Ekiken Kaibara (Ekken Kaibara) was an Edo Era philosopher whom Philipp Franz von Siebold, the German physician and botanist who spent time in Nagasaki, once called “the Aristotle of Japan.” He authored numerous works, including Yōjōkun (The Book of Life-Nourishing Principles), which is still read even today. Kaibara was born and raised in Chikuzen Province (now Fukuoka Prefecture). In addition to being a scholar, he spent many years in the service of the Kuroda Clan.
When he was young, he loved to read, and he was smart enough to be considered a child prodigy. He did not spend all of his time absorbed in books, however. He was also known to go out into the field to see things for himself. Back then, most scholarly books were written in difficult Chinese characters, but Kaibara wrote in simple Japanese that even commoners could read, which led to his works becoming widely read.
Kaibara’s most famous work, Yōjōkun, was a handbook for healthy living that he wrote when he was 83 years old. In it, he wrote that one needed to be emotionally healthy, not just physically healthy, to lead a long and fulfilling life. When he was younger, Kaibara also studied medicine. Another one of his famous works was Yamato Honzō (Medicinal Herbs of Japan), which listed and classified Japan’s medicinal herbs, animals, minerals and agricultural goods. It was the first book dealing with medicinal plants ever written in Japan.
As for his works associated directly with Fukuoka, Kaibara was ordered by the third lord of the Fukuoka Domain, Mitsuyuki Kuroda, to compile a history of the Kuroda Clan called the Kuroda Kafu. He also walked all over the domain to write a detailed report on the cultures, customs and folklore of Chikuzen (Chikuzen-no-kuni zoku fudoki). The latter of these two could be considered Kaibara’s lifework since he continued to revise it long after he completed it at the age of 73. Kaibara died at the age of 86, which made him quite long-lived for a person of the Edo Era. He is buried alongside his wife at Kinryūji Temple in Imagawa (Chuo Ward).
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn202, Oct. 2015)