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Saturday, September 06, 2008

On "Bushido: The Soul of Japan," and Going Back to "Pip."

Well, after much delay I finished reading "Bushido: The Soul of Japan." Perhaps this is the longest time I have taken to finish a book under 150 pages. Factors vary between the academic term just beginning two weeks ago, to simply too much to do and not enough time. At any rate, "Bushido" was written around the early 1900s, just as Japan was leaving its vestigial feudal system behind, and Bushido as an ethical form was left to wander the countryside without a path or a value system of its own, and Nitobe captured this with a sharp eye and an incredible manner of tying together the old and the new across different fields: culture, religion, economics, industrialism, etc. Modernism hit Japan hard--and with this I must explain that I don't mean the post-World War II type of modernism. To a strictly traditional and highly defined culture in the early 1900s, this was a kiss of death. Generational issues also caught on. Remember that America herself was breaking off from the Victorian age of formalism that led to the rampage of the Roaring Twenties... Japan was influenced, molded and even changed against her own will, plain and simple, by what was happening in the world: social upheaval, generational shifts, and industrialism (read: commercialism).

Nitobe concludes that the one thing that will survive into the future of Japan is stoicism, and he nicely ties it to the fact that it was a Bushido-driven virtue: "Who can say that stoicism is dead? It is dead as a system; but it is alive as a virtue: its energy and vitality are still felt through many channels of life-in the philosophy of Western nations, in the jurisprudence of all the civilized world. Nay, wherever man struggle to raise himself about himself, wherever his spirit masters his flesh by his own exertions, there we see the immortal discipline of Zeno at work."

I learned this early in my life. My father was a stoic of the foremost discipline. I grew up seeing a man not even blink at the fact that someone was pointing a gun at his face. While I always admired it in my father, I never quite understood the origins of such behavior. It wasn't until I lived in Japan in 1994 that I understood how my father--without self-conscious knowledge--was the embodiment of Bushido.

I am going back to Charles Dickens with a furious passion. I am reading "Great Expectations" and enjoying it tremendously. More on this later. I am also reading "The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block and The Creative Brain." More on this later as well.

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