One Village, One Mind? Eto Tekirei, Tolstoy, and the Structure of Agrarian-Buddhist Utopianism in Taishō Japan

Shields, James Mark
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Modern Japan provides numerous examples of experiments in mixing Buddhist teachings with progressive and radical socio-political ideals. The final two decades of the Meiji period witnessed the incursion of various forms of radicalism from the West—and from Russia in particular. The writings of novelist, religious writer and social critic Count Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910), especially, had a significant impact among both liberals and those radicals inclined towards religious and agrarian visions of a transformed society. Progressivism in Japan was severely curtailed, however, by the High Treason Incident of 1910–11, leading to nearly a decade-long “winter,” ending only in the wake of the First World War. The following decade, 1919–31, which might be considered a “spring” for progressive thought and practice, witnessed the growth of several utopian communities that fused Buddhist and Tolstoyan principles, such as Itō Shōshin's Muga-en, Nishida Tenkō's Ittōen and Mushanokōji Saneatsu’s Atarashikimura. Somewhat less well known is the Hyakushō Aidōjō (Farmer’s Training Ground of Love) of Eto Tekirei (1880–1944), one of the so-called narodniki of the late Meiji and Taisho Taishō period, who developed a comprehensive agrarian utopian vision rooted in Tolstoyan, anarchist and (Zen) Buddhist ideals. This paper analyzes the work of Tekirei as an example of “progressive” agrarian-Buddhist utopianism, concluding with some remarks on the legacy of such movements for Buddhism today and in the future.
Presented at the Numata Conference in Buddhist Studies / “Violence, Nonviolence, and Japanese Religions: Past, Present, and Future,” held in Honolulu, Hawaii, March 20–21, 2014
agrarian movements, Leo Tolstoy, utopia, Muga-en, Ittōen, Atarashikimura, Hyakushō Aidōjō, Eto Tekirei, agrarian-Buddhist utopianism
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