Cherry Blossom

Gently falling blossoms

Drifting like flakes of snow

Winter in the spring



(I couldn’t get my scanner working, so in lieu of a sketch I’m posting this blurry picture I took from under the tree during hanami.)

I took this class as a full credit to round out my semester. I thought it would be an interesting experience, and hey, I hadn’t yet taken a small discussion-based “liberal arts” class at Tufts yet. When I came in to this course, I thought it would be easy, with some general discussion about how weird Japan is…I didn’t really know what to expect. However, the things that I’ve learned this semester have definitely come to shape my view of Japanese culture, but also my view of life in general. The theme of evanescence and form has really come to show me how life is easier when treated as restrained chaos; I know everything I do is impermanent, but also in its small way important in the tiny “form” of the period in which I am alive. While a lot of fatalism has been discussed in the class, I’ve never left Olin feeling defeatist after such a lecture, but rather more motivated to accomplish what I’ve set out to accomplish in the time that I have left (a weird thing to be saying at only 20). I’m very glad I’ve taken this course, and I’m looking forward to another semester with Inouye in the fall.

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Blackout by Kaveh Veyssi

This past Thursday I was on the t in the morning going to my internship when the train stopped and the lights went out.


Silence –

The black walls

Of the tunnel.

One idea that captured my interest this week is something Professor Inouye said in class; he said that during the modern period, animism gave rise to or became nationalism (Lecture, 3/6).  I believe that this change occurred because “the world beyond Japan mattered in a way that required the Japanese to change their conception of space itself…Japan would become part of (world) space rather than the definition of space itself” (Inouye, 106).  This statement might help explain the shift from animism to nationalism; since Japan was now opened up to the world, it needed a way to maintain it’s principles of oneness that stem from animism.  As a result, this nationalist movement began.  Another example of animism-become-nationalism is the familial structure in Japan; Inazo Nitobe writes in his instructional book, Bushido, “The individualism of the West…necessarily brings into strong relief the duties owed by one to the other; but Bushido held that the interest of the family and of the members thereof is intact—one and inseparable” (Nitobe, 88).  It’s this very idea of “one and inseparable” that the Japanese shared with nature and their environment before the modern period, which transformed into nationalism.  That same oneness is present in the concept of revenge: “He must perish by my hand; because he shed my father’s blood, I, who am his flesh and blood, must shed the murderer’s” (Nitobe, 114).  In the same vein as my previous comments, I think that the idea of revenge through oneness is another example of animism on a different level.  These ideas when blown up to the national scale are what made Japan into a nationalistic country during the modern period.


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Week 7: Powerful Natioalism

Week 7 : The Transcendental Order

By Songwha Choi

I was walking in front of Alewife station in the middle of the night when I noticed that the icicles hang from tree branches was falling down.

Winter night—

Icicles hang from tree branches

Falling down in the snow

      A person’s identity and sense of belonging to one state or to one nation is called by national identity. People can get a sense of unity when they share strong faith with a group of people in a nation. This week, we discussed the situation of Japan in the 19th century. In the Meiji government, Japan advocated nationalism to defend the country from European and Western invading forces. This nationalism allowed Japan to achieve solidarity. It caused the powerful imperialism in Japanese society. Imperialism in a sense means the extension of one nation’s power over other lands. Imperialism can give a powerful sense of unity to a nation. In Japan, Imperialism had a strong influence on national identity, so it made Japan pursue only one common goal with a single perspective. The emperor tried to control not only Japanese society but also colonies with political power. Japan’s national identity is filled with domination. However, the Kamikaze demonstrates that this powerful rule was being misused to sustain the emperor’s power.  The emperor encouraged the Japanese to sacrifice their lives for the country. The Japanese had to obey the transcendental order because they regarded the emperor as God. The nation was brainwashed by the slogan: “If you die for your country, you can be kami” (Lecture 06/02/13). How did the emperor convince the Japanese people to devote themselves to their counry? Glory was important to the Japanese, hence, the emperor went on to talk about how individual good and individual glory depended on the imperial glory.

