CONFUCIANISM IN THE EDO (TOKUGAWA) PERIOD
In Japan, the official guiding philosophy of the Tokugawa period (1603-1867)
was Neo-Confucianism. This philosophy profoundly influenced the thought and
behaviour of the educated class. The tradition, introduced into Japan from China
by Zen Buddhists in the medieval period, provided a heavenly sanction for the
existing social order. In the Neo-Confucian view, harmony was maintained by
a reciprocal relationship of justice between a superior, who was urged to be
benevolent, and a subordinate, who was urged to be obedient and to observe propriety.
The Chinese Neo-Confucian scholar Chu Hsi's (aka Zhu Xi) (1130-1200) ideas were the most
influential, but they were by no means the only ones studied in the Tokugawa
So Ieyasu is kind of a "Super Daimyo." But his authority is far from absolute; he is not like a European King; he does not claim nor command all the land in his realm directly. He exercises quite a bit of control, but only indirectly. Technically, each of the approximately 250 Feudal Lords or "Daimyo" controls his own domain or han.
In 1603, Ieyasu gets the Imperial Court to grant him the title of Shogun. This helps. It is a "national" title but it is granted by the emperor.
He retires in 1605 in favor of his son Hidetada but still rules; so he guarantees avoidance of a "crisis of succession." Smart.
But the key to everything is his strong VASSAL CONTROL system. How can these 250 Daimyo be regulated? The Sengoku jidai (戦国時代) or "Warring States Period" was identified with Gekokujo (下克上) or the phenomenon of "those below overthrowing those above." How can this very disruptive and destabilizing process be controlled?
Hideyoshi made an important first step:
--Removing samurai and their arms from the Land;
--combined with performing cadastral surveys, assigning income to removed samurai now living in castle towns, and tying peasant families to the land they farmed.
Ieyasu completes the process by:
1. Exercising the Right to transfer Daimyo from one domain to another; awarding land to allies; the capability to strip Daimyo of some or all of lands. In first 50 years of Tokugawa rule in fact some 213 Daimyo were stripped of part or all of their land; some 281 Daimyo transferred.
2. Castle and road building campaigns: Daimyo had to contribute materials and labor so it strengthens Tokugawa, while weakening his enemies financially. Costly.
3. Oaths of Fealty 1611--pledge to respect laws established by the bakufu. So Daimyo or Fedual Lords accept limitations on their power.
4.Military House Codes (1615)
--Article 1: Study of Literature (文) and the Martial Arts (武) must both be cultivated. Reminds us of Zhou Kings Wen (文) and Wu (武). But note how Bun, Literature comes first. It is Peacetime now, my brothers! So that is the priority.
--This will be a regime of Laws: "Law is the foundation of social order. Reason may be violated in the name of Law, but Law may not be violated in the name of reason. Anyone who violates the law must be severely punished." Shades of Qin Emperor and Legalism!
--Castles may be repaired but new construction is forbidden.
--Marriages between Daimyo houses cannot be contracted without prior bakufu approval.
--To form a factional alliance through marriage is the root of treason.
--The practice of Sankin-kotai or Alternate Attendance on the Shogun is required
--Daimyo spend 50% of their time in residence at Edo; must build Daimyo Residences there;
--this is costly, weakens han financially, as well as administratively.
--also, Sankin-Kotai is coordinated with a hostage system: Daimyo wives and Children remain in Edo when Daimyo returns to han. Incentive to plot or revolt v. Shogun? Not so much.
--Daimyo classified and regulated = an amazing distribution of wealth and power to disincentivize rebellion.
--Introduction of Zhu Xi Neo Confucianism as the basis for Tokugawa Thought and Education which took place, of course, in academies for samurai children but also in "temple schools" for merchant and farmer's children.
The Confucian 4-Class system is perfect for Ieyasu's aims:
1. Samurai or shi replace Chinese Scholar official (shih) as the Top class but it is 100% hereditary; No Exam System exists to allow non-samurai to enter officaldom. In fact, there were not enough positions for the large samurai class (6% of total population)--the cuase of considerable tensions.
