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- Part Two
- Works Cited
- Further Reading
Culture shock is an experience that is not limited exclusively to travelers. It can also occur when a particular ethnic group experiences a sudden influx of ideas or people from outside its boundaries, bringing about radical social change. This was the situation in Meiji Japan in the decades following the fall of the Shogunate, and it was the sense of culture shock generated when western thought and material culture flooded into Japan that produced a re-evaluation of the figure of the samurai and the development of the cult of Bushidō. The term ‘Bushidō’ () started to appear regularly in public debate after the opening of Japan to western influence, when statesman-writers such as Fukuzawa Yukichi ( , 1835–1901) and Ozaki Yukio ( , 1858–1954) began to reappraise the westernization that challenged many of their moral and social certainties (Benesch 78). In feudal Japan, the samurai caste, or bushi (), had been a kind of squirearchy, beneath the aristocracy, but above the commoners (heimin, ). In the middle ages, they were military retainers for feudal barons and also sometimes mercenaries, but during the relatively peaceful Edo Era (1603–1868), they evolved ‘professional’ roles: for example, as administrators, teachers, and Chinese-medicine practitioners. They numbered around ten per cent of the population (Shirane 4) and received a stipend in rice, extracted as tax from local farmers. After orchestrating the fall of the Shogun and the collapse of feudalism in the 1860s, former samurai and barons began to engineer a new, international, industrialized Japan, appointing themselves leaders in politics, industry, and the military. Although the feudal system was officially abolished in 1871, overt caste discrimination endured up to, and sometimes beyond, World War II.1
Inazō Nitobe, the first writer to devote an entire book in English to Bushidō, described it as ‘a code unuttered and unwritten […] a law written on the fleshly tablets of the [samurai] heart’ (Bushidō 5). The samurai were the ‘flower of the nation’ (159), who ‘acted as leaven among the masses’; they were a ‘moral standard’ (163) to the Japanese people, and Bushidō was their ethical code. In reality, the ‘traditional’ moral precepts it supposedly denoted were, as Tessa Morris-Suzuki puts it, ‘an un-systematized assortment of principles and values idealized in a wide range of stories, aphorisms, didactic texts and family codes of behaviour’ (70). Nonetheless, ‘Bushidō’ soon became a convenient buzzword that could be pegged onto any ideology that suited Japan's new oligarchy, and the vogue for discussing ‘samurai’ morality grew into what Oleg Benesch has called a ‘Bushidō boom’ (4). Much of the Meiji elite belonged to former shizoku (, samurai class) families, and in order to justify maintaining their hold on authority, they promoted Bushidō as being an ancient, time-tested samurai code, developed by a loyal, disinterested, public-spirited caste who, like Coleridge's Clerisy, had proved their superior abilities through centuries of good breeding. Each writer constructed Bushidō according to his own perceptions of what society needed to become prosperous and stable, and they covered the whole gamut of political persuasions: militarist, pacifist, radical, and nationalist.2
Koshi Suzuki characterizes Bushidō as a Hobsbawnian invented tradition, designed to create a unified sense of national identity that did not exist before the Meiji Restoration, when local regions had had significant autonomy (47). The Japanese elite, desperate for the developed world to view them as ‘modern’ rulers, and facing demands for democratization, wanted to intensify central government control, to minimize dissent, and to marginalize supposedly ‘backward’ local traditions (Morris-Suzuki 67). An exclusively political interpretation of this process would say that by reconstructing Bushidō and representing it as the definitive national moral code, Meiji administrators could justify marginalizing local customs (some highly egalitarian) and intensifying paternalistic control over provincial communities. As Klaus Antoni has observed, many inhabitants of provincial Japan viewed themselves in terms of belonging to baronial domains; indeed, after the Restoration, ‘messengers had to be sent throughout the land to report to the people that there was indeed an emperor for all of Japan’. Against this background, Meiji oligarchs ‘discovered two particular institutions to be especially useful for their objectives: the military, and basic schooling’ (158–9). As part of the program of constructing a unified national identity, educators retold traditional stories such as ‘Momotarō’ () and the legend of the warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune ( ), which were rewritten and transmitted to the population through school textbooks (173). British military observers looked on at this process and marveled at the skill with which the ‘mass education system’ in Japanese elementary schools ‘taught loyalty, self-sacrifice, discipline, courage, and self-respect’ (Ion 90): a process that made students exceptionally biddable when they eventually joined the army. International interest in these educational techniques was bolstered by proclamations from members of the eigo meijin sedai. Kakuzō Okakura, for example, declared that ‘compulsory elementary education’ in Japan had made a ‘great new energy that thrilled the nation, making the humblest conscript in the army glory in death, like a Samurai’ (The Ideals of the East, 216).
