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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

When he periodically visited the temple of Yoritomo


the Azuma Kagami, a contemporaneous history generally trustworthy, we find various anecdotes illustrative at once of the men and the ethics of the time. Thus, it is related that the farmers of a village called Hojo being in an embarrassed condition, seed-rice was lent to them in the spring by the regent's order, they undertaking to repay it in the autumn. But a storm having devastated their fields, they were unable to keep their pledge. Nothing seemed to offer except flight. When they were on the eve of decamping, however, they received from Yasutoki an invitation to a feast at which their bonds were burned in their presence and every debtor was given half a bushel of rice. Elsewhere, we read that the regent himself lived in a house so unpretentious that the interior was visible from the highroad, owing to the rude nature of the surrounding fence. Urged to make the fence solid, if only as a protection against fire, his reply was: "However economically a new wall and fence be constructed, the outlay would be at the cost of the people. As for me, if I do my duty to the State, my life and my house will be safe. If I fail, the strongest fence will not avail."

In estimating what his bountiful assistance to the farmers meant, it is necessary to remember that he was very poor, The greater part of the comparatively small estates bequeathed to him by his father he divided among his half-brothers by a Fujiwara mother, reserving to himself only a little,

for, said he: "I am the regent. What more do I desire?" One day, while attending a meeting of the Hyojoshu, he received news that the house of his brother, Tomotoki, was attacked. Immediately he hastened to the rescue with a small band of followers. Subsequently, one of his principal retainers remonstrated with him for risking his life in an affair so insignificant. Yasutoki answered: "How can you call an incident insignificant when my brother's safety was concerned? To me it seemed as important as the Shokyu struggle. If I had lost my brother, what consolation would my rank have furnished?"

Yasutoki never made his rank a pretext for avoiding military service; he kept his watch in turn with the other guards, remaining up all night and attending to all his duties. When he periodically visited the temple of Yoritomo, he always worshipped without ascending to the aisle, his reason being that, were the shogun, Yoritomo, alive, the regent would not venture to sit on the dais by his side. Thrifty and eminently practical, he ridiculed a priest who proposed to tranquillize the nation by building fanes. "How can peace be brought to the people," he asked, "by tormenting them to subscribe for such a purpose?" He revered learning, regarded administration as a literary art rather than a military, and set no store whatever by his own ability or competence.


The most memorable achievement during Yasutoki's regency was the compilation of a code of law called the Joei Shikimoku* after the name of the era (Joei, 1232-1233) when it was promulgated. What rendered this legislation essentially necessary was that the Daiho code of the eighth century and all the laws founded on it were inspired primarily by the purpose of centralizing the administrative power and establishing the Throne's title of ownership in all the land throughout the realm, a system diametrically opposed to the spirit of feudalism. This incongruity had made itself felt in Yoritomo's time, and had suggested the compilation of certain "Rules for Decisions" (Hanketsu-rei), which became the basis of the Joei code in Yasutoki's days. Another objection to the Daiho code and its correlated enactments was that, being written with Chinese ideographs solely, they were unintelligible to the bulk of those they concerned. Confucius laid down as a fundamental maxim of government that men should be taught to obey, not to understand, and that principle was adopted by the Tokugawa in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But in the thirteenth, the aim of Yasutoki and his fellow legislators was to render the laws intelligible to all, and with that object they were indited mostly in the kana syllabary.

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