The shogun-dog, animal rights activist

- through Francois Leclercq

Published on

In 1685, a Japanese dictator decided to protect dogs in the name of the Buddha.

It was in Japan, in February 1646, that Tokugawa Tsunayoshi was born. He belongs to the clan of shogun (dictators) who have dominated Japan since Tokugawa Ieyasu took power in 1600. In 1681, Tsunayoshi became the 5e shogun of this dynasty.

His reign benefits from a favorable context, because the archipelago prospers. The flourishing internal trade fuels the rise of the bourgeoisie. This supports Tsunayoshi, who embarks on a policy of redistribution of wealth, by heavily imposing the elite of the samurai. In particular, he orders officials to feed and house the poor at the expense of the state…

But one day, Tsunayoshi loses his only son. Rumor has it that he then consulted a Buddhist monk, and that this monk would have accused him of having neglected the Buddha. The death of her child would be the sign that Heaven reproaches her for governing badly, for not protecting the weak enough. The dictator will then work to improve the fate of vulnerable beings, orphans, widows... And also that of the animal associated with his astral sign: the dog.

Death penalties for dog killers

From 1685, he promulgated a series of so-called laws of Compassion which would later earn him the nickname of shogun-dog. mistreat a quadruped, whether dog or horse, first becomes liable to fines or imprisonment. Then he decides to toughen the penalties and decrees that killing a dog is worth the death penalty. However, the upper castes have hundreds of hunting dogs, an activity long banned by Buddhism, but widely practiced by the nobles. The poor themselves force stray dogs into bloody fights, to bet and thus try to earn money. With these new laws of Compassion, it becomes very dangerous to attack these animals, including when they cause nuisance... One of the first victims is a veterinarian, who crucified a dog to punish him for having killed one of his his ducks. During a trial before the Supreme Court, the dignitary is sentenced to ritual suicide.

Since killing dogs is a death sentence, uncontrolled packs multiply, like accidents. In 1695, the dictator, threatened by popular discontent, forced landowners to build kennels to accommodate all these wanderers.

By striving to defend the weak, human and animal, in a society dominated by the violence of the samurai, the shogun-chien was perhaps, in his own way, a predecessor of the current antispeciesist militants.

When he died in 1709, his nephew and successor, Ienobu, abolished the laws of Compassion, claiming that this act resulted from the last wishes of his predecessor. Tens of thousands of city dogs were immediately captured and deported to the countryside.

In the history of Japan, Tsunayoshi has long been presented as a madman who wanted to extend the protection of the Buddha to dogs, and for this oppressed his people, without taking into account the non-violence that Buddhism preaches. But by striving to defend the weak, humans as well as animals, in a society dominated by the violence of the samurai, he was perhaps, in his own way, a predecessor of the current anti-species activists?

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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