15-B: Philosophy

By Federico Marcon, Fall 2002


Theoretical Premises

Preliminary Research


Primary Sources

Selected Manuals

Selected Journals

Theoretical Premises

Japanese scholars usually employ two different terms (and therefore two different categories) to refer to Japanese philosophical debate.  The first is shisô 思想. Sometimes translated as "thought", "way of thinking", or more recently "intellectual history", it point to the intellectual debate before 1862.  The second, tetsugaku 哲学, is generally used to translate the English "philosophy" and refer to the philosophical debate in the West as well as in Japan according to the European tradition.  The term kitetsugaku 希哲学, then simplified in tetsugaku, was "invented" in 1862 by the rationalist Nishi Amane 西周 (1829-97) in order to distinguish Western philosophy from Buddhist and Chinese thought.  As Gino Piovesana put it, "Kitetsugaku was a new word, the result, maybe, of discussion between Nishi and his friend and colleague at the Center [Center for the Investigation of Barbarian Books, Bansho Shirabesho 蕃書調所], Tsuda Mamichi [津田真道] (1821-1903), who developed an early interest in philosophy.  The new term became known in 1874, when Nishi printed it in his work Hyakuichi shinron [百一新論] (A New Theory on the Hundred and One Doctrine)".  (from Gino K. Piovesana, Recent Japanese Philosophical Thought, 1862-1996: A Survey. Tokyo: Japan Library, 1997, p. 1). While today shisô and tetsugaku are quite precisely distinguished in usage in Japanese scholarly writings, the categorization is not shed of theoretical problems.  I will list them before dealing with the bibliographical sources in both fields.

1. If  shisô refers mainly to the traditional intellectual debates before the introduction of the concepts of Western philosophy, how shall we deal with original thinkers like Nishida Kitarô 西田幾多郎 (1870-1945) or Watsuji Tetsurô 和辻哲郎 (1889-1960) who actually mixed both traditions?

2. What about the rangaku 蘭学 intellectuals that came into contact with, and discussed texts of Western philosophy before 1862?

3. While tetsugaku is evidently accepted as the Japanese equivalent of "philosophy", the term shisô  maintains a high degree of ambiguity and vagueness.  It is usually translated with fairly general terms like "thought", "way of thinking" or "intellectual debate".  I suspect that two main forces lie behind this tendency: first, the Eurocentric (and now quite anachronistic) belief that since Japan never developed a theoretical debate comparable to European intellectual enterprises, it is therefore inappropriate to "elevate" it to the status of "philosophy"; and second, the inability of both Japanese and Western scholars to compile an organized and systematic study of Japanese philosophy up to the Meiji period. 

4. Shisô is often ambiguously utilized by Japanese scholars both as a generic term for the intellectual debate and as an analytical approach.  With this I mean that among Japanese scholars is quite common, for example, to add a "philosophical analysis" of, say, Shinran to the more traditionally exegetical or doctrinal studies on the founder of the Shin school of Amidism.  Consequently, we notice that for many premodern intellectuals with Buddhist affiliations there are a parallel set of scholarly inquiries, one from the perspective of "religious studies" and the other from a "philosophical approach" ( shisô).
It is on the basis of these theoretical problems that I decided not to distinguish pre- and post- Meiji intellectual debates of Japanese thinkers and intellectuals.  I will treat them together, and I will translate both terms shisô and tetsugaku as "philosophy".  I believe in fact that it would not make much sense to ignore the "philosophical" character of Dôgen's or Suzuki Shôsan's works just as it would be reductive to study Decartes or Pascal only in a class of religious studies.

Preliminary Research

The choice of a source is first determined by the degree of "thoroughness" of the inquiry.  If what we need is just a general knowledge of the concepts developed by a school, movement or single thinker, it will suffice to look at very general but reliable sources.  My suggestion, therefore, is to start with the following two sources, which both provide not only a general survey of the intellectual production of a school or thinker, but also contextualize it in a broader historical framework.

1. Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. Tokyo: Kodansha Intl., 1983.
   Call no.: REF DS805 .K633 1983
Still the single most important and useful reference work on Japan in the English language. All articles of substance are signed and offer bibliographical references, although these are now increasingly out of date.  The entries pertaining the category of Japanese philosophy are certainly short and essential, but they provide a first general "taste" in English of the necessary concepts.

