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PostPosted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 12:41 pm    Post subject: Sonnō Jōi Discussion Group: Yoshida Shōin Reply with quote
As Tatsunoshi says Shôin is often portrayed as, if not a complete nutcase, at the very least an extremist and a failure. Out of the Western historians I have read I think Thomas Huber gives the most complete portrait, with a striking understanding of the circumstances and conditions in Chôshû that shaped Shôin’s life and beliefs (see The Revolutionary Origins of Modern Japan, Stanford University Press 1981)

Most of this is based on Huber, with some material from the Yoshida Shôin Paedagogical Fellowship, and from various other sources.

The formative influences on Sugi Noritaka (his first name) were his early education, his own reading, his travels throughout Japan, and his imprisonment in the domain jail of Noyama.

Early Education

Shôin was the second son of Sugi Yurinosuke (low rank – mukyûdôri:26 koku stipend) and was born in 1830 in Matsumoto village, looking out over the Môri castle town of Hagi, and the Japan Sea. Because of the hardships for samurai families of this level of income only the oldest son of the Sugi family was able to marry and carry on the family line. Younger sons were adopted, either by the Yoshida family, the hereditary teachers of the Yamaga school of military studies or by the Tamaki. So Shôin’s older brother Sugi Umetarô was the head of the Sugi family and Shôin was adopted at age four by his uncle Yoshida Daisuke. Unfortunately Daisuke died the following year leaving Shôin as the head of the family, responsible for the Yamaga teachings. His other uncle, Tamaki Bunnoshin, was appointed one of his temporary instructors and undertook to give the young Shôin an accelerated education.

This education was both “intense and severe”, and though Shôin responded to it whole-heartedly it left its mark, along with the frugality practised by the two households. The Yamaga teachings were formulated by Yamaga Sokô and were very much along the lines of classic Bushido. At 8 years old Shôin was studying at the domain school the Meirinkan, by 9 he was a Yamaga instructor and at 10 lectured in front of the daimyo, Takachika, who was deeply impressed and formed a strong admiration for Shôin which in later years led him to protect his unusual vassal to a certain extent. Meirinkan education consisted of Chinese classics, poetry, reading aloud, horsemanship and other martial arts, and some Western military theory. Mencius was particularly honored in the academy, and Shôin had a lifelong reverence for the sage.

His first paper on reform was issued to the domain government in 1848 when the Meirinkan itself was being restructured.

Travel

Apart from a trip around the northeast coast of Chôshû in 1849 Shôin’s first journey was to Kyûshû in 1850. He spent some time in Hirado reading his way through the library of Hayama Sanai (he kept a list of everything he read on this trip – some 80 volumes in all – including works by Aizawa, Ôshio Heihachirô, Takano Chôei and also books on Western gunnery, geography and the Opium Wars. In Nagasaki he met some Dutch sailors who showed him round their ship. He also visited Kumamoto.

In 1851 he was allowed to go to Edo to continue his studies, and met Sakuma Shôzan, an extrememly important contact for both men. Around this time Shôin analysed what he needed to study more: History, Chinese classics and Military studies. These would give him an understanding of “political community”. When the han government did not reply to his request to be given more time to study he took off northern Japan without official permission (technically dappan). After a brief stay in Mito with Aizawa Yasushi, he met up with old acquaintance Miyabe Teizô and travelled as far as Tappizaki on the Hokkaidô straits, where he saw Russian ships, and met several Ainu families.

On his return to Edo he was sent back to Hagi, put in domiciliary confinement, and deprived of his stipend. However Takachika granted Shôin ten years of freedom to travel and study. Shôin immediately returned to Edo just in time to witness the arrival of Perry and the Black Ships. He and Sakuma Shôzan were among the crowds who flocked to Uraga bay to observe the Americans. Shôin became convinced he must study abroad, and later that year (1853) went to Nagasaki hoping to go to Russia with Putiatin; however he missed the fleet by a few days. Undaunted, the following year he rowed out to Perry’s flagship and requested to be taken to America. When this was refused he gave himself up to the Bakufu. Huber suggests that Shôin made these seemingly irrational acts throughout his life in order to force the issue (in this case, freedom to study abroad) into the open.

Both Shôin and Shôzan were arrested and Shôin was sent back to Hagi where he was confined to Noyama prison.

Noyama

In prison Shôin kept up his reading and studying, but above all began to discover his gift for teaching. He organised the other prisoners into classes, identified their skills and strengths, and got them to teach each other. He himself gave lectures on Mencius. He began to formulate his ideas on equality both between classes and between men and women. When he was released into his family’s care he began teaching the children of neighbours at the Shôka Sonjuku. It is here that his greatest influence was to be seen.

Shôka Sonjuku

Shôin was not at his school for long (1855-1858) but the Shôka Sonjuku had a far reaching influence in Chôshû and beyond. Students included Takasugi Shinsaku, Kusaka Genzui, Yamagata Aritomo, Itô Hirobumi. The curriculum included individual reading of most of the works that Shôin had been influenced by, along with discussions, sometimes working in the fields or over lunch, physical exercise in the form of military drill, and composition. “People who read books should spend half their mental energy writing”. Shôin was also very keen on world affairs and maps: “If you want to study human affairs look at the geography involved.” He expected self-motivation, gave no tests, unlike any other juku, and dispensed with formal ceremonies. Instead he wrote letters to his students, praising them for their achievements and gently pointing out their errors. He treated everyone with gentleness and courtesy and welcomed anyone of ability into his school, though he seems to have questioned them carefully before admitting them as to their motives for study. He believed it should be for the higher purpose of service to the domain and to Japan. He was very aware of the poverty of most of his students and the damaging patterns of social inequality entrenched in the feudal system, that meant most of them had very poor prospects in life.

