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) ideas were the most influential, but they were by no means the only ones studied in the Tokugawa period.

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.

3) Historicism

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
Japanese history.

4) Ethnocentrism

a. In China, this meant anti-Buddhist and anti-Mongol/Turkic
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 to isolationism.

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 not
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 chuntze 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 (see Hosoi Heishu)
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 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

Other Significant Schools or Currenths of Thought:

1. The Oyomei (Chinese: Wang Yang-ming) School:

Also Neo-Confucian, but different from most Chu Hsi 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.

Not all 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:; the Rangaku characters come from Wikipedia.

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

See also: