Kumazawa Banzan (熊沢蕃山)

Banzan KUMAZAWA (1619 - September 9, 1691) was a scholar of Yomeigaku neo-Confucianism (the teachings of Wang Yangming and his followers) in the early Edo period. His posthumous name was Shigetsugu, and his Chinese courtesy name was Ryosuke, and his common name was Jirohachi, or Sukeemon.


His childhood
He was born as the oldest son of his mother Kamejo and father Tobe Kazutoshi NOJIRI, who was a ronin (a masterless samurai) living in Kyoto Inari (the present Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture). His childhood name was Sashichiro. When 8 years old, he was adopted by his maternal grandfather Morihisa KUMAZAWA, so he began to use his mother's family name KUMAZAWA.

Until becoming a pupil of Toju NAKAE
In 1634, he was employed as Kogoshoyaku (a young samurai waiting for, and doing the chores of, the feudal lord) by Mitsumasa IKEDA (the feudal lord of the Okayama Domain of Bizen Province and the grandson of Terumasa IKEDA) thanks to the introduction by Takahiro KYOGOKU (the son-in-law of Terumasa IKEDA and the feudal lord of the Miyazu Domain of Tango Province). He applied to participate in suppressing the Shimabara Rebellion, only to be rejected, so in 1639, he once left the Ikeda family and returned to his grandfather's home in Kirihara, Omi Province (the present Omihachiman City, Saga Prefecture). In 1642, he began to learn neo-Confucianism (based on the teachings of Wang Yangming and his followers) as a pupil of Toju NAKAE, who resigned from Ozu Domain of Iyo Province and returned to his home Ogawa Village, Omi Province (the present Takashima City, Shiga Prefecture).

Years in the Okayama Domain
In 1645, he was employed again by Mitsumasa IKEDA in Okayama Domain thanks to a recommendation by Takahiro KYOGOKU. Mitsumasa was fascinated by neo-Confucianism, so he gave Banzan, who was a pupil of Toju NAKAE, a senior position. Banzan worked mainly at 'Hanabata Kyojo,' which is the first hanko (a domain school) in Japan opened in 1641. In 1647, he became Sobayaku (Secretary) of Mitsumasa IKEDA, and was chigyo (enfeoffment) 300 koku. In 1649, he accompanied Mitsumasa to Edo.

In 1650, he was promoted even higher to general manager of Teppo-gumi (a Group of musketeers), which was a joshi (a high-ranking samurai in the clan) being chigyo 3,000 koku. In 1651, he drafted the rules of 'Hanazono-kai' (a circle for the education of the ordinary people), and this circle was the predecessor of 'Shizutani School,' which was founded in 1670 - when Banzan already left the Okayama Domain - as the first school in Japan that was open to ordinary people. In 1654, when a flood and severe famine struck people living in Bizen Plain, Banzan assisted Mitsumasa in making every effort to help those who were starving. And along with Nagatada TSUDA, Banzan was engaged in establishing the policy base of the Okayama Domain in the early Edo period as an assistant of Mitsumasa. Banzan promoted agricultural policy by helping small-scale peasants and by implementing construction work including forestry and flood control. But his bold reform policy in the Okayama Domain caused conflict with conservative samurai including the karo (the chief retainer of the feudal lord). And his thought (neo-Confucianism based on the teachings of Wang Yangming and his followers) was incompatible with that which was authorized by the Edo shogunate (also called neo-Confucianism, but based on the teachings of Zhu Xi and his followers), so Masayuki HOSHINA and Razan HAYASHI, both on the side of the establishment, criticized Banzan.

So Banzan had to leave the town around Okayama-jo Castle and live a secluded life in Shigeyama Village, Wake County (the present Shigeyama, Bizen City, Okayama Prefecture). Incidentally, his title 'Banzan' comes from this place name 'Shigeyama,' because these pronunciations use the same Chinese characters, "蕃山." The area near Okayama-jo Castle, in which he once had his premises, has now become Banzan-cho, Okayama City.

Ronin years and his later years
In 1657, the pressure from the opposing force in the Edo shogunate and in the Okayama Domain caused him to resign from his post in the clan.

In 1658, he moved to Kyoto and opened his private school. In 1660, at the invitation of Hisakiyo NAKAGAWA, who was the feudal lord of the Oka Domain of Bungo Province, Banzan went to Takeda and gave advice including that about construction work. In 1661, as Banzan gained a reputation, the Tokugawa shogunate became wary of him once again, and in the end Chikasige MAKINO, the Kyoto Shoshidai (the governor of Kyoto appointed by the Tokugawa shogunate) at that time, purged him from Kyoto.

In 1667, he fled to Yoshino-yama Mountain, Yamato Province (the present Yoshino-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara Prefecture). Furthermore, he secluded himself in Kaseyama, Yamashiro Province (the present Kizugawa City, Kyoto Prefecture). In 1669, Nobuyuki MATSUDAIRA, the feudal lord of the Akashi Domain of Harima Province, took him into custody under the direction of the Tokugawa shogunate. And at that time, he was imprisoned in Taisan-ji Temple (located in the present Nishi Ward, Kobe City). In 1679, with Nobuyuki transferred to the Koriyama Domain, he moved in Yatayama, Yamato Province (the present Yamatokoriyama City, Nara Prefecture). In 1683, Masatoshi HOTTA, the then Tairo (chief minister), invited him to seek advice, but he declined. After resignation from the post in the Okayama Domain, he became a ronin (a masterless samurai), but he criticized the Tokugawa shogunate policies in his writings, especially on Sankinkotai (a system under which feudal lords in the Edo period were required to spend every other year in residence in Edo) and Heinobunri (a separation of the warrior class in this domain from the soil), and he also criticized the policies of the Okayama Domain.

In 1687, the Tokugawa shogunate directed Tadayuki MATSUDAIRA (the feudal lord of the Koga Domain of Simousa Province and the heir of Nobuyuki MATSUDAIRA) to take Banzan (then aged 69) into custody and to shut him up in a room of Yorimasa RYUZAKI within Koga-jo Castle, and considering Banzan's old age, this punishment might show how impatient the shogunate had become with his criticism. In 1691, the rebellious neo-Confucian became ill and ended his life in Koga-jo Castle. He died at the age of 74.

After his death
Tadayuki buried the corpse of Banzan with the greatest respect on the premises of Sakenobu-dera Temple, whose location is the present Otsutsumi, Koga City, Ibaraki Prefecture. At first, his epitaph was 'Sokuyuken no haka' (the grave of Sokuyuken), but later added as 'KUMAZAWA Sokuyuken Shigetsugu no haka' (the grave of KUMAZAWA Sokuyuken Shigemitsu).

In the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate, Banzan came under the spotlight once again, and great thinkers, such as Toko FUJITA and Shoin YOSHIDA, admired him, so his ideas became a driving force of the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate.
And Kaishu KATSU, another great figure at that time, also admired him with the expression of 'a hero in Confucian clothes.'

In 1910, the rank of Shoshii (Senior Fourth Rank) was presented to Banzan for his contribution to the academic development in the Edo period.