Performing the Ethical Body

The Edo period certainly marks an era in which the state increasingly tried to control public and cultural life as well as to manage its population. Neo-Confucianism became the dominating ideology by which these goals could be achieved. In order to describe this new political and social development in Japan, it seems helpful to apply Foucault’s concept of governmentality. What makes Foucault’s understanding of


governmentality interesting in the given context is that it is not limited to the state, which exercises its power to control its subjects, but that the state expands the concept of power to social control and the control of oneself. The concept of governmentality does not, therefore, focus on laws, but on the techniques of power and control, and on how ‘actions’ and ‘conduct’ are controlled by embodiment, or as Lemke states: ‘In addition to the management by the state or the administration, “government” also signified problems of self-control, guidance for the family and for children, management of the household, directing the soul, etc. For this reason, Foucault defines government as conduct, or, more precisely, as “the conduct of conduct” and thus as a term which ranges from “governing the self’ to “governing others”.’[1]

The early Edo period is marked by the consolidation of Tokugawa power. It was only during the late seventeenth and eighteenth century that Neo-Confucian thought came to dominate political discourse and influence the Japanese way of life and thinking. The Yojokun can thereby also serve as an example of the ‘naturalization’ process of (Chinese) Neo- Confucian thought in Japan and thereby serve to analyse the mechanisms by which state ideology was spread and implemented in the daily lives and cultural practices of the urban population.[2] Ekiken himself served not in the centre of power, but in the periphery as a domain scholar to three generations of Kuroda lords in Fukuoka on Kyushu. Here, he was able to ‘meet what he felt was his Confucian responsibility to bring ethic-religious values into the sphere of political and social decision making’.[3] Towards the end of his life, Ekiken became increasingly concerned with education and his ethical texts include titles such as Kunshikun (Precepts for Nobles, 1703), Wazoku dojikun (Precepts on Japanese Customs for Children, 1710), Yamato-zokkun (Precepts for Daily Life in Japan, 1708), Gojokun (Precepts of the Five Cardinal

Confucian Virtues, 1711), Kadokun (Precepts on the Way of the Family, 1711). In these texts, Ekiken broke down complex metaphysical and spiritual speculations into pragmatic and functional guidelines that could give individuals the knowledge to exercise self-control (selfgoverning) and the means to implement Neo-Confucian ethics in their daily lives. In contrast to Ekiken's earlier dietary health treatise, the Isei shuyo (Compilation of Sayings on Health Care, 1682), which is penned in annotated Chinese writing (kambun) and thus would only address a small and highly educated segment that had received an education in the Chinese classics, the Yojokun is written in rather vernacular Japanese and also adds furigana reading aids. The Yojokun would thus be accessible to a broader readership.[4] An Edo period advertisement for the book suggests that it aimed at a broad readership:

Those who read this book will learn the art of cultivating vitality. And thus they will be strong and healthy, samurai, farmers, artisans, and merchants will each be able to pursue their family calling without hindrance; and because they will be able to work happily at their family calling they will prosper and enrich themselves.[5]

However, having food choices became possible only during the Edo period solely as a result of increasing urbanization, technical development, a new market economy and the development of an effective trade infrastructure. These developments meant not only an increase in production but also a better distribution of goods. That increasingly allowed larger segments of the population to actually choose their daily food and not just eat what was available due to geographical conditions, season and financial means.

Kuriyama Shigehisa as well as Juhn Ahn have shown how the yojo discourse reflects a new attitude towards labour (ro) during the Edo period, which stressed diligence (kinben) and in which hard work and active life became key virtues.[6] Stagnation would thus be in opposition to the focus on the new activity ethos. This development also meant that the body could, as Juhn - referring to Kuriyama - states, ‘on a personal level be imagined and experienced in a manner quite unlike before’. He continues: ‘Although nourishing life was still associated primarily with the old ideal of storing up and guarding primordial energy against depletion in peace and tranquillity, escalating anxieties about stagnation seem to have made hard work and constant movement a desirable alternative to this old ideal.’[7] Yet, ideals and reality rarely match. The moral obligation of controlling one’s body, which resulted in an idealized image of the healthy body and a constant call for movement and labour, must have felt disruptive. Can Ekiken’s warning of over-exercising, therefore, be understood as a reaction to the pressure to move? ‘As the implicit expectation with regard to labor was that it is never enough, ever complete.’41 The two forces of quietude and movement are major concerns for Ekiken. But they are also of equal importance to him, as both have the capacity to feed and strengthen vital energy (and in that way, he writes himself back into the contemporary discourse): where the heart has to be quiet and calm, the body has to move and work.

