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Modern History Sourcebook:
Honda Toshiaki:
A Secret Plan for Government, 1798

Not until Tokugawa Ieyasu used his power to control the strong and give succor to the weak did the warfare that had lasted for three hundred years without a halt suddenly abate. If now, in a time of peace, the country were ruled in accordance with the four imperative needs [to learn the effective use of gunpowder, to develop metallurgy, to increase trade, and to colonize nearby islands and more distant lands], the prices of all commodities would be stabilized, and the discontent of the people would thus be cut off at the root.

However, in recent days there has been the spectacle of lords confiscating the allocated property of their retainers on the pretext of paying back debts to the merchants. The debts do not then decrease, but usually seem to grow larger. Is this not a sad state of affairs? The merchant must feel like a fisherman who sees a fish swim into his net. Officials of the daimyo harass the farmers for money, which they claim they need to repay the daimyo's debts, but the debts do not diminish. The officials are blamed for this situation, and are dismissed as incompetent. New officials then harass the farmers in much the same way as the old ones. No matter how hard the daimyo and their officials rack their brains, they do not seem to be able to reduce the debts. The daimyo turn over their domains to the merchants, receiving in return an allowance with which to pay their public and private expenses.

In spite of the European example, the Japanese do not look elsewhere than to China for good or beautiful things, so tainted are the customs and temperament of Japan by Chinese teachings. China does not merit being used as a model. Ships should be sent to all countries to obtain products needed for national consumption and to bring precious metals to Japan. The policies followed by the various ruling families until now have determined that the lower classes must lead a hand-to-mouth existence. The best part of the harvests of the farmers who live on the domains of the empire is wrenched away from them. The lords spend all they take within the same year, and if they then do not have enough, they oppress the farmers all the more cruelly. This goes on year after year.

Soon all the gold and silver currency will pass into the hands of the merchants, and only merchants will be deserving of the epithets "rich" and "mighty." Their power will thus grow until they stand first among the four classes. When I investigated the incomes of present-day merchants, I discovered that fifteen-sixteenths of the total income of Japan goes to the merchants, with only the rest left for the samurai. Clearly, then, unless the samurai store grain it is impossible for them to offer any relief to the farmers in years of famine. And all this because the right system has not been established.

By means of the plans outlined in the account of the four imperative needs, the present corrupt society could be restored to its former prosperity and strength. The ancient glories of the warrior-nation of Japan could be revived. Colonization projects would gradually be commenced and would meet with great success. Then, under enlightened government, Japan could certainly be made the richest and strongest country in the world.


Source:


This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use of the Sourcebook.

© Paul Halsall, July 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu