Best books online Library

Your last book:

You dont read books at this site.

Total books on site: 11 280

You can read and download its for free!

Browse books by author: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 

Text on one page: Few Medium Many
As an
instance of ludicrous luxury it may be mentioned that the timbers
intended for the repair of the castle in Yedo were wrapped in wadded
quilts when transported to the city from the forest. Finally, the
treasury became so empty that, when the shogun desired to repair to
the mausolea at Nikko, which would have involved a journey of ten
days at the most, he was compelled to abandon the idea, as the
officials of the treasury declared themselves unable to find the
necessary funds. That sum was calculated at 100,000 ryo, or about as
many pounds sterling, which fact is alone sufficient to convey an
idea of the extravagance practised in everything connected with the
Government.

The immediate outcome of this incident was the summoning of a council
to discuss the financial situation, and after much thought the
suggestion of Hagiwara Shigehide, chief of the Treasury, was
accepted, namely, wholesale debasement of the gold, silver, and
copper coins. The old pieces, distinguished as "Keicho coins," that
being the name of the year period (1596-1614) when they were minted,
were replaced by greatly inferior "Genroku coins" (1688-1703), with
the natural results--appreciation of commodities and much forging of
counterfeit coins. Presently the Government is found levying a tax
upon 27,200 sake brewers within the Kwanto, and, in 1703, fresh
expedients became necessary to meet outlays incurred owing to a great
earthquake and conflagration which destroyed a large part of Yedo
Castle and of the daimyo's mansions. Further debasement of the
currency was resorted to, the new coins being distinguished by the
term "Hoei," after the name of the year-period when they were
minted.

About this time several of the feudatories found themselves in such
straits that they began to issue paper currency within their
dominions, and this practice having been interdicted by the Bakufu,
the daimyo fell back upon the expedient of levying forced loans from
wealthy merchants in Osaka. Meanwhile, the crime of forgery became so
prevalent that, in the interval between 1688 and 1715, no less than
541 counterfeiters were crucified within the districts under the
direct control of the Bakufu., The feudatory of Satsuma is credited
with having justly remarked that the victims of this cruel fate
suffered for their social status rather than for their offence
against the law, the real counterfeiters being Yanagisawa and
Hagiwara, who were engaged continuously in uttering debased coins.

It must be admitted in behalf of the financiers of that era that
their difficulties were much accentuated by natural calamities. The
destructive earthquake of 1703 was followed, in 1707, by an eruption
of Fuji, with the result that in the three provinces of Musashi,
Sagami, and Suruga, considerable districts were buried in ashes to
the depth of ten feet, so that three years and a heavy expenditure
of, money were required to restore normal conditions. Thenceforth the
state of the Bakufu treasury went from bad to worse. Once again
Hagiwara Shigehide had recourse to adulteration of the coinage. This
time he tampered mainly with the copper tokens, but owing to the
unwieldy and impure character of these coins, very great difficulty
was experienced in putting them into circulation, and the Bakufu
financiers finally were obliged to fall back upon the reserve of gold
kept in the treasury for special contingencies. There can be no doubt
that Japan's foreign trade contributed materially to her financial
embarrassment, but this subject will be subsequently dealt with.

TSUNAYOSHI'S FAVOURITE

When Tsunayoshi became shogun, Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu occupied the
position of a low-class squire in the shogun's household and was in
receipt of a salary of three hundred koku yearly. Four years later,
he received the title of Dewa no Kami and his revenue was increased
to 100,000 koku. Finally, in 1703, he was appointed daimyo of Kai
province and came into the enjoyment of a total income of 150,000
koku. This was the more remarkable inasmuch as, owing to the
strategical importance of Kai, it had been reserved as a fief for one
of the Tokugawa family, and its bestowal on a complete outsider was
equivalent to the admission of the latter into the Tokugawa circle.
This remarkable promotion in rank and income shows how completely the
shogun had fallen under the influence of his favourite, Yoshiyasu,
who exhibited wonderful skill in appealing at once to the passions
and to the intellect of his master. Some historians of the time
relate that the shogun's infatuation betrayed him into promising to
raise Yoshiyasu's revenue to a million koku, and to nominate as
successor to the shogunate a son borne by Yoshiyasu's wife to
Tsunayoshi; but according to tradition, these crowning extravagances
were averted on the very night preceding the day of their intended
consummation, the shogun being stabbed to death by his wife, who
immediately committed suicide. This tale, however, has been shown to
be an invention with no stronger foundation than the fact that
Tsunayoshi's death took place very suddenly at a highly critical
time. It is not to be doubted that many of the excesses and
administrative blunders committed by the fifth Tokugawa shogun were
due to the pernicious influence of Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu.

