The government of Japan is a constitutional monarchy in which the emperor not only claims to rule by divine right but by right of divine birth. He is described as Heaven born, and according to the accepted history there has been no break in the family line for twenty-five hundred years. Among no people on earth has there ever been more universal respect shown, or implicit obedience yielded, to the reigning family. There never has been a revolt of any con-sequence against the emperor, although there have been numerous conflicts between the shoguns. For about twelve hundred years, from 670 to 1868, the shoguns were, however, the actual rulers, and while they never questioned the sovereignty of the emperor, they did not allow him to retain much more than the empty title.
The shoguns were military rulers and a number of them were men of great force and executive ability. First, the Fujiwara family controlled the country through the shogunate for nearly four hundred years; then for a century the Taira and Minamoto families alternated in the exercise of power; then came the Hojo family and others of less importance until finally the Tokugawa family became supreme in the shogunate and continued in power for something like three hundred years. The emperor lived at Nara until about 1600, when the capital was moved to Kyoto, where it remained until less than forty years ago. Tokyo, on the other hand, was the seat of the shogun power, and there is a very noticeable difference between the two cities. The shoguns fortified their castles and required the feudal lords to keep headquarters in Tokyo. One cannot go through the palace in which the emperor lived permanently without noticing how plain it is as compared with the castle (both at Kyoto) in which the shogun resided for a few days during his annual call upon the emperor. While it may seem strange that the real rulers never attempted to become emperors in name, it only shows their interligence, for by not insisting upon the recognition of the royal family they were probably more successful in maintaining the real authority than they would have been had they questioned the divine right of the immemorial rulers.
During the early part of the last century there began to be a reaction against the shogun, and when he agreed to the treaties opening the country to foreign intercourse, his action was taken advantage of by the friends of the emperor. When the feudal lords of Choshu attacked the foreign ships at Shimonoseki Strait, the shogun was compelled to pay an indemnity of three million dollars and he attempted to chastise the Choshu leaders. His forces were defeated and he died soon afterward. The emperor seized upon this event and with the aid of the influential lords of Choshu and Satsuma abolished the shogunate in 1868. The new shogun accepted the situation with-out a struggle and those of his followers who attempted a resistance were soon routed.
Everything in modern Japan dates from 1868, which is called the restoration. While in the restoration the emperor was acknowledged as the sole and absolute ruler in whom all authority was vested, still it was really the beginning of constitutional government, for the emperor voluntarily promised his people a constitution, a promise ,which was not finally fulfilled until 1889.
The fervor of patriotism that restored to the emperor his original authority wrought wonders in Japan. The feudal lords came for-ward and voluntarily turned their vast estates over to the emperor and relinquished the authority which they had exercised over their tenants; then they joined with the samurai (their former retainers) in supporting the emperor in abolishing all social distinctions. From that day to this the country has grown more and more democratic, the reforms working from the upper classes down.
In 1889 the constitution promised by the emperor was promulgated. It was prepared largely by Marquis Ito who visited Germany and modeled the document ‘after the Prussian constitution. The legislative power is vested in a diet consisting of two houses, one resembling the English house of lords, and the other resembling our house of representatives. The upper house is composed of the princes of the royal blood, marquises (these sit by virtue of their rank), counts, viscounts and barons, selected from among their respective classes, men of erudition or distinguished service appointed by the emperor, and one representative from each prefecture or state, selected by the highest taxpayers. The members of the diet, except those who sit by virtue of their rank, receive two thousand yen (one thousand dollars) per year. The members of the house of representatives are divided among the states in proportion to the number of franchise holders ; last year they numbered three hundred and twenty-three and were voted for by seven hundred and fifty-seven thousand franchise holders. The franchise holders numbered less than ten per cent of the men of voting age, there being a property qualification which excludes from suffrage more than nine-tenths of the adult males.
The emperor appoints the governors of the various states, ‘and these need not be selected from the states over which they preside. The emperor has the right to convoke and prorogue the diet and to dissolve the house of representatives; he also has the right to issue urgency ordinances when the diet is not in session, the same to be submitted for approval to the next session.
