Hirata Kanetane (平田鐵胤)

Kanetane HIRATA (December 31, 1799 – October 25, 1880) was a scholar of ancient Japanese literature and culture.


He was from Iyo Province (present Ehime Prefecture). He was the first son of Emohachi MIDORIKAWA, a feudal retainer of the Niiya clan (Kita County) and a liegeman of Okuranoshoyu (junior assistant minister of the Ministry of Finance) Kato, and he called himself Atsuma.
He entered Ibukinoya School, and by his influence, his brother Yoshihisa MIDORIKAWA also formally entered the same school in May 1822 (according to the old lunar calendar)

On January 15,1824 (according to the old lunar calendar), Atsuma (Kanetane) was adopted by Atsutane HIRATA, a famous scholar of ancient Japanese literature and culture, got married to Atsutane's daughter Oteu (later she called herself Orise), and changed his name to Atsusane, calling himself Kuranosuke (later he called himself Daigaku), then, he practically became the successor to Atsutane. In 1868 (the first year of the Meiji period), he was appointed to Jingikan Hanji (judge of the department of worship) and Jiko (teacher) of Emperor Meiji; later he became Daigaku Daihakusi (senior doctor of college), then finally became Daikyosei (the highest-ranking post of the department of worship).

He left many works including "Daigaku-kun Goichidai Ryakuki" (Short Story of Great Daigaku-kun's Life), "Norito Seikun" (Correct Reading for Prayers), "Kiyosohan-sho, Honkyo-doto-den" (The Controversial Study, Orthodox Line of the Moral Teachings), and "Konote-gashiwa" (Konote-oak). He cleared off all the enormous debts that Atsutane had accumulated while he had been alive, and worked hard to popularize Kodo (ancient method, ancient moral teachings and the way of learning). He died at the age of 82.

Personal profile

Kanetane devoted his life to studying and worked hard for which he obtained a lot of endowments as a scholar; he was a good-tempered person, disliked arousing rivalry, earnestly devoted himself to close examinations, and never neglected his duties. Presumably his character had been formed by his father, who had been a simple and sturdy person, and his mother, who had been a good wife and wise mother. At the age of eight, he learned how to write; at the age of 10, began to read basic Chinese literature; at the age of 15, celebrated his coming of age; at about the age of 20, he began to learn ancient Japanese literature and became attached to "Kokin Wakashu" (A Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry) by the influence of his teacher, besides, he knew Norinaga MOTOORI, a great scholar of ancient Japanese literature and culture, through his works, and became interested in such studies.

In the summer of 1820, a shopkeeper of a bookshop introduced Kanetane to Atsutane HIRATA's works including "Tama no Mihashira" (Concept of Afterlife), "Koshi Seibun" (Early History) and "Koshicho" (Clarification of Early History), then he grew a longing for the study of Japanese Kodo. And finally, he formally entered Atsutane Hirata's school (Ibukinoya School) with the dearest wish of his heart. Later, on May 15, 1822 (according to the old lunar calendar), by his influence, his brother Yoshihisa (at the age of 16) also took the oath as student and entered Ibukinoya School (Hirata school). Like his brother, Yoshihisa studied hard with a deep longing for Kodo; later he edited and published one of their teacher's literary remains "Daido Wakumon" (Studies on the Great Kodo), besides, in 1855, he wrote "Keiko Yoryaku", the summary of the volume of Jindai (the period of gods), which was his teacher's work, as well as "Jinmu Enkaku-ko" (Studies on the History of the First Emperor Jinmu). Yoshihisa was one of the leading disciples of Ibukinoya School and wrote the prefaces of his teacher's works such as "Sanshinzan Yoko" (Additional Study on the Three Mysterious Mountains of China) and "Daido Wakumon".

Their teacher, Atsutane often told his students 'the plans of the gods are unforeseen', however, presumably, he really hadn't been able to foresee that his student Atsuma MIDORIKAWA from Iyo Province would get married to his daughter Oteu (her real name was Chieko) and later change his name to Daigaku HIRATA after being adopted into the Hirata family, and become the successor to his family. Whether it was the gods' plan or not, after Atsutane died, Kanetane (by that time he had changed his name to Daigaku) committed the continuation of Atsutane's "Koshi-den" (Annotation of Early History) to Harumichi YANO from Iyo Province, who had entered the school after Atsutane had died and eventually completed "Koshi-den"; besides that, Kanetane worked hard to popularize Kodo by increasing the number of students and teaching the doctrine of the classical Shinto, and succeeded in propagating the thoughts that his father-in-law and his teacher, Atsutane had left. What's more, following Atsutane's death, Kanetane had to manage the household that had been treated a little irresponsibly, cleared off the enormous debts, and surprisingly made a fortune for the Hirata family. His wife, Atsutane's daughter Orise (Chieko) seemed to have been helping him always, but keeping herself in the background.

