The Real Stuff

Kenkenroku: A Diplomatic Record of the Sino-Japanese War, 1894-1895 Press)

by Mutsu Munemitsu, edited and translated by Gordon Mark Berger
The Japan Foundation (Princeton University Press/University of Tokyo, 318 pp., $27.50

The news that Mr. Reagan’s “peacekeeper” in Japanese waters is to be a better armed Japan makes one think back to the half century of Japan’s military expansion from 1894 to 1945. Fortunately a nation that has beaten its swords into Toyotas seems unlikely to revert to militarism as a way of life. But the springs of Japan’s modern performance, whether military or industrial, must have a message for us. How an island people poor in natural resources came from behind and have now almost got ahead of us in material technology seems worth pondering. The answer plainly lies in the immaterial realm of motivation.

These two autobiographical accounts in the new Princeton Library of Asian Translations come from different kinds of leaders—a cabinet minister and a conspirator in revolution—but they were both written in self-defense by public figures who were under attack at the time. Count Mutsu had been foreign minister during the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895. Miyazaki Toten was the most prominent Japanese supporter of Sun Yat-sen around the turn of the century. Mutsu and Miyazaki shared the Japanese sense of mission to superintend the Westernization of the rest of East Asia. In the 1890s, as Japan’s forty years of transformation under Western contact brought it onto the world stage as a great power, its sense of mission was still pristine and unsullied. Its future seemed full of promise and possibilities. One chief hope was to regenerate China, and indeed the Chinese revolution that brought Sun Yat-sen to prominence in 1911 was largely made in Japan—partly inspired by its example, partly supported by Japan’s pan-Asianist “men of high purpose,” latter-day ronin looking for an adventurous cause on the mainland.

Miyazaki Toten (1870-1922) was a big, bearded, fierce-looking man, full of high-sounding sentiments and loudly dedicated to a great altruistic cause if he could only find it while sober. His self-image as a “man of high purpose” was a vestige of Japanese feudalism in decay, when masterless samurai still aspired to be purely dedicated. They knew their martial arts and held themselves above the honest labor of commoners but had trouble finding a useful place in society. Their Western counterpart, if they had any, would be somewhere between a knight-errant and a Hollywood private eye.

Miyazaki’s Thirty-Three Years’ Dream was published in installments in 1902, when he was thirty-three by Japanese count, and after he had scandalously bungled the shipment of arms to Sun Yat-sen’s revolt in 1900 at Waichow near Hong Kong. One surmises that the author’s strategy to clear himself of the suspicion of corruption was to tell all and so make it plain that his entire life had been a well-intentioned bungle and that he was simply incapable of planned corruption, let alone planned revolution. At any rate Toten’s ruthlessly frank and very engaging autobiography reveals him as romantic and generous of spirit but in daily life a sake-swilling whore chaser, sentimentally devoted to his vague cause of rebellion as well as to his fellow…

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