Kaibara Ekken

views updated Jun 08 2018


KAIBARA EKKEN (16301714) was a Japanese Neo-Confucian scholar. Ekken was born in Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan. Although he was the son of a samurai family, he had early contacts with townspeople and farmers of the province. This no doubt influenced his later decision to write in simplified Japanese in order to make Confucian teachings available to a wide audience. His father taught him medicine and nutrition, awakening a lifelong interest in matters of health that would culminate in the composition of his well-known book Yōjōkun (Precepts for Health Care), completed in 1713. It was his older brother Sonzai, however, who urged Ekken to abandon his early interest in Buddhism and to immerse himself in the Confucian classics. Under Sonzai's tutelage, Ekken became well versed in the classics and in the Neo-Confucian writings of Zhu Xi. During a seven-year stay in Kyoto under the patronage of the lord of the Kuroda domain, he came into contact with the leading Confucian scholars of his time, including Nakamura Tekisai, Kinoshita Jun'an, the botanist Mukai Gensho, and the agronomist Miyazaki Yasusada. These contacts continued throughout his life by virtue of Ekken's numerous trips to Kyoto and Edo. Ekken's tasks as a Confucian scholar included lecturing to the lord of the Kuroda domain and tutoring his heir. In addition, he was commissioned to produce lineage of the Kuroda family that required some sixteen years of research and writing. He also recorded the topography of Chikuzen Province, in a work that is still considered a model of its kind. Ekken's other major research project, entitled Yamato honzō, consisted of a classification and description of the various types of plants in Japan. It has been praised by Japanese and Western scholars alike as a seminal work in the history of botany in Japan.

Ekken's enduring interest, however, was the popularization of Confucian ethics and methods of self-cultivation for a wide audience. Accordingly, he wrote a number of kunmono, instructional treatises for various groups such as the samurai, the lord, the family, women, and children. His work Onna Daigaku (Learning for Women) is especially well known. In addition, he wrote on methods of study, on literature, on writing, on precepts for daily life, and on the five Confucian virtues. Although a devoted follower of Zhu Xi, toward the end of his life he wrote Taigiroku, a work that records his "great doubts" about Zhu's dualism of Principle (li ) and material force (qi ). Ekken's ideas were influenced by the thought of the Ming scholar Luo Qinshun (14161547), who had articulated a monistic theory of qi. Ekken felt that the dynamic quality of Confucianism had been lost by certain Song and Ming thinkers, and he hoped through the monist theory of qi to reformulate a naturalism and vitalism that he, like Luo, viewed as essential to Confucian thought. Consequently, Ekken was concerned to articulate the vital impulse of the material force that suffused all reality. His thought can thus be described as a naturalist religiosity rooted in profound reverence and gratitude toward Heaven as the source of life and earth as the sustainer of life. He felt that by recognizing one's debt to these "great parents," human beings activated a cosmic filiality toward all living things. This idea of filiality implied that one should preserve nature, not destroy it. The highest form of filiality was humaneness (jin ), through which humans formed an identity with all things. Ekken, then, was a reformed Zhu Xi scholar whose broad interests, voluminous writings, and naturalist religiosity mark a high point in Japanese Neo-Confucian thought.

See Also

Confucianism in Japan.


Kaibara Ekken's works are collected in Ekken zenshu, 8 vols. (Tokyo, 19101911) and Kaibara Ekken, Muro Kyūsō, "Nihon shiso taikei," vol. 34, edited by Araki Kengo and Inoue Tadashi (Tokyo, 1970). Works on Ekken include Inoue Tadashi's Kaibara Ekken (Tokyo, 1963); Kaibara Ekken, Nihon no meicho, vol. 14, edited by Matsuda Michio (Tokyo, 1969).

