The Sakura Sogoro story is a narration of the life and history of Sakura Sogoro or Kiuchi Sogo, who was an archetype of the peasant martyr, a man who deliberately sacrificed for the community. The narrative provides lifetime events of Sogoro. The narrative has widely been shared of Sakura Sogoro the hero who took pity on peasants driven to the verge of starvation by the cruel and rapacious taxes levied by the ruler Hotta Masanobu. Sogoro put lots of efforts to repeatedly appeal to the officials for mercy in governing the people, but they were all in vain. He, therefore, dared to petition the shogun, although he was aware that such a move would lead to death. By accepting death, Sogoro remonstrated to the evil Lord of the Sakura domain, forced him to remit the harsh taxes; so that peace and prosperity could return to the land. The author narrates this story of the legend Sogoro that represents the body of a peasant uprising in the Tokugawa period in various approaches so as to function as a counter-myth story.
The legends had not agreed on when Sogoro died, as no contemporaneous documents exist to show his existence or that according to the historical record. To add an insult to an injury, in 1660 Hotta Masanobu lost the document that he had inherited from his father about nine years ago for having himself petitioned the shogun to act benevolently toward Samurai and commoners alike (Borton, Hugh, 35). This doubt is a significant problem in believing the story and considering it to be a real life story. The story is so famous that it is widely shared more as compared to the other three hundred or so still-remembered peasant martyrs. In different approaches, the story shows how the events of Sogoro have occurred in real life.
The similarities that are seen between the story of Sogoro and the stories of other peasant martyrs are too close to be coincidental. On that day three men got beheaded, but however in so outrageous a violation of procedures that the Bakufu had to investigate. The Bakufu executed Kawai together with his son dismissed local officials in the kingdom and also demoted the domain lord to a shogunal bannerman. After following the day the headmen went to present their appeal in Edo, the steps that they followed and the month the ruling authorities’ hauled down their verdict are similar to the dates and course of action given in stories about Sogoro. The way in which the Sogoro story spread from the villages near Narita is similar to the early modern communications. The itinerant storytellers roamed the Japanese countryside during the medieval period but found their freedom of movement restricted during the first two centuries of Tokugawa rule. The place of the itinerant storytellers was then taken up by licensed traveling proselytizers who made regular trips to Japan, drumming up business for their shrines and temples. These proselytizers are the one who communicated the news, and also the monks from local temple wrote the Sogoro petition presented to the shogun and appealed the verdict to execute the whole family. This information insinuates that the monks may also have helped disseminate the story of Sogoro and also write about them. Also, the establishment of a shrine to Sogoro by the Hotta family in 1746 also assists in propagating stories about the legend Sogoro.
Oshio Heihachiro (1793-1837) was born to a minor shogunal vassal in Osaka and was brought up by his grandmother after his parent’s demise. Oshio later moved among adoptive homes of the Bakufu police officers in the city eventually succeeding to his adoptive father’s post as one of Osaka’s sixty yoriki and in 1818 got married to the daughter of a wealthy farmer. Heihachiro worked as a hereditary court detective for the Osaka magistrate and had made a name for himself as a court examiner. Oshio Heihachiro studied Neo-Confucianism under Hayshi Shussai and later became a proponent of Oyomei’s theory of simultaneous origination of knowledge and action (Najita, Tetsuo, 306). Heihachiro quit his government job so as to focus all his efforts in study and writing and also to open a private school, the Senshindo. In 1836, the Temple 7 Famine caused a severe suffering among the poor and in 1837; a small group of armed followers started an uprising called ‘Oshio Heihachiro no ran’ that would lead to the destruction by fire of one-eighth of Osaka. The uprising that aimed at overthrowing the Bakufu authorities failed, and Heihachiro committed suicide. Matsumoto Eiko left Japan and went to San Francisco after publishing her expose of the horrors of industrial pollution in the watarase and Tone watersheds. In 1902 shortly after the failure of Tanaka Shozo appeal to the emperor, he started documenting an article called ‘river pilgrimages.’ ‘River pilgrimages’ was a series of his exhaustive investigations of the polluted landscapes. By the death of Tanaka in 1913, it is estimated that he had walked or floated the whole Watarase, covering a distance of approximately above 1, 900 kilometers, roughly the distance between Aomori to Kyushu or Dallas or Los Angeles. These revelations of Tanaka confirmed and expanded his understanding of the mutual *********** of humans and nature and transformed Tanaka from a Meiji liberal to an environmental activist. Tanaka based all his political thought on ‘the real powers of the land and water,’ from which he eventually developed his monistic philosophy of poison and flow that, took free-flowing water as the model of freedom and health. Since the inception of the Tanaka’s environmental philosophy, it was developed and given material expression in his fight against the Meiji state’s second Pollution Prevention Committee in 1902 (Stolz, Robert, 88). Tanaka documented how the state’s projects inevitably spilled over into and flowed through the social world. In fighting the committee, Tanaka theorized that the state’s attempt to restrict what he regarded an inherently active nature was not only doomed to fail but also would ignite further violence against nature and people in a series of increasingly costly, autocratic and eventually disastrous engineering projects.
Between the Tokugawa and Meiji times, protests grew, as thousands and eventually, tens of thousands joined in regional protests commonly directed against their richer neighbors and the rulers. The protests were as a result of certain issues and how the government had responded. The crop failure, as well as the threat of starvation, was one of the reasons that provoked outbursts. Other protests were also as a result of local conflicts over the use of communal resources that included water and land (Totman, Conrad, 319). The most significant dispute between the rulers and the ruled was disagreements over taxes such as the escalating demand for corvee labor, especially highway and river duty. The subjects used protests to pass a message on their dissatisfaction with certain issues. Action often followed when petitions failed. The reaction of the rulers and the government on the protests was varied. The government first rejected the demands of the subjects and deployed twelve hundred samurais and jailed about seventy villagers in the course of depression. The eventual outcome of the protests was that the government repudiated several tax measures. Also, the villagers denounced monopoly and all licensing policies that seemed to bring unfavorable prices or destroy marketing rights. The subjects were offered paper money that they objected as they blamed it for inflation or viewed as an ill-concealed way for the government to buy goods and services on the never-never. Another action by the villagers was uchikowashi, in which gangs of villagers or townspeople smashed the shops of moneylenders or people whom they judged to have engaged in the unacceptable exploitative behavior. As time passed, the mobs began attacking residences of government officials and the headquarters of minor domains and district administrators. Massive rioting and also smashing in Edo in 1787 contributed to the routing of the remnants of Tanuma Okitsugu’s leadership group and enabling Matsudaira Sadanobu so as to gain power.
protests were important since the government came up with strategies to prevent
future protests. For instance, after the dry period and crop failure, when the
years of good weather yielded plentiful of harvests, the Bakufu would urge the
daimyo and wealthy merchants to store surplus grain as a way of building food
reserves for use during future crop failures and stem price declines. The
government also responded with ad hoc measures such in Fukuyama where they
reversed policies. The objective of all the efforts was to ease the
difficulties encountered by the community.
Borton, Hugh. “Peasant uprisings in Japan of the Tokugawa period.” (1968). P. 35-75
Najita, Tetsuo. Readings in Tokugawa thought. No. 9. Center for East Asian studies, University of Chicago, (1993): p. 305 -307
Stolz, Robert. Bad Water: Nature, Pollution, and Politics in Japan, 1870–1950. Duke University Press, (2014): P. 86-111
Totman, Conrad. Early Modern Japan. Univ of California Press, (1993): p. 318-512