Oskina A. Kaibara Ekken and his "Precepts for Girls"

Kaibara Ekken and his "Precepts for Girls"

by A.S. Oskina, HSE

The article is dedicated to girls' education in Tokugawa period based upon the work of Confucian philosopher, doctor and educator Kaibara Ekken. His recognized treatise "Precepts for Girls" represents distinctive moral atmosphere of the Tokugawa period.


Key words: women's education, Kaibara Ekken, Confucianism, ethic treatise, teachings for girls.

XIII-XVI centuries is the troublous time in Japan's history. With the Tokugawa house shogun coming to power in 1603 the country gained stability that lasted for two and a half centuries. The situation gave an impulse to a formation of new ideologies that could provide order within the country. Zen Buddhism put as primer ideology by the former shoguns was replaced by Neo-Confucianism (Chucianism) in the Tokugawa period.

Kaibara Ekken (1630-1714) was one of the Chucian followers. A distinctive feature of his works is that he appeals not only to the intellectuals but to the poorly educated as well. His work "Precepts for Girls" from the "Ekken's Ten Moral Treatises" (益軒十訓, "Ekken Jikkun") deserves special attention. It is the first preachy work containing the section on female education. Ekken's ideas on education were widely recognized and commanded respect up to World War II.

A copious author Kaibara Ekken has left over hundred books: moral treatises, comments on Chinese classic texts, works on philology and botany and travel notes.

As mentioned above Kaibara Ekken was the first author to create a manual dedicated to women. Of course, it does not mean that Japan had no code of conduct for women up to 1710. But unlike works dedicated to men's education those for women were never put into writing. When it comes to female education there are only fragments and disembodied data. Therefore Kaibara Ekken can be considered a pioneer of the genre. It is noteworthy that a manual for women was written by a man. This was the gender environment of the time.

Kaibara started to work on "Ekken's Ten Moral Treatises" (益軒十訓, "Ekken Jikkun") in 1687. It was only in the Meiji period (1868-1912) when ten chapters were compiled into one book named "Ekken's Ten Moral Treatises". However, these separate manuals were popular as early as the Tokugawa period. Names of all chapters, number of scrolls and time of creation (year of publication, if unknown) are given below:

- "Family Teachings" (家順, "Kakun") - 1 scroll, 1687 

- "Instructions for Noble Men" (君子訓, "Kunshikun") - 3 scrolls, 1703 

- "Teachings on Yamato Manners" (大和俗訓, "Yamato jokkun") - 8 scrolls, 1708

- "Teaching on Children Education Traditions in Japan" (和俗童子訓, "Wazoku dojikun") - 5 scrolls, 1710

- "Teaching on Joy" (楽訓, "Rakkun") - 3 scrolls, published in 1711 

- "The Meaning on Five Constant Virtues" (五常訓, "Gojokun") - 5 scrolls, 1711 

- "Teaching on the Family Path" (家道訓, "Kadokun") - 3 scrolls, published in 1712 

- "Teaching on Good Health" (養生訓, "Yojokkun") - 4 scrolls, published in 1713

- "Teaching on Civil and Military Matters" (文武訓, "Bumbukun") - 3 scrolls, published in 1716 

- "Teaching on Education Basics" (初学訓, "Shogakkun") - 5 scrolls, published in 1718

This article is focused on the chapter "Teaching on Children Education Traditions in Japan", particularly the fifth and the last scroll - "Precepts for Girls".

In his work Kaibara Ekken tells about rules for all women regardless of their ancestry. It is easily understandable when the author tells about responsibilities and skills a wife has: "...even though she derives from a noble and wealthy family the wife must depreciate herself after getting married even more than she used to staying at her parents' house...". The author also argues: "Even if there are many servant girls... the woman should be patient and hardworking". Kaibara Ekken points out that a woman should "serve leaving behind her rank and position". It is curious that similar rules were equally applied to the Empress: "All women including the Empress do housework". As an example he puts a Chinese empress who was fond of needlework. Although appealing to China was an attribute of the discourse of the time Kaibara refers to the Japanese mythological experience marking that the sun goddess Amaterasu "was spinning divine clothes with her own hands".

Kaibara intentionally uses legendary plots of great antiquity as it was his unattainable ideal while: "Modern wives of noble men stay in idleness giving up their responsibilities and thus violating the ancient laws".

Kaibara draws a distinct line between the space inside (内) and outside (外) the house. According to the author "all men including the emperor rule over the outer world while women rule over the inside". Therefore, housekeeping is a responsibility of women.