The constitution contains a bill of rights. Among other rights the Japanese subjects shall enjoy freedom of religious belief “within limits not prejudicial to peace and order and not antagonistic to their duties as subjects,” and “within the limits of law” they shall enjoy “the liberty of speech, writing, publication, public meeting and association.” After the Tokyo riots which followed the announcement of the treaty with Russia an urgency ordinance was issued restraining the press and certain newspapers were suspended under this ordinance, but it is probable that this urgency ordinance will be vigorously discussed at the coming session of the diet.
The emperor is assisted in the discharge of his executive duties by a prime minister and nine department ministers; besides these he has the advice of a privy council, composed of elder statesmen, of which Marquis Ito is now the president.
Each state has what corresponds to our legislature, and each city has a council ; both of these bodies are elective and to the city council is entrusted the selection of the mayor.
They have a judiciary, federal and local, appointed for life, but no jury system. Among ,the laws is one forbidding aliens to own property, although this is avoided to some extent by long time leases. There is also a law by which a debt descends with the property to the oldest son, even though the debt may exceed the property.
Through the courtesy of Hon. N. W. Mclvor, former consul general at Yokohama, now engaged in the practice of international law, I had an opportunity to meet a number of governors and congressmen and found them, as a rule, an intelligent and accomplished body of men, many of them having finished their education abroad. Their most famous minister of finance, Count Matsukata, bore some re-semblance to J. Pierpont Morgan.
They have politics in Japan. The promise of a constitution seems to have been given by the emperor before there was any general agitation for it, but as about- twenty-one years elapsed between the making of the promise and the realization of the hopes excited by it, there was a period of discussion. As early as 1874 several of the ministers joined in a petition asking for the promulgation of the promised constitution. Their memorial being’ disregarded they re-signed their offices and became the founders of a democratic party. They called themselves liberals and their efforts resulted in an imperial rescript issued in 1881, fixing 1889 as the date for the beginning of constitutional government. Marquis Ito is now the leader of the liberal party, which had one hundred and thirty members in the house of representatives in 1904.
In 1882 Count Okuma organized the progressive party, which had last year a membership of ninety in the house of representatives. This is known as the party of the opposition, Marquis Ito’s party being the power behind the throne. There is not as much difference between the platforms of these parties as between the platforms of the two leading parties of our country, but of the two Count Okuma’s party is the more radical. The count himself is a born leader and exerts a large influence upon the politics of his country. When premier some years ago he lost a leg by the explosion of a bomb, thrown with murderous intent by a political opponent, but it did not diminish his zeal in the prosecution of reforms. The fact that there were in the last diet one hundred and thirty who styled themselves independents shows that there is a considerable body to which the opposition party can appeal when the minister makes an unpopular move.
Besides the party organizations there are a number of societies formed for the study of political questions. There are economic associations in a number of the cities, composed of the leading business and professional men. I met the members of these societies at Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya and was impressed with the attention that they are giving to economic problems. They have in Tokyo another organization called the Political Economy Association which deals more directly with matters of government. The society formed by the men who were educated in America, known as the Friends of America (Baron Kaneko is one of the leading members), takes a deep interest in all matters relating to government and political economy.
The leading political question in Japan to-day, in so far as it affects domestic affairs, is whether the cabinet shall be selected by the emperor, regardless of the prevailing sentiment in the house, or be made to con-form to the will of the people as expressed through their representatives. At present the emperor’s councilors are chosen at his own discretion and the states of Satsuma and Choshu have had a controlling influence in the selection of the emperor’s advisors. The democratic sentiment of the country is at this time crystallizing in favor of the demand that the emperor take for his premier the leader of the popular party, as the king of England does. However much this reform may be delayed by circumstances, it is bound to come if Japan is to recognize the rights of the people to govern themselves.
In the cities, sanitation furnishes a most difficult problem. At present there is little sewage, although there is a pressing need for it.
In the industrial development of Japan the people must meet the problem of child labor and also consider the shortening of the length ° of the working day. Women now work twelve hours in the factory and one cannot see them and the children at toil without asking whether Japan can afford to impair the strength of the next generation for any advantage which may be derived from such long hours and such youthful labor. This subject is likely to be brought before the next session of the diet.