The art of life nourishment is not to be idle and do nothing. One should calm the heart and move the body. [... ] When the body is idle the congenital energy will stagnate and one becomes ill. While working one should not eat, as it leads to the wish to sleep. (IV, 34 see also I, 14, 16, 17)

The shift in the Edo period work ethos is also echoed in the following quote: ‘The art of life nourishment is to fulfil the duties one is supposed to do, to move the body and let one’s vital energy circulate. One should under

41Ibid., 218.

no circumstance rest or sleep after eating’ (I, 24). But why should sleep and rest - which are also referred to as the ‘desire to sleep’ (suiga no yokii) - be bad, especially as rest, tranquillity and withdrawal were considered so important in the Chinese tradition of life nourishment? First of all, as has been shown, too much sleep and rest in Ekiken’s view lead to the depletion and stagnation of vital energy, which in turn will give rise to ailments (e.g. I, 13). In order to prevent these, Ekiken stresses the necessity of small walks after eating, regular exercises (doin) and movement through work. Yet, Ekiken actually adds another important element of life nourishment here: time management. Activities are ascribed a ‘proper’ time: there are times of activity and times of rest and both spheres must clearly be separated. A fixed schedule or a routine lends a structure to one’s life and makes it easier to withstand individual desires concerning sex, sleep and overeating. However, the means to control time can also be translated into political as well as economic power; separating rest and work, including the regulation and control of mealtimes, gives the workday a clear structure and guarantees productivity.

During the early years of the Edo period, a new culinary culture developed in Edo, which included the opening of restaurants, street vendors providing the increasing population with (fast) food from different regions and cookbooks becoming increasingly popular (although first as manuals for professionals).[8] Food became a commodity and generous spending on food and banquets was no longer limited to the upper classes. The Yojokun was written right after the Genroku era (1688-1704), a time in which excessive consumption, luxury, the growth of an amusement industry and the rise of rich merchants marked life in Edo. To countermeasure these ‘excessive’ developments, the government repeatedly issued sumptuary laws to restrain and control consumption.[9] Promoting frugality and austerity, the attempt to actually de-emotionalize and de-sensualize daily nutrition and to ingrain eating within the Chinese medical tradition thus all mirror the ‘moralist’ Zeitgeist, resembling Protestant or Calvinist ethical approaches to the pleasures of food and eating.[10] In life nourishment, a choice of food and pleasure derived from eating became antagonistic since pleasure undermined the ethical dimension of food choices. The significance of Neo-Confucian ethics for life nourishment is already established in the opening paragraph of the Yojokun:

Our body has father and mother as foundation, and heaven and earth as beginning. It does not belong to oneself as we are born and raised by the favour of heaven and earth and through father and mother. Our body is a gift from heaven and earth, a parental keepsake. One should be prudent and take good care of it to make sure it is not abused and lasts the full span of years with which it is heavenly endowed. This is the very basis of dutifulness to providence and parents, for how can they be served without it? [... ] Especially if one considers life as one’s possession and abuses it by excess in eating, drinking or sexual intercourse, one will harm one’s congenital energy. (Ekiken I, 1)[11]

Whereas filial piety (ko) is the main focus in the above quote, Ekiken further builds on Neo-Confucian ethics by linking eating and drinking to key concepts of Tokugawa rulership and warrior ethics, which are duty and loyalty towards one’s lord and ruler:

The purpose of eating and drinking is to satisfy hunger and thirst. One, therefore, should not let one’s greed get the upper hand and eat and drink as much as one wants even after one’s hunger has been satiated and one’s thirst has been quenched. People that don’t control their greed for food and drink tend to forget their duty. They should be called gluttons and be despised. (Ekiken III, 7)

