1 Ch. 36: The Debate Over Seclusion and Restoration



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Teachings on rulership should follow the example of the three ancient dynasties of China, during which there were great sages above and many wise men under them. As a result of these teachings, the school system also aided in rulership and produced men of character and ability. Even if the ability and virtues of rulers and ministers today do not equal those of these earlier dynasties, there is no alternative to setting up the teachings of the ancients as goals. Hence rulers and ministers both must realize that they cannot depart from the unified way of civil and military arts. The ruler must exercise affection, respect, modesty, justice, and frankness. He must study the practice of these among the ancient sages and worthies, and he must develop them in military exercises. In carrying out these sage teachings based on their natural sentiments and on the path of moral relations, he must lead his ministers with the highest sincerity and compassion in ruling the people.

A high officer must conform to the mind-and-heart of the ruler and establish the principle of concern for his country and love for his prince. He must overcome his own extravagances and practice the virtue of economy; he must strain his resolves, exert his body without yielding to hardships and without dreading dangers, thus building up his strength and perfecting his whole being. The fundamentals of the Way of the Samurai are necessarily such as these. One must tread the footsteps of the sages without regret and set oneself as an example to the people. One must listen to the opinions of others with frankness and self-effacement. One must develop the good practice of taking ideas from the people. One must discuss with the various officials in order to serve the plans of the ruler, promote the good, and teach those who are untrained.

The various officers also receive orders from their lord and positively must not inject their own wishes. They must perform their respective functions with fidelity and sincerity. They must follow the samurai's way with disinterestedness and integrity, encourage their colleagues, and govern those below in the service of the common good. Also, they must enlighten those who teach the civil and military arts, thus dispelling ignorance. They must discard persistent and base, antiquated customs. With lord and minister having due regard for each other, and teachers and students listening to each other, the true civil and military arts together will yield benefits for teachings on rulership.

If it is so done, the teaching of the civil and military arts and the administration of schools will then serve as the foundation of government, and subordinates will naturally turn to the Way. They will naturally resolve to live up to the Way of the Samurai. If all the people are of one mind with their lord and ministers, they will grasp the fundamentals of everything when they study the classics and histories and practice with sword and lance. Thus, they will not be drawn into empty letters and one-sided military arts. They will be completely able to perform their duties. This is indeed the teaching of the true civil and military arts. Customs will become gentle and genuine. Then will there be any doubt that men of character and ability will arise? [464-5]

[NST v. 55, pp. 438-65; tr. adapted and revised from Miyauchi, “Kokuze sanron,”

MN XXIII, 157-86; WTdB.]


Yoshida ShÇin: Death-Defying Heroism
TorajirÇ TorajirÇ—

Nijã-ikkai mÇshi Twenty-one times a death-defier!

Yoshida TorajirÇ (better known by his pen-name, ShÇin), whose heroism drew such acclaim as this from young Japanese of the Meiji Restoration and even won admiration abroad through the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson, was born in the southwestern fief of ChÇshã and adopted into the family of a samurai in rather humble circumstances. His father, a military instructor, found it necessary to divide his time between teaching and cultivating the soil in order to earn a frugal living, and Yoshida, who succeeded to the direction of his father's school at a very young age, always remained a peasant at heart—earnest, unsophisticated, and alive with the raw energy of the earth. From his father, also he inherited a deep devotion to the precepts of Yamaga SokÇ, whose teachings on the code of the warrior (later known as bushidÇ) had been handed down in the family school. He also acquired a close acquaintance with the principles of military science as set forth in the ancient Chinese classic, Sunzi's Art of War.1 Perhaps an even more decisive influence on Yoshida was the book of Mencius, whose high idealism, strong assertion of the inherent worth of the individual, and staunch opposition to arbitrary authority instilled in Yoshida a lively sense of his own mission in the world and an impatience with all external restraints.

