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Home » 7. Concepts and Doctrines » Doctrines and Theories
Sonnōshisō
The idea of sonnō signified reverence for the ruling monarchy of a state or realm. In ancient China, Confucius (551-479 BC) venerated the then-defunct court of Zhou. He called for the orderly unification of the divided realm and state under the authority of this dynasty. A process which he expected is to bring about the establishment of morality at the same time. Herein lies the origin of sonnō thought. In Japan, this ideology manifested itself as a reverence for the emperor and the imperial institution and was perpetuated since antiquity. sonnō thought assumed a clear intellectual position during the Edo period after the rise of research into Japanese history grounded in the Confucian discourse of the rectification of names (Chin. zhengming). In 1657, during the early part of the Edo period, the lord of the Mito domain, Tokugawa Mitsukuni, began to compile the Dai nihonshi. His plan was to rectify the legitimacy of imperial succession and the propriety of the lord-vassal relationship through this work. In this text, he asserted loyalty to the emperor and to the imperial institution. Aside from the Dai nihonshi, Confucians of this period, such as Kumazawa Banzan and Yamaga Sokō, claimed that Japan and China had a common cultural heritage. From this assumption arose the assertion of Japan's superiority and the Japanocentric view of Japan as the "central land" (nakatsukuni) and "middle kingdom" (chūchō). Ultimately, the arguments of both of these writers stressed reverence of the emperor and the imperial institution, but the one who perfected this intellectual trend was Yamazaki Ansai. Ansai developed a Japanocentrism that was based on his research on the Nihon shoki and the Nakatomi no harae (his ideas were late compiled in the Fūyōshū and the Nakatomi harae fūsui sō). As the result of his inquiries, Ansai completely rejected a Japanocentric chauvinism founded on a comparative view of Japan and China which assumed a common heritage. He also refused to ground his notion of reverence for emperor and the imperial institution on this type of reasoning. Following Ansai, Asami Keisai inherited this view, and he composed the Seiken igen kōgi. This text contributed greatly to advocating Japan's sonnō thought. In due course, Ansai's school of thought brought forth thinkers such as Takenouchi Shikibu, Yamagata Daini, and Umeda Unbin at the end of the Edo period (the so-called bakumatsu era). It were the people who were, directly or indirectly, influenced by Ansai's school of thought that created the sonnō movement of the bakumatsu era. In mitogaku, and especially in the case of later scholars of mitogaku, like Fujita Yūkoku, his son Tōko, and Aizawa Seishisai, who wrote against a backdrop of internal and external troubles, one can find assertions of the notion of kokutai (national polity) which, since the Dai nihonshi, had come to stress absolute belief in the emperor and the imperial institution as well as the dignity of the Japanese state. This idea was one of the elements that drove the sonnō movement of the bakumatsu era. The influence of sonnō thought grew in strength also among scholars of kokugaku. Motoori Norinaga's rejected the Confucian ideas that had hitherto formed the basis of sonnō thought and, based on his research on the Kojiki and Nihon shoki, searched instead for the indigenous ancient way (kodō) of Japan. It was based on this approach that he argued for the legitimacy of the imperial line and the superior nature of Japan. Later, these ideas came to form the intellectual basis for the activities of bakumatsu scholars of kokugaku, via the activities of Hirata Atsutane. In this way, sonnō thought was transmitted by Yamazaki Ansai's school of thought, mitogaku, and kokugaku.

— Yazaki Hiroyuki
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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