Hayashi Razan

Hayashi Razan (林羅山, 1583-1657) was a Japanese Neo-Confucianist philosopher who served as an advisor to the first three shoguns of the Tokugawa Shogunate (Bakufu). Razan was greatly influenced by the work of Chinese Neo-Confucianist Zhu Xi, who emphasized the individual’s role in society according to social hierarchy. He separated people into four distinct classes: samurai (warriors), farmers, artisans and merchants. His philosophy gradually became the dominant theory of the bakufu (Tokugawa Shogunates) to justify its feudalist rule, and his influence lasted until the end of the eighteenth century. By equating samurai with the cultured governing class (though the samurai were largely illiterate at the time), Razan helped to legitimize the role of the militaristic bakufu at the beginning of its existence. His social and ethical philosophy contributed to the education of the newly emerged samurai class, leading to widespread intellectual activity in Japan. During the nearly three-hundred-year rule of the Neo-Confucianist Tokugawa Shogunate, Confucian values became the moral code of the Japanese people.



Hayashi Razan was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1583. His family was samurai, but their fortunes were declining and his father’s elder brother, a rice merchant, soon adopted Razan. He was reputed to be a brilliant child. In 1595 Razan studied at Kennin-ji Temple, built by the Zen master Eisai of the Rinzai School. He practiced Rinzai Zen and at the same time, studied Confucian texts and Chinese poetry and literature. He refused to take the tonsure to become a monk, and returned to his home. He began to study Confucianism zealously and was especially inspired by Zhu Xi’s (Chu Hi) interpretation of the Confucian Classics. Zhu Xi was influential in Japan, where his followers were called the Shushigaku (朱子学) School.

In 1604, Razan's life was changed when met Fujiwara Seika and became his student. Fujiwara Seika was so impressed with Razan’s sagacity that the next year, he took him to Nijo Castle and introduced him to the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate. Seika and Razan did not always agree on the interpretation of Neo-Confucian thought, but they shared the opinion that Neo-Confucianism should be separated from its connection with Buddhism. They asserted that the Tokugawa Shogunate must adopt Neo-Confucianism as its official orthodoxy.

As an erudite scholar of Neo-Confucianism and Chinese culture, Razan became an important advisor to Tokugawa Ieyasu. In 1607 he arrived at his post as newly appointed secretary of the Tokugawa Shogunate in Edo (now Tokyo). Because of the traditional connection between Zen, Confucianism and government service, Razan took the Buddhist tonsure and took the pseudonym Doshun. He began to oppose the spread of Christianity in feudal Japan, and held a public debate with the Japanese Jesuit, Fabian. He also criticized the haiku poet Matsunaga Teitoku for being a Nichiren Buddhist. Because of incidents like this, the Nichiren Buddhists called this period Kanei no hounan (“era of persecution”). Another target for Razan’s criticisms was Wang Yang–min’s Neo-Confucian School (Yomeigaku in Japanese).

In 1612, Tokugawa’s long-standing rival Toyotomi Hideyori (son of Toyotomi Hideyoshi) of Osaka Castle ordered a bell to be made at Kohou-ji Temple in Kyoto, engraved with a quotation from a high-ranking monk of the Nanzenji Temple. Another monk, Tenkai, who was one of the advisors of Tokugawa Ieyasu, complained that the meaning of the phrase on the bell was a glorification of the Toyotomi clan. Hayashi Razan also sided with monk Tenkai. This incident was said to be one of causes of the siege of Osaka, from 1614 until 1615, when the Toyotomi clan was annihilated. During this period, in Edo, Razan instructed the second shogun, Tokugawa Hidetada (Ieyasu’s third son), and performed the important diplomatic duty of receiving a delegation from the Joseon Dynasty of Korea.

In 1592 and 1597 Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Korea. Following this war, relations between Korea and Japan had been completely suspended and Japan had been cut off from the technology of continental Asia. After the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, however, negotiations between the Korean court and the Tokugawa Shogunate were carried out via a Japanese lord on Tsushima. In 1604, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who had objected to Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s invasion of Korea and sought to restore commercial relations with Korea in order to have access to the technology of the mainland again, met Korea's demands and released some three thousand Korean captives. As a result, in 1607 a Korean mission visited Edo, and diplomatic and trade relations were restored on a limited basis.

