The Japanese Philosophy Blog

News and discussion of ancient and modern Japanese philosophy

Summer Roundup

Sorry for the long hiatus. It’s been a very busy summer for me—I took a new job and moved thousands of miles—but Japanese philosophy news continues apace.

Before we look at what’s happening, I would first like to extend my deepest condolences to the colleagues, friends, and family of Robert Bellah, who passed away on July 30, 2013. He was a pioneer in comparative thought when he wrote Tokugawa Religion: The Values of Pre-Industrial Japan back in 1957, and yet he was still breaking new ground with The Axial Age and Its Consequences in 2012! His impact on the field will be long remembered.

Blog posts


  • Agra, Kelly Louise Rexzy P. An Inquiry into the Historical Development of Philosophy in Japan. Buddhi 17.2 (2013).

    What is Japanese philosophy? This paper will address this question, not by giving a survey of the works of Japanese philosophers or a definition of the subject matter of Japanese philosophy, but by attempting to present how it emerged as a distinct philosophical tradition—by sketching the controversies that gave rise to its formation; the social, intellectual, and historical factors that paved the way to its development; and the revolution of thought which finally gave it the title “Japanese philosophy.” I will argue that Japanese philosophy was born not because Japanese thinkers desperately wanted a philosophy that they could call their own, but because, first and foremost, they were thinking of ways to articulate the ever changing and paradoxical nature of reality. Formed by their religion and informed by the Chinese and Japanese classics, they used the language learned from the West and tried to answer the most fundamental questions of existence. A unique way of philosophizing thus emerged and became a true locus of dialogue between Eastern and Western thought.

  • Baek, Jin. Fudo: An East Asian Notion of Climate and Sustainability. Buildings. 2013; 3(3):588-597

    My paper discusses an East Asian notion of climate and its significance for sustainability. A particular reference is the environmental philosophy of Tetsuro Watsuji (1889–1960), a Japanese philosopher who reflected upon the meaning of climate, or “fudo” in the Sino-Japanese linguistic tradition. Watsuji sees fudo not merely as a collection of natural features—climatic, scenic, and topographical—of a given land, but also as the metaphor of subjectivity, or “who I am”. Furthermore, this self-discovery through fudo is never private but collective. By referring to a phenomenological notion of “ek-sistere”, or “to be out among other ‘I’s”, Watsuji demonstrates the pervasiveness of a climatic phenomenon and the ensuing inter-personal joining of different individuals to shape a collective sustainable measure in response to the phenomenon. My paper lastly concretizes the significance of fudo and its inter-personal ethical basis for sustainability by dwelling upon cross-ventilation in Japanese vernacular residential architecture. Cross-ventilation emerges only through what Watsuji calls “selfless openness” between different rooms predicated upon the joining of different ‘I’s soaked in hotness and humidity. Watsuji’s fudo thus offers a lesson that without considering the collective humane characteristic of a natural climatic phenomenon, any sustainable act is flawed and inefficient.

  • Boyd, James. Undercover Acolytes: Honganji, the Japanese Army, and Intelligence-Gathering Operations. The Journal of Religious History 37:2 June, 2013.

    In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as the Japanese Army sought intelligence on the countries neighbouring Japan, the military made use of the Buddhist priesthood as a cover for intelligence gathering. In addition, elements of the Buddhist priesthood, in particular the Kyoto-based Honganji sect, were happy to cooperate with the military in its intelligence gathering operations, either by allowing military officers to disguise themselves as monks or by having Buddhist monks gather military intelligence for the Japanese Army. This article examines the relationship between the Japanese Army and the Honganji sect following the 1868 Meiji Restoration, the activities of military officers who disguised themselves as Buddhist monks and the intelligence gathering activities of Buddhist monks, hoping to shed more light on the part that Japanese Buddhism played in Japan’s imperial adventures.

  • Castel, Coralie. “Nihonjinron” in the Museums of Paris: design and Japanese identity. French Journal of Japanese Studies 1, 2012.

  • Chen, Chi-ying. Is the Video Game a Cultural Vehicle?. Games and Culture. Sept. 2013.

    Following the exportation of Japanese media products such as TV dramas, Japanese culture and products have swept across many Asian countries, especially Taiwan. Based on the historical background and unique characteristics of games, this study investigates the cultural effect of Japanese video games on players in Taiwan. This study also presents an analysis of the differences between TV and the video game as cultural vehicles. We used both quantitative and qualitative methods. Results indicate a relationship between game-playing behavior and the identification of Japanese culture. However, the relationship between video game playing and consumption was nonsignificant. This shows the power of video games in nation-building but not in nation-branding, in contrast with TV. This study presents a discussion of the findings to shed light on the cultural effects of video games.

