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Confucianism in Japan

Confucianism was first introduced into Japan in the sixteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Ojin, or 285 AD according to the ordinary table of historical dates, but probably some 120 years later. It met with no opposition, and in this respect, too, it differed from both Buddhism and Christianity, which were strongly resisted at their introduction, resulting in each case in much bloodshed. This indicates that its teachings were from the first in harmony with the innate character of the Japanese.

In the reign of the Emperor Ojin, the King of Kudara, the Introducancient name of a principality of Korea, sent one Achiki as envoy to the Japanese Court. This man, who was well versed in the Chinese classics, recommended to the Emperor a compatriot, Wani by name, as far more learned than himself. At his suggestion the Emperor sent for Wani, who came in the year following and offered to the Throne the 'Rango' ('Analects') and the 'Senjimon' ('Thousand Ideographs'), which he had brought with him from his native country. The Crown Prince, Uji-no-Wakairatsuko, studied under him, and in the course of time mastered these Chinese classical books. This was the beginning of Confucianism in Japan.

In the long list of distinguished names connected with the Confucianism of this period (circ. 400-1298 AD), that of Michizan6 Sugawara stands out by far the most prominently. But even he did not make Confucianism his life study, as did the Confucianists of the third period. A follower of Confucius on the one hand, he was a worshipper of Buddha on the other, and, as a result, the moral principles of loyalty and filial piety, and the religious doctrines of renunciation and Nirvana, occupied their places in his mind without the least conflict or unity.

In the sixth year of the Kwampei era (894 AD) Michizane was appointed Imperial envoy to the Chinese Court and Ki-no-Haseo vice-envoy. At that time China was ruled by Chao-tsung, the last Emperor of the Tang dynasty, whose reign was marked by a series of civil wars, and revolution appeared to be impending. Informed of this state of affairs in China, Michizan saw the uselessness of sending an envoy thither, and notified this to the Emperor, who accepted his suggestion. In consequence official intercourse with China came to an end, and a great check was given to the influx of Chinese civilization.

In the Kamakura epoch, however, a change came about, for intercourse between Buddhist priests of both countries had begun to be carried on to a considerable extent, and this ultimately served to restore the old relations between Chinese and Japanese culture, until, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Sung school of learning was introduced into our country. It is not known who was the first to introduce this branch of Confucian culture, but there is little doubt that such a person as Ni-Ishan, a Chinese priest who came to Japan in the first year of the Shoan era (1299), had much to do with the propagation of the doctrine.

Towards the close of the second period (1299-1602) and at the beginning of the third (1602-1867), some priests voluntarily abandoned their offices in the Buddhist ministry and adopting Confucianism as the true canon of 'secular morality.' When Iyeyasu Tokugawa subjugated all the militant generals and established his government upon the basis of feudalism, an end was put to the long-continued series of disturbances, and peace was restored to a suffering nation. Learning, long forgotten by the majority of the people, now began to find favor once again in the eyes of an increasing number of patrons, and with it Confucianism came to assume a position of prime importance as an educational system. Buddhism began to decline in proportion as Confucianism became more and more influential. This was only a natural tendency of the time, when culture was liberated from all forms of old religious superstitions and came into direct contact with 'secular morality.' Thus a new epoch in the history of thought was brought about.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:19:01 ZULU