Yoshida Shôin was a prominent sonnô jôi activist of the 1850s. Strongly influenced by Mito thought, ideas of bushidô, and neo-Confucianism, he had a number of disciples who would go on to be profoundly influential.
Shôin was born the son of a low-ranking retainer of Chôshû domain. He was widely well-read, having studied books of military science, Confucianism, and bushidô in the tradition of Yamaga Sokô before journeying to Tôhoku, unauthorized, where he studied briefly under Rangaku (Dutch Studies) scholar Sakuma Shôzan.
He was stripped of his samurai status as a result of this unauthorized journey. Later, having decided Japan needed to prepare to defend itself against the Western powers, he attempted to stowaway on one of the ships in Commodore Matthew Perry's fleet, in order to learn more about the West and Western military capabilities. He was discovered, however, and placed under house arrest in Chôshû. Following his release, he began attracting disciples, including Kido Kôin, Yamagata Aritomo, and Itô Hirobumi.
Like many of the time, he accused the Tokugawa shogunate of thorough weakness and incompetence in its failure to repel and expel the "barbarians." Though at first Shôin advocated for simply replacing shogunate officials with other, more competent, officials, he later turned to advocating the overthrow of the shogunate itself. In 1858, the shogunate sent a representative to Kyoto, to request Imperial authorization to agree to the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the US and Japan (also known as the Harris Treaty). Shôin plotted to assassinate this shogunal representative, but his plot was discovered, and Shôin was captured and executed the following year.
- Conrad Schirokauer, David Lurie, and Suzanne Gay, A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, Wadsworth Cengage (2013), 163-164.
- Romulus Hillsborough, "Yoshida Shôin: The Archetype of Japanese Revolutionaries," Tokyo Journal, Autumn 2002.