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The Dog Shogun

Beatrice Bodart-Bailey

Publication Year: 2006

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

My research on the policies of the fifth shogun Tsunayoshi began when Syd Crawcour, then Professor of the Department of Far Eastern History, Research School of Paci¤c Studies of the Australian National University, suggested that I write a Ph.D. thesis on the political significance of the Grand Chamberlain Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu. It soon became apparent to me that Yoshiyasu’s greatest...

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pp. xi-xii

Japanese year names are used in this book since they do not always accurately correspond to Western years. Thus while most of Genroku 15 corresponds to 1702, the revenge of the forty-seven masterless samurai of 15.12.Genroku 15 corresponds to February 1, 1703, of the Western calendar. To avoid visual confusion when several dates appear in the same sentence or note, I have closed...

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1. Prologue

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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 Enp

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2. The Inheritance

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pp. 10-20

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 future of Tokugawa rule looked...

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3. When a Child's Nurse Ought to Be Male

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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...

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4. Lord of Tatebayashi

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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 150,000 koku each, but Iemitsu was already too ill to attend the ceremonies.1 Perhaps...

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5. Confucian Governance

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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...

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6. A Great and Excellent Lord

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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...

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7. The First Year of Government

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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 linen kamishimo and behave ceremoniously. Sitting on an elevated seat, he would question any messenger returning from an errand,...

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8. The Rise and Fall of Hotta Masatoshi

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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...

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9. The Shogun's New Men

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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...

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10. The Laws of Compassion

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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 of inu kubô or Dog Shogun. Since their inception they have spurred...

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11. The Dog Shogun

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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...

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12. The Forty-Seven Loyal Samurai

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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...

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13. Financial Matters

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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 novel This Scheming World (Seken mune zanyô) Saikaku expresses the fear that millstones are being sold in such quantities “that there’s danger the very hills...

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14. Producing Currency

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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 of Sannô gaiki not to show his progressive thinking in matters of finance, but to document his absolute...

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15. The Two Wheels of a Cart

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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....

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16. The Apprenticeship of Ogyū Sorai

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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 Ogyû 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.” I...

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17. The Final Years

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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...

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18. The Legacy

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pp. 278-298

“The left wing of his mansion contained an iron depository filled with some 300,000 ryo of 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...


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pp. 299


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pp. 301-344


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pp. 345-350


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pp. 351-369


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pp. 371-378

E-ISBN-13: 9780824864682
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824829780

Publication Year: 2006