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WHY AND HOW JAPANESE HISTORY MAY BE
STUDIED WITH PROFIT IN AMERICA.
History of Japan is so little known abroad that one is obliged
to argue for its more extensive study. It has been said that,
had the Russians possessed an insight into the national life of
Japan, the recent war would probably have never taken place.
However that may be, that here in America the general under-
standing of the history and the character of the Japanese people
is too inadequate for the increasing importance of the relations
of the two nations, has been growing painfully evident in recent
years. A better knowledge is imperative, for the welfare of the
Aside from this practical need, however, the student of his-
torical science will find in Japan's history many points of gen-
eral and abiding interest. Institutionally, for example, Japan
began her national career as a patriarchal state, with the em-
peror at the apex of the organization. Internal and external
circumstances conspired to make this system untenable in the
seventh century, when the State was reorganized after the model
of the centralized bureaucracy of the T'ang Empire of China.
This artificial reform was followed by five centuries of a gradual
unforeseen transformation of society, in which a process similar
to the feudalization of Western Europe in the early middle ages
took place under similar circumstances and upon similar princi-
ples. Finally, in 1185, feudal institutions were recognized by the
emperor as the ruling machinery of the State. For the next
four hundred years the system continued to develop, and in 1600
culminated in the elaborate feudal polity of the Tokugawa sho-
gun. After seven centuries of well-nigh unbroken rule, feudal-
ism, too, proved untenable, in the nineteenth century, under
foreign pressure and internal unrest. It was overthrown, in
1868, by the united force of the imperial force from above and
of discontented feudal elements from within, and was succeeded
by a period of an active adaptation of European institutions.
It is unnecessary to say that the transition from the partiarchal
to the bureaucratic, from the latter to the feudal*, and thence
again to the constitutional form of government, has been at-
tended by corresponding social and economic changes. At every
step the • student meets lessons of universal import, some of
which may even serve to elucidate, either by similarity or by
contrast, certain great features of occidental history.
128 K. Asakawa
To some persons, the moral and spiritual growth of Japan
may seem even more interesting than the institutional. Here
again are seen alternate periods of eager receptivity, assimila-
tion and original expression. Japan's national cult, later called
shinto, took its form before the coming of the continental civili-
zation of Asia, and, together with the emperorship, with which
the cult was closely bound, became a permanent heritage of
the nation. Indian thought and Chinese culture, which began
to pour in from the sixth century, elevated the tone of the ruling
classes, and inspired the vigorous artistic activity of the eighth
and ninth centuries. This was followed by several hundred
years of practical isolation from the continent, in which the re-
finement introduced in the previous age was gradually assimi-
lated to the life of the higher society. By the eleventh century,
even Buddhism had become largely Japanese in its doctrine and
ritual, and the Buddhist church had grown to be a commanding
economic and political force of the Empire. Then came a tre-
mendous reaction from the feudal classes, which had been form-
ing themselves in the country at large and became the control-
ing power of the nation at the end of the twelfth century. The
rise of these classes coincided with the coming from China of a
new form of Buddhism and Buddhist art, the simplicity and
vigor of which responded to the robust spirit of the warriors.
These men of arms, with their rough but keen sense of honor,
fashioned the moral tone of the new age. From 1600, the feu-
dal rulers for the first time found in Confucianism, which had
come to Japan more than ten centuries before, the best exponent
of the actual ethical relations of the feudal society, and utilized
its precepts for the purpose of formulating the warrior's code
of morals. From this time, also, during a new period of foreign
exclusion, the general culture and arts of life were greatly diver-
sified and were widely diffused among all classes of people.
Unity of culture was again broken when, in the middle of the
last century, Japan was forcibly brought under the influence of.
European science and Christianity. These new elements she has
as yet hardly had time to digest. One who follows these suc-
cessive periods of Japanese culture will find forms of art and
modes of life that typify each epoch and are never successfully
reproduced in another age. Every period also presents innumer-
able problems for fruitful, study.
