Intellectually and institutionally, the Tokugawa period was the most vigorous of Japan's historical eras. It was deeply steeped in contrast and variation. On the one hand, there were Confucian scholars who did not hesitate to call themselves "eastern barbarians" and did not hide their adulation for the country of the "Sage," China. On the other hand, there were kokugaku (national learning) scholars who reveled in their ethnocentrism. Some avidly studied Western scientific methods, while others found inspiration in the textual criticism of Confucian or Japanese classics.

Neo-Confucianism as propagated by Zhu Xi (1130-4200, in Japanese, Shushi) of Song China became the most influential doctrine in shaping the thought and behavior of the Japanese people. This was in part due to the state sanction and encouragement given to its teachings. Tokugawa Ieyasu and his successors found its ideal of orderly submission to the authorities well suited to the bakufu's desire to maintain a stable political and social order. Its ethical code gave jurisdiction to the theory of the four classes, and likened the samurai-administrators of Japan to the scholar-gentry class of China. In a sense, Tokugawa Japan was far closer to China in political outlook than any other period of Japanese history. In spite of its han-system, which was a formal feudal structure, the Tokugawa bakufu was far more centralized and exercised a larger degree of control over the entire country. Thus Confucianism, which flourished side by side with China's imperial system!which was highly centralized!could find fertile soil for growth in Tokugawa Japan.

However, official sanction alone cannot explain the strength exhibited by Neo-Confucianism. Its acceptance came also in part because of its rationalism, humanism and pragmatism. A favorite text of the Neo-Confucianists was "the investigation of things," taken from the Great Learning (Daxue). The text taught the Japanese to look into the laws of human society and to take interest in natural phenomena. Zhu Xi's emphasis on basic human relationships, such as the Five Constant Virtues (see Document 1), gave the basis for formulating a secular society. And within this otherwise rigid legal and ethical structure, Confucianism also found a way to temper justice with mercy (see Document 7).

The Confucian orthodoxy in Tokugawa Japan was vigorously promoted by Hayashi Razan (1583!1657) who became an advisor to Ieyasu in 1608. In 1630 he established a private school in Ueno, Edo, which later became the official bakufu school by the name of Shoheiko. Initially only the bakufu samurai were admitted as its students, but later samurai from the han and commoners were also admitted. This example set by the bakufu to encourage learning was emulated by many han administrations in founding their own han schools in later years. Various shogun and daimyo also became patrons of important Confucian scholars.

The establishment of the neo-Confuician orthodoxy of the Zhu Xi school did not deter the founding of other schools. There were among others, the Oyomei (Wang Yangming) school (Document 3) and the ancient learning (kogaku) school (Document 4), the latter resembling the Han learning school in Qing China. Even though there were proscriptions, the official attitude was altogether benign toward the heterodox schools. The rise of the chonin class further spread the popularization of learning, which was represented by Ishida Baigan's (1685!1744) shingaku (study of the mind) and the education of the masses.

With the existence of the Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming and other schools, Tokugawa Japan resembled the neighboring Qing in the diversity of Confucian thought. However, unlike China, official Confucianism was not wedded to the civil service examination, and was thus relatively free from that stratifying influence. Confucian scholars advocated the use of men of talent, which was often implemented under the multi-han system, through the practice of delegation of power, and at times through the system of adoption.

The Confucian scholars were keenly aware of being Japanese, and there was a strong tendency to make the universalistic doctrine of Confucianism fit the particularistic needs of Japan. This trend was begun with Hayashi Razan, the first head of the University. In a similar vein Confucianism could give direction to the nationalistic tendencies, as witnessed in the compilation of the Dainihonshi (History of Great Japan), by the house of Mito.

The particularism and nationalism of these Confucian scholars were shared by the kokugaku scholars. In addition, they also shared the rationalistic approaches of the Confucianists in their study of Japanese classics. This was so in spite of their proclivity toward favoring the Shinto myths, and of their unnecessary glorification of Japan's past. The kokugaku scholars also provided a rallying point for the imperial restoration, by articulating the supremacy and legitimacy of the imperial line. Theirs could also become a voice of egalitarianism in that they suggested that under the emperor there was no distinction among the four classes (Documents 11 and 12).

