Category Archives: language

Rise of State Shinto, 1868

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 137-138:

The young emperor’s first act of major historical significance was undoubtedly the promulgation of the Charter Oath in Five Articles on April 7, 1868. The swearing of this oath before the gods of heaven and earth, in the presence of “the hundred officials” including nobles and daimyos, was preceded a day earlier by an edict that announced the renewal of various ceremonies of Shintō worship after the extremely long hiatus imposed by the military regime. The stated purpose of the edict was to revive the union of rites and rule that had existed in ancient times.

A central element in the plan of restoration was the reestablishment of the Jingikan [神祇官], the Ministry of Shintō. It had originally been established at the beginning of the eighth century, but for centuries had possessed little more than vestigial significance. Now, however, Shintō priests and the performance of Shintō ceremonies at the court and at shrines were to be placed under its supervision, and the priests were to resume functions that had long been left to surrogates. The renewed importance of the Shintō priesthood and the insistence on separating Shintō from Buddhism were made more explicit four days later when Shintō priests who served concomitantly as Buddhist priests were ordered to yield their Buddhist ranks and positions, give up their Buddhist robes, and let their hair grow out.

For more than a thousand years, most Japanese had believed simultaneously in both Shintō and Buddhism despite the inherent contradictions between the two religions. For example, according to Shintō belief, the present world is lovely and a source of joy, but yomi [黄泉 lit. ‘yellow springs’], the world after death, is a place of foulness and corruption. According to Buddhist texts, on the contrary, this world (shaba [娑婆 lit. ‘old-woman old-woman’!]) is a place of trial and suffering, but one’s actions in this life can enable one to enjoy after death the joys of paradise. These and other fundamental differences were generally minimized by those who discussed religious matters. Instead, the doctrine of honji suijaku [本地垂迹 ‘original-land hanging-trace’], which explained the Shintō divinities as avatars in Japan of the eternal Buddhist divinities, was widely accepted. In keeping with the projected return to the system of religion and government that had prevailed in the time of Jimmu, the first emperor, Buddhism, a foreign religion, was now rejected and even persecuted.

Even during the long period when Buddhism played a far more prominent role in the state and emperors regularly entered Buddhist orders and were known posthumously by their “temple names” (in []), Shintō was never neglected by the imperial family. The most important rites performed by the emperor were those of Shintō, beginning each year with shihōhai [四方拝], the ceremony of worship of the four directions, carried out at four o’clock on the morning of New Year’s Day. The emperor prayed to the star under which he was born, to the gods of heaven and earth of the four directions, and to the tombs of his father and mother for abundant crops, a long reign, and peace in the realm—all benefits in this world, in keeping with Shintō’s this-worldly outlook. Mention of the star under which the emperor was born was an indication that the Shintō rituals had been greatly influenced by Taoism. The court was dependent on on’yōji [陰陽師], priests of yin and yang, for predictions by divination of good or bad fortune. No action of consequence was undertaken in the palace without consulting an on’yōji.

Japanese religious life at the commencement of the Meiji era included elements of Shintō, Buddhist, Taoist, and other beliefs as well as what might be called superstitions. The decision to accord special importance to Shintō, and especially to the Jingikan, was, of course, closely connected with the enhanced importance of the emperor, who, according to Shintō belief, stood at the apex of the world.

The ritual accompanying the emperor’s pronouncement of the Charter Oath was entirely Shintō.

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Kalakaua Visits Meiji, 1881

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 346-347:

On February 23 the emperor had word from John Bingham, the American minister, that King Kalakaua of Hawaii would be arriving in Japan on a round-the-world journey. The king would be traveling incognito, but he had some state business to transact: he wished to encourage Japanese migration to Hawaii and to sign a treaty with the Japanese government. He was accordingly treated as a state visitor, and Prince Yoshiaki was appointed as the commissioner for the visit. Two other officials were charged with entertaining the king.

Kalakaua arrived in Yokohama on March 4. He was greeted with twenty-one-gun salutes by Japanese and foreign warships anchored in the bay. When the boat sent by the Japanese to take the Hawaiians from the Oceanic to their hotel touched shore, they heard the Hawaiian national anthem, played with explosive vigor by a Japanese military band. They were astonished that the Japanese musicians had learned the anthem of so remote and unimportant a country. The king and the others of his retinue, touched, were all but in tears. Along the way to the palace where they were to stay, they noticed that the houses of Yokohama were decorated with crossed Japanese and Hawaiian flags. The king and his party were stunned by the welcome.

