Photo/IllutrationTakeshi Umehara is seen in Kyoto's Sakyo ward in 1975. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

As a boy, philosopher Takeshi Umehara, who died on Jan. 12 at age 93, often remained cooped up in his room, absorbed in solitary play.

The game he loved above all else was "yakyu shogi" (baseball shogi), which he learned to play from a magazine.

Lining up shogi pieces on the board, he enacted make-believe baseball games between Keio University and Waseda University and even kept score.

Deeply immersed as he was in a private world of fantasy that almost verged on insanity, young Umehara also invented his own games for other sports, such as swimming and track and field, all played on the shogi board.

It was only after he started university that he finally snapped out of his fantasy world, Umehara recalled in one of his publications.

"Why did I need a world apart from the real world?" he wrote. "Perhaps my (boyhood) addiction to the world of fantasy was somehow connected to my present addiction to learning."

As a scholar, he broke with tradition by ignoring disciplinary barriers, first pursuing philosophy but then switching to ancient Japanese history and eventually to Buddhism. In so doing, he consistently postulated academic premises that flew in the face of conventionally accepted theories.

He asserted that Horyu-ji temple in Nara was built to assuage the vengeful ghost of semi-legendary Prince Shotoku (574-622), and posited the daring theory that poet Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (662-710), whose works can be found in "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), died by execution.

Umehara was severely criticized by experts. But there is no question that readers of his books around the nation were utterly enthralled. I remember that one of my senior high school classmates could not stop raving about Umehara's genius.

In the immediate aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, Umehara pointed out that this catastrophe was essentially "bunmei-sai" (disaster caused by civilization).

Given the reliance of the world's advanced nations on nuclear energy, our contemporary civilization itself needs to be reconsidered, he insisted.

As always, this demonstrated the sheer breadth and depth of his thinking.

A book he published at age 88 was titled "Jinrui Tetsugaku Josetsu" (Introduction to philosophy of the human race). He explained that his reason for positioning this work as an "introduction" was that he intended to present his main discourse after studying Western philosophy in greater depth.

The time allotted to Umehara's physical life on earth was apparently too short for his prodigious capacity as a thinker and scholar.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 15

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.