolutionary result that is so clearly manifest to all eyes today was not foreseen by Far Eastern statesmen a hundred years ago, when they were reluctantly taking their decision to admit this foreign technology within their walls. Like their Turkish contemporaries, they intended to take the West’s technology in the minimum dose required for their own military security, and not to go beyond that. Yet, even if they had had some suspicion of the hidden forces that this mechanically propelled Trojan Horse held in ambush within its iron frame, probably they would still have stood by their decision to wheel it in. For they saw clearly that, if they hesitated to adopt this alien Western technology now, they would immediately become a prey to Western conquerors armed with weapons to which they would then have no retort. The external danger of conquest by some Western Power was the immediate menace with which those nineteenth-century Far Eastern statesmen had to cope. By comparison, the internal danger of being eventually captivated, body and soul, by the Western way of life as a result of adopting the Western technology was a more distant menace which must be left to take care of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

In fact, the adoption of Western technology has never come close to undermining the whole of Japan’s traditional culture.

Thus, in the nineteenth century, the adoption of a now overwhelmingly superior Western technology appeared to Far Eastern statesmen to be a legitimate risk as well as an imperative necessity. And this explains why, this time, they took something from the West which was so little to their taste. It seemed to be at any rate a lesser evil than the alternative of being conquered and subjugated by the Westerners whose weapons they were deciding to adopt as a policy of military and political insurance. On the other hand, the “Western Question” with which these nineteenth-century Far Eastern statesmen’s seventeenth-century predecessors had had to deal had presented itself in quite a different form.

In this first encounter with the West the immediate danger which Japanese statesmen had to parry was not the danger of seeing their country conquered by Western soldiers armed with irresistibly superior new-fangled weapons; it was the danger of seeing their people converted by Western missionaries preaching an irresistibly attractive foreign religion. Possibly these seventeenth-century Japanese statesmen had no great objection to Western Christianity in itself; for, unlike their seventeenth-century Western Christian visitants, seventeenth-century Far Easterners were not infected with the religious fanaticism which their Western contemporaries had inherited from Christianity’s Jewish past and were displaying, in this age, in domestic religious wars in their European homeland. The Chinese and Japanese statesmen of the day had been brought up in the more tolerant philosophical traditions of Confucianism and Buddhism, and they might not have objected to giving a free field to another religion if they had not suspected the Western Christian missionaries’ religious activities of having an ulterior political motive.

What the Japanese statesmen feared was that their countrymen whom these foreign missionaries were converting to Western Christianity would imbibe their adopted religion’s fanatical spirit, and that, under this demoralizing influence, they would allow themselves to be used as what, in the West today, we should call “a fifth column”. If this suspected design were to succeed, then Portuguese or Spaniards, who in themselves were not a serious menace to Japan’s independence, might eventually contrive to conquer Japan through the arms of Japanese traitors. In fact, the Japanese Government in the seventeenth century outlawed and repressed Christianity from the same motive that today is moving twentieth-century Western governments to outlaw and repress Communism; and it has been an element that is common to these two Western faiths – the fanaticism inherited by both of them from Judaism – that has been the stumbling-block in any Asian country in which Christianity has been propagated.

The fear was both that of losing one’s soul under the influence of a new religion and that of being undermined politically by a fifth column.

An aggressive foreign religion will, in fact, manifestly be a more serious immediate menace than an aggressive foreign technology will be to a society that it is assailing; and there is a deeper reason for this than the danger of the converts being used as “a fifth column”. The deeper reason is that, while technology plays only upon the surface of life in the first instance, religion goes straight down to the roots; and, though a foreign technology, too, may eventually have a deeply disintegrating effect on the spiritual life of a society in which it has once gained a footing, this effect will take some time to make itself apparent. For this reason, an aggressive civilization that presents itself as a religion is likely to arouse stronger and swifter opposition than one that presents itself as a technology; and we can now see why in the Far East, as well as in Russia, our Western civilization was first rejected and was then accepted at the second time of asking. In Russia in the fifteenth century and in the Far East in the seventeenth century, the Western civilization was rejected when what it was demanding was conversion to the Western form of Christianity; and it was no accident that its fortunes in the mission field should have veered right round from conspicuous failures to sensational successes as soon as its attitude towards its own ancestral religion had veered round from a warm devotion to a cool scepticism.

This great spiritual revolution overtook the Western world towards the close of the seventeenth century, when a hundred years’ trial of waging savage and inconclusive civil wars under the colours of rival religious sects had at last disgusted the Western peoples, not only with wars of religion, but with religion itself. The Western world reacted to this disillusioning self-inflicted experience of the evils of religious fanaticism by withdrawing its treasure from religion and reinvesting it in technology; and it is this utilitarian technological excerpt from the bible of our Western civilization, with the fanatical religious page torn out, that has run like wildfire round the world during the last two and a half centuries, from the generation of Peter the Great to the generation of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Perhaps, in looking for some explanation of the striking difference between the results of the West’s two successive assaults upon the Far East, we have stumbled upon a “law” (if one may call it that) which applies, not just to this single case, but to all encounters between any civilizations. This “law” is to the effect that a fragment of a culture, split off from the whole and radiated abroad by itself, is likely to meet with less resistance, and therefore likely to travel faster and farther, than the culture as a whole when this is radiated en bloc. Our Western technology, divorced from our Western Christianity, has been accepted, not only in China and Japan, but also in Russia and in many other non-Western countries where it was rejected so long as it was offered as part and parcel of a one and indivisible way of life including Western Christianity as well.

