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Zen & Philosophy

Michiko Yusa

Publication Year: 2002

This is the definitive work on the first and greatest of Japan's twentieth-century philosophers, Nishida Kitaro (1870-1945). Interspersed throughout the narrative of Nishida's life and thought is a generous selection of the philosopher's own essays, letters, and short presentations, newly translated into English.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Foreword: A Contemplative Life

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pp. vii-xii

It is for me an honor and a pleasant duty to preface this remarkable study. An intellectual biography is neither a mere historical account of the events of one particular person, more or less interesting as they might be, nor is it merely one more chapter in the history of ideas describing the more or less logical connection of one person's thought ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Without the support and kindness of many individuals and institutions, it would have been impossible to carry out the research that went into making this book. I would like to thank Western Washington University for granting me professional research leaves in 1991 and 1998. I would also like to thank the Japan Foundation for a fellowship that ...

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pp. xv-xxiv

Nishida Kitarö (1870–1945) defined for the Japanese what it means to philosophize. His thought was crowned with his name and came to be known as Nishida tetsugaku, or "Nishidan philosophy," and enjoyed high regard among his peers for its rigor and originality. His endeavors helped shape a major stream of philosophical discourse, known as ...

Conventions and Abbreviations

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pp. xxv-xxvi

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pp. 1-4

The winter of 1944–1945 was unusually cold. On December 14, Nishida wrote a letter to Suzuki Daisetz, his friend of sixty years: . . . It snowed yesterday morning. Snow in Kamakura in December is rare, don't you think? You must take care of yourself, as you said you have a cold. It can easily develop into pneumonia, and for old folks like us ...

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Chapter 1. Childhood: "White Sand, Green Pine Needles" (1870–1886)

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pp. 5-15

Nishida always remembered his childhood in association with "white sandy beaches surrounded by green needles of pine trees." His place of birth, Mori, was a small village, facing the Japan Sea, about twenty kilometers northwest of the city of Kanazawa. He was born on May 19, 1870, as the oldest son of Nishida Yasunori (1834–1898) and Tosa ...

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Chapter 2. Mathematics or Philosophy?: (1886–1891)

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pp. 16-29

In September 1886 Nishida, now sixteen, was admitted into the preparatory division of Ishikawa Prefecture Senmon Gakkö, when a place fell vacant. Höjö's recommendation must have been instrumental in his acceptance. Senmon Gakkö, or Higher School of Specialized Training, was the preparatory elite school for Tokyo University in and ...

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Chapter 3. The Imperial University: (1891–1894)

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pp. 30-40

When Nishida recovered from his eye trouble, he realized that his plan to study on his own was unrealistic. There was only one choice left for him—to take the entrance exam of the Imperial University as a "limited status" (senka) student. He was lucky that this option existed at all. It had been created on September 25, 1878, at the request of Katö ...

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Chapter 4. Existential Impasse and Zen Practice: (1894–1899)

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pp. 45-58

In July 1894 Nishida returned to Kanazawa, where he was promised a position as a teacher of English at the Ishikawa Prefecture Ordinary Middle School. But in September he learned that someone in the prefecture office had suggested another candidate. The official explanation was that someone trained in English had become available. ...

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Chapter 5. Toward Kensho: An Inner Journey (1899–1904)

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pp. 59-72

The Fourth Higher School Nishida returned to was being radically reformed under the leadership of Höjö Tokiyuki. Student conduct had deteriorated since the founding days of the school when Nishidahad been a student. After Japan's victory in its war with China (1894–1895), the higher school students had "softened" their moral values; ...

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Chapter 6. The Birth of a Philosopher: (1904–1907)

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pp. 76-89

The Russo-Japanese War broke out on February 9, 1904.1 By early May it claimed the life of Nishida's dear friend, Mukö Kikutarö, then a lieutenant commander in the Japanese navy.2 Because Mukö's wife had died in December 1903, his death left their newborn baby an orphan. Brooding over Mukö's orphaned child, Nishida wrote a ...

