Usage of ‘dou’ (道) in Japan.

I have been thinking about the usage of “dou” (道) within japanese arts and sports. Since Meiji-period is not one of my strong points, you might know why they use it. It all started when I was looking into bushido and found out that bushido was not used until early edo period and that it was most probably used to de-militarize the samurai. Today, many “traditional” (no clear definition) sports and arts use “the way of” (dou) in their names but as far as I have found this is something that was created during Meiji-period or after.

Words like Kendo, Judo, Aikido are made during Meiji period or thereafter. From what I have understood the Korean martial arts taekwondo, hapkido (spelling might be wrong) use the “way” as well but this is derived from the japanese usage/fashion. The chinese do not use the word 道 in their names of martial arts.

Other than the martial arts the cultural arts have recieved the “way” in their names, chadou (way of tea), kadou (way of flower), shodou (way of writing) etc.

From what I have read, the usage of dou started when the japanese wanted to counter the influence from west in Meiji-period and infuse/perserve their own traditions and values. As far as I can see only Bushido and Shinto use “way” before the meiji-period. Is it from this that they started to use “way” or is its origin to be found elsewhere. I have never heard “sumoudou” (way of sumo), have any of you? If not, why did not sumo change into the same “fashion” as all other arts and sports? Do any of you know any other “dou” which have been created before meiji-period?


  1. Interesting you should mention that. My feeling is that it is very much a modern addition. My friend and fellow student here in this program, Craig Colbeck has been researching this question in connection with his research on the “modernization” or “invention” of the modern martial arts. Craig is also learning Korean and will be looking at the Korean cases for comparison. Let me know if you want me to put you in touch with him.

    Some of these questions are also addressed in Stephen Vlastos ed. Mirrors of Modernity, particularly the essay by Inoue Shun “invention of the martial arts: kanô jigorô and Kôdôkan judo” and Lee A. Thompson talks about the “invention of the yokuzuna and the championship system” in the next chapter. Unfortunately, these two essays only brush the surface and I hope Craig will be looking more at this…

  2. The Meiji Japan use of dou for arts and sports isn’t strongly foreshadowed by anything that I’m aware of, but the character is used in the Chinese tradition for the early schools of thought — Dao, Confucius, etc — so the connotation of a coherent system of thought and action doesn’t seem fundamentally original to me.

  3. I’m not going to weigh in as the expert Konrad so politely makes me out to be, but I do have some comments to make: the term dou was widely used before the Meiji period, even in connection with the martial arts (terms such as budo and judo come from this period—see the Inoue article that Konrad referenced) but they were not used either extensively or consistently. For an interesting note on the topic, I recommend the introduction of Gregory Pflugfelder’s Cartographies of Desire, which features a concise summary of Edo usages of dou—one of these is shudou, the love of young boys (clearly not a post-Renovation term). Thus it would be more accurate to say that the meanings and usages of the term changed in the Meiji period rather than appearing: it lost its class connotations and became more prominent—as Thomas intimated. Soon, no self-respecting tradition could go without it. The term retained the denotation of an aesthetic sensibility tied to a “pursuit”, and gained codification; you might say that the meaning changed from “pursuit” to “traditional pursuit” because even though the suffix occasionally appears on the tail-end of practices not thought of as traditionally Japanese (“yakyuudou” comes to mind), the modern connotation is one of adopting an ancestral Japanese mindset. Edo-period pedophiles, for example, had no need to hark back to halcyon days—they lived them.

  4. You can find in JSTOR an article from Kuroda Toshio, “Shinto in the History of Japanese Religion”. He argues that even in medieval times the “dô” or “michi” in “Shinto” did not mean Way or doctrine but “state” (pp.10-11). Then, “kami no michi” or “shinto” was no more than the state of being a kami, far from the “Way of the Gods” that implies a kind of doctrinal or structured discourse. He even says that the character “dô” sometimes didn´t have any meaning at all and give some examples with other words.
    The birth of the Shinto as an independent religion has relation with the Confucian concept of dô of the Edo period that “influenced the word Shinto, imbuing it with the meaning of the way, as a political or moral norm” (p. 19).

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