Many promoters of Bushidō were also internationalists, and saw it as an answer not just to Japan's problems but also to the world's problems: a new, non-theistic moral code for the modern age. Not to be outdone by western Christian missionaries in Japan, some intellectuals styled themselves, as Kenchō Suematsu put it, as ‘Japanese Mentor[s]’ or ‘Missionar[ies] of things Japanese’, spreading humanitarianism through gentlemanly military conduct in Asia (The Risen Sun, 88).3 Western Japanophiles responded by recruiting the Japanese as honorary Europeans. Clive Holland said the Japanese displayed a ‘love of and capacity for progress’ and a ‘spirit of refinement which perished with the Grecian Empire in the West’, alongside ‘traits of a distinctly Aryan character’, and he hoped they would become ‘pioneers for a new civilisation of the other and less progressive nations of Asia’ (14). Part of the appeal of Bushidō to writers such as Alfred Stead was that it was a secular social philosophy rooted in (supposedly) doctrine-free Zen Buddhism and Confucianism4 and that it might be imported into an increasingly secularized Britain as an ethical code that would bolster patriotism, promote military exploits in the empire, and combat religious factionalism (Stead, Great Japan, Chapter 3 passim).
The samurai craze, which burgeoned in Britain and America around the time of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, is now largely forgotten. In the early 1900s, though, when Japan's therapeutic hot springs and spiritually uplifting temples were popular among intellectual globetrotters,5 the samurai made regular appearances on the cultural stage. Most scholars will be familiar with the ruling ‘samurai’ elite in H.G. Wells's Modern Utopia (1905). However, the traditional samurai and his more modern counterpart, the Japanese soldier, also appeared in the first edition of Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys (first published 1908), in the works of Lafcadio Hearn, in texts by Clive Holland, in works by members of the National Efficiency movement, such as Dai Nippon: The Britain of the East (1904) by Henry Dyer, and Great Japan: A Study in National Efficiency (1906) by Alfred Stead (son of W.T. Stead), in the work of the war correspondent Charles à Court Repington, and in fictional works such as Rosa Campbell Praed's Madame Izàn. Many samurai enthusiasts were inspired by Inazo Nitobe's text Bushidō (first published 1899), but the Bushidō idea also featured prominently in English-language publications by Japanese intellectuals such as politician Kenchō Suematsu, Yoshio Markino, and the prominent Christian convert Kanzō Uchimura (author of Diary of a Japanese Convert, 1895). Although Bushidō was all the rage in Japan, most westerners knew of it through Nitobe's work on the subject, which was initially published in English and only later in Japanese. Nitobe seems not to have been part of the internal Japanese debate on Bushidō, because he claimed that he coined the term himself (Ota 243). This means that western ideas of Bushidō, seen via Nitobe, are somewhat detached from mainstream Japanese discourse.
Bushidō – particularly Nitobe's version – attracted criticism for its inauthenticity from the start. In The Invention of a New Religion (1912), the Japanese language and literature scholar Basil Hall Chamberlain denounced Bushidō as a fraud. He accused its proponents of fabricating a mythology of Japanese origins and imperial divinity in order to create a ‘new religion’ through which to brainwash the masses into unquestioning obedience. Nowadays, this view persists in some circles. Yuzo Ota, for example, has explained how Nitobe's grasp of Japanese history and literature was tenuous, and how his self-appointed status as an authority on Japan and his role as a cultural bridge between east and west were founded merely on his being Japanese, rather than on scholarly expertise. However, I would be cautious of Ota's conclusion that as an author Nitobe simply ‘cannot be trusted’ (250). Instead, I would read Nitobe's construction of national identity as a deliberately artificial, manufactured phenomenon: part of a conscious process of attempting to create a national narrative for a global age.
One reason why the concept of Bushidō was so popular among both Japanese and Anglophone writers was that it was, despite being (supposedly) a characteristically ‘Japanese’ idea, a cultural narrative that was highly ‘translatable’ in terms that Anglophone readers could understand. Although Nitobe claimed that the word Bushidō was ‘so expressive of race characteristics that the best of translators can do them but scant justice’, he had little trouble borrowing the language of chivalry to explain principles such as loyalty, honor, and self-sacrifice. He commented:
It is indeed striking how closely the code of knightly honor of one country coincides with that of others; in other words, how the much abused oriental ideas of morals find their counterparts in the noblest maxims of European literature (43).
Of course, samurai culture was not the same as European chivalry, any more than the 19th-century Arthurian revival had much to do with medieval feudalism. Rather, for internationalists, Bushidō became a convenient signifying tool that functioned as a kind of common cultural currency: a means of establishing amicable relations between two cultures and of building a sense of shared values.
Nitobe framed Bushidō as part of a universal standard of gentlemanly behavior common to all ‘civilized’ nations, peppering descriptions of Japanese ‘tradition’ with references to Carlyle, Burke, and Ruskin (Morris-Suzuki 67). In order to represent Bushidō as part of a universal system of moral values, he emphasized similarities between Japanese and Anglophone cultures, aiming at a ‘fuller recognition of spiritual affinity, of psychological unity – a realization that “mankind is one in spirit” ’ (The Japanese Nation, 3). The figure of the knight, who, according to Nitobe, dominated European and Japanese literature, was symbolic not only of the spirit of particular ethnic groups but also of values that were common to all civilized nations. Just as the knight and his modern analog, the gentleman, dominated English drama and literature ‘from Sir Philip Sidney to Sir Walter Scott’, Japanese literature, from theatre to the novel, had ‘taken for [its] chief theme the stories of the samurai […] the beau ideal of the whole race’ (161).
Nitobe's own personal history demonstrates why he needed to create this narrative of stable, internationally ordained values. Born when Japan was going through tremendous turmoil, he suffered even more upheaval than most. Nitobe's samurai father died in 1867 when he was five (Howes 29), just before the Haitōrei ()- edicts proscribing signifiers of samurai identity such as sword-carrying and topknot-wearing (1871)- came into force, and he was subsequently adopted by an uncle and compelled to change his name. He then went to Sapporo Agricultural College, where he studied in English and neglected the Chinese Classics curriculum typically followed by boys of his class (Howes 29). Later, he traveled to America to study, became a Quaker, and met his future wife, Mary Elkinton, whom he married despite objections from her parents and their local Quaker Meeting (New York Times, Jan 2, 1891). Thus, Nitobe faced assaults on his identity from a range of sources; he was, in effect, a citizen of nowhere. Bushidō can be read as an attempt to rebuild that identity.
In Bushidō, initially conceived in order to show his wife ‘why such and such ideas and customs prevail in Japan’ (x), Nitobe employs a writing technique that might best be described as ‘narrative grafting’: amalgamating narratives of Japanese identity with narratives by British and American writers to create a new, ‘multicultural’, narrative entity. Nitobe himself uses the word ‘graft’ in Bushidō to refer to the process of joining the ‘scion’ of Christianity to the ‘stock’ of Bushidō (160), to their mutual benefit. He envisages that grafting the ‘samurai’ virtues of ‘politeness […] physical endurance, fortitude and bravery’ onto Christian metaphysics and the philosophy of ‘love’ would purge the ‘Anglo-Saxon freaks and fancies’ that obscured the ‘grace and purity’ of Christ in western culture (180). Such a grafting would protect both eastern and western nations from the threats posed by ‘intellectual parvenu[es]’ such as ‘Bentham and Mill’ (182), and from ‘Industrialism’ and ‘Filibusterism’ (187). He also echoes Victorian debates on culture and civility when he argues that Bushidō would fend off the ‘Hebraism and Hellenism’ (191) of the ‘sophisters, economists, and calculators’ who had flourished after the Meiji Restoration (187). Nitobe was not the only writer to embrace the process of ‘grafting’. As John F. Howes observes, Kanzo Uchimura also embraced the idea of ‘graft[ing]’ Christianity to the ‘stock of the Japanese ethical tradition’ (305).