In some reforms Japan has moved more rapidly than the United States. Wherever she has waterworks in her cities, they are owned and operated by the municipalities. She also has a telegraph system and a telephone system operated by the national government. Telegrams are sent at the same rate to all parts of the empire and the service is satisfactory.
The telephone service is not so good. While it is all right as far as it goes, the system is not extended as rapidly as the demand re-quires. In Tokyo, for instance, those who want to install telephones have to wait until someone discontinues his ‘phone or is willing to sell it, and a bonus is often demanded. If the local telephones were owned by the city and only the interurban lines managed by the imperial government, the service would respond more quickly to the needs of the community.
The Japanese government also owns and operates a part of the railroad system, and in doing so employs nothing but native help. I traveled on both the government and private lines and could not see that they differed materially so far as efficiency was concerned.
The first-class fare is about four cents per mile (in our money) the second-class about two cents and the third-class (nearly all the travel is third-class) about one cent. A reduction of twenty per cent is made on return tickets, a reduction of from twenty to thirty per cent on commutation tickets, and a reduction of from forty-five to eighty per cent on season tickets for students. This reduction to students might be imitated to advantage in our country. The government road is all, or nearly all, double track and has the latest safeguards for the protection of passengers at depots. The Japanese are much given to meeting friends when they arrive and escorting them to the train when they leave, and this custom has led to the sale of platform tickets for one cent (in our money).
Japan has two educational problems : First, the increase in the percentage of those going from the primary to the middle schools; and, second, the cultivation of an ideal which will connect a respect for manual labor with intellectual advancement. To-day a large majority of her people work with their hands and at labor which forbids the wearing of good clothes. It is probable that the education of the masses will show itself to some extent in improved methods and in the more extensive use of animals and machinery, but there must remain a large amount of work which requires daily contact with the soil. The rice crop grows in the mud and cannot be harvested by machinery; the fields, too, are so small that they cannot well be cultivated with the aid of animals. The farmers’ boys and girls are now going to school and gradually adopting the European dress. Will they be content to return to the paddy fields when they have finished their education? Some of the young men pull ‘rikishas in the daytime in order to earn money to attend school at night. Will their learning make them unwilling to do hard work? Or will they substitute the cab for the ‘rikisha?
Japan faces the educational problem that confronts the civilized world, viz., how to put behind a trained mind an ideal which will make the educated citizen anxious to do service rather than to be waited upon. Tolstoy’s solution of, the problem is “bread labor,” that is, physical toil sufficient to produce what one eats. This he believes will teach respect for labor and by dignifying it unite all parts of society in sympathetic cooperation. Has any better solution been proposed?
With a broader educational foundation Japan will find it necessary to extend the suffrage. At present the right to vote is determined by a strict property qualification, but there is already an urgent demand for the reduction of the tax qualification, and it will not be long be-fore a large addition will be made to the voting population.
The most serious national problem with which Japan has to deal is that imposed upon her by the attempt to extend the sphere of her political influence to Formosa on the southwest and Korea on the northwest. The people of Formosa do not welcome Japanese sovereignty and an army of some six or seven thousand is kept on that island to support Japanese authority.
But Korea presents a still more delicate and perplexing situation. For more than a thousand years a feud has existed between Japan and Korea and two attempts have been made by the former to invade the latter, the last about three hundred years ago. At that time a number of captives were carried back to Kagoshima where they, as before mentioned, introduced the art of making what has since been known as Satsuma ware. The fact that the descendants of these captives lived in a colony by themselves for three centuries without intermarrying with the Japanese is sufficient evidence of the feeling entertained toward them by their captors.
To aggravate the matter Japan has. been engaged in two wars, first with China and then with Russia, over Korea, and it was also the cause of one civil war in Japan. Having driven China from Korea ten years ago and now having driven Russia out, she is undertaking to exercise a protectorate over the country. When it is remembered that Korea is separated from both Manchuria and Siberia by an imaginary line and that the Koreans themselves regard the Japanese as intruders, some estimate can be formed of Japan’s task. In a future article on Korea I shall speak on this subject more at length, but the matter is referred to here because the experiment is as dangerous to Japan as it is to Korea.
Will Japan be able to accomplish what other nations have failed to do, viz., exercise a colonial power without abusing it and without impoverishing herself?