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Japanese Literature Essay

2. Individualism has been seen as a characteristic feature of the modern world. How do we see the issue of individualism being dealt with in the works we have read? Discuss examples of individualism in both modern and pre-modern texts. In the works we have read, the characteristic of individualism has played a strong role in the lives and decisions of three characters in particular. The characters Basho, Chockichi, and Okada all display similar acts of individualism in their own stories as they depart not only from their homes but also the traditions that have helped shape their lives for many years.

These characters leave behind the familial and societal values that were vastly present in Japanese tradition. With their decisions to be individuals, they obtain new attitudes and standards that relate to, money, education and security. The new values attitudes are what brought Japan into a modern way of thinking and left old values and traditions behind. Individualism is the belief in the primary importance of the individual and the virtues of self reliance and personal dependence. Basho shows his independence by leaving his home front and traveling north.

He does this in order to see new places, visit sites of earlier poets, and to spread his views. For Basho traveling is a way of life, and because he travels alone one could say that Basho is very much an independent individual. Throughout Basho’s Narrow Road it seems as if there is a lack of people he encounters on such a long journey. The reader does not know if this is because Basho chooses to leave out the people he meets from his story or because he truly does not encounter many. In any way, the lack of people in the story puts the spotlight solely on the main character, Basho.

With this, Basho rejoices in his individualism by going against traditional Japanese values and the unknown. Basho can be described as a pre-modern individual. His journeys are not for money or to enhance his social status; they are for his own personal benefit in order to see more of Japan and to become inspired by nature and its beautiful surroundings. Traveling for Basho is his life, unlike many traditions of Japan where supporting a family and working are a way of life, he chooses a different path. By this Basho chooses a life that is centered around himself and based on personal dependence and happiness.

This makes him an individual in all of the things that he does because he bases his decisions solely on himself. Being an individual Basho puts himself somewhat before his time in terms of Japanese culture. The worries of money and social expectation do not concern him, he is more concerned with being at one with nature and finding inspiration within Japanese surroundings which truly set him apart from his fellow citizens. In The River Sumida, Chokichi plays the role of an individual. He does this in more of a modern context rather than Basho did in Basho’s Narrow Road.

Chockichi aspires to be an actor and wants to follow his dreams of doing so. His conflict comes when his mother demands him to go to school in order for him to be an office worker. She does this because she knows the importance of money and that Chokichi having a stable job it will ensure their future. Throughout the story Chokichi strives to be an individual and not let money and the other stresses of society hinder his dreams. Though he hated school, “? could he really bare it, all this learning? School was not the place to give him happiness he wished for.

Learning was quite unrelated happiness-it came to Chokichi for the first time(193),” he knew that he had to follow his mothers orders. Therefore he decided to leave his surroundings and attend school. By this Chokichi had made a decision to be an individual and, instead of following his dreams, he pursued a different career. Chokichi’s act of leaving home and going to school in order to make money for his family he went against the traditional Japanese values. By choosing to go to school he also chose the path of being an individual. Most people would have followed their dreams and done what they wanted with life.

Chokichi, in contention with his mothers direction, chose a different path. Though he greatly disliked school he still decided to attend. With this decision Chokichi should be deemed as an individual. He made a decision that not only went against Japanese values but also his own dreams. In the story Wild Geese, Okada plays the role of a strong individual who, throughout the story, follows traditional Japanese values and is a good citizen. With the changing times and changing traditions of Japan Okada is faced with the decision of leaving his love Otama in order to go to Europe and pursue a career translating Chinese medical texts.

Though the decision was hard, Okada decided to go to Europe alone and pursue his career. With this decision Okada stepped out of the traditions of Japan and became an individual. He leaves all of his values and knowledge of life at home and embarks on a new journey. This decision truly makes him an individual. It also makes the changes of attitudes and standards of old Japan a reality. In earlier times Okada would not have left his home or his love to pursue a career. His future would have already been planned out for him; he would have followed not only the traditions of his family and their work, but also the early traditions of Japan.

Okada’s individualistic attitude and decisions make it clear that he wants to be on his own and follow a rarely traveled road. Okada provides a great example of people changing their values and traditions and following the path of the individual. Throughout the lives of Basho, Chokichi, and Okada it is evident that they have taken upon values of the modern world and become individuals. With this they leave behind a mark of change and a shift in values, attitudes and standards that have been present for century’s among Japanese culture.


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