Mary Evelyn Tucker (1987)

Kaibara Ekken (1630–1714)

views updated May 11 2018


Kaibara Ekken, or Ekiken, a Japanese Confucianist influential in popularizing Confucian ethics among ordinary people, was born in Fukuoka. The son of a physician, he became a doctor himself, then left medicine to become a Zhu Xi neo-Confucianist. His teachers in Kyoto were Kinoshita Junan (16211698) and Yamazaki Ansai. At thirty-nine Kaibara returned to Fukuoka, where he spent the rest of his life in the service of the Kuroda fief. Blessed with an extraordinary capacity for work but little originality, he wrote on many subjects. He became an important botanist with the issuing of separate books on the vegetables, the flora, and the medicinal herbs of Japan. His books on education were pioneering works in pedagogy; Onna daigaku (The great learning for women), the standard book on women's ethics in the Tokugawa era, is attributed variously to him and to his well-educated wife. His books were a great success. Unlike most Confucianists, who wrote in Chinese, he wrote in Japanese; furthermore, his teaching was highly practical, applying Confucian morality to everyday life. His pedagogical ideas were not equalitarian (he assigned to women the role of mere submissiveness and obedience to their husbands), and his botanical studies were not at all scientific in the modern sense, but he played an important role in spreading education.

Kaibara's philosophical importance today rests on his Taigiroku (The great doubt), in which he aired his dissent with the official doctrine of the Zhu Xi school. Kaibara was also critical of the "ancient learning" school of Confucianism and its scholars Itō Jinsai and Ogyū Sorai, and of the Wang Yangming school, the rival of Zhu Xi. Kaibara disagreed with Zhu Xi Confucianism in his elevation of ki, the material force, over ri, the principle immanent in all things. For him ki is the "great limit" or the "ultimate" and is an all-pervading life force. Kaibara does not distinguish the original form of human nature from its acquired form; contrary to Zhu Xi, he is an optimist in his view of man and of the natural world. His cosmology is characterized by cosmic love that embraces all men, born as they are of heaven and earth. Man's indebtedness to nature is limitless, and for him the Confucian virtue of jen, "humaneness," comes close to being a religious benevolence, first toward nature and then toward men. His practical bent, however, makes it difficult to clarify his position, which seems to be one of eclectic doubt rather than critical inquiry. In administrative matters Kaibara opposed imitating Chinese ways; rather he was an ardent patriot, loyal in support of the emperor.

See also Chinese Philosophy; Itō Jinsai; Japanese Philosophy; Ogyū Sorai; Wang Yang-ming; Yamazaki Ansai; Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi).


Kaibara's works are available in Japanese in Ekken zenshū (Complete works of Kaibara Ekken), edited by Ekkenkai, 8 vols. (Tokyo, 1911). A secondary source in Japanese is Inoue Tadashi, Kaibara Ekken (Tokyo, 1963).

See also O. Graf, Kaibara Ekiken (Leiden: Brill, 1942); S. Atsuharu, "Kaibara E. and Onna daigaku," in Cultural Nippon 7 (4) (1939): 4356; and W. T. de Bary, Ryusaku Tsunoda, and Donald Keene, eds., Sources of Japanese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), pp. 374377.

Gino K. Piovesana, S.J. (1967)

Kaibara Ekken

views updated May 17 2018

Kaibara Ekken (1630–1714). A Japanese Confucian scholar of the early to mid-Tokugawa period. As an advocate of ‘practical learning’ (jitsugaku), Kaibara wrote many popular works encompassing a wide range of interests: philosophy, moral education, health and diet, and the natural sciences. Although originally a follower of the orthodox Chu Hsi school of Neo-Confucianism, he established his own independent, critical position, often compared to the school of Ancient Learning (Kokugaku). For example, in his major work, the Taigiroku (Record of Grave Doubts), Kaibara attacks Chu Hsi's overreliance on Buddhist and Taoist teachings. He saw an inherent unity between the Confucian ethics of the early sages and Japanese Shinto, while rejecting Buddhist ideas, such as the application of honjisuijaku.