Rai Sanyo (頼山陽)

Sanyo RAI (January 21, 1780 - October 16, 1832) was a historian, composer of Chinese poetry and literary man who lived in the end of the Edo period. He also had a profound knowledge of art. He was also a scholar of Yomeigaku (Wan Yanming school of neo Confucianism) and had a great influence on Heihachiro OSHIO. His childhood name was Hisataro, imina (real name) Noboru, azana (nickname) Shisei, respectively. Sanyo was his go (pen name). He used another go (pen name), "sanjuroppo gaishi", which was taken from thirty six peaks of Higashiyama mountain range in Kyoto. His third son, Mikisaburo RAI, was executed at Ansei no Taigoku (suppression of extremists by the Shogunate in the Ansei era). One of his descendants was Tsutomu RAI, renowned scholar of Chinese literature.


Shunsui RAI, Sanyo's father, excelled in poetry and literature since his childhood and went to Osaka to study in 1766. He studied Shushigaku (Zhu Xi school of neo Confucianism) with Jishu BITO and Seiri KOGA, and opened a private school named "Seizansha" in Edobori-kita, Osaka (Now Edobori, Nishi Ward, Osaka City) and named the residence as "Shunsui Minami ken" (Shunsui's Southern House). Sanyo was born around that time. Sanyo's mother, who was also a literary woman with the gago (pen name) of Baishi, lived to be 84 years old and consequently survived her son, Sanyo.

As Shunsui was appointed as scholar of Jugaku (Confucian scholar) when the Hiroshima domain opened a school in December 1781, the Rai family moved to Hiroshima. Sanyo was brought up in a castle town, Fukuro-machi (now Fukuro-machi, Naka Ward, Hiroshima City). Sanyo, like his father, excelled in prose and poetry since his childhood and showed a strong interest in history. As Shunsui was transferred to Edo, Sanyo studied with his uncle, Kyohei RAI, and when he turned 18 years old in 1797 he went to Edo to study under Jishu BITO, his father's fellow at school. In September 1800 after he came back to Hiroshima, he suddenly attempted to flee the domain and went to Kyoto to hide himself in his dissolute mate Shinkuro FUKUI's house (who later became an official physician to the lord, also known as Susumu FUKUI). Sanyo, however, was found in Shinkuro's house, brought back to Hiroshima, disinherited and put under house arrest. This confinement turned out to be good for Sanyo, because he devoted himself to studying and writing for three years. The first draft of "Nihon Gaishi" (Unofficial History of Japan) was completed around that time.

He was eventually allowed to leave home and invited by Chazan (or Sazan) KAN (1748-1827), who was a scholar of Jugaku as well as a friend of his father Shunsui's, to assume the position of Toko (school manager) at Renjuku opened by Chazan. It was in 1809 that Sanyo was 30 years old. But Sanyo, who was dissatisfied with the present situation and ambitious to become a scholar well known throughout the country, left for Kyoto two years later.

He lived and opened his private school in Rakuchu (Kyoto city central) when he was 32 years old in 1811 and stayed there until he died. After his father, Shunsui, died in 1816, Sanyo collected and compiled his works and published as "Shunsui Iko" (Shunsui's Posthumous Works). The year after next, Sanyo traveled to Kyushu (southern part of Japan) and was acquainted with Tanso HIROSE and others. Sanyo, who lived in Kyoto and continued his writing, completed his representative work "Nihon Gaishi" in 1826. Sanyo was 47 years old then. The next year the book was presented to Sadanobu MATSUDAIRA, who was roju (senior councilor of the Tokugawa shogunate).

