Sugi Toshisaburo (1845-1876): Deaf-Mute brother of famous philosopher

Yoshida Shoin
Sugi Toshisaburo
SUGI Toshisaburo was born Deaf-Mute at Hagi City, Choshu Domain (currently the Yamaguchi Prefecture) in 1845 as the third son to the lower class samurai SUGI Yurinosuke.

In the childhood, Toshisaburo communicated with the parents and siblings through writing or the use of home signs. Also he learned how to write and read from one of his uncles. It is said that the Japanese characters that he copied were very good.

Toshisaburo had an elder brother YOSHIDA Shoin (1830-1859) by 15 years senior. Shoin was a Choshu feudal clan samurai, a great philosopher and educator as well as a virtually spiritual theorist of the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

Shoin was adopted by the Yoshidas, thereafter his family name was changed to Yoshida. Toshisaburo had pockmarks on the face, but he was said that his look was like Shoin.

Toshisaburo always sat quietly by his father or Shoin whenever they read a book even if they all didn't communicate verbally.

Shoin entrusted his younger sister Chiyo and his disciple KANEKO Kensuke to educate Deaf brother when he was then 10 years old. Both Chiyo and Kensuke put everything they had into teaching Deaf-Mute brother through writing and connecting a thing to the word.

On the way traveling in Kyushu, a southern island of Japan, in December, 1850, Shoin stopped at Kumamoto and prayed piously in front of the Kiyomasa* Shinto Shrine at midnight that his Deaf-mute brother would be able to speak like himself.

*KATO Kiyomasa was a warrior and feudal lord of Higonokuni (currently the Kumamoto Prefecture) during the Toyotomi reign (ca. 1580's). It is said that he hardly spoke since birth until he started speech when growing up.

Shoin has stated about his Deaf-mute brother in his paper in 1858. "My younger brother Toshisburo is 14 years old now, Deaf-mute since birth. He can copy Chinese characters, but reading and writing are impossible for him after all."

In January 1854 when Comparator Matthew Calbraith Perry stopped by in Japan for the second time with his squadrons, Shoin and his fellow planned and tried to stow away on one of the squadrons, but failed. They were imprisoned at Hagi. Shoin was confined at his parents' home in 1855.

Two years later in 1857, Shoin became a master teacher at a private school, the Matsushita Village Juku (school) which his uncle opened, and taught the students who would be prominent leaders in the Meiji Restoration, such as TAKASUGI Shinsaku (courageous Chushu samurai), ITO Hirofumi (four-time Prime Minister), YAMAGATA Aritomo (field marshal in the Imperial Japanese Army and twice Prime Minister of Japan), etc.

Shoin allowed Toshisaburo to be present during his lecture at the school. Toshisaburo was quick, not much different from a hearing person, and also very so polite and gentle that hearing people would get embarrassed.

The Tokugawa shogunate ordered Choshu clan to send Shoin to Edo [current Tokyo] in 1859 due to the purge. Shoin was admonished to go to Edo by the guards in May, 1859. It is said that he clasped Toshisaburo's hands before the separation, giving him the last message with emotion coming up, "Every patience is the first".

Shoin confessed the assassination attempt on the shogunate top officer and explained about his own ideology, which led to punish him to decapitation at the age of 29.

Aware of being Deaf-Mute himself, Toshisaburo always refrained from visiting other friends, and earned a small amount by doing needlework. After the deaths of the male members,  he faithfully kept the family tradition to holding a spiritual service of the ancestors, always making himself neat.

Toshisaburo died at the age of 32 on February 1, 1876.

YOSHIDA Shoin (English):

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