The almost world-wide dissemination of a technological splinter flaked off from our Western civilization since the close of the seventeenth century is impressive at first sight if we compare it with the virtual failure to convert non-Western peoples to the Western way of life in an Early Modern Age when our Western civilization was being offered for acceptance or rejection as a whole – technology, religion and all. Today, however, when the West’s bid to win the world has been challenged by Russia, we can see that our Western civilization’s apparent triumph on the technological plane is precarious for the very reason that has made it easy; and the reason is that this triumph has been superficial. The West has sent its technology racing round the world by the trick of freeing it from the handicap of being coupled with our Western Christianity; but, in the next chapter of the story, this unattached Western technology has been picked up by the Russians and been coupled with Communism; and this new and potent combination of a Western technology with a Western religious heresy is now being offered to the Far Eastern peoples and to the rest of mankind as a rival way of life to ours.

In the nineteenth-century chapter of the story, we Westerners were gratified when we saw the Japanese and the Chinese, who had rejected our Western civilization in its religious version, accepting it in a secularized version in which technology instead of religion had been given the place of honour. The Meiji Revolution in Japan in the eighteen-sixties and the Kuomintang Revolution in China in the nineteen-twenties both seemed, at the time, to be triumphs for the secularized Western civilization of the Late Modern Age. But we have lived to see this secular Western dispensation disappoint us in both countries. In Japan it bred a disastrous militarism; in China it bred a disastrous political corruption; in both countries the disaster brought the régime to a violent end; and in China this failure of the attempt to acclimatize there a secular form of our Western civilization has been followed by a victory for Communism. What is it that has made Communism’s fortune in China? Not, so far as one can make out, any great positive enthusiasm for Communism so much as a complete disillusionment with the Kuomintang’s performance In its attempt to govern China on latter-day secular Western lines. And we may suspect that the Japanese too, if they were free to go their own way, might succumb to Communism for the same negative reason.

“If they were free to go their own way”. Japan had become an independent nation on April 28. Toynbee is lecturing in November. And even under the US occupation, the JCP (founded 1922) had been legal. No doubt he is suggesting that the Americans had made the flourishing of Communism in Japan impossible. For one thing, many Communists were opposed to the existence of the Imperial house, which the Americans had saved. But would Communism have taken deep root in Japan even if Japan had not been beholden to America?

The JCP had been the only political party that had opposed Japan’s involvement in the War – when it had been illegal. The Soka Gakkai movement of Nichiren Buddhists, which Toynbee encountered at the end of his life (see the Category here called An Ikeda sequence), had also opposed it.

Communism reached its peak of electoral strength in Japan in the ’70s. More than one person has pointed out that post-war Japan was in some respects already, without Communism, a functioning communist society.

In both Japan and China today there are two factors telling in Communism’s favour: first, this disillusionment with past experiments in trying to lead a secularized Western way of life, and, second, the pressure of a rapidly growing population on the means of subsistence – a pressure which, as has been noticed in the preceding chapter, is also a menace to the present Westernizing régime in India. The truth is that, in offering them a secularized version of our Western civilization, we have been offering them a stone instead of bread, while the Russians, in offering them Communism as well as technology, have been offering them bread of a sort – gritty black bread, if you like to call it so; but that is still an edible substance that contains in it some grain of nutriment for the spiritual life without which Man cannot live.

But, if China and Japan could not stomach a sixteenth-century version of our Western civilization with the religion left in, and cannot sustain life on a nineteenth-century version of it with the religion left out, is Communism the only alternative? The answer to this question is that, in China, and also in India, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, long before Communism was ever dreamed of, a different alternative was found and tried by the Jesuit Western Christian missionaries. It is true that this experiment came to grief, but it was wrecked, not by any intrinsic faults of its own, but by unfortunate rivalries and dissensions between the Jesuits and other Roman Catholic Christian missionary orders.

In China and India the Jesuits did not make the mistake, that they had made in Japan, of letting their preaching of Christianity fall under suspicion of being conducted in the political interests of aggressive Western Powers. The Jesuits’ approach to their enterprise of propagating Christianity in China was so different and so promising in itself, and is so much to the point today, that our discussion of the Asian peoples’ encounter with the West would be incomplete if we did not take into consideration the line which the Jesuits in China and India opened out. Instead of trying, as we have been trying since their day, to disengage a secular version of the Western civilization from Christianity, the Jesuits tried to disengage Christianity from the non-Christian ingredients in the Western civilization and to present Christianity to the Hindus and to the Chinese, not as the local religion of the West, but as a universal religion with a message for all mankind. The Jesuits stripped Christianity of its accidental and irrelevant Western accessories, and offered the essence of it to China in a Chinese, and to India in a Hindu, intellectual and literary dress in which there was no incongruous Western embroidery to jar on Asian sensibilities. This experiment miscarried at the first attempt through the fault of domestic feuds within the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church of the day, which had nothing to do with either Christianity or China or India; but, considering that India and China and Christianity are all still on the map, we may expect – and hope – to see the experiment tried again. The recent victory of Communism in China over a Western civilization divorced from Christianity is no evidence that, in China, Christianity has no future in a coming chapter of history which today is still below our historical horizon.

The World and the West, OUP, 1953