  • Hastings, Thomas John. Practicing the Redemptive Love of Jesus: The Enduring Witness of Kagawa Toyohiko (1888–1960). Theology Today 70.2, pp. 160-180, July 2013.

    On Christmas Eve in 1909, 21-year-old Kagawa Toyohiko (1888–1960) rented a room in Kobe’s worst slum and, aside from two years of study in the United States, remained there with his wife and co-worker Haru more than ten years. In the slum, they engaged in pastoral work, evangelism, social reform movements, and literary activities. After publishing a best-selling novel in 1920 and donating all of the royalties to their many projects, Toyohiko began to draw the attention of people from around Japan and the world. He was often compared with his contemporaries Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer. Arguing that spiritual reform must accompany genuine social reform, he proposed the “third way” of cooperative economics as an alternative to the materialism he perceived in capitalism and Marxism. The Kagawas founded Kobe Co-op in 1920, which today has 1.2 million members. To support the spiritual life and social commitment of young Christians, they started the “Friends of Jesus” in 1921, a lay Protestant order linking Franciscan and Jesuit traditions. They helped lead relief efforts in Tokyo after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and Toyohiko led the Kingdom of God Movement from 1926–34, a massive ecumenical effort that fused evangelism with social activism. Toyohiko was a lifelong reader of natural science and saw no conflict between science and faith. His lifelong passivism was sorely tested as Japan headed into world war. By 1940, he had responsibility for 4 settlement houses, 6 cooperatives, 6 slum kitchens, 3 hospitals, 17 kindergartens, 3 tuberculosis sanitaria, 3 gospel schools, 1 domestic science school, 2 magazines, a farm, and 19 churches. Publishing over 300 books in his lifetime, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature twice, and the Nobel Peace Prize three times. This piece considers why Kagawa and his enduring legacy have been forgotten.

  • Kawamura, Satofumi. Introduction to the “Nishida Problem”: Nishida Kitar’s Political Philosophy and Governmentality. Studies on Multicultural Societies 15.

  • ———. The National Polity and the formation of the modern national subject in Japan. Japan Forum. July, 2013.

    This article analyses how the concept of Kokutai, or the National Polity, emerged and developed in the course of Japanese modernisation. The National Polity was the central principle that underpinned the mystic and divine authority and sovereignty of the Japanese Emperor (Tennō), and played an ideological role during the Asia Pacific War. Nevertheless, the definition of the National Polity was highly ambiguous and there was no dominant interpretation of the National Polity even in the wartime period from the 1930s to 1940s. In this article, I shall put forward the view that the 1930s and 1940s discourse of the National Polity involved logical or rational ideas that have commonly been thought to be antagonistic to the National Polity; therefore the discourse became complex, ambiguous and paradoxical. This article will elucidate how the discourse of Taishō Democracy, which has been perceived as a major critique of the National Polity, also contributed to the mass-based ideology of the National Polity. In order to examine this problem comprehensively, I will explore various strands of the National Polity debates from the early Meiji period to the 1940s, such as the thought of Itō Hirobumi, Inoue Tetsujirō, Hozumi Yatsuka, Uesugi Shinkichi, Minobe Tatsukichi, Yoshino Sakuzō and Miki Kiyoshi.

  • Janz, Bruce. Watsuji Tetsurō, Fūdo, and climate change. In Global Ethics on Climate Change, 2013.

  • Lo, Kwai-Cheung. Rethinking Asianism and method. European Journal of Cultural Studies. Sept. 2013.

    While contemporary Asian scholars are debating how they can avoid locking up themselves in an obsession with the West, and discovering new categories and new methodologies by inter-referencing and multiplying their frames of reference through grasping Asian shared realities that have moulded their histories and cultures, this article looks back and closely examines the postwar Japanese thinker Yoshimi Takeuchi’s tantalising idea of ‘Asia as method’. It discusses why and how Takeuchi calls for a ‘rollback’ of western values instead of forming a distinctive Asian paradigm, in order to effect universal freedom and global equality. For Takeuchi, ‘Asia as method’ may mean that Asia courageously embraces the negativity brought by Europe as the path to a higher stage of freedom and equality.

  • Marquet, Christophe. Yanagi Sōetsu and the invention of “folk crafts”: a new contextualisation. French Journal of Japanese Studies 1, 2012.

