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Kokugaku ( Japanese 国学 / 國學 , dt. "National studies; national school; state school") was an ethnocentric , literary- philological and philosophical school in Japan for the study of classical Japanese literature , which emerged in the late 18th century .


The socio-economic change of this time was the cause of a crisis in Tokugawa society: the social circumstances were no longer compatible with the feudal order of the Tokugawa period . The Kokugaku studies of the time helped to fill the intellectual void that this crisis opened. As a result, the political order was called into question.

National scientists ( kokugakusha ) of the Tokugawa period

One of the key figures in the movement was Motoori Norinaga (1730–1801). Other main representatives were Kada no Azumamaro (1669-1736, a lay priest at Fushimi Inari-Taisha , to whom the word creation Kokugaku goes back), Kamo no Mabuchi (1697-1769), a student of Kada no Azumamaro, expert on the Manyōshū and author a 44-volume commentary by Kojiki , and Hirata Atsutane (1776–1843, a student of Motoori Norinaga and fierce critic of Buddhism , Confucianism, and Christianity ). They are also known as the "Big Four" of the Kokugaku movement. They have their own side shrines in the Nagano Shrine, in which they are venerated as Kami : the Motoori-jinja for Motoori, the Yakata-jinja for Hirata, the Agatai-jinja for Mabuchi and the Azumamaro-jinja for Kada-no-Azumamaro.

National studies

The aim of the Kokugaku studies was to find an intellectual answer to the crises perceived changes in the Tokugawa period. The Kokugaku scholars tried to achieve this goal by researching the oldest Japanese culture . This ancient culture was idealized and used to separate the newly invented idea of ​​a Japanese community or even society from foreign, especially Chinese, influences. The idea of ​​a Japanese community was often created precisely in negation of these foreign influences.

This was mainly done by studying the chronicles of antiquity, in particular Nihonshoki , Manyōshū and Kojiki . So was z. B. Motoori Norinaga the first scientist to discover an ancient Japanese language in Kojiki, with the reconstruction of which he tried to restore the pure, unadulterated Japanese values ​​of antiquity. Other constructs by other scientists glorified the origins of the Japanese people (first called kokumin and understood as derived from the Kami), the Japanese state ( kokutai ) and the Tennō .

Most of Kokugaku studies also rejected Buddhism and Confucianism as a foreign religion. The scientists concentrated on the reconstruction of a supposedly original, pure belief of the Japanese. This was also projected onto the term Shinto . The Kokugaku localized the heyday of this belief and the Japanese Empire in the period shortly before and during the Nara period .

Many of the Kokugaku studies questioned the social realities of the Tokugawa period and thus indirectly the rule of Bakufu . So was z. B. re-examines the relationship between ruler and subordinate, or criticizes public order as deficient. The Tennō was also assigned a central position in their theories (in opposition to the rule of the shogunate). So Norinaga put forward the thesis that the Tennō was the direct executor of the will of the Kami .

Many of the Kokugaku scholars accepted supposed contradictions in their statements: they ignore the fact that the Nara period was perhaps one of the most Chinese-influenced periods in the history of Japan, and that the basic myths exist in two different versions.

Starting with the Meiji Restoration , certain elites highlighted some scholars of the Kokugaku studies, while others were downright discriminated against as inferior. This was necessary in order to create a political ideology for the young Japanese nation-state with the aim of strengthening national consciousness. Certain ideas from the Kokugaku debate of the Tokugawa period were used for this purpose, while others were neglected.

The Kokugaku studies thus contributed to the theoretical legitimation of the modernization of Japan, in which, among other things, the Tennō was declared the highest symbol of national unity and the Japanese state was redesigned as a family state . The establishment of State Shinto was also largely based on the theoretical preparatory work of the Kokugaku.

See also


  • Lydia Brüll : Ôkuni Takamasa and his worldview: a contribution to the Kokugaku ideas . [Studies in Japanese Studies, No. 7]. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 1966.
  • Hans Stolte, Wilhelm Schiffer, Heinrich Dumoulin; "The development of the Kokugaku. Shown in their main representatives". In: Monumenta Nipponica , Vol. 2, No. 1 (Jan. 1939), pp. 140-164.
  • Harry Harootunian: Things Seen and Unseen: Discourse and Ideology in Tokugawa Nativism . Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1988.
  • Peter Nosco: Remembering Paradise. Nativism and Nostalgia in Eighteenth Century Japan . Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990.
  • Sigmara Sato-Diesner: Motoori Norinaga: the Hihon-Tamakushige; a contribution to the political thinking of the Kokugaku . Dissertation at the University of Bonn , 1977.
  • Michael Wachutka: Kokugaku in Meiji-period Japan: The Modern Transformation of 'National Learning' and the Formation of Scholarly Societies . Leiden, Boston: Global Oriental, 2013.

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