An avid learner, and impressed by Sunzi's Art of War with the importance of military intelligence, Yoshida traveled about picking up what information he could about the West in Nagasaki and from such progressive teachers as Yokoi ShÇnan and Sakuma ShÇzan. On a trip to northern Japan he also visited the school at Mito which was proclaiming Japan's divine mission to turn back the West and found a world empire under the legitimate imperial dynasty. After the failure of Yoshida's ill-planned attempt to stow away on one of Perry's ships, which ended in his being confined to his native fief, Yoshida was permitted by his indulgent feudal lord to resume teaching. With Mencius as his main text, he stressed the latter's implicit justification of redress against an unworthy and incompetent ruler, and pointed to the shogun's failure to fulfill the function indicated by his title of “Barbarian-subduing Generalissimo” (Sei-i tai shÇgun). Throughout the ranks of the aristocracy, however, he found a similar incapacity to assume the responsibilities of leadership in the crisis facing Japan. Yoshida became convinced that only among those close to the soil and untainted by the corruption of wealth and high office could one find men selfless and fearless enough to overthrow the regime. To arouse these stalwarts of the countryside only dedicated leadership and an inspiring example of the true warrior spirit were needed.

Yoshida's call to action had in it some of the ingredients of a modern revolution: the overthrow of the hereditary feudal aristocracy and the raising up of the Japanese common man to a role of vital importance. Here were the seeds of epochal changes to be brought about by the Restoration—the abolition of feudalism, emancipation of the peasants, the arming of them in modernized forces—changes initiated by such youthful leaders and former disciples of Yoshida as Kido KÇin, a key figure in the dismantling of feudalism; ItÇ Hirobumi, framer of the Meiji Constitution; and Yamagata Aritomo, father of the modern Japanese army. But theirs was a revolution aiming more at the revitalization of national leadership than at the complete overturning of the social order. Yoshida's dissatisfaction with the status quo was not inspired by class consciousness or a concern for the rights of any economic group but by disdain for the failure of the aristocracy, and especially the shogunate, to measure up to their responsibilities, and a belief in the need for heroic individuals to stand forth in their stead.

Typically, therefore, Yoshida's mind ran not to planning and organizing for political action, but to some spectacular act of bravery which would dramatize the need for selfless leadership. Thus he conceived the idea of assassinating the shogun's emissary to the imperial court, whose mission was to secure the emperor's approval for a treaty with the United States. Considering his impetuosity and the previous failure of his ill-considered plans, it is not surprising that this daring plot should have been detected and smashed. Sent a prisoner to the shogunate capital at Edo, Yoshida was beheaded in 1859 at the age of thirty. But in death his dreams were fulfilled: he became a hero to a whole generation and his self-sacrifice the spark which fired the minds and hearts of Japan's new revolutionary leaders. Reverently his patriotic disciples, including ItÇ and Kido, bore home his last remains, and with deep emotion young Japanese of the new era repeated the two poems which were his last testament in prison:

Oya wo omou The son's solicitude for his mother

Kokoro ni masaru Is surpassed by

Oyagokoro Her solicitude for him

KyÇ no otozure When she hears what befell me today,

How will she take it?
Kaku sureba That such an act

Kaku naru mono to Would have such a result

Shiri nagara I knew well enough.

Yamu ni yamarenu What made me do it anyhow

Yamato damashii Was the spirit of Yamato.
But if this spirit was inspirational to Yoshida's followers in the subsequent Restoration movement, it also left a less beneficial, longer-term legacy: the idea that spectacular examples of individual bravery and impetuous, direct action could change the course of history, as in the “government by assassination” of the 1930s.

Yoshida ShÇin

On Leadership

In these passages from Yoshida ShÇin's writing it is not difficult to see the same intense belief in the resoluteness of the individual will as the defining characteristic of the Confucian noble man, i.e., in his self-sacrificing samurai incarnation, already noted in the later thinkers of the Zhu Xi, and especially Yangming, schools in early nineteenth century Japan. (See Ch. 33 and 34.)


