Woke AF: Hagakure

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Disclaimer: Everything stated below is my opinion and is based on all of the information I have obtained and can remember at the time of writing. If you find any inaccuracies, or if you have any disagreements, please comment them. I want to learn. 

Alright, so in my last post, I noted how I had read Hagakure and what I made of it. I tried to stick within what I felt was the core message of the book. There are a lot of cultural things that I left out. For example, it was not uncommon for the older samurai to take a younger samurai under his wing for uh… completely wholesome purposes. There are some rather fascinating vignettes that I rather appreciated because they took me for a turn. And there were some lines that were just W O K E. But instead of polluting the prior post and getting derailed in what was already a fairly length post, I decided to split the post into one, fairly concise (I hope) that is focused on the core message and another post which has all of the silly stuff for which I make no reservations about length. If this post winds up having more than nine thousand words, so be it. You have been warned.

Women

The sheer disregard that is shown for women in this work is just priceless. Which is made all the more remarkable when you consider that traditionally, the state of the sexes in Japan has actually been a bit more, shall we say… progressive by modern terms.

It has been pointed out by more than one writer on Greece “that in the former and ruder period women had undoubtedly the higher place, and their type exhibited the highest perfection.” This is certainly the case in Japan. The women of the early centuries were, according to Japanese history, possessed of more intellectual and physical vigor, filling the offices of state, religion, and household honors, and approaching more nearly the ideal cherished in those countries in which the relation of the sexes is that of professed or real equality.

Griffis, William Elliot. History of Japan, 660 BC to 1872 AD (Kindle Locations 878-882). Lecturable. Kindle Edition.

I am currently reading the book cited above. I have no idea what ‘Locations’ is but I really have no good way to otherwise cite it so eh. Griffis writes this in regards to the second century. Honestly, for the feminists in the audience (does an egalitarian like me even have feminist readers?) you might even take some kind of a victory in one of the myths regarding Izanami and Izanagi.

The first manifestation of the male essence was Izanagi; of the female, Izanami. Standing together on the floating bridge of heaven, the male plunged his jeweled falchion, or spear, into the unstable waters beneath them, and withdrawing it, the trickling drops formed an island, upon which they descended. The creative pair, or divine man and woman, designing to make this island a pillar for a continent, separated  –  the male to the left, the female to the right  –  to make a journey round the island. At their meeting, the female spirit spoke first, “How joyful to meet a lovely man!” The male spirit, offended that the first use of the tongue had been by a woman, required the circuit to be repeated. On their second meeting, the man cried out, “How joyful to meet a lovely woman!” They were the first couple; and this was the beginning of the art of love, and of the human race.

Griffis, William Elliot. History of Japan, 660 BC to 1872 AD (Kindle Locations 414-421). Lecturable. Kindle Edition.

Make of that what you will. I personally think that it’s rather funny and cute story and I’ll leave it at that. Anyway, getting back on topic about women in Hagakure…

Moreover, the relationship between father and son can break down if the mother is foolish. If the mother pampers the boy, and sticks up for him when he is admonished by his father, the paternal relationship will deteriorate. Women have a shallow tendency to side with their children as they foresee that they will have only them to depend on in the future– Hagakure: Book 1 – 85

I actually can nicely cite stuff in Hagakure because it’s set up by book and… story number. Kind of like the Bible. So I’ll do that for Hagakure and quite frankly the rest of the post will be cited from Hagakure so whatever. So anyway, here we see Tsunetomo’s view of women. I don’t think of this as a condemnation, but rather just an observation. It may even be valid today. The mother needs to curry the favor of the children because when the father inevitably dies before her (women have longer lifespans than men throughout history I guess) someone will have to make sure that she’s fed.

Or maybe both she and her husband are both in their golden years and just need help. Then we see a difference in attitude. The father may feel entitled to care due to the fact that he cared for the children when they were young. Maybe he’d feel that it is their obligation to care for the father. Or maybe the father doesn’t care at all, and accepts his condition as a sign that it’s time to move on. Women, being the more attached sex, want to maintain their existence on this Earth just a few moments longer.

Once, a certain man said, “I know the shape of ‘reason’ (ri) and ‘women.’ ” When somebody asked what shape these things were, he replied: “Reason is a square, and will not budge at all. Women are round. Women do not discriminate between good or evil, wrong or right, and will roll into any position. – Hagakure: Book 10 – 2 

I lost my shit while I read this. Although it took a few moments for me to puzzle out what was being said. First, I think the joke is based on the kanji for reason (理) and women (女). Kanji in general contain many “sharp edges” so the closest thing to round that they have will probably be these angles like we see in ‘女’. At least, I haven’t come across many ’round’ kanji in my studies. Though it makes me wonder; hiragana is said to be based on some number of kanji and we see some very clearly rounded characters such as お、め、ね、and so on. The only reconciliation I might make is that hiragana was once called ‘woman’s hand’, so the curves may be deliberate changes to the kanji.

Anyway, the point here is that women will change their mind, lie, whatever it takes to position themselves into what they find most advantageous.