In 1623, the third Shogun Iemitsu (Hidetada’s oldest son) also received instruction on Neo-Confucian and Confucian theory from Razan. From that period onward, Razan took part in the political affairs of the Tokugawa Shogunate and, though he was a mere scholar, was treated like a daimyo (a feudal lord). In 1629 Razan was given the honorary Buddhist rank of Seal of the Dharma (Hoin), and in 1630, in recognition for his service to the Tokugawa government, he received money and land to establish a private academy in the Shinjuku area of Edo. In 1635, Razan*, with his brother Nobuzumi, took the lead in creating the Buke Shohatto (“Laws for the Military Houses”), the ordinances laid down for the ruling daimyo (feudal lords) and the Hatamoto Shohatto (“Laws for the Shogun’s Vassals”). In 1636, Razan performed the ceremony of paying an official visit to Ise Shrine (Ise-jingū, 伊勢神宮), a Shinto shrine to the goddess Amaterasu ōmikami.

In 1630 Razan constructed a private Confucian temple, the Sensei-den (先聖殿), on his grounds at Shinobi-ga-oka (now in Ueno Park), which would later become the Yushima Seidō. Razan’s grandson, Hayashi Houko, became Daigakuno-Kami, combining the positions of Minister of Education and dean of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s educational institution, the Shōhei-zaka Gakumonsho or Shōheikō (named after Confucius’s birthplace at Changping; 昌平, pronounced Shōhei in Japanese).

In 1644, Razan began work on an officially sponsored national history that was intended to legitimize the political authority and morality of the warrior government. This text was finally completed in 1670 by Razan’s son, and titled Honcho Tsugan (“Comprehensive Mirror of Our Nation”). The book covers Japanese history from the Age of Gods through the early part of the Tokugawa period, evaluating history from a Neo-Confucian perspective. After Razan’s death, the position of Confucian advisor to the Shogun became hereditary in the Hayashi family. Razan’s writings were collected by his sons and published posthumously in 1662. 

Zhu Xi Neo-Confucianism was formally adopted as the official orthodox government teaching in 1790. Under the Kansei Edict, which made Neo-Confucianism the official philosophy of Japan, the Hayashi school was transformed into a state-run school under the control of the Shogunate in 1797. During the time of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the school attracted many men of talent, but it was closed in 1871 after the Meiji Restoration. The Tokyo Medical and Dental University now occupies the site of the school.

Since the Meiji restoration, Yushima Seidō has temporarily shared its premises with a number of different institutions, including the Ministry of Education, the Tokyo National Museum, and the forerunners of today’s Tsukuba University and Ochanomizu University.

Thought and Works

The Influence of Fujiwara Seika

The Kamakura Shogunate selected five Rinzai Zen temples and culture flourished centering upon these temples. During the Kamakura period (Japanese: 鎌倉時代, Kamakura-jidai) (1185-1333), Chinese scholars of the South Sung Dynasty came to Japan to escape the Mongol invasion of China, and introduced the most up-to-date Confucianism to the Japanese Zen monks of those temples. Originally, Japanese Confucianism was combined with Shintoism and Buddhism. During the Middle Ages (1192-1600), Neo-Confucianism began to dominate mainstream thought, while traditional Confucianism continued to be applied to politics and morality.

As the power of Zen Buddhism declined, several Confucian scholars began to deny the connection between Buddhism and Confucianism. The representative scholar who insisted on the independence of Confucianism was Fujiwara Seika (1561-1619). Seika was a Rinzai Zen monk from an early age, but finally left Buddhism to study Chinese thought and literature. He became convinced that Neo-Confucian morality was the ethical foundation for government and society. Seika tried to travel to China to study, but a storm halted his journey. During that time he met a Korean scholar, Kang Hang (1567-1618), who had been brought to Japan as a prisoner during the Japanese invasion of Korea, and who became a strong influence on Seika. Together, Seika and Kang Hang edited Confucian Classics based on the Neo-Confucianism of Zhu Xi.

Tokugawa Ieyasu often attended Seika’s lectures in Kyoto. Ieyasu wanted to use Neo-Confucianism to establish a strong system of order in his government and among the samurai, but Seika did not wish to serve in the Tokugawa Shogunate in an official capacity. Seika regarded Neo-Confucianism and Shintoism as having the same essential values and teaching the same virtues.

Razan’s Thought

Razan advocated the Neo-Confucianism of Zhu Xi (Shushigaku) and used it as a basic theory to maintain the hierarchy of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the society around it. Razan taught the theory of Zhu Xi, which encompassed li (a rational principle or law) and qi (ether or vital force). Li governs the universe and is the metaphysical and spiritual principle of the universe. The material world consists of vital (or physical) force (qi). The source of li is the Taiji (“Great Ultimate”; Wade-Giles: Tai Chi), the supreme regulative principle of the universe. According to Zhu Xi, the Tai Ji causes qi to move and change in the physical world, resulting in the division of the world into the two energy modes (yin and yang) and the five elements (fire, water, wood, metal, and earth).