The letter that Kanetane wrote to Harumichi asking him to complete "Koshi-den"

Kanetane's father-in-law and teacher, Atsutane HIRATA, left a fragment of "Koshi-den"; volumes 1 to 28 had already been finished, however, volumes 29 and 30 had been left halfway, and volume 31 onwards hadn't been written. At first, Kanetane hoped Nobutane, his oldest son would be the next successor to Hirata's school, and complete the work, however, Nobutane died at the age of 45 on 24th January 1872, so he had to look for another suitable scholar for the work.

Unlike normal works, "Koshi-den" was the annotation of the history of Jindai and demanded deep understanding from the writer, so Kanetane deliberated on who was the most suitable person for a long time, and finally, among his school students, chose Harumichi YANO, a student of great talent from Ozu clan (Iyo Province). Initially Harumichi politely refused the request, however, for Kanetane's repeated requests with all eagerness, at last he accepted it. One of the reasons why Harumichi accepted the request is that he received a strange message from his deceased teacher, Atsutane, in a dream.

The following is the letter that Kanetane wrote requesting Harumichi to complete the book; the passages are extracted from the article 'the continuation of Koshi-den' of "Yano Hiromichi" (edited by Taro YANO, published in 1933).

"I have a request to make to you. I am sorry to trouble you, but I would like you to read this letter and consider my request. While our teacher was still alive, I assisted him in writing a few of his works, however, because of my limited talents, some drafts haven't been completed and some works have been left halfway.

Our teacher dedicated his life to the study requiring great pains; as to "Koshi-den", at the end of the Bunka era (1804-1818), he began to write the draft, and by the early Bunsei era (1818-1830), about 12 volumes had been completed; however, by that time, he had also gradually gained an insight into the study and understood the teachings of the master of Suzunoya (Norinaga MOTOORI), then he realized that this world was the product of our great gods of Japan, so he decided to suspend "Koshi-den" temporarily, and first explore and read through all the past annotations of the histories of our country as well as those of India and Europe to use new knowledge to his advantage in writing "Koshi-den"; therefore, since the middle of the Bunsei era, he intensly studied foreign literature and culture mainly, and during a period of over 20 years, he completed almost all his works, which he left for us, including "Sekiken Taiko-den" (Japanese Early History); although he was never satisfied with his works, his students, of course, including myself, with a feeling of gratitude, thought that our master had succeeded in completing most his researches and studies, and were concerned about the delay in completing "Koshi-den" and because of our master's age, we repeatedly begged him to restart the writing, then thankfully at about the 10th year of the Tenpo era (1839), he restarted; however, he was requested to write on linguistic methods so he began to write "Goju Ongi" (Pronunciation and Meaning of 50 Kana) and suspended "Koshi-den" again; after a year, he was banished to Akita Province by order of the former bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), fortunately since Akita was his hometown and there were many relatives of his, besides the former load treated him very kindly, they relieved him off poor living, although under those conditions, he had no time to finish the remaining works; he was always concerned about those unfinished works, and after only a few years, he became sick and regrettably died. He left only the first draft, so we hesitated to print it at first, however, for all the students' earnest requests, we eventually printed volume 1 to 28, as you already know; we have also edited paragraphs 144 to 150, so those are going to be printed soon as volumes 29 and 30, although the dates are still to be arranged.

The problem is that our teacher left no draft from paragraph 151 in which Hosuseri no Mikoto (one of the ancient Japanese gods) changed his destination, to the last paragraph 165. You know I do not have much talent, so I couldn't write it; of course, following our teacher's will, my son Nobutane made some effort, however he was a bad son and died, so now we are helplessly sitting and watching our teacher's uncompleted work. Therefore I would like to request you.

I understand that you are very busy with your own studies and work, however, there is not other talented person among the students that complete this book, so I earnestly request you to write the annotation from paragraph 151 to the end of the book. If you accepted this difficult request, our teacher would be glad in another world. I am sorry to trouble you, but as to the details, Hayao FUKAMI would explain to you. Since our teacher originally intended to write "Koshi" (Early History) to the period of Emperor Suiko, we would like to accomplish the annotation as well, so I wrote you this letter; I do ask you again to consider approving my request.

