Story of Japan - R. Van Bergen

The Three Hollyhock Leaves

Among the chieftains of the smaller clans who had joined in opposing Hideyoshi after Nobunaga's death was one whose badge was three hollyhock leaves in a circle. This squire, as he might be called, claimed to be a descendant of the Minamoto. He said that one of the younger sons of Minamoto had, in the twelfth century, adopted the name of Tokugawa (toh-koong-gah'-wah), and that the father of this young squire, himself a warrior of some reputation, had adopted this crest or coat of arms.

Young Hollyhock had served, both under Nobunaga, and under Hideyoshi. When, after Nobunaga's death, he foresaw that the "crowned monkey" would soon be master of Japan, he hastened to make peace with him, and Hideyoshi rewarded him by giving him his sister in marriage and making him governor of the fertile plain around Yedo (yed-doh)  Bay. Since the Ashikaga regents, Kamakura had no longer been the capital, and Hollyhock looked around for another place to build a residence for himself. He chose the site where Tokyo (toh-kyoh)  now stands, and named it Yedo or Door of the Bay.



So Hollyhock was brother-in-law of the Lord of the Golden Water Gourds, and uncle of Hideyori, who had succeeded his father. But Hideyoshi had but little confidence in the ability of his son, for on his deathbed he appointed his brother-in-law as guardian, and nominated a council to assist him in the government. It soon became evident that Hollyhock would allow no one to dictate to him, or even to interfere with his plans. His opponents in the council took alarm, and, accusing him of plotting, raised a force. A battle was fought in the first year of the seventeenth century, in which Hollyhock was the victor, and from that moment he was the ruler of Japan.

The real name of this most remarkable man was Iyeyasu (ee-yay-yas). He established a new family of regents, and his descendants ruled over Japan for more than two hundred and fifty years, indeed until 1868, when the present emperor was taken from the seclusion in which his family had lived for centuries in the capital, and assumed the duties of government. It was this regent who decided that it would be better for Japan to decline having anything to do with the outside world, and who therefore forbade foreigners to come to, or Japanese to leave, the country. To sum up in a few words, he made of Japan what she was at the time when Commodore Perry steamed up Yedo Bay in his flagship, the Mississippi.

Iyeyasu became the real ruler of Japan in 1600, and his first task was to redivide Japan. The chieftains who had helped him in battle received large additions of territory, which was taken from those who had opposed him.

Merchant ship


The title of every chieftain, as I have explained before, was daimio. Some of these lords had very large possessions and were very powerful. Iyeyasu saw that as long as he could keep them divided, and prevent them from plotting together, and especially from obtaining possession of the sacred person of the puppet emperor, the government would continue in his hands and in those of his descendants. To accomplish this, he created a large number of new daimio, from among his most faithful officers, and supplied them with land taken from the great daimio or from property of his former opponents.

He took care that not only the capital, but also every territory, whose lord was not known to be stanch to him, should be completely hemmed in by daimio in whom he could place confidence because their interests were the same as those of the regent, and as he improved the spy system to a standard of excellence unheard of in the history of the world, he was tolerably sure that nothing could pass in any territory within the limits of Japan, that would not be accurately reported in the regent's capital before it could become dangerous to the state or to the regent's interests.

Up to this time there had been no written laws. The control over the people was so absolute, and the supervision so strict, that criminals were few, and punishment was meted out to them in short order. It was a principle of Japanese unwritten law that no prisoner could be executed unless he had confessed, and to obtain the avowal of his crime, torture was resorted to. The judge, in civil as well as in criminal cases, was expected to render a verdict prompted by common sense.

Every daimio had the right to judge in his own territory; but if his people believed themselves in any way oppressed, they had the privilege of an appeal to the regent, who, if the daimio was proved guilty of misgovernment, had power to remove him to another territory or even to condemn him to commit suicide. Japanese books tell of many instances in illustration of this custom.

Iyeyasu knew that the prosperity of the country depended upon the industry and thrift of the masses, and he was firmly resolved to afford them protection. But his sympathies were with the samurai, and he granted them such privileges as to make them really masters of the people.

They were above the law; that is a samurai could not be judged as one who belonged to the common people. But he had a code of honor, the violation of which involved suicide by hara-kiri, or eternal disgrace accompanied by expulsion from his order. The clan, moreover, was held responsible for the good behavior of every samurai belonging to it, and a crime committed by one of them might be punished by a verdict of hara-kiri for several members, especially for those who were in a position to prevent its commission and had neglected to do so.

On the other hand, if a samurai felt himself insulted, he was compelled to wipe off the stain with blood; and if he could not do so without endangering his clan, he had the privilege to become a rônin (roh-neen), or a free lance, who owed allegiance to no one, but acted wholly upon his own responsibility.

Procession in city


This privilege was resorted to especially in cases where the act of a samurai might embroil the clan with the regent's government in Yedo. The samurai was, in such a case, risking his own life, but that was a matter of minor consideration. He had been brought up from earliest youth in the belief that loyalty to the clan was the first and vital principle of the samurai; he had been taught that the sacrifice of his life might be demanded at any time, and that such a death would render him celebrated, not only among the members of his own clan, but wherever the language of Japan was understood. If he read books, the subjects of most of them were incidents in the lives of loyal samurai, generally ending in a ceremonious hara-kiri. If he visited the theater, the same subject was illustrated on the stage. To him death was an incident, to be coveted rather than feared.

The clan itself was or became in time a theocratic republic, that is, a republic of which the daimio, supposed to be a god, was the president; and he could be elected only from the family of the daimio. I have told you before how puppet emperors were made and unmade; how the same fate awaited the regents who succeeded in power; and the clans were naturally governed on the same plan. When Iyeyasu created new daimio out of his best officers, they, of course, ruled their clans in person, but even they were compelled to consult the samurai out of whose ranks they had risen.

Procession in country


The bravest and ablest of these samurai naturally obtained the greatest influence in the clan, and formed a council in which its affairs were deliberated and decided upon. The daimio was then acquainted with their decision, and if he approved, his crest or seal affixed to a document gave it the force of law, and the clan was expected to, and would, abide by it to the death. If the lord of the clan did object to anything approved by his council and could not be brought to reason, another council was held, and if the decision of the first was affirmed, the daimio was respectfully but firmly informed that he must resign. In such a case his heir was raised to the dignity and the former lord withdrew into private life. The honor, dignity and policy of the clan were thus intrusted to the ablest among them, and loyalty was not a personal affair, but one belonging to the clan as a body.

Try to remember this and you will understand how Japan, in a very few years, has made such rapid progress. But now I must tell you some true stories of how the Portuguese succeeded in converting the Japanese to Christianity; why they were expelled from the country; and why Iyeyasu forbade foreigners to come to Japan.