Historical premises

Contacts with Western countries were an important trigger for the introduction of a political structure centered on a parliament in the Japanese archipelago. Since the formal demand for trade relations made by the President of the United States in 1853, Western people came to visit these islands in unprecedented frequency. Japan had been much praised for its natural abundance, but although the customs different from the West stimulated a fascination for the exotic, it was neither the “Eldorado” nor the “unexplored land” that they had sometimes imagined.9

The population was 30-35 million. This was incomparably small in relation to, e.g., the population of the neighboring dynastic states of the Chinese mainland, yet it was not inferior in scale to the so-called Western countries of the time. The population of the United States, which were demanding the “opening up” of Japan, did not even match that of these isles.10

The awareness of “Japan”

Furthermore, these more than 30 million inhabitants were devising their unification as a single political community. Of course, certainly, the property over the Ryukyus and Yezo, as well as over the small islands of Tsushima and the Ogasawara Archipelago, remained ambiguous. However, if the property over-such islands had become a problem, from that time there would have been no dispute about who would become the eventual negotiating party. In other-words, a central government existed. What’s more, it was also clear from the handling of the people who were unwittingly drifting across the “national border” that this government aimed at a rather strict control of entry into and exit from the country, compared to other regions at the same time. And it was not only the politicians. There is ample evidence that common people, too, broadly shared a collective awareness of a “Japan” (Nihon H Nihonkoku S^S) which went beyond the scope of their own direct observations.11 On an immediate plan, this was a reaction to the early globalism imported from Spain and Portugal in the sixteenth century (a self-awareness as a country free of Christianity), and on a more long-term plan, it was nurtured in the midst of

Montesquieu vs. Bagehot 57 the relationships with the very large polities that had been established on the Chinese mainland and in the Indian subcontinent (the fact that the objects of comparison had long been very large polities on the continent engendered an awareness on these islands of being a “small country” [shokoku SCB]] with a population size that could not match them). Then, the second encounter with the countries of the West also must have brought about an intensification in the consciousness of “Japan” as a unit.

Gunken and hoken

Of course, as is well known, we can ascertain that an intermediate group called “household” (ie -f ^) was extremely present, which turned one’s specific work abilities into one’s trade or business and was closer to a company or a legal person than to a group of blood relationships. It is certainly true that most people’s scope of consciousness in their daily lives did not exceed that of such “boxes” which each one belonged to, and rarely extended to a unity called “Japan.”12 In particular, the corporation to which a hereditaiy ruling class professing to be “warriors” (bushi belonged (called “domain” [han iW]), had, so to speak, a separate existence as local governments independent from the central government. It also happened that the relationship which should exist between central government and local governments was debated in Confucian terms, which conformed to the standard upbringing of the intellectuals of the time. The so-called dispute between hoken it and gunken (IP JR was that between a decentralized system in which hereditary lords governed the regions (hoken), and a centralized one in which bureaucrats sent by the Emperor governed the regions (gunken).33 As a matter of fact, for the most part of the well-nigh 300 years that the Tokugawa government ruled Japan, there are no traces of the intellectual debates having exerted an influence on actual governance. The central government recognized the autonomy of the local governments, and the local governments tacitly recognized the separate authority of the central government. In this regard, the impotence of the intellectuals might be evidence that the fundamental strucmre of such a political system was not the object of the debates, but a premise for them. However, contact with Western countries changed this situation. Several powerful local governments became aware of the benefits of autonomy, and, contrary to the intentions of the central government, aimed at dealing with Western countries on their own, sometimes being even prepared to go to war. Intellectual debates about hoken and gunken, which had theretofore been empty armchair discussions, became extremely real disputes in that time.14 Under the premise of “Japan” as a unity, it was unclear at that point of time whether it would become a federal or a centralized state.

 
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