Kalakaua traveled to Tōkyō the next day aboard the imperial train and, after receiving an official reception at Shimbashi Station, proceeded directly to the Akasaka Palace. The emperor, following the etiquette of European courts that requires a monarch to receive a visiting monarch at the threshold of his palace, went to a room close to the entrance of the palace to meet his royal visitor. He was resplendent in a dress uniform studded with medals. The two monarchs shook hands. The Hawaiians, having been informed that the emperor normally did not shake hands, interpreted the gesture as a special honor. The two monarchs, after exchanging formal greetings, walked side by side into an interior room. W. N. Armstrong, the king’s chamberlain and the chronicler of his journey around the world, had heard that because of his divine origin, the emperor had never before permitted anyone to walk by his side; even the empress followed him. “But, for the first time in his own reign, and in those of his predecessors, he walked by the side of his kingly guest.”

The empress was waiting for the royal visitor in the audience chamber. Meiji presented Kalakaua to the empress. “She did not rise, but returned the king’s salutation with the least movement of her head and eyes.” Sueko, the daughter of Inoue Kaoru, who had spent several years in England, served as her interpreter. (Armstrong wrote that she spoke perfect English.) Refreshments were served, but the Hawaiians, having been previously informed that they should not eat in the presence of the emperor, declined them.

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Japan’s Two Capitals

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 188-189:

Earlier in 1869 when Emperor Meiji was about to leave for his second visit to Tōkyō, the people of Kyōto had been informed that he would return to their city in April or May of the following year and would celebrate his Daijō-e [大嘗会 ‘great tasting meeting’ = Daijō-sai ‘great tasting ceremony’] there in the winter of that year. This announcement had quieted their anxiety, only for them to be informed in the spring of 1870 that the emperor’s return to Kyōto had been unavoidably delayed because of unsettled conditions in parts of the country and the pressure of state business. A year later, on May 15, 1871, it was announced that the Daijō-e would be performed in Tōkyō instead. On May 24 Major Counselor Tokudaiji Sanetsune was sent as a special envoy to Kyōto to report to the tomb of Emperor Kōmei [Meiji’s father] that conditions in the world and an increased burden of state duties had compelled the emperor to postpone his return to Kyōto. Tokudaiji also visited the empress dowager and informed her that the emperor’s return to Kyōto would be delayed for several years.

The emperor did not in fact return to Kyōto (except for brief visits) until 1877. At no point was it officially announced that the capital was now Tōkyō and not Kyōto. All the same, when Meiji at last returned to Kyōto, his journey was characterized as gyōkō [行幸 ‘go luck’], a going away from his residence, rather than as kankō [還幸 ‘return luck’], a return to his residence, the term used when he returned to Kyōto from Tōkyō in 1868. By 1877 Tōkyō was functionally the capital of Japan, not only because it was the seat of the emperor and all organs of the government, but also because the foreign legations were situated there. However, the government hesitated to make this official, perhaps fearing the reactions of the people of Kyōto. Meiji would be buried in Kyōto, and the coronation of his son, Emperor Taishō, would also take place there in 1915, suggesting the persistence of the belief that in certain respects anyway, Kyōto was still the capital. It might even be argued, in the absence of a proclamation to the contrary, that Kyōto remains to this day the capital of Japan.

This must have been a confusing time for early railway timetable makers. Nowadays, trains “ascend” toward Tokyo, but “descend” away from Tokyo. However, the Kyoto Railway Museum displays an old timetable (from the 1870s or 1880s) whereon “ascending” destinations include Osaka, Himeji, and Maibara to the south, while “descending” destinations include Kanazawa, Toyama, Niigata, and Ueno (in Tokyo) to the north.

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Japanese Era Names After 1868

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle p. 159:

As a further step in cementing the ties between the emperor and his people, the emperor’s birthday was proclaimed a national holiday, the Feast of Tenchō [天長節]. Observance of the emperor’s birthday as a holiday had begun as far back as 775, but the custom had long since fallen into abeyance. Its revival at this time was thus another instance of the intention to restore ancient practices.