Rationalism and the spirit of scientific investigation can be freely discerned in the examples set by the scholars of the Dutch studies (Document 10). Altogether, the Tokugawa era was a vibrant age, providing a springboard for Japan's modernization.


Reproduced below are sample writings of Hayashi Razan (Documents 1 and 2), Nakae Toju (Document 3) and Ito Jinsai (Document 4), representing the official Zhu Xi school, Oyiomei (Wang Yangming) school, and ancient learning (kogaku) school, respectively. They attest both to the variety and vitality of Tokugawa thought.

Hayashi Razan was an advisor on education and foreign affairs to Tokugawa Ieyasu, and was responsible for drafting many of Ieyasu's laws and injunctions (Document 1, excerpted from several of his writings, shows the use of Confucian precepts to justify the authority of the Tokugawa bakufu and the social order dictated by it). In his quest to make Confucianism the official doctrine, Razan sought Shinto5 as his natural ally against the more pervasive Buddhism. This is shown in Document 2. incidentally, the work begun by Razan was continued by his heirs, and successive generations of the Hayashi family served the bakufu as Daigakunokami (Head of the University).

Nakae Toju (1608!1648) first studied Zhu Xi's teachings but at the age of thirty-seven turned to the teachings of Wang Yangming (1472!1 529). Of special appeal to Nakae were Wang's notions of extending one's intuitive knowledge (ryochi, or in Chinese, hang zhi) and of unity of knowledge and action.

Ito Jinsai (162 7!1705) also studied Zhu Xi, but realized that Zhu Xi taught in Song China, hundreds of years apart from the time of Confucius. He thus started a school that advocated faithful study of the original texts of the Analects and Mencius.

1. Natural Order and Social Order

The Principle (ri, or in Chinese Ii) which existed constantly before and after heaven and earth came into being is called the Supreme Ultimate (taikyoku, Ch. taiji). When this Supreme Ultimate was in motion, it created the yang, and when it was quiescent, it created the yin.[2] The yin and yang were originally of the same substance (ki, Ch. qi) but were divided into two complementary forces. They were further divided into the Five Elements (go-gyo, Ch. wu xing) which are wood, fire, earth, metal and water. When the Five Elements were further divided, they became all things under heaven. When these Five Elements were brought together to take shapes, people were also born.

All creatures existing between heaven and earth were shaped by the Five Elements. However, because of the difference in the Ether (ki Ch. qi), there emerged plants, animals and men....

A concrete object comes into being because of the work of heaven and earth. All creatures, plants, animals and inanimate objects owe their existence to the will of heaven and earth. Thus not a single object lacks within it the principles of heaven....

Therefore the Five Constant Virtues (go-jo, Ch. wu chang) of human-hearted-ness (jin, Ch. ren), righteousness (gi, Ch. yi), propriety (rei, Ch. li), wisdom (chi, Ch. zhi), and good faith (shin, Ch. xin) are given by heaven and exist on account of the principles of heaven....

The five relationships governing the ruler and the subject, father and son, husband and wife, older brother and younger brother, and friend and friend have been in existence from olden days to the present time. There has been no change in these basic relations, and they are thus called the supreme way. In judging the worth of a person, one needs only to use these five relationships as the criteria, and teachings which try to implement the ideals of these five relationships are those of the sage and of the wise men....

Heaven is above and earth is below. This is the order of heaven and earth. If we can understand the meaning of the order existing between heaven and earth, we can also perceive that in everything there is an order separating those who are above and those who are below. When we extend this understanding between heaven and earth, we cannot allow disorder in the relations between the ruler and the subject, and between those who are above and those who are below. The separation into four classes of samurai, farmers, artisans and merchants, like the five relationships, is part of the principles of heaven and is the Way which was taught by the Sage (Confucius)....

