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23 May 2006

What is "The Crysanthemum and the sword?"

A Classic Analysis of the Japanese People - The Crysanthemum and the Sword  

 The Crysanthemum and the Sword is a comparative analysis written by cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict during the Second World War.
  Professor Ruth Benedict, a reknowed cultural anthropologist in the United States at the time, wrote this book as a study for the eventual American occupation government of Japan.  The rationale behind the book title The Crysanthemum and the Sword is a contrast between “crysanthemum,” referring to the culture represented by ikebana that holds flowers into an arrangement position by pins, and “sword” envisioning the aggressive/war-waging popular characteristic evidenced during the Second World War.  That the ordinarily calm Japanese people could become so aggression-oriented must have been incomprehensible to Westerners.
  Not everything written in the book can be easily accepted.  That the author was not able to conduct actual field research is a major factor, but now over 60 years has passed since its writing, and it reflects an analysis of an old Japan that has since changed.  However, there are some points that are valid in this era, and are still representative of Japanese society.

The Shame Culture
 The Japanese people are group oriented.  Rather than simply assessing the right/wrong of a situation, this orientation derives the influence for its actions and morality based on concerns on how outsiders perceive them.  The author analyzes and postulates that this is what controls the Japanese moral character.
 Internal spontaneous feelings such as religious faith or philosophy do not carry much leverage.  In other words, beliefs or a sense of righteousness/justice are not shaped by the individual.  During the war, the Japanese soldier with his “animal-like” loud war cry turned an abrupt reversal when he was captured and made into a prisoner of war.  According to the book’s analysis, the foundation and basis for this and other instances of a dual character can found in this cultural background.  
 This characteristic of dependence on the group has also been confirmed through genetic evidence.  It has been found that the serotonin receptor functions in the brain necessary for self assertion or expression are weaker in the Japanese.  The problem is that with this characteristic, there also comes a predisposition to usually restrain self expression and thus bear this emotional emptiness or burden; this holds the danger of potentially extreme reactions/outbursts to even innocuous things.
 Professor Benedict postulates that this “shame culture” is one of the reasons for Japan’s reckless entry into war after its isolation from the world, and that it is a major issue that postwar Japan needs to overcome.

21:25 Posted in Books, Culture | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: Japanese

05 January 2006

"Memoirs of a Geisha" from Japanese perspective

I went to see the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha." Here in Japan the title was changed to "SAYURI."

The movie was kind of strange but also very interesting.

The characters in the movie speak in English. The hairstyle of the Geishas were appearently different from real Geishas walking on the streets in Kyoto.

The story was good in first half but the latter half was kind of difficult to understand. I actually did not like the story.

Some of Japanese argue Japan portrayed in that film was too strange to see. But how many of Japanese know the old time Japan, especially the life of Geisha? How many of us know how to wear traditional kimono?

So in that sense Hollywood made the best of their efforts.

One thing I find they are better than Japanese films is the scenes of the evening party. Usually those scenes are very bright like today's party room with fluor lamps on the ceiling. That never happened in 1930's. But in the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha," the room was not very bright and the Geisha's face was lit by orange paper lantern. That should be real scenes of those days, I think.

The thing I was kind of disturbed by was the main character was played by Chinese actress, Zhi Zhang. She is a great actress, but the point is the character she played might aggravate Chinese people. The story took place in 1930's Japan. It was a time Japan was invading China. The Geisha fell in love with Japanese rich man who once fought in Manchuria. Then after the war she helped him with reconstructing his business sleeping with American military man.

Today is the time the relationship between China and Japan has become worst in post-war time. It is due to our stupid prime minister and his uneducated conservative supporters.   

As one of Japanese citizen who is very aware of how apologetic Japan should be to China, I could not enjoy this movie although the Chinese actress did played that role as Hollywood actress.

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