While procrastinating in my room Wednesday night I stared at the dying houseplant in my bedroom for an extended period of time.
death in the month of spring
This week we focused on a pivotal period in the history of Japanese culture, modernization. Prior to this shift, Japan could best be described as “xenophobic,” characterized by extreme isolation and ostracization of things considered foreign (Inouye, 90). This is a concept we explore briefly in previous weeks when we discussed Buddhism and how Christianity was avoided at all costs. However, all of this changed in the latter half of the nineteenth century as Japan experienced a powerful “influx of western culture” that would redefine the Japanese perspective (Inouye, 103). In the face of threatened colonization, Japan was forced to alter the notion of “Japan as the world” to “Japan in the world,” placing themselves in the context of a much larger world (Lecture 3/06). In the face of the looming threat to “colonize or be colonized” Japan demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt, as they have shown before after the introduction of Buddhism, but impressively did not lose the essence of their nation (Lecture 3/06). Though the rapid introduction of Western culture did mark a strong change in many facets of Japanese culture, namely a “considerably more linear and goal oriented concept of change” and a shift from the here-and-now order to a more symbolic transcendental order, national identity still prevailed (Inouye, 105). Nitobe Inazo’s Bushido that we read this week proved to be a powerful example of this juxtaposition between the identity that is so uniquely Japan and the new modern. This work is inherently very modern, as it was written and published in English and acts as a symbol for the nation of Japan. There is tension, however. Despite these strikingly modern facts, the traditional nature of Bushido as a “code of moral principles” used by the samurai is apparent, as well as many other uniquely Japanese attributes (Nitobe, 35). Nitobe writes “chivalry is a flower no less indigenous to the soil of Japan than its emblem, the cherry blossom” (Nitobe, 33) and continues to mention the sakura as an important element in his written code. For me this was a telling sentence. While the ancient symbol of the cherry blossom is acknowledged and embraced as a national emblem, this work clearly recognizes Japan as a body within the much larger context of the world, drawing parallels to European chivalry and acting as a liaison between the East and West. I really enjoyed this week’s lesson and I am excited to see the direction Japanese culture takes after this radical change in perspective.