Shôin’s teachings

Shôin believed in the Mencian concepts of Heaven’s Mandate (tenmei) and the people’s welfare (keimin or ammin). His ideal humans were the sage (seiken) and the gentleman (kunshi). In his take on sonnô jôi he saw the Emperor as a metaphor for the Will of Heaven and the symbol of the best of Japanese society, Westerners were a threat to impair that society and therefore had to be kept at arm’s length, and rational reforms appointing men of merit (jinzai tôyô) should be carried out. He followed the teaching of Wang Yangming that the words of Confucius have no meaning unless they are proved by direct action and experience. In his eyes the basis for education was the influence of an exceptional family, continuous self-education in wide reading, and the fellowship of good friends. He also taught his students to be proud of their home and country, and to work cooperatively together.

However although he himself was the soul of gentleness he came to believe that ideas were not enough and that only action would bring reform. One of his most successful ideas was to set up a network of newsgathers and reporters among his students. This exchange of information between Hagi, Yamaguchi, Shimonoseki, Kyoto and Edo was to prove invaluable in the 1860s. In 1858 Shôin put forward in the Discussion of the Great Justice his ideas for the policy of the han. Chôshû should make its views widely known to gain favour among other han, a commoner military should be mobilised, and street violence should be take place under the umbrella of imperial legitimacy. Takasugi Shinsaku and Kusaka Genzui were to be the heirs to this policy in 1864.

The final months

In 1858 samurai from Echizen and Mito first came up with the plan to assassinate Ii Naosuke. Shôin tried to enlist the han government of Sufu Masanosuke, but both Sufu and Nagai Uta (who had his own plans to influence the Court) rejected the scheme. Shôin was again placed under house arrest and then sent to Noyama . He tried to organise the assassination of Ii’s man in Kyoto, Manabe Akikatsu, but his own students were reluctant to expose themselves to such a dangerous task, and many began to distance themselves from their teacher, not emotionally but politically. Before long Nagai handed Shôin over to the Bakufu and he was transported to Edo where he was confined in Denmachô. When he was interrogated he confessed to the plot to assassinate Manabe and even though the chief interrogator recommended exile, Ii Naosuke ordered his execution for, among other crimes, attempting to study abroad and his advocation of social reconstruction in his Words of a Madman. He died on 1859 11.21 (Ansei 6 10.27) at the age of 30 (by Japanese reckoning).

Conclusion

Craig writes of Shôin’s obsession that passed beyond eccentricity and Beasley also stresses his intemperance, but Huber calls him a brilliant political thinker and the essential manifestation of the spirit of the age. Shôin certainly had a mystical side that enabled him to cope with imprisonment; as Huber says, a transcendent identity often gives extraordinary courage to humans under duress. I think most of Shôin’s students show this invincible belief in themselves.

Shôin often referred to himself as Twenty One times a valiant samurai (moushi),’ and this was recorded on his gravestone. 21 is a pun on his two surnames Yoshida and Sugi and moushi is written with characters very like Mencius.

吉田 十 十 一 =21

杉  十  八 三 =21

孟子 Mencius 猛子 moushi (valiant samurai)

Shôin was not a virulent jôi proponent. He was closer to Sakuma Shôzan in his political thinking. If he had lived he might have met the same fate at the hands of loyalists. But his death made his influence stronger. His immediate students were determined to avenge him, though this was not expressed openly. Nagai was in fact hounded to commit suicide and, if he had not, Kusaka would probably have assassinated him. Takasugi never forgot Shôin’s lessons of action over words. Chôshû’s open espousal of the sonnô jôi cause brought many loyaists into the domain forming the Shôkenkaku group in Mitajiri, one of whose leaders was Shôin’s old associate Miyabe Teizô. This group was partly responsible for the disasters of 1864 and its unruly presence was a great headache to the domain authorities. Several sonjuku students were involved in the attack on the British consulate in 1862, a rather inept attempt at jôi, but most of them had moved to a less extreme position by the end of 1864, for which many of them found themselves in danger from more extreme loyalists.

Shôin’s appearance is known mainly from the surviving sketches that were sent out with his farewell letters. He looks severe and stern. He was greatly admired by nationalists and his image has perhaps suffered as a result. But his mixture of strict and frugal samurai upbringing, his passion for education and his gifts as a teacher make him an unforgettable figure in bakumatsu history.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 1:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Fantastic post for anyone wanting to know more about the life of Yoshida Shoin. Well put togther Heron.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 4:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Well written. I'll try to think of more to say, but I'm mulling it over. The problem is that I am looking at this too much from a 21st century Western point of view, and I'm trying to eschew that. At the same time, I can't help but feel that he had an overabundance of idealism--a common trait of the era, it seems--in a world that had mostly black and white, with few shades of grey (a problem that is sometimes found in modern Japanese businesses, but there was no izakaya they could all go to in order to settle things properly).


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 9:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
In many ways I think Shouin was unusually practical: he did act out his beliefs. Practical action was a key part of his teaching. What Huber is so good at I think is putting him in the context of the times and showing the constraints that anyone of that class and upbringing was under.