Unintended Consequences of Ieyasu's Vassal Controls:
--Sankin Kotai required Roads, Travel, Shipping of Goods up to Edo;
--Spread of Urbanism and Commerce;
--Osaka becomes staging point and Commercial Center;
--Spread of money economy, credit system, proto- banking;
Edo over 1 million;
Osaka and Kyoto at 500,000;
--Nagasaki an International trade Center
--All major metropolitan areas governed by a Shogunal Official
--Sakoku or "Closed Country" Policy ordered 1639: no han is allowed to trade with outside powers;
--This was a way to preserve existing balance of power
--Market Economy grows as in Song China; proto-industrialization;
--Peace, Urbanization, Population Growth demand in cities for foodstuffs and other household goods;
--stimulated increases in Agricultural production;
--like Song dynasty, new strains, new crops, new, improved tools, new agricultural technologies, more lands brought under cultivation;
--farmers specialize and produce for the market;
--see the variety of goods via Guilds handout.
--Education spreads, literacy rates grow to 30-40% of total population. Staggering!
--Terakoya Temple Schools even for farmers children;
--So Japan between 1600-1850 is"feudal" in name only; just in a narrow, political/structural sense;
--it is really a peaceful, urbanized, sophisticated, literate and bureaucratic order with considerable cultural dynamism and intellectual vitality;
Obviously, Loyalty to Feudal Authority is a central cpncern of Ieyasu's and Neo-Confucianism was handy here.
One might assume that Neo-Confucianism would be a rigid, orthodoxy and that other varieties of thought were unwelcome, but actually there was considerable Intellectual Variety and Dynamism in Tokugawa times:
--- The orthodox Zhu Xi Neo Confucianism promoted Rationalism: Invenstigation of Things (Li 理) in all things;
and set High Ethical Standards; but also, we have the following
Schools of Thought or Intellectual Currents in Tokugawa times:
--- School of Ancient Learning (Kogaku 古学)--emphasized pre-Han original Confucian Thought; For example, a very influential "academy" or school was Ogyu Sorai's school of Ancient Learning or Kogaku 古学. Ogyu Sorai (1666-1728) considered Zhu Xi's Neo-Confuciansm of the Song Dynasty to be a distortion of the original teachings of the master. And the version of Neo-Confucianism that the Japanese were getting was third or fourth hand anyway. So he wanted scholars to go back to the origianl Han and pre-Han era documents and meet the ancients on their own terms, try to read the canonic texts as they did. Moreover, he wanted to credit the foundational figures in Confucianism for their genius and initiative in using ideas about how to order society that were rooted not really in eternal principles like li, but grew out of the needs of the times. Ieaysu had done the same exact thing, Sorai believed. This belief was meant to be supportive at the time; but it would have subversive potential farther down the line:
--if institutions were man made and different times called for different types of institutions, then in the early 1800s, when the Tokugawa system did not seem to be working so well any longer, there could be a rational and legitimate call for political change. Sorai could be a critic of his times, for he often pointed out that Samurai in his day were living as if they were guests at a Japanese ryokan or Inn. What do you think he meant by that?
--- Wang Yang-ming (王陽明 called Ôyômei in Japanese) philosophy from Ming, China;
It stressed "Intuition" (shin 心) over "Reason" (ri 理); Action over Words; innate knowledge was prized; Zen influence?
--- School of Native Studies (Kokugaku 国学) study Japan's own history and literature like the Kojiki, the Nihon shoki, and The Tale of Genji; mono no aware. Focused attention on Japan's distinctiveness from China, Japan's uniqueness.
--- Mito School = a Collateral Tokugawa House of Mito Domain charged with compiling a complete national history of Japan. Consequently, the Imperial Institution and the "unbroken line" emerge as Japan's unique features. This school also derives stuff from the Kokugaku 国学 school, and the the term Kokutai (国体)”National Polity” comes into use, also reinforcing notions of Japan's uniquness, distinctiveness, hence it is linked to the development ot "particularism" in the 1920s and 1930s;
--- Dutch Studies (蘭学) OK'd after 1720 when import of Western books allowed; scholars go to Deshima in Nagasaki to learn from the Dutch. Dictionaries created, plus Books on Botany, Anatomy,gunnery, etc. produced.
--- Shingaku (心学)or "Heart/Mind" Studies that support Mercantilism;some 30,000 adherents. See Mclain, pp. 87-93.
