The Dog Shogun

The Dog Shogun: The Personality and Policies of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi

Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey
Copyright Date: 2006
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    The Dog Shogun
    Book Description:

    Tsunayoshi (1646–1709), the fifth Tokugawa shogun, is one of the most notorious figures in Japanese history. Viewed by many as a tyrant, his policies were deemed eccentric, extreme, and unorthodox. His Laws of Compassion, which made the maltreatment of dogs an offense punishable by death, earned him the nickname Dog Shogun, by which he is still popularly known today. However, Tsunayoshi’s rule coincides with the famed Genroku era, a period of unprecedented cultural growth and prosperity that Japan would not experience again until the mid-twentieth century. It was under Tsunayoshi that for the first time in Japanese history considerable numbers of ordinary townspeople were in a financial position to acquire an education and enjoy many of the amusements previously reserved for the ruling elite. Based on a masterful re-examination of primary sources, this exciting new work by a senior scholar of the Tokugawa period maintains that Tsunayoshi’s notoriety stems largely from the work of samurai historians and officials who saw their privileges challenged by a ruler sympathetic to commoners. Beatrice Bodart-Bailey’s insightful analysis of Tsunayoshi’s background sheds new light on his personality and the policies associated with his shogunate. Tsunayoshi was the fourth son of Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604–1651) and left largely in the care of his mother, the daughter of a greengrocer. Under her influence, Bodart-Bailey argues, the future ruler rebelled against the values of his class. As evidence she cites the fact that, as shogun, Tsunayoshi not only decreed the registration of dogs, which were kept in large numbers by samurai and posed a threat to the populace, but also the registration of pregnant women and young children to prevent infanticide. He decreed, moreover, that officials take on the onerous tasks of finding homes for abandoned children and caring for sick travelers. In the eyes of his detractors, Tsunayoshi’s interest in Confucian and Buddhist studies and his other intellectual pursuits were merely distractions for a dilettante. Bodart-Bailey counters that view by pointing out that one of Japan’s most important political philosophers, Ogyû Sorai, learned his craft under the fifth shogun. Sorai not only praised Tsunayoshi’s government, but his writings constitute the theoretical framework for many of the ruler’s controversial policies. Another salutary aspect of Tsunayoshi’s leadership that Bodart-Bailey brings to light is his role in preventing the famines and riots that would have undoubtedly taken place following the worst earthquake and tsunami as well as the most violent eruption of Mount Fuji in history—all of which occurred during the final years of Tsunayoshi's shogunate. The Dog Shogun is a thoroughly revisionist work of Japanese political history that touches on many social, intellectual, and economic developments as well. As such it promises to become a standard text on late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth-century Japan.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6468-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Conventions
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Prologue
    (pp. 1-9)

    From the beginning Heaven seemed to show its displeasure with the government of the fifth Tokugawa shogun Tsunayoshi. As the ceremonies on his accession were being held in the eighth intercalary month of Enpō 8 (1680), heavy rainstorms and earthquakes caused damage to roofs and walls at Edo castle, and a tidal wave brought death along the shore. Fire broke out in the city, and as the smoke rose, strange objects were seen flying in the sky. In the countryside storms and floods were devastating the harvest, causing rice prices to skyrocket and famine to inflict Japan.¹ When earthquakes and...

  6. 2 The Inheritance
    (pp. 10-20)

    Tsunayoshi was born in Shōhō 3 (1646), just over four decades after his great-grandfather Ieyasu had obliged the emperor to confer upon him and his descendants the title of shogun, thus establishing the Tokugawa hegemony.

    Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542–1616) has gone down in history as one of Japan’s great unifiers, the third and last of three generals who ended over a century and a half of sporadic local warfare and ushered in some two and a half centuries of unbroken peace. Yet while in hindsight we recognize in Ieyasu the first of an unbroken line of fifteen Tokugawa shoguns, the...

  7. 3 When a Child’s Nurse Ought to Be Male
    (pp. 21-36)

    The woman thus honored by the shogun, his mother, was born as the daughter of a Kyoto greengrocer, a mere commoner. Tokugawa society was officially divided into four classes: samurai, farmers, artisans, and merchants.² In this system the barrier between samurai, as the ruling elite, and the remaining classes, the commoners, was the strongest, with many laws—most noticeably that of permitting only samurai to wear two swords—enforcing the difference between them.³ In this strictly stratified society women, however, were permitted extraordinary mobility. Many of the laws did not apply to them.⁴ More important, women of humble status not...

