The Way of the Nation as the Way of Warrior

I was walking through the snow last Friday and stepped in a giant puddle on the side of the road.

Wind whipping coats
Water soaks through shoes

An example of Japanese westernization.

Japan’s westernization under the Meiji brought more than a new style of dress to the people; it also fundamentally changed Japan’s perspective of its place in the world. While under the Tokugawa rule, Japan was the world—now Japan was in the world, and citizens were forced to think of themselves relative to people from other nations and cultures. (Lecture, 3/6/13). I found it profoundly interesting how a worldview like this could resonate in the art world, too. Though early attempts at representing perspective were less than polished, Japanese artists began to modify their style to reflect more of the singular power of Versailles and less of the joy of discovery in the Katsura. This paradigmatic shift was not entirely new, though. Inouye mentions how, “rather than focus on bubbles drifting haphazardly upon the river of change, the rhetoric of progress comes to fixate upon the current itself” (Inouye text, 105). Japanese people were well-versed in the power and frustration of evanescence, but now they could focus that attention to change in a specific direction of progress. Form was a difficult idea to give up, too, as Nitobe describes how the formulaic aspects of bushidō still remain in the hearts and minds of Japanese citizens today. I have to disagree with Nitobe on one point, though. He contrasts bushidō with Christianity, arguing  that, “having no set dogma or formula to defend, [Bushido] can afford to disappear as an entity; like the cherry blossom, it is willing to die at the first gust of the morning breeze” (Bushidō, 153). Is it simpler to disseminate the messages of a book rather than local oral traditions? Sure it is—hence why Christianity was popularized so rapidly. However, I do not think you need a seminal dogmatic work to have a pervasive social structure endure through the future. Like it or not, bushidō is not likely to leave the hearts and minds of the Japanese people anytime soon. In the end, though, you cannot pin bushidō, the cherry blossom, or any other symbol on Japan—because just when you think you have it right, something changes and you’re brought back to the floating world of evanescence.

~Ezra Dunkle-Polier

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2 Responses to The Way of the Nation as the Way of Warrior

  1. I like the poem. Its light and fun, even though what happened sucked. I also think you make a good point in your essay. Christianity has divided itself because of the very different interpretations of the Bible; a book that was supposed to be constant became spread out and muddled. But Bushido remains intact and unified even without a written text.

  2. But I think Christianity has power in the Bible from the multiple interpretations. There are a few underlying cogent truths that are difficult to argue with, but the idea that I can get a different theme from a story than other people, but we’re both still Christian, is pretty powerful.

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