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Kokka no Hinkaku Chapter 5: Reviving the Bushido Spirit


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.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
August 14, 2006

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

38 Responses

  1. Carl Says:

    I took a logic class, and it was pretty dull. The only interesting part of the class was when the teacher would spin around a slice a sleeping student in half. I can see how Fujiwara’s point might be valid.

  2. alin Says:

    yasukuni: although it may be diplomaticaly wise prime-ministers and the like stopped going to yasukuni or even wipe the whole thing off and build offices for foreign investors (symbolic, like sunshine 60, the tallest building in tokyo at the time, over sugamo prison) there is quite a degree of cultural misunderstanding (of shinto) here in calling a visit to a jinja “praise the Class A war criminals” – which is a reason so many japanese people are perplexed by the whole thing.

    With shinto itself lacking a rigid dualistic moral fabric since the begining shrines have been built in response to something ‘awe’-some, events, local heroes, local villians. all kami-fied. a visit to a local shrine built at the site of some awfull event carried out by some ruthless local villian has never meant praising or worshiping that particular villian. making yasukuni an exception to that , though easily done, also carries wider implications that have nothing to do with ww2.

    on bushido, i’m somewhat inclined to believe with ango sakaguchi that it’s precisely because of an inherent lack in those qualities that bushido ends up being so vigurously imposed. yes, top-down.

  3. Boyrand Says:

    Marxy, in a POSITIVE LITANY of offensive Anglo-American biased missives on your (totally BS) take on contemporary Japan, I have finally been just about as offended as possible by you. Now, as you know me, you know my enduring spirit of 孝行. Nonetheless, I find your trivial and cursory treatment of Bushido and its clear omission of Bushido’s connections to and distances from my own Taoist life to be… well, it’s like a big giant white guy showed up and started writing a bunch of nonsense on the Internet. Could I be anything – do anything – without tempering my kindness with an understanding of malice? Should I encounter a diametrically opposed individual (presently, the only examples to come to mind are Hitler, you, and early-era Gojira) without allowing my kindness towards my fellows to inspire malice towards my enemy? Shall I endure the idiocies, trivialities, and mediocrities of half-formed effort with sincerity, or with its far more appropriate partner and nemesis irony? Shall I endure the unconquerable without a spirit quite contrary and far wiser than perseverance? Shall I keep justice foremost, like some sort of awful robot, when I need to feed either my beloved daughter or some random asshole off the street? Shall I, let us hypothesize a social gathering where my shy friend is mustering an impressive stunt which I could easily outdo, but in so doing, undermine his efforts to impress a young lady who I think would be great for him? That is, to put in a very unpleasant colloquial parlance, ignore the principles of “bros before hos”? Shall…

    Okay, compassion is pretty good, but shall I go around crying like a big baby every time some moron dies in a drunk driving accident or something? No! Shall… okay, honor, also pretty good. But shall I be some kind of nerd boy scout all the time? No! Then there’s shame, and I’ll admit, as a Taoist-Catholic-BostonLiberal, I love it dearly, but I believe (as a matter of faith) that surely something exists in this world which I have not yet encountered that does not demand shame.

    You racist, racist bum. Anyways, I hope things are going good with you, things are pretty cool here in New York. Work’s going cool, and I have a date on Wednesday that I’m looking forward to and stuff. KIT! (Or don’t, because to allow a lapse in contact and then resume it is a great blessing as well.)

  4. nate Says:

    doesn’t it say something about yasukuni that the emporer responsible for most of the mess thought the Class A’s so reprehensible that he stopped going… and in a sense, gave up his religion rather than honor them once they had been enshrined?

    no ambiguity there, even he thought that not honoring evil was more important than keeping the faith. yeah, evil.. now you can pretend like I said something controversial.

  5. Momus Says:

    That emperor was forced into a lot of stuff after the war, though. I think it’s a little disingenuous to attribute such decisions to a moral dialogue within him and not to the requirements imposed on him in exchange for being able to… well, not get shot, for example.