Sincerely yours, 27 November, the seventh year of the Meiji period (1874), Kanetane HIRATA, (his signature), Mr. Harumichi YANO"

Harumichi was initially planning to write "Koshi-den" in Tokyo, however, for other works such as editing of the doctrine offered by the head office of Shinto, editing Atsutane's works and writing his own books, he came to Kyoto and started writing. Then he had a serious illness and had to delay the progress of the work. However, he had finished four books, volume 29 (first, middle, last) and volume 30.

In 1879, he finished his researches on the Imperial House system and others. Then Tetsutane, who had been seriously ill for a while, regretfully died with the hope of completing "Koshi-den". On that occasion, Harumichi reflected on himself and determined to complete the book, and in the following eight years, made all the annotations (to paragraph 164, volume 37); in September of 1886, at last he completed "Koshi-den" that Atsutane had left with his dearest wish. Harumichi was asked to continue the study of Atsutane's "Koshi" by his friend Tadayuki TSUNODA and students including Katsutaka KINOTO, however, he rejected it and went back to his hometown, Ozu, then soon in the next year, on 19th May, he died.

Interest in the underworld and mysterious things

Since he was young, Atsutane HIRATA had been thinking that the Dark ('幽' hidden or mysterious things) and the Light ('顕' appeared or clear things) were the one and the same, and that this world was formed by the working of those opposing factors; Atsutane wanted to analyze the true nature of the world and tried to demonstrate his ideas in many works including 'Tama no Mihashira' (Concept of Afterlife), 'Koshi Seibun' (Early History), 'Senkyo Ibun' (Another Story of Unworldly Men's World) and 'Kokon Yomi-ko' (Studies on Mysterious Things of Ancient and Modern Japan).

About 1806, in Edo City, a young Tengu (one of Japanese ghost) Torakichi (called 'Sendo') appeared, who claimed that he could come and go to the underworld; Atsutane was introduced to him and directly asked him about the other world and secrets of mysterious things, then Atsutane realized that the underworld really existed and exerted great or little influence on this world; and he thought that the boy's story surprisingly corresponded to the idea of the Dark and the Light which he had been considering for years; after that, with conviction of the idea and deeper worship, he continued his studies and practice of Kodo.

In 1804, Atsutane established Ibukinoya School and took in his first pupil; the number of students increased fast. Especially in the Bunka era (1804-1818) and the Bunsei era (1818-1830), very talented students entered his school. Some students were well-known, such as Nobuhiro SATO from Dewa Province, Naofuru SHIBASAKI from Suruga Province, Michio SHINJO from Suruga, Yoshika MUTOBE from Yamashiro Province, Yorozu IKUTA from Kozuke Province, Yasuo MIYAOI from Shimousa Province, Yoshinaga MIYAUCHI, Toei ASHIZAWA and Kanetane HIRATA from Iyo Province.

They not only learned classical literature and ideas ('hakka') from Atsutane but also had deep interest in the underworld like their teacher, and each of them evolved theories of mysterious things based on their own views. Yoshika MUTOBE was a Shinto priest of the Muko-jinja Shrine of Yamashiro Province and gained even Atsutane's respect; based on Atsutane's theory of the Dark and the Light, he wrote a paper about Ubusuna-shinko (belief that native gods keep protecting people before and after they are born) and wrote "Kenyu-junko" (Study on the theory of the Dark and the Light); his works are known as distinguished ideas that shed light on the dark mysteries.

The theory of the Dark and the Light and the idea of unworldly men's world, which Atsutane taught based on Kodo, were, in fact, Chinese ancient philosophies that had been introduced in centuries past, especially Gengaku ('xuanxue', philosophy fused by Confucianism and Taoism during the period from the third century until the fifth century) and Shinsendo ('shenxiandao', method for becoming unworldly man); Gengaku was regarded as the scholar to analyze the essence beneath the surface of the phenomenon. In brief, while advocating Kodo, Atsutane had been studying Japanese original Shinsendo that was a fusion of Japanese ancient philosophy about gods and Chinese Taoism. Japanese original Shinsendo had been inherited for generations in Japan, and Yoshika, one of Atsutane's leading disciples, applied Atsutane's theory to evolve the Japanese Shinsendo and established his own school in his hometown Yamashiro Province; Atsutane also had a high regard for Yorozu IKUTA's ability and hoped he would become his heir and his daughter's husband, however, Yorozu died at an early age. Those days, Atsutane went through the hardest time, because he lost his dearest wife and his two sons died at an early age as well. After recovering from grief because of his wife's death and poverty, by everyone's advice, Atsutane remarried Riyo (her real name was Orise), an adopted daughter of Atsutoshi YAMAZAKI, who was a student of his school and very rich. As dark clouds had gone by without notice, about the same year, the young Midorikawa brothers entered his school.

