The following is a guest post by Michael Campbell. Michael is a PhD candidate in Asian Studies at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University and has been an American expat living in Japan for the past six years.
Before moving to Japan seven years ago I was fascinated by the concept of Bushido as glorified in Kurasawa films and Master Splinter of Ninja Turtes fame. However, after several years here the romantic sheen of the ideal has worn off considerably to the point where I’ve realized that while Bushido is a good philosophy for being for an subordinate asslicker or someone in a tough spot it’s not really applicable to most people in the postmodern Western world.
Here's five reasons that following the Bushido code, and in essence the life of the Samurai, isn't as badass as our media recreations would have you believe.
1. Your Boss Might Suck
Bushido has the same strictness of most orthodox religions, but omits the fairly important God bit. There is the same stress on austerity and loyalty that you find amongst strict Mormons, Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and Muslims, but instead of being in service to God, Bushido emphasizes unwavering service and loyalty to the next guy up in the corporate hierarchy—which is why it’s a philosophy for asslickers.
The ideals of unwavering loyalty and bravery sound good in theory, but what if your boss is an asshole? What if his boss is an asshole? Therefore at the most stripped down level the samurai (literally “those who serve in Japanese) is basically an exhausted lackey, albeit one who can whoop some ass on the battlefield and recite the classics of Chinese philosophy (Confucius, Mencius Laotzu, etc). Think Dwight Schrute in the first season of The Office.
2. A Morbid Existence
According to Daidouji Yuuzan’s foundational text, “The Code of the Samurai”, a warrior must always keep in the forefront of his mind that he will die. Only by the acceptance of the inevitability of death can Bushido’s other virtues of piety, loyalty, and duty arise. In this way, Bushido has much in common with the four noble truths of Zen Buddhism which also flourished at the same time as Bushido. For both philosophies it is vital that the practitioner realize that life is not to be clung to too tightly.
However unlike Zen monks who concentrated on their own salvation, the samurai had practical shit to do and were at the same time warriors and political administrators of feudal Japan. In this role they were Bushido is also commonly referred to as, “the duel way of sword and brush” in which the ideal samurai is supposed to be a skilled and disciplined warrior, but also and educated and literary man able to keep up with the political administration of his lands.
Of course unlike the European concept of the Renaissance man, the education of the samurai was entirely geared towards military arts and the study of previous battles; frivolous pursuits were seen as decadent and outside the purview of the honorable warrior, which constituted a rejection of the previous indulgences of Japan’s earlier aristocratic courts.
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