I read "The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan" by Yukio Mishima recently. Fascinating book - it's an analysis and review of Hagakure, a 17th century book of samurai ethics.
Lots of interesting ideas. Many I disagree with. But none more fascinating than this one - Mishima writes about externally-focused morality.
In Hagakure it says, "A samurai must never seem to flag or lose heart."
This remark suggests that it is a defect to seem to flag, to seem disheartened. The most important thing is that a samurai not manifest externally his disappointment or fatigue.
It is natural for any human being to become dispirited and worn out, and samurai are no exception. However, morality asks one to do the impossible. And the samurai ethic is a political science of the heart, designed to control such discouragement and fatigue in order to avoid showing them to others. It was thought more important to look healthy than to be healthy, and more important to seem bold and daring than to be so.
I don't entirely agree with this, but it's fascinating. On the upside, this can become a very action and results oriented philosophy of morality. For instance, the book also talks about grooming. In this case, appearing to be well-groomed is being well groomed. Appearing diplomatic is being diplomatic. Appearing to boldly engage than the enemy in combat, more or less, is boldly engaging the enemy in combat.
The downside still lingers today - it's why you'll see half-running in Japan around an office, where people make the motions of going fast, but without results. That's the external focus without understanding the internal spirit you're supposed to have.
Still, I like the idea overall. Cultivate the action and appearances of a successful, determined, ambitious, loyal, serving person. The best way to do this? Become successful, determined, ambitious, loyal, and serve. Understand the spirit of why these are valuable things, then cultivate them in the world around you.
I guess you can say that Confucianism, with it's emphasis on education, somehow led to today's unquestioning authority of the institution as an unintended side effect.
As easy example would be children who are forced into paths that conform to an ideal model of a virtuous family.
In a way, goals of the institution become more important that goals of the individual. And I think that a lot of children raised in that culture simply accept things as they are, in their attempt of externally focused morality.
Add to that the very strong emphasis on the family unit, and you have people who are disappointed by the failure to achieve ideals, angry at being forced into paths not of their choosing, conflicted by the mixed messages of tradition and today's modern demands, but held together by the glue of traditional family values.
This isn't unique to Asian culture, but I think it is much more pronounced, and due to its nature, much more subtle and rarely, if every discussed.
Sorry for speaking generally, since I don't want to point fingers.
As an Asian, raised in an environment (but thankfully not a family) with similar but less extreme values, I can definitely relate to that.
I agree with your last paragraph thoroughly, but I do think that it comes with some caveats. First and foremost, I think it demands a philosophy in life, or at least, the willingness to seek it through questioning.
That's something we can hopefully take for granted from the readers of this blog, but institutionalising it (through Confucianism) and preaching that to the masses has led to, in my mind, a culture willingly captive to its past.
I've personally seen that culture destroy the family relationships of my relatives, and well, that's something to be aware of, and in my opinion, to avoid.
I read this book by Yukio Mishima a bit back, it's an analysis of the main themes of "Hagakure," a 1700's book of samurai philosophy.
Lots of thought provoking stuff in there. Not everything I agree with, but here's a few that I found interesting -
Page 22, Love is higher when undeclared:
The art romantic love as practiced in America involves declaring oneself, pressing one's suit, and making the catch. The energy genereated by love is never allowed to build up within but is constantly radiated outward. But paradoxically, the voltage of love is dissipated the instant it is transmitted. Contemporary youth are richly blessed with opportunities for romantic and sexual adventure that former generations never would have dreamed of. But at the same time, what lurks in the hearts of modern youth is the demise of what we know as romantic love.
Page 23, I don't agree this at all but it's a fascinating insight into prewar Japan:
Happy new year!
I am hoping you would share your resources for your reading on Japanese history. Book titles and/or urls would be very helpful.
I got that a week ago, and I kind of sat there staring at the email. Japanese history is some of the most confusing to start to learn, because different elements of Japanese history and culture all play on and influence each other. I could run you through the military history of Japan from The Battle of Okehazama to Sekigahara to the Boshin War, from there into Dai Nippon Tekoku Era, from there into defeat and the Occupation under McArthur, and then we could do a little post-war history.