Another, more startling, instance of grafting appears a few pages into Bushidō. Nitobe describes how the samurai had originally been ‘a rude race, all masculine, with brutish strength’, who, when tamed and civilized, became the guardians of Japanese culture and moral values. Then, oddly, he breaks off to refer to a staple of Victorian children's literature:
Fair play in fight! What fertile germs of morality lie in this primitive sense of savagery and childhood. Is it not the root of all military and civic virtues? We smile […] at the boyish desire of the small Britisher, Tom Brown, “to leave behind him the name of a fellow who never bullied a little boy or turned his back on a big one.” And yet, who does not know that this desire is the corner-stone on which moral structures of mighty dimensions can be reared? […] This desire of Tom's is the basis on which the greatness of England is largely built, and it will not take us long to discover that Bushido does not stand on a lesser pedestal. (8–9)
This remark is more than a passing analogy: it shows how Nitobe was re-constructing his own identity and his country's identity, in cross-cultural terms. Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), as I have explained elsewhere,6 is a version of the ‘Young England’ Bildungsroman: one of many European narratives of national and individual growth that trace the development of society through the education and the political development of an individual character (other examples being Disraeli's Conningsby  and Thackeray's Henry Esmond ). Tom the squire's son, like Nitobe the samurai's son, is born into a social class whose power and influence are threatened by growing democratic feeling, by globalization, and by a burgeoning urban middle class. Both are searching for a role in the new social order, and both are alienated from their roots: Nitobe the internationalist, like Tom the radical, looks beyond the confined perspective of his father, away from his local area, for his vocation. Hughes's public school voice echoes throughout Nitobe's text. The samurai shares the mens sana in corpore sano philosophy by cultivating a healthy mind in a healthy body and disparages the ‘literary savant’ as a ‘book-smelling sot’ (17); nonetheless, he also endeavors to ‘cultivate [the] gentler emotions’ by writing poetry (47–8). Echoing Hughes's discourse on courage in The Manliness of Christ (1880), Nitobe also asserts that to the samurai, physical courage is worthless, unless ‘exercised in the cause of Righteousness’ (28). The samurai child, like Tom Brown, receives a rough-and-ready ‘Spartan’ upbringing, rising at dawn, reading before breakfast, and walking to lessons ‘with bare feet in the cold of winter’ (32). And like Tom Brown's sentimental fistfights, the samurai's battles are tempered by ‘Tenderness, Pity, and Love’ (46).
Nitobe also shares Hughes's preoccupation with fathers. Japanese governance, he asserts, is fundamentally paternalistic, in contrast to ‘the less interested avuncular government’ of ‘Uncle Sam’ (39). He discourses at length about the filial obligations (‘giri’) owed to the father and also discusses the idea of the teacher as a substitute father figure in a way that owes much to Thomas Hughes's depictions of Thomas Arnold, whom Nitobe admired (Morris-Suzuki 72). Teaching was, he explains, a samurai vocation. Motivated not by personal gain but by a desire to foster his students' ‘soul development’, the ideal teacher was ‘a father to the fatherless’, and the good samurai student regarded his teacher and his ‘lord’ together as ‘the sun and the moon’ (101). Thus, by grafting his own personal narrative and the narrative of ‘Young Japan’7 to the ‘Young England’ genre, Nitobe embeds himself as a Tom Brown-type character: a member of the clerisy engaged in civilizing and humanizing society.