On October 23 [1868]  it was announced that the nengō [年号] had been changed from the fourth year of Keiō to the first year of Meiji and that henceforth there would be only one nengō for an entire reign. The name Meiji was derived from a passage in the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of divination: “The sage, facing south, listens to the world; facing the light, he governs.” The day before the new nengō was announced, the emperor himself had visited the sanctuary (naishidokoro [内侍所 ‘inner samurai place’]) where he drew lots to determine the new nengō from among several names submitted by scholars. Although he probably did not realize it at the time, the emperor had also chosen the name by which posterity would know him; earlier emperors were known by a place-name from the site of their residence or (as was true of Meiji’s father and grandfather) by a posthumously chosen title. The name Meiji [明治], interpreted as meaning “enlightened rule,” came to seem an accurate description of his reign. Names like those of his father and grandfather, auspicious though they were, would have been less appropriate to the era.

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Meiji and The Mikado

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle p. 136:

Three days after [British envoy Sir Harry] Parkes and [junior interpreter A. B.] Mitford were presented to the emperor, the first clash occurred between the imperial forces advancing on Edo and the Shinsengumi, a band of some 200 men under the command of Kondō Isami (1834–1868). The imperial forces under Itagaki Taisuke were victorious. Perhaps the most memorable thing about the march of the imperial troops to Edo was the song they sang, “Tokoton’yare,” composed by Shinagawa Yajirō (1843–1900) during the battles at Toba and Fushimi. This song spread not only throughout Japan but also to England, where the music and part of the Japanese words were incorporated into the operetta The Mikado, composed in 1885: Miyasama, miyasama, ouma no mae no, pira pira suru no wa nan jai na, tokoton’yare ton’yarena. Arya chōteki seibatsu seyo to no nishiki no mihata ja shiranka, tokoton’yare ton’yare na.

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Shogun Yields to Emperor, 1863

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 66-67:

The shogunate was faced with a dilemma. It clearly wished for better relations with the court, which necessitated obeying [Emperor] Kōmei’s injunction to expel the barbarians, but the most intelligent men in the shogunate—for example, Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837–1913) and Matsudaira Yoshinaga (1828–1890)—were aware that opening the country was inevitable. The shogun probably had no alternative in the end but to reply to Kōmei in terms of assurances that he fully intended to carry out the principle of jōi [攘夷 Expel the Barbarians].

The change in the relative importance of the emperor and the shogun was quickly noticed by the leaders of the different domains, and many daimyos found it necessary to visit Kyōto. The shogunate had strictly prohibited them from entering the capital, and the normal route taken by daimyos on their way to Edo from the west of Japan skirted the city of Kyōto; but at this juncture the prohibition had lost force, and daimyos now called regularly in Kyōto. Indeed, the center of politics had moved from Edo to Kyōto. Profiting by the sudden increase in its importance, the court used the influence of the visiting daimyos to persuade the shogunate to change features in the system that it found objectionable. This was the first time in at least 500 years that the emperor possessed such political importance. The main thrust of court politics was not, however, aimed at securing greater power for the emperor but at achieving the goal of jōi.

The change affected the nobles as well. Until this time they had nothing to do with national politics; instead, their political concerns were restricted to the palace and its ceremonies. Now, however, nobles began to take an active part in the government, a step toward the restoration of imperial authority.

The new importance of the emperor was underlined in 1863 when the shogun visited the capital, the first time there had been such a visit in more than 200 years. [Shogun] Iemochi wished to demonstrate both his reverence for the court and his profound desire to achieve kōbu gattai [公武合体 Union of Imperial Court and Shogunate]. The shogun was preceded by his most important advisers, including Tokugawa Yoshinobu, who visited the palace on February 27 and was received by the emperor. Three days later, Yoshinobu called at the Gakushū-in, the school for sons of the nobility founded by Kōmei’s father. On this occasion he proposed that the old practice of requiring junior members of the imperial family to enter Buddhist orders be discontinued; instead, they should be named shinnō ([新王] princes of the blood) and allowed to remain in the laity. He also proposed that after many years of confinement in the Gosho [御所 Imperial Palace], the emperor should tour the country in the spring and autumn in the manner of the monarchs of olden times. Finally, he suggested that Prince Son’yu (who had been condemned to perpetual confinement during the Ansei purge) be allowed to return to the laity. All three proposals were calculated to ingratiate him (and the shogun) with the emperor.

