Koshitsu (Hakuseki)

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  • Japanese: 皇室 (koushitsu)

Kôshitsu and Kôshitsu wakumon (皇室或問) are a pair of works composed by Confucian scholar and shogunal advisor Arai Hakuseki in or around the 1710s, presenting his own views on ancient Japanese myth/history and the Imperial lineage.

Though drawing heavily from the Kojiki and Nihon shoki, Hakuseki analyzes these texts in a rather different way from most other pre-modern or early modern commentators, asserting that myth refers not to actual divine beings or divine acts, but instead to rather mundane, actual historical events. Like some scholars today, and decidedly unlike the kokugaku scholars of the 18th-19th centuries or the ideologies underlying Japanese nationalism in the 1860s to 1940s, Hakuseki writes that all the kami mentioned in these ancient texts were historical figures, regular human beings, and that the places mentioned in the texts refer to actual places in Japan, and not to Heaven or other supernatural locations. Much as many scholars today suggest that references to monsters and demons in the ancient texts might actually point to tribes, clans, or peoples merely opposed to the Yamato state (who therefore needed to be suppressed or conquered), Hakuseki suggests that many of the founding myths of ancient Japan can be interpreted as notable individuals, clans, or armies traveling from one place to another and settling there, clashing with one another, or otherwise shifting in prominence or location.

Hakuseki writes, for example, that mentions of the kami Kuninotokotachi may simply refer to a notable and powerful, but still mortal, leader who "stood" (tachi) in a land (kuni) known as Toko. Similarly, Takamagahara, where the gods were said to dwell, though typically parsed as "the High (taka) Plains (hara) of Heaven (ama)," is described by Hakuseki as being a reference, rather, to a regular place, a plains near the sea,[1] in a region or area called Taka. He thus is able to suggest that the mythical descent of Ninigi no mikoto down from Takamagahara ("Heaven") to earth was, rather, simply the journey of a chieftain from this plain in the Taka region to conquer or settle another part of Japan.


  • Watanabe Hiroshi, A History of Japanese Political Thought, 1600-1901, International House of Japan (2012), 152.
  1. Ama most typically refers to Heaven (天), appearing for example also in the name of the deity Amaterasu ("she who shines in the heavens"), but Hakuseki asserts that it refers here to the sea.