They may not have had izakaya, but they certainly thrashed things out in teahouses. The trouble was, I suppose, that even in Kyoto and Edo each domain tended to keep to themselves and frequent their own favourite spot. It would be interesting to look more closely at the inter-han interaction and how shishi from each han influenced the others.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 11, 2009 3:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Excellent, as always, Heron. Very Happy I really appreciate your efforts on this. I found your post informative and thought provoking. I read your post not once, but two times and concluded that like Tokugawa Nariaki, Yoshida Shōin is a wonderful mix of fascinating contradictions who merits some more discussion and debate before moving on. Laughing

You wrote that “Shōin was not a virulent jōi proponent”, but his death was a factor that contributed to the radicalization of many of his students. I agree with this, but I do want to dive a little deeper. Let’s look at some of Shōin’s writings about the signing of treaties with foreign powers, such as the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the US and Japan.

    “If problems arise in the territory of the shogun, they must be handled by the shogun; if in the domain of the lord, by the lord…This affair (the signing of the treaties) arose from within the territory of the emperor…the bakufu has abjured heaven and earth, angered all the deities…it has nourished a national crisis today and bequeathed national shame to future generations...If the imperial decree is honored, the realm will be following the Way. To destroy a traitor is an act of loyalty.”
Shōin goes on to call for a grass-roots rebellion of ‘heroes’ made up of samurai and villagers who should abandon their traditional homes and duties to perform what he called “meritorious deeds”.

    “If there is no rising of independent patriots, there will be no prosperity. How will these unaffiliated men reinstate the saintly emperor and wise lords? Men who follow my aims and are of my domain must follow this rising. Through the unauthorized power of the rising, small men will be excluded, evil men will be thrown out, and correct and able lords will be able to gain their place.”
The above excerpts came from H.D. Harootunian’s chapter “Late Tokugawa Culture and Thought” in the book The Emergence of Meiji Japan. Based on Shōin’s own words, I really can’t help to wonder if his teachings and writings deserve a little more credit for feeding his students a heady froth of high-octane sonnō jōi thought and tōbaku (overthrow the Bakufu) radicalism that propelled them towards virulent and violent activism. What do the rest of you think?
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 11, 2009 5:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Quote:
Based on Shōin’s own words, I really can’t help to wonder if his teachings and writings deserve a little more credit for feeding his students a heady froth of high-octane sonnō jōi thought and tōbaku (overthrow the Bakufu) radicalism that propelled them towards virulent and violent activism. What do the rest of you think?



Having read Heron's post and Obenjo's follow up, what strikes me about Shoin is how his influence seems to have done much to transform the emperor as a cultural/spiritual icon into something of a political reality. There’s no doubt it was he who planted the first stones on the path to what eventually would be the political hierarchy of the Meiji government. While he may have been extreme, Yoshida Shoin (Torajiro) was also a brilliant thinker and articulate. I don’t know that such an obvious statement needs to be said, but clearly his writings had much impact on a generation of youthful bakumatsu protagonists, not the least of which were the likes of Sakamoto Ryoma, Nakaoka Shintaro, Kido Koin, Ito Hirobumi, Yamagata Aritomo, Takasugi Shinsaku, et cetra… Shoin was after all one of the first to distance himself with the concept of han loyalty above all else paving the way for many key men to do the same. He also advocated the idea of “men of ability and talent” over men of birthright. Another critical area that spurred on and influenced men of his time particularly in the Sonno Joi movement.

Kim Min-kyu, the author of the Sonno Joi article that Obenjo handed out prior to our discussion, writes that Shoin was a “zealous joi advocate” and an “outspoken kaikoku proponent”. Yet Heron has noted that he was “not a virulent jōi proponent”. I guess I’m finding it difficult to peg Yoshida Shoin in such a black and white cast one way or the other. Kim-kyu sums up my view of him quite well when he notes that Yoshida Shoin went through “drastic changes of ideas several times, his image and evaluation in later ages kept changing as time went on”. I think this is an important element to realize because one of the elements that makes the Bakumatsu period so difficult to fully grasp is exactly this fact that it’s a tumultuous period of change. Even the key players on the scene change their points of view a number of times during their (sometimes short) lifetimes. Yoshida Shoin, in my view, cannot be labelled so easily in black and white terms. It's also what makes him so fascinating and frankly difficult to fully understand. And thus it makes him almost perfectly representative of the time which he lived in.

But cutting through this, looking simply on the ultimate influence and impact he had on the lives of his students and others by proxy, Yoshida Shoin’s ultimate impact was his ability to bring to a clear vision the possibility that the Emperor, who at that time don’t forget was more or less a far removed figure head and spiritual leader, could lead the government as was the case in antiquity. Shoin was the one who wrote: “all lands are imperial territory, all peoples are imperial subjects. All peoples under one sovereign’s command” (ikkun banmin). But once again this is not so simple. In the years preceding his execution, Shoin had in some ways changed his tune saying that the Emperor should “sacrifice himself for Tobaku”. Again, in my view this dichotomy makes him critical in understanding the time period which he lived in.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 11, 2009 12:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Interesting post, Dash.Smile

Heron does point out that Shōin traveled the country, went to Mito, and spent some time with Aizawa, the godfather of later-stage Mitogaku-- at least from an intellectual standpoint.