2. Kokushi daijiten 国史大辞典. Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kôbunkan 吉川弘文館, 1979-97.
  Call no.: REF DS 833 .K64
This huge work, in 15 volumes (vol. 15 being an index in three volumes [ jô-chû-ge] ), took eighteen years to produce, and was finally completed in 1997.  This is now the standard multi-volume historical dictionary of Japan.  The signed entries, by senior experts, give good bibliographical references.  I believe that it represents the basic resource for a preliminary research.  It is certainly general, but also extremely precise and thorough in giving the student the first complete treatment of any philosophical subject.  One characteristic that still makes the Kokushi daijiten preferable to most philosophical dictionaries is that it provides also precise information on the sociological and historical aspects of the school or movement one is interested on.


1. Iwanami tetsugaku shisô jiten 岩波哲学・思想事典. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten 岩波書店, 1998. \ 14,000.
  Call no.: REF B48.J3 I83 1998
With its 1929 pages and more than 4100 entries, it is the most autoritative, complete and up-to-date philosophical dictionary published in Japan.  It substitutes the old Heibonsha's Tetsugaku jiten, still valuable and informative, but no longer competitive concerning the most recent developments in the philosophical debate and in theoretical approaches.  It has four indexes: an index of important concepts (jûyôgo sakuin 重要語索引), a biographical index arranged by kanji (kanji jinmei sakuin 漢字人名索引), a biographical index arranged by katakana (katakana jinmei sakuin 片仮名人名索引), and a general alphabetical index of concepts and thinkers (ôbun sakuin 欧文索引).  As the title suggests, it covers both Western (by Western and Japanese thinkers) and Eastern philosophies.

2. Koyasu Nobukuni 子安宣邦, ed. Nihon shisôshi jiten 日本思想史辞典. Tokyo: Perikansha ぺりかん社, 2001. \ 6,800.
  Call no.: REF DS821 .N554 2001
With 648 pages and about 1400 entries signed by more than 200 experts, it is the first and most thorough "Dictionary of Japanese Intellectual History", as the title in English reveals.  Its entries, each one completed by a bibliographical note, range from Kojiki to modern philosophers up till the first years after WW2.  The main difference with Iwanami tetsugaku shisô jiten is that it is entirely devoted to the philosophical debate in Japan, and it ignore all the Western philosophers.  It is for this reason that I recommed it as the desktop dictionary on Japanese philosophy, since the Iwanami dedicates most of its entries to Western philosophical tradition.  The editor Koyasu Nobukuni, one of the leading scholar of Edo intellectual history, makes the dictionary extremely helpful for the students of the history of Edo philosophy.

Other dictionaries:

3. Shisô no Kagaku Kenkyûkai 思想の科学研究会, ed. Shinpan tetsugaku, ronri yôgo jiten 新版哲学・論理用語辞典. Tokyo: San'ichi Shobô 三一書房, 1995. \ 3,000
  Call no.: B48.A7 S54 1995
Agile dictionary of philosophical concepts of Western tradition.  The entries are brief but clear, not signed and without bibliographical notes.

4. Tetsugaku jiten 哲学事典. Tokyo: Heibonsha 平凡社, 1971. \ 9,223.
  Call no.: REF B48.J3 T47 1971
Replaced now by Iwanami tetsugaku shisô jiten, it has been the most authoritative philosophical dictionary.

5. Oliver Leaman, ed. Encyclopedia of Asian philosophy . New York : Routledge , 2001. $ 165.00
  Call no.: REF B121 .E53 2001
Expensive first dictionary in English devoted only to Asian philosophy, it has more 650 entries signed and with bibliographical notes on concepts, schools, movements and thinkers of the Asian continent.  Preponderant the Chinese entries.  Mark Teeuwen signed the entries on Japanese philosophical tradition.  Good but inevitably superficial, due to the space limits.

6. Brian Carr, Indira Mahalingam, eds. Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy. London, New York: Routledge, 1997. $ 269.00
  Call no.: (Butler Reserves) R190 C73
From CLIO summary: The Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy is a unique one-volume reference work which makes richly varied philosophical, ethical and theological traditions accessible to a wide audience. Each of the six sections covers a specific tradition within Asian philosophy - Persian, Indian, Buddhist, Chinese, Japanese and Islamic. The reader can compare and contrast thought systems and understand the ways in which the cultures discussed have shaped and been shaped by philosophy. It is possible, for example, to relate the ways in which Buddhist thought has developed in India, China, South-east Asia and Japan.

Primary Sources

1. Nihon shisô taikei . 63 vols. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
Call no.: 121.08 N574
A huge anthological collection of primary sources.  It is the first place to look at when searching for a philosophical text.  Sometimes the notes are quite outdated, but it still represents the authoritative source.