If one tried to study these or any other aspects of Japanese
history from literature written in European languages, he would
be disappointed to find, among the great mass of works that
Why and How Japanese History May Be Studied 129
have been produced, that only half a dozen important sources
have been translated. It is not impracticable for him, however,
to acquire some degree of knowledge by selected readings from
the vast literature. For general history, for example, he may
read Brinkley 1 or Mazeliere,* with the aid of the indispensable
Dictionaire by Papinot. 3 After this preliminary work, he may
limit his attention to some special topic, and acquiant himself
with works in that field which are mentioned in Wenckstern's
Bibliography. 4 Whatever his subject may be, however, he may
do well to consult publications of the Asiatic Society of Japan,"
of the Japan Society at London,' and of the Deutsche Gessell-
schaft fur die Natur und Volkerkunde Ostasiens. 7 As to the
monographs on special topics, there are few that are not men-
tioned in Wenckstern, while their relative value will readily be
judged by any trained student. It would be impossible here
to enumerate even the best works on all the larger phases of
The historical sources in the original language are at present
the only reliable material for a satisfactory investigation in any
important field. To those who can use them I am happy to say
that they will find in the Library of Congress and Yale Univer-
sity Library larger and better selected collections of Japanese
historical material than at any other place out of Japan. The
nature of the more than nine thousand works kept at the Library
of Congress has been briefly described by me in the Librarian's
annual report for 1907, and it is only necessary here to point
out that they are particularly strong in the historical geography,
and in the history of the religions and of the general culture of
Japan. The Yale collection, which consists of about an equal
number of works, is specially rich in original sources, and also
'Captain F. Brinkley, Oriental Series : Japan, Its History, Art and Literature.
In 12 vols. See vols. 1-4. Boston, 1901-2.
'Marquis de la Mazeliere : Le Japon ; Histoire et Civilisation. In 5 vols.
Vols. 1-3 already published. Paris, 1907.
3 E. Papinot : Dictionaire d'Hlstolre et de Geographie du Japon. 2d Edition. •
Tokyo, etc., 1907. The author writes me that an English edition of this work is
♦Fr. von Wenckstern : A Bibliography of the Japanese Empire. 2 vols. Vol. 1,
Leiden, etc., 1895, and vol. 2, Tokyo, etc., 1907.
'Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan ; published irregularly since 1872.
"Transactions and Proceedings of the Japan Society ; published irregularly
since 1893. London.
T Mittheilungen der Deutschen Gesellschaft fur Natur— und Volkerkunde Ostas-
iens, since 1873. Tokyo.
Also see the Itevue Francaise du Japon, monthly, since 1892, Tokyo ; and arti-
cles on Japan in the Comtes-rendus of the Congres International des Etudes d' Ex-
treme Orient, since 1873 ; the T'oung Pao, since 1890, Leiden ; and the Ostasien,
monthly, since 1898, Berlin.
130 K. Asakawa
in material on two branches of history, namely, institutions
and art. The sources may be divided into four classes. Under
the first may be mentioned inscriptions of monuments in stone
and metal, including a few rubbings from the original. 1 The
second class comprises original documents. They cover all the
period since the early eighth century, including, besides a large
number of transcriptions 2 and fac similes, not a few actual docu-
ments. 3 Under the third class comes an unusually large number
of annals, memoirs and diaries, of all historic ages, all of which
are among the fundamental sources of history. While these
are mainly of political nature, a few relate to religious institu-
tions* and to foreign relations. 6 The last class is quite a com-
. 'These Inscriptions, together with- seals and signatures, facsimiles of many of
which are among the collection at the Library of Congress, form an Important class
of sources. While the contents of the inscriptions are in many cases too favorable
to their subjects to be trustworthy, they often throw important sidelight upon his-
tory, and otherwise are valuable sources for social, literary and artistic history.
"Among these is the most valuable selection, entitled Ko-bun rei-shu, made from
a vast number of documents (mostly relating to land property) kept at the Buddhist
temple To-zhi, by (and probably In the autograph of) the historian Ban Nobutomo.
The Dai Nlhon ko-mon-zho, edited by the Hlstoriographic Institute, Imperial Uni-
versity of Tokyo, which is expected to be completed in two hundred volumes, Is
regularly coming to Yale.
3 Among these may be mentioned a Buddhist scroll, copied in the eighth century
[the. Library of Congress owning four scrolls of this period] ; an almanac, with
diary, of 1423-24: twenty documents of the latter part of the fifteenth century;
many documents relating to the municipal government of Kyoto from the seven-
teenth to the early nineteenth century, etc.
