Yoshida Shoin

Yoshida Shoin (吉田 松陰 Yoshida Shōin, 1830-1859) was a Japanese scholar and teacher.

Born in Choshu domain to a samurai family, at age five this child prodigy began to study tactics, at age eight he attended college, at age nine he taught in college, and at age ten he impressed the Mori daimyo family with a military lecture he had delivered.

Matthew Perry visited Japan in 1853 and 1854. Shortly before Perry left, Yoshida and a friend tried to gain admittance. They first presented a letter asking to be let aboard one of his ships, so they could learn about the West in the United States, and then in the dead of night tried to secretly climb aboard. Perry's troops noticed them, and they were refused. Shortly thereafter, they were caged by Tokugawa bakufu troops. Even in a cage, they managed to smuggle a written message to Perry. Yoshida Shoin was sent to a jail in Edo, then to one in Hagi where he was sentenced to house arrest.

Yoshida had never introduced himself to Perry, who never learned his name.

While in jail, he ran a school. After his release, he took over his uncle's tiny private school, Shoka Sonjuku to teach the youth military arts and politics. Forbidden from travelling, he had his students travel Japan as investigators.

By 1858 Ii Naosuke, a bakufu official who signed treaties with the Western powers, began to round up sonno-joi rebels in Kyoto, Edo, and eventually the provinces. Many of Yoshida Shoin's followers were caught up in the dragnet. That year Yoshida Shoin put down the brush and took up the sword. When Ii Naosuke sent a servant to (unsuccessfully) ask the emperor to support one of his treaties with "barbarians", Yoshida Shoin led a revolt, calling on ronin to aid him, but received very little support. Nonetheless, he and a small band of students attacked tried to kill Ii's servant in Kyoto. The revolt failed, and Yoshida Shoin was again imprisoned in Choshu.

The next year, Choshu was ordered to send it's most dangerous insurgents to Edo's prisons. Once there, Yoshida Shoin confessed the assassination plot, and from jail, continued to plot the rebellion. He did not expect to be executed until the Tokugawa executed three of his friends. When it was Yoshida's turn, he was composed - his executioner said he died a noble death. He was 29 years old.

At least two of his students, Takasugi Shinsaku and Ito Hirobumi later became famous, and virtually all of the survivors of the Sonjuku group became officers in the Meiji Restoration. Takasugi led rifle companies against the shogun's army when it failed to conquer Chosu in 1864, rapidly leading to the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Ito Hirobumi became Japan's first prime minister. His admirer Maebara Issei was later killed rebelling against the Meiji regime.

"To consider oneself different from ordinary people is wrong, but it is right to hope that one will not remain like ordinary people."


National Geographic Article (http://www.shotokai.com/ingles/history/hagi.html)de:Yoshida Shōin ja:吉田松陰


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