Japan Intellectual Trends
Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
The flourishing of neo-Confucianism was the major intellectual development of the Tokugawa period. Confucian studies had long been kept active in Japan by Buddhist clerics, but during the Tokugawa period, Confucianism emerged from Buddhist religious control. This system of thought increased attention to a secular view of man and society. The ethical humanism, rationalism, and historical perspective of neo-Confucian doctrine appealed to the official class. By the mid-seventeenth century, neo-Confucianism was Japan's dominant legal philosophy and contributed directly to the development of the kokugaku (national learning) school of thought.
Advanced studies and growing applications of neo-Confucianism contributed to the transition of the social and political order from feudal norms to class- and large-group-oriented practices. The rule of the people or Confucian man was gradually replaced by the rule of law. New laws were developed, and new administrative devices were instituted. A new theory of government and a new vision of society emerged as a means of justifying more comprehensive governance by the bakufu. Each person had a distinct place in society and was expected to work to fulfill his or her mission in life. The people were to be ruled with benevolence by those whose assigned duty it was to rule. Government was all-powerful but responsible and humane. Although the class system was influenced by neo-Confucianism, it was not identical to it. Whereas soldiers and clergy were at the bottom of the hierarchy in the Chinese model, in Japan some members of these classes constituted the ruling elite.
Members of the samurai class adhered to bushi traditions with a renewed interest in Japanese history and in cultivation of the ways of Confucian scholar-administrators, resulting in the development of the concept of bushido (the way of the warrior--see Glossary). Another special way of life-- chonindo--also emerged. Chonindo (the way of the townspeople) was a distinct culture that arose in cities such as Osaka, Kyoto, and Edo. It encouraged aspiration to bushido qualities--diligence, honesty, honor, loyalty, and frugality--while blending Shinto, neo-Confucian, and Buddhist beliefs. Study of mathematics, astronomy, cartography, engineering, and medicine were also encouraged. Emphasis was placed on quality of workmanship, especially in the arts. For the first time, urban populations had the means and leisure time to support a new mass culture. Their search for enjoyment became known as ukiyo (the floating world), an ideal world of fashion and popular entertainment. Professional female entertainers (geisha), music, popular stories, Kabuki and bunraku (puppet) theater, poetry, a rich literature, and art, exemplified by beautiful woodblock prints (known as ukiyo-e), were all part of this flowering of culture (see Visual Arts , ch. 3). Literature also flourished with the talented examples of the playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653- 1724) and the poet, essayist, and travel writer Matsuo Basho (1644- 94).
Buddhism and Shinto were both still important in Tokugawa Japan. Buddhism, combined with neo-Confucianism, provided standards of social behavior. Although not as powerful politically as it had been in the past, Buddhism was espoused by the upper classes. Proscriptions against Christianity benefited Buddhism in 1640 when the bakufu ordered everyone to register at a temple. The rigid separation of Tokugawa society into han, villages, wards, and households helped reaffirm local Shinto attachments. Shinto provided spiritual support to the political order and was an important tie between the individual and the community. Shinto also helped preserve a sense of national identity.
Shinto eventually assumed an intellectual form as shaped by neo-Confucian rationalism and materialism. The kokugaku movement emerged from the interactions of these two beliefs systems. Kokugaku contributed to the emperor-centered nationalism of modern Japan and the revival of Shinto as a national creed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Kojiki, Nihongi, and Man'yoshu were all studied anew in the search for the Japanese spirit. Some purists in the kokugaku movement even criticized the Confucian and Buddhist influences--in effect, foreign ones--for contaminating Japan's ancient ways. Japan was the land of the kami and, as such, had a special destiny.
Knowledge of the West during the early Tokugawa periiod was restricted to a tiny school of thought known as Rangaku (Dutch Learning). Its adherents were mostly in Nagasaki, where the Dutch outpost was located on Deshima.
Data as of January 1994
NOTE: The information regarding Japan on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Japan Intellectual Trends information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Japan Intellectual Trends should be addressed to the Library of Congress.