The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture is a study with history and anthropology methods of Japan by American anthropologist, Ruth Benedict in 1944. It compiled into a book, the Chrysanthemum and the Sword in 1946. It is a report commissioned by the United States Government to understand and predict the behavior of Japanese culture after World War II.
The book studies Japanese traditional culture of two major contradictions, the civilization (chrysanthemum) and the barbarism (sword).
It hopes to find out the comprehension of Japanese culture and fulfill the questions: should Allies take over Japan, how United States manage Japan and whether Emperor of Japan should be preserved. This essay would be analyzed in three aspects with the contents carries out from the book, how it presents to the readers and the influence to the world. And The Chrysanthemum and the Sword would be a major reference for explaining the comprehension of Japanese culture during the period between of World War II.
Japanese contradictions culture
Japanese did a great deal of extreme behavior during the World War II for protecting their national dignity and self-esteem, such as Kamikaze attack (suicide attack) and suicide after captured. Even they recognized the condition of losing in the war against with United States . They are the main reasons for other countries to discover Japanese thinking and culture. The two objects, chrysanthemum and sword are suitable as symbols to Japanese civilization inside the country and barbarism to enemies. As a result, the author took them to present further Japanese culture meanings of the loyalty to Emperor and the spirit of Bushido. It expresses the clear and unique insight into the Japanese national contradictory character, separating with nationalism, militarism and reward culture.
Japanese culture adopts bipolar or dual contradictions. For instance, they are militant and aesthetic, rude but polite, stubborn but good at adjustment, and conservative but easy to accept new things. Since the Meiji Restoration for Japan becoming modern country, it raised and expended national pride and self confidence. Japan emphasised as a group of Yamato Nationality to publicize the superiority of the nation and the emotions of exclusion others. They hoped to prove the superiority and showed the national strength to the whole world causing the growth of Nationalism and Fascism extremely.Contradictions not only reflected in the lives of Japanese citizens, but also deeply rooted in their outlook on life as unity rooted in their life deeply. It leads their thought with national supremacy. Even their suicide in wars, the actions are glorious, meaningful and decent ways for a part of history to the nation.
Though Japan was a victorious country of the World War I, it dissatisfied with the suppression of western countries, such as Britain and the United States. Japan embarked with Fascism, like Germany to escape economic crisis from western countries’ suppression. Japan implemented the fascist dictatorship in politics, accelerated the militarization of the national economy aiming external aggression, internal dictatorship. Japanese militarism purposed most of the fiscal revenue using to develop the military and emphasising the Bushido spirit of the Yamato nation sweared to be loyal to the Emperor. It shows that Japanese are striving for own duty. They arranged duties and orders in strict accordance with the hierarchy. Whether in family and personal relationships, or in government, religion, military, and industry, they insist on all in their place. Anyone who steps across ranks, will be punished without privilege. They believe that class differences are not themselves shame. Therefore, they ensure self-respect with the habit of respecting the hierarchy, no matter the poor or the rich and past or present. For example, the Japanese Emperor’s surname was never caused by the peasant uprising or the general’s power. The Japanese Emperor always came from the same family.
Even the most powerful General Tokugawa in history has never taken any action to try to abolish the Emperor.Combining the ideology of Japanese tradition culture of nationalism, the implication of death instead of defeat, capture and shame was deeply entrenched in Japanese military culture. The primary traditions in the Samurai life and the Bushido code were loyalty and honor until death. They were honour to die for Japan and the Emperor from ancient period of Japan till World War II. The relation between Emperor and Bushido were complement each other and inseparable. That caused a significant foundation in the ideology of Japanese militarism during wars and its culture. It was also reasons that all Japanese soldiers followed orders from superior and Emperor, such as grouping the suicide squad, Kamikaze and suicide before capture or after lose without divulging any secret of nation or being betrayers.
