Assimilation Nation

On Friday, I watched a square foot of snow slide off one of the eaves of West Hall and land on a student.

Shifting glacier

Pouring over black edges ―

A wet scream.

This week, we learned how the Japanese coped with the changing world. As we have learned over the past couple of weeks, Japanese culture is very different from western culture. There are rules, structures and formulas that don’t exactly line up with western values. One of the greatest examples of these inherently Japanese values is bushido, or the way of the samurai. Bushido was a strict code of honor that dictated how the noble warrior class of Japan behaved in all situations. The code was documented by Inazo Nitobe in his English-language text, Bushido: The Soul of Japan. In it, Nitobe makes a record of the ancient behavioral law with various examples and observations. In one instance, he describes the formalism of seppuku, in which a condemned samurai, after giving a speech, “stripped naked down to the waist…tucked his sleeves under his knees to prevent himself from falling backward…then stabbed himself deeply below the waist on the left-hand side…drew the dirk slowly across to his right side…never mov[ing] a muscle of his face” (Bushido 109-110). In another, he conveys a retainer’s loyalty when the sacrifice of the retainer’s own young son in the place of the son of his master causes the retainer to “rejoice…[for his] darling son has proved of service to his lord” (78). Both examples of bushido draw horrified reactions from Western readers, but are well-understood by even present-day Japanese, as the principles behind them are inherently Japanese (Inouye 87). However, as Japan moves towards the modern age, cultural forms like bushido begin to clash with the changing times. In the 18th century, new rules and regulations were set forth by the Tokugawa Shogunate in order to preserve a hard-earned peace (Inouye 3/6). However, these new laws (for example, the banning of freely-carried swords) conflicted with the ancient code of the samurai. The most striking example of this conflict is the struggle between the retainers of Asano Naganori and Kira Yoshinaka. The retainers followed the noble and ancient code of bushido by violently avenging the death of their master, thereby breaking the new rules set forth in a time of peace (Inouye 86-87). As a result, they are executed, but permitted to commit seppuku to die with honor, because they acted honorably according to the ancient laws. This schism between longstanding Japanese values and the changing world becomes more and more pronounced as Japan is bombarded by foreign powers, and the only way to to evade colonization is by adapting and integrating western culture with their own. As we enter the Meiji era, the old ways of Japan become form, while the country’s adaptive shifts become evanescence. However, Japan “respond[ed] positively to outside influence…as a result of its own well-established base” (Inouye 103). The Japan that most people in the West envision today is representative of the mixture that occurred with the flood of Western culture (Inouye 103), and the deeper, older undercurrent of ancient, formal Japanese culture is often overlooked by mass media. But that undercurrent still persisted through the Western influence. As previously noted, the Japanese once saw China as the source of culture and learning. However, while the Japanese and Chinese had similar cultural roots, the Western influence was completely different. Japan played subservience to foreigners for a long time, with the Japanese changing their manners and styles of dress, and accepted modernity as inevitable (Inouye 3/6). But despite continuous outside influences descending on Japan, the Japanese values of rectitude, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, loyalty and self-control (Bushido) remained constant. Japanese form persisted through the evanescent cultural changes caused by foreign invasions.

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