      While Kamikaze embraced evanescence and sadness, in Bushido-the Soul of Japan, Nitobe Inaz embraced the victims as the hero.  Their noble deaths are not futile for the country. Even though the dead warriors cannot revive in the current Japanese society, their loyalties can live forever.  Young generations can learn solidarity and patriotism from their ancestors. Inazo emphasizes the soul of Bushido. The Japanese warrior ethos can be Japan’s driving force. The samurai represents the way of Japanese warrior. Samurai had lived with the virtues of Bushido, such as rectitude, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, loyalty and self-control. “Life being regarded as the means whereby to serve his master, and its ideal being set upon honour, the whole education and training of a samurai were conducted accordingly (Inazo 93). This idea can be the moral guideline for the Japanese. The Japanese can follow a great cause in order to attain their common goal. It also can make the Japanese mind and body stronger. While Basho enjoyed a natural image, Inazo tried to ake the samurai’s and sakura’s image in order to apply to the national identity. There was a political motivation. He sought a big picture that the nation identity forces individual to the world with invisible idea. As Professor inouye said, “Japanese, we are all samurai” (lecture 08/02/2013). The Japanese national spirit comes from the samurai ethos of what Inazo called Busido. “It is only in the code of chivalrous honour that loyalty assumes paramount importance” (Inazo 82). The Japanese should take to heart the immortal lesson taught by history. It will be a valuable and intensive power in Japanese society. 


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Meiji Period and Japanese Modernization clashes Bushido

I was lying sick on my bed this friday night and I was contemplating how to get up and reach to my water bottle with intense feelings of self-pity…

Dirty bottle,

Stands there everyday,

Never felt further.

-troubles uploading the image , will try again from my other computers -

The well established form and way of living that thrived and set its roots firmly benefiting the isolation and regulation that Tokugawa period enabled Japan faced a challenge after the fall of Tokugawa in 1868 and with the advent of Meiji period which defined itself with Japan’s westernization and globalization.  The west influenced almost every part of Japan’s system but the  strict abidance to form that had set the backbone of Japan’s tradition ensured to keep this power of globalization on the positive side and instead of  “expelling the barbarians” they chose to ” learn from them” (Lecture 3/6) setting a beginning to face pace age of progress and innovation.  Yet Japanese way of living come to completely contradict or defy the western perceptions of normal at many cases and perceptions of worldly dealings. Even though not all Japanese are Samurai as Inazō wants his western readers to see, Bushido codes a way of living that is unconsciously inherent in Japanese way of living.

In the chapter discussing the value of self-control in a samurai’s way Inazō quotes few lines from a young samurai’s journal in order to show how the western habit of  expressing almost every thought contradicts with the reticence that following Bushido entails…

“Dost thou feel the soul of thy soul stirred with tender thoughts? It is time for seeds to sprout. Disturb it not with speech;”


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Transcending the Nation



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Transformation of Symbols

I was walking back at night to my dorm and slipped on ice because I thought the ice patch was water from the melted snow.

Melted snow reverts to ice

Before I took this class, I have always wondered why the Japanese like the samurai and the suicide plane bombers seem to brave the death. Why do they seem to de-value life? As Inazō puts it, “the whole teaching of Bushido was thoroughly imbued with the spirit of self-sacrifice” (Inazō 136). In the Meiji period, every citizen is loyal to the emperor who is “a point of commonality” (Inouye 111) and the symbol of Japan (Lecture 3/6).  The loyalty and patriotism was to the point that “no sacrifice [was considered to be] too onerous” (Inouye 117).  I was surprised how such patriotic spirit can be fostered so quickly because to be patriotic requires a symbolic understanding of homeland. It made more sense to me to think that patriotism and nationalism were derived from the existing lyricism and animism (Inouye 122). In lyricism, the notion of the cherry blossom conveys the feeling of evanescence. But with change redefined as being along a linear vector, the expression of cherry blossom is, instead, a sentimental emblem of Japan and is able to “call forth the whole nation” (Inazō 153). Interesting transformation from “non-symbolic reading of symbols.” I think the combination of animism/lyricism and symbolism had a synergizing effect. Symbol represents an abstract concept, but with lyricism and animism, strong emotional and visual aspects are added on. The strong emotional appeal of the cherry blossom symbol strengthened one’s ever-lasting loyalty to Japan. No wonder the kamikaze missions existed. The country and loyalty are ever lasting, but life is evanescent. Perhaps, for the kamikaze pilots, dying for an honorable mission and the unchanging symbol of Japan is both empowering and beautiful as it embraces the evanescence of life and progress for the greater good.