Therefore it is not surprising that based on the same quotes I used, Harootunian points out that Shōin’s beliefs were very much in line with Mitogaku teachings on authority, jurisdiction and responsibility and where the emperor fits in with all of this.

I personally tend to see Shōin in a similar light as Kim Min-kyu. I also do think Shōin was slightly off his rocker. I said that out-loud while doing some follow-up research last night, and my supposedly not-interested in Japanese history 'one-person Greek chorus' looked up from her PC and said, "Oh, yeah. He was totally nuts!" Shocked Laughing

Any other comments?
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 11, 2009 12:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Yes, I forgot to mention the soumou eiyuu - the grassroots heroes who Shōin felt were the ones to be relied on in bringing about a new form of government. I probably also should have talked more about the basic Mencian justification for this - that the unjust ruler should be overthrown. I think you are right, there is plenty of fuel for violent action in these teachings, but I don't think in Shōin's case that it was particularly aimed at foreigners. They had to be kept out in order for the realm to be put right, not because of xenophobia which was to be the motivation for many of the subsequent attacks on foreigners.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 11, 2009 12:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
heron wrote:
Yes, I forgot to mention the soumou eiyuu - the grassroots heroes who Shōin felt were the ones to be relied on in bringing about a new form of government. I probably also should have talked more about the basic Mencian justification for this - that the unjust ruler should be overthrown. I think you are right, there is plenty of fuel for violent action in these teachings, but I don't think in Shōin's case that it was particularly aimed at foreigners. They had to be kept out in order for the realm to be put right, not because of xenophobia which was to be the motivation for many of the subsequent attacks on foreigners.


Yes, but attacks on foreigners, as a part of jōi, is only half of the violent sonnō jōi equation. Shōin seems to be advocating attacks on the Bakufu and its officials, which we will also be eventually discussing later on down the road. It's critical we look at that to understand how sonnō jōi eventually evolved.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 11, 2009 4:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I don't think there's any question of that and that's where he went racing ahead of the han government and his own pupils. Hence his isolation towards the end. I think in my head I had them (sonnō jōi) as two very different things, which is silly as they are always spoken of in one breath. But sonnō, if you take that to be anti-bakufu, seems to me to be a valid political strategy. (I mean I don't actually personally approve of violent action against officials, but it is a well-known and long standing strategy). But how much was it anti-bakufu in Shōin's thinking and how much was it just anti-evil officialdom in the Mencian mode?
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 11, 2009 5:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Dash101 wrote:

Kim Min-kyu, the author of the Sonno Joi article that Obenjo handed out prior to our discussion, writes that Shoin was a “zealous joi advocate” and an “outspoken kaikoku proponent”. Yet Heron has noted that he was “not a virulent jōi proponent”. I guess I’m finding it difficult to peg Yoshida Shoin in such a black and white cast one way or the other. Kim-kyu sums up my view of him quite well when he notes that Yoshida Shoin went through “drastic changes of ideas several times, his image and evaluation in later ages kept changing as time went on”. I think this is an important element to realize because one of the elements that makes the Bakumatsu period so difficult to fully grasp is exactly this fact that it’s a tumultuous period of change. Even the key players on the scene change their points of view a number of times during their (sometimes short) lifetimes. Yoshida Shoin, in my view, cannot be labelled so easily in black and white terms. It's also what makes him so fascinating and frankly difficult to fully understand. And thus it makes him almost perfectly representative of the time which he lived in.



From reading Huber's analysis of Yoshida, I get the idea that his vision of "joi" was something of a more practical plan for implementing the less concrete "joi" that Nariaki had voiced in his letter to the Bakufu, i.e., the active Japan sailing forth to conquest and dictating the terms of trade and access on the part of outsiders from a position of strength.
From Huber's book:
Quote:
Shoin was critical of the Bakufu's policy of passively opening the country and urged instead a policy of actively opening it as the best way to deal with the foreign threat. He put this succinctly in one of his policy memorials of 1858: "I think there is no way to sweep away the foreigners unless we cross the seas and trade (kokai tsushi) ....American influence must be swept away in accordance with a closed-country policy; yet if we do not base this on an open-country policy, how could we extend and strengthen the power of the nation?"

Shoin goes further with the logical consequences of "joi by kaikoku" than either Nariaki or Ii...Shoin realizes that the game of the foreigners must be played beyond the "grab and run" method of gathering as much technology as possible and running back to the closed fort with it (the traditional understanding of "joi" as literal "expulsion" of the foreign influence once enough technology is gained.) He realizes that communication must be maintained as well as trade, in order that Japan may deal with the international community on its terms rather than theirs. And he realizes that this parity cannot be achieved without substantial internal reform.

The brilliance of Yoshida Shoin as elucidated by Huber's explication was the redefinition of the Emperor as political entity and not just a spiritual legitimizing influence. By attaching his reforms to the authority of the Emperor as ultimate power in Japan and tying the legitimacy of his reform ideas not only to the maintenance of ideal as Nariaki's Mitogaku would (with the han-->bakufu-->emperor hierarchy) but to the ancient Mencian ideals of tenmei and ammin or keimin (the mandate of heaven and the people's welfare, respectively) in order to justify the call to reform if any institution failed to fulfill its duties by the ancient "Mandate of Heaven." Thus, if the Bakufu fails to serve, it should be replaced. He uses the authority of the Emperor to legitimize this call for drastic reform that would otherwise be unthinkable. It sounds almost like "sonno tobaku," but if the call is for reform, rather than full-out revolution, and the Bakufu can meet the requirements laid down, then there would be no problem.