DECLINE OF THE SAMURAI SPIRIT

The no dance was among the indulgences which Tsunayoshi affected and
among the accomplishments in which he himself excelled. He took into
his service a number of skilled dancers of the no, and treated them
as hereditary vassals, setting aside the chamber of the Paulownia for
their use. These performers, whatever their origin, received the
treatment of samurai, and their dainty posturing in the dance became
a model for the lords of the Bakufu Court, so that the simple
demeanour of military canons was replaced by a mincing and
meretricious mien. Another favourite dance in Yedo Castle was the
furyu. A book of the period describes the latter performance in these
terms: "Sixteen youths made their appearance; they all wore
wide-sleeved robes and purple figured silk with embroidery of oak
leaves in gold and silver threads. They carried two swords with gold
mountings and scarlet tassels, so that when they danced in harmony
with the flutes and drums the spectacle presented was one of dazzling
brilliancy." Thenceforth this "Genroku dance," as it came to be
called, obtained wide vogue. The same is true of the joruri, which is
one of the most emotional forms of chant. Hitherto the samisen had
been regarded as a vulgar instrument, and its use had never received
the sanction of aristocratic circles. But it now came into favour
with all classes of women from the highest to the lowest, and the
singing of the joruri was counted a far more important accomplishment
than any kind of domestic education.

Such an appeal to the emotional side of human nature could not fail
to undermine the stoicism of the samurai and the morality of society
in general. The practice of the military arts went out of fashion,
and it became an object with the bushi not only to have his sword
highly ornamented, but also to adapt its dimensions to the fashion of
the moment, thus sacrificing utility to elegance. In short, the
Genroku era (1688-1703) was essentially a time of luxury and
extravagance, its literature abounding in theatrical plays, songs,
verses, and joruri, and its ideals involving the sacrifice of the
noble to the elegant. Men were promoted in rank not merely because
they could dance gracefully, but also because they made themselves
conspicuous for kindness to dogs, in obedience to the shogun's
foible, and as many of these men had not learned to ride on horseback
they petitioned for permission to use palanquins. This marked a
signal departure from the severe rules of former days. Street
palanquins (machi-kago) ultimately came into use by all who could
afford the luxury. In short, the ancient order of educational
precedence was reversed, and polite accomplishments took the place of
military science.

ENGRAVING: FORTY-SEVEN RONIN

THE AKO VENDETTA

Nevertheless, this degenerate era produced one of the most remarkable
acts of self-sacrificing loyalty that stand to the credit of Japanese
samurai. On the 7th of February, 1703, forty-seven bushi, under the
leadership of Oishi Yoshio, forced their way into the mansion of Kira
Yoshihide; killed him in order to avenge the death of their feudal
chief, Asano Naganori, daimyo of Ako; and then surrendered themselves
to justice. Under the title of The Forty-seven Ronins, this story has
been told in history, on the stage, and in all forms of literature,
so that its details need not be repeated here. It will suffice to say
that, under great provocation, the Ako feudatory drew his sword in
the precincts of Yedo Castle and cut down Kira Yoshihide, for which
breach of court etiquette rather than for the deed of violence, the
Ako baron was condemned to commit suicide and his estates were
confiscated. Thereupon, forty-seven of his principal vassals pledged
themselves to wreak vengeance, and, after nearly two years of
planning and watching, they finally succeeded in achieving their
purpose. Degenerate as was the spirit of the time, this bold deed
aroused universal admiration. The vendetta was not illegal in Japan.
It had been practised from medieval times and often with direct
sanction of the authorities. But in no circumstances was it
officially permissible within the cities of Kyoto, Yedo, Osaka, and
Sumpu, or in the vicinity of the shogun's shrines. The forty-seven
ronins had therefore committed a capital crime. Yet they had only
obeyed the doctrine of Confucius, and the shogun therefore
endeavoured to save their lives. More than a year was spent
discussing the issue, and it is recorded that Tsunayoshi appealed to
the prince-abbot of Ueno in order to secure his intervention in the
cause of leniency. The day was ultimately carried by the advocates of
stern justice, and the forty-seven ronins were ordered to commit
suicide.