  • Masong, Kenneth. Becoming-Religion:Re-/thinking Religion with A. N. Whitehead and Keiji Nishitani

    For Whitehead and Nishitani, a rethinking of religion necessitates a rethinking of the metaphysics that underlie one’s concept of religion. The dynamism of religion is unveiled only within the metaphysical grounding of an ontology that accommodates the philosophical preference of “becoming” as an ultimate category of reality. The novelty of Whitehead’s theory of religion lies in the process metaphysics that it presupposes. For him, religion, like the whole of reality, is inherently developing and evolving. What Nishitani offers is a rethinking of Western understanding of religion by way of an Asian speculative approach grounded in Zen Buddhism. He argues that Western religion, particularly Christianity and Judaism, has succumbed to the modern predicament of nihilism, or relative nothingness. He radicalizes this same nihility towards absolute nothingness (śūnyatā). For both Whitehead and Nishitani, despite the distortion of religion by religious fundamentalists, genuine religion consolidates and points a society towards its real destiny. However, the realization of religion’s role necessitates reflexivity on its own inherent dynamism.

  • Ōkubo Takeharu. Ono Azusa and the Meiji Constitution: The Codification and Study of Roman Law at the Dawn of Modern Japan. Transcultural Studies 1, 2013.

  • Shiraishi, Gen. Christianity in Japan: A History Defined by Great Influence and Sudden Decline. The Concord Review.

  • Specker Sullivan, Laura. Dōgen and Wittgenstein: Transcending Language through Ethical Practice. Asian Philosophy 23:3, 2013.

    While there have been numerous claims of a resemblance between the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Zen Buddhism, few studies of the philosophy of Wittgenstein in detailed comparison with specific Zen thinkers have emerged. This article attempts to fill this gap by considering Wittgenstein’s philosophy in relation to that of Eihei Dōgen, founder of the Sōtō school of Zen. Points of particular confluence are found in both thinkers’ approaches to language, experience, and practice. Through an elucidation of these points, this article argues that both Dōgen and Wittgenstein can be understood as putting forth a philosophy of transcendent ethics.

  • Tadeusz, Adam Ożóg. The Zen Master Socrates. Idea 24, pp. 233–254.

  • Paraschivescu, Andrei Octavian. Japanese Quality Science and Culture. Economy Transdisciplinarity Cognition 16:1, Jan. 2013.

    The objective of this work was the research of the directions for acting of the characteristics of the Japanese concept of quality, of the methods used in Japanese management continuous improvement. By analyzing the contribution of the largest Japanese researchers and trainers in quality (K. Ishikawa, G. Taguchi, S. Shingo, M. Imai, N. Kano) demonstrated that Japanese school is a model of good practice and quality culture quality management.


  • The Journal of Japanese Studies. Summer 2013.

  • Philosophy East and West. July 2013. The issue is an extended debate on the applicability of dialetheism in Buddhist thought (especially Dogen).


  • Çubukçuoğlu, Safir. Investigating Subjectivity in ‘the Cyborg’: Posthumanism Offered in Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. Utrecht University & The University of Hull, 2013.

    In an effort to expand the field of realization for the feminist potentials laden in understanding ‘identity’ and ‘subjectivity’ through Haraway‘s metaphoric construct of ‘the cyborg,’ this thesis offers cyberpunk imagination as another field of production of this figure. In order to do so, it offers new materialism as a way of reading and criticizing practice which helps recognize the elements in Japanese cyberpunk as that which helps form a posthumanist approach on notions of ‘identity,’ ‘subjectivity,’ and ‘agency.’ In this regard, the female cyborg figure of the movie Ghost in the Shell (1995) by Mamoru Oshii will be analyzed with a keen eye on her performances which subvert the static attributions on the notions of ‘human,’ ‘technology’ and ‘femininity.’

  • Mizuta, Jonathan Juichi. An Evaluation of the Conceptual Similarities and Differences Between the Strategic Logic of the Religiously Motivated Suicide Attacks of Tokkotai Kamikaze and Al-Qaeda Shahid. Baylor University, May 2013.

    What motivated members of al-Qaeda to hijack commercial airliners and crash them into the sides of buildings? Is it similar to what motivated Japanese fighter pilots to crash their jets into the sides of American aircraft carriers? If so, what can these two seemingly disparate phenomena tell us about the nature of the relationship between religion and violence? Finally, were the attacks of the two groups both responses to American actions abroad (which is often described as “American imperialism”)?

  • McGuire, Mark Patrick. From the City to the Mountain and Back Again: Situating Contemporary Shugendô in Japanese Social and Religious Life. Concordia University, 2013.

