After the death of Motoori Norinaga in 1801, the status of his students and disciples was uncertain. Anticipating that confusion could result with his death, Norinaga adopted one of his disciples, Motoori Ōhira, and designated him as the heir to his academy, the Suzunoya. The affairs of the Motoori household were left to Norinaga’s biological son, Haruniwa. However, the leadership positions of both Ōhira and Haruniwa were soon challenged by the popularity of Hirata Atsutane who began his rise to prominence in Edo during the early years of the nineteenth century. The energy and dynamism of Atsutane and his students overshadowed the activities of other members of the Norinaga School. Atsutane was seemingly rewarded for his efforts in 1823 when he received imperial recognition for his scholarship. By 1834, Ōhira and Haruniwa had died, and Atsutane was poised to take over the sole leadership of the Norinaga School.
In analyzing the major events relating to the development of the Norinaga School during the first half of the nineteenth century, the ideas of the late sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, concerning cultural production have been very useful. Bourdieu’s insights regarding the interactions of cultural producers have in several ways been confirmed in the history of Tokugawa kokugaku. However, there are aspects of Tokugawa culture, such as the teacher-disciple relationship, that seem to defy analysis within Bourdieu’s framework. These aspects emphasize the importance of acknowledging cultural and historical particularities in the application of any “universal” theory.
Mark McNally is associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.