Fujiwara Seika

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FUJIWARA SEIKA (15611619) was a Japanese Confucian scholar of the early Tokugawa period. Once regarded as the founder of Tokugawa neo-Confucianism, Fujiwara Seika is today understood increasingly as a transitional figure in the development of an intellectually self-contained Confucianism out of the Zen-flavored Confucianism that flourished in the Gozan Zen temples of the Muromachi period.

Seika was a twelfth-generation descendant of the thirteenth-century court poet Fujiwara no Teika, but his immediate forebears were small local lords in the Harima area (present-day Hyōgo prefecture). A younger son, at the age of seven or eight he was sent to study at a Zen temple in the area where, it so happened, the priests were interested in Confucianism. When he was eighteen, his father and elder brother were killed in battle, and the family's ancestral lands were lost. Through the mediation of two uncles who were priests at important Zen temples in Kyoto, Seika, who had taken refuge in the capital, became a priest at the major Zen center of Shōkokuji. There, as was common practice, he pursued the study of Confucian texts as an adjunct to his training as a Zen priest. Gradually he formed a deeper commitment to Confucianism, and in his mid-thirties he left the temple and devoted himself to the study of Confucianism.

In 1596, at the age of thirty-five, Seika attempted to go to China to study Confucianism with an authentic master. The attempt was unsuccessful, but he was able to broaden and deepen his understanding of Confucianism through contact with Korean scholars captured by Japanese troops during Toyotomi Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea and brought back to Japan. At his urging, the captive scholars were set to copying out the Four Books and the Five Classics, while he punctuated the copied text in Japanese according to the Song and Ming neo-Confucian commentaries. Individual classics had been punctuated previously by Japanese scholars using the neo-Confucian interpretations, but this was the first instance in which one person systematically punctuated all the central texts of Confucianism. Seika's plan to make his punctuated edition available in published form went unrealized, but the plan itself and his comprehensive rather than piecemeal approach to the basic Confucian texts stand as landmarks in the history of Confucianism in Japan.

In other ways, too, Seika took steps to establish Confucianism as a self-sufficient intellectual tradition independent of Buddhism. For some time after leaving Shōkokuji Seika continued to dress as a priest, but in 1600 he formally manifested the shift in his intellectual allegiance by adopting a style of dress patterned after that of the Chinese scholar-official class. The same year he lectured on Chinese historical works before Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, and engaged the Zen monks present in a debate over the respective merits of the Confucian and Buddhist approaches to life. Seika refused an invitation to serve Ieyasu on a permanent basis, but he maintained informal ties as a scholar with a number of daimyo.

Although Seika took action that contributed to the development of Confucianism as a public teaching (in contrast to the "secret transmission" tradition of medieval scholarship) institutionally independent of Buddhism, his writings on Confucianism reveal lingering traces of Zen ideas. Seika objected to the otherworldly orientation of Buddhism, but his emphasis on "stilling the mind" so as to allow it to return to its original state of good reflects the influence of the Zen concept of enlightenment and of the views of late Ming scholars such as Lin Chaoen, who had attempted a fusion of Zen, Confucian, and Daoist teachings. For this Seika was criticized by later Confucian scholars, including his disciple Hayashi Razan.

See Also

Confucianism in Japan.


Abe Yoshio. Nihon Shushigaku to Chōsen. Tokyo, 1965. An important reevaluation of the formation of Tokugawa neo-Confucianism that treats major thinkers individually and stresses the connections between Korean Confucianism and early Tokugawa thought.

Ishida Ichirō. "Hayashi Razan: Muromachi jidai ni okeru Zenju itchi to Fujiwara Seika-Hayashi Razan no shisō." In Edo no shisōka tachi, edited by Sagara Toru et al., vol. 1. Tokyo, 1979. A recent study that challenges earlier assumptions about the discontinuity between medieval and Tokugawa thought and instead attempts to trace the stages of development from the Zen-oriented Confucianism of the Muromachi period to the independent Confucianism of the Tokugawa period.

New Sources

Turner, John Allen. "Art, the Ethical Self, and Political Eremitism: Fujiwara Seika's Essay on Landscape Painting." Journal of Chinese Philosophy 31 (March 2004): 4763.

Kate Wildman Nakai (1987)

Revised Bibliography