Into the World

Walking on the academic quad after the snowstorm.

Snow covered field-

Through a gap in the snow,

Green grass.

This week’s lectures focused primarily on Japan’s relations with the world, and how that changed with the arrival of foreigners (for a second time), in the mid 19th century. Japan was forced to “become a part of the world space rather than the definition of space itself” (Inouye, 106). This was seen in class by the comparison of the grand view in Versailles to the one of the Sumiyoshi pine, which purposely blocks the view of the garden. The difference I feel is that, from the Versailles view, you see all, but at the same time you see nothing; although the general picture is seen, the little details in the plants, their arrangements and the life that surrounds them cannot all be seen from one stance. By being forced to go through the garden to see it, a moment is created with everything you interact with, rather than just looking at it from a cool distance. Furthermore, I found it sad for Japan to transition from the lyrical moments of utsusemi and Bashō’s ‘sound of water’, fleeting moments in existence, to the nationalistic “Tenno Heika, Banzai” (Inouye, 111). By being forcibly integrated into the world at large, it seems as if it was necessary for Japan to swallow this bitter nationalistic pill and become a colonizing power itself, lest it be taken over by the Europeans or Americans. It seems as if the Japanese needed to make an identity for themselves to relate to the “other”, the non Japanese that was now affecting the land in a way that had never happened before. Izano Nitobe’s work, “Bushido: The Soul of Japan”, claims that “unformulated, Bushido was and still is the animating spirit, the motor force of our country” (Inazo Nitobe, 139). I do not particularly agree with him on this point, however. The Samurai only came to prominence during the Kamakura Shogunate, established in 1185. Before that period, the cultural makeup that resonated in the country did not stem from Bushido or the Samurai, but from the established Buddhist monasteries and the nobility in Kyoto, as well as from native Shinto. To summarize “Japan” as simply “Bushido” is, in my view, a neglect of all that came before it, ignoring the fundamental base of the conflict between evanescence and form. Moreover, I found the references to rice being “sacred… [as] Amaterasu obtained the best rice seeds…” (Inouye, 108) particularly interesting. It is as if rice moves from being this very concrete source of sustenance, to an abstract embodiment of the new Japan. Although it was probably regarded as a sacred food in times past, it status was ‘asserted’ as such by people Aizawa Seishisai. The move from non symbolic to symbolic added and altered some of the basic concepts that we studied in the previous weeks; the “land” of Japan, and not the unique space, was seen as holy/sacred. Imperial ambitions derived partially from the fact that Japan was perceived by the some to be “The head of the world.” (Inouye, 107).

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