There were also even a few scholars and critics who were able to think "outside the box":
a. Dazai Shundai--commerce essential to the economy so why not develop the economy? Daimyo should take advantage of this resource, commerce
b. Kaiho Seiryo--don't disparage pursuit of profit; whole world rests on the principle of exchange and profit; Han should pursue profit by exporting local products
c. Yamagato Banto-scholar of Osaka Merchant Academy--urged reformers not to fix prices but let scarce goods go where they are needed
d. Honda Toshiaki urged trade and even overseas colonizastion!
e. Sato Nobuhiro argues for a strong, centralized state with a Ministry to to direct all economic activities
So, Japan was very accustomed to intellectual discussions, debates, circulation of ideas, and tensions between a variety of intellectual positions. So there is considerably more intellectual vitality in Tokugawa Japan than one might assume.
Here are the four main elements of Neo-Confucianism which influenced Japan:
1) Fundamental rationalism
a. stressed objective reason as the basis of learning and conduct
b. pursued the "investigation of thing" as described in The Great
c. studied the constant laws of nature and human society (as opposed
to the ceaseless change and Law of Impermanence stressed by
2) Essential humanism
a. focus on man and his relationships, not the supernatural world
The stress on social order (warrior, farmer, artisans, merchants) was
supported by these ideas.
b. also stressed were the five Confucian relationships
c. clearly rejected Buddhism and Taoism, as Hayashi Razan does on p. 357.
a. like Confucius in the Analects, scholars hearkened to the past for precedents.
b. in the Japanese case, scholars looked not to Chinese history but to
a. In China, this meant anti-Buddhist and anti-Mongol/Turkic invaders.
b. In Japan, this meant loyalty to the emperor and intense xenophobia, which
worked nicely with the National Learning scholarship of the time. Also contributed
The Edo period was a time of growing commerce, but Confucianism was opposed
to it because it held that the fortunes of the government rose and fell with
the fortunes of agriculture, not those of commerce. Both commoner and samurai
ethics were more dependent on Confucianism than any other system.
Hayashi Razan (1583-1657)
-Advisor to Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), the first Tokugawa shogun.
-Helped draft almost all edicts promulgated by the early Tokugawa shogun.
-Was also a scholar of Shinto and National Learning
The concept of the shi (Chinese: shih): "knight" or
"gentleman," someone with a level of "spiritual/moral development,
as well as academic and martial cultivation which is clearly above that of the
average person." (Muller)
-the true shi would be both a good soldier and scholarly
Excepts from Neo-confucian texts:
XIII:20 Tzu Kung asked: "What must a man be like to be called a
shih?" The Master said, "One who in conducting himself maintains
a sense of honor, and who when sent to the four quarters of the world
does not disgrace his prince's commission, may be called a shih."
XIII:28 If you are decisive, kind and gentle, you can be called a shih.
With friends, the shih is clear but kind. With his brothers he is gentle.
XIV:3 Confucius said: "A shih who is addicted to comfort should
be called a shih."
XV:8 Confucius said: "The determined shih and the man of jen will
not save their lives if it requires damaging their jen. They will even
sacrifice themselves to consummate their jen."
XIX:1 Tzu Chang said: "The shih who faced with danger can
abandon his life...he is worth something."
Hayashi equated the shi with the samurai. In Japan, the shi replaced the junzi as the ideal.
The samurai was to be learned not just in the art of war, but in the Confucian
classics as well.
Yamazaki Ansai (1618-1682)
--Simple doctrine: "Devotion within, righteousness without"
--Devotion: service to the Shinto deities
--Righteousness: proper behavior in society
--Yamazaki tried hard to reconcile Shinto and Confucian philosophies.
In the end, he claimed that man must take some things on faith
(which is a Shinto statement).
Gave rise to three major trends of the following two centuries:
1. the popularization of Confucian ethics
2. the revival of Shinto and its development as a coherent system
3. intense nationalism
Yamazaki gave a special focus to education
-"the aim of education...is to clarify human relationships"
-This focus on education was continued through into the modern era.
-Yamazaki found The Great Learning particularly important
-closely associated the five relationships to education
but what is perhaps surprising is how many other vibrant, significant Schools or Currents of Thoughtin Tokugawa times:
1. The Oyomei (Chinese: Wang Yang-ming) School:
Also Neo-Confucian, but different from most Zhu Xi schools:
Stressed "Intuition" (shin) over "Reason" (ri)
Stressed Action over Words
Felt that man had an innate knowledge, and it was primarily important
for one to cultivate it.