Other Japanese travelers similarly grafted the Bushidō theme with western narratives. In his autobiographical works When I was a Child (first published 1912) and A Japanese Artist in London (1910), for example, the artist Yoshio Markino, who spent most of his adult life in London, put great emphasis on the way in which his ‘samurai’ upbringing had fostered his development as an artist, even though the artistic pose he adopted owed more to English Romanticism than to Bushidō. Douglas Sladen, in his preface to A Japanese Artist in London, remarks on how Markino's samurai background helped sustain his a Chattertonesque lifestyle as a young artist starving in a his London garret (ix). Like Nitobe, Markino did not adopt English or western culture completely, but embraced elements that he recognized from his own culture. Thus, while much of the Bible was alien to him, he admired Ruth (another expatriate) as ‘a real bushido’ (92). The samurai, or rather the figure of the samurai he had constructed in his imagination, was a touchstone, giving him a sense of stability and the motivation to survive in the west. As he remarked while working as a servant, ‘I came out into this world as a Samurai. Although I am no more than a slave now, I shall be back to a Samurai, wherever I go’ (232).
Melba Cuddy-Keane classes Markino's autobiographies as examples of ‘syncretic globalization’; a means of bringing two cultures together through ‘a process of accrual, expansion, or extension – but not merger’ (547). Markino, writing in English, did not have his work corrected by native English speakers, preferring instead to use idioms and grammatical usages translated directly from Japanese and the Chinese Classics alongside conventional English. As Cuddy-Keane explains, he was ‘inventing a “new style” – an attempt “to express [his] emotion in the way of ancient Chinese Rhetoric,” while simultaneously striking a corresponding “sympathetic emotion” in the English reader’ (548). Liu and László describe a similar strategy when they talk about the ways in which individuals who migrate between cultures ‘draw on representational resources from different groups producing a “laminated self” that draws together in personal layers canonical elements from diverse cultural traditions’ (102). Such constructions of self also help to establish empathy between groups, by ‘establish[ing] linkages at the individual-level between the content of manifestly different identities and representations’ (18).
Fictional narratives about Japanese life by non-Japanese writers also used the samurai as a way of ‘laminating’ cultures. Possibly, the first attempt by a native English speaker to treat the samurai in novel form was Honda the Samurai (1890), by Nitobe's friend William Elliot Griffis. Griffis's relationship with Japan began when he taught English to a visiting scholar in America. He subsequently traveled to Japan in 1871 to help the local feudal authorities establish a new ‘internationalized’ education system in the Fukui Domain, and also worked in Tokyo between 1872 and 1874 (Beauchamp, 427). Honda is set in the 1850s and 60s. Its protagonist is a xenophobic young samurai who travels to Edo (Tokyo) in the last days of the Shogunate in order to help promote the restoration of the Emperor and to repel foreign incomers. Honda, ‘who had the reputation […] of being an austere youth, fond alike of severe study and of athletic exercises’ (167), seems to be a composite of historical samurai figures who promoted the opening of Japan, in particular, Yoshida Shōin ( , 1830–1859). He is imprisoned after plotting to kill Admiral Matthew Perry and spends his confinement studying ‘Dutch, Chinese, and Japanese books’ and becoming less xenophobic (285). On his release, Honda becomes a schoolteacher, and in 1863, he moves to Yokohama to be near the growing foreign community. Here, he meets a missionary doctor who is also an abolitionist, and he becomes a Christian after seeing the doctor's work with the poor in a charity hospital, finding in the doctor a confidant with whom to discuss his ‘mental difficulties’ (379). Griffis also introduces a subplot, featuring Honda's cousins, the Rai children, who hear Japanese myths from Honda and their father that teach them values such as loyalty and filial duty. The children also learn about moral principles through fairy stories such as Momotarō and ‘The Wonderful Tea-kettle’, and about history through legends such as the stories of the Genji () and Heike () clans. Griffis promotes the use of folklore to instill national identity, because, as Mr Rai explains, ‘fairy tales [are] much less harmful than fiction which is received for truth, or than truth which is wrongly understood’ (49). Griffis also argues that adults, as well as children, can learn about national identity from engaging in the storytelling process. He remarks that ‘for a foreigner to know Japan, it is better to get inside of the country and tell the story of what he sees, than to look from without with alien eye’ (5). As with Hearn, Griffis's method of cultural adaptation is ‘performative’: it involves entering a society, seeing it from within, and imagining oneself in the minds of its inhabitants. Indeed, Griffis makes no claim to being a detached, objective, ‘scientific’ observer of Japan; rather, he subscribes to an almost postmodern idea of human understanding. Telling stories about a culture is, he implies, more ‘honest’ than pretending to have access to literal objective ‘truth’. However, Griffis also cautions us to be critical of the narratives we imbibe. In his xenophobic youth, Honda makes the mistake of getting too involved in folklore and strives to ‘imitate’ Nitta Yoshisada ( , 1301–1338), who was a supporter of the Emperor Go-Daigo ( ), and who reputedly cut off his own head in battle when he became trapped under a dead horse (162). It is essential, implies Griffis, that we maintain a certain critical distance from the folklore we use, because, if taken too literally, it can lead to extremism.
