Kamo no Mabuchi

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KAMO NO MABUCHI (16971769), Japanese scholar of classical studies in the Tokugawa period (16001868); he wrote classical poetry under the pen names Shōjyō, Moryō, Iyō, and Agatai.

Mabuchi was born on March 4, 1697, into the Okabe family, descendants of the overseers of Kamo Shrine in Kyoto, at Iba, Ōmi province (modern Shizuoka Prefecture). Mabuchi's father was a Shintō priest and part-time farmer who encouraged his son to write poetry. At the age of ten (eleven by Japanese count) Mabuchi, who received initial instruction from the poet Kada Masako and then from her renowned husband, Sugiura Kuniakira, began taking active part in poetry tournaments.

At the age of twenty-five, Mabuchi made the acquaintance of Kada Azumamaro (16681736), scholar of classical studies and headmaster of the school of National Learning (Kokugaku) in Kyoto. Through his association with Watanabe Myōan, a scholar of Ogyū Sorai's school of Ancient Rhetoric (Kobunjigaku), Mabuchi met the Confucian Dazai Shundai, who introduced him to the study of classics in the manner developed by Sorai. Later, as he turned away from Chinese influences to embrace things Japanese, Mabuchi repudiated the scholarship of the members of the Sorai school as the work of eccentrics.

In 1734, after enrolling in Kada Azumamaro's school, Mabuchi began work on the eighth-century collection of poetry known as the Man'yōshū. Following Kada's death in 1736, Mabuchi moved to the capital at Edo (modern Tokyo), but returned frequently to Iba, for he believed it was possible to see the reality of human existence in the naiveté of the rural people. Thus he developed his concept of society based on an agricultural economic model combined with the Daoist principle of natural life. At the same time, he composed poetry and participated in poetry competitions. In 1742, he joined the service of Lord Tayasu, a member of the Tokugawa family, as a teacher of classical studies.

Opposing the tradition that saw the right of succession in schools of scholarship passed down through families, Mabuchi considered himself the successor to the Kada school. The number of his followers increased to almost 350, and three subschools emerged. In 1763, when Mabuchi was returning from a trip to the Yamato area (modern Nara), he met Motoori Norinaga (17301801), his future successor and a leading figure in the National Learning school.

It was Mabuchi's aim to understand the terminology and ideology of ancient (pre-Nara) times. He advocated adherence to Shintō doctrine and a return to the "natural" concepts of the ancient period as a means of discovering the supreme and correct kokoro ("soul, spirit") of the Japanese people. Influences from China and Confucian ideology were, in his interpretation, unnatural. In opposition to the principles set down by Confucians and Buddhists, Mabuchi stressed the philosophy of nonaction, or naturalness, by which it would be possible to unite one's kokoro with the spirit of the universe. He maintained that "artificial" knowledge, such as that propounded by Confucians and Buddhists, would only harm the spirit of the people. Therefore, since Japan's ancient period was based on what was pure and natural, it was essential that there be a return to the things of the past. In adoration of such an ideal concept, he attempted to revive the spirit of the classical times not only through the doctrines he propounded, but also in his style of clothing and the furnishings of his home. He studied ancient poetry and literature as a means of practicing the principles of old, thereby setting a high value on the myths of Japan's ancestral gods, the emperor, and the elements of nature.

Mabuchi pointed to the virtuous character of a bright, naive, and pure kokoro, a soul that was brave, honest, and gentle. This type of spirit would only manifest itself in a subject who was courageous and loyal to the emperor. Yet he did not regard the Tokugawa regime as suppressive of the interests of the emperor but rather praised its founding ruler, Tokugawa Ieyasu (15421616), for establishing a government with Shintō as its base.

See Also



One may find useful the details concerning the poetry of Kamo no Mabuchi in the book by Tamura Yoshinobu entitled Kamo no Mabuchi wakashū no kenkyū (Tokyo, 1966). The following biographical accounts are recommended for their detail: Koyama Tadashi's Kamo no Mabuchi den (Tokyo, 1938), and Terada Yasumasa's Kamo no Mabuchi shōgai to gyōseki (Hamamatsu, 1979). Descriptions of Mabuchi's religious philosophy can be found in Ōishi Arata's Kamo Mabuchi (Tokyo, 1942) and in Araki Yoshio's Kamo no Mabuchi no hito to shisō (Tokyo, 1943). On the scholarship of Mabuchi, see Inoue Minoru's Kamo no Mabuchi no gakumon (Tokyo, 1943). For Inoue's evaluation of the accomplishments of Mabuchi and his successors, see his Kamo no Mabuchi no gyōseki to monryū (Tokyo, 1966). The part that the interest in agriculture played in forming his philosophy is taken up by Saegusa Yasutaka in Kamo no Mabuchi, jimbutsu sōsho (Tokyo, 1962).