This idea of setting up the mandate for service for the good of the people and the mandate from Heaven would seem to throw down a gauntlet to the Bakufu, and when Ii's actions in signing the Harris treaty and his subsequent purge of opponents to gather status quo conservatives around him laid waste to Yoshida's hopes, perhaps this is when the more drastic calls to action began and desperation of sorts may have set in. Or perhaps it was just an intricate, well-thought-out plan dashed by Choshu's need to protect itself in the short run against Ii's purge. At least that's how I read it so far.

Yoshida had always called for action over words but also for consideration before action. But when his hopes for reform were not only dashed but his friends and known men of ability were being purged left and right by Ii Naosuke in a ruthless and systematic manner, he realized that it was time for action. I have not read thoroughly as yet about his planning in 1858 for the assassination of Ii Naosuke and his man Manabe in Kyoto, but I gather that it was a well-ordered information network that he had laid out in cooperation with other han, as per his ideals of calling on "men of ability" beyond single han borders. And, as I recall, it was his own government who gave him up in order to save itself from further harm. Of course, asking a han to make political assassination a matter of official policy may have been too much for the politicians who had to please and placate at many levels.

I'm not sure if I think Shoin was crazy as a bedbug or not; maybe it is because I live with crazy people everyday that something like this just sounds normal, an understandable progression from hope to desperation, the eternal theme of the lower samurai hitting the dead-end wall of action "through channels." It is no wonder they ended up creating their own networks, alliances, modes of action, and so forth. They just weren't all as happy-go-lucky as ol' Ryoma...however, Ryoma and Yoshida did have the commonality of a large circle of communicants, inter-han contacts and so forth. I'll refrain from spinning off into Happy Ryomaland, since this is a thread about Yoshida Shoin...just an offhand observation. As I recall, didn't Shoin assign his students to areas of reporting in different cities in order to create a network of information? Is this an aspect of his teachings that stood the Choshu extremist faction and the shotai in good stead when it came to the Choshu civil war? A few thoughts.

Really excellent summary, heron, and lots of interesting food for thought here from Dash and Obenjo! It is no wonder Yoshida Shoin is such a central figure. In many ways, his philosophies prefigure what actually happened but also give it a richer historical basis.
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 1:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
This Yoshida Shōin thread has really turned into a a great discussion, folks. I'm going to hold off moving onto Ii Naosuke's impact on the sonnō jōi movement until some point over the weekend. In the meantime, keep posting away! I'm going to do a little more follow-up research myself. Wink
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 5:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Finally I join the discussion! I've been following this group from the office and whenever I find something I want to post about when I get home for the evening I log on to see that Onna or Dash have stolen my thunder! Very Happy

I agree with Onna that Shōin was not "crazy". Shōin's thought processes and natural progression actually made more sense to me than some of his contemporaries. Especially considering his inability to break through using legal means. If anything, I'm surprised it took Shōin so long to make the call for his "grass roots" uprisings.

Sorry if my post is lacking. I'm trying to formulate my thoughts and make it look like I'm still working. I'm afraid I'm failing at both.
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 5:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Welcome to the party, Leak! Laughing But I'm still not convinced Shōin was playing with a full deck at the tail end of his career. Wink
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 6:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Quote:
But I'm still not convinced Shōin was playing with a full deck at the tail end of his career.


I really can't say or agree that Yoshida Shoin was crazy. But I can't deny that point either. It's hard to dispute that towards the end of his life, he certainly went off the deep end on a number of subjects and in several areas of his life. (For a man of such astute intelligence, his plan for instance to scamper onboard an American ship and ask for safe passage to America in light of the laws of that time was somewhat ill-advised.

But I found a passage in the book "Pacific Century" by Mark Borthwick that furthers the dichotomy of this man.

Quote:
“Viewed from a modern perspective, Yoshida’s teachings are rather hard to analyze. On the one hand, he was a traditionalist, full of confidence in the solidarity and virtues of the samurai class. “Even a Peasant’s will hard to deny, but a samurai of resolute will can sway ten thousand men.” He was also an ardent imperialist. The highest task to which a Japanese could aspire, he taught, was to become one of the “Emperor’s retainers.” He had seen enough of the world around him to respect the new learning of the West. He was not any blind “destroy the barbarian” zealot.

As he once wrote: “the barbarians’ artillery and shipbuilding, their knowledge of medicine and the physical sciences can all be of use to us- these should properly be adopted.” On the other hand, he was dead set against the way in which the shogunate had opened the country for Commodore Perry and others. “Japan has been free for about three thousand years, how, one morning, will we be able to bear its control by other men? If we do not give rise to a Napoleon and announce out freedom [he used the English word], it will be most difficult to cure the pain in our heart.”


So in the above, do you take from this that Shoin was a nutcase with a smorgasbord of ideas spouting whatever he felt like?