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Educating Japan’s Crown Prince, 1859

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 46-47:

Sachinomiya’s schooling began in 1859 when Prince Takahito (1812–1886) was appointed as his calligraphy teacher. The fact that Sachinomiya’s first teacher was a calligrapher suggests the importance attached to being able to write a distinguished hand. Although calligraphy was of only minor importance to a European prince, in Japan it was an indispensable element in the education of the aristocracy. A member of the imperial family was required to display his skill as a calligrapher on relatively few occasions, but it was essential that whenever he did write, his handwriting would be not merely acceptable but an imposing mirror of his character. It is difficult to say how proficient Emperor Meiji eventually became, however, because so little survives in his handwriting.

Sachinomiya had actually begun calligraphy practice during the previous year, but this instruction was apparently casual; now that he was in his eighth year, he was expected to study calligraphy (and other subjects) systematically under appropriate tutors. Prince Takahito was chosen to teach the prince calligraphy because his family had long been renowned for its penmanship. …

From this time on, Prince Takahito came several times a month on appointed days to offer calligraphy instruction to Sachinomiya. On June 4 the pupil presented for his teacher’s approbation some characters of which he had made fair copies, an occasion for a further exchange of gifts. By August 10 the young prince, apparently pleased with his own progress, was presenting to attendants samples of his calligraphy—one or two characters each, most frequently naka [中] and yama [山]. [These two ubiquitous characters were the first ones our daughter learned to recognize at age 2 when we lived in Zhongshan (中山) City, Guangdong in 1987–88.]

In the meantime, he had commenced another kind of study, reading the Confucian classics. On May 29 Fusehara Nobusato (1823–1876) was appointed as his reading tutor. During the first session with his pupil, he read a passage from the Classic of Filial Piety three times. Naturally, a boy of seven could not be expected to understand a Chinese philosophical text, even when read in Japanese pronunciation; but before long, Sachinomiya was able to recognize characters and read them aloud, following his teacher. This method of learning, known as sodoku [素読], was surprisingly effective, as we know from the generations of Japanese who learned Chinese in this way and were later able to read and write it competently; but it must have been excruciatingly boring for a boy to recite by the hour words that meant nothing to him.

As soon as Sachinomiya completed the sodoku reading of the Classic of Filial Piety, Emperor Kōmei commanded that he begin reading the Great Learning. In a sodoku class of boys of the same age, there might at least have been the pleasure of friendly emulation or perhaps fun shared at the expense of the teacher, but Sachinomiya at first had little companionship in his lessons. The nobleman Uramatsu Tarumitsu (1850–1915) became Sachinomiya’s sole school playmate in 1861, when he was eleven and the future emperor Meiji was ten (by Japanese count).

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Dutch Urge Japan to Open, 1856

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle p. 30:

Two days after Harris’s arrival in Shimoda [1856], Jan Hendrik Donker Curtius (1813–1879), formerly the chief merchant of the Dutch trading station on Deshima but now the Netherlands government commissioner, sent (by way of the Nagasaki magistrate) a letter to the shogunate in which he urged that the policy of the closed country be abandoned. He predicted that if Japan persisted in this policy, it would lead to war with the major countries of the world. He also called for the old regulations against Christianity to be lifted, deploring in particular, as contrary to good relations with other countries, the use of fumie (images, generally of the Virgin Mary) that the Japanese were obliged to tread on to demonstrate that they were not Christians. He pointed out the advantages to Japan of trade with foreign countries and advised the Japanese to set up a schedule of import duties and encourage the production of wares suitable for export. He suggested also that men from countries with relations with Japan be permitted to bring their wives and children to live with them in the open ports. Finally, Curtius asked that the restrictions on foreign ships be lifted and the laws revised with respect to permission to leave the ports and to travel to Edo.