What is important in a leader is a resolute will and determination. A man may be versatile and learned, but if he lacks resoluteness and determination, of what use will he be? [v. 8, p. 146]

Once the will is resolved, one's spirit is strengthened. Even a peasant's will is hard to deny, but a samurai of resolute will can sway ten thousand men. [v. 5, p. 239]

One who aspires to greatness should read and study, pursuing the True Way with such a firm resolve that he is perfectly straightforward and open, rises above the superficialities of conventional behavior, and refuses to be satisfied with the petty or commonplace. [v. 2, p. 26]

Once a man's will is set, he need no longer rely on others or expect anything from the world. His vision encompasses Heaven and earth, past and present, and the tranquility of his heart is undisturbed. [v. 3, p. 145]

Life and death, union and separation, follow hard upon one another. Nothing is steadfast but the will, nothing endures but one's achievements. These alone count in life. [v. 5, p. 334]

To consider oneself different from ordinary men is wrong, but it is right to hope that one will not remain like ordinary men. [v. 2, p. 25]

[From Yoshida ShÇin zenshã, v. 2, pp. 25-26; v. 3, p. 145; v. 5, pp. 239, 334; v. 8, p. 146]

On Being Direct

In relations with others, one should express resentment and anger openly and straightforwardly. If one cannot express them openly and straightforwardly, the only thing to do is forget about them. To harbor grievances is to act like a weak and petty man—in truth, it can only be called cowardice. The mind of the noble man is like Heaven. When it is resentful or angry, it thunders forth its indignation. But once having loosed its feelings, it is like a sunny day with a clear sky: within the heart there remains not the trace of a cloud. Such is the beauty of true manliness.

[From Zenshã, v. 3, p. 239]

Arms and Learning

These excerpts mark two important stages in Yoshida's intellectual development: first, when he was led by his studies in military science to seek a deeper knowledge of classical philosophy; and second, when he realized the vital importance of first-hand knowledge of the West. It is characteristic of him that this latter realization should be expressed in typically Confucian terms.


Those who take up the science of war must not fail to master the [Confucian] Classics. The reason is that arms are dangerous instruments and not necessarily forces for good. How can we safely entrust them to any but those who have schooled themselves in the precepts of the Classics and use these weapons for the realization of Humanity and Rightness? To quell violence and disorder, to repulse barbarians and brigands, to rescue living souls from agony and torture, to save the nation from imminent downfall—these are the true ends of Humanity and Rightness. If, on the contrary, arms are taken up in a selfish struggle to win land, goods, people, and the implements of war, is it not the worst of all evils, the most heinous of all offenses? If, further, the study of offensive and defensive warfare, of the way to certain victory in all encounters, is not based on those principles which should govern their employment, who can say that such a venture will not result in just such a misfortune? Therefore I say that those who take up the science of war must not fail to master the Classics. [v. 2, p. 145]

What I mean by the “pursuit of learning” is not the ability to read classical texts and study ancient history, but to be fully acquainted with conditions all over the world and to have a keen awareness of what is going on abroad and around us. Now from what I can see world trends and conditions are still unsettled, and as long as they remain unsettled there is still a chance that something can be done. First, therefore, we must rectify conditions in our own domain, after which conditions in other domains can be rectified. This having been done, conditions at court can be rectified and finally conditions throughout the whole world can be rectified. First one must set an example oneself and then it can be extended progressively to others.1 This is what I mean by the 'pursuit of learning.” [v. 4, p. 115]

[From Zenshã, v. 2, p. 145; v. 4, p. 115]

Facing Death

From the beginning of the year to the end, day and night, morning and evening, in action and repose, in speech and in silence, the warrior must keep death constantly before him and have ever in mind that the one death [which he has to give] should not be suffered in vain. In other words [he must have perfect control over his own death] just as if he were holding an intemperate steed in rein. Only he who truly keeps death in mind this way can understand what is meant by [Yamaga SokÇ's maxim of] “preparedness.” [v. 4, p. 238]

If the body dies, it does no harm to the mind, but if the mind dies, one can no longer act as a man even though the body survives. [v. 8, p. 299]

