The Tokugawa (1600-1868) period witnessed a trend of studying contemporary Chinese speech, known as the tōwa study (study on Chinese speech). This study was notably promoted by of the renowned Confucian Ogyū Sorai (1666-1728) and the word “translation” occupied an essential position in Sorai’s linguistic viewpoints. In the early eighteenth century, Sorai published the famous Yakubun sentei (A took for translation) and initiated the “Translation Society” (yakusha) to practice his method of studying Chinese speech. Whereas the theoretical Yakubun sentei has generated various scholarly inquiries in both Japanese and English, the Translation Society is comparatively less known due to limited information about it. However, the society demonstrates a practical aspect of Chinese language education in premodern East Asia, which bears much significance as "Chinese" was seldom foreign in the premodern East Asia.
This article seeks to delineate a fuller, detailed picture of the Translation Society; through examining various texts and publications in different genres and by authors from varied cultural spheres. It attempts to solve the problems of who participated in the society, how the colloquial Chinese was learnt there, and in which way it was related to other projects on China sponsored by the Tokugawa political power, such as the study of the Chinese penal code. By focusing on the society, this article intends to provide a better understanding of the practical aspect of the Chinese language study in Tokugawa Japan as well as to contextualize the study in the early Tokugawa political and cultural period.