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Sorai Ogyu

  • Biography
1666-1728. A Chinese philosopher of mid-Edo. Sorai’s real first name was Shigenori. He was commonly known as Soemon; Sorai was his pseudonym. His father Hoan was a doctor who served the fifth shogun, the great Tsunayoshi Tokugawa. When Sorai was 14, his father was condemned and banished from Edo, and they moved to Kazusa Honno Village (now the city of Mobara, Chiba). Sorai returned to Edo after his father was forgiven. He made a living teaching Chinese philosophy, and in 1696 at the age of 31, he gained the favor of Yoshiyasu Yanagisawa, who was the grand chamberlain of Tsunayoshi Tokugawa. He later lived in Nihonbashi Kayaba-cho, opened a private school (Kenen Juku), and popularized Chinese verses in Edo. He also trained young people in philosophy.

  • Association with Minato City
Insisted on ritual suicide for Ako Gishi’s raid incident

When Sorai moved to Kazusa with his father, he studied Chinese literature on his own. After returning to Edo, he lived in a house in front of the gates of Shiba Zojo Temple and made a living by teaching. He lived a life of desperate poverty. He was so poor that his neighbor, owner of a tofu shop, took pity on him and would bring him leftover tofu. He never forgot the debt of gratitude to that shop, even when he later rose up in the ranks; this relationship became the plot of a fictional comic storytelling episode called Sorai Tofu.
Sorai was critical of the doctrines of Chu-tzu and called for a return to the “path of the late king” of ancient times before Confucius, advocating his own philosophy, Kobun Jigaku. He was a brilliant theorist, pointing out the importance of “reigaku” (ceremony and music), which transcends language. He was also the political adviser to Yoshimune Tokugawa and Yoshiyasu Yanagisawa. Sorai is very well known for his insistence on the sentence of ritual suicide for Ako Gishi for the raid incident that was accepted by the shogunate government. Sorai’s tomb can be found in Nagamatsu Temple in Mita (designated as a historical site of Japan on July 23, 1949).

Concise Nihon Jinmei Jiten (Concise Japanese Biographical Dictionary) (Sanseido)
Edo Shisoshi Kogi (Edo Intellectual History) (Nobukuni Koyasu/Iwanami Shoten)

  • Walking Points
Tomb of Sorai Ogyu (Tagamatsu Temple, 4-7-29 Mita)

  • Literary Works
Nihon Shiso Taikei (Japanese System of Thoughts - Sorai Ogyu) (Iwanami Shoten)
Ogyu Sorai Zenshu (Complete Works of Sorai Ogyu) (Misuzu Shobo)
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  • Related Publications
Ogyu Sorai - Edo no Don Quixote (Sorai Ogyu, Edo’s Don Quixote) (Takehiko Noguchi/Chuko Shinsho)
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