Kamo no Mabuchi

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  • Born: 1697
  • Died: 1769
  • Japanese: 賀茂真淵 (Kamo no Mabuchi)

Kamo no Mabuchi was an influential kokugaku scholar and waka poet.

Originally from Hamamatsu, Mabuchi learned to read from a niece of Kada no Azumamaro, and later entered Azumamaro's kokugaku academy in 1728, before relocating to Fushimi in 1733 to devote himself to kokugaku study full-time. Following Azumamaro's death in 1736, Mabuchi moved to Edo, and quickly gained a reputation as one of the leading scholars of the Man'yôshû of his time. He then became Japanese Studies tutor to Tayasu Munetake (second son of Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune), serving in that position from 1746 until 1760.

Mabuchi is known for his efforts to uncover and articulate the "Ancient Way" (inishie no michi) of Japan, and "Our Country's Way" (kuni no tefuri), as disentangled from Confucian, Buddhist, and other foreign influences. In some of his writings, he describes the Japanese Way as emphasizing the ambiguities and transitions between things, rejecting stark categories; like other kokugaku scholars, he emphasizes the importance of Japan's distinct four seasons, but calls attention to the constant shifts in weather, as each season is constantly in a state of ebbing or waning, transitioning to or from another season. By contrast, he identified the Chinese Way (kara no tefuri) as emphasizing strict definitions, sharp distinctions, and a rationalistic prejudice. He argued that the Chinese needed such moralistic teachings due to their inherent tendencies towards unruliness, and that the Japanese, being inherently moral and harmonious by nature, could improve themselves and their society by ridding themselves of such influences, and returning to a purer Japanese relationship with the ancient Way.

He also wrote of the superior ability of poetry (verse) over prose to directly express emotion, and of the superior ability of emotion to shape people's behavior and attitudes, inspiring morality. In short, he felt that texts like the Kojiki and Man'yôshû, through conveying the authentic, spiritual, emotional, human lessons of Japan's "ancient Way," were better as moral texts than the cold, rigid, and artificial writings of the Chinese. In a 1764 "Inquiry into the Idea of Poetry" (Kaikô), he wrote that through the study and composition of ancient styles of poetry, one could mentally or spiritually transport oneself back into an ancient Japanese mindset, freeing oneself from the corrupting influences of Chinese philosophy and religion; he compared contemporary Japanese culture to a river that has run down the mountain, and sought to return to the peak, a peak of sincerity, directness, and manliness of a particularly Japanese sort.


  • Eiko Ikegami, Bonds of Civility, Cambridge University Press (2005), 232-233.
  • William Theodore de Bary, Carol Gluck, and Arthur Tiedemann (eds.), Sources of Japanese Tradition, Second Edition, vol 2, Columbia University Press (2005), 483-484.