Selected Canonical Texts in the Japanese Tradition

Intending to build a list of 36 texts for East Asian Canonical Texts, I borrowed from a local library the 1958 edition of Sources of Japanese Tradition, which divides Japanese cultural history into 5 periods.


I. Ancient Japan:

1. Nihon Shoki (720) - more trustworthy as history than the slightly earlier Kojiki (712), and marked the first of the Six National Histories. Also considered as a classic in Shintoism.


II. Heian Period:

2. Kukai's (774-835) Jujushinron (830?) - choice of Kukai's over Saicho's fit more with the current Japanese assessments - which emphasized authors that are more "Japanese" than "Chinese". While Saicho's Tendai Sect is definitely the more important institution, Kukai's is probably the more important thinker, literary author and caligrapher. Shingon / Tantric Buddhism is clearly also important in later Tendai of Ennin and Enchin, etc. With the Chinese portion of the list that would have Zhiyi, it is also prudent to select a representative for tantric Buddhism.


3. Murasaki Shikibu's (973-1014?) Genji Monogatari (1012?)- probably the most reputable literary prose work in Japanese.


III. Medieval Japan:

4. Honen's (1133-1212) Senchaku Hongan Nembutsushu (1198) It is very difficult to select among the five major "Kamakura" Buddhist leaders: Honen, Shinran, Nichiren, Eisai and Dogen. Timing-wise Honen was the oldest, and is teacher of Shinran. Nichiren's devotion to Lotus Sutra seems to be a reasonable offshoot of Tendai in a new environment, though he clearly has a huge Sect and following, probably similar to Shinran's. Eisai and Dogen are of two branches of Zen. In China and in Japan, the branch that Eisai (Rinzai) present would prove dominant; yet Dogen is special in that it is revered nowadays (especially among academic circles) as one of the few major philosophical minds within the Zen tradition. Modern Japan - in the strand that highlights Japanese-ness, seems to prioritize Shinran, Nichiren and Dogen. Ultimately, my selection of Honen is based on the maximal difference from the other Buddhist works selected: 1) sect-wise, pure land would not have been represented before (while Zen / Chan Buddhism would have); 2) Pure Land is a popular, rather than upper-class sect (Zen); 3) Honen did not visit China (unlike Eisai and Dogen). Between Honen and Shinran, Shinran's Sect is more popular, but Shinran was Honen's student, and Honen is canonized also in Shinran's Sect. And if we keep in mind Honen's chosen mostly for his representation of so-called Kamakura Buddhism, I think this selection would not be as controversial as it may first seem.


IV. Tokugawa Period:

5. Hayashi Razan's (1583-1657) Bunshu 林羅山文集 Tokugawa is the early modern period of Japan - where major thinkers emerge in every generation ever since Razan  establishes Neo-Confucianism of Zhuxi as the official ideology of the Tokugawa Shogunate. His teacher Fujiwara Seika (1561-1619) 籐原惺窩 is considered to be less important than Razan's, whose family also holds the hereditary post as Head of the State University (Daigaku-no-kami) for 10 generations (starting with Razan's grandson). After him followers of Zhuxi version of Neo-Confucianism includes Yamazaki Ansai (1618-1682) 山崎闇齋 and the popularizer Kaibara Ekken (1630-1714) 貝原益軒 in the next 1-2 generations. Followers of Wang Yangming's version were less important in Japan; while the first advocate of Ancient Learnings Yamago Soko (1622-1685) 山鹿素行 was student of Razan. Among Ancient Learners Ito Jinsai (1627-1705) 伊籐仁齋 and Ogyu Sorai (1666-1728) 荻生徂徠are both important, while among advocates of later (18th century) National Learning Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) 本居宣長 was important for his reinterpretation of Shintoism in Kojiki and his literary theory of "mono no aware". 


6. Matsuo Basho's (1644-1694) 松尾芭蕉Works With poets especially, it is harder to pick a "work' as representative - Basho's the most famous Haiku poetry author, while his late (last?) work The Narrow Road to the Interior (奥の細道 Oku no Hosomichi) is also famous.


V. Japan and the West:

7. Fukuzawa Yukichi's (1834-1901) 福澤諭吉 Bunmeiron no Gairyaku ("An Outline of a Theory of Civilization", 1875) In East Asia, Meiji Restoration is an important and cultural influential event. And Fukuzawa was Meiji's period foremost author and polymath who was a founder of an unversity and a newspaper. His other important works include Gakumon no Susume ("An Encouragement of Learning", 1876) and an interesting autobiography dictated in 1899.

Traditions Genre Total
History Philosophy Literature
General Japanese
1. Nihon Shoki 7. Bunmeiron no Gairyaku

3. Genji Monogatari

6. Basho's Works


2. Jujushinron

4. Senchakushu

Confucianism    5. Hayashi Razan's Bunshu    1
Total   1   4   2 7
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