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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).


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A New Perspective (Week 7)

While procrastinating in my room Wednesday night I stared at the dying houseplant in my bedroom for an extended period of time.

Thirsty plant

fading colors

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.

-Nicholas Economos

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Japan is now Japan

I left my dorm room this after noon and realized how it was beginning to feel a lot like spring.

Gentle sun

snow melting

spring is coming

I still need to upload picture

The period of change under the transcendental order was one of, if not the biggest change in Japan’s culture and society to date.  Due to Japan shutting down its ports in recent years they had become an isolationist country.  Now, however, Americans were forcing their way into the country, bringing with them the modernized world.  This forced entry by the United States left Japan with one option, adapt or be colonized.  Japan naturally chose the former.  In order to adapt, Japan needed to move away from the narrow vision of here and now and broaden their gaze to the entire country; they needed a national identity.  One way that Japan began to nationalize was the “Cloud Scraper” building.  The building was, “designed to be a showcase of world space, the tower introduced the Japanese masses to a larger, international context” (Inouye 109).  The building allowed the Japanese to purchase goods from across the world and view the surrounding area in an all-at-once style as opposed to the previous one thing at a time style.  Another, more drastic, movement of nationalization was the involvement of the emperor.  He began to make public appearances and, “Upon seeing him in the flesh, they were able to identify him as their leader, a point of commonality” (Inouye 111).  This drastic change from invisibly to the public eye gave Japan a central point of government and nation.  With Japan’s nationalization also came their need to be legitimized and understood by the large countries of the world.  Nitobe Inazo’s Bushido is a prime example of this need to be noticed.  The book was written in English as a way to explain to the outside world who the Japanese were.  However, when viewed more critically we see that Inazo refers to Western thinkers and rulers very often to explain Japanese concepts.  This was undoubtedly done to make the concepts more easily understood, but it also has a tone of “see we’re like the French, and we’re like the Spartans.”  Inazo seems to be making the point that the Japanese are just as worthy of respect as the Western world and should be treated that way.  Regardless of whether Inazo’s teachings were immediately grasped Japan was now Japan, a nationalized country like it had never been before.

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Cherry blossoms have just bloomed at Wuhan University, while snow was falling here in Boston.


Cherry blossoms at Wuhan University -

Photo shone on my laptop screen

Snow outside the window.

This week’s discussion is a big step that leads us into Japan’s modern era, with fascism lurking ahead. In the context of the Japanese’s realization of its place “in the world” of competing empires, Japan quickly turned to “learn from the barbarian” and allow the modern transcendental order, progress, to take charge, whereas the contemporaneous Chinese, despite some who came up with similar slogans, were much slower to react (Lecture 03/06, Inouye 110-113.) As I come to think of it, it may in fact be true that the “Japanese appreciation of change actually helped it embrace necessary reforms,” whereas the overall Chinese value seems to appreciate “middleness,” or inaction (Inouye 104.) Then, as Japan began to assert its place on the imperial food chain, several scholars, essentially “nostalgic” toward the “golden age” of Tokugawa Japan, each attempted to discover and re-establish an essence of the Japanese culture and people: thus came Bushidō, Sadō, and Iki (Inouye 120.) The tension that underlies all three theorizations, namely one “between Japan the unique and Japan the universal,” appears to be particularly noteworthy to me (Inouye 114.) It appears to me that, while all three scholars aimed at celebrating the traditional Japan, the impulse they feel to boast it as universal is essentially modern, in its assertion of unipolar correctness. This might be, again, a Japanese response to the imperial assertions from Western countries, once again more rapid than the Chinese’s because of the Japanese readiness for change, and the Chinese belief in “middleness” (as far as my limited knowledge is concerned, no work was done to boast about “the Chinese essence” during the period; this, however, could also be the result of a dragged modern development in the first place.)

- Zesheng Xiong (George)

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