Yamaga Sokō

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YAMAGA SOKŌ (16221685), Japanese Confucian of the school of Ancient Learning (Kogaku). Sokō was born in Aizu, the son of a masterless warrior named Yamaga Sadamochi (15851664) and Sadamochi's mistress, Myōchi (d. 1677). He began studying the Confucian classics at the age of five or six, and at eight he was en rolled at the Hayashi school in Edo (present-day Tokyo). As a youth, he also studied Japanese literature, Shintō, and military sciencethe latter with Obata Kagenori (15721663) and Hōjō Ujinaga (16091670).

Sokō first achieved fame in 1642 when he published Heihō yūbishū (Collected Writings on Military Methods and Preparedness), a fifty-volume work on military science that treated a whole range of subjects from castle defense to warrior organization. Over the next two decades his lectures on military affairs and the Chinese classics attracted growing numbers of local warriors and lords. In 1652 Sokō entered the service of Asano Naganao (16101672), lord of the Akō domain, and served him until 1660, when he resigned to devote himself to teaching. Despite his service in the Asano house and his success as a teacher, Sokō longed to become a direct retainer of the shogun. Although he nearly realized this ambition on several occasions, his hopes were dashed in 1666 when the senior councillor Hoshina Masayuki (16111672) had him exiled to the Akō domain. The ostensible reason for this was the publication of Seikyō yōroku (Essentials of the Sages' Teachings), in which Sokō criticized the officially sanctioned Neo-Confucianism. During his exile Sokō was well cared for by the Asano family, had an endless stream of visitors from Edo, and wrote more than seventeen books, the most important of which were Takkyō dōmon (A Child's Queries During Exile), Chūchō jijitsu (The Truth about Japan), and Haishō zanpitsu (Last Testament in Exile). When he was pardoned in 1675 he returned to Edo, where he resumed his teaching career, once again lecturing on military science and Confucianism. He died of jaundice in 1685.

Sokō is best known as a military thinker, Confucian scholar, and nationalist. Early in his life he concentrated on formalizing and systematizing the essentially medieval mores, customs, and institutions of the warrior class. In the early 1650s, he developed the notion of what he called bushidō ("way of the warrior"), which, borrowing heavily from Neo-Confucianism, provided a philosophical basis for military science and described the ideal behavior of a class whose chief function was no longer to fight but to govern.

Sokō is also known as an advocate of Ancient Learning. While he had once subscribed to Neo-Confucianism, he came to oppose it, calling for a return to the teachings of the ancient Chinese sages and Confucius. In Seikyō yōroku, he attacked Neo-Confucianism's introspective concerns and in their stead, advanced a new utilitarianism, stressed the importance of social relationships, and recommended the revival of ancient Chinese regulations and rituals. Sokō began the work that Itō Jinsai (16271705) and Ogyū Sorai (16661728), his successors in the school of Ancient Learning, would complete. While in exile, Sokō became an ardent nationalist. In Chūchō jijitsu and Takkyō dōmon he argued that Japan's idigenous religion, Shintō ("way of the gods"), was superior to Confucianism and that Japan itself was superior to China and all other countries in the world.

Sokō 's writings reveal, first, an impressive eclecticism that reflects his having studied, at different times, Neo-Confucianism, Shintō, military science, Buddhism, and even Taoism. They also reflect his concern, associated with his utilitarianism, with the actual affairs of daily life and the larger problem of how best to govern the country. Finally, Sokō 's writings give evidence of his fierce loyalty to the shogun and the government he headed. Although Sokō never became a direct retainer of the shogun, he taught hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Tokugawa retainers and formulated political principles aimed at strengthening shogunal rule.

See Also

Bushidō; Confucianism in Japan; Itō Jinsai; Ogyū Sorai.


de Bary, Wm. Theodore. "Sagehood as a Secular and Spiritual Ideal in Tokugawa Neo-Confucianism." In Principle and Practicality: Essays in Neo-Confucianism and Practical Learning, edited by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, pp. 127188. New York, 1979. An important revision of Maru-yama Masao's interpretation of Tokugawa intellectual history, in which Yamaga Sokō is treated.

Maruyama Masao. Studies in the Intellectual History of Tokugawa Japan. Translated by Mikiso Hane. Princeton, 1974. A classic study of Tokugawa intellectual history.

Uenaka Shuzo. "Last Testament in Exile: Yamaga Sokō 's Haishō Zampitsu." Monumenta Nipponica 32 (Summer 1977): 125152. An annotated translation of Sokō 's Haishō zanpitsu, with full biographical introduction.

Samuel Hideo Yamashita (1987)