The plot structure that Honda employed later became commonplace in fictional narratives that had Japanese heroes. The typical samurai narrative is one in which an individual (usually male) from a venerable family leaves his home either for the metropolis or for a foreign country. His encounters with foreigners are a source of mutual enlightenment, and the plot's main motive is to demonstrate the civilizing influence of multiculturalism and the exchange of values. The samurai plot has all the hallmarks of the European Bildungsroman tradition, in which a young protagonist leaves the certainties of an established family to find a new political, social, or artistic role in a changing society, except that it occurs on an international, rather than a national, stage. The narrative of individual internationalization is, of course, an analog8 of Japan's emergence onto the international scene, as well as being a pattern that many young Japanese men were replicating in reality.
There were numerous variations on the samurai theme. For example, Kirk Munroe's For the Mikado: Or, A Japanese Middy in Action (1905), where a Japanese student enrolls at a US naval academy, grafts the samurai narrative onto the school/boys' adventure story. A later novel of Griffis's, In the Mikado's Service: A Story of Two Battle Summers in China (1901), is a ‘romance of friendship’-style text that charts the experiences of two youths, one Japanese, and one American, who have been childhood companions while growing up in Japan. They go to America for their further education and then become involved in the Sino-Japanese war.9 Edward Stratemeyer's With Togo for Japan (1906) is a shipboard narrative in which two American boys fight with the Japanese against Russia on board the battleship Mikasa. Other samurai narratives involve a western protagonist who travels to Japan and acquires samurai values. For example, in Mary Crawford Fraser's A Maid of Japan (1905), a rich young man, Charles Barrington, travels to Japan and hires a samurai called Nakayama to teach him Japanese. Barrington discovers that his deceased uncle traveled to Japan long ago and contracted a temporary marriage with a working-class Japanese woman, only to abandon the wife with a baby daughter, O-Hime-san. Nakayama helps Barrington to right this wrong by marrying Hime. While teaching Barrington manners and patience, Nakayama himself learns to overcome his caste prejudices, and eventually marries a childhood friend from the merchant class. In expiating his uncle's sin, Barrington also expiates the colonial sin of failing to take other races seriously, and his own mixed-race marriage is a symbol of cultural reconciliation. A reverse samurai narrative is also used by Campbell Praed in Madame Izàn (1899). Praed's mysterious Irish heroine, Isabel, who has recently had her sight surgically restored after being blind from childhood, travels to Japan. Her mystified western traveling companions look on, bemused, while a particularly insistent guide named Kencho shows her round and teaches her that Japan is not a ‘nation of dolls’ (143), but a serious modern state. At the end of the novel, Kencho reveals his real identity; he is a samurai, named Izàn. Isabel's friends discover that he is actually her husband and that he married her when he was studying in England, when she was still blind. Because she has never seen his face, Izàn is able to show her around Japan incognito and to impress her by its progressive qualities without pressurizing her. After showing her the beauty of the new Japan, he gives her the choice of continuing with or dissolving the marriage, and she opts to stay with him, spurning another, wealthy, Australian suitor.
