History and Sources

How important was the school of National Learning?

“National Learning,” or Kokugaku, had perhaps more to do with the modern understanding of Shinto than has any other movement within the tradition. Kada no Azumamaro (1669-1736) is generally considered the founder of the school, insisting on the need to return to the earliest genuinely and purely Japanese sources. Among those he included the Kujiki, but emphasized the Kojiki and Nihongi especially. Kamo no Mabuchi (1697-1769) continued what Kada had begun by applying philological methods to classical Japanese prayer and poetry. He considered spontaneity the native Japanese gift, without which nothing could be truly Japanese. Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) continued the scholarly dynasty, and is still regarded by some as Shinto’s best theological mind. His forty-four-volume commentary on the Kojiki remains a monument of scholarship. Hirata Atsutane (1763-1843) was the latest and perhaps most influential exponent of the school, in that he implemented the thought of his predecessor Motoori. Together these four men were largely responsible for the articulation of modern Shinto’s highly nationalistic and ethnocentric tone.


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