    This thesis examines mountain ascetic training practices in Japan known as Shugendô (The Way to Acquire Power) from the 1980s to the present. Focus is given to the dynamic interplay between two complementary movements: 1) the creative process whereby charismatic, media-savvy priests in the Kii Peninsula (south of Kyoto) have re-invented traditional practices and training spaces to attract and satisfy the needs of diverse urban lay practitioners, and 2) the myriad ways diverse urban ascetic householders integrate lessons learned from mountain austerities in their daily lives in Tokyo and Osaka. This thesis argues that the creation of condensed mountain entry rituals such as the overnight Lotus Ascent of Mount Ômine, a successful campaign to designate sacred training grounds in the Kii Peninsulaa UNESCO World Heritage cultural landscape and creation of an “eco-pilgrimage” in Kumano are best understood as creative strategies by Shugendô priests to maintain financial solvency, relevancy and market share while providing direct access to the transcendent in a competitive and uncertain time.


  • Ashby, Dominic and Luming Mao. Review of Zen Buddhist Rhetoric in China, Korea, and Japan, Christoph Anderl, ed.

  • Hoppens, Robert. Review of Asia for the Asians: China in the Lives of Five Meiji Japanese by Paula S. Harrell.

  • Isaka, Maki. Review of Kissing The Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater with Some Thoughts on Muses (especially Helga Testorf), Transgender Women, Kabuki Goddesses, Porn Queens, Poets, Housewives, Makeup Artists, Geishas, Valkyries and Venus Figurines by William Vollmann.

  • Kushner, Barak. Review of Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History: Colonialism, Regionalism and Borders, Sven Saaler and J. Victor Koschmann, eds.


  • Dickinson, Frederick. World War I and the Triumph of a New Japan, 1919-1930 .

    Frederick R. Dickinson illuminates a new, integrative history of interwar Japan that highlights the transformative effects of the Great War far from the Western Front. World War I and the Triumph of a New Japan, 1919-1930 reveals how Japan embarked upon a decade of national reconstruction following the Paris Peace Conference, rivalling the monumental rebuilding efforts in post-Versailles Europe. Taking World War I as his anchor, Dickinson examines the structural foundations of a new Japan, discussing the country’s wholehearted participation in new post-war projects of democracy, internationalism, disarmament and peace. Dickinson proposes that Japan’s renewed drive for military expansion in the 1930s marked less a failure of Japan’s interwar culture than the start of a tumultuous domestic debate over the most desirable shape of Japan’s twentieth-century world. This stimulating study will engage students and researchers alike, offering a unique, global perspective of interwar Japan.

  • Heine, Steve. Like Cats and Dogs: Contesting the Mu Koan in Zen Buddhism. Nov. 2013.

    Koans are dialogues that stand at the center of Zen Buddhist literature and are often used to provoke the “great doubt” in testing a trainee’s progress. The Mu Koan consists of a brief conversation in which a monk asks Master Zhaozhou whether or not a dog has Buddha-nature. According to the main version, the reply is “Mu”: literally, “No,” but implying the philosophical notion of nothingness. This case is widely considered to be the single best- known and most widely circulated koan record of the Zen school that offers existential release from anxiety to attain spiritual illumination.

    In a careful analysis of the historical and rhetorical basis of the literature, Steven Heine demonstrates that the Mu version of the case, preferred by advocates of the key-phrase approach, does not by any means constitute the final word concerning the meaning and significance of the Mu Koan. He shows that another canonical version, which gives both “Yes” and “No” responses, must be taken into account. Like Cats and Dogs offers critical insight and a new theoretical perspective on “the koan of koans.”

  • Kopf, Gereon. Dao Companion to Japanese Buddhist Philosophy. 2014.

  • Shibuya Hiroshi and Chiba Shin, eds. Living for Jesus and Japan: The Social and Theological Thought of Uchimura Kanzō. Oct. 2013.

    Uchimura Kanzo (1861–1930) was an independent, original, and thought-provoking pioneer of Christianity in modern Japan. His theological values were organically linked with his aspiration for living and practicing such evangelical ideas as prophetic existence, neighborly love, social justice, pacifism, patriotism, and internationalism in the sphere of public life. Uchimura’s commitment to the interaction between religious thought and social life is apparent in his well-known epitaph: “I for Japan; Japan for the World; the World for Christ; and All for God.”

    In this interdisciplinary, multi-angled approach to Uchimura Kanzo, the contributors shed light on the inner logic, meanings, and modes of interaction between the religious and social thought observable in Kanzo.