Kokugakuin Archives[Chapter 1]What is Kokugaku?

Kokugaku is an academic discipline comprised of 1.) the empirical investigation of various aspects of Shintō and Japanese traditional culture and 2.) the application of the fruits of that research to daily life.  As Kokugaku developed in the early modern period (Edo Period 1603-1868), the discipline achieved a level of diversity and integration, and ancient texts and artifacts were taken up as  “mono(material)” —objects to be used for research into the "kokoro (sprit)” of the Japanese.  Kokugaku scholars formed a network that was active throughout Japan, and after the Meiji Restoration (1868) they engaged in public proselytizing, education, and publishing activities.  The development of the humanities as an academic discipline in Japan during the early modern period owes much to the foundations established through the efforts of these Kokugaku scholars. This history is also where we find the origins of the research and education activities of this university, Kokugakuin.

-The Petition to Establish a School and the origins of Kokugaku-

Kada no Azumamaro (1669-1736) of  Inari Shrine in Yamashiro (present-day Fushimi Inari Taisha) is generally called the Founder of Kokugaku.  He submitted a Petition to Establish a School to the Shogunate, proposing to structure education around the study of literature, Shintō, the Japanase language, history, and law — a comprehensive education in the humanities.  His petition was not accepted due to his death, but later Kokugaku scholars respected Azumamaro and evaluated his proposal highly as a symbol of the origin of Kokugaku. 

-The "Four Great kokugaku Scholars"(Kokugaku shitaijin/Kokugaku shiushi)-

Kada no Azumamaro conducted research into the Japanese classics, prioritizing the Kojiki, the Nihon Shoki, and the Manyōshū.  He established the lineage of Kokugaku by teaching the Way of the Gods of Heaven and Earth (Jingidō) and poetry to students who had been recruited from among the samurai and from the Shintō priesthood of the capital, Edo.  One of his students,  Kamo no Mabuchi (1697-1769) published actively, producing many students of his own, and generally establishing the reputation of Kokugaku.  Kamo’s most brilliant student was Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) who penned the first detailed commentary on the Kojiki, thereby  elevating the study of the Japanese classics to a new level.   After Norinaga’s death, Hirata Atsutane (1776-1843), a devotee of Norinaga’s legacy, published many popular works which brought Kokugaku to the attention of the masses.  These four Edo period figures are collectively known as the Four Giants of Kokugaku. 

-The Succession and Growth of Kokugaku-

The knowledge of Kokugaku was traditionally transmitted from teachers to students who inherited the tradition.  The methods of instruction used by Kokugakusha were based on face-to-face teacher-student interaction and correspondence by letter.  Later, private academies and schools were established, and these further emphasized the development of younger generations of Kokugakusha.  For example, the blind scholar Hanawa Hoki’ichi (1746-1821) received support from the Shogunate to establish a school, and together with his students he published the Gunshoruijū, an enormous collection of historical documents related to the topics of Kokugaku research. Through the efforts of Hanawa and his students, Kokugaku achieved a high level of development in both education and publishing.  The lineages established by Motoori Norinaga and Hirata Atsutane also had far-reaching influence. Following the Meiji Restoration,  students from these schools were active in the worlds of Kokugaku and Shintō.  The legacy of Kokugaku was inherited by the Imperial Institute for the Study of the Classics—which later became Kokugakuin University.