Lafcadio Hearn's version of the samurai narrative, his short story ‘A Conservative’ (published in Kokoro: Hints and Echoes of Japanese Inner Life), involves a samurai who follows a typical samurai plot trajectory by becoming a Christian and going abroad to seek enlightenment, but who, disgusted by the depravity of western modernity, comes home determined to reject multiculturalism. Hearn narrates the story from the anonymous samurai's point of view, taking the paradoxical position of an extreme expatriate ‘acceptor’ standing in the shoes of a returnee ‘rejector’. The story encapsulates Hearn's distaste for the west, and it seems to have been a rebuff to the internationalizing narratives of individuals such as Griffis and Nitobe. In creating this narrative, Hearn was taking part in an anti-western trend that was gaining popularity among the Japanese far right and which appropriated Bushidō as a vehicle for national supremacist ideology. The nativist and xenophobic tendencies that were embraced by Hearn and his ultra-rightist Japanese counterparts were part of a wider global discourse that Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit have termed ‘Occidentalism’. Occidentalism is a ‘dehumanizing’ narrative (5), which caricatures ‘the west’ as materialist, mechanistic, licentious, ‘shallow, rootless, and destructive of creative power’ (3), while exalting ‘the east’ as spiritual, organic, communitarian, and profound. It was an attack on western capitalism and consumerism, as well as on the unheroic, non-militarized urban bourgeoisie and the unionized proletariat.10 Attracting groups as diverse as the German Romanticists and Japanese nativists such as Kakuzō Okakura, whose work inspired 1930s ultra-nationalists, this tendency disparaged ‘western’ values such as liberalism, democracy and individualism. Ironically, though, as Judith Snodgrass has observed in her studies on the way Japanese Buddhism was interpreted for western observers, Occidentalism ultimately drew its framework from crude Orientalist assumptions: that the entire ‘west’ was united in specific cultural attitudes that were essential to its very nature and that the ‘east’ embodied the virtues the west lacked (273–5). However, rather than reading Occidentalism as just another ‘overarching metanarrative’ which individual writers fell into line behind, I would instead suggest that countless, unique Occidentalisms sprang up whenever individuals were faced with competing demands from two cultures, which, for a variety of reasons (for example, psychological, ideological, or religious), they could not, or did not want to, reconcile.11
The fact that the samurai narrative was rooted in myth and folklore thus made it vulnerable both to narrative slippage and to appropriation by extremists. Despite the multiculturalist intentions of Nitobe and the cautionary words of Griffis, increasingly fantastical representations of samurai powers began to be received as objective truth. Ju-jitsu, for example, was exalted in fiction almost to the status of a magic weapon. Kirk Munroe's Japanese middy takes on a whole football team when they are hazing him for objecting to being called ‘Jap’ (15), and in Douglas Sladen's Playing the Game: A Story of Japan (1905), a soldier single-handedly combats three Russian sailors, leaving them seriously injured. Some observers began to view the Japanese soldier as a superhuman prodigy who symbolized the mastery of mind over matter: proof that with good training and self-discipline, anyone could overcome even the strongest, best-equipped adversary. Unsurprisingly, it was mostly people who had never been to Japan, or individuals who had spent only a little time there and had retained the honeymoon euphoria of early culture shock, who endorsed this view.
Bushidō fantasists were attracted not only by the Japanese soldier's fighting power but also by the preternaturally Spartan lifestyle aesthetic they believed all Japanese to embrace. In the first edition of Scouting for Boys, Baden Powell praised the hygiene, self-denial, and emotional control of the Japanese, who
[A]re particularly strong and healthy, as was shown in the late war with Russia. There was very little sickness among them and their skin was clean and their blood was in a healthy, sound condition. […] They keep themselves clean by having two or three baths every day.
They eat very plain food, chiefly rice and fruit, and not much of it. They drink plenty of water, but no spirits. They take lots of exercise. They make themselves good-tempered and do not worry their brain. They live in fresh air as much as possible day and night (188–89).
