Tokushi yoron

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  • Date: 1712
  • Japanese: 読史余論 (tokushi yoron)

Tokushi yoron is a history of medieval Japan written by Confucian scholar & shogunal advisor Arai Hakuseki in 1712. Based on a series of lectures he delivered to Shogun Tokugawa Ienobu, it covers the period from the reign of Emperor Montoku (r. 850-858) through that of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 1580s-1590s.

One of the chief overarching themes of the text is proper governance, explained through the provision of historical examples of both good and bad rule. Hakuseki connects this into concepts of the "retribution of Heaven," i.e. that bad rulers are punished by Heaven, and that difficulties faced by a regime are often the result of the regime being punished by Heaven for poor governance or other unvirtuous actions. For example, he condemns the coup-de-etat committed by Emperor Temmu in the 672 Jinshin War, writing that it was due to this violent and inappropriate action that Temmu's line was allowed to continue for only seven generations before being replaced by descendants of Emperor Tenji (whose son Prince Ôtomo Hakuseki saw as having been wrongly denied the throne). Hakuseki employs this philosophy, too, in roundly justifying the decline of imperial power and the rise of samurai rule - that is, justifying the legitimacy of the Tokugawa shogunate - writing that Imperial rule had been lacking in integrity since the time of Emperor Go-Daigo, that the samurai were the only ones who for centuries "strove to be faithful and considered what was right, and exerted their strength and sacrificed their lives," and that "it is only right that those who have taken it upon themselves to do what is honorable should be rewarded... it was not without reason that thereafter the military houses gained control of Japan." Finally, Hakuseki explains the progression from rule by Oda Nobunaga to Toyotomi Hideyoshi to the Tokugawa clan in similar fashion, invoking the ancient Chinese concept of the Mandate of Heaven.


  • Watanabe Hiroshi, A History of Japanese Political Thought, 1600-1901, International House of Japan (2012), 149-151.