To know the way of heaven is to respect heaven and to secure humble submission from earth, for heaven is high above and earth is low below. There is a differentiation between the above and the below. Likewise among the people, rulers are to be respected and subjects are to submit humbly. Only when this differentiation between those who are above and those who are below is made clear can there be law and propriety. In this way, people's minds can be satisfied... The more the rulers are respected, and the more the subjects submit humbly, and the more the differentiation is made clear-cut, the easier it is to govern a country. Among the rulers, there are the Emperor, the shogun, and the daimyo, and even among them there is also differentiation´

[2] The Chinese yin-yang theory conceives of the yang and yin as two opposite mutually complementary forces. The yang represents activity, masculinity, etc., while the yin represents passivity, femininity, etc. All natural phenomena result from the interplay of these two forces.

2. On the Unity of Shinto and Confucianism

Our country is the country of gods. Shinto is the same as the Way of the King (Odo). However, the rise of Buddhism made the people abandon the Way of the King and Shinto. Someone may ask how Shinto and Confucianism can be differentiated. I respond by saying that according to my observation the Principle (ri) is the same, but only its application differs....

In comparing the books on the age of gods in the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan) with Master Zhou's (Zhou Dunyi, 10 17!1073) Taiji tushuo (Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate Explained), I have yet to find any discrepancy in substantive matters. The Way of the King transforms itself into Shinto and Shinto transforms itself into the Way. What I mean by the term "Way" is the Way of Confucianism, and it is not the so-called alien doctrine. The alien doctrine is Buddhism.

3. Nakae Tiju on Filial Piety

Filial piety is the root of man. When it is extinguished from one's mind, his life becomes like a rootless plant, and only sheer luck prevents him from dying instantly. At that time our intuitive knowledge (ryochi) provides a plateau of peace and security (anshin ritsumei no chi) [by commanding us to practice filial piety]. Once we depart from this plateau, we all suffer hardships, and our body and the world surrounding it become nothing but an empty dream. Anyone who dislikes this fate and tries to avoid the empty dream by seeking his solution elsewhere [other than filial piety], is very much confused....

Filial piety represents the summa bonum and essence of the Way in the three realms of heaven, earth, and man. What gives birth to heaven, to earth, to human existence, and to all things, is nothing but this filial piety. Those who study need to study only this. Where is filial piety then? It is to be found in one's own person. Without one's own person, there is no filial piety, and without filial piety there is no person who is able to practice the Way to illumine the world [literally, four seas] and to become one with the divine. ...

Filial piety is the very divine essence of the Great Void (taikyo, or in Chinese, tai xu),[5] and is the factor which enables the Sages to communicate to others of the miraculous work. It is like the handiwork of the august father who is placed together with heaven. Center means to place filial piety in the center. Sincerity means to make [the practice of] filial piety sincere. Teaching means to teach filial piety. Studying means to study filial piety. Unless filial piety is placed in the center of all these endeavors, some of them can become heresy or vulgar learning, and the people engaged in them consigned to an ignoble position. Take heed of these warnings.

[5] A concept advanced by the Sung philosopher Zhang zai (1020!1077). It is pure, all pervasive, and has no image, and is the very essence of the universe and of Ether (chi) which when condensed, forms the concrete objects of the physical universe.

4. Iti Jinsai's Daily Observance

Confucius is my teacher. Anyone who claims to be a student must have the Sage as his guide. He must not hastily follow the footsteps of later Confucian scholars who engage in obsessive hairsplitting arguments for an appropriate means of obtaining the Way. In the end, he accomplishes nothing. Students cannot add or subtract a single letter from the sayings of the Sage. This is so because the two books of the Analects of Confucius and Mencius contain all the definitive teachings of the Way (dori) past and present and all under heaven. They penetrate everything above and below. Confucian scholars of Song quote words of Buddha and Laozi to explain the precepts of the Sages. I am deeply aware of their falsehood.

When I teach my students, I instruct them to read carefully the Analects and Mencius and to concentrate their thoughts on them. If the intent and the writing style of the Sages become evident to the mind's eye, the meaning and the basic thought pattern of the two books can be discerned. Thereafter, the meaning of individual terms can be clearly understood, and no grave mistake is likely to ensue. In scholarship, investigation of the meaning of individual terms in itself is not significant. However, once the meaning of an individual term is lost, mistakes may frequently occur. Therefore always attempt to find the correct meaning of individual terms by basing your interpretation of the Analects and Mencius, and compare the end result with the intent and writing style of the two books. Do not go blindly or in circles in your interpretation by mixing in your own private views.


