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Reviewed by:
  • Practical Pursuits: Religion, Politics and Personal Cultivation in Nineteenth-Century Japan
  • Samuel Yamashita (bio)
Practical Pursuits: Religion, Politics and Personal Cultivation in Nineteenth-Century Japan. By Janine Sawada. University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu, 2004. xi, 387 pages. $45.00.

Janine Sawada’s Practical Pursuits: Religion, Politics and Personal Cultivation in Nineteenth-Century Japan is an important book that will elicit a range of responses from careful readers. It will especially satisfy those [End Page 492] interested in nineteenth-century popular religious movements in eastern Japan—the Tokyo and Yokohama areas—as well as those tired of intellectual biography and facile cliches about enduring traditions. Sawada’s book will, however, challenge and test those who expect a neat and uncomplicated analysis of Japanese popular religion in the nineteenth century.

The greatest contribution of Sawada’s Practical Pursuits is that it maps territory new to those who know only the English-language literature on nineteenth-century Japanese religion. Sawada begins with a brief account of the Confucian scholarly community between 1750 and 1850, dividing that community into three groups. The first group is the critics of the textualism inspired by Ogyū Sorai’s neoclassicism, Igai Keishō (1761–1845) and Ōta Kinjō (1765–1825); the second group is the Eclectics, including Inoue Kinga (1739–82), Katayama Kenzan (1730–82), and Hirose Tansō (1782–1856). The third and last group consists of “followers of Yōmeigaku and Shushigaku” who, in reaction to the textualism of the ancient learning movement, sought spiritual authenticity: Satō Issai (1772–1859), Takahashi Kōsetsu (1819–70), and Imakita Kōsen (1816–92).

In chapters 2 and 3, Sawada turns to three “lesser-known” figures who devised their own distinctive forms of spiritual practice: Yokoyama Marumitsu (1780–1854), a diviner who offered a form of divination that he claimed could change one’s character; Mizuno Nanboku (1760?–1864?), a physiognomist who believed that what one ate and drank determined whether one achieved virtue; and Inoue Masakane (1790–1849), the founder of a new religion who devised purification rituals that were said to enable both good health and mystical union with Amaterasu. Sawada argues that this trio, like the scholars discussed in chapter 1, created new forms of spiritual practice that resonated with their own religious experience and that of their followers. To do this, they drew on the prevailing discourses of the day, chiefly Confucian and Shintō discourses.

The redefinition of Confucianism in the Meiji period (1868–1911) is the subject of chapter 4. Sawada argues, first, that Confucianism was “removed from public higher education” and, second, that it was redefined as “learning” (gakumon) and made to signify more than just personal cultivation. As such, it came to mean something more general and universal, more Western, and more practical. For example, the 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education defined “learning” as having “social and political benefits—the harmony of the family and the success of the nation” (p. 102). And finally, Confucianism was characterized as a “philosophy” and not a “religion,” with the latter becoming a catchall for popular and devotional cults. This fascinating chapter is really about the survival of Confucianism after the Restoration and its reconfiguration for a new age.

In chapters 5, 6, and 7, Sawada describes how the Zen establishment in eastern Japan responded to the new Meiji government’s anti-Buddhist [End Page 493] policies. She points out that the government not only issued the Edict on Clarifying the Distinction between Gods and Buddhas but also decreed that Buddhist monks would be subject to taxation and conscription and that both they and nuns now could marry. The government even tried to undermine Buddhist temples financially by ordering them to make contributions to the state, prohibiting them from collecting debts, taking possession of their redand black-seal lands, and not allowing mendicant rounds. In response, the Rinzai establishment in eastern Japan maintained celibacy, stressed meditation, and affirmed the value of jitsugaku, or “practical learning,” a term that then acquired several different meanings. The Rinzai establishment also cultivated well-known and rich individuals as lay practitioners—called koji in the case of men and zenshi in the case of women—who offered badly needed “economic...


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