    Which suggests a parallel world exercise we could try. It’s 1945, and two atomic bombs have been dropped on two Japanese cities, causing the nation’s surrender and capitulation. You’re General David MarxArthur and your job is to get together with key players in smoke-filled rooms and decide what will stay and what will go in the Japan of the future. You have a cultural shopping list — or should we call it a “chopping list”?

    The Emperor

    Which stay in the shop, and which are for the chop?

  6. marxy Says:

    But no one is talking about destruction or removal – Fujiwara wants to revive something he sees as dead. I say – why bring back something inherenly linked to fighting and killing when you can have all the good parts PLUS an appreciation of the scholarly noble for half-off?

  7. nate Says:

    “I think it’s a little disingenuous to attribute such decisions to a moral dialogue within him”

    his own words, my friend.

  8. nate Says:

    I should add that for people who don’t click links, he had regularly visited before the enshrining of 14 class A war criminals. He later said that he was opposed to the enshrining and opposed the (re)politicization of shinto that it represented.

  9. Momus Says:

    Yes, but would you believe Koizumi’s own words about his visits to Yasukuni? Is it an inner moral dialogue that makes him visit the shrine without fail, or situational constraints rather similar to the ones Hirohito faced (but with the opposite outcome)? We can imagine Japan taken over tomorrow by China, and Koizumi, retained as Prime Minister, suddenly confiding in a trusted aide that he never liked going to Yasukuni anyway.

  10. nate Says:

    Dude. are you kidding?

    The emperor made his last visit in 1975. The baddies were enshrined in 1978. Did the US feel that it was finally time to exercise their influence then?

  11. nate Says:

    And marxy gets accused of putting words in the mouths of the Japanese.

    Why do you think that the emporer would approve of this stuff?

    And do you think that the current breed of eager-to-rearm nationalists are really good, trustworthy people? Or is it just the assertion that anything might be wrong in japan that gets you writing?

  12. Momus Says:

    He was someone many still think to this day should have qualified as a Class A war criminal. Of course he couldn’t be seen to hobnob with their ghosts. That’s what I mean by “situational constraints”.

  13. marxy Says:

    Or is it just the assertion that anything might be wrong in japan that gets you writing?

    No baiting!

  14. Momus Says:

    It’s pretty ironic, since I’m arguing here for the moral ambivalence of the emperor and Nate is claiming he’s spotless.

  15. nate Says:

    why do I keep misspelling emperor?

    but again, why insist that you understand the emperor better than his own words? and than those around him? and the Japanese press?

    Is it only honne when Japanese people sound like you want them to?

  16. nate Says:

    sorry… baiting is bad, huh.

    I’m not claiming he’s spotless… in fact, it’s highly spotted past that makes it remarkable that Koizumi and co sanpai where he saw too-virulent nationalism.
    I don’t mean this to be baiting, but I’ve read most of what you’ve written (momus) on Japan in the last 2 years, and you really seem to think that Japanese people don’t have any sense of non-situational morality. It’s like you’ve reshaped them to mirror your own beliefs.

  17. Momus Says:

    I just don’t think that an emperor many historians see as an opportunist — at the very least — should have this sort of Protestant “struggle within my own soul over the nature of evil” dialogue projected onto him. He “thought the Class A’s so reprehensible that he stopped going… and in a sense, gave up his religion rather than honor them once they had been enshrined… no ambiguity there, even he thought that not honoring evil was more important than keeping the faith.” You have him, effectively, renouncing Shinto in order to become… what sounds suspiciously to me like a Protestant!

  18. nate Says:

    There’s a difference between judging something inappropriate and boycotting it, like say, Gandhi, and being a protestant.

  19. Chris_B Says:

    Momus: thanks for displaying your intimate knowledge of Hirohito’s inner moral compass. I’m sure we all thank you for that. Try your google/girlfriend foo to check some of the recent revelations about the political ends of how it was decided who got enshrined and who didnt.

    Marxy: this post is all over the place, I really cant clearly address much here, but in honor of August 15, I’d say lets all read some about MacArthur and St. Augustine.

