Since the “Edo boom” in the 1980s the study of early modern Japanese thought and cultural history has made remarkable advances. In the past, studies in intellectual history often showed a strong focus on the life and work of individual “thinkers” and their importance for and influence on subsequent historical developments. Maruyama Masao’s articles on Ogyû Sorai and Motoori Norinaga are prominent examples for this approach. With the spread of new methodological considerations in the wake of French scholarship –both the Annales School and the post structuralism of Foucault, Derrida, and others have to be mentioned –, the history of mentalities, the so-called cultural and linguistic turns, as well as the so-called Cambridge School (Quentin Skinner, John G.A. Pocock), however, new research interests developed. Scholars less and less looked at the monolithic and paradigmatic figures, the “great thinkers”, for their own sake and instead pursued certain thematic propositions and specific questions of interest that often adopted the framework of the new methodological and theoretical orientations. As a consequence, intellectual history opened up to broader concerns beyond the preoccupation with individuals.
At the same time, similar methodological developments took place within the field of cultural history of Edo Japan, and studies often focused on subjects that overlapped with the research on the history of ideas. Consequently, in both areas one finds studies that contribute to the history of mentalities, and today a stage has been reached where one should ask whether it is appropriate to consider intellectual history and cultural history as separate areas.