I think true intellectuals, at least those that I have met, are the closest thing to a "crazy person" (sorry I'm not sure what the politically correct term is) you can get to without being in fact certifiable. I think this was precisely what Shoin was. I don’t think he was nuts, but the degree of separation between being “charismatic” as Mark Borthwick calls him or “eccentric” and that of a nut-case is really actually very close. I think it does a disservice to call him crazy, when I think he was a really brilliant, albeit “eccentric” type.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 6:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Sorry for the double post. I thought we might benefit from reading one of Yoshida Shoin's prison letters. (I haven't put it in quotes so its easier to read)

Yoshida Shoin’s Prison Letter, 1856
From the book Japan (David John Lu) p.299 - 300


I am the subject of the house of Mori. Therefore I bind myself day and night to the service of the house of Mori. The house of Mori is subject to the Emperor. When we are loyal to our lord, then we are loyal to the Emperor. For over 600 years our Lords have not bound themselves completely to the service of the Emperor. This crime is evident. It is my intention to let him expiate his guilt. But because I am condemned to confinement in the house, I can neither write nor speak with him directly. I can only speak about this with my brother and my parents and I await with patience the occasion to speak about this with the samurai and the loyalists. This opportunity will occur, when –pardoned- I can freely visit those who have the same opinion as I. Then I shall undertake with them:
1.) to show the shogun his crime committed during more than 600 years and to show him his actual duty
2.) to show also to our daimyo and all the other daimyo their crimes, and
3.) to show the whole bakufu all their crimes in order to make them serve the Emperor.

If I am condemned to death before I can realize these things, I cannot help it. If I die in prison, after me another will execute this intention and certainly there will be an occasion for my successors to do this. I should like to write this to you with the following words:

The sincerity of one single man touches the hearts of millions. I hope that you will understand me. By nature, it is repugnant to me to speak lightly about things that touch my innermost heart, but you alone I confide by thoughts. Observe well how I dedicate my life to it. I know only too well that the Emperor is just as Yao and Shun and that the shogun is just as Mang and Cao. Because I know this, therefore I give myself up to study and cultivate my spirit in order to accomplish someday something grand. I have a reason for not speaking night and day about the crimes of the shogun. Namely it is in vain when I accuse him, because I am imprisoned. And because I live here without speaking openly of the crimes of the shogun, therefore I can say that – in a sense- I take part in his crimes. This is also the case with my Lord. Never – even if I should have to die for it- shall I disclose the crimes of others, unless I have corrected my own fault. Therefore, until such an occasion arises- as I have told you above – I am satisfied to ponder over these things in my thoughts or to give advice to my acquaintances. If one day I explain the wrongs to my Lord and he does not listen, I shall sacrifice my life in order that he might repent. When my lord listens to me and sees clearly the crimes he committed during more than 600 years, then he shall be in a position to correct the wrongs of the other daimyo and those of the bakufu as well. Although my Lord is supposed to be independent of the shogun, we must grant that the Mori family has obtained from the shogun many favors during more then 200 years. It would be very good thing for my Lord to admonish the shogun frequently about his abuses, so that eventually he might correct them. But if the shogun does not correct his wrongs – and all the daimyo agree on the point – my lord must bring the case before the Emperor and obtain a commission to prosecute their plan.

If, however he will not listen, we may compare the shogun with Jie and Zhou or even call him so. Yet, although we may call the shogun Jie or Zhou, we have in fact no right to accuse him of his crimes, because my Lord and myself are lacking in loyalty and devotion toward the Emperor. The first thing therefore we have to do, is to recognize our own defects.

There is a point about which I hold an opinion which differs from yours. It is that you think that “an unjest power can be killed by the pen”. This is indeed the idea of Confucius who wrote the Spring and Autumn Annuals (Chun chiu) and I cannot see that this was a bad thing. However, today the country is menaced by thousands of dangers and in this case we cannot expect very much from our writings. If you consider the shogun like Jie or Zhou, them my Lord is like Feilian or Olai. It is your practice never to admonish people like Jie and Zhou. You think that even today those who make a plot, are traitors of the state. Again, there is for you – apart from the brush- no other way. This idea of I regret very much indeed. This attitude impedes us in correcting a man of his wrongs to make him better. If a man does not correct himself, if does not become better, what use is it to say: “an unjust power can be killed by the pen”.

If you take the trouble to ponder thoroughly on the opinion which I date to present to you, not only myself, but also the souls of my ancestors will be very happy. I should very much like to speak with you about it personally, but unfortunately, I am deprived of my liberty, because the warders have bound me with cords.


Last edited by Dash101 on Thu Feb 12, 2009 7:30 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 7:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Shoin strikes me as an ivory tower academic who turned into a radical protester. The attempt to climb aboard Perry's ship seems to seems to cement him having gone over the edge--was that really the only way to make his point?

On the other hand, we've had some interesting forefathers in the US--Jefferson, for instance, thought that regular armed rebellions were the sign of a healthy democracy.

More than anything, I think that Yoshida Shoin and his followers illustrate the tensions that were present. Had it been another time or place, I don't think his ideas would have garnered as much attention, but he obviously struck some kind of cord with the people around him.

Perhaps if he hadn't been a few screws loose, he would have been overly reserved, and wouldn't have appealed to people in the same way. As it was, he gave voice to things that other people wanted to say, but were too timid/smart to say themselves. Because he was a teacher, this likely gave him an air of authority, especially in the midst of the Neo-Confucian thought that was so prevalent. However, he also seems to have had little access to the actual decision making apparatus of the time. Combined with an apparent lack of concern for authority (he left one post, then blatantly ignored shogunal orders), this is probably some of what made him a maverick.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 7:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Quote:
I think true intellectuals, at least those that I have met, are the closest thing to a "crazy person" (sorry I'm not sure what the politically correct term is) you can get to without being in fact certifiable. I think this was precisely what Shoin was. I don’t think he was nuts, but the degree of separation between being “charismatic” as Mark Borthwick calls him or “eccentric” and that of a nut-case is really actually very close. I think it does a disservice to call him crazy, when I think he was a really brilliant, albeit “eccentric” type.


