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From the hakase families to priest-scholars

We mentioned earlier that since the Heian period, the hakase families had labored to keep their knowledge strictly within the family and for a close number of initiates. However, during the Muromachi period, the power of the samurai grew to such a point that it could no longer be ignored by the Zen temples which now represented the main centers of learning and scholarship.

Under normal conditions, the number of educated people is bound to go up with time, and this was something against which the scholarly families could do very little. Eventually, the thirst for knowledge of these nouveau intellectuals broke the age-old tradition of secrecy of the hakase families.

Around the middle of the Northern and Southern Courts period (1336-1392), in 1364 (Shōhei 19), the people of Sakai in Senshū (modern Osaka area) published the first printed edition of the Analects in Japan. Printing technology had already reached a certain degree of sophistication by the Heian period (794-1185). Buddhist texts were published in great numbers by temples such as the Koyasan (the main center of Shingon Buddhism), the Kōfukuji, and the other temples of the Nara area. By the Kamakura period, the Zen temples of the Kyoto and Kamakura areas no longer limited themselves to printing Buddhist texts (medieval publications by Buddhist temples are known as Gozan-ban, see Week 3). However, obtaining a copy of the Analects to publish from its secretive aristocratic owners was no simple task.

Just then, a scholar-priest of uncommon talent was able to earn the trust of a prominent aristocratic scholar and, having been initiated to the secret teachings and obtained an authorized copy of the text, he published it with the help of his disciples. With the publication of the Shōhei-era version, the Analects had finally been freed from the shackles of secrecy.

Old Book Fig.1 Shohei Version Analects 『正平版論語』
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The manuscripts of the Analects that were once part of the treasury of the Kaikōin Temple (fig. 2) show that the Analects were already beginning to be seen as a handbook for personal cultivation rather than as a text to be secretly passed down within the scholarly houses.

Old Book Fig.2 Kaikoin Temple Version Analects 『論語戒光院本』
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Moreover, in 1533 (Tenmon 2), the leading scholar Kiyohara Nobutaka complied with a request from the Sakai family of publishers Asaino and lent them one of the family’s texts, which they promptly published as the Tenmon-ban Rongo (Tenmon Version Analects, fig. 3). This was an epoch-making event which greatly contributed to making the Analects a household text. The book was continuously reprinted throughout the Edo period. Even the original printing blocks survived intact at the Nanshūji Temple in Sakai until World War 2, but sadly they were lost during the war.

Old Book Fig.3 Tenmon Version Analects 『天文版論語』
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The Ashikaga School, one of Japan’s most ancient and venerable learning institutions, also played an important role in the cultural life of the Analects. Many manuscripts were produced there, of the Analects (fig. 5) and of other such texts as manual of military strategy manual San Lue (J. Sanryaku, “Three Strategies of Huang Shigong,” Fig.4).

Old Book Fig.4 Three Strategies of Huang Shigong『黄石公三略』
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Old Book Fig.5 Ro-Ron (Lu-version Lun Yu) 『論語(魯論)』
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When we look at these old texts of the Analects, suddenly this ancient text no longer feels so distant to us.

Now, let us look at how medieval Zen monks used the Analects and what place it had in their activity as scholars.

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This article is from the free online course:

Sino-Japanese Interactions Through Rare Books

Keio University

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