Greatest Japanese Philosophers Who Ever Lived

Arai Hakuseki (1657-1725)

Arai Hakuseki was a Japanese Confucianist, poet and politician during the middle of the Edo Period, and an advisor of Shogun Tokugawa Ienobu. His real name was Kinmi, however he later adopted the pen name Hakuseki. His father, Arai Masazumi, was a Kururi han samurai. Hakuseki was also an ambitious scholar and a student of Kinoshita Junan. After Tokugawa Ienobu became the sixth shogun, Arai Hakuseki worked with Manabe Akifusa to counter the economic havoc wrought by the previous Shogun’s policies by launching Shotoku no Chi, a series of economic reforms.

Arai Hakuseki

Hakuseki was a prolific writer, including the Seiyo Kibun —a clandestine work describing the Occident, based on Hakuseki’s interviews with Giovanni Battista Sidotti, which was instrumental in the Shogunate’s decision to open Japan to foreign trade when Commodore Perry and his Black Ships arrived almost 180 years later.

Daisaku Ikeda

Daisaku Ikeda

Daisaku Ikeda is a peacebuilder, Buddhist philosopher, educator, author and poet. He was president of the Soka Gakkai lay Buddhist organization in Japan from 1960–79 and is the founding president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), one of the world’s largest and most diverse community-based Buddhist associations, promoting a philosophy of empowerment and social engagement for peace. He is also the founder of the Soka Schools system and several international institutions promoting peace, culture and education.



Ennin was a Japanese Buddhist monk of the Tendai sect who studied Buddhism at length in China and brought back knowledge of esoteric rituals, sutras, and relics. On his return, he published his celebrated diary Nitto Guho Junrei Gyoki and became the abbot of the important Enryakuji monastery on Mount Hiei near Kyoto and, thus, head of the Tendai sect.

Fujiwara Seika (1561-1619)

Fujiwara Seika

Fujiwara Seika was a Confucian scholar of the late 16th to early 17th centuries. He later was one of the main teachers of Hayashi Razan, the first of a series of Hayashi clan Confucian advisors to the Tokugawa shoguns. Seika is also said to have played a significant role in the development of the kunten marks used to render kanbun (Classical Chinese) legible for Japanese readers. This came after he spent some time in Yamakawa in Satsuma province, where he studied the Bunshi-ten marks developed by Nanpo Bunshi.

George Ohsawa (1893-1966)

George Ohsawa

George Ohsawa, born Nyoichi Sakurazawa was the founder of the macrobiotic diet and philosophy. When living in Europe he went by the pen names of Musagendo Sakurazawa, Nyoiti Sakurazawa, and Yukikazu Sakurazawa. He also used the French first name Georges while living in France, and his name is sometimes also given this spelling. George Ohsawa introduced the oriental concept of health to Westerners in the mid-20th century, writing about 300 books in Japanese and 20 in French during a 40-year period. He defined health with seven criteria: lack of tiredness or fatigue; good appetite; good sleep; good memory; good humour; precision of thought and action; gratitude.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima (1919-2014)

Gudo Wafu Nishijima is a Japanese master, founder of the Dogen Sangha. Born in 1920, he practiced Zen for some 60 years, first under the guidance of Master Kodo Sawaki. Upon this Master’s death he followed the teachings of Rempo Niwa Zenji, who was superior general of the Soto School of Zen and abbot of its root-monastery, Eihei-ji. Master Nishijima received the Dharma seal from him.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

While leading an active professional and family life (as did Master Taisen Deshimaru), he penned thirty or so texts in Japanese and English, including a complete translation of Shobogenzo, the monumental work of Dogen, the great master who established the Soto School in Japan in the 13d century. He is currently translating from Sanskrit into Japanese and English the “Treaty of the Middle Way” (Mâdhyamaka-kârikâ), an other very important text written by the famous indian philosopher Nagarjuna.

Hagiwara Hiromichi (1815-1863)

Hagiwara Hiromichi

Hagiwara Hiromichi was a scholar of literature, philology, and nativist studies (Kokugaku) as well as an author, translator, and poet active in late-Edo period Japan. He is best known for the innovative commentary and literary analysis of The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari, ca. 1010) found in his work titled Genji monogatari hyoshaku published in two installments in 1854 and 1861.

Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769)

Hakuin Ekaku

Hakuin Ekaku was one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism. He revived the Rinzai school from a moribund period of stagnation, refocusing it on its traditionally rigorous training methods integrating meditation and koan practice. Hakuin’s influence was such that all Rinzai Zen masters today trace their lineage through him, and all modern practitioners of Rinzai Zen use practices directly derived from his teachings.

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