Yet, when Ekiken wrote the Yojokun, following a dietetic lifestyle was far away from being considered an ethical activity, through which the individual could better himself for the sake and well-being of the state. In contrast, life nourishment seemed to be regarded as an idle activity of people who had the means and the time to follow strict dietetic rules. Also Ekiken is aware of this criticism and defended his dietetics:

Some people say: ‘The art of life nourishment might be well suited for old people, for hermits, or young people that turned their back to the world and just live into the day as they like. But life nourishment is difficult to realize for a warrior, who is faithful and loyal to lord and father, studies the martial arts and works with his body. The same is true for farmers, craftsmen and merchants, that are working day and night for their livelihood and neither have spare time nor do they know idleness.’ [... ] The art of life nourishment, however, is entirely different from a life in idleness and easygoingness. On the contrary, one has to calm the heart and move the body. If the body is passive, one’s congenital energy will stagnate and diminish and that will result in illness. (I, 26)

More serious, however, was the accusation that life nourishment should contradict Neo-Confucian ethics as one would ‘selfishly think only about one’s own body and about preserving one’s life’ (I, 27). This accusation, which reminds us of Foucault’s (basically dietetic) model of souci de soi (‘concern of oneself), touches on the moral concept of loyalty (gi), which was central in the creation of stability within the Tokugawa ruled state and society: Would a warrior sacrifice his own life in fulfilment of his duty, or would he abandon loyalty and save his own life? Also Ekiken realized the significance of this argument, but argues that under normal circumstances (tsune) one should follow the rules of life nourishment and protect one’s body, whereas in exceptional times (hen) one has to be loyal and sacrifice one’s life for one’s master. If handled that way, he further argues, life nourishment will, on the contrary, strengthen the stability of the loyalty pact as only a strong and healthy body can fulfil one’s duty, fight for one’s lord and ‘be brave in times of exception’ (I, 27). For Ekiken, consciously ignoring the dietary rules therefore means ignoring one’s obligations (gin) towards the lord, thus showing a lack of proper conduct and decency (reigi; e.g. Ekiken I, 10). The text creates a semantic and metaphoric field in which dietetics are defined as warfare and the control of one’s desires as an art of war (heiho). Desires are ‘inner enemies’ (naiteki) that one has to fight against with patience (nin), and the one who emerges victorious from the fight against one’s desires is compared to a ‘brave general crushing his enemies’ (Ekiken I, 20). In his book The Civilizing Process (1939), Norbert Elias has shown that language is an embodiment of social or inner life,[12] but speaking about the body also has a lot to do with political history.[13] By metaphorically placing self-control within the discursive field of warfare and bravery on the battlefield (or better, semantically transferring the meaning from one field to the other), Ekiken takes individual health care out of the private sphere and into the public and political sphere.

Health care in this sense is not an individual choice, but rather a life path and a duty. By making the ‘right’ food choices, which are in essence moral choices, the individual could form and materialize him — or herself as an ethical subject, making the body a medium onto which the ethics are inscribed. Yet, that also means that the sick person could easily be stigmatized and ‘be despised.’ Given that not all strata within society had the means to follow the strict rules of dietetics due to a lack of access to knowledge, financial means or time — despite Ekiken’s claim that everyone could - dietetics would reassure and reinforce existing social stratifications.

Eating, drinking, sexual intercourse and sleep are the main concerns of health preservation. These elements are considered to be especially dangerous to an individuals’ moral formation as these are innate inner desires (naiyoku) which test one’s steadfastness:

Each part of our body has its desire. The ears hear, the mouth eats and drinks, and the body enjoys sex. When one has no self-control over one’s desires and latches onto pleasures with greedy abandon, one will exceed the given limits, damage one’s body, and therefore show a lack of common decency (reigi). All evil comes from following one’s desires. By practicing self-control one can overcome one’s uncontrolled desires. Good influences surface when one exercises self-control. Therefore, self-control and gluttony are the foundation of good and evil. In order to correctly apply the techniques of the way of life cultivation, one must be fully aware of one’s desires and learn to control them. (I, 10; also I, 4 and 20)