"The records of this class may be divided as follows: (1) Diaries of civil
nobles of Kyoto. Owing to the important fact that the central institution of the
Japanese State, namely, the Emperorship, has been constant and immovable through-
out the ages, there has clustered around that Institution a permanent class of civil
nobility. The nobles possessed a degree of culture and refinement, and many of
them methodically kept diaries. As may be expected, some of these diaries, deplet-
ing, as they do, men and things at the center of culture and power, are among the
best-prized sources of political and social history. During the feudal ages, when
political powers descended to feudal classes, the nobles' records sometimes reveal
the relation between the Emperor and the feudal suzerain. (2) Records of the feudal
classes before 1600 are fewer in number, but are not less Important, than the
diaries of Kyoto nobles. Feudal records multiply rapidly after 1600. (3) Diaries
of some great Buddhist priests during the feudal ages, who were on Intimate terms
with feudal authorities, are highly valuable. (4) Japan is exceptionally rich in
that class of literature which is known In that country under the name "zui-hitsu."
It consists of notes on all sorts of miscellaneous subjects, very often written down
with little apparent order in arrangement. There are an endless number of these
scrappy works, sometimes extended over hundreds of chapters, and often containing
exceedingly valuable first-hand information.
4 Such as the Soku-kyo hen, relating to the suppression of Catholicism, in 22 vols.,
and the Otanl Hon-gwan-zhl tsu-ki, a history of the -Buddhist temple West Hongwan-
zhi, 7 vols. The latter has been copied from the original at the temple, and at the
time of copying there was no other copy extant [The Library of Congress has the
Ko-ya-san fu-do-ki, a history of the Buddhist monastery on Mt. Koya, in about one
hundred volumes, specially copied from the original at the monastery.] These
Buddhist institutions were great historical factors.
"E. g., the Cho-sen tsu-ko tai-kl, Korean Relations, 10 vols. Specially copied.
Why and How Japanese History May Be Studied 131
prehensive set of illustrated books" and scrolls, 7 from which such
aspects of social life as can hardly be studied from verbal de-
scriptions may be gathered. Although works of historical geog-
raphy are not so numerous as at the Library of Congress, the
more than a thousand topographical maps which were presented
to Yale by the Japanese Army and Navy Departments and Geo-
logical Bureau will be found to be highly valuable in the study
of old history. Works on law and institutions are specially
numerous, the collector having made a particular effort in this
field, as in the field of art. Another department, history of com-
merce, though incompletely, is better represented than in any
Japanese library that I have seen. It is needless to say that such
helpmates of history as archeology, numismatics, religion, litera-
ture, customs and manners, etiquettes and rites, weapons and
arts of war, heraldry, genealogy, etc., as well as works of refer-
ence, are also represented. It should be understood that many
of the works already described are not on the market, and the
majority are in manuscript, not a few, perhaps not less than sixty
works in iooo fascicules, including the best works, having been
specially copied in different parts of the country from the original
and otherwise good copies. Special effort was made to secure a
fair collection of photographs and other forms of reproduction
of art, for the reason that these objects seem in many cases to
represent, not only in their subject-matters, but also in the detail
of their execution, the spirit of the periods in which they were
produced. The earlier specimens have the additional interest-
that they prove the existence of an indirect Greek and Western
Asiatic influence upon Japanese culture. The present collection
has been made with these ideas in view. It consists of hundreds
of photographs, rubbings, fac simile reproductions and technical
studies of details, many of these being specially made by experts.
After this brief description of the Yale and still briefer refer-
ence to the Library of Congress collection, it is fair to say that
each of the collections is far from being complete. Yet the stu-
dent might spend some of his time to great advantage and, as
regards certain subjects, to much satisfaction, with the Japanese
material at Washington and New Haven.
K. ASAKAWA, Ph. D.
"E. g., the Zhin-rin kin-mo dzu-i, 6 vols., showing different occupations of the
people during the flourishing period of the Tokugawa rule. [The Library of Con-
gress has a large number of works of this kind.]
'These scrolls are hand written, and some of them are among the most highly
valued sources of history. [The Library of Congress possesses many scrolls not
duplicated at Yale.]