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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Spirits and identity in nineteenth-century Northeastern Japan : Hirata Kokugaku and the Tsugaru disciples Fujiwara, Gideon


While previous research on kokugaku, or nativism, has explained how intellectuals imagined the singular community of Japan, this study sheds light on how posthumous disciples of Hirata Atsutane based in Tsugaru juxtaposed two “countries”—their native Tsugaru and Imperial Japan—as they transitioned from early modern to modern society in the nineteenth century. This new perspective recognizes the multiplicity of community in “Japan,” which encompasses the domain, multiple levels of statehood, and “nation,” as uncovered in recent scholarship. My analysis accentuates the shared concerns of Atsutane and the Tsugaru nativists toward spirits and the spiritual realm, ethnographic studies of commoners, identification with the north, and religious thought and worship. I chronicle the formation of this scholarly community through their correspondence with the head academy in Edo (later Tokyo), and identify their autonomous character. Hirao Rosen conducted ethnography of Tsugaru and the “world” through visiting the northern island of Ezo in 1855, and observing Americans, Europeans, and Qing Chinese stationed there. I show how Rosen engaged in self-orientation and utilized Hirata nativist theory to locate Tsugaru within the spiritual landscape of Imperial Japan. Through poetry and prose, leader Tsuruya Ariyo identified Mount Iwaki as a sacred pillar of Tsugaru, and insisted one could experience “enjoyment” from this life and beyond death in the realm of spirits. The Tsugaru nativists’ cause was furthered when their domain of Hirosaki switched allegiance from the Tokugawa to Imperial forces in the Boshin War of 1868 to 1869, and a domainal samurai from their group fought and died for the emperor. This young samurai was among 64 fallen soldiers who were honoured and deified in the shōkonsai ritual performed by Shinto priests of the group, an event which distinguished the domain as a loyal supporter of Imperial Japan. In conclusion, I describe the Tsugaru nativists’ experience of modernity, as members carried out religious reform, immortalized the domain through editing histories and poetry collections, and observed the rise of Hirata nativism in the creation of the Meiji state, only to witness its decline in a society which modernized rapidly, while embracing new and foreign intellectual influences.

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