Later, Atsutane's daughter Oteu (her real name was Chieko or Orise) fell in love with the elder of the Midorikawa brothers, and Atutane allowed the marriage and to adopt the bridegroom as the heir to the Hirata family. The groom was Kanetane who became the successor to Hirata's school. Following the marriage, Oteu changed her real name to Orise after her biological mother's name; she was quite a talented woman with an incredible memory, she didn't forget anything she had read once, and could answer any question about her father's works with no difficulty. Besides she understood English; she wrote well with beautiful handwriting which remains in oblong cards when she wrote her father's waka (poetry) for him. At her deathbed, she sat up straight, said goodbye to everyone, lay down saying just "then" and died. Her end seems to be similar to the end of Harumichi YANO of Ozu (Iyo Province) and it is considered that she had secretly learnt unworldly men's Dakkonho (method for undoing the body), or Kodo's Chinkon (method for organizing the spirit) or Kishinjutsu (method for returning the spirit). When doing Chinkon, the person has to collect his own spirit at the center of the body and keep it still without releasing it; as a result of the exercise, the collected spirit would react with the gods' spirits to become one.

Since getting married at the age of 25, Kanetane had been feeling the heavy responsibility to inherit the study and enormous debts that his father-in-law had accumulated. However, he cleared off all the debts and succeeded in protecting and evolving the classical Shinto that the head family of the Hirata family had inherited for generations; those works are still being told as moving stories. He was originally endowed with talents as a scholar and studied hard, however, under the situation as the successor, he is said to have had no time to write his own book. Since entering the school, Kanetane knew that his teacher Atsutane studied mysterious things and the underworld to restore the ancient belief which had been lost or sealed up, besides Kanetane understood that Atsutane tried to prove the existence of mysterious things by Kodo; about 1820, by Yoshinari YAMAZAKI, a learned amateur living in Shitayachoja-machi and an acquaintance of Kanetane's friend Hirokata YASHIRO, Kanetane was introduced to Sendo Torakichi, who could come and go freely to the underworld, then Kanetane became convinced of the existence of the underworld, and began to put in serious efforts to collect information of mysterious stories and materials of such things.

Dr. Tanemichi AOYAMA, the founder of the department of internal medicine of Tokyo University, was the third son of Kagemichi AOYAMA, a student of Hirata's school, and he had been expected to become the successor to Nobutane HIRATA (the third head teacher of Hirata's school) before he decided to become a medical student. He is also known as the doctor who was at the side of Emperor Meiji when the emperor died. Dr. Taizo KUMAGAI of the medical school of Tohoku University was a relative of Dr. Aoyama, and had a deep relationship with the Hirata family; Dr. Yasuhiko MORIOKA, who became world-famous when he operated on Emperor Showa, also had a relationship with the Hirata family and he wore a good-luck charm from the Hirata-jinja Shrine when performing the operation. He is the representative of the board of Hirata-jinja Shrine; considering the relationship between those people and the Hirata family, everything seems to be connected and led by unseen, mysterious power.

Senkyo Ibun (Another Story of Unworldly Men's World) and Shinkai Monogatari (Story of Gods' World)

The Hirata family had preserved Nijugobu Hisho (secret books categorized into 25 areas) as naisho (inside books) closely separated from gaisho (outside books). Those books were forbidden to be shown to others, and except for books on astronomy, Ekigaku ('yi', Chinese scholarship of fortune telling) and Esoteric Buddhism, those books were mostly about Taoism and Gengaku including "Senkyo Ibun Saisei Kibun" (Another Story of Unworldly Men's World and Resuscitation Stories). Upon meeting with Sendo Torakichi, Atsutane felt that his doubt of many years had been swept away.

He also became interested in an unworldly man from Mt. Iwama called Sojo (meaning "highest-ranking monk") Sugiyama, who had enlightened Torakichi from the other world, and grew to believe in such a mysterious existence; having become fascinated with the Gengaku of Taoism, he then formed a new theory of Shinsendo by fusing Japanese Kodo and Chinese Gengaku and began inducting his students into the theory as some kind of esoteric ceremony. He even showed earnest students the picture of Gogaku-shingyo-zu (Five Miraculous Mountain of China) which Taoist had treasured.