Apart from the extreme thought and behavior of militarism, Japanese reward culture to each other is admired in world size. Chinese people focus on “loyalty and filial piety” and put “benevolence” on “loyalty and filial piety” at the meanwhile. However, Japanese accepts “loyalty and filial piety” while completely excluding “benevolence” from its ethical system. Japanese believes that their lives are kind and do not require ethical precepts like “benevolence.” The reason why Chinese citizens regard “benevolence” is important because of the inferiority. Therefore, the concept of right and wrong is not that vital to the Japanese,”loyalty” and “filial piety” transform to “reward” are more important. There is a huge different culture between China and japan, even they are countries of Asian. Japanese believes practises in rewarding people s assistance as same as Chinese. They divide the reward in two major categories, they are the reward to the Emperor, loyalty, and the reward to the parents, filial piety.
There are two case in the book about the loyalty from Japanese to the Emperor. The first case was that a Japanese military officer took a joint team to go marching. Due to the extremely difficult marching conditions, five out of twenty people died because of thirst and fatigue. When checking their kettles, they found that one of the waters had not been drunk. This was because the officer once ordered as the delegate from Emperor s order. Soldiers could not drink the water in the kettle without his permission, as a result they did not drink the water in the kettle. They sweared to the loyalty to the Emperor by mind and actions even death.Not only soldiers, but also the normal Japanese citizens were willing to reward for the Emperor’s by death to prove their loyalty to the contemporary Emperor.
Once teachers succumbed to suicide simply because they did not protect the portrait of the Emperor when the school fire. Some teachers were burned to death because they rushed into the burning school building to protect and rescue these portraits.The Emperor are symbol of beyond domestic dispute and supreme leader, like Americans’ loyalty to the stars and stripes from the country flag. The Emperor is sacred and inviolable beyond all party politics. What the Emperor said, even applying the name of the Emperor, must be carried out. Even if it is dead, it cannot be questioned under the order. The Emperor let the Japanese fight, then Japanese soldiers fight to war fearlessly. When the Emperor announced his surrender, Japanese surrendered unconditionally. All citizens’ considering are how their loyalty for the Emperor without doubt the rationality.In addition to Japanese concept of reward, the Japanese are also favored by their parents.
In the United States, treating parents in best ways is one of the reward. Repaying the parents’ reward means unconditional obedience to their parents in Japan. During the Meiji period, the government even promulgated such a famous law: when there was a quarrel, it was impossible to intervene. When the accident happened, the crowds gathered on the streets of Japan generally stood by and watched. This was not the indifference of the onlookers but they were not willing to let the recipients get involved in the whirlpool of retribution .Japanese reward culture relies the culture background from nationalism and militarism learning the ideology of loyalty to the nation and country. The strong sense of retribution makes the Japanese unwilling to accept the favor of others simply. They show unconditional truth to the Emperor and parents generally.Methods and DisputeThe Chrysanthemum and the Sword separates in thirteen chapters.
Chapters one to six explain major background of Japanese development from the reason, rise and culture of nationalism, militarism and reward culture, such as the Japanese in the War and Meiji Restoration. And chapters seven to thirteen mention the direction of Japan basing on their unique culture and after the defeat of World War II, such as moral dilemma, self-cultivation, children learning and Japanese after surrender.The author, Ruth Benedict provided detail guide and introduction for readers on methods to understand Japan and how to study Japan. She showed observing the particular of Japanese war behavior, lifestyle and way of thinking to study their social customs and habits. She approached Japanese contradictory nation and understand its cultural pattern, from the position of others with an America identity to be a researcher and investigator to study Japan history, culture and humanity about anthropology and sociology.However, there are few factors affecting method to find out entire culture and fact of Japan.
First of all, the power relation affected the view of Japan. Japanese culture pattern and civilization were defined by others after World War II. As United States hoped to find out Japanese extreme behavior during wars by nationalism, United States defined those actions as extreme, odd and unpredictable. The discourse of the book based on the victor (United States) and related to the power relation, winner had the power to control mainstream of history. The second factor is that Americans could not be reversed to learn Japanese culture from the book in that era. The author discovered and researched a great deal of cause and effect from Japanese unique nationalism contributing loyalty and filial piety to the Emperor and parents. They were just explanation as information for readers, not discussed as learnable behavior. The book contains subjective and discrimination view and opinion that Japan as a loser in the war.