If a general and his men fear death and are apprehensive over possible defeat, then they will unavoidably suffer defeat and death. But if they make up their minds, from the general down to the last foot soldier, not to think of living but only of standing in one place and facing death together, then, though they may have no other thought than meeting death, they will instead hold on to life and gain victory. [v. 1, p. 101]

[From Zenshã, v. 1, p. 101; v. 4, p. 238; v. 8, p. 299]

Selfishness and Heroism

Through the following passages runs a strong undercurrent of antagonism toward the idle rich, which is inspired by the traditional disapproval of self-indulgence found in Confucianism and Buddhism. Here Yoshida stands as a link between the old samurai ideal of frugality and self-sacrificing service, and these same virtues as exemplified by peasant soldiers in the service of twentieth-century Japanese nationalism.


The first passage is a commentary on a poem by the Chinese poet Li Po, who points out that the most beautiful things in the world, the beauties of nature, are no one's private possession and may be enjoyed by all free of charge.
Nowadays everyone lives selfishly and seeks only the leisure in which to indulge his own desires. They look on all the beauties of nature—the rivers and mountains, the breeze and the moon—as their own to enjoy, forgetting what the shrine of the Sun Goddess stands for [i.e., that everything is held in trust from Heaven]. The common man thinks of his life as his own and refuses to perform his duty to his lord. The samurai regards his household as his own private possession and refuses to sacrifice his life for his state. The feudal lords regard their domains as their own and refuse to serve King and Country. Unwilling to serve King and Country, at home they cherish only the objects of desire and abroad they willingly yield to the foreign barbarian, inviting defeat and destruction. Thus the scenic beauties they enjoy will not long remain in their possession. [v. 4, p. 175]

As things stand now the feudal lords are content to look on while the shogunate carries on in a highhanded manner. Neither the lords nor the shogun can be depended upon [to save the country], and so our only hope lies in grass-roots heroes.1 [v. 5, p. 315]

When I consider the state of things in our fief, I find that those who hold official positions and receive official stipends are incapable of the utmost in loyalty and patriotic service. Loyalty of the usual sort—perhaps, but if it is true loyalty and service you seek, then you must abandon this fief and plan a grass-roots uprising. V, 9, p. 239]

It seems hopeless, hopeless. Those who eat meat [at public expense] are a mean, selfish lot, and so the country is doomed. Our only hope lies in the grass-roots folk who eat our traditional food [i.e., rice]. [v. 6, p. 164]

If Heaven does not completely abandon this land of the Gods, there must be an uprising of grass-roots heroes. [v. 9, p. 297]

If the plan [to intercept the shogunate emissary to the Kyoto court] is to be carried out, it can only be done with men from the grass roots. To wear silk brocades, eat dainty food, hug beautiful women, and fondle darling children are the only things hereditary officials care about. To revere the

emperor and expel the barbarian is no concern of theirs. If this time it should be my misfortune to die, may my death inspire at least one or two men of steadfast will to rise up and uphold this principle after my death. [v. 9, p. 286]

[From Zenshã, v. 4, p. 175; v. 5, p. 315; v. 6, p. 164; v. 9, pp. 239, 286, 297 ]

Fukuzawa Yukichi: Pioneer of Westernization

“Here lies,” the epitaph on a monument to Fukuzawa reads, “a man of self-reliance and self-respect with a world-wide vision.” And it is probably safe to say that no other Japanese in those turbulent pre-Restoration days had such wide vision as Fukuzawa Yukichi (1834-1901) did, nor in the reconstruction period which followed did any Japanese of his renown and ability live the life of an independent commoner with such native dignity.