Unlike their counterparts in Qing China who were preoccupied with ethical introspection and textual criticism, Japanese Confucianists found their best expression in the pragmatic, mundane and political matters. The following two selections represent their sense of political service.

Kumazawa Banzan (1619!1691) became a retainer of Ikeda Mitsumasa, daimyo of the Okayama-han at the age of sixteen. He interrupted his service at age twenty to study under Nakae Toju, but returned to Okayama at the age of twenty-seven. In 1650, he was made a bangashira (group chief or elder), and given a stipend of 3,000 koku, which was an unprecedented sum for scholars. Under Ikeda's benign protection and Kumazawa's leadership, Okavama became the major center of the Oyomei school, which brought the enmity of bakufu officials, and of Hayashi Razan in particular. In 1657, Kumazawa retired from active service, and concentrated on teaching. In 1697 he submitted an opinion to Shogun Tsunayoshi, who ordered his arrest.

The Daigaku Wakumon (Document 5) was written toward the end of Kumazawa's life somewhere between 1686 and 1691. Like other Confucianists he looked for the emergence of a sage king who would bring about an ideal society. However, unlike those who were of Zhu Xi's persuasion, he taught not blind obedience, but insisted that the king ought to be worthy of his name by practicing jinsei (benevolent rule), among other things.

In the economic sphere, he sought a return to the autarkic, agrarian society. This ideal was shared by Ogyu Sorai.

Ogyu Sorai (1666!1728) conveyed a sense of crisis for the samurai class. His was an age in which merchants prospered and rapid social changes took place. He advocated the return of the samurai class to their lands (see Chapter 8, Document 18), control of the population and actualization of a stable society that would bring back the balance between the four classes of samurai, farmers, artisans and merchants. If one were to preserve the stability of the regime, he reasoned that it required recruitment of men of talent in the bakufu administration. That part of his treatise from Seidan (Political Proposals) is given in Document 6.

5. The Heaven-Appointed Duty of Subjects

Question: What is the Heaven-appointed duty of subjects?

Answer: The Heaven-appointed duty of the subject is to help his lord exercise benevolent government (jinsei) by obeying the judgment and commands of his lord, or making up for his shortcomings. He should impute goodness to his lord and take mistakes upon his own head. He should not assume authority for himself, but impute all authority to his lord. The way of the subject is symbolized by the earth: it should not rise above humble submission. Let him not be turned aside by thought of personal advantage. But if his lord should sin, let him shrink not from correcting the lord at any cost, for thus shall submission be saved from slavery. The Heavenly Way stoops to serve, the earthly way obeys superiors. The interchange of thought between superior and inferior is the law of ruler and subject. . . . Therefore, as has been said: "Let the ruler revere the counsel of his subjects and distrust his own wisdom. A sagacious ruler is calm, deep and judicial, and his subjects dwell in tranquility by willing submission. The Heavenly Way shows its glory by a magnanimous attitude towards all."

Question: Is there any means of foreseeing the approach of national calamities, misfortunes or crises?

Answer: History, both ancient and modern, Chinese and Japanese, proves that a country is well ruled when free course is given to public sentiment, and ill-governed when the channels of public speech are blocked. If the ruler of a country is stupid, public sentiment will have free course, while his cleverness will impede its open expression. There is a passage in the Book of Changes in which the cleverness of a ruler is condemned as tending to a fussiness quite irritative to the popular mind.... A too great confidence by the ruler in his own cleverness will make him unwilling to listen to damaging remarks by the general public, and to remonstrances made by his ministers. When a ruler murders a counsellor, his domain is sure to be overthrown. It has been said that outspoken words from a counsellor may not be becoming in a subject but, they are a blessing to the country....

When the cleverness of a ruler makes him exacting and closely critical of the failures of his people, he will punish them too severely. This is contrary to the Heavenly Way, which guides the people by righteousness and mercy, rather than by threatening and punishment. When the government of a nation has gone astray, Heaven will chastise it through calamities. If storms and floods do not cause the government to mend its ways, Heaven will strike terror in the people's hearts by still greater disasters. Ruin will come at last if these two visitations are not sufficient to check the downward course. With gracious love toward the ruler, the Heavenly Way will make use of these means to prevent the final catastrophe. Rewards and punishments are negative in their nature, a form of necessary evil, while the principles of propriety and music are positive means of guiding the people. It is the Way of the King (odo) to praise the upright with magnanimity and let the perverse go unpunished, depending on their sense of shame to bring about amendment.

