7 Traitz Lauren

Wk 8 Picture

This week we discussed the introduction of foreign influence, the transition towards Japan getting a sense of itself from the outside and the accompanying difficulty of developing an idea of what it means to be Japanese. With Bushido, it seems Nitobe is trying to do just this. Having lived outside of his home country, made acquaintance (and married!) foreigners and then serving in educational and political posts in Japan, it is unsurprising that the enigma of capturing Japanese philosophy would preoccupy him. He addresses this influence directly in the original introduction: “The direct inception of this little book is due to the frequent queries put by my wife as to the reasons why such and such ideas and customs prevail in Japan” (Nitobe, 19). We can ask very important questions in response to the creation of such a work: Was there a unified Japanese culture to extract? Is it possible to extract such a thing or must we always impose it? Who is in a real position to understand culture in a general and universally applicable sense? Indeed, Nitobe expresses such limitations when he claims: “We cannot…point out any definite time and place and say, ‘Here is the fountainhead’” (Nitobe, 36). The last of these questions–who is in the position to philosophize about such a thing–stuck with me throughout the reading. It is quite obvious that Nitobe’s work is idealistic and perhaps not even true of most samurai in practice. He acknowledges this throughout the work, often giving examples of how some samurai misapplied these virtues. In the chapter on honor, for example: “It must be admitted that very few attained this sublime height of magnanimity, patience and forgiveness” (Nitobe, 83).  What interests me most is that Nitobe was the furthest thing from an ordinary Japanese man. He led an extraordinary life, lived in many countries, became a Quaker, played important political and educational roles in Japan and even served in the UN (Griffis’ Introduction). How could Nitobe, so removed from the daily felt lives of the Japanese, be in a position to encapsulate their cultural definition as a people? But if not him, then who? Perhaps other individuals, more common folk, are too close to it all to see it generally and philosophically. If no one is in the ideal position to extract the precepts of a culture, perhaps it is something that must always be imposed. But the details of the framework must arise from somewhere…


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