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Practical Pursuits

Practical Pursuits: Religion, Politics, and Personal Cultivation in Nineteenth-Century Japan

Janine Tasca Sawada
Copyright Date: 2004
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    Practical Pursuits
    Book Description:

    The idea that personal cultivation leads to social and material well-being became widespread in late Tokugawa Japan (1600–1868). Practical Pursuits explores theories of personal development that were diffused in the early nineteenth century by a network of religious groups in the Edo (Tokyo) area, and explains how, after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the leading members of these communities went on to create ideological coalitions inspired by the pursuit of a modern form of cultivation. Variously engaged in divination, Shinto purification rituals, and Zen practice, these individuals ultimately used informal political associations to promote the Confucian-style assumption that personal improvement is the basis for national prosperity. This wide-ranging yet painstakingly researched study represents a new direction in historical analysis. Where previous scholarship has used large conceptual units like Confucianism and Buddhism as its main actors and has emphasized the discontinuities in Edo and Meiji religious life, Sawada addresses the history of religion in nineteenth-century Japan at the level of individuals and small groups. She employs personal cultivation as an interpretive system, crossing familiar boundaries to consider complex linguistic, philosophical, and social interconnections.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6399-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    The nineteenth century was an era of extraordinary religious ferment in Japan. Popular thought and culture underwent a surge of creativity, especially during the last several decades of the Tokugawa shogunal order. New religious groups, revivals of older ones, mass pilgrimages, devotional gatherings, and moralist associations of various types proliferated. The religious restlessness, which the governing authorities periodically suppressed with indifferent success, is often interpreted as part of the larger social turmoil that led to the Meiji Restoration or (in the case of movements that first appeared after 1868) as a manifestation of popular dissatisfaction with the dramatic changes that...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Fertility of Dead Words
    (pp. 10-27)

    The assumption that the psychological, physiological, social, and cosmic conditions of an individual’s existence were closely related to each other, with changes in the more personal or particular spheres reverberating progressively in the larger, more universal ones, was rarely disputed in late Tokugawa religious discourse. For many, the key to an auspicious existence at all levels was the reality closest at hand—their own inner state or moral condition. Others felt that although one’s state of mind was indeed paramount, it was in turn affected by other, more external aspects of existence. Even these components of reality, however, were still...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Divination as Cultivation
    (pp. 28-57)

    The polemic against textualism was carried out at all levels of the Confucian linguistic community—by professional scholars and educated religious leaders, such as those already discussed, and by popular interpreters of personal cultivation. In this and the next chapter I take up theories and systems of practice that were generated by some of the lesser-known thinkers of the early nineteenth century: diviners and the founder of a new religion. All of these individuals shared energetically in the task of creating a hermeneutics that promised resolution of the perceived discontinuity between the dominant cultural discourse, much of which was articulated...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Breathing as Purification
    (pp. 58-88)

    The thinkers discussed in the preceding pages universally relied on the Neo-Confucian cultivation paradigm as a point of reference in their discourses on the pursuit of happiness and success in life. Core members of the Confucian linguistic community—who were well versed in the classical texts—such as Ōta Kinjō , Satō Issai, Imakita Kōsen, and Takahashi Kōsetsu, respected the power of those texts, and each in his own way interpreted them for a public audience. At the same time, these scholars created special interpretive enclaves in which they depicted the texts not as sources of absolute truth but as...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Parameters of Learning
    (pp. 89-117)

    The festering preoccupation with linguistic renewal and everyday practicability that marked late Tokugawa religious discourse broke into an efflorescence of new proposals after the collapse of the shogunal order. Language was now actively and openly created. It was through language that people first took possession of the growing influx of ideas and objects from abroad; they interpreted the new phenomena and created new lexical codes to express those interpretations.¹ Neologisms, formulated in rapid succession, expressed novel insights but at the same time revised old ones, for with the circulation of the new rubrics, the meanings of related older terms changed...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Practical Learning in the Meditation Hall
    (pp. 118-143)