Question: If brilliance of mind forms the greatest virtue of a ruler, why is the cleverness resulting from it to be repressed?

Answer: Although a ruler may have a brilliant and virtuous mind, it may not enable him to discover the evildoings of his people, but it will enable him to conceal his own knowledge, to use the knowledge and welcome the remonstrances and warnings of his people. By such true wisdom will a ruler gain a happy, contented mind, establish peace in his realm, and leave a good name behind him. Hence the way of the ruler should be patterned after Heaven: that is, he should not be too severe or headstrong, nor dazzle with his dignity, nor be too harsh in punishing his subjects. Rather, he should be self-controlled and open in counsel, kindly in relations with his subjects, and tempering his knowledge with mercy.

6 Proposal for Employing Men of Talent

It is a general and lasting principle of the natural order that old things should pass away and new things be brought into existence. Everything between heaven and earth is subject to it, and no matter how much one may wish to preserve what is old, it is not within our power to do so. Trees fall into decay, crop succeeds crop every year, men grow old and die and young men take their places!all this happens in accordance with the principle of the natural order by which that which is below rises step by step to a superior position and, when it has reached its zenith, falls into decay and is in turn replaced from below.

Such are the principles of the Changes. But in the matter of government it is characteristic of human nature that the families of men who rendered services to the state in the past should be cherished and their succession assured as long as possible, and that within the family one should never entertain the idea of the early death of one's elders!one's great grandparents, grandparents, father or mother!but should pray that they may live forever. This means that there is a conflict between the principles of the natural order and the normal workings of human nature, for what is old must pass away, no matter how much we may wish to hold onto it. To conclude that it is best that all old things should be swept away at once is to carry wisdom to excess, and is not in accordance with the Way of the Sages. But merely to attempt to preserve what is old is to carry folly to excess and is also not in accordance with the Way of the Sages. The Way of the Sages treats human nature with respect and does not outrage men's feelings; its principles are consistent and clear, without any obscurities, and yet it does not consist in unthinking adherence to what is generally accepted!all these things are essential in ruling the people of a state.

Because of the principle in the natural order which I have mentioned, the descendants of Yao, Shun, YO, T'ang and Wu have vanished without trace, and in Japan the descendants of Yoritomo and Takauji are now no more, while all the other famous families of that time have also become extinct. The ancestors of the present daimyo were men of insignificant social position who rose to power as a result of their services in the field. Even so, daimyo5 living today who stand in the direct line of descent from these men are quite few. But if the men in high positions try to postpone the time when they should give place to others, and are so foolish as to attempt to keep things as they are by laying it down that the families which are in a superior position and those which are in an inferior position shall remain in that state forever, they will be acting against the principles of the natural order. As a result of this, persons of ability will disappear from among the upper class and in the course of time an age of disorder will come, in which men of ability will appear among the lower classes and overthrow the dynasty. The Sages were aware of this principle, and in order that their dynasties should last as long as possible they instituted a system of "rewards and punishments," encouraging and promoting to office men of ability from the lower classes, and removing men from the upper classes as the mind of Heaven willed it, either by their dying without direct descendants, or as a result of their committing some offense. When government is carried on in this way all men of ability are in positions of authority and those who have no ability are in positions of subordination, and because this is in accordance with the principles of the natural order the dynasty remains in power for a long time. It should be realized that if a ruler neglects this correspondence with the natural order, and is not conversant with the principles of governing the totality of Heaven, Earth and Man, his rule will not be in accordance with the mind of Heaven, and will not be true government.

Now the principle of the Changes, that things grow up from below, is no empty imagining. In the course of the year, spring and summer are the seasons in which the spirit of Heaven descends, the spirit of Earth rises, and the two combine harmoniously together so that all things grow. In autumn and winter the spirit of Heaven rises and the spirit of Earth descends, Heaven and Earth separate and cease to be in combination with the result that all things wither and die. A similar thing happens in the world of men.