Baden Powell was ignorant, apparently, of the fact that beriberi had been the leading cause of death in the Japanese military prior to the introduction of a higher-protein diet (Seaman Chapter 13 passim). Beriberi notwithstanding, certain Japanese writers cultivated the same image of impossible asceticism. Kenchō Suematsu, for example, boasted of the ‘enforced privation’ of his schooldays, where he ate nothing but ‘a little rice with a very little salt’, bathed in cold water and ‘sat up whole nights in winter with scarcely any fire’ (261).
Lafcadio Hearn dressed up the myth of the superhuman Japanese body in scientific (or pseudo-scientific) terms; ‘the Oriental’, he proclaimed, ‘has proved his ability to study and to master the results of our science upon a diet of rice’ while ‘the Occidental cannot even live except at a cost sufficient for the maintenance of twenty Oriental lives’ (Out of the East, 241). Hearn predicted that Occidentals would ‘be exterminated at last by races capable of underliving us, […] races more patient, more self-denying, more fertile, and much less expensive for Nature to support’ (242), and he compared ‘Western life’, with its ‘greed of pleasure and its capacity for pain’ with ‘the unselfish thrift’ of the Orient (Kokoro, 206). Other writers argued that Spartan discipline made the Japanese immune to all kinds of physical weakness. Clive Holland claimed that ‘long centuries of training’ had made them so ‘impervious or at least inured to the effects of cold’ that they, unlike pampered Britons, could happily live in draughty houses (67). In another act of cultural lamination, therefore, the samurai narrative was grafted onto discourses of national efficiency, in order to demonstrate what could be done when the state had control over the nation's bodies and minds. Beatrice Webb reflected the totalitarian, statist motivations among Bushidō enthusiasts when she praised the Japanese for ‘organization, collective regulation, scientific education, physical and mental training’, as well as ‘innovating collectivism […] the idealism, [and] the self-abnegation of all classes of the community in a common cause’ (Winter 186). However, a narrative that represented the Japanese as superhuman could also be manipulated by those who wished to denigrate them. What was fuel for statists and Occidentalists was also fuel for western xenophobes. As Colleen Lye has demonstrated, anti-immigrationists in the United States used the premise that Asian workers needed less food to sustain them than Caucasians as a reason to halt Japanese and Chinese immigration, on the grounds that they presented unfair competition (the so-called ‘Meat versus Rice’ debate) (Lye, Chapter 3 passim).
The degeneration of the figure of the samurai into a racial myth demonstrates how national narratives take on a life of their own, spinning out of control in ways unimaginable to those who initiate them, and being interpreted and reinterpreted ad infinitum. Japanese modernizers and western cultural relativists had constructed the narrative of the ascetic samurai, hoping to promote multiculturalism and to challenge popular narratives that depicted ‘Orientals’ as sybaritic libertines and giggling dolls; stereotypes that were preventing East Asian ideas from being absorbed into international intellectual and political discourse. They had hoped that Bushidō would become a moral system that would combat not only the ills of the fin de siècle and Edwardian decadence but also the evils of consumerism and materialism; as a character in Suematsu's A Fantasy of Far Japan declares, the simplicity of Japan would alert westerners to their own ‘vulgarity’ (124). This was not to be. Nitobe, a Quaker, was horrified when Bushidō was used to promote militarism. Unwittingly, he had created a work that would become part of the far-right curriculum in prewar Japanese schools, and he spent his later life struggling at the League of Nations against the very tendencies this curriculum promoted. What he had envisaged as a multicultural philosophy had become a death cult, which arguably encouraged not just the young Japanese men who crashed planes into battleships in the 1940s but also those western National Efficiency advocates who embarked on the First World War stubbornly insisting that self-discipline and pluck were the key to military success despite the advent of industrial warfare. Nitobe and Griffis were able to muse on the narrative nature of identity and international relations. However, statists and militarists in both Japan and the west, inimical to critical engagement with texts, were dead to the subtleties of the debate and were able to appropriate a text such as Nitobe's and to use it as an Ex Cathedra statement of fact.