Tokugawa Tsunayoshi

YOSHITOSHI TSUKIOKA: Exploits of the Tokugawa Shogunate: Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, 1874

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646 - 1709), fifth Tokugawa shogun, is called the Dog Shogun for his interest in later life in animal welfare, particularly of dogs. He passed a law protecting the life of all animals -- including such underappreciated species as the mosquito. While this was doubtless an expression of deep Buddhist understanding, it did not go over well with the population, and he is remembered with less than reverence.

Yet his reputation is undeserved. Proclaimed in 1680, Tsunayoshi presided over the urban renaissance of the Genroku, one of the most prosperous periods in Japanese history. A hands-on ruler, he chose his advisors from outside the bureaucracy, and he promoted the Neo-Confucianism of the 12th-century Chinese scholar, Chu Hsi. He aspired to be the perfect sage-king. Tsunayoshi built grand Buddhist temples, establishing shelters for the needy, passed regulations to limit samurai violence and rights, and devoted the resources of his government to the care of the less fortunate, whatever the species. However, this lead to a financial crisis, which in turn lead to increased taxes and expropriations, so that he was became increasingly unpopular with those who felt that taxes were for the other guy to pay.

This series rather amazes me: first, that Yoshitoshi could get away with portraying the Tokugawa shoguns while memory of their power and the rearguard rebellions of Tokugawa loyalists was so fresh, and second, that he did not give to the temptation to either demonise or idolise them. Instead, all are portrayed in situations that might have been plucked from their daily lives, be that a procession to the temple or a child shogun in a play scene.

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Yoshitoshi biography.


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