When the members of the lower orders who possess ability are promoted, the will of those above is diffused throughout the lower classes in a way similar to the descent of the spirit of Heaven. But if good men among the lower orders are not promoted, the feelings of the lower orders are not made known to the upper class, as happens when the spirit of Earth does not rise. The upper and lower classes are then disunited and separated from one another as when Heaven and Earth are not united in harmonious combination, and the state declines in the same way in which all things wither and decay in autumn and winter.

The reason for the fact that after a long period of peace, good men are to be found among the lower orders while the members of the upper classes become more and more stupid, is that all human ability is produced by suffering difficulties and hardships. It is natural that a man's wits should be sharpened when he meets with difficulties and hardships and is knocked about in various ways. So we read in Mencius that when Heaven intends to confer a great office on a man it first makes him undergo all manner of hardships. Such a man is particularly well-suited to government because he has acquired his intelligence in the course of being knocked about as a member of the lower orders, and is therefore well acquainted with the life of the common people. In the Way of the Sages, too, one is commanded to "raise up the worthy and talented," that is, to promote men from below. Again, the record of history shows that by far the greater number of men of worth and talent have come from the lower orders while they have been very rare among those who have enjoyed great emoluments for many generations. All the ancestors of those who for generations have received great emoluments and have occupied high offices acquired intelligence from the hardships which they suffered in the course of the life-and-death struggle of civil war. Hence they did great deeds and obtained great emoluments and high office. But their descendants have enjoyed great emoluments and high office by hereditary succession; they occupy their superior position by reason of their birth, and since they undergo no hardships at all they have no opportunity of developing intelligence. In their high positions they are separated from their social inferiors and are unable to understand their feelings. They are reared in the midst of the praise and adulation of their household retainers, so that they become conceited in a wisdom which they do not possess. They receive respect on account of their birth, and, believing that this is merely what is due them, are not disposed to be deeply grateful for the benefits which their superiors have conferred upon them, while in personal conduct they act in an arbitrary fashion and think of their social inferiors as so much vermin.

This is characteristic of human nature and it is only natural that this should come about, for these are faults which anyone in a superior social position can scarcely avoid even if he should be endowed with natural intelligence. Even the clever men who may happen to be among the upper classes are separated from the common people by such an unbridgeable gulf that they are unable to grasp their feelings. They are used to coming into contact with them only in the roles of superior and inferior and in formal situations. It is impossible for them to become really familiar with their inferiors in this way, for they get a very distant view of them by applying their faculties of intelligence and observation to intercourse of this kind. The result is that they become all the more convinced of their own superiority in intelligence. This characteristic of the human mind has existed unchanged throughout all history, and hence in the Way of the Sages the first thing spoken about is the promotion of talent from below, while "seikan," that is, the occupation of important offices by successive generations of the same family, is strongly deprecated.... Some think that if the present rulers are left as they are and good suggestions from the lower orders are put into effect, this fulfills the Sages' injunction to "raise up worthy and talented men." This is a useless quibble which slanders the doctrine of the Sages. If the members of the lower classes are simply made to voice their opinions and then these are put into effect, the manner in which the ideas of talented men in the lower classes are implemented will be very different from what they intended. What is more, if talented men are in the position of having to give their opinions in an inferior status they will be unable to speak freely. Again, even in the case of the same man, his ideas while he is in an inferior position will differ from those he will hold when he has been promoted to a position of authority because he will not have had the necessary experience. After he has been promoted and has had some experience of office his mind will work in a different way because of his change of position. Thus, when the Sages spoke of promoting the worthy and talented they did not refer to such sophistical nonsense as the opinion which I have mentioned. Further, acceptance of the principle of promoting men of worth and talent does not imply driving out all those who have held high positions in the past and reversing the position of rulers and ruled. If only two or three, or even only one or two, men of worth and talent are promoted from the lower classes, the hitherto unbroken precedent of hereditary succession will be destroyed and everyone will adopt a new attitude, each working with great diligence in imitation of the men who have been promoted, and thus by one stroke the entire country will be transformed into a better state.