Basically he was too smart for his own good.


Quote:
As he once wrote: “the barbarians’ artillery and shipbuilding, their knowledge of medicine and the physical sciences can all be of use to us- these should properly be adopted.” On the other hand, he was dead set against the way in which the shogunate had opened the country for Commodore Perry and others. “Japan has been free for about three thousand years, how, one morning, will we be able to bear its control by other men? If we do not give rise to a Napoleon and announce out freedom [he used the English word], it will be most difficult to cure the pain in our heart.”


Shōin wanted what the West had without the interference of the West. This might not seem all that logical, but I think it was something that Shōin and others believed could be attained.

I really like Josh's statement that Shōin was an "ivory tower academic" turned radical. Maybe he began to drink a little too much of his own kool-aid. Kinda like Timothy Leary, without the pleasant side effects.
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 11:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Quote:
Shoin strikes me as an ivory tower academic who turned into a radical protester. The attempt to climb aboard Perry's ship seems to seems to cement him having gone over the edge--was that really the only way to make his point?


I think this is a misinterpretation of Shoin and his actions. He was the very opposite of an "ivory tower academic". His action in boarding Perry's ship was in fact quite well thought out. He was not going to attempt to hide away, but presented himself to the Americans and asked to be taken to America with them. They found him intriguing, but had already agreed with Bakufu officials that they would not take any Japanese with them. So they sent him back - I think he gave himself up to the Bakufu, thus forcing the issue. (Why shouldn't Japanese travel abroad?) We talked in another thread about the difficulty of getting real information, and this was what Shoin hoped to do by travelling overseas. I don't think he was crazy except in the way that many reformers seem to be crazy. He continued to act according to his political beliefs. At the end of his life his actions seem a little unhinged but I think for him they had a driving logic, couple with desperation, as onnamusha suggests: maybe that is enough for him to be judged "nuts", but the danger with this sort of judgment is that he is then dismissed too easily.

Also he seems to have been unusually abstemious in the sake-soaked culture of the time, so the "kool aid" comment is also rather misleading Very Happy
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 11:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
leakbrewergator wrote:
Shōin wanted what the West had without the interference of the West. This might not seem all that logical, but I think it was something that Shōin and others believed could be attained.

I really like Josh's statement that Shōin was an "ivory tower academic" turned radical. Maybe he began to drink a little too much of his own kool-aid. Kinda like Timothy Leary, without the pleasant side effects.


Welcome to the discussion, Leak! I can see why you would conclude that Yoshida wanted the benefits (technology) of the West without interference from the West, but I think he of all the Bakumatsu Lights wanted this (i.e. most of the han who listened at all to Nariaki or understood that the West was stronger than they were). Shoin goes a step further even than Nariaki, who also wanted (but merely pined for) parity on an international footing. The call Shoin makes to go forth and become familiar with all the forms of the West, so that Japan's kaikoku, when it comes, could be dictated on her own terms and not those of the "barbarians." This echoes perfectly the views of his mentor Sakuma Shozan ("Japanese ethics, Western science".) Thus the seemingly reasonable views of Sakuma and Yoshida might be twisted by eventual zealotry.

And I am not sure whether I'd agree with Josh's evaluation of the man as "ivory tower" in nature, as a large part of his philosophy was based in direct action. While he was not a direct actor (ironic?), this owed in part to the fact that he was perpetually incarcerated and also to his sickly constitution. In the world of academia, there is a saying, "Those who cannot do, teach." It is a wry indictment of the "ivory tower" nature of those who think theoretically without practical considerations. But shouldn't we apply this to those rule-bound, tradition-bound bureaucrats in Edo who maintain outdated structures and conventions simply because of their antiquity? I think perhaps "ivory tower" applies to most of the high-level government officials and functionaries in Japan at the time. The fact that Shoin's students were very active and sought out positions from which they could affect policy and also the fact that Shoin himself wrote constant memorials to the Choshu government should exempt him from the "ivory tower" label.

The question about Shoin's methods and philosophy that interests me most is perhaps what Dash's kindly provided Letter from Prison covers--the question of when or whether to abandon the pen in favor of the sword. I am of two minds about the policy of assassination as a viable political strategy.

1)On one hand, it is an unmistakeable statement and can remove intransigent obstacles very quickly. Many historians have cited the assassination of Ii Naosuke as the key event that marked the sure sign of the Bakufu's downfall. No one else was capable of replacing him, and those who tried (like Ando Nobumasa) were warned they would suffer the same fate. So, could Ii have been dealt with another way? Since it didn't happen, I can't say with my limited knowledge.

2)On the other hand, turning to the sword when the pen might suffice might signal a basic impatience, which could harm a movement beyond repair. The frustration of lower samurai with their inablity to hold posts from which they could make a difference might be a factor that would incline such folks to take up the sword instead, as we see clearly with the Tosa Loyalists and Takechi's "policy of assassination." We also see how it screwed him and his movement. But he had tried to gain influence through han channels previously, being rebuffed by Yoshida Toyo at all points. Then again, Takechi was inclined by nature to the sword.