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Chapter 7. "Pure Experience" and "On Religion": (1908–1909)

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pp. 96-102

Nishida began 1908 with the idea of writing a book dealing with jitsuzai to jinsei (reality and life)1 but was forced to abandon the project because of his poor health; once again he was suffering from a recurrence of pleurisy. Instead, he produced an essay, "Junsui keiken to shii, ishi, oyobi chiteki chokkan" [Pure experience, cognition, will, and ...

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Chapter 8. Gakushuin in Tokyo: A Year of Transition (1909–1910)

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pp. 103-112

Nishida's gamble to move to Tokyo paid off handsomely. On the home front, he was able to rent a brand-new house in Nishi-ökubo,1 adjacent to the estate of Marquis Maeda Toshinari. This arrangement was made possible by Ishikawa Ryüzö, who was working for the Maeda family.2 The house was situated in a good school district, which was a prime ...

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Chapter 9. Kyoto Imperial University: Early Years (1910–1912)

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pp. 117-134

Nishida moved to Kyoto. He was forty years old, and Kotomi, thirty-five years old, was pregnant for the eighth time. By the time Nishida arrived in Kyoto, the rest of his family was already settled in a house on Konoe Street, a few blocks south of the university campus. Right away, he wrote postcards to his friends in Tokyo, informing them of ...

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Chapter 10. Consolidation of the Philosophy Department: (1913–1917)

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pp. 135-151

The year 1913, the second year of Taisho, marked a personal, professional, and intellectual turning point for Nishida. He felt he was ready to tackle substantial philosophical problems, and thus on New Year's Day he began writing an essay "Shii to chokkan" [Thinking and intuition], with which he embarked on the long and winding road that saw ...

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Chapter 11. Correspondence with Tanabe Hajime: (1913–1917)

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pp. 151-160

Sometime soon after their initial encounter in April 1913, Nishida andTanabe Hajime began corresponding. Tanabe, born in 1885, entered Tokyo Imperial University in 1904 to study mathematics but switched to philosophy midcourse. Upon graduation in 1908 he was admitted to the graduate school, where he remained until June 1912. In 1913, when ...

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Chapter 12. The Calm before the Storm: (1917–1919)

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pp. 161-170

Nishida caught the ï¬â€šu during the cold weather at the beginning of 1917, and this unfortunately led to the recurrence of chronic pleurisy.1 He initially planned to go to Tokyo to attend Yayoi's graduation in March but was obliged to stay at home until his health sufficiently recovered. In April, with the arrival of the warmer weather, he was ...

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Chapter 13. Sorrows of Life and Philosophy: (1919–1922)

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pp. 171-184

Kotomi regained her consciousness after the stroke, but she was completely paralyzed and became bedridden. Eight years later, Nishida confided to Yamamoto how he felt when his wife became disabled: . . . Human beings exist in time. Precisely because there is the past, such a thing as "I" exists. The fact that the past is present in the present ...

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Chapter 14. The Nishida-Einstein Connection: (1920–1922)

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pp. 185-187

Nishida had a hand in inviting Albert Einstein to Japan in 1922. He had been interested since 1920 in Einstein's theory of gravity from a philosophical point of view and asked Tanabe Hajime for his opinion of Harrow's From Newton to Einstein and Slosson's Easy Lessons in Einstein.1 This was a year before Einstein's nomination for a Nobel Prize ...

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Chapter 15. An Inner Struggle and a Breakthrough: (1923–1925)

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pp. 188-201

Tomoko's serious condition hung heavily on Nishida's mind at the beginning of 1923. Tomoko was still in the hospital and faced the possibility of becoming lame or mad. Nishida's waka of this time reads: ...

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Chapter 16. The Logic of the Topos: (1924–1926)

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pp. 202-209

The signature idea of "Nishidan Philosophy" is that of basho (place, field, topos, or chöra).1 Thus, it is worthwhile to pause for a moment to take a closer look at the inception of this idea, which is traceable to the 1924 essay, "Naibu chikaku ni tsuite" [On the inner perception],2 and his 1925 essay, "Hyögen sayö" [Expressive operation].3...

