Itō Jinsai (1627-1705), was one of the most influential Confucian scholars of 17th century Japan.
Born the son of a successful Kyoto merchant, Itō grew up surrounded by Chinese scholarly books from an early age. When illness forced him out of the family business at age 28, he became a full-time Confucian scholar, eventually founding his own school of Confucianism, called Kogigaku (古義学, or "Study of Ancient Principles").
Initially a devotee of the Song Dynasty Neo-Confucianism of Zhu Xi, Itō eventually came to reject Zhu Xi's teachings completely, and instead advocated looking to original Confucian and Daoist texts for true understanding, especially the Analects and the Mencius. In particular, Itō rejected the Neo-Confucian tenet that the Way of Humans flowed forth from the Way of Heaven via rational principle. Instead, Itō argued that scholars should look to everyday life and daily interactions to best understand the Way.
Itō also sought to find a place for human emotion in his version of Confucianism, and thus famously encouraged his students to express themselves in poetry as part of their study, which was in stark contrast to the cold rationalism of Neo-Confucianism, whose scholars were strictly forbidden to indulge in poetry.
Having consolidated his philosophy, Itō established his own school, the Kogidō (古義堂, or "Hall of Ancient Principles"), in 1662. Signalling Itō's head-on challenge to the Neo-Confucian orthodoxy, his school was on the east bank of the Horikawa river in Kyoto, directly across from the rival school of the ardent Neo-Confucianist scholar Yamazaki Ansai. Itō's school was a dazzling success, and he eventually trained over 3,000 students from all regions of Japan and many different walks of life, becoming the leading Confucian scholar of his time, and profoundly influencing the next generation of Japanese Confucian scholars, including the great scholar of the early 18th century, Ogyū Sorai.
- The Meaning of Words in the Analects and Mencius (1683)
- Questions From Children (1693)
- Postscripts to the Collected Works of Bo Juyi (1704)