In Shoin's realm, we wonder if he was right but merely discovered and thwarted in the plot to assassinate Manabe in Kyoto or if Kusaka Genzui (who gave Shoin's own talk about thinking before acting back to him at this time) was right in advocating a waiting policy. The flow of history would seem to vindicate Kusaka and indict Yoshida in this case, but this is hindsight. The real problem is the advisability and judiciousness of using a violent strategy, as it would tend to attract and inflame the very elements that it did, in fact. The spark of Ii's assassination lit many small but long-smoldering fires. Much of the violence was arbitrary and uncalled-for. Did Yoshida Shoin manage to see this problem ahead? Or did he merely look at the immediate gains that a few judicious wipeouts would achieve?

I wouldn't, in the end, called Shoin unbalanced in intellect or even in rational capacity. But I think perhaps he lost sight of some very important laws of human behavior and perhaps became subsumed by his vision for the future at the expense of its stability and maintainability. As Leak so aptly put it, maybe he did drink a little too deeply of the Magic Kool-Aid. Laughing

Sorry for the long-windedness. I am hoping I stayed on the point I was trying to make! Oh yes, and on the mentioned matter of trying to stow aboard the American ship--I put that down to his pattern of learning, which entailed traveling as much as possible to learn about conditions in other parts of the country. In this case, other parts of the world. As executed, it was not done so adeptly; as a concept, it seems perfectly justified if one is to learn about the West. He didn't have the serendipitous fortune of a Nakahama Manjiro, after all...

Edit: I seem to have cross-posted with you, heron! And the Kool-Aid I had in mind has more of a reddish blush than sake would! Wink I find it hard to label Yoshida nuts or "ivory tower" either. His circumstances, especially at the end of his days, were extraordinary in their stringency. Who here would not change radically if confined for so long to prison, thwarted at every turn, kept from the very action that one's philosophy craves as necessary? I do find it hard to simply call him "nuts" under these circumstances. Beset, yes.
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 1:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Wow.Shocked I wake up and see so many long and interesting posts! I'll have to read all of 'em later, after I get back from a day-long business trip.

Good going, all. I'm looking forward to diving into them! Very Happy
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 3:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I don't disagree that there was a lot of 'ivory tower' thinking going on everywhere. Heck, all of Japan had pretty much made itself an ivory tower through the policies of limiting trade and foreign contact.

I also appreciate that Yoshida Shoin was trying to get out and get a broader sense of things, but I guess I question his methods. Either his lord wasn't *that* supportive or Shoin had problems with authority (or both), which seems odd if he is espousing a Neo-Confucian worldview. He could remonstrate with his lord regarding matters, but it would also be his duty to submit or seek out new employment. I wonder if he didn't pick and choose those ideals that worked towards his own personal vision of what was 'just'. After all, it is the common tack most people seem to take when actually applying a philosophy.

I also tend to think that his appellation has much to do with hindsight. Through his failures, he's seen as a maverick and outsider. If he had been able to succeed and gain a following, then he would be a visionary trend setter Smile As it was, he was extremely influential in a manner that I would say is disproportionate to his position at the time.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 4:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Josh, you would like Yamagata Taika, the pillar of Confucian orthodoxy at the Meirinkan, who upheld the Tokugawa belief that "what was, was for the best and had to be." He wrote to Shōin to tell him sternly, "We must rule the country by firmly maintaining the great laws of our forebears without changing them..."

But who had the greater influence on events and who remembers the name of Yamagata Taika today? Very Happy
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 5:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
As a side note, I find it really interesting that the 'great traditions' of Japan are basically imported Chinese ideals.

BTW, something was mentioned earlier about Sonno-Joi always being mentioned in the same breath, but how 'Sonno' and 'Joi' seem to be two separate philosophies, with different reasons behind them. I think this latter view is probably more correct, it is just that the majority were both Sonno AND Joi because the emperor had expressed a desire for Joi.

The other issue is "what does 'sonnou' mean?" and I think we are getting that with some of the different people we are talking about. Nariaki seems to have felt that it means the Shougun is the top of a pyramid under the emperor. Shoin seems much more 'Sonnou-toubaku' in that he sees the shogunate as an unjust usurpation of imperial rule, as his comparison to famous Chinese despots suggests. But all the nuance gets laid at the feet of 'sonnou'.

It makes a great rallying cry. It is like "Pro-Life/Pro-Choice". If you aren't pro-life, then you must be pro-death, right? And if you aren't pro-choice that means you are anti-choice/anti-freedom. Most people are all for life AND all for choice.

In Japan, nobody could really not be "sonnou". Even the bakufu used it (after all, it was where their own power theoretically derived). And I suspect we will hear just how the Bakufu approached it when we get around to Ii Naosuke.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 6:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
JLBadgley wrote:
The other issue is "what does 'sonnou' mean?" and I think we are getting that with some of the different people we are talking about. Nariaki seems to have felt that it means the Shougun is the top of a pyramid under the emperor. Shoin seems much more 'Sonnou-toubaku' in that he sees the shogunate as an unjust usurpation of imperial rule, as his comparison to famous Chinese despots suggests. -Josh
Nariaki does seem to have put more stock in the Bakufu than did Yoshida. But I don't think that Yoshida was full-out "sonno tobaku" until 1858, when it became clear to him that the bakufu was not fulfilling its Mandate from Heaven. Before that, he was calling for reform, because he felt that it had a chance...before Ii Naosuke stomped on everything, that is.
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