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The Forgotten Enlightener: Shiga Shigetaka (1863-1927)

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posted on 2021-11-07, 23:11 authored by Gavin, Masako

Shiga Shigetaka (1863-1927) is generally known among scholars of Japanese intellectual history as the pioneering advocate of kokusui shugi (maintenance of Japan's cultural identity), a theory which called for spiritual solidarity in the late 1880s when Japan was facing increasing pressure from the West. He is also regarded as an intellectual opponent of his contemporary, journalist Tokutomi Soho (1863-1957), who advocated heimin shugi, total modernisation of Japan. Their so-called rivalry has been understood as Shigetaka being "conservative" and Soho, "progressive", despite the many parallels in their ideas regarding the necessity for industrialisation of Japan: the myth has been created that Shigetaka's ideas are synonymous with those of the "conservative" intellectuals, particularly the "Confucian" scholars (jukyo shugi sha). In fact, Shigetaka strongly rejected the "conservative" label and criticised the "Confucian" scholars when their influence culminated in the promulgation of the Imperial Rescript on Education in 1890 and also when the National Morality Movement gained nation-wide support after 1910. However, his criticism of them has not been sufficiently studied and existing discussions of his thought predominantly focus on the kokusui issue. Other studies deal with Shigetaka as geographer, political activist, and global traveller, but tend to be rather sketchy. Above all, they do not concern themselves with his thoughts on education, which are particularly significant in light of his opposition to the "Confucian" scholars' attempts to achieve national moral control. Despite his opposition, there has been another longstanding myth about him: his kokusui advocacy and his purpose of promotion as well as popularisation of the study of the geography have been interpreted as leading towards Japan's later imperialism. One of the purposes of this study is to challenge these two myths, (Shigetaka as a "conservative" intellectual and Shigetaka as a forerunner of imperialism), by focussing on the areas of his work overlooked by the previous scholars. This thesis presents a more realistic picture of Shigetaka's intellectual activity by examining his thought in two stages: the late 1880s when he advocated Japan's economic reform supported by national (spiritual) solidarity; and after 1910 when he began his outspoken criticism of the "Confucian" scholars. By analysing his criticism of the "Confucian" scholars, the discourse attempts to establish the following two points: first, that the "Confucian" scholars were Shigetaka's intellectual opponents; second, that he was an anti-imperialist who strongly opposed Japan's march towards the "suicidal" World War Two. The thesis also identifies the close relationship between Shigetaka's beliefs regarding education and economic reforms and those of Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901), the most influential enlightener of 1870s in Japan. Both Fukuzawa and Shigetaka had participated in missions overseas and both believed in Western studies, although Shigetaka warned against too indiscriminate an adoption of Westernisation because of his findings of the demeaning effect of Western culture in the South Seas. This thesis demonstrates how Shigetaka supported his reform advocacy with first-hand observations of current world affairs. He believed that Japan's survival and respect in the fast-changing world order depended on education and it was vital to promote and popularise geography as a curricular subject and as a way of understanding the contemporary world. He aimed at not only educating the people through institutions, but also enlightening the general public through journalism. Consequently, this thesis suggests that his views on education, to which insufficient weight has been given until now, are essential to understanding the intellectual activity of this "forgotten enlightener".


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Asian and European Languages and Cultures


Ito, Yushi