The School of National Learning (kokugaku) began in the early 19th century innocently studying Japanese history and literature, but ended up being a source of nationalism and a force which subverted the feudal system and set the stage for the development of Japan’s modern state after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The traditional Confucian studies of history and literature in Japan concentrated on Chinese history and literature because China was the “middle kingdom”, the center of civilization in East Asia. The idea of studying Japanese history was not initially radical, yet it lead to the discovery of an indigenous culture distinct from Chinese culture and, ultimately, to the nationalistic view that Japanese culture was superior to Chinese culture because it was indigenous.
Written by Thomas A. Stanley and R.T.A. Irving.