Saturday, March 20, 2010

Kashima Shrine - Shinto and Bushido part 2

Because Ms. Trouble is not feeling well, I will take over today and continue my report from the 14th Shinto Seminar at Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki. Part 1 is here.

Changes in interpretations of Bushido

Prof. Kanno’s talk continued about how Bushi (roughly the same as Samurai) emerged in late 9th Century. His remaining time was assigned to the explanation of “Bushido” by mentioning the numerous changes of interpretations of “Bushido” throughout the history of Bushi. Please visit English Wiki page of Samurai (above) to study its history in detail, but I give you the bare bones examples of Samurai history (copy&paste from Wikipedia).

It is important to note that the distinction between samurai and non-samurai was so obscure that during the 16th century, most male adults in any social class (even small farmers) belonged to at least one military organization of their own and served in wars before and during Hideyoshi's rule. It can be said that an "all against all" situation continued for a century.

During the Tokugawa shogunate, samurai increasingly became courtiers, bureaucrats, and administrators rather than warriors. With no warfare since the early 17th century, samurai gradually lost their military function during the Tokugawa era (also called the Edo period).


In the absence of real warfare, we play with sticks and feel good about ourselves. 

“Bushido” – a book written in English by a Christian convert

In 2004, Prof. Kanno published a book titled “Bushido no gyakusyuu”/武士道の逆襲 (Bushido’s encounter), in which he criticized the thing we call “Bushido” these days. This current view of Bushido had been mostly influenced by Inazo NITOBE, and is not the Bushido that Samurai sought when they trained to be warriors.

The 20th century Bushido is a rather modern ideology for Japanese during Meiji era. For ordinary Japanese, or even non-Japanese, Bushido is more of less what Inazo NITOBE (新渡戸稲造) described in 1900.

Dr. NITOBE (he had a Ph. D degree in agricultural economics) was a Christian convert (Quaker) and he met his wife, Mary Patterson Elkinton, at a Quaker community in Philadelphia. Yes, a converted Quaker wrote “BUSHIDO: The Soul of Japan” in ENGLISH, and then it was translated into Japanese!!! Therefore, if you are interested in Bushido, please go to the above Wikipedia link in English. It is quite well described, I would say.

“Original bushido was nothing but the realism based upon military science developed by private warriors (= samurai) who could survive on battlefields. The ultimate mission of bushi as a warrior is to terminate enemies on the battlefields so as to defend not only himself but also his family members and his Lord, which was far different from the bushido in NITOBE’s book,” Prof. Kanno explained.

NITOBE’s book “Bushido” was published when NO Samurai (as a ruling class in feudalism) were present in Meiji Japan. NITOBE’s Bushido was totally and utterly different from the original survival principles of a warrior on a battlefield, and fermented into (merely) Morality.


 Morality that is enthusiastically embraced by weekend "warriors"

Where is Bushido in 21st century Japan???

Personally, I am not into interpretations of Bushido as defined by a variety of scholars. My biggest concern is the perpetuity or commercialization of Bushido in present-day Japan, a country that abandoned its warrior tradition (based on Japan Law).

Inazo NITOBE was born in Great Imperial Japan where the Emperor had the supreme command of the Army and Navy (Article 11 of Constitution of the Empire of Japan). My personal feeling is that although Bushido was somewhat fermented and a bit smelly in Imperial Japan, it still was meaningful to its citizens.

I am afraid to say that Bushido in Japan has already vanished. It’s nothing more but glorified cosplay.


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