No further evolution was possible, except through social reconstruction.
More than ever before, the old compulsory systems of cooperation were strengthened.
More than ever before all details of ceremonial convention were insisted upon with merciless exactitude.
The paternal coercion of the Tokugawa rule helped develop and accentuate much of what is most attractive in the national character of the Japanese.
During two hundred years of peace, prosperity, and national isolation, the graceful and winning side of this human nature found chance to bloom.
The multiform restraints of law and custom then quickened and curiously shaped the blossoming, as the gardener’s untiring art evolves the chrysanthemum flowers into a hundred forms of fantastic beauty.
Though the general social tendency under pressure was toward rigidity, constraint left room, in special directions, for moral and aesthetic cultivation.
Although the hierarchal rules of Japan weighing heavily upon all classes, from the highest to the lowest, the legal burden was proportioned to the respective strength of the bearers, and the application of law being made less and less rigid as the social scale descended.
From the earliest times, the poor and unfortunate had been considered as entitled to pity, and the duty of showing them all possible mercy was insisted upon in the oldest extant moral code of Japan.
The Laws of Shotoku Taishi.
However, the most striking example of such discrimination appears in the Legacy of Iyeyasu, which represents the conception of justice in a time when society had become much more developed, its institutions more firmly fixed, and all its bonds tightened.
This stern and wise ruler, who declared:
“The people are the foundation of the Empire.”
He commanded leniency in dealing with the humble.
Perhaps the humane spirit of the legislator is most strongly shown in his enactments regarding crime.
For example, where he deals with the question of adultery, necessarily a crime of the first magnitude in any society based on ancestor-worship.
Should the offenders be brought up for trial, Iyeyasu advises in the case of common people, particular deliberation be given to the matter.
He remarks upon the weakness of human nature, and suggests that, among the young and simple-minded, some momentary impulse of passion may lead to folly even when the parties are not naturally depraved.
But in the next article of his code, he orders that no mercy whatever be shown to men and women of the upper classes when convicted of the same crime.
“These are expected to know better than to occasion disturbance by violating existing regulations, and such persons, breaking the laws by lewd trifling or illicit intercourse, shall at once be *punished without deliberation or consultation.”
*That is to say, immediately put to death.
Another humane aspect of Tokugawa legislation is furnished by its dictates in regard to the relations of the sexes.
“Silly and ignorant men neglect their true wives for the sake of a loved mistress, and thus disturb the most important relation.”
“Men so far sunk as this may always be known as Samurai without fidelity or sincerity.”
Celibacy, condemned by public opinion, except in the case of Buddhist priests, was equally condemned by the code.
“One should not live alone after sixteen years of age, and all mankind recognize marriage as the first law of nature.
Considering that this code which instilled humanity, repressed moral laxity, prohibited celibacy, and rigorously maintained the family-cult, was drawn up in the time of the extirpation of the Jesuit missions.
“High and low alike, may follow their own inclinations with respect to religious tenets which have obtained down to the present time, except as regards the false and corrupt school [Roman Catholicism].
Religious disputes have ever proved the bane and misfortune of this Empire, and must be firmly suppressed.
One must carefully read the entire Legacy in order to understand Iyeyasu’s real position, which was simply this.
Any man was free to adopt any religion tolerated by the State, in addition to his ancestor-cult.
Iyeyasu was himself a member of the Jodo sect of Buddhism, and a friend of Buddhism in general.
“Keep your heart pure and so long as your body shall exist, be diligent in paying honour and veneration to the Gods.”
That he placed the ancient cult above Buddhism should be evident from the text of the 52d article of the Legacy, in which he declares:
“No one should suffer himself to neglect the national faith because of a belief in any other form of religion.”
“My body, and the bodies of others, being born in the Empire of the Gods, to accept unreservedly the teachings of other countries, such as Confucian, Buddhist, or Taoist doctrines, and to apply one’s whole and undivided attention to them, would be, in short, to desert one’s own master, and transfer one’s loyalty to another.”
“Is not this to forget the origin of one’s being?”
The general character of the Tokugawa rule can be to some degree inferred from the foregoing facts.
It was in no sense a reign of terror that compelled peace and encouraged industry for two hundred and fifty years.
Though the national civilization was restrained, pruned, clipped in a thousand ways, it was at the same time cultivated, refined, and strengthened.
The long peace established throughout the Empire what had never before existed, a universal feeling of security.
The individual was bound more than ever by law and custom, but he was also protected.
Though coerced by his fellows, they helped him to bear the coercion cheerfully.
Everybody aided everybody else to fulfil the obligations and to support the burdens of communal life.
Conditions tended, therefore, toward the general happiness as well as toward the general prosperity.
There was not, in those years, any struggle for existence, not at least in our modern meaning of the phrase.
Every man had a master to provide for him or to protect him, competition was repressed or discouraged, there was no need for supreme effort of any sort, no need for the straining of any faculty.
Moreover, there was little or nothing to strive after.
For the vast majority of the people, there were no prizes to win.
Ranks and incomes were fixed, occupations were hereditary, and the desire to accumulate wealth must have been checked or numbed by those regulations which limited the rich man’s right to use his money as he might please.
Personal ambition being thus restrained, and the cost of existence reduced to a minimum much below our Western ideas of the necessary.
There were conditions established which were highly favourable to certain forms of culture, despite of sumptuary regulations.
The national mind was obliged to seek solace for the monotony of existence, either in amusement or study.
Tokugawa policy had left imagination partly free in the directions of literature and art, and within those two directions repressed personality found means to express itself and became creative.
Observation concentrated itself upon the interest of everyday life.
Upon incidents which might be watched from a window, or studied in a garden.
