Nakae Tōju

views updated


NAKAE TŌJU (16081648), Japanese Neo-Confucian thinker. Tōju, often called the Sage of Ōmi, was born in Ogawa in Ōmi Province on Lake Biwa in central Japan. With the exception of sixteen years spent in Ōzu on the island of Shikoku, he passed his life in Omi engaged in studying, teaching, and writing. His grandfather, who had adopted him at the age of nine, took him to Shikoku and encouraged his early education. After his grandfather's death, when Tōju was fifteen, he attended lectures on the Analects by a visiting Zen priest. After this he began serious study of the Four Books (Analects, Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean, Mencius ) and of Zhu Xi's commentaries on them. In 1634, citing as motives his own ill health and his desire to be with his widowed mother, he returned to Ōmi. Although some sources indicate that another motive may have been the desire to escape political entanglements, most accounts mark this as the beginning of his focus on the virtue of filial piety.

In 1636 he set up a school called the Tōju Shoin and accepted pupils of all classes and backgrounds. The Four Books and Zhu Xi's commentaries were the core of the curriculum, but Tōju wished to avoid the behavioral formalism sometimes associated with the transmission of Zhu Xi's thought. Instead, he stressed the need to adapt Neo-Confucianism to time, place, and rank. It was during this period that he studied the Five Classics (History, Odes, Rites, Changes, Spring and Autumn Annals ). Inspired by them, he wrote two works on moral cultivation, both in 1638: Jikei zusetsu (The diagram of holding fast to reverence, explained) and Genjin (Inquiry into man). In the following year he wrote Rongo kyotō keimō iden (Resolving obscurities concerning the Hsiang-tang chapter of the Analects ), in which he discussed the reverential attitude displayed by Confucius in daily activities and in religious rituals.

Tōju had been moved by this aspect of Confucius's character and wished to return to the religious spirit he saw in Confucius and in the Five Classics. He began to recite each morning the Hsiao ching (Classic of filial piety), and he subsequently became increasingly convinced of its profound implications. In 1641 he wrote Kōkyō keimō (The true meaning of the classic of filial piety). His other major work, written a year earlier and continually revised until his death, was Okina mondō (Dialogues with an old man). Here, in addition to discussing filiality, Tōju noted how Confucian morality was essential for the samurai class.

Tōju has been considered the founder of the Wang Yang-ming school in Japan, but it was not until three years before his death that he acquired Wang's complete works. Although deeply affected by them, he had already been exposed to the writings of late Ming thinkers such as Wangji, who some scholars feel may have had an even stronger influence on him. It is clear that his doubts about Zhu Xi's thought arose from his aversion to its formalistic interpreters. The appeal of the Ming Confucians was their emphasis on interiority, innate knowledge, universal sagehood, and a religious sense of reverence.

Tōju's principal religious ideas can be summarized as a profound reverence for the Supreme Being (jōten ), manifested in an optimistic doctrine of moral self-cultivation based on the innate knowledge of the good. Tōju taught that the heart of self-cultivation was filiality, for it was the "root of the human" and an intricate part of the transformative processes of nature itself. As the dynamic reciprocity between all created things, he saw filiality as the basis of social relations and as a nurturing principle in the natural order. Thus Tōju's distinctive religiosity drew on various strains of Confucian and Neo-Confucian thought, and combined a reverent theism, interior cultivation, and filial devotion.

See Also

Confucianism in Japan.


Works by Nakae Tōju are collected in three sources: Tōju sensei zenshū, 5 vols. (Shiga-ken, 19281929), edited by the Tōju Jinga Sōritsu Kyōsankai; Nakae Tōju bunshū (Tokyo, 1926), edited by Mukasa San and others; and Nakae Tōju (Tokyo, 1974), edited by Yamanoi Yū as volume 29 of "Nihon shisō taikei." Tōju thought is the subject of a recent study by Yamamoto Makoto, Nakae Tōju no jugaku (Tokyo, 1977).

New Sources

Soum, Jean-François. Nakae Tôju (16081648) et Kumazawa Banzan (16191691): Deux Penseurs de l'Epoque d'Edo. Paris, 2002.

Mary Evelyn Tucker (1987)

Revised Bibliography