Nakae Tōju (1608–1648)
Nakae Tōju, "the sage of Ōmi" (his native town in Shiga prefecture), the most respected Confucianist in the Tokugawa era, was an advocate of the Wang Yangming school. The ideas of Wang Yangming (in Japanese, Ōyōmei) were made known in Japan by the Zhu Xi scholar Fujiwara Seika (1561–1619), but only with Nakae did the Wang Yangming doctrine become a school of thought. The importance of this school lies in its impact on Japanese thinking and the nonconformists it produced. Its stress on ryōchi (literally, "good conscience"; more exactly, the innate knowledge that every man has from Heaven) favored the formation of strong individualists guided by the inner light of conscience without the formalistic restraints of Zhu Xi Confucianism. The cultivation of the mind combined with a stress on deeds rather than formal learning was another aspect of Nakae's teaching. His upright character showed in practice what it meant to be a Confucian sage, that is, almost a saint.
Nakae's intuitive and practical morality centering on filial piety had a great attraction for his pupils as well as for many later followers who for different reasons claimed him as their master. His outstanding followers were Kumazawa Banzan (1619–1691) and such men prominent in the nineteenth-century movement to restore the emperor as Ōshio Heihachirō, Yoshida Shōin, and Saigō Takamori. Kumazawa tried to persuade his master to leave the obscure village of Ogawa and enter the service of the lord of Okayama, but the humble Nakae shunned the proposal. In addition, Nakae's inclinations were ethico-religious rather than politico-economic, the characteristic of many of his followers. Nor was he a radical, although some of his admirers were.
Nakae strove for a middle way, mildly criticizing other points of view. He spoke of ri, the "principle," and ki, Zhu Xi's material force (which Nakae interpreted as matter-life), as two aspects of the "supreme ultimate." Nakae's terminology recalls the ancient Chinese sages and suggests Christian influence; Jōtei, the "Supreme Lord Above," he called "the absolute truth and the absolute spirit," and he ascribed almost personal attributes to this Being. Nakae also had pantheistic leanings, however, and he used anthropomorphic expressions to ally his Jōtei with Shinto deities. His moral ideas, though, are much more important than his cosmological views. Filial piety (kō ) is the pivotal virtue, for him both the universe's moral power and its reason for being. Everyone, from the emperor to the most despised woman—Nakae being quite an equalitarian—was affected by filial piety, the creative force descending by degrees from Heaven. This virtue became in his late followers patriotism toward the emperor. Still, for Nakae, it was a cosmic and religious force not limited to one family or nation.
See Tōju sensei zenshū (The complete works of Nakae Tōju), 5 vols. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, Shōwa, 1940). A secondary source in Japanese is Bitō Masahide, Nihon hōken shisōshi kenkyū (Studies on the history of feudal thought in Japan; Tokyo, 1961), pp. 136–216. See also G. M. Fisher, "The Life and Teaching of Nakae Toju," in Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan 36, Part 1 (1908): 24–94; W. T. de Bary, Ryusaku Tsunoda, and Donald Keene, eds., Sources of Japanese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), pp. 378–384, which offers selections, with an introduction.
Gino K. Piovesana, S.J. (1967)