The Rising Sun

On Saturday, I took a long detour home because it was beautiful out and saw a hawk perched on top of Carmichael.  I looked down for a second to get the camera on my phone ready, but it had disappeared.

Sun silhouetted spire–

Bird and building

No longer aligned

This week’s classes felt appropriately like a preparation for a big transition, as we discussed not only the “opening” of Japan to the Western world but a shift in the Japanese concepts of identity and place within this new context. The modernization of Japan seems to have had a polarizing effect between Japanese and non-Japanese which ultimately gave rise to more violent expressions of evanescence and form: “if someone was right, someone else had to be wrong.  This was the aggressive, even deadly logic of modernity” (Inouye 113).  However, as usual, we found contrasts to this: Japan stayed firmly Japanese, and though colonial ideals were not imposed upon them quite as dramatically as in most cases, they did accept some elements of western culture.  I found the Ryounkaku tower to be especially helpful in understanding the new perspective which formed during this period: not only did it showcase items from around the world, but stood as a monument to a new, singular viewpoint and an expression of greatness and prestige (Lecture 3/27).  This symbolic tower was a huge departure from the sacred trees and stones of animism and represented the new push for progress, but it also seems to be a marker of the Japanese effort to retain tradition while proving to occupy a high place within the world order.  I thought the tower was a pretty tangible example of how Japan carefully adopted certain aspects of western culture that they saw as beneficial, but still saw the Japanese way as the best way.  This was also expressed in Bushido: “if there is anything to do, there is a best way to do it, and the best way is both the most economical and the most graceful.” (Nitobe 53). I interpreted Bushido as a modernized synthesis of preexisting kata with both an appreciation for tenets of the past and a lot of consideration for the new context of Japan in the world (although it did strike me as odd that the book seemed so overwhelmingly geared towards Westerners…maybe this was an effort to make sure as little as possible was lost in translation, or just a product of Nitobe’s own cultural identity).  I think it is really amazing that even during a period of major change, Japan’s efforts to limit colonial influence kept a lot of cultural institutions and traditions intact. I’m guessing that a lot of the questions that have been raised in class and posts about paradoxes between evanescence, form, and facets of current Japanese culture will become relevant in studying this transition from a non-symbolic to symbolic society as cherry blossoms “become a boundless symbol of a newly expanding Japanese empire” (Inouye 118).


This entry was posted in Week 7: Bushido and the Transcendental Order. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Rising Sun

  1. Hi Madeline,
    I found the Ryounkaku tower to be an effective symbol as well, especially when Prof. Inouye mention how the horizon was visible (this wasn’t the case for the other shorter Japanese buildings apparently?) and it forced the observer to imagine what was beyond. I also appreciate your analysis of the balance in bushido between modern with an appreciation for the past. I agree that Nitobe did seem to be gearing his work towards westerners (drawing parallels to European chivalry right off the bat). I interpreted this as a great modern feature of the work that really speaks to what was going on at the time. We looked at a lot of works around this time that attempted to express what Japan was and define the Japanese identity for the rest of the world, I think Bushido was very effective at doing this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>