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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

TSUNAYOSHI'S FAVOURITEWhen Tsunayoshi became shogun


must be admitted in behalf of the financiers of that era that their difficulties were much accentuated by natural calamities. The destructive earthquake of 1703 was followed, in 1707, by an eruption of Fuji, with the result that in the three provinces of Musashi, Sagami, and Suruga, considerable districts were buried in ashes to the depth of ten feet, so that three years and a heavy expenditure of, money were required to restore normal conditions. Thenceforth the state of the Bakufu treasury went from bad to worse. Once again Hagiwara Shigehide had recourse to adulteration of the coinage. This time he tampered mainly with the copper tokens, but owing to the unwieldy and impure character of these coins, very great difficulty was experienced in putting them into circulation, and the Bakufu financiers finally were obliged to fall back upon the reserve of gold kept in the treasury for special contingencies. There can be no doubt that Japan's foreign trade contributed materially to her financial embarrassment, but this subject will be subsequently dealt with.


When Tsunayoshi became shogun, Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu occupied the position of a low-class squire in the shogun's household and was in receipt of a salary of three hundred koku yearly. Four years later, he received the title of Dewa no Kami and his revenue was increased to 100,000 koku. Finally, in 1703, he was appointed daimyo of Kai province

and came into the enjoyment of a total income of 150,000 koku. This was the more remarkable inasmuch as, owing to the strategical importance of Kai, it had been reserved as a fief for one of the Tokugawa family, and its bestowal on a complete outsider was equivalent to the admission of the latter into the Tokugawa circle. This remarkable promotion in rank and income shows how completely the shogun had fallen under the influence of his favourite, Yoshiyasu, who exhibited wonderful skill in appealing at once to the passions and to the intellect of his master. Some historians of the time relate that the shogun's infatuation betrayed him into promising to raise Yoshiyasu's revenue to a million koku, and to nominate as successor to the shogunate a son borne by Yoshiyasu's wife to Tsunayoshi; but according to tradition, these crowning extravagances were averted on the very night preceding the day of their intended consummation, the shogun being stabbed to death by his wife, who immediately committed suicide. This tale, however, has been shown to be an invention with no stronger foundation than the fact that Tsunayoshi's death took place very suddenly at a highly critical time. It is not to be doubted that many of the excesses and administrative blunders committed by the fifth Tokugawa shogun were due to the pernicious influence of Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu.


The no dance was among the indulgences which Tsunayoshi affected and among the accomplishments in which he himself excelled. He took into his service a number of skilled dancers of the no, and treated them as hereditary vassals, setting aside the chamber of the Paulownia for their use. These performers, whatever their origin, received the treatment of samurai, and their dainty posturing in the dance became a model for the lords of the Bakufu Court, so that the simple demeanour of military canons was replaced by a mincing and meretricious mien. Another favourite dance in Yedo Castle was the furyu. A book of the period describes the latter performance in these terms: "Sixteen youths made their appearance; they all wore wide-sleeved robes and purple figured silk with embroidery of oak leaves in gold and silver threads. They carried two swords with gold mountings and scarlet tassels, so that when they danced in harmony with the flutes and drums the spectacle presented was one of dazzling brilliancy." Thenceforth this "Genroku dance," as it came to be called, obtained wide vogue. The same is true of the joruri, which is one of the most emotional forms of chant. Hitherto the samisen had been regarded as a vulgar instrument, and its use had never received the sanction of aristocratic circles. But it now came into favour with all classes of women from the highest to the lowest, and the singing of the joruri was counted a far more important accomplishment than any kind of domestic education.

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