Born in the Kyushu province of Bungo which had produced such progressive thinkers as Miura Baien and Hoashi Banri, Fukuzawa came from the lower levels of the feudal aristocracy. Always alert and energetic, he set about the study of Dutch very early in life, and then became a pioneer student of English. As early as 1860 he took advantage of an opportunity to visit America with a shogunate mission, made a return visit in 1867, and in between traveled through European countries, especially England. When at last he took up writing and lecturing about Western civilization and its achievements, it was on the basis of a wider firsthand knowledge of the West than any other Japanese of his time could boast. Hale, handsome, and of a sanguine nature, his personality radiated a lively enthusiasm that lent itself to the conveying of his ideas to others. Around him in his little school of Keio he drew ambitious young Japanese in growing numbers, men who were to become leaders of the new Japan in its work of political, economic, and social reconstruction. As a writer he probably excelled any of his contemporaries in versatility and persuasiveness. His books sold in millions of copies, bringing him a fortune and giving him the financial independence which enabled him to live the life of a commoner without having to accept a position in the government. It also provided him with the means to establish a newspaper through which he could voice his opinions on current questions with complete freedom.

Fukuzawa's influence was the greater because of the practical and popular character of his writings. He aimed less at converting the scholarly elite to a new philosophy than at conveying to great numbers of Japanese his enthusiasm for the tangible advantages of life in the West. Nonetheless these advantages were not wholly of a material sort. Fukuzawa's appreciation of Western civilization was surprisingly broad, and while he lacked any deep knowledge of its background or traditions, he sensed that the meaning of the West was to be found as much in the moral tales told to its children or in the procedure for running meetings as in treatises on natural or political science. If there is any single influence from the West which Fukuzawa most clearly exemplified and fostered it is British utilitarianism and liberalism, a trend especially strong in the early decades of the Restoration. Linked closely to this was the prevailing belief in human progress through the wider application of the methods of the natural sciences. Increasingly toward the end of his life, however, Fukuzawa expressed the conviction that moral and religious regeneration of the Japanese was indispensable to their future progress.

Fukuzawa's abilities as a writer, publicist, and educator gave him great prominence in the public life of Japan in the late nineteenth century. The following excerpts reveal his early reactions to the West and Japanese reactions to him as a proponent of things Western. In subsequent chapters he is also represented as an advocate of “Civilization and Enlightenment” (Ch. 37) and educational modernization. (Ch. 39)

Excerpts from His Autobiography

This book was dictated in 1898 shortly before Fukuzawa's death and was later translated into English by a grandson, Kiyooka Eikichi, under the title The Autobiography of Fukuzawa Yukichi (Tokyo, 1934). These selections pertain to his first visits to America and Europe, and to his founding of a private school for Western studies and also of a private newspaper.
I am willing to admit my pride in Japan's accomplishments [in rapid modernization]. The facts are these: It was not until the sixth year of Kaei (1853) that a steamship was seen for the first time; it was only in the second year of Ansei (1855) that we began to study navigation from the Dutch in Nagasaki; by 1860, the science was sufficiently understood to enable us to sail a ship across the Pacific. This means that about seven years after the first sight of a steam ship, after only about five years of practice, the Japanese people made a trans-Pacific crossing without help from foreign experts. I think we can without undue pride boast before the world of this courage and skill. As I have shown, the Japanese officers were to receive no aid from Captain Brooke throughout the voyage. Even in taking observations, our officers and the Americans made them independently of each other. Sometimes they compared their results, but we were never in the least dependent on the Americans.

As I consider all the other peoples of the Orient as they exist today, I feel convinced that there is no other nation which has the ability or the courage to navigate a steamship across the Pacific after a period of five years of experience in navigation and engineering. Not only in the Orient would this feat stand as an act of unprecedented skill and daring. Even Peter the Great of Russia, who went to Holland to study navigation, with all his attainments in the science could not have equaled this feat of the Japanese. Without doubt, the famous Emperor of Russia was a man of exceptional genius, but his people did not respond to his leadership in the practice of science as did our Japanese in this great adventure. [pp. 118-19]

On our part there were many confusing and embarrassing moments [in our travels abroad], for we were quite ignorant of the customs and habits of American life. . . . . Things social, political, and economic proved most inexplicable. One day, on a sudden thought, I asked a gentleman where the descendants of George Washington might be. He replied, “I think there is a woman who is directly descended from Washington. I don't know where she is now, but I think I have heard she is married.” His answer was so very casual that it shocked me.

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