New Sources

Nosco, Peter. Remembering Paradise: Nativism and Nostalgia in Eighteenth-Century Japan. Cambridge, U.K., 1990.

Okumura Kōsaku. Kamo no Mabuchi: den to uta. Tokyo, 1996.

Saigusa Yasutaka. Kamo no Mabuchi. Tokyo, 1987.

Haga Noboru (1987)

Translated from Japanese by Irene M. Kunii
Revised Bibliography

Kamo Mabuchi

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Kamo Mabuchi

Kamo Mabuchi (1697-1769) was a Japanese writer, poet, and scholar and one of the major figures in the school of National Learning.

Kamo Mabuchi was born Masanobu, or Masafuji, the son of the superior (Kannushi) of the Kamo shrine in Totomi, and later took the name Mabuchi. He was chosen by a hosteler in Hamamatsu as son-in-law (the custom was not unusual). His father-in-law was disappointed though, if he expected help in the family business, for Mabuchi spent the greater part of his time with his books. Finally he obtained permission to go to Kyoto and study with Kada Azumamaro, a lay priest at the Inari shrine in Kyoto who had underwritten the Shinto revival.

Later Mabuchi went to Edo and became a teacher of considerable fame in his own right. The middle counselor (chunagon) Tayasu Munekata, a son of the Tokugawa shogun Yoshimune, was his patron. In 1760, however, Mabuchi left his teaching position to his adopted son Sadao and devoted himself to poetry and the study of antiquity.

A neo-Shintoist, Mabuchi was the first scholar of national importance in the movement called National Learning (kokugaku), which was an attempt to discover what was Japanese in Japanese literature and culture. Mabuchi insisted, not entirely correctly, that the 8th-century Manyoshu, an anthology of poetry, had been free of foreign influence and that it represented the true expression of national sentiments. He maintained that the Manyoshu poems were spontaneous, vigorous, and guileless. He said that they had a "manly style" (masuraoburi), by which he meant that the poems had strong feeling which stemmed from deep emotion. This sincerity and strength of emotion, he upheld, distinguished the Manyoshu from the Kokinshu, a 10th-century collection of poetry renowned for its elegance. Mabuchi himself composed poems in the Manyoshu style and urged others to follow his example.

The National Learning movement needed more than poetry for scripture, and in 1765 Mabuchi wrote A Study of the Idea of the Nation. It was written in almost pure Japanese, not the usual ornamental Chinese thought necessary in serious works for reasons of prestige. It was an attack on Chinese Confucian thought but was conceived largely in Taoist terms with direct and indirect references to Lao Tzu. Indeed, Taoist intuitive, anti-intellectual ideas were congenial to Shinto scholars.

Some of his other works were Kojiki shiki (Private Notes on the Kojiki), Manyo-ko (Treatise on the Manyoshu), Genji monogatari shinyaku (A New Interpretation of the Tale of Genji), and Saibara-ko (A Treatise on the saibara).

Mabuchi died on Oct. 31, 1769, at the age of 72. In 1883 he was awarded the court status of senior fourth rank and in 1905 junior third rank.

Further Reading

Short excerpts of Mabuchi's A Study of the Idea of the Nation may be found in Ryusaku Tsunoda and others, eds., Sources of the Japanese Tradition (1958). A study of Mabuchi is in Tsunetsugu Muraoka, Studies in Shinto Thought (trans. 1964). See also Robert N. Bellah, Tokugawa Religion: The Values of Pre-industrial Japan (1957), and Herschel Webb, The Japanese Imperial Institution in the Tokugawa Period (1968). □

Kamo no Mabuchi

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Kamo no Mabuchi (1697–1769). A Japanese Kokugaku scholar and poet. In 1733, leaving his wife and child behind, he journeyed to Kyōto to master classical Japanese studies and ancient Japanese. On the death of his master in 1736, he returned to Hamamatsu for a year and left home once again for Edo (modern Tokyo) to devote himself to the cause of Kokugaku. He became a prolific writer on the themes of Shinto studies, court customs, linguistics, and poetics, especially when these made evident the superiority of the Japanese tradition, in contrast to China, and his admiration for the ancient Japanese way of life became the main thrust of the Kokugaku Movement. His scholarship and thought attracted many able men such as Motoori Norinaga, Kao Chikage, and Murata Harumi.