Twelve years earlier (in 1844) Willem II, the king of Holland, had sent a letter to the shogunate asking that the country be opened to trade. The haughty officials did not deign to respond, but since then the situation had changed dramatically, and the shogunate now felt that it had to give serious consideration to Donker Curtius’s suggestions. At the council meeting, virtually all those present spoke in favor of opening the country speedily. Only Abe Masahiro, worried about the reactions of the various domains and fanatical patriots, said that the time was not yet ripe for such action. No one defended the longstanding tradition of the closed country. The shift in policy had occurred with startling swiftness.

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Charms of Exile in Dharamsala

From Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town, by Barbara Demick (Random House, 2020), Kindle p. 242:

The exile community was headquartered three hundred miles north of New Delhi in the former British resort town of McLeod Ganj, a village in upper Dharamsala developed by the British military in the mid-nineteenth century as a cantonment for troops administering the region. The British had been drawing up plans to turn it into a summer capital, when, in 1905, an earthquake devastated the town and forced their retreat to lower, firmer ground. After India’s independence, the town was left with an inventory of empty real estate—quaint colonial buildings crumbling into the hillsides. When the Dalai Lama fled to India, a shrewd merchant who ran McLeod’s general store prodded the Indian government to offer him the village as his base. It suited the needs of the Indian government to accommodate the Dalai Lama in a place that befitted his status but was comfortably out of the way so as not to irritate the Chinese government too much.

Dharamsala appealed as well to the Tibetans, who appreciated its relatively cool temperatures, mountain air, and auspicious name—“dwelling place of the dharma” in Hindi. All slopes and switchbacks with barely a horizontal surface in sight, Dharamsala didn’t much resemble Tibet, but a snow-capped spur of the Himalayas was visible in the distance. Around the Dalai Lama sprung up an entire parallel universe of Tibet, hinting of home. The Central Tibetan Administration had its own ministers and parliament, schools, museum, library, and civil service employees—even a civil service exam. (“We don’t have a country but we have bureaucracy,” a spokesman told me, apologizing for the requirement that a press pass was needed to visit a school.) Empty storefronts filled up with hotels, cafés with multilingual menus and cuisine, English-language bookstores, yoga studios, and boutiques selling copper singing bowls and prayer beads.

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China’s New Tibet Policy, 1994

From Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town, by Barbara Demick (Random House, 2020), Kindle pp. 144-145:

Tibet policy was handled by the United Front Work Department, a Soviet-inspired organization designed to coordinate relations between the Party and outsiders, including ethnic minorities. At a meeting in 1994 known as the Third National Forum on Work in Tibet, the Party directed the United Front to rein in Tibetan religious life. “The struggle between ourselves and the Dalai clique is not a matter of religious belief nor a matter of the question of autonomy; it is a matter of securing the unity of our country and opposing splittism,” read an internal version of the statement produced at the forum. The monasteries, they claimed, were breeding grounds for activism.

The new policy criminalized many aspects of Tibetan culture and religion. In the past, Communist Party members had been prohibited from visiting temples and monasteries and keeping shrines in their homes, but now the ban was extended to all government employees. That was a large slice of the workforce in a Communist system and included teachers, bus drivers, conductors, and the millions who worked for state-owned enterprises. All monks and nuns were also targeted for what was called “patriotic education,” indoctrination sessions to foster loyalty to the Communist Party.

At first these new policies applied only to what the Chinese designated as the Tibet Autonomous Region, centered around Lhasa. As part of Sichuan province, Ngaba was still enjoying the intellectual and cultural renaissance that had begun the decade before. But by the late 1990s, the United Front decided to expand the campaign, and their first target was Kirti, as one of the largest and most influential monasteries in the region.

It started so abruptly and dramatically that monks remembered the exact date: June 15, 1998. A work team of officials from the United Front and the State Administration for Religious Affairs showed up at Kirti. They set up a long table and chairs at the entrance to the assembly hall, a long gold-peaked building raised three feet off the ground, which gave the impression of being on a stage. All of Kirti’s monks, some of them quite elderly, were directed to sit cross-legged on the pavement in front like children—a breach of etiquette that was shocking to the younger monks who had never seen anybody position themselves above their seniors in that way. They also were appalled by the way the Communist Party officials were chain-smoking. Tibetans don’t smoke as much as Han Chinese and certainly never in a monastery.

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