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Practical Pursuits: Religion, Politics, and Personal Cultivation in Nineteenth-Century Japan
400pp. May 2004
Practical Pursuits: Religion, Politics, and Personal Cultivation in Nineteenth-Century Japan
Author: Sawada, Janine Tasca;
The idea that personal cultivation leads to social and material well-being became widespread in late Tokugawa Japan (1600–1868). Practical Pursuits explores theories of personal development that were diffused in the early nineteenth century by a network of religious groups in the Edo (Tokyo) area, and explains how, after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the leading members of these communities went on to create ideological coalitions inspired by the pursuit of a modern form of cultivation. Variously engaged in divination, Shinto purification rituals, and Zen practice, these individuals ultimately used informal political associations to promote the Confucian-style assumption that personal improvement is the basis for national prosperity.

This wide-ranging yet painstakingly researched study represents a new direction in historical analysis. Where previous scholarship has used large conceptual units like Confucianism and Buddhism as its main actors and has emphasized the discontinuities in Edo and Meiji religious life, Sawada addresses the history of religion in nineteenth-century Japan at the level of individuals and small groups. She employs personal cultivation as an interpretive system, crossing familiar boundaries to consider complex linguistic, philosophical, and social interconnections.


Published with the assistance of the Japan Foundation
"Sawada offers us a superbly researched and elegantly written study of important aspects of nineteenth-century spirituality in Japan, in which she looks especially closely at the theme of self-cultivation as well as at a number of its heretofore marginalized voices, placing these in their broader political and social contexts. In so doing, she has made a major contribution to our understanding of these important years; it is certain to prove to be of lasting significance." —History of Religions (47:4, 2008)

"This is a fascinating study of Japanese popular religion from the late Tokugawa period to early Meiji. . . . Sawada makes important contributions for understanding the history of bakumatsu and early Meiji popular religion. It is essential reading for understanding the contested place of religion in Japan today." —Religious Studies Review (32:2, April 2006)

"Interdisciplinary in the best sense ... accessible to all educational levels." —Choice (January 2005)

"Meticulously researched and ably written." —Journal of Asian Studies (May 2005)

"Meticulous ... Given the enormous scope of Sawada’s study, the book holds together exceptionally well." —Monumenta Nipponica (60, 2005)

"Breaks new ground and sets a high mark for future studies on Japanese religions." —Philosophy East and West (56, 2006)

"A lasting contribution to the study of Japanese religions and set[s] a high standard of rigorous, exhaustive research." —Helen Hardacre, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University

"A well-written, thoroughly researched book that will become a seminal work in the study of modern Japanese religion." —Richard Jaffe, Duke University

Author: Sawada, Janine Tasca;
Janine Tasca Sawada currently teaches at the University of Iowa and is the author of Confucian Values and Popular Zen: Sekimon Shingaku in Eighteenth Century Japan (UH Press, 1993).
Read the introduction (PDF).