Dai Nihon Shi

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  • Begun: 1657
  • Completed: 1906
  • Japanese: 大日本史 (Dai Nihon Shi)

The Dai Nihon Shi ("Great History of Japan" or "History of Great Japan") is a history of early Japan written over a period of nearly 250 years by scholars of the Mitogaku school based in Mito domain. It is characterized chiefly by its organization around a narrative of the Japanese imperial line, in emulation of Chinese dynastic histories, beginning with the ancient origins of the imperial line, and ending with the end of the Southern Court in 1392.

The Dai Nihon Shi "was not created with any revolutionary intent,"[1] but was coopted or appropriated by revolutionaries in the Bakumatsu period, to support a pro-imperial (anti-Tokugawa) vision of Japanese history. In particular, such movements used the Dai Nihon Shi as the basis of an understanding of Japanese history centered around the emperor as the chief ever-present element, and the samurai as only temporary; this was later used to justify an expansionist, imperial(ist) Japan.

The project was first begun at the orders of Tokugawa Mitsukuni, lord of Mito, in 1657, with the compilation supervised or directed by Zhu Shunsui. A tentatively completed version was presented to the Tokugawa shogun in 1720, though editing continued for nearly another 200 years after that. A woodblock-printed edition was presented to the emperor in 1851, and then to numerous Shinto shrines, daimyo, and court nobles in 1856.[2]

The content of the Dai Nihon Shi is a narrative history organized around the successive emperors, with sub-chapters devoted to discussions of imperial relatives and notable imperial subjects (both loyal and traitorous). The text ends with the reign of Emperor Go-Kameyama (r. 1383-1392), a product of the attitude that the Southern Court was the legitimate branch of the imperial line, and that its end is thus a rightful place to end such an imperial history.

The work also spun off branch works, such as the Dai Nihon shi sansô (also known as Dai Nihon shi ronsan), written by Asaka Tanpaku, who played a key role in the compilation of the 1720 version. Though excised from the Dai Nihon shi by a later editor, Tanpaku's section circulated in manuscript form and had a notable influence upon other writers of the time, including Rai San'yô.


  • Schirokauer, et al., A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, Wadsworth Cengage (2013), 146.
  • Luke Roberts, Performing the Great Peace, University of Hawaii Press (2012), 167-168, 173.
  1. Roberts, 167.
  2. Ishin Shiryô Kôyô 維新史料綱要, vol 2 (1937), 200.