Was theistic, and addressed the existence of God(s)
Man's innate knowledge was closely tied to the "Supreme Ultimate"
In sum scholarly Neo-Confucian studies were widespread and varied. A number
of Confucian "academies" (like think tanks) were established, such
as the Kaitokudo in Osaka. A so-called "merchant academy," it taught, subtly, that the merchants did have value to society as well and their contribution to the welfare of the realm was significant. Generally, only the samurai class would attend these
academies, so this gave merchants a place to send their sons and instill pride in what their families did.
On the popular level, though, people learnedabout their place in society and the
importance of loyalty and filial piety through travelling scholars and what was taught in the terakoya or temple schools..
The establishment of Oyomei schools also helped reconcile Shintoism with Neo-Confucianism,
because is allowed for supernatural element in a Confucian world.
2. School of Ancient Learning or Kogaku
One of the most significant of these "academies" was Ogyu Sorai's school of Ancient Learning or Kogaku. Ogyu Sorai (1666-1728) considered Zhu Xi's Neo-Confuciansm of the Soung Dynasty to be a distortion of the original teachings of the master. And the version of Neo-Confucianism that the Japanese were getting was third or fourth hand anyway. So he wanted scholars to go back to the origianl Han and pre-Han era documents and meet the ancients on their own terms, try to read the canonic texts as they did. Moreover, he wanted to credit the foundational figures in Confucianism for their genius and initiative in using ideas about how to order society that were rooted not really in eternal principles like li, but grew out of the needs of the times. Ieaysu had done the same exact thing, Sorai believed. This belief was meant to be supportive at the time; but it had subversive potential: if institutions were man made and different times called for different types of institutions, then in the early 1800s, when the Tokugawa system did not seem to be working so well any longer, there could be a rational and legitimate call for political change.
3. School of Native Learning or Kokugaku [Literally, School of National Learning--as opposed to any kind of Chinese Learning]
Also popular were schools of "Native Studies" or Kokugaku, sometimes also called the School of National Learning. But this school can be called "Native Studies" because it suggests that Japan's own history and literature are every bit as worthy has China's are to study and learn from so they did serious linguistic and historical analysis of books like the Kojiki, the Nihon shoki, and The Tale of Genji. When these scholars looked at Japanese history they saw something not in evidence in China: rule by a single monarachical line that alledgedly goes back to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu and her grandson, Prince Ninigi. Chinese history, by contrast, featured "dynastic cycles" whereby one ruling house propsered and then deteriorated and was replaced by another. So, this focus in its own way could be subversive, too, in the sense that when you looked back to see what Japan's essence was, you could not avoid coming up against the emperor so the role of the Shogun as someone who was temporarily ruling in place of the emperor came to the for. If the Shogun was no longer able to do what he was supposed to do--i.e., subdue the barbarians and keep them at bay, then maybe there needed to be a central role for the emperor once again.
scholars mixed Confucianism with National Learning: some felt that one or the
other was superior.
4. Dutch Studies or Rangaku
Begins in earnest after 1970 and Shogun Yoshimune's liberalization of the kind of books that could be imported from abroad. Scholars tended to concentrate on physical and medical sciences" biology, botany, anatomy, opticals, etc. This school came to be associated to openness toward western ideas and learning. Sakuma Shozan (1811-1864) would later coin the phrase "Eastern morals, Western technology" (Touyou doutoku, Seiyou geijutsu); in other words, still rely on Neo-confucianism for moral guidance but accept the fact that the west was the source of superior science, technology and therefore military power.
5. Mitogaku or Mito Historical Studies
Not so much a "school" per se but the Tokugawa commissioned Shimpan Tokugawa House of Mito to undertake the compilation of a multi-volume Dai Nipponshi or the Great History of Japan. What did this mean? Well, a community of scholars turned their attention to all available records of Japanese history and inevitably began to concentrate on the unique aspects of Japan's monarchical institution. Not subject to dynastic cycles as China's was, Japan's monarch featured amazing continuity back to the age of the gods. Since the Japanese emperor was also a chief priest of Shinto, the native religion and native texts were featured. Therefore, Mito became the locus of intense feelings of Japanese superiority and loyalty to the throne. Echoed/interfaced with School of Native Studies.
Adapted and supplemented from a page that is no longer available: http://www.albany.edu/eas/190/tokugawa.htm; the Rangaku characters come from Wikipedia.