In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Japanese Philosophy

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Journals

Philosophy Japanese Philosophy
Tomomi Asakura
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0370


Japanese philosophy can be viewed, in a very simple way, as consisting of three historical phases: the classical thought, modern philosophy, and contemporary philosophy. In the first and classical phase, theoretical speculation in Japan is usually seen as a variation of East Asian intellectual tradition. Japanese thinkers from the 7th century to the 18th century used to work in this cultural sphere, which basically consists of Confucianism and Sinicized Buddhism, using classical Chinese for formal writing; they are by no means blind followers of Chinese thinkers, contributing to the development of philosophical speculation in the East Asian framework. During the Edo period (1603–1868), however, some thinkers start to depart from this framework by drawing either on the indigenous culture or on the knowledge of occidental civilization, which eventually leads to the modernization, or Westernization, of Japanese society. The second, or modern, phase of Japanese philosophy begins with the full-fledged introduction of Western philosophy during the Meiji period (1868–1912). As a result, there arises a theoretical task to synthesize Eastern and Western frameworks, and many pioneering works are produced in the first half of the 20th century. The best-known modern Japanese philosopher is Nishida Kitarō (b. 1870–d. 1945). The Kyoto school of philosophy was formed through his influence, which shares the ambition to make “contributions to philosophy” with the Eastern tradition—especially Mahayana Buddhism—in the background. However, the Kyoto school had fallen into disrepute in the mid-20th century when Japan underwent a tremendous social and cultural change. The third and contemporary phase of Japanese philosophy spans from the postwar reconstruction of Japan to the present, when eminent researchers gather in the University of Tokyo and lead philosophical studies under the framework either of analytic or continental context, mostly refraining from mentioning the Eastern tradition. Recent philosophical research in Japan is increasingly getting free from such academic frameworks, producing some remarkable results; however, most of these contemporary works remain little known overseas.

General Overview

These works give the overview of Japanese philosophy more or less focused on premodern or modern history. Blocker and Starling 2001 gives a concise presentation of Japanese philosophy throughout its history. Heisig, et al. 2011 is an excellent and convenient sourcebook in English. Ienaga, et al. 1970–1982 is the major collection of premodern theoretical and religious texts in original languages. Piovesana 2016 focuses on the assimilation of Western philosophy in modern Japan, and Yusa 2017 discusses the contemporary situation of philosophy in Japan. (For the East Asian tradition in general, see also the Oxford Bibliographies article in Philosophy “Chinese Philosophy.”)

  • Blocker, H. Gene, and Christopher L. Starling. Japanese Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

    A brief intellectual history that offers a general overview of Japanese philosophy from the 7th century to the early 21st century.

  • Heisig, James, Thomas Kasulis, and John Maraldo, eds. Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011.

    An anthology of Japanese philosophical texts throughout its history, available in English and with excellent introductory notes that offer an excellent overview of Japanese philosophy.

  • Ienaga Saburō, Ishimoda Tadashi, Inoue Mitsusada, et al., eds. Nihon shisō taikei (日本思想大系). 67 vols. Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1970–1982.

    (Collection of Japanese thought.) A major collection of premodern philosophical texts in its original language, with scholarly introductions and useful commentaries—an indispensable tool for the advanced readers.

  • Piovesana, Gino. Recent Japanese Philosophical Thought 1862–1996: A Survey. London: Routledge, 2016.

    A somewhat-dated, early survey first published decades ago that still offers a good account for the assimilation process of Western philosophy from 1862 to 1962, now with a supplementary survey (1963–1996) by Yamawaki Naoshi.

  • Yusa, Michiko, ed. The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Contemporary Japanese Philosophy. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

    A collection of surveys that offers an account of modern Japanese philosophy and current intellectual trends that include political thought, aesthetics, and feminist philosophy.

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