Though Sanyo continued his writing and tried to complete such works as "Nihon Seiki" and "Tsugi", his health condition began to deteriorate with persistent hemoptysis since he turned 51 years old or so at the beginning of Tenpo era. He devoted himself to writing even in his worsening health condition, but finally died on October 16, 1832. He died at the age of 53. According to "Ningen Rinju Zukan" (Illustrated Volume of People's Last Moments of Life) written by Futaro YAMADA, Sanyo did not leave his workplace until the last moment of death, letting go of a writing brush from his hand only a few minutes before he died and wearing glasses on his face at the deathbed. He was buried at Choraku-ji Temple in Kyoto Maruyama Park (Kyoto Prefecture). There are the restored residence he lived in and the studio named "Sanshi suimei sho" (the place of outstanding natural beauty) in Fukuro-machi, Naka Ward, Hiroshima City and at Sanbongi-dori, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City, respectively.

Literary Works

Shiki" (The Records of the Grand Historian) written by Sima Qian consists of a total of 130 volumes: "12 volumes of hongi (Annals), 10 volumes of hyo (Tables), 8 volumes of sho (Treatises), 30 volumes of seika (Hereditary Houses), 70 volumes of retsuden (Biographies)". Sanyo formulated his writing plan by following the format of "Shiki": "3 volumes of ki (Annals), 5 volumes of sho (Treatises), 9 volumes of gi (Theories), 13 volumes of seika (Hereditary Houses), 23 volumes of saku (Policies)". Though Sanyo's literary works do not have the part equivalent to "retsuden" - a core part of "Shiki"-, "Nihon Gaishi" (22 volumes), which corresponds to the aforementioned "13 volumes of seika", was written in bibliographical style, so it can be considered equivalent to "restsuden" as well.

"Nihon Gaishi" describes a history of warrior rule in Japan, but some of the historical descriptions contradict with the preceding historical materials. The book should be called historical fiction rather than historical record, but it exerted an immense influence on the sonno joi movement (the movement under the slogan of "Revere the Emperor Expel the Barbarians") at the end of Edo period. He completed the political and economic theories titled "Shinsaku" that corresponded to "5 volumes of sho, 9 volumes of gi, 23 volumes of saku" in 1804 when he was in Hiroshima, and later revised and titled it as "Tsugi". "Nihon Seiki" (16 volumes) that corresponds to "3 volumes of ki" is a history book focusing on the emperors, which was proof-read and published by Sanyo's pupil, Wasuke ISHIKAWA, after Sanyo's death. It is well known that Hirofumi ITO and Isamu KONDO were ardent readers of this book.

Sanyo is also famous as a composer of Chinese poem titled "Fushikian kizan o utsu no zu ni daisu" ('題不識庵撃機山図') beginning with a phrase "bensei shukushuku yoru kawa o wataru", which described the Battle of Kawanakajima and is also popular as a number for shigin (Japanese art of reciting or chanting poems) and kenbu (sword dance). This poem was included in "Sanyo Shi Sho" (Selective Poems of Sanyo) (8 volumes) that was published after his death. His other works included "Nihon Gafu" (1 volume) which described a series of historic events from the ancient period to Oda and Toyotomi period in ballad style. The first chapter of the book begins with the following poem, emphasizing Japan's prosperity based on a continuous imperial throne occupied by a single dynasty and comparing it with downfalls of the Chinese dynasties such as Qin or Han by "Ekisei Kakumei" (the revolution decreed by Heaven when the incumbent emperor is found lacking in moral virtue).

The land of the rising sun, the land of the setting sun.

The emperors of both lands assume the duty decreed by Heaven. While a rooster crows and the day dawns in Japan, there is no sign of daylight yet in Chanan and Luoyang.

The country founded by Ying falls and the country founded by Liu declines as if they are chasing after the setting sun, while the sun always rises over the sea in the east here in Japan.


Mt. Bizan (Gifu City) is said to have been named by Sanyo when he visited his pupil in Mino Province and stopped by at the residence of the Kono family, a village headman in Nishiawano, on his way home, as he was impressed with a graceful appearance of the mountain like a woman's beautifully trimmed eyebrows.

While Sanyo often participated in koto kai (the gathering to appreciate the sound of guqin [ancient Chinese seven stringed zither]) where literary men gathered, Sanyo himself played Heike biwa (Japanese lute).

[Original Japanese]