Samurai Throwbacks
When my mom came to visit she brought me James Clavell's Shogun, a historical fiction novel about Japan during the Edo period and the arrival of the first non-Spanish/Portuguese Europeans. I know it is fiction (and therefore should be taken with a large chunk of salt), but from other history books I've read, I think Clavell's description of Edo-era samurai culture is pretty accurate. So, while reading and thinking about the book, I've been compiling a list of traditions and ideas from samurai culture (as depicted in Shogun) that are still present in Japan today. Here they are, in no particular order:
  • loyalty. The samurai was completely loyal to his leige lord, and the peasants were completely loyal to their ruling samurai-- to the death. If your lord asked you to commit seppuku (ritual suicide), you did so without argument. In modern Japanese society, loyalty is found in slightly different capacities. For instance, although the royal family has almost no power over anything in Japan and they're basically held as prisoners in the Imperial Palace complex in Tokyo, Japanese people never say a bad word about them. In fact, Ben Hills, author of the book Princess Masako (a book which chronicles the life of the imperial princess), has recieved several death threats from radical Japanese because the book is critical of the royal family. Loyalty also manifests itself in the workplace. Once hired to a company, many employees work at that company their whole lives, even if they could possibly find better pay or benefits elsewhere.
  • importance of ceremony. Of all the traditions and ideas I noticed in the book, I feel like this tradition has changed very little from the time of the samurai. This manifests itself often in bowing. In samurai times, it was vitally important for all people to bow to the proper angle, depending on who they were addressing. Lords and samurai received a very low, formal bow. Servants recieved a shallow bow, or even just a nod of the head. Also, during a formal ceremony (like a funeral, an audience with the Shogun, or the traditional serving of tea), bows were lower than they were in daily life. Nowadays that tradition still stands. At the beginning and end of every class, students must stand, bow together, and greet their teacher. During the high school graduation ceremony, I noticed that the students' bows were MUCH lower and pronounced than during a normal school day.
  • suicide as a release of shame. If a samurai shamed his master, he would immediately ask permission to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) so that his suffering would end and the shame on him and his family could be released. To commit ritual suicide was a way to die with one's honor still intact. Nowadays, people still talk about how "so-and-so was so ashamed, she committed suicide." According to a report in Rising Sun of Nihon, Japan is #10 on a list of the top 15 countries with the highest suicide rates. Apparently for every 100,000 deaths in Japan, there are 24.2 suicides (Lithuania was #1 with 42.1).
Other things I noticed but didn't feel like fleshing out just now: protection of honor and respect for the position/station of others.


written by Ruthie @ 2:40 AM  
0 thoughts:
Post a Comment
<< Home

Name: Ruthie
Home: Japan
About Me: I want to know who God is and what his truth is. I love getting lost in beautiful music and cloudless star-filled skies, especially in the fall. I hate being bored. I like big cities. I want to travel the world.
read more