Mori Yoshiki

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  • Born: 1768
  • Died: 1807
  • Japanese: 芳材 (Mori Yoshiki)

Mori Yoshiki was a prominent late 18th century retainer of the Yamauchi clan, lords of Tosa han.

His father, Mori Hirosada, a member of the Yamauchi clan's mounted guard, died when Yoshiki was five years old. Yoshiki's cousin Mori Hirotake then became head of the Mori family. Two years later, Hirotake adopted Yoshiki as heir. Whether this was out of a desire on Hirotake's part to restore the family to Hirosada's direct lineage, or as the result of pressure from Yoshiki's mother is unclear. In either case, seven-year-old Yoshiki, who had just begun to get used to Hirotake as his brother, now had to re-accustom himself to a relationship with Hirotake as his adoptive father.

Yoshiki had his first formal audience with the daimyô, Yamauchi Toyochika, at that time; now that he was heir to a prominent retainer family, this audience was a part of the standard procedures for him being formally introduced to, and officially acknowledged by, the authorities. Hirotake, meanwhile, was appointed to the companion guard; he traveled to Edo to take up his post, where he died suddenly in 1778. Yoshiki thus became family head at age ten. At age 15, he was appointed to the companion guard himself, and began accompanying the lord on sankin kôtai journeys to and from Edo. While in Edo, he spent time at private academies, exchanging and copying rare manuscripts with others, and through this gaining social connections with samurai from other domains.

He was granted his first government/administrative post in Tosa in 1788 (at age 20). This came after a series of years of considerable financial difficulty for the domain government, and famine for the peasantry, and on the heels of significant peasant uprisings the previous year (in 1787). Among his first duties, Yoshiki was to make a tour of the western portions of the province, to survey conditions and local concerns and desires, and in doing so, to demonstrate to the local people that the lord was concerned with their wellbeing. The following year, Toyochika died. His successor, Yamauchi Toyokazu, appointed his own clique of retainers to his companion guard, sending Yoshiki back home.

Four years later, in 1793, Yoshiki was offered an official appointment again, this time as magistrate in charge of overseeing the domain's ports. According to his office diary, the job involved very little work. He spent five or six days a month at the central government offices, approving requests and reports from his subordinates, and for the remainder of the month was simply "on call." This was a high enough post that much of the actual work was handled by his subordinates, and at the same time a low-ranking enough post that big decisions were made chiefly by his superiors.

Following a 1797 incident in which a domainal retainer killed a rural samurai, and in which Yoshiki played a prominent part in bureaucratic aspects of the investigation, he was elevated in 1797/10 to the post of grand inspector (ô-metsuke). He was one of three men in this post, rotating with the others such that each served as the sole chief inspector for one month out of every three. As inspector, Yoshiki sat in on discussions of policy with senior and junior domain administrators, and played a role in investigating and approving all appointments, as well as many cases of inheritance. He also investigated peasant disputes, uprisings, and the like, and oversaw a staff of lower-ranking inspectors, including kachi metsuke, inspectors of commoner/peasant matters.

After only a few months in that position, in 1798/1, Yoshiki was elevated to junior administrator, the highest post someone of his birth could achieve. He was now a member of the top policy-making organs of the domainal government, below only the senior administrators and the lord himself. As with his position as inspector, he spent only one month out of every three on duty, rotating with two other officials.

Yoshiki served as junior administrator for three years. He advocated a number of policy shifts, including reducing the household’s expenses so as to enable tax reductions. One way he suggested to do this was to cut back on positions which were duplicated between the companion regiment and the domainal administration, having a single person do both. The senior administrators, frustrated with having to deal with Yoshiki, got rid of him by having him promoted in 1801 to guardian of Yamauchi Toyooki, the 8-year-old heir to the domain. This put Yoshiki in charge of Toyooki’s upbringing, among other responsibilities, and also returned Yoshiki to the companion regiment. He accompanied the young Toyooki to Edo in 1802, and back to Tosa in 1804, at which point he was pushed into retirement.

He spent the remaining three years of his life writing, studying, and socializing. Like his father, Yoshiki was an avid reader and copier of historical records and other sorts of manuscripts, and also shared these freely, frequently giving books to others who expressed an interest. He died in 1807, leaving behind many diaries and other documents, which were later compiled by his fourth son, Mori Masana (b. 1805), who also gathered stories from his mother and other relatives, and from Yoshiki’s friends, compiling these into a biography of Yoshiki which serves as a valuable resource on Yoshiki's life, domainal politics, and the like for historians today.


  • Luke Roberts, "Mori Yoshiki: Samurai Government Officer," in Anne Walthall (ed.), The Human Tradition in Modern Japan, Scholarly Resources, Inc. (2002), 25-42.