The peace and prosperity established in the country by the Tokugawa created favorable conditions for the development of thought and studies. First, Ieyasu gave them the impetus. After his retirement (1605), he had many works collected and printed, founded libraries and a university, and surrounded himself with scholars who later held official positions.
An essential feature of the time is that letters are democratized. The spread of education, mainly carried out by the bonzes, and of the printing with movable type, which arose recently, together with the improved economic conditions, gave rise to the masses first the taste, then the desire and the need for literature. This is how the people begin to write for themselves and the production increases rapidly, so as to surpass, in volume, that of all the other eras put together.
According to clothesbliss, the new direction brings with it an inevitable consequence: loss of quality and form and the purchase of the vernacular to serve the tastes of a circle of readers demanding a food suitable for their low moral and spiritual stature. Aston’s stern judgment (History of Japanese Litarature, pp. 221-22) has been endorsed by all critics: “Extravagance, false sentiment, offense to physical and moral possibility, pedantry, pornography, bickering and other fictitious trappings of style, intolerable insanities, impossible adventures, tiring display of useless details meet everywhere. Not that skill is lacking. Genuine alcohol and wit are copied by those who know where to look for them; true pathosit is encountered in works, in other respects, rough…, but the absence of the writer totus teres atque rotundus leaps to the eye. Healthy thinking, use of beautiful writing, discipline of imagination and a certain sense of order, of proportions, of consistency of method, it is difficult to find them in the colluvium of writings and prints that this era has left us “. But not all of the production of it is such that, parallel to literature destined for the masses, another developed, firmer, higher, destined for the educated classes in which the dignity of letters was traditional and not for their pleasure, but for their usefulness or to meet their cultural needs.
This literature began with a revival of Chinese philosophical studies. The movement was inaugurated by Fujiwara Seikwa (1561-1619), who, having resigned his Buddhist monastic habit, and set out in search of a system that would satisfy his spirit, found it, one day, in a work of the Chinese philosopher Chu-hsi (1130-1200), from which he, reading it, exclaimed: “This is what I have been looking for for a long time!”. From this incident, the school of Kangakusha (“sinologists”) was born, and the fortune that the doctrines of Chu-hsi met in the country dates from the moment when a student of Seikwa, Hayashi Razan (1583-1657), was welcomed by Ieyasu as an adviser and had a large part in the reforms that the dictator was preparing to give to the country.), understood as blind obedience and fidelity to the authorities and to his own lord, Ieyasu, with a far-sighted eye, immediately glimpsed a very effective instrument of government; Chu-hsi’s theories thus became the official morality of the shōgun, who took care to always have at their side, as advisers, men of Chu-hsist faith. The discussion of the production, however conspicuous, of the numerous Kangakusha group does not enter the context of Japanese literary history, both because they wrote largely in Chinese and because their works belong to philosophy. Some of them, however, deserve mention for having left a profound imprint in the literary field as well. Kaibara Ekken, was primarily an educator and his pedagogical treatises, such as the Onna -daigaku (The great teaching for women), remained for a long time at the basis of the education of Pleasure), the Kad ō – kun (Family morality), the Y ō j ō – kun (Hygiene), etc., can still be read today with pleasure, for their flat and lively style. Arai Hakuseki, adviser to the shōgun Ienobu (1709-1713) was the greatest and most famous of the Kangakusha. A statesman, more than a moralist, an elegant and vigorous encyclopedic and writer, he left behind a number of works that bear the seal of a frank spirit and the contribution of a vast historical, archaeological and philological culture. Muro Kyūsō (1658-1734), his friend, but less fruitful writer, has entrusted his name to a collection of critical essays, in the form of conversations with the disciples, which contain his thought as a fervent follower of Chu-hsi’s rationalism, collection entitled Shundai Zatsuwa, or “Surugadai’s Miscellany” (from the name of the hill in Yedo where he lived).