Although there is an abundance of resource material concerning Oshio Heihachiro in Japanese, there is very little in English. Thus, this thesis seeks to make available and analyse for English readers some of the rich offerings that exist in Japanese. It sets out to describe the life and times of Oshio and to analyse the influences that moulded his thought and that ultimately motivated him to take action against the heartless hierarchy and greedy merchants who refused to show any compassion on the desperately poor during the disastrous days of the Tempo Famine (1830-1837).
The later life and death in an abortive uprising in 1837 of Oshio Heihachiro were a clear commentary on his thought and teaching, namely, the necessity of the unity of knowledge and action. He was a living embodiment of the Wang Yang-ming dictum, "To know and not to act is the same as not knowing at all". His first-hand knowledge of the situation impelled him to action. Oshio's morality and integrity were sincerely demonstrated in his final act of sacrificing his reputation, and even life itself, for his principles. He was a reformer, not a revolutionary as some historians call him. His motivation was moral, not political.
His was the dilemma of being grateful for the favours and status that his family enjoyed through the Tokugawa Shogunate and of being grieved by the corruption and inefficiency exhibited by the Shogunate's representatives, of supporting the system in principle on the one hand and of being exasperated by the intransigence of the system's officials on the other.
With scant planning and preparation, he foolhardily attacked the heartless bureaucrats and wealthy merchants of Osaka. This was tantamount to a challenge against the most repressive powers of the autocratic authority of his day, the Shogunate itself. His revolt was fated to fail but it sent ripples in ever-widening circles throughout Japan in the final decades of the Tokugawa period.