    The preoccupation among educated people in the early Meiji to create and institutionalize forms of learning that were “practical” and “real” in contradistinction to traditional Chinese textual studies might be interpreted as the final tidal wave of dissatisfaction with the Confucian scholarly project that washed over the mid- to upper levels of Japanese society during the first half of the nineteenth century. Yet it was driven in a more immediate sense, as we have seen, by the pressing demand for a unified, industrialized Japan. The identification of practical forms of knowledge now became a matter of political debate, in which...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Koji Zen
    (pp. 144-165)

    The changes in political life that took place in early Meiji society extended beyond the secular arena; new social structures emerged within and among individual religious organizations. Buddhist clergy struggled during this time to formulate new modes of political consciousness pertinent to their social circumstances just as did Meiji citizens generally. In August 1884 the government discontinued the doctrinal instruction campaign and gave sectarian directors (kanchō) the power to appoint or dismiss their own abbots. At the same time, it ordered each sect to submit its rules of internal organization to the government for approval. In the case of the...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Shifting Boundaries in the Sangha
    (pp. 166-191)

    The increased lay activism of the Meiji period is sometimes called a “movement” (undō), but it was by no means a mass phenomenon. It was spearheaded in the Rinzai case by a select number of men who possessed significant status in the secular sphere. In the following pages I single out two individuals, Yamaoka Tesshū and Kawajiri Hōkin, who played a leading role in the formation ofkoji Zenin the Kantō area during the late nineteenth century. Shaku Sōen, their younger contemporary and fellow practitioner at Engakuji, later credited these two with laying the foundations for the success of...

  13. CHAPTER 8 The Great Synthesis
    (pp. 192-210)

    During the same years in which lay practitioners were making their presence felt in long-standing Buddhist institutions like Engakuji, the members of less-established communities were reconceiving their socioreligious identities through a state-sponsored process of centralization, leading in several cases to their official designation as “Shinto sects.” These Meiji groupings were highly diverse. Some originated in the activities of charismatic leaders whose ideas and practices had developed into identifiable religious systems before the end of the Tokugawa period. These popular, often syncretic movements, which have come to be called “Shinto-derived new religions” (Shintōkei shinshūkyō), found the quest for recognition in the...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Enlightened Conservatives
    (pp. 211-235)

    Public discourse about the future of Japan took on a singular urgency in Meiji society during the 1880s. Many of those who had lived through the Restoration of 1868 became increasingly concerned in the ensuing years about the rapid changes taking place in the country and their implications for the national cultural identity. Now they also faced the prospect of constitutional government and a national assembly. In Carol Gluck’s words, “for those who lived through it, the decade of the eighties had a headlong forward thrust. For every backward glance toward the changes that had transpired in the recent past,...

  15. CHAPTER 10 The Enemy Within
    (pp. 236-258)

    For the leaders of the Society of the Great Japanese Way, who campaigned to convince the public that a broad configuration of Shinto, Confucian, and Buddhist teachings was Japan’s true civic creed, the question of religious acceptability was presumably not a matter of particular doctrines and practices. The collaborative, pan-sectarian impulses of the time indeed allowed much leeway in the construction of models of social and religious behavior. However, the driving force behind the formation of Daidōsha and other such coalitions of the time was fundamentally political and ideological in nature rather than religious ecumenism for its own sake. Such...

    (pp. 259-262)

    In the Tokugawa milieu treated early in this book, Confucian scholars, Buddhist priests, morality preachers, fortune-tellers, and new-religion founders promoted their teachings by referring to paradigms of personal cultivation that all took for granted. They shared a certain perception of the world in which they lived, a perception that was at the same time modulated in accordance with each one’s social environment and interests.¹ For these individuals and their followers, the quest was not to modify the existing order directly, but to show how the pursuit of each one’s particular proposal would lead to the fulfillment of the common vision...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 263-329)
    (pp. 330-344)
    (pp. 345-368)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 369-387)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 388-388)