Kuki Shūzō (1888-1941) was a Japanese philosopher of considerable eminence in the first half of the 20th century. He is credited for bringing into Japan Martin Heidegger's philosophy and for giving the translation jitsuzon for the German Sein (being). Today Kuki's name is better known as the author of Iki no kōzō "The Structure of iki," a small book of fewer than 100 pages that was published in 1930 by the distinguished Tokyo publisher Iwanami Shigeo. In this book, Kuki discusses the nature of the quintessentially Edo aesthetic sensibility of iki, that a sense of urbane, plucky stylishness of living, which was forged in the late 1700s in Edo (a city now known as Tokyo). Kuki also provides an analysis and definition of the sensibility of iki using philosophical idioms he acquired in Europe during his eight years of study there beginning in 1921. In the conclusion of this book, Kuki proposes that iki represents the core of the Japanese people and encourages the reader to keep alive this old aesthetic sensitivity of iki.
What is then iki? Iki embodies some elements that are similar to the sensibility of dandyism, which developed in the late eighteenth century and nineteenth century in Europe. Perhaps the most renowned example of such a dandy was the French poet, essayist and art critic Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). Dandies rejected bourgeois life style and pretended they had connections to aristocracy when in fact they had none. They were elegant, arrogant, and socially irresponsible. Dandyism had tacit codes of dress and behavior, a symbol of decadence and the trademark of men who were socially indolent. Iki was different. In contrast to dandies who were politically and sexually inert, Iki signified sensibilities essential in a man or a woman who was in a pursuit of conquering the opposite sex. This sensibility of iki was perfected in Edo Fukagawa's pleasure quarters at the end of the 1700s, but it was about to be forgotten in modern Japan in the 1930s when this book (Iki no kōzō) was written.
Today the book Iki no kōzō has taken on a special meaning for many reasons; one is that it was written at the time of Japan's assertion of cultural, military identity over other countries in Asia in the troublesome 1930s. Another reason is the author's intellectual kinship to Martin Heidegger, who has been criticized for colluding with the Nazis (National Socialists), and this connection is strengthened all the more when we learn that Kuki and Heidegger once worked closely together. So, naturally, a question has arisen as to the role Kuki's philosophy played in the Japanese military expansion, a situation similar to Heidegger's philosophy, which served the Nazis well. Perhaps more importantly for readers now, Kuki serves as an example of a modern man who was caught in the crease of modernity and tradition-he lived through a tumultuous period in Japanese history and found personal equilibrium within himself in his own attempt to balance Japan's tradition and modernity.
Through this essay, you will get a sense of who this man was and about what it is that Kuki discusses in the book Iki no kōzō. You will also learn about the connection between Kuki and Heidegger and Kuki's role in the discourse on aesthetics and Japanese militarism.
Kuki Shūzō was born as the fourth son of Kuki Ryūichi, a successful politician with special influences in the government policies dealing with the arts who worked closely with Okakura Tenshin (1862-1913), who, along with Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908), became a major figure in the development of modern Japanese art, finishing his career as curator of Japanese art at the Boston museum. Kuki's education and training was at a par with any young men with financial means and intellectual promise-he was educated at the First Higher School then at the Tokyo Imperial University, graduating from the latter with a degree in philosophy in 1912.