Tokushi Yoron (読史余論)

Tokushi Yoron (Lessons from History) is a political history of Japan and historical essay written by Hakuseki ARAI, a scholar and politician of the Edo period.


Although he said in his afterword to "Tokushi Yoron" that 'these three books above are drafts of lecture notes from when I gave lectures on ancient and modern times in the presence of my master from spring to summer in the second year of Shotoku (Japan),' it is known from the afterword in kanbun (Sino-Japanese) that in fact the original draft was completed before then. It was written for his master Ienobu TOKUGAWA, who became deeply interested in the historical changes of ancient Japan in times of war and peace, rise and fall, when Hakuseki gave a lecture on "Tongjian Gangmu" (Outline and Details of the Comprehensive Mirror) in his presence.

Structure and contents

"Tokushi Yoron" is a work in three volumes.
He placed an introduction at the beginning of the first volume describing the overall concept, which holds that after the Fujiwara regime was formed, 'the general trends of the world' in Japan 'changed nine times' until it became an age of warriors, then 'changed five more times' before the Tokugawa regime came into existence, namely, 'the theory of the world changing nine times and then five times.'
From the method of considering the start of the regency as the dividing line between 'high antiquity' and the time afterwards, it is thought that he borrowed from the "Jinno Shotoki" (A Chronicle of Gods and Sovereigns).

Hakuseki thought that the development of history was in 'general trends' and expressed the turning points in the system as 'changes.'
Using the Confucian notions of virtue and lack of virtue as the moving forces encouraging these changes, he describes the process of real political power's transfer from the emperors to the Fujiwara Regent's Line, then to the retired emperors, the Minamoto clan, and the Hojo clan. Hakuseki regarded the political history of medieval Japan as a conflict between the power of the court aristocracy and the power of the warriors, with the emperor being placed above them as a ceremonial figure. In the first volume he centered on the process of the court aristocracy's becoming weaker and weaker, then in the second volume describing the outline of the birth and rise of the warrior class going back to high antiquity, with the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth 'changes' in the first volume historically overlapping with the first and second 'changes' in the second volume. This is a method invented by Hakuseki to describe the ups and downs and replacements originating in the triple ruling system in Japan by the emperor, the court aristocracy and the warriors.

One characteristic feature of this book is the evaluation of important affairs and people everywhere in the text using the phrase 'thinking that...,' in order to offer the Shogun Ienobu some guidance for his government and to make them into political lessons.


He was influenced by the "Jinno Shotoki" from the view of the doctrines of Zhu Xi, and it is noticeable that in places his evaluations are unstable; for example, while regarding Emperor Godaigo and the southern court as the legitimate side, since though lacking virtue they held the Imperial Regalia, he also defends Takauji ASHIKAGA's virtue as a person. Furthermore, although he talks about changes in the general trends, his point of view focuses on the actions of the governing classes and a few individuals (the criticism of Yukichi FUKUZAWA). Even considering that some of his character evaluations are distorted and inconsistent in order to justify the Tokugawa shogunate, his contributions are undeniable and he introduced a convincing periodization of Japanese history for the first time and made it possible to write a political history.

[Original Japanese]