Hayashi Razan

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HAYASHI RAZAN (15831657), also commonly referred to as Hayashi Dōshun; Japanese Confucian thinker of the early Tokugawa period. Hayashi Razan was born and raised in Kyoto as the scion of a family of samurai turned urban merchants. He was sent as a child to study at Kenninji, a Zen temple, but he resisted suggestions that he become a priest. Instead, from his mid-teens he committed himself to the study of Confucianism and Chinese secular learning. He began his career as a Confucian in 1603 at the age of twenty-one by conducting public lectures on the Analects of Confucius as explicated by the Chinese Song Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi. In this manner Razan sought to establish Zhu Xi Neo-Confucianism as a public teaching independent of both the hermetic traditions of medieval scholarship and the Zen-accented Confucianism that flourished in the major Zen temples of the Muromachi period. Toward the same end, affiliating himself with Fujiwara Seika, Razan adopted the latter's hallmark of a scholar's garb patterned after that of the scholar-official class of China.

However, Razan's career as an independent scholar was relatively short. In 1605 he came to the attention of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, and in 1607 he entered the service of the shogun. Earlier military rulers had employed monks to draft legislation and handle other government matters requiring erudition or writing skills beyond the ordinary. In accordance with that tradition, one of the conditions for Razan's employment was that he shave his head and assume priestly garb and the priestlike name of Dōshun. These conditions remained in effect for the duration of his employment, which continued until his death fifty years later.

Razan's employment by the shogunate is often taken as a symbol of Ieyasu's intent to establish Zhu Xi Neo-Confucianism as the official ideology. But as the conditions of his employment suggest, Razan was taken into service because of his general erudition rather than because of any particular expertise in Neo-Confucianism, and his official duties had little to do with the spread of Confucian teachings. Together with the Buddhist priests in shogunal employ, he oversaw the shogunal library, drafted diplomatic correspondence between the Tokugawa and the rulers of other countries, and participated in the drafting of laws and the compilation of the genealogical records of shogunal vassals. He also embarked on the writing of a major history of Japan, eventually completed after his death by his son Gahō, who inherited Razan's position with the shogunate.

Of more relevance to his background as a Confucian scholar, Razan established a private school and shrine to Confucius that eventually received shogunal support, although not on the scale of shogunal patronage of various Buddhist institutions. He wrote works elucidating various points of Zhu Xi 's teachings and polemics against Christianity and Buddhism, which, in the Confucian vein, he attacked as socially disruptive and therefore immoral religions, alike in their practiced deception of a credulous, ignorant populace. At the same time, arguing that the Confucian way of government and Shintō were the same in essence, he asserted that to establish Confucianism in Tokugawa life was to restore Shintō to its true place in Japanese society.

However, by and large Razan was more noted for his wide-ranging knowledge than for the originality or compelling nature of his interpretation of Confucianism. He did not found a distinctive school comparable to that of Yamazaki Ansai or the later Ogyū Sorai. In the area of Shintō studies, his influence was also relatively slight. Perhaps out of rivalry with the Buddhist monks associated with the shogunate, who had succeeded in gaining the latter's support for their own more traditional fusion of Buddhism and Shintō (this support was reflected most graphically in the shogunate's sponsoring of the posthumous apotheosis of Tokugawa Ieyasu as a Buddhist-Shintō deity), Razan sought to establish his particular fusion of Confucianism and Shintō as the special hermetic tradition of his house. But his successors did not continue his efforts.

Thus Razan's main contribution to the establishment of Confucianism in Tokugawa life lay in his carving out a position for the professional scholar as a government adviser. At the same time, however, he was condemned by many other Tokugawa Confucians for his readiness to compromise his principles in the process of winning a place for himself. Both Yamazaki Ansai and Nakae Tōju began their careers as Confucians by denouncing Razan's acceptance of treatment as a priest despite his recognition of the evils of Buddhism. Others objected to the precedent he established for the treatment of the Confucian as a professional scholar differentiated from and subordinate to those responsible for the actual business of government. In the eyes of many Tokugawa Confucians, the career pattern for the Confucian scholar pioneered by Razan contravened the traditional ideal of the Confucian playing a central role in society and thereby bringing his education and moral rectitude to bear on the transformation of society.

See Also

Confucianism in Japan.


Although it is not widely available, W. J. Boot's The Adoption and Adaptation of Neo-Confucianism in Japan: The Role of Fujiwara Seika and Hayashi Razan (Leiden, 1983, 1992) offers both a cogent analysis of Razan's thought and translations of important passages from his writings. In Japanese, Hori Isao's Hayashi Razan (Tokyo, 1964) remains the standard.

Kate Wildman Nakai (1987 and 2005)