Upon familiar aspects of nature in various seasons.
Upon trees, flowers, birds, fishes, or reptiles, and upon insects and the ways of them.
Upon all kinds of small details, delicate trifles, amusing curiosities.
And it was especially during the Tokugawa period that this sense of beauty began to inform everything in common life.
Literature also ceased, like art, to be the enjoyment of the upper classes only, and it developed a multitude of popular forms.
This was the age of popular fiction, of cheap books, of popular drama, of storytelling for young and old.
We may certainly call the Tokugawa period the happiest in the long life of the nation.
During the Tokugawa period, various diversions or accomplishments, formerly fashionable in upper circles only, became common property.
Three of these were of a sort indicating a high degree of refinement:
Poetical contests, tea-ceremonies, and the complex art of flower-arrangement.
It was under the Tokugawa Shogunate that such amusements and accomplishments became national.
Then the tea-ceremonies were made a feature of female education throughout the country.
Their elaborate character could be explained only by the help of many pictures, and it requires years of training and practice to graduate in the art of them.
Yet the whole of this art, as to detail, signifies no more than the making and serving of a cup of tea.
However, it is a real art, a most exquisite art.
The actual making of the infusion is a matter of no consequence in itself.
The supremely important matter is that the act be performed in the most perfect, most polite, most graceful, most charming manner possible.
Therefore a training in the tea-ceremony is still held to be a training in politeness, self-control, delicacy, a discipline in behaviour and manners.
It was in this period also that etiquette was cultivated to its uttermost, that politeness became diffused throughout all ranks, not merely as a fashion, but as an art.
For it has well been said that the most wonderful aesthetic products of Japan are not its ivories, bronzes, porcelains, swords, nor any of its marvels in metal or lacquer, but its women.
Accepting as partly true the statement that woman everywhere is what man has made her, we might say that this statement is more true of the Japanese woman than of any other.
Of course it required thousands and thousands of years to make her, but the period of which I am speaking beheld the work completed and perfected.
Before this ethical creation, criticism should hold its breath.
For there is here no single fault save the fault of a moral charm unsuited to any world of selfishness and struggle.
It is the moral artist that now commands our praise, the realizer of an ideal beyond Occidental reach.
How frequently has it been asserted that, as a moral being, the Japanese woman does not seem to belong to the same race as the Japanese man!
The Japanese woman is an ethically different being from the Japanese man.
Perhaps no such type of woman will appear again in this world for a hundred thousand years, as the conditions of industrial civilization will not admit of her existence.
This type could not have been created in any society shaped on modern lines, nor in any society where the competitive struggle takes those unmoral forms with which we have become all too familiar.
Only a society under extraordinary regulation and regimentation, a society in which all self-assertion was repressed, and self-sacrifice made a universal obligation.
A society in which personality was clipped like a hedge, permitted to bud and bloom from within, never from without, in short, only a society founded upon ancestor-worship, could have produced it.
Its charm is the charm of a vanished world.
A charm strange, alluring, indescribable as the perfume of some flower of which the species became extinct in our Occident before the modern languages were born.
Transplanted successfully it cannot be.
Under a foreign sun its forms revert to something altogether different, its colours fade, its perfume passes away.
The Japanese woman can be known only in her own country.
The Japanese woman as prepared and perfected by the old-time education for that strange society in which the charm of her moral being, delicacy, supreme unselfishness, child-like piety and trust, and her exquisite tactful perception of all ways and means to make happiness about her, can be comprehended and valued.
Even if she cannot be called handsome, according to Western standards, the Japanese woman must be confessed pretty.
Pretty like a comely child, and if she be seldom graceful in the Occidental sense, she is at least in all her ways incomparably graceful.
Her every motion, gesture, or expression being, in its own Oriental manner, a perfect thing, an act performed, or a look conferred, in the most easy, the most graceful, the most modest way possible.
Is she not, then, one may ask, an artificial product, a forced growth of Oriental civilization?
I would answer both “Yes” and “No.”
She is an artificial product in only the same evolutional sense that all character is an artificial product, and it required tens of centuries to mould her.
She is not, on the other hand, an artificial type, because she has been particularly trained to be her true self at all times when circumstances allow, or, in other words, to be delightfully natural.
The old-fashioned education of her sex was directed to the development of every quality essentially feminine, and to the suppression of the opposite quality.
Kindliness, docility, sympathy, tenderness, daintiness, these and other attributes were cultivated into incomparable blossoming.
Of course being formed by such training only, she must be protected by society, and by the old Japanese society she was protected.
Her success in life was made to depend on her power to win affection by gentleness, obedience, kindliness, not the affection merely of a husband, but of the husband’s parents and grandparents, and brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, in short of all the members of a strange household.
Thus to succeed required angelic goodness and patience, and the Japanese woman realized at least the ideal of a Buddhist angel.
A being working only for others, thinking only for others, happy only in making pleasure for others, a being incapable of unkindness, incapable of selfishness, incapable of acting contrary to her own inherited sense of right.
And in spite of this softness and gentleness, ready at any moment, to lay down her life, to sacrifice everything at the call of duty.
Such was the character of the Japanese woman.
Stronger within her than wifely affection or parental affection or even maternal affection, stronger than any womanly emotion, was the moral conviction born of her great faith.
With the Japanese woman, as formed by the ancient training, each act of life was an act of faith.
Her existence was a religion, her home a temple, her every word and thought ordered by the law of the cult of the dead.
This wonderful type is not extinct, though surely doomed to disappear.
A human creature so shaped for the service of gods and men that every beat of her heart is duty, that every drop of her blood is moral feeling, were not less out of place in the future world of competitive selfishness, than an angel in hell.
Patrick Lafcadio Hearn