Bunmei kaika metaphors

A topography of "civilization" and "enlightenment"

By William Wetherall

First posted 8 May 2008
Last updated 10 July 2008

Etymology    Bunmei  |  Kaika  |  Bunka

Etymology of "Bunmei kaika"


However, 文明 originates in the reign name for the 4th of the seven courts of Go-Tsuchimikado Tenno (後土御門天皇). The "Later Tsuchimikado Emperor" lived from 1442 to 1500 and reigned from 1464 to 1500. The Bunmei period was the longest, lasting nearly 18 years from Bunmei 1 (Onin 3) 3-28 to Bunmei 19 (Chōkyō 1) 7-20 (9 May 1469 to 9 August 1487).

Go-Tsuchimikado was the longest reigning tenno in the historical period until Meiji. Bunmei, one of the longer reigns, followed Ōnin (応仁), which gave its name to the "Onin war" (応仁の乱 Ōnin no ran), one of the early civil wars of the Muromachi period, also known as the waring states period.

Zhouyi (周易 zhōuyì) or "Changes of Zhou" is one of several texts collectively called Yijing (易經 易経 易经 Yìjīng) or "Classic of Changes" -- better known in English as I Ching, reflecting its Wade-Giles romanization, or "Book of Changes".

The divinatory texts were probably compiled sometime during the late Western Zhou period (cira 1050-771 BC) rather than the Shang Dynasty (circa 1600-1100 BC). Most of the Confucian commntary most likely originated later rather than earlier during the Eastern Zhou period (circa 770 to 256 BC) -- late in the Warring States period (circa 5th century to 221 BC), rather than during the Spring and Autumn Period (circa late 8th century to early 5th century BC) -- hence somewhat after the life of Confucius (551-479 BC).

The phrases when inspired the choice of Bunmei for the reign name are as follows.

The passage comes in Book 14 of Zhouyi on "dayou" (大有 dàyŏu), meaing great possession, abundance. The definitive phrases and an English version (Wilhelm and Baynes 1968, Book III: The Commentaries, 14. Ta Yu / Possession in Great Measure, page 457) are as follows.

大有、元亨。 彖曰、大有、柔得尊位、大中而上下應之、曰大有。其徳剛健而文明、應乎天而時行。是以元亨。

Possession in great measure.
Supreme success.

Commentary on the Decision
Possession in great measure: the yielding receives the honored place in the great middle, and upper and lower corrspond with it. This is called possession in great measure.
  His character is firm and strong, ordered and clear; it finds correspondence in heaven and moves with the time; hence the words, "Supreme success."


The term "kaika" is familiar as the name of Kaika Tenno (開化天皇) or "Emperor Kaika". Kaika is the last of the eight tenno, who are said to have followed Jinmu (1st) and preceded Sujin (10th), for whom mostly only geneological information is recorded in the Kojiki or Nihon shoki.

Even assuming that Kaika existed and held the rank of a supreme ruler, he would not have been named "Kaika" until long after his death. The practice of assigning Sino-Japanese reign names to earlier rulers had to have begun after Chinese had become the language of recording court geneologies and chronologies. Earlier rulers would then have been given such names in the course of writing the first "histories" of the country.

Kaika's Nihon shoki name was "Waka Yamato Neko Hiko Ohohihi [O&332hibi] no Sumera Mikoto" (稚日本根子彦大日日天皇). When and why he came to be called "Kaika" is not clear. Like all reign names it would have been derived from a passage in a classical Chinese text.

Sakamoto et al (NKBT 67, 1967, 1978, supplementary hote 4-1, pages 583-585) do not comment on Kaika's reign name. Aston notes that "Kaikwa" (reflecting the furigana pronunciation) meant "Civilization" (Aston 1896, 1924, 1972:1, page 148, note 3) -- which is interesting, considering the tendency then, as now, to associate "civilization" with "bunmei".


One folk etymology of 文化 (bunka), widely used to reflect "culture" in the sense of human accomplishments, holds that it derives from the first and last characters of 文明開化 (bunmei kaika), the slogan of the Meiji restoration, most widely represented by "civilization and enlightenment" in English.

There are 便利な生活 (bunka-teki seikatsu) meaning "convenient life" and 文化包丁 (bunka hōchō), a general-purpose kitchen knife. And countless terms like 文化人 (bunkajin), 文化財 (bunkazai), and 文化団体 (bunka dantai), meaning respectively "cultural person", "cultural asset", and "cultural organization".

