Kindness to Animals Decrees

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  • Japanese: 生類憐之令 (shôrui awaremi no rei)

The Kindness to Animals Decrees were a group of policies or edicts issued by Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi in the 1680s-1700s, aimed at protecting animals. These decrees earned Tsunayoshi the name "Dog Shogun" (Inu kôbô), and were fiercely criticized for putting the lives of animals ahead of those of people.

The first such decree was issued in 1687. A later one of the decrees, issued in 1708, indicated that all animals are to be kindly treated, and specifically that if horses get tired while being ridden, they are to be stabled and taken care of by whatever mansions are nearby; further, post-horses are not to be overtaxed, and are to be well taken care of in both shogunal and domain lands.

The common practice among daimyô and other high-level elites of exchanging gifts of falcons for falconry, and of cranes and other animals caught by the falcons, was abolished under Tsunayoshi. However, it was resumed some decades later under Tokugawa Yoshimune.[1]

The enforcement or impact of these decrees can be seen in examples of specific incidents, described by Nagoya retainer Asahi Shigeaki in his diary. In 1693/10, a wild boar killed three people in the village of Takadanobaba, on the outskirts of Edo, before being subdued and killed itself. The shogunate ordered that the boar be given a proper burial, and it was later ordered that this funeral was insufficient and a more elaborate burial be provided. However, when the boar's body was exhumed in order to be buried again, it was discovered that the hind legs had been taken by someone to be used for herbal medicine. The man was then arrested and punished, presumably severely. Two years later, after a fire destroyed parts of the city, killing nearly 400 people in the Kishû Tokugawa clan's mansion alone, efforts were made to find the bodies of dogs killed in the fire, so as to give them a proper burial; when the dogs' bodies couldn't be found, men from the Kishû mansion substituted other dogs, but were found out, and were presumably severely punished. Some days later, someone put up two dogs' bodies in one of the public execution grounds, with a sign reading "these dogs [are being executed for the crime of] borrowing the authority of the shogun in order to oppress the people." The man who put up these signs was later forced to commit seppuku.[2]

The Kindness to Animals Decrees were abolished by Tsunayoshi's successor, Shogun Tokugawa Ienobu.


  1. Asô Shinichi 麻生伸一, "Kinsei chûkôki no zôyo girei ni miru Ryûkyû to Nihon" 「近世中後期の贈与儀礼にみる琉球と日本」、Nihonshi kenkyû 日本史研究 578 (2010/10), 23-24.
  2. Luke Roberts, "A Transgressive Life: the Diary of a Genroku Samurai," Early Modern Japan 5:2 (1995), 27-28.