(Friday Night History) Episode 27: Coast Defense and International Learning

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve looked at two cartographers of the late Edo period, Ino Hanzaemon and his disciple Mamiya Rinzo: their mapmaking endeavors and those maps’ influence on late 18th century Shogunate foreign policy and border defense, particularly in Ezochi: Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kurile islands. This week we’re going to look at another facet of the Japanese response to these concerns around foreign interactions, by examining the work of Sendai retainer and military scholar Hayashi Shihei (1738-1793). His story is a bit different than that of Ino and Mamiya. Where Ino and Mamiya enjoyed Shogunal sanction and their work almost immediately became objects of supreme national security, Hayashi– working for a daimyo, speaking a little *too* stridently about national defense shortcomings– ran afoul of the Shogunate and eventually caused his arrest and imprisonment. A modern Japanese saying has it that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down (Deru kugi wa utareru). In all his eccentricity and all his scholarly excellence, Hayashi was the nail that got hammered down. But his observations were solid and his recommendations prescient, and he not only went on to influence late Edo military science and reforms, but also remains a hometown hero in Sendai. I first saw a bas-relief sculpture of him on Mount Aoba, in 2005. Not bad for an adopted child of Sendai! In short, because of the warnings from Hayashi and others, the Shogunate eventually wisened up and began to implement some mapping projects and defensive improvements in response.

But with that said, let’s get this story rolling, shall we?

Hayashi Shihei was born in Edo in 1738, to the Okamura family, a house of Tokugawa vassals. But the elder Okamura left Shogunate service and a modest stipend, and soon went north to Sendai, where his brother, Hayashi Jugo, served house Date as a doctor. He was hired as a Date vassal in 1756, with a modest stipend of 150 koku, which put him near the bottom tier of vassals in this major domain. However, his family connections brought him much more access than would be afforded to someone of such modest means and of non-Sendai roots; his elder sister Nao, later called Kiyo, had originally worked in the Date estate in Edo, and after the family’s move to Sendai, became a concubine of the 6th Sendai lord, Date Munemura. Thanks to her connections to the very top of the domain’s governing figures and samurai society, the family moved to Kawauchi, the area inside a bend of the Hirose River where the estates of senior Date vassals encircle the foot of Mount Aoba, where the Date castle was located.

Otsuki Bankei’s portrait of Hayashi Shihei. (Source)

Hayashi’s two great works are Sangoku Tsuran Zusetsu (An Illustrated Description of the Three Countries), published 1786, and Kaikoku Heidan (A Maritime Country’s Strategic Discourse), published 1792. In both, he outlined the affairs and current state of Japan, Korea, and China, and argued– stridently– that Japan was at risk from the north, from Russian expansionism. Hayashi’s life is almost exactly coterminous with that of Catherine the Great, after all, under whose leadership the Russian empire expanded significantly and during which time Russia also took its first forays into studying the Japanese language and culture, primarily through the aid of Japanese castaways rescued by Russians.

You can read these works online today! If you’re listening to the podcast, check out the blogpost and follow the links for digitized version of both books, in the archive of Waseda University. For Sangoku Tsuran Zusetsu, check out https://www.wul.waseda.ac.jp/kotenseki/html/ru03/ru03_01547/index.html for Kaikoku Heidan, check out https://www.wul.waseda.ac.jp/kotenseki/html/ke05/ke05_00654/index.html

Map of Korea by Hayashi Shihei. (Image PD)

In order to deal with the threat posed by Russia, Hayashi urged the Shogunate to bolster coastal defense, and to improve military capability by focusing on unit drill rather than on individual martial prowess. Because of the predilection in some quarters to assume that all samurai were individualistic glory-hogs with no idea of unit-based combat, let me remind you that unit-based drill even under traditional systems of Japanese strategy did exist and were fielded, most famously during the Warring States era. But Hayashi was living in the Edo era, under what Western scholars have taken to calling the Pax Tokugawa– training in military arts was primarily undertaken by the individual and not in units, though as discussed in the episode on falconry, unit based training was implemented at least some of the time, disguised as a daimyo’s falconry trips. As a means toward improving Japan’s military strength and bolstering its defense, he also advocated changes to the policy of national seclusion which would have meant significantly greater and more regular Japanese interaction with the outside world. Of course, in order to do these things, the Shogunate’s and the feudal lords’ finances would have to improve in order to be able to foot the bill. To that end, in a memorial he presented to the Date lord, Hayashi also critiqued the system of alternate-attendance under which daimyo were obliged to travel to and from the Shogun’s capital at great expense. This was designed by the Shogunate to keep them spending on pomp and travel rather than on potentially fomenting uprisings, but in the light of what Hayashi saw as a very clear and very present threat, that wasn’t good enough– priorities needed reorganization in order to adequately provide for the national defense.

But while we can, with hindsight, know that he was right, this is also where he ran into problems. Even if his criticisms and calls to action were valid, even if the threat was real, he had spoken too loudly for someone of his relatively modest station even as a samurai. For this, he was imprisoned in 1793. While in confinement, he famously wrote

I have no parents, no wife, no children, no printing block, no money, but I also have no desire for death.

親も無し 妻無し子無し版木無し 金も無けれど死にたくも無し

And from this short declaration, took the style, or pen name, Rokumusai– “Rokumu” is written “Six No’s”. But after a brief confinement, he died later in the same year. And yet, in time, even the Shogunate heeded his words.

It wasn’t that it had much of a choice, if truth be told. For one thing, the Russian incursions particularly to the north only increased, and together with those of British and later American vessels, this was clearly and obviously a problem that the Shogunate eventually knew that it couldn’t ignore. We’ve talked about these incidents and about some of the Shogunate’s response in past episodes, including its initial halting attempts at building an English dictionary. Russian studies in Japan began under the rectorship of Otsuki Jukusai at Yokendo, the Sendai domain’s academy for its samurai which we discussed in our episode about Kotodai Park. This was a policy instituted in light of how the Date forces constantly bumped into imperial Russian expeditions during coast guard duty in Ezochi, or what’s now Hokkaido, the Kuriles, and southern Sakhalin, but it was informed by some of the very critiques that Hayashi had originally raised. By the late 1850s, in the Ansei era, even the Shogunate had come around, authorizing the re-publication of Kaikoku Heidan for a modern audience that was far more interested in military reform and coast defense, in the face of American and British imposed unequal treaties and military interventions.

If, today, you visit Kawauchi, there’s a memorial you should check out. Go to the treeline behind the Sendai City Museum, which sits at the foot of Mount Aoba, right up against the Hirose River. You’ll find a bust of Date Masamune, patterned after part of his equestrian statue that stands at the top of the old castle walls. But, built into a slab of rock nearby, you’ll also find a bas-relief memorial of Hayashi Shihei himself. Adopted son of Sendai, advocate of opening to the rest of the world: in the end, he was vindicated.

Bas relief of Hayashi Shihei at Mount Aoba. Photo by the author.

And in short, Hayashi Shihei walked so people like Mamiya Rinzo and Otsuki Jukusai could run.


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