Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600-1945: The Age of the Gods and Emperor Jinmu

Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600-1945: The Age of the Gods and Emperor Jinmu

Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600-1945: The Age of the Gods and Emperor Jinmu

Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600-1945: The Age of the Gods and Emperor Jinmu


Ancient tales tell of Japan's creation in the Age of the Gods, and of Jinmu, a direct descendant of the Sun Goddess and first emperor of the imperial line. These founding myths went unchallenged until Confucian scholars in the Tokugawa period initiated a reassessment of the ancient history of Japan. The application of Western theories of modern scientific history in the Meiji period further intensified the attacks on traditional beliefs. However, with the rise of ultranationalism following the Meiji Constitution of 1889, official state ideology insisted on the literal truth of these myths, and scholars who argued otherwise soon met with public hostility and government suppression. In Japanese Historians and the National Myths, John Brownlee examines how Japanese historians between 1600 and 1945 interpreted the ancient myths of their origins. These myths lay at the core of Japanese identity and provided legitimacy for the imperial state. Focusing on the theme of conflict and accommodation between scholars on one side and government and society on the other, Brownlee follows the historians' reactions to pressure and trends and their eventual understanding of history as a science in the service of the Japanese nation. This is the first comprehensive study of modern Japanese historians and their relationship to nationalism. It breaks new ground in its treatment of Japanese intellectual history and provides new insights into the development of Japan as a nation. Japanese Historians and the National Myths will prove invaluable to scholars of Japanese history on both sides of the Pacific, as well as to those interested in political ideology, nationalism, censorship, and mythology.


Hayashi Razan (1583-1657) and Hayashi Gahō (1618-80): Founders of Modern Historical Scholarship

The World of Neo-Confucianism

A new era began in Japan in 1600. In that year, a final victory in battle was achieved by an eastern alliance of warlords, led by Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542- 1616), over a western alliance, and peace came upon the land for the first time since 1333. Tokugawa Ieyasu went on to found a new and powerful government, the Tokugawa Bakufu [Military Government], which survived under Ieyasu's descendants and kept the peace until 1868. The government was new, but its form was old, for the first bakufu had been established in 1192. The legitimacy of the Tokugawa Bakufu also rested on ancient foundations. Its head, the shogun, was officially appointed by the emperor of Japan, who retained sovereignty over the nation.

Although Japan's governing institutions were ancient, a new intellectual era was born with the establishment of the Tokugawa Bakufu. Japan was a populous country, estimated at twelve to eighteen million, and its people were well versed in both practical skills and high arts. Its old traditions and ways of thinking had proved inadequate, yielding centuries of civil war, and the people were ready for new ideas. The old ways of thinking had little to offer. Medieval Shinto had worked its way into the repetition of esoteric mysteries and had nothing to contribute to the need to reorganize. Buddhism had become identified with militant sects that had been defeated in military battle, and the defeat weighed heavily on the Buddhists, deadening their intellects. But at hand lay Neo-Confucianism, imported from China, a fully developed, systematic, rational philosophy that explained and justified all things. Neo-Confucianism affected every aspect of Japanese thought in the Tokugawa period, including the study of history, and brought new life to that subject.

Modern historical writing in Japan began with Hayashi Razan. He is described as 'the founder of modern historical scholarship. With Razan, historical scholarship emerged from the middle ages and changed into one . . .

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