  8. 4 Lord of Tatebayashi
    (pp. 37-49)

    With the beginning of Keian 4 (1651), the third shogun Iemitsu suffered increasing bouts of illness. Less than three weeks before his death in the fourth month, Tsunayoshi and Tsunashige were enfeoffed as daimyo with domains of 150,000kokueach, but Iemitsu was already too ill to attend the ceremonies.¹ Perhaps feeling the approach of death, he was moved by the desire to provide for his young sons.

    Tsunashige, as Tenju-in’s son, had resided outside the castle from an early age, but now the five-year-old Tsunayoshi also left the castle, exchanging his quarters in the castle’s third enceinte for his...

  9. 5 Confucian Governance
    (pp. 50-68)

    “Ieyasu had conquered the nation on horseback, but being an enlightened and wise man, realized early that the land could not be governed from a horse. He had always respected and believed in the way of the sages. He wisely decided that in order to govern the land and follow the path proper to man, he must pursue the path of learning. Therefore, from the beginning he encouraged learning.”¹ These often-cited words from the first volume ofTokugawa jikkihave traditionally been interpreted to mean that the Tokugawa regime sponsored Confucianism from its inception. This raises the question of why...

  10. 6 A Great and Excellent Lord
    (pp. 69-78)

    “The presently reigning monarch Tsunayoshi … is a great and excellent lord. Having inherited the virtues of his father, he is both a strict custodian of the law and very compassionate. From early in life he has been imbued with Confucianism, and governs his land and people how they ought to be. Under his government all citizens live in complete harmony, honor their gods, observe the law, obey their superiors, and treat their equals with politeness and affection.”¹ Thus wrote Engelbert Kaempfer in hisAmoenitates exoticae, the voluminous Latin account of his travels that brought him fame in Europe. The...

  11. 7 The First Year of Government
    (pp. 79-89)

    “Before Tsunayoshi became shogun¹ he would go daily to inquire after the health of the shogunal family. While making these visits [to the castle], he would wear the formal dress of the linenkamishimoand behave ceremoniously. Sitting on an elevated seat, he would question any messenger returning from an errand, thrusting his hand towards his inferior. This went on daily without fail.”Buya shokudan, the source of this passage, continues to describe how Tsunayoshi would also inspect all gifts being presented, presumably to establish who was currying favor. In the afternoon, once the senior councilors and other officials had...

  12. 8 The Rise and Fall of Hotta Masatoshi
    (pp. 90-102)

    As the preparations for the official installation of the new shogun were under way in the summer of 1680, typhoons were battering northeastern Japan, causing high seas and flooding. Fields were devastated, and the lack of sun prevented the crop from ripening. In anticipation of the festivities and a shortfall in the harvest, rice was being hoarded, and the price skyrocketed. People were starving, and Edo and its surrounds were on the brink of a major famine.¹

    To contemporaries the havoc caused by the natural elements signified the discontent of the gods with the government. Action was needed to placate...

  13. 9 The Shogun’s New Men
    (pp. 103-127)

    It is said that the French nobility—as represented by its famous diarist Louis de Rouvroy, second duke of Saint Simon—never forgave Louis XIV “for his prudent habit of entrusting the affairs of the realm to men who had risen from the professional classes by their proven ability, rather than to those who were descended from the great families of France.”¹

    The Japanese establishment reacted no differently to Tsunayoshi’s policy of promoting men regardless of their station. Those who profited from such measures, such as the philosopher Ogyō Sorai, however, concurred with the policy and pointed out that many...

  14. 10 The Laws of Compassion
    (pp. 128-143)

    The Laws of Compassion have been called “the worst laws in Tokugawa history” and even “the worst laws in the feudal history of mankind.”¹ They secured Tsunayoshi a prominent position among the fifteen Tokugawa shoguns as the ruler who killed men for the sake of dogs and earned him the irreverent nickname ofinu kubōor Dog Shogun. Since their inception they have spurred the imagination of writers and given rise to a large body of colorful, but frequently misleading, material. The fact that they also comprised laws much advanced for their times, such as those protecting the weakest members...

  15. 11 The Dog Shogun
    (pp. 144-160)

    This is how the German visitor Engelbert Kaempfer explains to his readers the infamous laws for the protection of dogs. The first decrees had been issued some five years before his arrival, and he witnessed the full effects of these laws upon the population. While at Edo, Kaempfer treated a man from Nagasaki for a dog bite. Asked whether he had revenged himself on the animal, the patient retorted: “Do you think that I am also going to risk my life?” a reply Kaempfer explains in terms of the laws that forbid the killing of animals. When passing through the...

