Biography of Kamo Mabuchi

Name: Kamo Mabuchi
Bith Date: 1697
Death Date: October 31, 1769
Place of Birth: Japan
Nationality: Japanese
Gender: Male
Occupations: writer, scholar
Kamo Mabuchi

Kamo Mabuchi (1697-1769) was a Japanese writer, poet, and scholar and one of the major figures in the school of National Learning.

Kamo Mabuchi was born Masanobu, or Masafuji, the son of the superior (Kannushi) of the Kamo shrine in Totomi, and later took the name Mabuchi. He was chosen by a hosteler in Hamamatsu as son-in-law (the custom was not unusual). His father-in-law was disappointed though, if he expected help in the family business, for Mabuchi spent the greater part of his time with his books. Finally he obtained permission to go to Kyoto and study with Kada Azumamaro, a lay priest at the Inari shrine in Kyoto who had underwritten the Shinto revival.

Later Mabuchi went to Edo and became a teacher of considerable fame in his own right. The middle counselor (chunagon) Tayasu Munekata, a son of the Tokugawa shogun Yoshimune, was his patron. In 1760, however, Mabuchi left his teaching position to his adopted son Sadao and devoted himself to poetry and the study of antiquity.

A neo-Shintoist, Mabuchi was the first scholar of national importance in the movement called National Learning (kokugaku), which was an attempt to discover what was Japanese in Japanese literature and culture. Mabuchi insisted, not entirely correctly, that the 8th-century Manyoshu, an anthology of poetry, had been free of foreign influence and that it represented the true expression of national sentiments. He maintained that the Manyoshu poems were spontaneous, vigorous, and guileless. He said that they had a "manly style" (masuraoburi), by which he meant that the poems had strong feeling which stemmed from deep emotion. This sincerity and strength of emotion, he upheld, distinguished the Manyoshu from the Kokinshu, a 10th-century collection of poetry renowned for its elegance. Mabuchi himself composed poems in the Manyoshu style and urged others to follow his example.

The National Learning movement needed more than poetry for scripture, and in 1765 Mabuchi wrote A Study of the Idea of the Nation. It was written in almost pure Japanese, not the usual ornamental Chinese thought necessary in serious works for reasons of prestige. It was an attack on Chinese Confucian thought but was conceived largely in Taoist terms with direct and indirect references to Lao Tzu. Indeed, Taoist intuitive, anti-intellectual ideas were congenial to Shinto scholars.

Some of his other works were Kojiki shiki (Private Notes on the Kojiki), Manyo-ko (Treatise on the Manyoshu), Genji monogatari shinyaku (A New Interpretation of the Tale of Genji), and Saibara-ko (A Treatise on the saibara).

Mabuchi died on Oct. 31, 1769, at the age of 72. In 1883 he was awarded the court status of senior fourth rank and in 1905 junior third rank.

Further Reading

  • Short excerpts of Mabuchi's A Study of the Idea of the Nation may be found in Ryusaku Tsunoda and others, eds., Sources of the Japanese Tradition (1958). A study of Mabuchi is in Tsunetsugu Muraoka, Studies in Shinto Thought (trans. 1964). See also Robert N. Bellah, Tokugawa Religion: The Values of Pre-industrial Japan (1957), and Herschel Webb, The Japanese Imperial Institution in the Tokugawa Period (1968).

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