They obeyed without a murmur. One of them, Terasaka Kichiemon by
name, had been sent to carry the news to Ako immediately after the
perpetration of the deed of vengeance.



Pages: | Prev | | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | 4 | | 5 | | 6 | | 7 | | 8 | | 9 | | 10 | | 11 | | 12 | | 13 | | 14 | | 15 | | 16 | | 17 | | 18 | | 19 | | 20 | | 21 | | 22 | | 23 | | 24 | | 25 | | 26 | | 27 | | 28 | | 29 | | 30 | | 31 | | 32 | | 33 | | 34 | | 35 | | 36 | | 37 | | 38 | | 39 | | 40 | | 41 | | 42 | | 43 | | 44 | | 45 | | 46 | | 47 | | 48 | | 49 | | 50 | | 51 | | 52 | | 53 | | 54 | | 55 | | 56 | | 57 | | 58 | | 59 | | 60 | | 61 | | 62 | | 63 | | 64 | | 65 | | 66 | | 67 | | 68 | | 69 | | 70 | | 71 | | 72 | | 73 | | 74 | | 75 | | 76 | | 77 | | 78 | | 79 | | 80 | | 81 | | 82 | | 83 | | 84 | | 85 | | 86 | | 87 | | 88 | | 89 | | 90 | | 91 | | 92 | | 93 | | 94 | | 95 | | 96 | | 97 | | 98 | | 99 | | 100 | | 101 | | 102 | | 103 | | 104 | | 105 | | 106 | | 107 | | 108 | | 109 | | 110 | | 111 | | 112 | | 113 | | 114 | | 115 | | 116 | | 117 | | 118 | | 119 | | 120 | | 121 | | 122 | | 123 | | 124 | | 125 | | 126 | | 127 | | 128 | | 129 | | 130 | | 131 | | 132 | | 133 | | 134 | | 135 | | 136 | | 137 | | 138 | | 139 | | 140 | | 141 | | 142 | | 143 | | 144 | | 145 | | 146 | | 147 | | 148 | | 149 | | 150 | | 151 | | 152 | | 153 | | 154 | | 155 | | 156 | | 157 | | 158 | | 159 | | 160 | | 161 | | 162 | | 163 | | 164 | | 165 | | 166 | | 167 | | 168 | | 169 | | 170 | | 171 | | 172 | | 173 | | 174 | | 175 | | 176 | | 177 | | 178 | | 179 | | 180 | | 181 | | 182 | | 183 | | 184 | | 185 | | 186 | | 187 | | 188 | | 189 | | 190 | | 191 | | 192 | | 193 | | 194 | | 195 | | 196 | | 197 | | 198 | | 199 | | 200 | | 201 | | 202 | | 203 | | 204 | | 205 | | 206 | | 207 | | 208 | | 209 | | 210 | | 211 | | 212 | | 213 | | 214 | | 215 | | 216 | | 217 | | 218 | | 219 | | 220 | | 221 | | 222 | | 223 | | 224 | | 225 | | 226 | | 227 | | 228 | | 229 | | 230 | | 231 | | 232 | | 233 | | 234 | | 235 | | 236 | | 237 | | 238 | | 239 | | 240 | | 241 | | 242 | | 243 | | 244 | | 245 | | 246 | | 247 | | 248 | | 249 | | 250 | | 251 | | 252 | | 253 | | 254 | | 255 | | 256 | | 257 | | 258 | | 259 | | 260 | | 261 | | 262 | | 263 | | 264 | | Next |