chapter
Confucianism: Japan
Byby Mary Evelyn TUCKER
Pages 29

In its spread from China throughout East Asia, Confucianism has had a striking influence on the societies and cultures of Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Although Japan was the last of these countries to be affected by Confucianism, its impact has nonetheless been significant. The particular forms that Confucianism took in Japan distinguish it from other East Asian countries, especially because of the absence of an enduring civil service examination system as a means of identifying suitable bureaucrats. Nonetheless, Japan was able to adopt and adapt certain Confucian ideas in political organization, social ethics, the educational curriculum, and ritual practice. Thus, although Confucianism may not have had the same institutional grounding that it did in the rest of East Asia where civil service exams and Confucian government bureaucracies were dominant, its influence was abundantly evident. This is true particularly in education and social ethics from the Tokugawa period through World War II, when Confucian values of self-cultivation, loyalty, respect, harmony, and consensus were considered important means of fostering social cooperation. This is not to suggest, however, that dissent and disharmony have not also been part of Japan’s history from earliest times to the present. The continuing invocation of the opening line of Shotoku Taishi’s Seventeen Article Constitution-“Harmony is to be valued and an avoidance of wanton opposition to be honored”—is only a reminder of how difficult this ideal precept was to actualize, socially or politically.