AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 614

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Session 614: History, Literature, and Religion: Toward a New Paradigm for Kokugaku

Organizer: Mark T. McNally, University of Hawaii, USA

Chair: Ann Wehmeyer, University of Florida, USA

Discussant: Ann Wehmeyer, University of Florida, USA

Over the last few decades, research on Kokugaku has been important to Japanese studies. Although the followers of Kokugaku pursued their work in ways that would span a number of disciplines in the academy today, those who study Kokugaku now do so from within the confines of their professional disciplines. Disciplinary approaches have yielded significant contributions to their respective fields, but their impact across disciplines has been less noticeable. Peter Flueckiger's work in literary studies calls into question the prominence of the dichotomy of Kokugaku and Confucianism in the minds of Edo intellectuals; 18th-century followers of Kokugaku were sometimes oblivious to this distinction, and were even concerned with demonstrating continuities with Confucianism. Wilburn Hansen's research in religious studies problematizes the categorization of nativism for Kokugaku, arguing that it introduces ambiguity and even misunderstanding when approaching the Shinto teachings of Hirata Atsutane. Mark McNally's work in history echoes this sentiment, asserting that the categorization of Edo-period Kokugaku as nativism is problematic, and even betrays an impulse to exoticize Japan. These papers challenge long-standing interpretations in the field of Japanese studies. By attempting to access developments outside of one's own field, and by making a serious effort to make one's work accessible to those outside of it, one will be able to more closely approximate the truly interdisciplinary character of Edo Kokugaku. At the same time, one is afforded a larger perspective on the development of research on Kokugaku within Japanese studies.

Classifying Kokugaku: Nativism and Edo Japan
Mark T. McNally, University of Hawaii, USA

The institution of Kokugaku is something that we associate mostly with the Edo period, so that the discipline of history has been fundamental to the study of Kokugaku. Western scholars publishing in English have categorized Kokugaku as a Japanese form of nativism. Consequently, Kokugaku and nativism have become synonymous in Japanese studies outside of Japan. However, upon a closer examination of this identification of Kokugaku with nativism, one discovers that it is overly simplistic and even misleading. Nativism is a term with roots in American history, when native-born Anglo-Saxon Protestants fought, both politically and even physically, against Irish Catholic immigrants. While Kokugaku followers were notoriously opposed to foreign cultural influences in Japan, they harbored no particularly anti-immigrant agenda. At the same time, nativism is not simply synonymous with anti-foreignism. Thus, it is time to reconceptualize Kokugaku historiographically. In order to free the study of Kokugaku from its forced classification as nativism, I will make two assertions. First, I will demonstrate how the field of Japanese studies has misunderstood and misused the concept of nativism. For this reason, historical phenomena that more closely conform to nativism, such as the 'expel the barbarian' movement of the Bakumatsu era, has evaded a more useful categorization. Second, rather than argue that Kokugaku defies Western conceptual categories, or that there is another singular equivalent term that has heretofore gone unnoticed, I propose that the actions and ideas of Kokugaku adherents span a range of classifications, including nationalism and especially exceptionalism.

Kokugaku, Waka, and Confucianism in Eighteenth-Century Japan
Peter Flueckiger, Pomona College, USA

Eighteenth-century Kokugaku is commonly portrayed as having freed Japanese literature from its subordination to Confucian ideals. Kokugaku was not as unified or well-defined a movement, though, as it is sometimes made out to be; the term “Kokugaku” itself was not in wide or consistent use in the eighteenth century, and the figures that modern scholars associate with Kokugaku encompass a variety of philosophical perspectives. I argue that the notion of a conflict between Kokugaku and Confucian views of literature, while not without some validity, is overly simplistic. I explore this question by examining how a number of figures, all of whom are today typically classified as belonging to Kokugaku, conceived of waka in relation to Confucianism. Tayasu Munetake (1715-1771) was prominent for his poetry in the Man'yooshuu style, and interpreted the significance of this poetry through the metaphysics of Zhu Xi (1130-1200). Kamo no Mabuchi (1697-1769) and Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) argued, each in a different way, that waka achieved through natural emotional expression the social harmony that Confucianism tried to impose through rigid moral rules. Murata Harumi (1746-1811) was a student of Mabuchi and a famous waka poet, yet defined himself as a Confucian, and saw the study of the Japanese past as an extension of Confucian learning. These views reveal the multifaceted nature of eighteenth-century discourse on the relationship between Japanese literature and Confucianism, and challenge the picture of a simple repudiation of Chinese thought in favor of native traditions.

A Problem with Studies of “Nativist” Ritual
Wilburn N. Hansen, San Diego State University, USA

Scholarly research on Hirata Atsutane that emphasizes nativism reveals important motivating factors for his religious formations; however, this nativist emphasis also inevitably diverts attention from the specifics of the Edo period Japanese religious context. This case study of Atsutane's Maichoo shinpai shiki demonstrates how the rewards of the nativist focus tend to overcomplicate questions of the classical origin of Japanese religious formations and oversimplify social and personal factors in Atsutane's work. Atsutane's Maichoo shinpai shiki is a norito recorded by Atsutane in 1829. It is a ritual script consisting of twenty-five verses in praise of deities, along with directions for actions to be performed when reciting those verses. This norito is important because it can be understood as the skeletal structure of Hirata Shinto and is a shortcut to delineating the hierarchy of deities constructed by Atsutane. Still, it is essential to note that it was designed to update versions of similar works composed by Motoori Norinaga and Motoori Ohira. In Maichoo shinpai shiki Atsutane focused on the creation of a daily ritual for the “true” religion of Japan. Each verse is theologically supported by his idiosyncratic studies of ancient Japanese textual sources, and informed by the studies of Norinaga, whom he supports for the most part, but with whom he also had profound differences. In short, Atsutane's construct had nativist motivation, but was also meant to affirm and distinguish his important role within what we call the kokugaku lineage.