United States deemed it as inferior generally. Another aspect is that the author adopting resources may not reliable at all without first person angles. Ruth Benedict had never been to Japan, which is a direction that many researchers behind have criticized her. However, when Japanese scholars discussed this book, they often praised the material used in this book was well explanation. This was because the book is a good summary of the field data compiled by American scholars before. It is indispensable for anthropological research. In the field investigation, the author had to use all means to collect information. She included “legends, movies, interviews with Japanese residents and Japanese prisoners of war in the United States , research projects in Japan, local news, radio programs, novels, parliamentary speeches, and reports from the Military Intelligence Bureau” to name but a few. Even the materials were comprehensive in different aspects, did entire angle represent that time Japanese discourse?Influence Since its publication, the book has sold more than 30 million copies and has been translated into 30 languages. It has been hailed as the source of modern Japanese learning. Even Japanese scholars believe that the author knows Japan better than the Japanese.
The book carries out unique origin and its political role not only made it being a must-read in the field of anthropology, but also made it a key document in the history of post-war United States -Japan international relations. The book played an irreplaceable role in the process of world understanding and world policy in the United States . For instance, the policy from United States to Japan changed to aid and put it into the United States economic track as a “Far East Factory” and “Communist Movement Breakwater” when United States managed it. In addition, the political reform by United States was that the Emperor was no longer as a god like with supreme power, the Emperor was preserved as a spiritual support to ensure not lose Japanese long-term habits in new constitution. Those two main actions based on the effect and understanding from Ruth Benedict s report.
Readers from past to present could have a further understanding to Japanese contradictory of culture pattern. Japanese in wars understood the necessity of “everything to get what they want”. Their beliefs and trust in ranks were beyond the world but they also had the flexibility to change the hierarchy. Japanese believed that the spirit was primary and eternal that matter was subsidiary and instantaneous. They were completely subjective’ and the conviction based on all things are expected. The idea of ‹‹absolute loyalty to the Emperor, surrender of shame and self-sacrifice was deeply rooted in their hearts. The absolute level of trust and flexibility of the subjects and soldiers were the direct cause of the Japanese people’s various changes in the war. For example, some Japanese soldiers would rather commit suicide than to surrender as prisoners to prove their loyalty to the Emperor. The behavior has puzzled many people in the world. Their “weird action” was an important research topic in the world of human literary studies or psychological research which was intended to understand and break through.
The Chrysanthemum and the Sword becomes a classic study and research that transcends the times and specific cultures. Since the book was originally written as a research report, the author focused on the Japanese mindset and behavioral patterns. She did not conduct a historical review of these models. Therefore, it is impossible to analyze in depth why Japan as split and contradictory moral system that they formed contradiction of characteri, instead of a unified personality.
The author, Ruth Benedict may be aware of the limitations of the book due to the information, or mixed with misunderstanding of Japanese culture. However, the book is still being read by readers nowadays. It can be said that it is far beyond the timeliness expected by the authors. Readers are far beyond the English culture limitation at the meanwhile. Though the methods of the book raised dispute and stereotype at that time, what she did not expect that no matter how many “misunderstandings” in the book as many future scholars were worried about them. Those American political elite was based on such a Japanese understanding full of specific “misunderstandings”.
The policy of occupation of Japan, including the “significant Emperor system”, was also the starting point of post-war Japan. It could be described that the author used her academic research in the field of cultural anthropology to brilliantly shape the Japanese understanding of the United States at that time, which in turn influenced the formation of the framework of post-war United States and Japan relations. In this sense, the Chrysanthemum and the Sword participated in the creation of the post-war world order let different readers from different generations to recognize Japanese culture from another aspects, not just the surface of pop culture in major media.
- Benedict,R. (1959). Patterns of culture. New York: New American Library.
- Doak, K. (2007). A History of Nationalism in Modern Japan: Placing the People. BRILL, 194-203.
- Modell, J. (1999). The Wall of Shame: Ruth Benedict’s Accomplishmentin the Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Dialectical Anthropology, 191″215. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press
- .Kent, P. (1999). Japanese Perceptions of the Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Dialectical Anthropology, 177″181.
- Stronach, B. (1995). Beyond the Rising Sun: Nationalism in Contemporary Japan. Greenwood Publishing Group, 56-63.
Cite this essay
Reflection on a Book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. (2019, Aug 20). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/reflection-on-a-book-the-chrysanthemum-and-the-sword-essay