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Kumazawa Banzan


KUMAZAWA BANZAN (16191691), Japanese Confucian thinker of the Wang Yangming school. Born in Kyoto, the son of a rōnin, or masterless samurai, Banzan probably suffered deprivation during his early years. In 1634, however, he was employed as a page to Ikeda Mitsumasa (16091682), daimyo of Okayama, who was later acknowledged to be one of the enlightened rulers of his age. Banzan left the service of Mitsumasa in 1638. In 1641 and 1642 he studied under Nakae Tōju (16081648), the founder of the Wang Yangming school of neo-Confucianism (Ōyōmeigaku) in Japan, an experience that permanently molded Banzan's attitude to the Confucian tradition.

Reentering Mitsumasa's service in 1645, Banzan appears to have been employed mainly as a Confucian adviser and teacher. He rose dramatically in the service of the domain, attaining the rank of bangashira (divisional commander) in 1650. Undoubtedly, his participation in domain adminstration further influenced his intellectual development, particularly his sense of the limited practicability of certain aspects of Confucianism to the Japanese social and intellectual condition. Banzan's resignation from Mitsumasa's service in 1657 probably resulted from a combination of internal domain rivalries and external pressure from the Tokugawa government to suppress shingaku, or "the learning of the heart," as Banzan's style of Confucianism was then known.

Banzan next lived for a number of years in Kyoto, where he associated with and taught court nobles and pursued a life of high culture. In 1667, however, his activities appear to have aroused the suspicion of the authorities and, subsequently, he was forced to leave the city. Thereafter, he lived under official surveillance in the castle towns of Akashi and Yada until finally he was placed under house arrest in Koga.

Banzan's extensive written works date mainly from the period of his retirement from service in Okayama. Among them are miscellanies relating to Confucianism in Japan and to contemporary affairs, including financial and economic matters; commentaries on the Confucian classics; an important treatise on contemporary political economy titled Daigaku wakumon (Questions on the Great Learning ); a series of dialogues in which speakers from different social groups discuss a wide range of issues; and a remarkable commentary on the Tale of Genji.

Banzan belonged to that generation of early Tokugawa-period thinkers who first explored seriously the practical relevance to their own society of Chinese neo-Confucianism as established during the Song (9601279) and Ming (13681644) dynasties. He accepted in broad outline the metaphysical assumptions of that tradition, including the concept of a dualistically structured world of li (Jpn., ri, "principle") and ch'i (Jpn., ki, "ether"). He was also a proponent of the neo-Confucian doctrine of the mind, asserting that it is man's duty to regenerate himself through self-cultivation. Like most of his Confucian contemporaries, he was anti-Buddhist and anti-Christian. Banzan's thought is further characterized by an eclecticism that is evident in his attempts to combine the intellectual traditions of Wang Yangming (14721529) and Zhu Xi (11301200). Banzan adhered to the former's emphasis on introspection as a technique for self-cultivation and on the subjective conscience in determining action. Following the thought of Zhu Xi, Banzan upheld the idea of ri as a rationally accessible and objective principle underlying the natural and social worlds. His pragmatism can be seen in his resolutely antidoctrinaire stance and his willingness to accommodate to Japanese conditions many conventional Chinese Confucian institutions such as earth burial of the dead, the prohibitions on nonagnatic adoption and agnatic marriage, and the rituals of mourning. This pragmatism was underpinned by sophisticated theories of history and geography that related national temperament to physical and historical environment.

Banzan's Confucianism, therefore, was not profoundly innovative or original. Rather, it bears the stamp of a vigorous and practical attempt to adapt the Chinese neo-Confucian heritage to the complex realities of early Tokugawa Japan. Banzan himself had no major disciples, but his thought influenced the ideas of Ogyū Sorai (16661728) and several Confucian thinkers of the late Tokugawa period, including Yokoi Shōnan (18091869).

See Also

Confucianism in Japan.


Gotō Yōichi and Tomoeda Ryūtarō, eds. Kumazawa Banzan. Nihon shisō taikei, vol. 30. Tokyo, 1971.

Taniguchi Sumio et al., eds. Zōtei Banzan zenshū. 7 vols. Tokyo, 1980.

I. J. McMullen (1987)

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