This is a summary/critique of the best-selling Fujiwara Masahiko boom The Dignity of a Nation (Kokka no Hinkaku).
Bushido has been Japan’s moral compass since the days of the Kamakura Bakufu. Kindness (慈愛), sincerity (誠実), perseverance (忍耐), justice (正義), courage (勇気), compassion (惻隠), honor (名誉), shame (恥) — who can say no to such a long list of great things that accompany the proper behavior while killing other human beings? But ignore my cynicism: This “battlefield Confucianism” guided many a wayward soul throughout the peaceful Edo era, spreading down the rigid class structure from the most louse-ridden peasant to the bottom-dwelling, ultra-wealthy merchant.
Fujiwara quickly admits that Bushido is not a purely indigenous creation. From Buddhism, a calm acceptance of fate, contempt for life, and intimacy with death. From Confucianism (first mention in the book!), the Five Relations (subject and servant, father and son, husband and wife, old and young, friend and friend) and rulers’ benevolence towards the people. From Shinto, loyalty towards the lord, respect for elders, and filial piety.
Wait a minute — aren’t these last three are also essentially Confucian? It’s not like the word 孝行 popped out of thin air. Nevertheless, even if the Chinese invented Zen, Fujiwara points out that nobody does Zen like the Japanese do Zen. Same goes for many aspects of Confucianism, whether the Japanese realize it or not.
But despite its historical grandeur and bento box appropriation of all the major Eastern philosophical traditions, Bushido has been in decline ever since the Showa era. Things got bad once Japan picked on the weaker China after the Marco Polo Bridge incident, something that Fujiwara sees as “mean” (卑怯). The lack of Bushido also apparently explains why Japan made an alliance with Hitler.
Fujiwara thinks the Russo-Japan War and the Pacific War against the Americans were necessary at their respective times for Japan’s independence and survival. But the war against China — Japan totally dropped the moral basketball, first and foremost because Japan’s actions just invited Stalin and Mao to prosper in the 20th century. And again, the war against China was bullying the weak, which is a big Bushido no-no. The Chinese did not even have an air force! Fujiwara reminds us also that the Emperor was against the deep expansion into China — placing the blame for that ugly side of the war squarely on an Imperial Army gone awry.
“You can say that after the Meiji (restoration),the great powers of the West without exception raced towards the cowardly act of bullying the weak, and the fact that Japan at that time learned from this is proof that the Bushido spirit was being disposed.”
Here is the score: An ethical/moral code based on warfare and fighting would have never endorsed Western-style Imperialism. Only when the Japanese abandoned the samurai spirit were they able to go invade other countries. Odd that Fujiwara never mentions Korea, seeing that the Japanese had attempted invasions of the clearly weaker country before they learned anything from the awful Bushido-less West. I do not want to put words in his mouth, but his silence on that issue somewhat suggests that the Korean Annexation of 1910 was not an “unfair” act like the invasion of China.
Modern Japanese society contains a lot of interplay between pacifism and jingoism. Last night, many people got together to hold up candles spelling out “YASUKUNI NO” in candles, but Koizumi still took it upon himself to head over to Kudanshita and praise the Class A war criminals. (Maybe they should have written it in Japanese…) China and Korea will take it upon themselves to get angry about it.
So in the midst of deteriorating Asian relations based on past military aggression — and a World Gone Wild thanks to unnecessary military excursions by America — why call for a revival of an ethical/moral system based on military honor — especially when its most positive tenets were taken directly from the much more peaceful, humanistic Confucian tradition? Bushido has never been a progressive doctrine: It was a mish-mash of philosophical justifications for military juntas ruling the country and taking human life. So take out the “we love dying and killing equal foes” part, and you just get Confucianism. But Fujiwara is never going to for that — too Chinese. I cannot imagine Fujiwara suddenly advocating the modern adoption of any kind of foreign philosophy. He has placed himself within a small box of “everything we do must be Japanese in origin,” and with such limiting parameters, Bushido is the only moral system he really has to choose from. As if Anglo-Saxons wanted to revive medieval chivalry, because Christianity is too Semitic. Or Americans preferring Mormonism, because it was Made in the USA.
While Bushido may be true blue Japanese, we shouldn’t think that Fujiwara believes it is only for domestic usage:
“I think that first the Japanese must take back (Bushido), and then go and spread it to the people of the world, who are too reliant solely on boring logic.”
The entire world being the West, I guess.