Secondly, lets investigate how these supposed men of honour help build the Japan we know today and how his code of conduct influenced not only Japanese ideology, but some extent helped the West in a time of need. To discover how these ancient warriors helped politicians to unite people and get them to believe in the “land of the rising sun.” Japan’s quest to find a footing began in a time characterised by Western powers wishing to expand, especially Britain.
One significant event to mention in this context is the Opium Wars which served as a warning for not only China but also Japan that if you do not bow down to the Empire and what she wishes you will pay greatly. Another interest occurrence to mention is that off Commander Matthew Perry and the America’s wish to trade with Japan.
These major trends made Japan very much aware of the fact that they need to modernise and colonise quickly to keep up with the West.
But before they could role out plan on modernisation the elite needed the backing of the people. And, these folks needed to be “loyal, obedient, and willing to make many sacrifices for the good of the nation.” (Narroway 2008: 64) In order to achieve this, wish they used the image of the honourable samurai to “promote and empower their nationalistic ideology.” (Narroway 2008: 64) Moreover, when examining the influence this ancient service men had on the development of Japan’s self-image not only domestically but internationally as well context is key or as Miss Lisa Narroway goes on to explain:
In order to demonstrate the significance of the samurai symbol, it is necessary to place the creation and promotion of the samurai symbol into the wider context of modern Japan.
During this period, nationalism was articulated as a state-led ideology requiring the population to conform exclusively to “official” ideas regarding national identity. Such ideas emphasised national uniqueness and strength, incorporating notions such as “family nation” and a mission in Asia into the overall official vision. Through promoting such ideas as part of its ideology, the Japanese state aimed to unify, indoctrinate and mobilise its national population. (Narroway 2008: 64-65)
When constructing these men of honour, they looked for a figure steeped in history but only focused on the positive aspects of this character. Granted this, the elite needed to create a code of conduct which focused heavily on loyalty, self-sacrifice, compassion, honour etc called bushido . The closest European equivalent would be the code of chivalry the knights lived by. And, of this code of conduct a scholar by the name of Nukariya Kaiten writes:
Bushido, or the code of chivalry, should be observed not only by the soldier in the battlefield, but by every citizen in the struggle for existence. If a person be a person and not a beast, then he must be a samurai – brave, generous, upright, faithful, and manly, full of self-respect and self-confidence, at the same time full of the spirit of self-sacrifice. (Nukariya 2009: 58)
The quote above put forth the notion that one should see the samurai being seen as this ideal of how individuals should not only interact with one another but also how one should create a meaningful existence. Such a notion plays well into what Narroway mentions about creating a nation that is unique and strong. These core values also helped the elite mobilise the population overall because they had a common course or rather a common idol. But before this could become a reality the elite needed the peasants to agree on this being the way forward thus, they fabricated a figure with morally rights values.
In the period between the Meiji Period (1867-1912) to the Second World War (1939-45) nationalistic politicians used several nationalistic symbols to promote their ideology. On the contrary, in the West the values of the samurai seem to fill the void of Western ideology and recover the tainted morality of white violence. (Shin 2010: 1077) Hence, one may put forth the argument that whites used bushido as a way to justify the mistreatment of minorities. Such a justification is especially prevalent in Edward Zwick’s film The Last Samurai (2003) and some may even go the extreme by claim that the reality he presents on screen around the samurai is fabricated. This invented reality surrounding the samurai is a way for the film director to promote a pro-American tale in an attempt to white wash history. Then, the surroundings of the samurai as presented on screen has become a way for white America to voice their wish to return to a time where her hands were not stained by blood from the mass murder of native
Americans and society were collectivistic rather than individualistic. Given such a narrative, the film and its protagonist push an agenda which makes the viewer get the false believe that life was better in the “good old days.” By the same token, the film celebrates the notion of white heroism by making the audience aware of this new superior culture yet still manage to examine it through the view of the white man. In continuation of this notion of the white man’s gaze and how this may have influenced the way Westerners perceive the samurai. Before taking a more nuanced look at the white man’s gaze it may be helpful to touch on what Franc Fanon means by “ontology being unattainable in a colonized and civilized world.” (Fanon 1952: 109)
In short, Fanon is of the opinion that no matter what colour your skin is you are still defined by how the white man perceives you. Zwick’s film plays well into this notion and especially the way he presents the samurai to his audience. In the manner, one can argue this is the case for every foreign historical figure presented to a white audience no matter the visual media. Another place where we meet this supposed “honourable” warrior or at least his ethics is in cooperate world and much material have been written on the subject. And much of this material come to the conclusion “that you cannot live like a samurai at work and act like a coward at home. You will become a warrior, or you won’t, if you’re not committed.” (Kock 2008: 55)
The essence of this quote tells us that in order to become successful no matter the field one has to be committed much like the samurai was committed to his craft. Furthermore, no matter their ethnicity or religion they look to bushido to when “searching for their own spirituality – helping them to overcome obstacles in life.” (Kock 2008: 55) Once again, the fabricated samurai seem to help individuals greatly in a time where it becomes increasingly difficult to find a place in this world. The core values of the samurai in this instance help individuals to discover their path to success.
Finally, this report examines the samurai’s humble beginning and how he not only helped “the Land of the Rising sun” to find a place among former enemies along with the spot he has carved out for himself in the Western reality. By reviewing the evidence put forth, one realises that this proud warrior has a long and varied history that stretches back to Japan’s early hours and all the way of to the present. The humble combatant that is the bushi worked his way up the latter.
The findings also suggest that he has had to wear many masks, from that of the nationalist to that of the racist. For instance, in the West he started out being used as a symbol that helped the white man justify his violence towards the barbarians. While later on, his code of conduct served as guiding light for those who questioned their identity. On a final note, this report may only concern itself with the samurai, his origin and influence on the greater world. But it would be equally as intriguing to inspect how different the samurai’s legacy is from that of geisha and how accurate Fanon’s statement that “one is defined by how whites, especially white men, perceive you.” But also, how women’s and men’s legacy it treated differently throughout history.
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