Proper moral conduct can thus be achieved by moderation, selfcontrol of one’s desires and emotions. ‘Control’ can be seen as one of the main themes of Edo period warrior culture, as Ikegami has argued, including two elements: ‘[c]ontrol on the personal level, that is, regulation of one’s own short-term desires in order to achieve long-term goals. The second element relates those corporate aspects of control that harmonize individuals’ drives and desires with socially and organizationally defined objectives.’[14] Ikegami is referring to samurai culture, but these warrior class ideals of (self-) control trickled through to other strata of society. Moreover, they were not just detached philosophical thoughts or speculations, but had immediate impact on the embodiment and the performance of daily life duties. Books like the Yojokun and other vernacular publications on dietetics served as media to - in a comprehensible and accessible way - disseminate ideas and techniques of control: ‘If all four classes [warriors, peasants, craftsmen and merchants] fulfil their ascribed tasks, they will follow the way of life nourishment’ (Ekiken I, 24). During the Edo period, these rules accordingly placed an individual at a pre-determined position within society and created ‘a mental climate conducive to individuals harmonizing their sense of personal identity with institutionally prescribed roles and responsibilities.’[15]

  • [1] Lemke, ‘Foucault, Governmentality and Critic, 2.
  • [2] Concerning Neo-Confucianism and Ekiken, see esp. Tucker, Moral and Spiritual Cultivation inJapanese Neo-Confucianism.
  • [3] Tucker, Moral and Spiritual Cultivation in Japanese Neo-Confucianism, 50.
  • [4] For readership and literacy during the Edo period and Ekiken’s texts, see Kornicki, The Book inJapan, 258—269. Yokota, ‘Ekiken-bon no dokusha , 315—353. For literacy in the Edo period, seeRubinger, Popular Literacy in Early Modern Japan.
  • [5] Inoue, Kaibara Ekiken, 299; quoted from Kuriyama, ‘ The historical origins ofkatakori, 136.
  • [6] Both connect the ‘anxiety of stagnation’ also to labour (ro) and exhaustion (rO). See Juhn, ‘Zenand the Art ofNourishing Life’; Kuriyama, ‘Katakori ko’, 52, and Kuriyama, ‘The historical originsof katakori. It has been stressed before that the circulation of vital energy was one of the mainconcerns in health care and Kuriyama convincingly connects the metaphor of ‘circulation' to therise of a new economy based on the flow and circulation of money, wealth and good. Ibid.,134-137. For circulation as a metaphor, see also Sarasin, Reizbare Maschinen, 74-75.
  • [7] Juhn, ‘Zen and the Art of Nourishing Life', 182.
  • [8] See Ishige, The History and Culture of Japanese Food, 107, 117-128, and Kikkoman Institute forInternational Food Culture.
  • [9] See, e.g., Francken, The Japanese Consumer, 42-43; and Shively, ‘Sumptuary Regulations’,123-164.
  • [10] As mentioned before, Ekiken considered rice to have a positive effect on the body and as a staplefood that should be the main ingredient of every meal, accompanied by soup and side dishes. Also,for these three components of a meal, Ekiken introduces a correct order of eating: first rice, thensoup, followed by vegetables. Eating rice before other dishes meant that the individual would besaturated by rice and could not eat as much of the side dishes. The order in which food is eatenthus aims at supporting a frugal lifestyle, especially as meat and fish were rather expensive (III, 68).
  • [11] Ekiken also states: ‘To harm unnecessarily one’s slightest piece of skin or thread of hair is an actof impiety against the cosmos and one’s parents’ (I, 25).
  • [12] Elias, Uber den Prozess der Zivilisation, 244.
  • [13] Sarasin, Geschichtswissenschaft als Diskursanalyse, 115-116; on metaphors esp. ibid. 191-230.
  • [14] Ikegami, The Taming of the Samurai, 330.
  • [15] Ibid., 329.
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