Arai Hakuseki

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  • Born: 1657/2/10
  • Died: 1725/6/29
  • Titles: Chikugo-no-kami
  • Other Names: 源君美 (Minamoto Kinmi)
  • Japanese: 新井白石 (Arai Hakuseki)

Arai Hakuseki was a Confucian scholar and influential shogunal advisor of the Genroku period (late 17th to early 18th centuries). He was chief advisor under Tokugawa Ienobu, but retired when Ienobu was succeeded as shogun by Tokugawa Yoshimune.


Life & Career

He was the grandson of Arai Kageyu (d. 1609); his father was metsuke Arai Masanari (1601-1682), and his mother, a daughter of the Fujiwara clan by the surname Sakai (1617-1678).

Hakuseki studied Zhu Xi-style Neo-Confucianism under Kinoshita Jun'an.

Hakuseki entered the service of the Hotta clan in 1682, at the age of 26, and later married a daughter of Asakura Nagaharu, another Hotta retainer. His first daughter, Shizu, was born in 1687, but died in infancy, possibly at birth. His second daughter, Kiyo, was born in 1689. Hakuseki's first son, Arai Akinori, was born in 1691; Hakuseki resigned from his service to the Hotta earlier that year,[1] and moved to a farm at Honjô, in Edo, near the banks of the Sumidagawa.[2] Beginning in 1693, he served as an advisor to Tokugawa Tsunatoyo, lord of Kôfu han, remaining his advisor as Tsunatoyo became Shogun Tokugawa Ienobu in 1709.

Hakuseki was granted the court rank of Lower Junior Fifth Rank in 1709,[3] and was named Chikugo-no-kami in 1711.


Hakuseki was particularly influential in effecting a shift in shogunate attitudes and policies regarding foreign relations, articulating the conceptual meaning and discursive value for the shogunate's legitimacy of conceptualizing foreign relations with Joseon Dynasty Korea and the Ryûkyû Kingdom in terms of a tributary relationship patterned after the Sinocentric worldview. In much of his writings and policy advice, he emphasized shogunal authority over the authority or autonomy of the daimyô, and similarly avoided rhetoric of Imperial authority, though without overtly opposing or denying it.[4]

Among other reforms he advised implementing were the reversal of a 1695 debasement of the currency, and a series of regulations on foreign trade implemented in 1715. These regulations restricted the number of Chinese and Dutch ships which could call annually at Nagasaki to thirty and two respectively, and instituted a system in the style of the Chinese tally trade, in which Chinese ships leaving Nagasaki were given half a seal which, when matched up with the other half held by the Nagasaki customs office, constituted a license to trade.[5]

Hakuseki made a point to meet with ambassadors or representatives from foreign countries on a number of occasions, including meeting with Jesuit Giovanni Battista Sidotti in 1708, with ambassadors from Ryûkyû in 1710, and with envoys from Korea in 1711.

Selected Works

  • Hankanpu 藩翰譜 (1702)
  • Tokushi yoron 読史余論 (1712)
  • Sairan igen 采覧異言 (1713)
  • Seiyô kibun 西洋記聞 (1715)
  • Nantôshi 南島志 (1719)
  • Ezo shi 蝦夷史 ("History of Ezo", 1720)


  • Arai Hakuseki, Joyce Ackroyd (trans.), Told Round a Brushwood Fire, University of Tokyo Press (1979), 279-308.
  1. Ackroyd, 283n82.
  2. Ackroyd, 284n86.
  3. Kate Wildman Nakai, Shogunal Politics: Arai Hakuseki and the Premises of Tokugawa Rule, Harvard East Asian Monographs (1988), 200.
  4. Mark Ravina, Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan, Stanford University Press (1999), 25, 42.
  5. Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 63.
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