Bushido and the new order

I was on my way home Friday night, and saw a puddle reflecting light from the house and trees.

Branches of the tree

Reflection of the house

Shimmering in the puddle

Meiji period Japan witnessed a dramatic shift from nonsymbolic reading of the world to an era full of symbols. (Lecture 3/6) As we discussed earlier, Japanese modern identity started to form long before Meiji period, but I think the 19th century is more about the presentation of this modern national identity to the world, or more specifically, to the western intruders. The presentation is an attempt to connect a domestic order of here-and-now to the new world order. (Inouye 106) How I read Meiji period is that it is when Japanese start to find the balance between adapting to the new world and resisting to become colonized. The book Bushido, written in English by Japanese, was an example of this attempt. I was greatly impressed by the accuracy and the persuasive power of Nitobe’s language. Also I have noticed that in the book he constantly draws parallels of western thoughts or historical events to Japanese ones. On the one hand, Nitobe tries to show the similarity of two cultures, suggesting that Japan and the western world do share some essential values. On the other hand, however, the book emphasizes the uniqueness of Bushido as the soul of Japan, which I read as a warning telling the west that Japan, as a nation embracing the spirit of “Fighting Knights”(Nitobe 9), will refuse and resist to be colonized. Then he explains the core values of Bushido with great details, namely, masculinity, the sense of shame and  honor, duty of loyalty, and absolute obedience to the command of higher voice (Nitobe 37). He also gave examples of Japanese spiritual culture that had been misunderstood by the west, among which is the tea ceremony, which we also discussed in the class. (Lecture 3/6) In his words, the Cha-no-yu is not merely a ceremony, but fine art, and poetry,  (Nitobe 27) which represents the Japanese belief that the best way to do things is always the most economical, and the most graceful. (Nitobe 25) We can see that tea ceremony, the rice (Inouye 109), things that were not read as symbols, turned to symbols pointing to the superiority of Japanese culture and other abstract ideological concepts in Meiji period. Another point interested me is the idea of passivity in Bushido, which I think was rooted from Japanese understanding of evanescence.

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