Yamaga Sokō


Yamaga Sokō

Yamaga Sokō (山鹿素行, September 21, 1622 - October 23, 1685) was a Japanese philosopher and strategist during the Tokugawa shogunate. He was a Confucian, and applied Confucius's idea of the "superior man" to the samurai class of Japan. This became an important part of the samurai way of life and code of conduct known as "bushido".

By adapting the Confucian tradition to their own requirements, Japanese scholars implied a repudiation of Tokugawa authority over intellectual matters. Yamaga Sokō was the first important thinker to break away from official orthodoxy in this way. Yamaga was a student of Hayashi Razan, a Japanese Neo-Confucianist philosopher. As Yamaga was also a student of military science, he was concerned over the prolonged inactivity of the warrior class under peaceful Tokugawa rule.

Yamaga wrote a series of works dealing with "the warrior’s creed" ("bukyō") and "the way of the gentleman" ("shidō"). In this way he described the lofty mission of the warrior class and its attendant obligations, which had become known as the "Way of the Samurai" ("bushidō"). According to William Scott Wilson, in his text "Ideals of the Samurai": "In his theory of Shido (a less radical theory than bushido), Soko defined the warrior as an example of Confucian purity to the other classes of society, and as punisher of those who would stray from its path."

Wilson wrote that Soko thought of the samurai as a "sort of Warrior-Sage" and focused his writings on the perfection of this "transcendent ideal". Wilson also states that "This direction of thinking, however, which was typical of the scholars of the Edo Period in its tendency toward speculation."

He remphasized that the peaceful arts, letters, and history were essential to the intellectual discipline of the samurai. Yamaga thus symbolizes the historical transformation of the samurai class from a purely military aristocracy to one of increasing political and intellectual leadership. [De Bary, William et al. (2001). "Sources Of Japanese Tradition: Volume 2, 1600 to 2000", p. 186.] One of his pupils was Daidōji Yūzan, a samurai from the Daidōji family, who would become the author of an important bushidō text, "Budō shoshin shu".He also drew attention to the need to study and adopt Western weapons and tactics, as introduced by the Dutch.

In 1665, Yamaga publicly avowed his antipathy for Neo-Confucianism in the "Essence of Confucianism" and was arrested the following year at the instigation of Hoshina Masayuki, Lord of Aizu. Yamaga proclaimed his belief that the unadulterated truth could only be found in the ethical teachings of Confucius, and that subsequent developments within the Confucian tradition represented perversions of the original doctrine. Hoshina, however, saw this attack as a potential challenge to Tokugawa authority itself, and Yamaga was subsequently exiled to stay with the Asano daimyo in the Akō domain ("han"), where his life intersects with the tale of the forty-seven ronin, which is later retold in the classic of Japanese literature Chūshingura. [Trumbull, Stephen. (1996). "The Samurai: A Military History." p. 265; Tucker, John. (2002). "Tokugawa Intellectual History and Prewar Ideology: The Case of Inoue Tetsujirō, Yamaga Sokō, and the Forty-Seven Rōnin," in "Sino-Japanese Studies." Vo. 14 , pp. 35-70.]

The life of his near contemporary Matsudaira Sadanobu presents a plausibly useful context for more fully understanding and appreciating Yamaga's life. Both men believed entirely in the civic and personal values of Confucianism, but both construed those precepts a little differently because of their places in Edo period society. [Shuzo Uenaka. (1977). "Last Testament in Exile. Yamaga Soko's "Haisho Zampitsu", "Monumenta Nipponica," 32:2, No. 2, pp. 125-152.] In his own time, this conception of Confucian values was amongst the factors which led him to draw attention to the need to study and adopt Western weapons and tactics, as introduced by the Dutch. Yamaga’s conception of bushidō restated and codified the writings of past centuries and pointed to the emperor as the focus of all loyalties. His teachings therefore had direct application for everyone in the existing feudal structure, and he was not calling for a change in the status of the emperor.

An important theme running through Yamaga's life and works was a focus on the greatness of Japan, and this became one of the reasons his popularity and influence were to expand in the rising nationalistic culture of the mid-twentieth century. [Varley, Paul. (20000). "Japanese Culture." p. 213.]

References

* De Bary, William Theodore, Carol Gluck and Arthur E. Tiedemann . (2001). "Sources Of Japanese Tradition: 1600 to 2000." New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12984-X
* Shuzo Uenaka. (1977). "Last Testament in Exile. Yamaga Soko's "Haisho Zampitsu", "Monumenta Nipponica," 32:2, No. 2, pp. 125-152.
* Trumbull, Stephen. (1977). "The Samurai: A Military History." New York:McMillan. 10-ISBN 0-026-20540-8; 13-ISBN 978-0-026-20540-5 (cloth) [reprinted by RoutledgeCurzon, London, 1996. 10-ISBN-10: 1-873-41038-7; 13-ISBN 978-1-873-41038-7 (paper)]
* Tucker, John. (2002). "Tokugawa Intellectual History and Prewar Ideology: The Case of Inoue Tetsujirō, Yamaga Sokō, and the Forty-Seven Rōnin," in "Sino-Japanese Studies." Vo. 14 , pp. 35-70.
* Varley, H. Paul. (20000). "Japanese Culture." Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-824-82152-1

External links

* Columbia University: [http://www.columbia.edu/~hds2/chushinguranew/Bushido/yamaga-soko.htm Notes on the writings of Yamaga Sokō]
* East Asian Institute, University of Cambridge: [http://www.oriental.cam.ac.uk/jbib/edoint14.html Further reading/bibliography]




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