In the early 1920s, Yasuoka Masahiro (1898-1983) graduated from Tokyo Imperial University and embarked on a long career as a nationalist intellectual and spiritual advisor to many high-ranking members of Japan’s political and business elite. Influenced by both Confucian and Neo-Kantian perspectives on personal refinement, Yasuoka emphasized the need for culturally self-aware character cultivation as the foundation for a revival of Oriental thought and culture (Tōyō shisō). Such a renewal, he believed, would promote both domestic reform and a larger restoration of East Asian civilization. In the turbulent years following the First World War, Yasuoka’s message brought him patronage from conservatives seeking to perpetuate the Meiji political order while fostering a stable, more “Japanized” path to modernity. At the same time, the young graduate immediately assumed a central role among right-wing nationalists, many of who were increasingly disenchanted with both the domestic political order and Japan’s role in Asia.
This paper seeks to place Yasuoka’s discourse on cultural revival and character cultivation within the historical context of a burgeoning conservative concern with guiding public morality (kyōka) and an emerging nationalist passion for realizing domestic renovation and Asian liberation. After introducing the Taishō-era concern with character improvement that helped shape Yasuoka’s thinking, I will examine how his views on cultivating cultural self-awareness and patriotic men of superior character were expressed in the context of his involvement with the Far Eastern Culture Association (Daitō bunka kyōkai), the Social Education Research Institute (Shakai kyōiku kenkyūjo), and right-wing societies such as the Yūzonsha and Gyōchisha.