Naturalization of Confucianism in Japan

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The Naturalization of Confucianism in Japan and the “Way of the Warrior”
Confucianism was first introduced to Japan with the importation of Chinese culture from China long before the beginning of the Tokugawa period in sixth century AD. From an alien philosophy to a widely accepted ideology, Confucianism experienced its unique modification and naturalization in Japanese society. It was in the Tokugawa period that Confucianism was widely spread throughout the nation and studied by many Japanese intellectuals. It was also the further questioning that made Confucianism its own unique way in Japan.

Although Japan adopted the Chinese style of the imperial bureaucracy system, the governments between these two countries were still much different. Japan had its strict frozen class social system which did not allow any movement between classes. That was one of the most important reasons that would eventually bring about 260 years domestic peace and stability. Confucianism was promoted by the Tokugawa ruling class because it emphasized the importance of knowing one’s role in life and knowing how to properly conduct relations with others. This point was consistent with the ruling class’ view that one should behave properly in the society according to his or her role in specific social rankings. That is why Confucianism was supported by the shogun and other regional rulers in Japan. Also it became the dominant intellectual and philosophical movement in the society.

However, given the difference between Japanese and Chinese societies, some changes must be made in the phase of naturalizing this foreign philosophy in order to perfectly integrate Confucianism into Japanese social and political life. We know that on the top of the Tokugawa social hierarchy system was the samurai class which was also the ruling class of the country. Followed were the peasant class, the merchant class and the artisan class. During the war time before Tokugawa period, samurais achieved their social position by fighting for their lords. However, when the country was unified and entered an enduring phase of stability and peace, without any real foreign threat, the samurai class became superfluous. They lived on the top of other classes at the expense of the other social classes. They ate the food which were produced by the peasants and enjoyed consumption good which were provided by merchants and artisans. In the contrast of the function of other social classes, the function of the samurai class in the society hence became unclear. If their function could not be well defined in the society, the frozen social class system might come to an end which would eventually threaten the Tokugawa regime. Different from Japan, although China also did have a social class hierarchy system, the ruling class in China was not warriors, but scholar officials. In the Chinese context, a government official must be an outstanding Confucian scholar so that he would have the necessary ability to serve the country. Furthermore, the Chinese class hierarchy was not as strict as its Japanese counterpart. In China, Confucianism encouraged ideas of merit and learning. This allowed some mobility between different social classes on the basis of learning and meritorious achievement. Given the difference between these two countries, Confucian teaching in the Japanese samurai class must be modified to suit the Japanese own need.

As we mentioned earlier, Confucianism stressed the importance of knowing one’s role in the society and knowing how to properly conduct relations with others in the society. A core teaching of Confucianism was the five human relationships--- those between ruler and minister, parent and child, husband and wife, older and younger brothers, and friends. There were also values of Five Constant Virtues in the “Way” of Confucian practice, which were humaneness, righteousness, ritual decorum, wisdom, and trustworthiness.[1] Chinese Confucianism stressed “humaneness” and...
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