  20. nate Says:

    Anyway, about bushido… I think Marxy’s right that Fujiwara’s reading of Bushido is in essence Cofucianism, and that that’s the only part he’s really endorsing. But marxy only bothers to asault the chineseness and unendorsed violent part of bushido. After we establish that bushido is chinese, what else is wrong with it, other than the undemocracy?

  21. Momus Says:

    Yes, Nate, but you were, it seems to me, bringing in Hirohito as a stick to beat Koizumi with. “Look, there was a man with moral fibre! Not like this guy!” And what I’m saying is that they are, in a sense, acting in the same way. It’s the context that has changed.

    By the way, I’d recommend anyone who hasn’t seen it to check out Aleksandr Sokurov’s film The Sun (I know Alin has recommended it here too). It doesn’t avoid the “I know what Hirohito was really thinking” trap either, though. Being a Russian, Sokurov basically turns Hirohito into Dostoyevsky’s Idiot.

  22. nate Says:

    that and つまらない also means “insignificant, petty, insufficient”. He’s not complaining that it isn’t fun, I’m guessing… though he looks like a party animal.

  23. Andy Says:

    I thought Yamato Damashi was an intrinsic part (as in Confucianism + Yamato Damashi = Bushido) of bushido and was one of those wonderful concepts that “only Japanese people can understand”; wouldn’t that mean that Bushido is in fact completely un-exportable?

  24. Adamu Says:

    My take: This book is more sermon than social science. If you ignore the dozens of distracting sidebars, his central question seems to be “how can Japanese people be respected by the Europeans and thumb their noses at the soulless Americans more effectively?” And to that end, Fujiwara seems to like some of the protestant methods (self-important righteousness, proselytization) and wants to work them into the existing ideas of Japan’s national identity to give Japanese people a basis to be as arrogant as he is. In that sense, trifles like historical accuracy or correctly citing the origin of the belief system are unimportant. It’s all about sounding right (starting from the correct “logical origin”), making the suggestions, and padding them with enough soothing white noise about how great sakura are and how the danger of derivatives so it sounds like he has a decent argument.

    And in that sense, at least, Fujiwara has done an excellent job of getting his ideas across, especially judging from his sales. As extreme as some of his points might be, for the most part it looks as though he’s really close to the Japanese mainstream. For you budding commentators out there, you might want to take note, as it’s probably more effective to work within Japan’s generally held beliefs rather than challenge them head-on at every turn.

    And btw – isn’t it “dropped the football”??

  25. marxy Says:

    I looked it up and “moral basketball” is the correct way to describe that specific kind of transgression.

    Yamato Damashi

    Correct me if I am wrong, but Fujiwara basically avoids any overt mentions of these kinds of “racial nation” concepts. No mention of 国體 anywhere. He does refer to America and England as “Anglo-Saxon nations” but so does Momus.

    By the way, I’d recommend anyone who hasn’t seen it to check out Aleksandr Sokurov’s film The Sun

    If you really want to know about Hirohito, stop reading his own memos and start watching fictional films about him.

  26. Momus Says:

    Fictional films! Tsk tsk! (By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask, what’s your favourite Ozu film?)

    his central question seems to be “how can Japanese people be respected by the Europeans and thumb their noses at the soulless Americans more effectively?”

    We do indeed seem to share some paradigms, as well as some phraseology. And, according to Adamu, that puts me “really close to the Japanese mainstream” and “it’s probably more effective to work within Japan’s generally held beliefs rather than challenge them head-on at every turn”. A point I believe I made quite forcefully in this weekend’s flame wars.

    By the way, I almost added a “terminal Japan decline” angle to my current post about the new Cornelius single. But at the last moment the cavalry arrived in the form of great songwriting by the likes of Tujiko Noriko. Phew, narrowly saved from using the “data” of one bad Cornelius record to prove a big, big point about Japan’s irrecoverable fall from grace!

  27. marxy Says:

    By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask, what’s your favourite Ozu film?

