Barth's Relationship with Japanese Thought: Katsumi Takizawa

by Curtis Rigsby, University of Hawaii


My study reveals the significance of Katsumi Takizawa (1909-1984) to the pivotal movements of Modern Japanese philosophy, to the international emergence of the Christian-Buddhist dialogue, and to the wide ranging horizon of studies in Barth. Takizawa was the student of Kitaro Nishida, around whom the so-called "Kyoto School" emerged. The Kyoto School is arguably Modern Japan's most original and intellectually formidable philosophical movement, being an elegant and creative synthesis of Japanese Buddhism with the major contours of Western thought, from Medieval Christian theology to Hegelian, Neo-Kantian, and Existential philosophy.

Takizawa was also "one of Karl Barth's favorite students." In the Karl Barth Archives (KBA) at the Bruderholzalle in Basel, Switzerland, 73 letters from Takizawa to Barth can be found. Not only did Takizawa engage in an ongoing critical dialogue with his Japanese philosophical mentor, Nishida, but also pursued a critical dialogue with his Western theological mentor, Barth, from 1934 until the year before Barth's death in 1968. Just as there are indications that Takizawa's criticisms stimulated the major changes of Nishida's later career, there are also indications that Barth took the criticisms of his younger Japanese student very seriously. The written correspondence of the two thinkers and Takizawa's voluminous works cover Barth's discussion of Pure Land Buddhism in CD I/2 §17, Barth's proposal of the global extension of the opportunity provided by God for salvation in CD II/2, Barth's consideration in CD IV/3 that the Word of God is in some ways accessible outside of the "sphere" of the Bible and the Christian Church, and finally Barth's examination of the Christ as the "firstborn" (prototokos) of all creation" in CD IV/4 (The Christian Life).

Although Takizawa was critical of Barth's claim that God's salvific work is limited to the person of Jesus Christ and therefore to the Christian tradition, Takizawa nevertheless was convinced that Barth was a major stimulus behind the Catholic Second Vatican Council and also the Protestant Ecumenical Movement, and even behind the international Buddhist-Christian dialogue. My study proposes that Barth's ongoing encounter with Takizawa was itself a major stimulus for Barth's increasingly ecumenical and global focus. Thus my study suggests that Takizawa and the Buddhist heritage he represented played some role in shaping Barth's thought.

On the other hand, whatever impact Takizawa may have had on Barth, the reverse was even more radical. Takizawa's critique of his Japanese philosophical mentor, Nishida, was largely motivated by the Barthian ideas of Nihility (das Nichtige) and irreversibility (Unumkehrbarheit). From my conclusions, this Barthian critique directly inspired the developments of Nishida's later thought. Takizawa leveled similar critiques against other individuals and ideological movements such as the FAS Buddhist Movement of Shin'ichi Hisamatsu and Masao Abe. My conclusions indicate that their responses to Takizawa's Barthian critiques invariably resulted in significant changes in their ideologies and practical methodologies. Thus my study suggests that Barth's theology made a remarkable impact on modern developments of Japanese philosophy and Buddhist movements.

At the same time, Takizawa's impact, significantly inspired by Barth, was not limited to Japan. Takizawa himself traveled to Germany several times as a visiting professor and speaker, under which circumstances he was even able to have a discussion with Heidegger. Finally, Takizawa engaged in dialogue with the Process theologian John B. Cobb, Jr., and thereby critiqued the Whiteheadian distinction between God and Creativity. In these and other dialogues, although Takizawa maintained a critical distance from Barth, the younger Japanese thinker always praised his great Swiss mentor and did not hesitate to acknowledge the tremendous inspiration Barth had proved to Takizawa's engagement in philosophical debate, interreligious dialogue, Marxist activism, cultural studies, in addition to a unique view of Christian theology from a semi-Buddhist and self-consciously non-Western perspective.

The views expressed here are strictly those of the author; they do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Barth Studies or Princeton Theological Seminary.