  16. 12 The Forty-Seven Loyal Samurai
    (pp. 161-182)

    There is one event in Japanese history that most, if not all, Japanese will have heard of. This is the story of how, on a snowy winter’s night, forty-seven loyal samurai avenged their dead lord by killing his enemy in an attack on his mansion and in turn were ordered by the authorities to commit suicide. But rather than from history books, this knowledge is frequently gleaned from theater or film performances or one of the many novels that retell this story.

    The world of the theater was quick to realize the potential of this dramatic event, and the first...

  17. 13 Financial Matters
    (pp. 183-196)

    The words of the novelist Ihara Saikaku published in the fifth year of the Genroku period (1692) have a modern ring. Consumption at the time had reached a point where nature’s supply seemed near exhaustion. Elsewhere in his novelThis Scheming World (Seken mune zanyō)Saikaku expresses the fear that millstones are being sold in such quantities “that there’s danger the very hills from which they are quarried will eventually disappear.”² Edo, at the time perhaps the largest city in the world,³ was booming. He noted: “Shops of every variety are open for business, and never a day passes but...

  18. 14 Producing Currency
    (pp. 197-206)

    “Producing currency is a matter for the state. It would not make the slightest difference if rubbish were substituted for currency.”¹ These words were put into the mouth of Ogiwara Shigehide by the author ofSannō gaikinot to show his progressive thinking in matters of finance, but to document his absolute depravity. They were written to mock Tsunayoshi’s government and demonstrate the absurd extremes to which his financial policy of debasing the coinage would lead. The major debasement of the coinage, however, took place not under Tsunayoshi but under the government of his successor, the sixth shogun Ienobu, and...

  19. 15 The Two Wheels of a Cart
    (pp. 207-229)

    This passage from a letter of the fifth shogun to his grand chamberlain Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu in Genroku 5 (1692) shows a politically motivated, utilitarian attitude towards religion. It stands in stark contrast to the blind devotion to both Buddhism and Confucianism of which Tsunayoshi is generally accused, but in terms of Japanese political history this type of attitude was not new.

    From earliest times the Shinto gods were invoked to sanction the authority of the emperor, and the introduction of Buddhism in Japan had much to do with a political power struggle between two contending court factions. In the Tokugawa...

  20. 16 The Apprenticeship of Ogyū Sorai
    (pp. 230-254)

    Since the shogun Tsunayoshi was fond of learning, it spread throughout the country, and people holding lectures on various books appeared in towns like clouds in the sky,”¹ wrote the Confucian scholar Ogyū Sorai, documenting the shogun’s success in raising popular interest in learning and particularly Confucianism. Sorai himself was one of those who “appeared in towns like clouds.” In Genroku 5 (1692), when his father, the physician Ogyū Hōan, was included in a shogunal pardon and permitted to end his exile of over a decade in the provinces, Sorai returned to Edo to make a living lecturing in front...

  21. 17 The Final Years
    (pp. 255-277)

    “To describe the recent earthquake as very, very terrifying would be a silly understatement. It occurred in the early hours around the twentieth day of the eleventh month when it was extremely cold, but one could not remain inside. The feeling of horror was beyond compare. I have heard of such things in the past, but I have never experienced heaven and earth collapsing in this fashion in front of my very eyes. What incomparable misery, I thought in great bewilderment.”¹ The genteel world of the aristocratic Machiko seems to be lacking the vocabulary to describe adequately the horrors of...

  22. 18 The Legacy
    (pp. 278-298)

    “The left wing of his mansion contained an iron depository filled with some 300,000ryoof gold coins. But he had a taste for art too. The right wing he called the ‘silver room.’ Here the lower portions of the panels and sliding doors … were decorated with beautiful paintings. And in this wing he assembled pretty women entertainers from Kyoto.” Thus described Ihara Saikaku, the popular novelist of the Genroku period, the life of one of his protagonists.¹

    The Genroku era (1688–1704), spanning the greater part of the fifth shogun’s government, is famous for a popular cultural flowering...

  23. Abbreviations
    (pp. 299-300)
  24. Notes
    (pp. 301-344)
  25. Glossary
    (pp. 345-350)
  26. Bibliography
    (pp. 351-370)
  27. Index
    (pp. 371-378)
  28. Back Matter
    (pp. 379-380)