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Chapter 17. Retirement: (1926–1929)

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pp. 210-223

In Nishida's time university professors retired on their sixtieth birthday. Because his father had changed Nishida's official birth date to August 10, 1868, so that he could enter Normal School, his retirement was to come in August 1928. He welcomed early retirement. (Incidentally, 1928 was also the year of Edmund Husserl's retirement from the ...

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Chapter 18. Formation of the Kyoto School of Philosophy: (1929–1932)

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pp. 227-233

Nishida was enjoying his first winter in Kamakura. On February 1,1929, he was appointed professor emeritus.1 Visitors from the Kantöarea continued to stream in to his rented house at Zaimokuchö. The popular writer, Kurata Hyakuzö, who made Nishida's Zen no kenkyü a best-seller, called on him twice in February, and Tanabe Juri, Odaka ...

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Chapter 19. Remarriage and Nishida's View of Women: (1927–1931)

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pp. 234-244

Nishida's biggest concern around the time of his retirement was the future of his three daughters, Shizuko, Tomoko, and Umeko. "I have three daughters, all graduated from women's higher school, and the oldest is already twenty-three. I truly would like to see them married," 1 he wrote to a former student. He felt a heavy responsibility for ...

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Chapter 20. Development of Personalist Dialectics: (1932–1934)

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pp. 248-261

By December 1931 Nishida had finally found his long-sought personal happiness. In stark contrast, ominous events were beginning to cloud Japanese politics. In August 1931 former prime minister Hamaguchi Osachi died of the gunshot wound inflicted a year earlier by an assassin. On September 18 an unauthorized military démarche, known as...

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Chapter 21. Education and Scholarship under Fascism: (1935–1937)

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pp. 262-270

During the New Year's holiday of 1935, Nishida gave his customary series of lectures to the members of the Shinano Philosophical Society on the "logical structure of the actual world." 1 He then began a two months's stay in Kamakura on January 21. He agreed to an interview on February 26 with a journalist from Kaizösha that was published as ...

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Chapter 22. Dark Political Undercurrent: (1936–1937)

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pp. 278-289

The January 1936 issue of Shisö acknowledged Nishida's "sustained philosophical endeavor" and gave him a "proper philosophical salute, by organizing a symposium, in the truest sense of the word," with the hope that such a tribute would "contribute to the enrichment of the Japanese intellectual world." 1 Articles were contributed by Takahashi ...

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Chapter 23. The Dialectical World as the Absolutely Contradictory Self-Identity: (1938–1940)

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pp. 290-304

It seemed to Nishida that by 1938 the Ministry of Education had lost all guiding principles and was merely reacting to constantly changing political pressures. He spent the winter of 1938 in Kamakura. As soon as he arrived in Kamakura on January 27, he contacted Kido, minister of education, but Kido was too busy to see him. Instead, Kikuchi ...

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Chapter 24. History, State, and the Individual: (1940–1941)

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pp. 305-313

On January 15, 1940, the Abe cabinet dissolved and Yonai Mitsumasa, an admiral, was appointed prime minister. Two days earlier, the Tsuda incident had broken out, when the home minister took issue with Tsuda Sökichi's Kojiki oyobi nihonshoki no kenkyü [A study of the Records of Ancient Matters and the Chronicles of Japan]. Tsuda,1 a leading ...

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Chapter 25. Finale: (1942–1945)

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pp. 319-335

During his convalescence Nishida followed the doctor's advice to the letter, from daily shots to massage and dietary restrictions, for he had utter confidence in modern medicine. Because the muscles of his fingers were frozen so that he could hardly hold a pen, he spent a lot of time reading. He was drawn to scientific books such as Heisenberg's ...

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pp. 336-340

When Nishida died, Koto and Nishida's youngest daughter, Umeko, were at his bedside. News of his death reached Suzuki Daisetz almost immediately, and he rushed to the Nishidas' home. Several days after Nishida's death, Daisetz recorded his memories: ...


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pp. 341-402

Glossary of Names and Terms

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pp. 403-422


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pp. 423-454


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pp. 455-482

About the Author

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p. 483-483

E-ISBN-13: 9780824865658
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824824020

Publication Year: 2002