The photo of some parts of Gogaku-shingyo-zu, which the Hirata family had preserved, is shown in "Bessatsu Taiyo, Hirata Atsutane" (edited by Katsuyasu MAITA and Hiroshi ARAMATA, published by Heibonsha in 2004). Other forbidden pictures of the mysterious world are also shown in the article 'Atsutane's Studies on unworldly men' in the same magazine. Kenzo KOBAYASHI, a professor of Tamagawa University, dissected Atsutane's studies on Shinsendo and Gengaku in "Hirata Shinto no Kenkyu" (Study on Hirata Shinto).

In the Kaei era (1848-1854), a young general practitioner, Yukiyasu SHIMADA had been treating people in his 'Jinriki Toyaku-chogojo' (gods' power pharmacy) in Wakayama City (Kii Province), and his treatment and prescription by gods' power was very popular among the city as the demonstration of gods' power had great effects. Sotetsu MISAWA, a junior statesman of the Kishu Domain (Kii Province), entered Tetsutane's school on 5th September 1840 on the introduction of Uchito MOTOORI; Sotetsu heard about Yukiyasu from people of his hometown. Sotetsu had ample knowledge about Sendo Torakichi whom Atsutane HIRATA had researched 30 years ago. By a strange coincidence, his friend and Doshin-kumigashira (head of a police constable) Ibaraki gave him more details of Yukiyasu's treatments, then he felt something and soon went to Wakayama to meet Yukiyasu, and he eventually took the oath and became Yukiyasu's pupil.

Yukiyasu told Sotetsu about his strange experience; about 1851, an old man appeared in Yukiyasu's dream, the old man took him to Mt. Aka (Mt. Kirishima) of the Kyushu region and introduced him to an unworldly man who called himself Seijorisen-kun. Seijorisen-kun said that he had been born in the period of Emperor Nintoku (313-399), came to the unworldly men's world by the leading of Sukunahikona no mikoto (one of Japanese ancient gods), and he was 1500 years of age; he described the appearance of Sukunahikona no mikoto and even said the name of his wife that he had married in that world. Sotetsu MISAWA was very surprised at that strange story. And soon he wrote a letter and informed the Hirata family in Edo City of the information. It was not surprising that Tetsutane was excited about the information since he had been interested in Gengaku and Shinsendo due to the influence of his father-in-law Atsutane. Then, on 8th October 1853, Tetsutane formally submitted the document to become a pupil to Yukiyasu. Yasuo MIYAOI of Katori County (Shimousa Province), one of Atsutane's leading disciples, had been enthusiastic about mysterious things; he heard about Yukiyasu and went all the way to Wakayama to meet him on 26th January 1855, however, Yukiyasu had already disappeared without leaving any trace. Although Yasuo couldn't meet Yukiyasu, in Wakayama he met Yukiyasu's pupil Sotetsu MISAWA and they became friends; they had kept a close relationship by introducing friends or sending works and information to each other until Yasuo died in 1859.

Explaining in up-to-date terms, Yukiyasu SHIMADA was a doctor in a small town, who treated sick and wounded people with appropriate measures for each case, and also compounded chemicals or herbs into Japanese herbal medicine or Chinese herbal medicine. For patients that were deeply troubled, he performed Chinkon and became a medium for gods to tell of gods' message, see patient's previous incarnation and predict the future by the leading of Tokainotsukasa Daishinsen-sama (Sukunahikona no mikoto), and teach the way of living in this world like a present spiritual counselor. However, one day Yukiyasu suddenly disappeared and never returned. Some people said that Yukiyasu had been coming and going to another world without dying. While Yukiyasu was alive, his pupil Sotetsu MISAWA listened to his lectures and wrote them down in "Shinkai Monogatari" (Story of Gods' World) in 20 volumes, however, some parts of the description of the gods' world aroused much controversy between Sotetsu and the Hirata family at about the end of the Ansei era (1854-1860).. Kanetane ordered all the students of Hirata's school to reject all books by Sotetsu and stopped the printing as well. Besides he excommunicated Sotetsu from Hirata's school. The truth is unknown, however, some people said that several students of Hirata's school had become interested in the theory of unworldly men which Sotetsu had been teaching, and had entered Sotetsu's school or respected him, so Tetsutane became worried about it and reacted. Therefore, at present, the original copies of "Shinkai Monogatari" cannot be found and only copies of some volumes remain.

[Original Japanese]