THE DECLINE OF THE MIKADOS
 OUR journey through Japanese history now takes us over a wide leap, a period of nearly a thousand years, during
which no event is on record of sufficient interest to call for special attention. The annals of Japan are in
some respects minute, but only at long intervals does a hero of importance rise above the general level of
ordinary mortals. We shall, therefore, pass with a rapid tread over this long period, giving only its general
The conquest of Corea was of high importance to Japan. It opened the way for a new civilization to flow into
the long isolated island realm. For centuries afterwards Corea served as the channel through which the arts
and thoughts of Asia reached the empire of the mikados. We are told of envoys bearing tribute from Corea of
horses, and of tailors, and finally a schoolmaster, being sent to Japan. The latter, Wani by name, is said to
have introduced the art of writing. Mulberry-trees were afterwards planted and silk-culture was undertaken.
Then came more tailors, and after them architects and learned men. At length, in the year 552, a party of
doctors, astronomers, astrologists, and mathematicians came from Corea to the Japanese court, and with them a
number of Buddhist
 missionaries, who brought a new religion into the land.
Thus gradually the arts, sciences, letters, and religions of Asia made their way into the island kingdom, and
the old life of Japan was transformed. A wave of foreign civilization had flowed across the seas to give new
life and thought to the island people, and the progress of Japan from the barbarism of the far past towards
the civilization of the present day then fairly began.
Meanwhile, important changes were taking place in the government. From the far-off days of Jimmu, the first
emperor, until a century after Buddhism was introduced, the mikados were the actual rulers of their people.
The palace was not a place of seclusion, the face of the monarch was visible to his subjects, and he appeared
openly at the head of the army and in the affairs of government. This was the golden age of the imperial
power. A leaden age was to succeed.
SHUZENJI VILLAGE, IDZU.
The change began in the appointment by Sujin of shoguns or generals over the military departments of the
government. Gradually two distinct official castes arose, those in charge of civil affairs and those at the
head of military operations. As the importance of these officials grew, they stood between the emperor and his
subjects, secluding him more and more from the people. The mikado gradually became lost to view behind a
screen of officialism, which hid the throne. Eventually all the military power fell into the hands of the
shoguns, and the mikado was seen no more at the head of his
 army. His power decayed, as he became to the people rather a distant deity than a present and active ruler.
There arose in time a double government, with two capitals and centres of authority; the military caste became
dominant, anarchy ruled for centuries, the empire was broken up into a series of feudal provinces and
baronies, and the unity of the past was succeeded by the division of authority which existed until far within
the nineteenth century. The fact that there were two rulers, in two capitals, gave the impression that there
were two emperors in Japan, one spiritual and one secular, and when Commodore Perry reached that country, in
1853, he entered into a treaty with the shogun or "tycoon," the head of the military caste, under the belief
that he was dealing with the actual ruler of Japan. The truth is, there has never been but one emperor in
Japan, the mikado. His power has varied at times, but he is now again the actual and visible head of the
empire, and the shoguns, who once lorded it so mightily, have been swept out of existence.
This explanation is necessary in order that readers may understand the peculiar conditions of' Japanese
history. Gradually the mikado became surrounded by a hedge of etiquette which removed him from the view of the
outer world. He never appeared in public, and none of his subjects, except his wives and his highest
ministers, ever saw his face. He sat on a throne of mats behind a curtain, even his feet not being allowed to
touch the earth. If he left the palace to go abroad in the city, the journey was
 made in a closely curtained car drawn by bullocks. To the people, the mikado became like a deity, his name
sacred and inviolable, his power in the hands of the boldest of his subjects.
Buddhism had now become the official religion of the empire, priests multiplied, monasteries were founded, and
the court became the chief support of the new faith, the courtiers zealously studying the sacred books of
India, while the mikado and his empress sought every means to spread the new belief among their people.
An emperor thus occupied could not pay much attention to the duties of government, and the power of the civil
ministers and military chiefs grew accordingly. The case was like that of the Merovingian monarchs of France
and the Mayors of the Palace, who in time succeeded to the throne. The mikados began to abdicate after short
reigns, to shave off their hair to show that they renounced the world and its vanities, to become monks and
spend the remainder of their days in the cloister. These short reigns helped the shoguns and ministers in
their ambitious purposes, until in time the reins of power fell into the hands of a few great families, who
fought furiously with one another for the control. It is with the feuds of these families that we have now to
do. The mikados had sunk out of sight, being regarded by the public with awe as spiritual emperors, while
their ministers rose into power and became the leaders of life and the lords of events in Japan.
First among these noble families to gain control was that of the Fujiwara (Wistaria meadow). They
 were of royal origin, and rose to leading power in the year 645, when Kamatari, the founder of the family,
became regent of the empire. All the great offices of the empire in time fell into the hands of the Fujiwaras:
they married their daughters to the mikados, surrounded them with their adherents, and governed the empire in
their name. In the end they decided who should be mikado, ruled the country like monarchs, and became in
effect the proprietors of the throne. In their strong hands the mikado sank into a puppet, to move as they
pulled the strings.
But the Fujiwaras were not left to lord it alone. Other great families sought a share of the power, and their
rivalry often ended in war and bloodshed. The most ancient of these rivals was the family of the Sugawara.
Greatest in this family was the renowned Sugawara Michizané, a polished courtier and famous scholar, whose
talents raised him to the highest position in the realm. Japan had no man of greater learning; his historical
works became famous, and some of them are still extant. But his genius did not save him from misfortune. His
rivals, the Fujiwara, in the end succeeded in having him banished to Kiushiu, where, exposed to dire poverty,
he starved to death. This martyr to official rivalry is now worshipped in Japan as a deity, the patron god of
literature and letters. Temples have been erected to him, and students worship at his shrine.
At a later date two other powerful families became rivals for the control of the empire and added to the
anarchy of the realm. The first of these was the
 Taira family, founded 889 A.D., whose members attained prominence as great military chiefs.
The second was the Minamoto family, founded somewhat later, which rose to be a powerful rival of the Taira,
their rivalry often taking the form of war. For centuries the governmental and military history of Japan was
made up of a record of the jealousies and dissensions of these rival families, in whose hands lay war and
peace, power and place, and with whose quarrels and struggles for power our next tales will be concerned.
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