However, when and by whom "bunka" was pressed into the service of "culture" is not clear.

The earliest use in Japan of 文化 as a Sino-Japanese compound appears to be as the name of the last of the five courts of Kōkaku Tennō (光格天皇 1771-1840, r1779 to 1817) and the first of the four courts of his successor, Ninkō Tennō (仁孝天皇 1800-1846, r1817-1846). Bunka is the reign name for the 14-year period from Bunka 1 [Kyōwa 4] 2-11 to Bunka 15 [Bunsei 1] 4-22 -- or 22 March 1804 to 26 May 1818.

Bunka, as a reign name, was inspired by passages from two Chinese texts: Zhouyi (周易 Zhōuyì) and Houhanshu (後漢書 Hòuhàshū).

Zhouyi source of "bunka"

The passage comes in Book 22 of Zhouyi on "bi" 賁 (bì), meaing brightness or beauty, as of an adornment or ornament. The definitive phrases and an English version (Wilhelm and Baynes 1968, Book III: The Commentaries, 22. Pi / Grace, page 495) are as follows.



利有攸往 すすんで事を起こすによい 小利有攸往 すすんで小さな事を起こすによい 不利有攸往 すすんで事を起こすによくない 九二、大車以載、有攸往、无咎、 九二(きゅうじ)、大車(たいしゃ)を以(も)って載(の)せれば、往(な)す攸(ところ)有(あ)るも、咎(とが)无(な)し、 Adornment, results. Weakness brings and forms strengh, hence results. Partial strengh arises and forms weakness, therefore small advantages have place to progress

Grace has success,
In small matters
It is favorable to undertake something.

Commentary on the Decision
"Grace has success." The yielding comes and gives form to the firm; therefore, "Success." A detached firm line ascends and gives form to the yielding; therefore, "In small matters it is favorable to undertake something." This is the form of heaven. Having form clear and still: this is the form of men. If the form of heaven is contemplated, the changes of time can be discovered. If the forms of men are contemplated, one can shape the world.

"Commentary on the Decision" reflects 彖曰 (Tuà yuē), meaning "the Tuan [commentary] says".

天文 (C. tiānwén, J. tenmon, tenbun) figures in the term 天文学 (tenmongaku) meaning "astronmy" -- i.e., the study of heavenly forms.

文明 (C. wénmíng, J. bunmei)

人文 (C. rénwén, J. jinmon, jinbun) figures in Japanese terms like 人文科 (jinbunka) and 人文科学 (jinbun kagaku), meaning humanities and human sciences -- i.e., the subjects and the study of subjects related to human forms -- i.e., the products of human activities.

化成 (C. huàchéng, J. kasei) expresses the idea of growth or transformation (成) resulting from cultivation and change (化). By extension it can mean moral improvement -- and even chemical synthesis, as in "chemical [compound] fertilizer" (化成肥料 kasei hiryō) as opposed to "organic fertilizer" (有機肥料 yū hiryō).

Houhanshu source of "bunka"

Houhanshu -- "Later Han book" or "History of the Later Han Dynasty" -- is attributed to Fan Ye (范曄 Fàn Yè 398-445), working two centuries after the end of the Later (Eastern) Han (circa (AD 25-220), which followed the Former (Western) Han (circa 206 BD - AD 9). The earlier Han period is the subject of the Hanshu (漢書 Hàshū) -- "Han book" or "History of Han" -- was begun by Ban Gu (班固) and finished by his son and then his siter by about 111 AD.

Houhanshu 後漢書 "History of the Later Han Dynasty written by Fan Ye 范曄, a scholar of the Liu-Song period 劉宋 (Southern Dynasties). Fan Ye used the biographical-thematical style (jizhuanti 紀傳體) with two different types of chapters, ten scrolls (juan 卷) of imperial biographies (ji 紀), 60 normal biographies (zhuan 傳), and 10 treatises (zhi 志). Fan Ye's work was interrupted by his death during his sidelining with Prince Liu Yikang 劉義康 against the emperor. Sima Biao 司馬彪 added 20 missing treatises (two chapters are lost), his part of the book is also known as Xuhanzhi 續漢志 "Sequel of the treatises of Han", the whole book is also called Xuhanshu 續漢書.

To be continued.


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