Selected Manuals

Manuals represents the best resource for a research on the history of Japanese philosophy a step thorougher than dictionaries provides.
I will list the most useful (in my opinion, of course) titles, dividing it in two groups, pre-Meiji and post-Meiji.

Manuals on Japanese pre-Meiji Philosophy.

1. Iwasaki Chikatsugu 岩崎允胤. Nihon shisôshi josetsu 日本思想史序説. Tokyo: Shin Nihon Shuppansha 新日本出版社, 1991. \ 4854
  Call no.: B5241 .I96 1991
The historian of philosophy Iwasaki Chikatsugu introduces in this manual the main philosophical concepts, schools and thinkers up to the end of the Muromachi period.  He provides not only historical backgrounds and contexts for each subjects, but he tries also to interprete them following the recent trends of Western historiography of philosophy.  At the end of each chapter, a huge apparatus of note provides also the reader with bibliographical notes on further readings.

2.  Iwasaki Chikatsugu 岩崎允胤. Nihon kinsei shisôshi josetsu 日本近世思想史序説. 2 vols. (上・下). Tokyo: Shin Nihon Shuppansha 新日本出版社, 1997. \ 11,000 (both volumes)
 Call no.: B5241 .I962 1997
The sequel of Nihon shisôshi josetsu, it covers the intellectual history of Japan from mid-sixteenth century to the end of the Tokugawa period (1600-1868).  It is an extremely useful introduction of the subject, with many comparisons with Western philosophical tradition.

The choice of a manual depends in many case on personal preferences.  I will give a list of manuals I find very useful in introducing the Japanese philosophical debate before Meiji.

3. Sagara Tôru 相良亨. Nihon shisôshi nyûmon 日本思想史入門. Tokyo : Perikansha ぺりかん社, 1984. \ 2,200
 Call no.:  B5241 .N53 1984
It covers a wide span from the Kojiki to Nishida Kitarô.  It consists in an anthology of texts richly annotated and commented by the author.

4. Usuda Noboru 碓田のぼる, et. al.  Nihon no shisô 日本の思想. 2 vols. Tokyo: Shin Nihon Shuppansha 新日本出版社, 1980.
 Call no.: B5241 .N495 1980
It covers a span of time from the Man'yôshû 万葉集 to Buddhist persecution in Meiji Japan. It consists in a collection of articles by different scholars.  It is not complete in the subjects treated.
Among the manuals on Edo intellectual history, I recommend:

5. Koyasu Nobukuni 子安宣邦. Edo shisôshi kôgi 江戸思想史講義. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten 岩波書店, 1998. \ 3,000

  Call no.: B5241 .K69 1998

6. Kinugasa Yasuki 衣笠安喜, ed. Kinsei shisôshi kenkyû no genzai 近世思想史研究の現在. Kyoto: Shibunkaku Shuppan 思文閣出版, 1995. \ 11,800
  Call no.: DS822.2 .K557 1995
Probably one of the best "state-of-the-art" text on the researches on the history of Edo philosophical debate.
7. Najita Tetsuo. Japan: The Intellectual Foundations of Modern Japanese Politics. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press, 1974.
  Call no.: DS881.9 .N29

8. Najita Tetsuo. Vision of Virtue in Tokugawa Japan: The Kaitokudô Merchant Academy of Osaka . Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1987.
  Call no.: DS822.2 N28 1987

9. Najita Tetsuo, ed. Tokugawa Political Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  Call no.: B5244.O354 T6 1998g

10. Najita Tetsuo, Irwin Scheiner, eds. Japanese Thought in the Tokugawa Period, 1600-1868: Methods and Metaphors. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press, 1978.
  Call no.: DS822.2 .J36

11. Herman Ooms. Tokugawa Ideology: Early Constructs, 1570-1680. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.
  Call no.: JA84.J3 O55 1985

12. Peter Nosco, ed. Confucianism and Tokugawa Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1984.
  Call no.: B5243.N45 C66 1984

13. Peter Nosco. Remembering Paradise: Nativism and Nostagia in Eighteenth-century Japan. Cambridge, Mass.: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University : Distributed by Harvard University Press, 1990.
  Call no.: B5243.K6 N67 1990

14. Harry D. Harootunian. Things Seen and Unseen: Discourse and Ideology in Tokugawa Nativism . Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press, 1988.
  Call no.: DS822.2 .H313 1988

