Ogyu Sorai (荻生徂徠)

Sorai OGYU (March 21, 1666 - February 28, 1728) is a Confucian, thinker and philologist in the middle of the Edo period. His real name is Nabematsu, azana (common name) is Shigenori, and Sorai ('徂徠', one theory is '徂來') is go (pen name). His original family name is Mononobe. His father is 景明 OGYU, a court physician of the fifth Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA. His younger brother is Hokkei OGYU, a court physician of Yoshimune TOKUGAWA and famous for his study of the Ritsuryo code of Ming.

Biography

He was born in Edo. He excelled academically at a very young age and studied with Gaho HAYASHI and Hoko HAYASHI, but he moved to Honno village (current Mobara City) in Kazusa Province due to his father's chikkyo (being confined to one's house) in 1678. Here, He had studied for about 11 years and established the basis for the rest of his learning. Recalling his Kazusa days, he stated it was 'the power of Nanso (the south of Boso)' that made his success in learning. In 1690, at the age of 25, he was forgiven and returned to Edo, where he also studied hard.

In 1686, at the age of 31, Sorai was recruited by Yoshiyasu YANAGISAWA, who was a close associate of the fifth shogun Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA and Edo bakufu Sobayonin (lord chamberlain), and he served Yoshiyasu on the salary of 15 man fuchi (the equivalent of an annual ten-man rice stipend). Later, his salary was increased to 500 koku, and he studied in the Yanagisawa's residence and responded to requests of political advice. In 1709, at the age of 44, because of Yoshiyasu's downfall, Sorai left Mr. Yanagisawa's residence and moved to Kayabacho, Nihonbashi (current Chuo Ward, Tokyo Prefecture), and here opened a private school, Kenenjuku. Finally he came to form a school named the Sorai school (Kenengaku shool). Incidentally, the school's name 'Kenen' is associated with its location, Kayabacho (Kikaku TAKARAI lived adjacently and there is a poem that 'Fragrant of plum trees, next door is Soemon OGYU'). He won the confidence of the eighth Shogun Yoshimune TOKUGAWA, and had responded to Yoshimune's requests for advice after 1722. He opposed to the punishment by banishment, and in addition to this, he advocated for the adoption of the punishment by imprisonment or curtailment of liberties. He was daring and built on his own capability, and he was interested in Chinese taste and fluent in Chinese language. He fostered a lot of disciples and died in 1728 at the age of 63.

The tomb of Sorai OGYU is located in Chosho-ji Temple, Mita Yonchome, Minato Ward, Tokyo Prefecture.

Establishment of the Sorai Doctrine and Keisei Thought

Refuting Neo-Confucianism as 'just a delusional theory based on hypothesis', he criticized the interpretation of classical writings based on Neo-Confucianism, and established Kobunjigaku (study of ancient rhetoric school) (the Kenengaku school) as a method for deciphering classical writings of ancient China. Also, he was a political advisor of Yoshiyasu YANAGISAWA and the eighth Shogun Yoshimune TOKUGAWA. The political reform theory "Seidan" (discussion of law cases), which was submitted to Yoshimune, shows Sorai's political ideas in the concrete. This is an epoch-making literary work that pushs forward the isolation of politics and religious morality in Japanese intellectual history, and after this, Keisei thought (Keiseiron (policies planned for governing a nation and providing relief to people, or ideas behind those)) was generated.

The Ako Affair and Sorai

In the debate of punishment decision for Ako Roshi (lordless samurai of Ako domain) in the Genroku Ako Incident, as competition with people including Hoko HAYASHI, Kyuso MURO and Keisai ASAMI who confirmed the theory of admiring and saving life, Sorai insisted on the theory of private duty and Seppuku (suiside by disembowelment), and escalated as 'Sorai Giritsusho' as follows.
Gi (justice/honor) is a way to judge yourself correctly, and law is a standard to govern the world.'
Control your mind by Rei (courtesy/appreciation), and decide your action based on Gi.'
Now, Ako Roshi's revenge for their lord is an honorable way for samurai.'
That is the way of self-control with propriety, and the revenge itself serves Gi.'
However, that is limited to them; that is only their private logic.'
In the first place, Naganori ASANO was punished for causing injury but Ako Roshi raised a fuss to revenge for Yoshinaka KIRA without permission of bakufu, which cannot be forgiven from a legal standpoint.'
Now, if we reveal the crime of Ako Roshi and they are punished by Seppuku based on Rei of samurai, they must be satisfied and also the wish of the Uesugi family, who was stopped from avenging the killing of their father, must be fulfilled, and the order that allegiance must not be understated will make sense.'
This is the fair politics.'
This escalation was adopted as a result.

Sorai Tofu (soybean curd of Sorai)

This is a program for rakugo (comic story telling), kodan (storytelling) and rokyoku (storytelling with shamisen accompaniment). Sorai Tofu' is a story that Sorai, who became Goyo-gakusha (a scholar pander to the government) of Shogun, and the tofu seller, who was Sorai's benefactor in his lean days, met again at the time of the raid of Ako Roshi.

The story in well-known Edo rakugo is as follows. When Sorai was a poor scholar, he ordered tofu and ate it at the shop though he didn't have any money. The tofu seller not only forgave Sorai and also supported him in poverty. Sorai found out that the tofu seller had been burned out by a great fire the next day of the raid of Ako Roshi, and he gave money and new shop to the tofu seller. However, the tofu seller refused the charity from Sorai who forced the loyal samurai to take Seppuku. Therefore, Sorai told about the right of law as follows.
Mr. tofu seller relieved me of being a 'pincher' by making a contract for Shusebarai (paying after career progress) of my act of eating tofu without money because of my poverty.'
Because he felt pity for me without bending law, I got to where I am now.'
I didn't bend law as a scholar and showed ultimate mercy to the Roshi, which is the same way as Mr. tofu seller.'
He told about the morality of samurai as follows.
Once samurai has blossomed beautifully, letting him lose the life in fine style is also counted as a mercy.'
Samurai's long sword is for enemies and his short sword is for himself.'
The tofu seller agreed with this and received the gift. The story ends with the words of the tofu seller that 'Sensei (indicates Sorai, literally, "teacher") cut his own belly for me" (means "paid out of his own pocket for me") associating Ako Roshi's Seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) and Sorai's gift.

Bibliography
"Bendo" (explanation of ways)
"Benmei" (explanation of terms)
"Gijiritsusho" (document of pseudo-self-control)
"Taiheisaku" (policy of great peace)
"Seidan" (discussion of law cases)
"Gakusoku" (code of the school)