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Political Thought in Japanese Historical Writing

From Kojiki (712) to Tokushi Yoron (1712)

John S. Brownlee

Publication Year: 1991

It was only at the onset of the Tokugawa period (1602-1868) that formal political thought emerged in Japan. Prior to that time Japanese scholars had concentrated, rather, on questions of legitimacy and authority in historical writing., producing a stream of works. Brownlee’s illuminating study describes twenty of these important historical works commencing with Kojiki (712) and Nihon Shoki (720) and ending with Tokushi Yoron (1712) by Arai Hakuseki. Historical writing would cease to be the sole vehicle for political discussion in Japan in the eighteenth century as Chinese Confucian thought became dominant.

The author illustrates how the first works conceptualized history as imperial history and that subsequent scholars were unable to devise alternative schemes or patterns for history until Arai Hakuseki. Following the first histories, the central concern became the question of the relation of the Emperors to the new powers that arose. Brownlee examines the genre of Historical Tales and how it treated the Fujiwara Regents, the War Tales dealing with warriors at large, and specific works of historical argument depicting the Bakufu in relation to the Emperors. By interposing the works of Gukanshø (1219) by Jien, Jinnø Shøtøki (1339) by Kitabatake Chikafusa and Tokushi Yoron by Arai Hakuseki a clear pattern, demonstrating the sequential development of complexity and sophistication in handling the question, is revealed. Japanese political thought thus developed independently towards rationalism and secularism in early modern times.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Frontispiece

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

The major works of Japanese historical writing have been translated into English. Believing that these translations are made for the use of scholars, I have cited them freely; however, I have preferred my own renderings of some passages, as indicated in the footnotes...

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1940—A Year of Singular Importance

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pp. 1-2

The year 1940 was the 2,600th anniversary of the accession of the first Emperor of Japan, Emperor Jinmu in 660 B.C. The event was entirely mythical; yet, remarkably, the government of Japan was organized under a constitution of 1889 which accepted the event as historical. The...

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pp. 3-6

In the Japanese tradition there were no political philosophers before the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). This is surprising, because in earlier periods there appeared to be a need for some form of political expression. The first such era included the time of the establishment of the imperial state (550-700) and the period of its early maintenance...

Part I: Creating Imperial History

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Chapter 1: Kojiki (712): Japan's First Book

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pp. 8-19

The Preface of Kojiki says that Emperor Tenmu (r. 673-686) commanded a young man of prodigious memory named Hieda no Are, aged 28, to learn by heart certain texts of history. All these texts, whose titles indicate that they contained chronicles and genealogies of the imperial...

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Chapter 2: Nihon Shoki (720): The First National History

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pp. 20-32

The date of composition of Nihon Shoki is important because of the light it sheds on the stature of the work as a document of political thought. If it were begun in 681 by a team of princes and high officials and completed in 720, as the evidence suggests, two generations or more worked on the...

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Chapter 3: The Five National Histories and Imperial Scholarship

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pp. 33-40

The completion of Nihon Shoki was an event of great importance in the history of Japan. First, it marked the end of the interlocked processes of creating the state, and of explaining and justifying its origins: both the state and its history were universally acceptable in 720. Little more...

Part II: Accommodating the Fujiwara Regency

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Chapter 4: Historical Tales

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pp. 42-58

A new type of historical writing—Historical Tales—emerged during the long period of the Fujiwara Regency. The turning-point between the ancient imperial period and the classical era was the assumption by Fujiwara Yoshifusa (804-872) in 858 of the position of Regent (Sesshō)...

Part III: Legitimizing the Warriors

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Chapter 5: The Rise of Military Government

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pp. 60-66

The political history of Japan consists of the repeated replacement of one ruling group by another within the structure of the imperial state. In the beginning there was symmetry of structure and power as the Emperors exercised authority according to the design of the system. We...

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Chapter 6: War Tales

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pp. 67-76

The rise of the warriors to dominance in Japan did provoke one interesting passage of direct political discussion. This occurred in the biography of a priest, Myōe Shonin Denki (Biography of St. Myōe), which is discussed in the next chapter. What is more remarkable is the fact that...

Part IV: The Riddle of the Defeated Emperors

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Chapter 7: Historiography of the Jōkyū War

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pp. 78-90

The defeat of the imperial forces in the Jōkyū War of 1221 was shocking. None of the disasters that had befallen Emperors in previous times had the same immediacy, because they all took place within the court. After all, there was a long history of actual disrespect for the person of the...

Part V: From Imperial to Secular History

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Chapter 8: Historical Principles in Gukamhō (1219)

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pp. 92-102

Gukamhō (Miscellany of Ignorant Views) makes a great leap in Japanese thought. It is filled with anxiety for the political future of Japan, which seemed disastrous at the time of composition in 1219. In order to explain the impending disasters and perhaps to prevent them...

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Chapter 9: Historical Explanation in Jinnō Shōtōki (1339)

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pp. 103-115

The Japanese imperial court of the medieval period had two debilitating shortcomings: recurrent bouts of competition for the succession, and fits of unfounded optimism about the possibility of destroying the military government. Together they almost caused the destruction of the...

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Chapter 10: Secular, Pragmatic History in Tokushi Yoron (1712)

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pp. 116-128

Gukamhō and Jinnō Shōtōki are called works of historical argument. A third study that is conventionally grouped with them is Tokushi Yoron (A Reading of History, 1712) by Arai Hakuseki. It brings to a conclusion the long line of discussion initiated by the construction of an imperial...


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pp. 129-133


Appendix A

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pp. 135-137

Appendix B

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p. 138-138


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pp. 139-140


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pp. 141-148


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pp. 149-154


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pp. 155-158

E-ISBN-13: 9780889208742
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889209978
Print-ISBN-10: 0889209979

Page Count: 174
Publication Year: 1991