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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Soko rejected the Chutsz interpretation



The affair of the forty-seven ronins helped to bring into eminence the name of Yamaga Soko, a firm believer in Confucianism and an ardent follower of military science. Amid an environment of unfavourable conditions Soko preached the cult of bushido, and was the first to embody that philosophy in a written system. His books--the Shi-do (Way of the Warrior) and Bukyo Shogaku (Military Primer)--contain minute instructions as to the practice and the morale of the samurai. Soko rejected the Chutsz interpretation, then in vogue, of the Chinese classics, and insisted on the pure doctrine of the ancient sages, so that he found himself out of touch with the educational spirit of the time. Thus, falling under the displeasure of the Bakufu, he was charged with propagating heterodox views and was sent to Ako to be kept in custody by Asano Naganori, who treated him throughout with courtesy and respect. In return, Soko devoted his whole energy during nineteen years to the education of the Ako vassals, and the most prominent of the Forty-seven Ronins was among his pupils.


Tsunayoshi died of small-pox in 1709, after a brief illness. He had no son, and: five years previously, his nephew Ienobu (third son of his deceased elder brother, Tsunashige) had been declared heir to the shogunate. Having been born in 1662, Ienobu was in his forty-seventh year when he succeeded

to the office of shogun. His first act was to abolish Tsunayoshi's legislation for the protection of animals. He is said to have offered the following explanation at the tomb of the deceased shogun: "You desired to protect living animals and strictly interdicted the slaughter of any such. You willed that even after your death the prohibition should be observed. But hundreds of thousands of human beings are suffering from the operation of your law. To repeal it is the only way of bringing peace to the nation."


Ienobu gave evidence of his sagacity by dismissing Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, the corrupt favourite of the late shogun; by appointing in his stead Manabe Norifusa to the office of personal assistant (soba yoniri), and by reposing full confidence in Arai Hakuseki. This last is recognized by posterity as the most distinguished among Japanese Confucianists. He studied the literature of both the Tang and the Sung dynasties, and he laboured to apply the precepts of Chinese philosophy to the practical needs of his own country. Moreover, he devoted exceptional attention to the conditions existing in Occidental States, and he embodied his thoughts and researches on the latter subject in a book called Sairan Igen, the first treatise of its kind published in Japan.

A practical illustration of his knowledge was furnished in connexion with the reception of Korean envoys. It had been customary to convey to these officials an imposing conception of Japanese magnificence by treating them with lavish hospitality. Hakuseki was able to detect that the conduct of the envoys violated in many respects the rules of Chinese etiquette, and having obtained the shogun's nomination to receive the envoy, Cho, he convinced the latter that there must be no more neglect of due formalities. He then memorialized the shogun in the sense that these Korean ambassadors were merely Chinese spies, and that instead of receiving a lavish welcome, they should be required to limit their journey to the island of Tsushima, where only a very restricted ceremonial should be performed in their honour. This shrewd, though somewhat conservative, suggestion elicited general approval, but was not carried into effect until the time of the eleventh shogun.

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