    Either Tokyo Monogatari or Blues Brothers II. I can never really decide.

    puts me “really close to the Japanese mainstream”

    In a good way? You seem to enjoy Japanese people on the fringes.

  28. Momus Says:

    Are there really “fringes” in Japan? My impression is that, by some weird twist of physics or sociology, if you’re in you’re all-in and the centre is everywhere. Same way there aren’t really “suburbs” or a “centre” in Japanese cities, just the same little houses… which suddenly stop at a mountain.

  29. Andy Says:

    Not sure I agree with that to be honest Momus; although I’m sure Chiba-ken is the centre of a massive underground music and art scene of which I am far too square to be hep to, I’d much rather spend my evenings in Tokyo somewhere like Shimokitazawa…

  30. Momus Says:

    Well, you’re probably right, so would I. But you cook the books a bit by giving the impression that “a massive underground music and art scene” is happening in Shimokita. Not sure Marxy would agree on that one.

  31. marxy Says:

    I don’t know if I would use those words, but I am pretty certain that you and “Hirofumi Tanaka” at Tokyo Gas would not get along so well.

  32. Momus Says:

    I know I still haven’t paid my October 2002 bill, but Tanaka needs to chill, it’s just a few yen; I was mostly using kerosene at the time.

  33. Chris_B Says:

    sorry momus, there are edges and shitamachis look really different than high rise hells

  34. Adamu Says:

    Re: specific mentions of racial nations – of course he wouldn’t mention taboo wartime concepts like kokutai, but I think everyone knows what he’s getting at in the introduction when he mentions the American slaves to logic and the wonderful, tradition-loving Britons.

    Fujiwara leaves out lots of specifics in this book, and veers sharply from the other anti-US right wing arguments typified by Yoshinori “Sensoron” Kobayashi while maintaining their basic stance of “Japan needs national pride” etc. For instance, Fujiwara, rather than going out of his way to justify Japan’s conduct in WW2, basically dismisses (parts of) the war as “mean/cowardly” and tries to position the Japanese as originally a peace-loving people. Does he make any mention at all of what Japan’s security policy should be or issues like Yasukuni? I don’t remember any, aside from the ridiculous proposal that Japan should only have gone into Iraq if it were prepared to take over the whole show. But at the same time, much like in the introduction, you can kind of see where he’s going – of COURSE a proud, respected Japan should kick out the barbaric Americans and go its own way.

    In this way, Dignity seems to have been successful in bringing average, middle of the road Japanese to grow more sympathetic with the 2ch/Kobayashi way of thinking, judging from some of the reactions and its popularity. A lot of people who might not have considered these issues in detail before might just think “oh yeah, that’s right – Bushido is a doctrine of peace!”

  35. ian Says:

    I think it seems fair to say that, despite the obvious pleasure he seems to get from flexing muscular on matters international, Fujiwara’s emphasis on Bushido at the expense of Confucianism is more his way of sidestepping the trap of basing his arguments for “Japaneseness” on a Chinese concept rather than on any militaristic agenda. I also wonder if, based on the fairly reprehensible way that most of our great nations (Britain, America, Russia – any others in here?) have been prosecuting our own wars in the last decade or so, perhaps Fujiwara might have something in suggesting that we could benefit from an “ethical/moral system based on military honor”. As with a lot of things he says, he makes reasonable points and then undermines them by trying to tie them to an agenda with which they just don’t fit.

  36. alin Says:

    If you really want to know about Hirohito, stop reading his own memos and start watching fictional films about him.

    it’s not wether the film tells the truth or not but that the film has had an impact in the country, (and not with laughable 藤原系) and that if nothing else makes it significant. check latest brutus for example. (sorry been out practising shinto so i couldn’t take part in the discussion – in case anyone missed me.)

  37. marxy Says:

    Nice scenery there! Do tell!

  38. alin Says:

    Nihon Alps, of course pakkuri of the real Alps.

    Ah, the question that begs to be asked: If Fujiwara sensei ended up on Kamakura beach on a weekend summer afternoon would he feel like he’s walked into an anglo-saxon orgy??