Yoshida Shoin

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  • Born: 1830
  • Died: 1859
  • Other Names: 吉田寅次郎 (Yoshida Torajirô), 吉田矩方 (Yoshida Norikata), 瓜中万二 (Kanouchi Manji)
  • Japanese: 吉田松陰 (Yoshida Shouin)

Yoshida Shôin was a prominent sonnô jôi activist of the 1850s. Strongly influenced by Mito thought, ideas of bushidô, and neo-Confucianism, he had a number of disciples who would go on to be profoundly influential.

Shôin was born the son of a low-ranking retainer of Chôshû domain, Sugi Yurinosuke. He was widely well-read, having studied books of military science, Confucianism, and bushidô in the tradition of Yamaga Sokô before journeying to Tôhoku, unauthorized, where he studied briefly under Rangaku (Dutch Studies) scholar Sakuma Shôzan.

He was stripped of his samurai status as a result of this unauthorized journey. Later, having decided Japan needed to prepare to defend itself against the Western powers, on 1854/3/27 he and fellow former Chôshû retainer Kaneko Jûsuke asked Commodore Matthew Perry to take them overseas with them, in order to learn more about the West and Western military capabilities. They were rejected by Perry, however, and after turning themselves in were placed under house arrest in Chôshû,[1] and then in prison at Tenmachô in Edo.[2] After a period in prison in Hagi, he was released to be placed under house arrest at his father's home,[3] but was returned to the Noyama prison in Hagi when his father fell ill in 1858/12.[4] Following his release, Yoshida began attracting disciples, including Kido Kôin, Yamagata Aritomo, and Itô Hirobumi.

Like many of the time, he accused the Tokugawa shogunate of thorough weakness and incompetence in its failure to repel and expel the "barbarians." Though at first Shôin advocated for simply replacing shogunate officials with other, more competent, officials, he later turned to advocating the overthrow of the shogunate itself. In 1858, the shogunate sent a representative to Kyoto, to request Imperial authorization to agree to the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the US and Japan (also known as the Harris Treaty). Shôin plotted to assassinate this shogunal representative, but his plot was discovered, and Shôin was captured and executed the following year. His father Yurinosuke and elder brother Umetarô, meanwhile, were stripped of their official positions and sentenced to house confinement.[5]


  • Conrad Schirokauer, David Lurie, and Suzanne Gay, A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, Wadsworth Cengage (2013), 163-164.
  1. Ishin Shiryô Kôyô 維新史料綱要, vol 1 (1937), 576.
  2. Ishin Shiryô Kôyô 維新史料綱要, vol 1 (1937), 587.
  3. Ishin Shiryô Kôyô 維新史料綱要, vol 2 (1937), 151.
  4. Ishin Shiryô Kôyô 維新史料綱要, vol 3 (1937), 110.
  5. Ishin Shiryô Kôyô 維新史料綱要, vol 2 (1937), 175.

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