According to Zhu Xi, vital force (qi) and rational principle (li) operate together in mutual dependence. These are not entirely non-physical forces: one result of their interaction is the creation of matter. When their activity is rapid the yang energy mode is generated, and when their activity is slow, the yin energy mode is generated. The yang and yin constantly interact, gaining and losing dominance over the other. This results in the structures of nature known as the five elements. According to Zhu Xi's theory, every physical object and every person contains li and therefore is connected with Tai Ji.

Razan promoted Zhu Xi (Shushigaku) and applied his theory in the government and society. Each person is endowed with a moral character that, if cultivated, allows one to fulfill his social and family duties in the proper way. Adherence to such ethical principles as the Five Relationships (lord and minister; parent and child; husband and wife; elder and junior; friend and friend) and the Five Constant Virtues (humaneness or charity (jinn), justice or righteousness (gi), rites or proprieties (rei), wisdom (chi) and faithfulness (shin)) is necessary to maintain an ordered society that reflects an ordered universe.

Razan conceived of the ethics of Zhu Xi (Shushigaku) as a cosmic system that, if violated, would result in Nemesis. Transgression was not only impregnated with the meaning of violating the Five Constant Virtues and the Five Relationships, but also with the egoism and self-seeking behavior that causes human distress. Razan’s theory was in conformity with the Tokugawa government’s aim of keeping the social order, because an ordered society that reflects the order of the universe is inherently hierarchical.

Criticizing Buddhism and Harmonizing with Shinto

Though Razan abandoned his studies of Zen Buddhism, he was inevitably influenced by Buddhism. Razan criticized Buddhism as being imported from foreign countries and harmful to Japanese original culture; however, in reality Neo-Confucianism was also brought into Japan from foreign countries. To counter this, Razan merged Neo-Confucianism with Shintoism, saying that Neo-Confucianism’s Way of the Kings (odo) was consistent with Shinto’s Way of Gods.

Razan strongly disapproved of Christianity, and regarded Buddhism as a false doctrine that destroyed human ethics. On the other hand, he insisted that Shinto’s way of teaching was similar to Yao and Shun (often extolled as the morally perfect sage-kings, Yao's benevolence and diligence serve as a model for future Chinese monarchs and emperors) and the Way of the Kings (odo). In this way he united Neo-Confucianism and Shintoism. Razan interpreted the myths and legend in Nihon Shoki from the point of view of Neo-Confucian theory.

Razan founded a Shinto school whose teaching was the adoration of the Gods through homage (kei in Neo-Confucianism). He denied other Shinto theories such as the theory of Honji Suijyaku (the ideas of Buddha were the original and true identity of Shinto Gods), and Yoshida Shinto. Shintoism also made attempts to unite with Neo-Confucianism. The best-known Shinto theory was the theory of Yamazaki Ansai (山崎闇斎; 1619 –1682), a Japanese philosopher and scholar who combined Neo-Confucian ideas with Shinto to create Suika Shinto.

See also


  • Boot, W. J. “Hayashi Razan as a Confucian philosopher,” in I. Nish & C. Dunn, eds., European studies on Japan. Tenterden, Kent, 1979.
  • --------, The adoption and adaption of Neo-Confucianism in Japan: the role of Fujiwara Seika and Hayashi Razan, PhD dissertation, Rijksuniversiteit te Leiden, 1983.
  • Nakai, K. W. “Tokugawa Confucian historiography: the Hayashi, early Mito School, and Arai Hakuseki,” in P. Nosco, ed., Confucianism and Tokugawa culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.
  • Kanamori, O. “La normalization du savoir normatif: autour de Hayashi Razan.” Ebisu 9: 107-130, 1995.
  • L. Brüll. “Die Begiffe Weisheit, Menschlichkeit und Beherzheit bei Hayashi Razan.” BJOAF 13:1­14, 1989.
  • --------, “Prinzip (ri) und Materie (ki). Ein Beitrag zur Metaphysik des Hayashi Razan.” Japanisches Kulturinstitut Jahrbuch 1: 5­31, 1970.
  • Langston, E. “The seventeenth century Hayashi, a translation from the Sentetsu Sodan” in J. E. Lane, ed, Researches in the Social Sciences on Japan. Columbia University East Asian Institute Studies 4, 1957.
  • Maruyama, Masao, trans. Hane, Mikiso. Studies in the Intellectual History of Tokugawa Japan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.
  • Ooms, Herman. Tokugawa Ideology: Early Constructs, 1570-1680. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1985.
  • Tsunoda, Ryusaku, Wm. Theodore de Bary, and Donald Keene, comps. Sources of Japanese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600. Vol. 1. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

External Links

All links retrieved December 11, 2017.


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