Manuals on Japanese post-Meiji Philosophy

1. Gino K. Piovesana. R ecent Japanese philosophical thought, 1862-1996: a survey. Including a new survey by Naoshi Yamawaki, The philosophical Thought of Japan from 1963 to 1996. Richmond, Surrey: Japan Library, 1997.
  Call no.: B5241 .P5 1997
It is still the most useful, comprehensive and authoritative introduction to modern Japanese philosophy.  It is divided in schools in chronological order. The notes provide bibliographical information that are howere quite outdated.  The new edition of 1997 is enlarge with a new chapter, but there is still no global bibliography.
2. David A. Dilworth, Valdo Humbert Viglielmo, Agustin Jacinto Zavala, eds. Sourcebook for Modern Japanese Philosophy: Selected Documents. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.
  Call no.: B5241 .S68 1998
Anthology of philosophycal texts of Nishida Kitarô, Tanabe Hajime, Kuki Shûzô, Watsuji Tetsurô, Miki Kiyoshi, Tosaka Jun and Nishitani Keiji, introduced and annotated by the editors.
3. Hashikawa Bunsô 橋川文三, Kano Masanao 鹿野政直, Hiraoka Toshio 平岡敏夫, eds. Kindai Nihon shisôshi no kiso chishiki: Ishin zenya kara haisen made 近代日本思想史の基礎知識−維新前夜から敗戦まで. Tokyo: Yûhikaku 有斐閣, 1971.
 Call no.: DS881.9 .K4826 1971
Old and quite outdated, but still one of the clearest manuals on modern Japanese philosophy.  It does not cover only the contents of philosophical inquiries of Japanese thinkers and schools, but also their social life and historical background.  It offers also a coverage of the philosophical essays of the major novelists.

Selected Journals

A number of journal in Japanese are devoted to philosophical studies. Most of them concentrate on Western philosophy, or contemporary Japanese debates over philosophical problems. However,  articles on the history of Japanese philosophical debates periodically appear.

1. Philosophy East & West. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.
  Call no.: B1 .P573
Described as "A quarterly of Asian and comparative thought", this original journal started in April 1951 offers articles in which Western and Eastern philosophical interrogations are compared.  Not always brilliant and sometimes quite hazarduous, still it stimulate ideas and creative thinking.  It is worth to give a look at it periodically.  Since 1997 it is possible to read it on-line through CLIO.
2. Shisô 思想. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten 岩波書店.
  Call. no.: B8.J3 S5 (no. 691 - present)
  Call no.: 105 Sh6 (no. 7 - 690)
Monthly journal printed since 1921. One of the most famous journal of philsophy in Japan. It covers virtually every aspect of philosophical investigations, from theoretical problems of Western philosophy to the history of Japanese intellectual history, and it publishes articles by the most famous scholars.
3. Risô 理想. Tokyo: Risôsha 理想社.
  Call no.: B8.J3 R49 (no. 584 - present)
  Call no.: 105 R49 (no. 6-8, 10, 12-13, 17-147, 153-191, 193-218, 220-238, 240-243, 245-250, 252-259, 266-302, 304-313, 319-451, 453-583)
It began in April 1927 as an answer to Shisô, it concentrates mostly on philosophical problems and rarely on historical analysis.
4. Gendai shisô 現代思想. Revue de la pensee d'aujourd'hui. Tokyo: Seisosha 青土社.
  Call no.: B804 .G451 (v.10-present)
It started in January 1973.  It gave great emphasis on French Existenialism and its followers in Japan. It covers contemporary philosophical problems.
5. Tetsugaku kenkyû 哲学研究. Kyoto: Kyoto Tetsugakukai 京都哲学界, Kyoto Daigaku Bungakubu 京都大学文学部.
  Call no.: B8.J3 T29 (no. 537 - present)
  Call no.: 105 T292 (no. 1-93, 95-254, 256-267, 269, 271, 274-366, 368-429, 431-434, 442, 449-511, 513-517, 519-522, 524-536)
The famous journal of the Kyoto School of philosophy, published since April 1916. It is probably the most important and influential academic publication on philosophy in Japan. Some summaries are in English, and French, or German.
6. Edo no shisô 江戸の思想. Tokyo: Perikansha ぺりかん社.
  Call no.: DS822.2 .E26 (no. 1-10)
Founded in 1995 by Koyasu Nobukuni, this little journal collects the most recent develpments on the intellectual history of Edo Japan.  It is one of the most precious resource on the history of philosophical debate of the early modern period.