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From the Art of Victory to the Art of Keeping Peace: The Dao De Jing and Early 17th Century Tokugawa Bakufu Military Strategy

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Using the material of  a  crucial Tokugawa era normative document, the Laws for the Military Houses (Buke Shohatto) in  its first edition (1615) and the Hereditary Book on the Art of War (Heihō Kadensho, 1632), composed by Yagyū Munenori (1565–1646),  a prominent statesman and fencing teacher of the first three Tokugawa shoguns, this article considers the influence of the Dao De Jing on the military-political doctrine of Tokugawa bakufu of the first half of the 17th  century.  The analysis of these sources gives us reason to believe that the concept of government in accordance with the Dao, stated in the Dao De Jing, which permitted the use of armed force only as an extreme measure of defense, was widely discussed by the Japanese elite in the first half of the 17th century  and played a significant role in determining the administrative and military policies aimed at securing peace in the country. This strategy eventually resulted in a series of measures aimed at preserving the dominance of the military-feudal class, strengthening the bakufu control over the han, quantitative and qualitative reduction of armed forces, the reduction of military education of the samurai to classes at private martial arts schools, which did not prepare the troops for large-scale action. Eventually, this significantly contributed to Japan having two and a half centuries of peace despite the formal dominance of the military.

About the Author

A. M. Gorbylev
Lomonosov Moscow State University
Russian Federation

Gorbylev Aleksei Mikhailovich – Ph.D. (History), associate professor, Department of History and Culture of Japan, Institute of Asian and African Studies, Lomonosov Moscow State University (IAAS of MSU).



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For citations:

Gorbylev A.M. From the Art of Victory to the Art of Keeping Peace: The Dao De Jing and Early 17th Century Tokugawa Bakufu Military Strategy. Russian Japanology Review. 2022;5(1):97-110.

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