Tokutomi Soho

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  • Birth: 1863
  • Death: 1957
  • Japanese: 徳富蘇峰 (Tokutomi Sohou)

Tokutomi Sohô was a best-selling author of the Meiji period, known for his writings on a variety of social and political subjects.

He was born in Kumamoto han (aka Higo han), the son of a gôshi (rural samurai), and studied at the Kumamoto Western Studies School (Kumamoto Yôgakkô) before enrolling at the English school at Dôshisha in Kyoto. He attended but did not complete the program in Kyoto, and returned to Kumamoto, where he established a private academy called the Ôe gijuku.

Sohô published Shôrai no Nihon ("Japan of the Future") in 1886, and moved to Tokyo, where he founded an association called the Min'yûsha ("Society of Friends of the People"). A journalist, Christian, and founder of Kokumin no Tomo ("Friend of the Nation's People"), Japan's first modern mass market journal, Tokutomi spent much of the following years as an outspoken pacifist and supporter of parliamentarianism & populism (heimin shugi).

In the 1890s, however, he began to gain a strong interest in the writings of Herbert Spencer, and the ideas of Social Darwinism, shifting from his earlier pacifism to now advocate nationalism and imperialism. He entered the national government and served as Counselor of the Ministry of Home Affairs during the administration of Prime Minister Matsukata Masayoshi beginning in 1897, serving under Prime Minister Katsura Tarô as well, in the early years of the 20th century.

In a 1913 text called Jimmu ikkagen ("A Tract for the Times"), Sohô wrote that Japan had only two choices - self-reliance or dependency - and, like many other thinkers of his time, argued that Japan could only choose between imperialism, or risking being imperialized. He noted the great costs of Japan's past imperial efforts, from the Taiwan Expedition of 1874, to the very costly Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, from which he claimed Russia recovered quite quickly, to such a degree that one might even think it was Japan that had lost the war. Still, he argued that such costs were unavoidable if Japan was to follow the path towards securing its ability to be self-reliant, and free from Western domination. "It is a policy," he wrote, "born out of necessity if we are to exist as a nation and survive as a race."[1]

In 1929, Sohô retired from the Kokumin Shimbun ("Citizens' Newspaper") company, and began writing guest pieces for the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun. He became Chairman of the Nihon Bungaku Hôkokukai (Patriotic Association for Japanese Literature) and the Dai-Nihon Genron Hôkokukai (Japanese Journalism Patriotic Association) in 1942, and was awarded the Order of Culture the following year. Following World War II, Sohô was suspected of war crimes, and was blacklisted from government service by the Occupation authorities. He continued his literary activities, however, and published a History of the People of Early Modern Japan (Kinsei Nihon kokumin shi) in 1952. His younger brother Tokutomi Roka was a prominent novelist of the time as well.


  • Marius Jansen, "Japanese Imperialism: Late Meiji Perspectives," in Mark Peattie (ed.), The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895-1945, Princeton University Press (1984), 65-66.
  • "Tokutomi Sohô," Portraits of Modern Japanese Historical Figures, National Diet Library.
  1. Jansen, 66.