Disclaimer: It may be worth noting that kanji have changed throughout the years and I am merely using the ones that I know from today. If this is a joke based on the kanji used for reason and woman, it is entirely possible that the kanji I’ve used above are not the ones being referenced. 

Jin’uemon [Tsunetomo’s father] used to say “One should not bother bringing up daughters. They may stain the family name, and disgrace the parents [after they are married off]. The oldest daughter is special, but any others should be discarded.”Hagakure: Book 2-117

What a hot take, dang. This isn’t terribly surprising to me. Daughters were to be used as political pawns, and it seems that being a political pawn was part of the problem. “They main stain the family name and disgrace the parents after being married off”. Honestly, I’m not too sure why this is singled out so. Surely there were more opportunities for men to stain the family name and disgrace the parents, as they were the face of society. But there ya go, I put this in because woweee that take so hot I need a glass of milk.

Men

Whatever Tsunetomo said about women, it’s actually not that bad in my opinion. I’d never profess it as good character today,  but I can see his plan. He seems to see society as structured in a certain way and women are to behave this way while men are to behave this way. Which is why the insults he hurls at men are (in my view) worse than the things he said about women. Let’s revisit that first quote from above and actually borrow the full ‘story’.

There is a special way for rearing children in warrior families. From an early age, children must be taught to be brave, and not for a moment be threatened as a joke, or tricked in any way. Cowardly behavior learnt during boyhood will remain ingrained as a lifelong flaw. It is unwise for parents to make their children afraid of the sound of thunder, or of the dark, or to say things to frighten them. A boy is likely to become timid if scolded too severely when he is small. The parent must take care that the child does not develop any bad habits. A habit cannot be easily rectified once it has sunk in. Gradually make the boy aware of the proper way of communicating, etiquette and so on, and ensure he doesn’t develop greedy tendencies. A normal boy will mature into a decent man if you nurture him properly with these and other points in mind.

Furthermore, if parents are not on good terms with each other, it is natural for the child to grow up deficient in a sense of filial devotion. Even birds and wild animals are affected by what they see and hear in their formative years. Moreover, the relationship between father and son can break down if the mother is foolish. If the mother pampers the boy, and sticks up for him when he is admonished by his father, the paternal relationship will deteriorate. Women have a shallow tendency to side with their children as they foresee that they will have only them to depend on in the future. – Hagakure: Book 1-85

The first paragraph is about teaching your children to be strong men, and I’ll be later posting several quotes which emphasise this. I exceptionally like the advice to never teach your children to be afraid. If you spend your life telling your kid that the lightning is out to get them (even when it isn’t), don’t be surprised when they believe that the lightning is out to get them when they are an adult. Looking at you, United States universities. 

But let’s focus on the second paragraph because that’s the part we used above in the section regarding women. When observed as a lesson regarding women, it’s a lesson about the nature of women. When observed as a lesson regarding men, it’s a prescription for parenting. Mothers should not pamper their sons. I guess it was a foregone conclusion that fathers would ever pamper their sons. The son needs to become strong, like the father. If the mother pampers the son, he will grow up effeminate. The mother needs to (and I wonder the effectiveness of this advice today) stay out of the father-son moments so father can teach son how to be a man. If the mother undermines the father, you’ll create a fractured home and fractured relationships. The son will not respect his father, the mother may not respect the father and the father may not respect the mother. Everyone needs to operate as a unit, for the betterment of the family and of the son’s future.

I guess the short version is, mothers should trust that the father knows what he is doing when he is… applying a correction to the son’s behavior.

It is a crime to have no serious purpose, living idly and giving little consideration to what a warrior should be, even in your dreams. – Hagakure: Book 2-49

This is something that I’ve heard from Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. The sentiment is summed up above. You need to have a purpose at all times, even while sleeping. Your purpose needs to be so ingrained in you that when you do something that you think “How does this further my purpose”. However, in modern society, I do not believe such is always the norm. Or at least, it’s not always well-thought out.

There isn’t too much more regarding “Men” as a class. The book is geared towards samurai, so I figure my Reflections: Hagakure post probably covers the prescription for men.

 Feminization of Men

I do not entirely buy the fish that men are becoming feminine in today’s society. Rather, I see that western society may be becoming more agreeable and this is a trait that is broadly found in women more prevalently than in men. As such, an increase in agreeableness across society could be a symptom of men in society becoming more feminine.

[A doctor speaking] The pulse of a man is different to that of a woman. Still, in the past five decades or so, the variance between the pulses between the sexes has become indistinguishable. Since noticing this, I have modified my treatment of eye ailments in men to comply with how I treat women. Male patients show little response to traditional male treatments. I have come to the realization that manly essence is absent in many of them, and they have become very feminine as a sign of the worsening times. This is an observation gleaned from medical treatment that I keep secretly to myself.”

After hearing this, I [Tsunetomo] realized how true it was; so many men now seem to have the pulse of a woman. There are few who can be thought of as a real man. This means that one man can surpass others by making just a small effort.

That manly courage has faded is evident when few men show enough nerve to behead a criminal with his hands bound behind his back. In the case of performing kaishaku for a man who is to commit seppuku, it’s considered prudent or solicitous these days to decline the request. – Hagakure: Book 1-36

I told my adopted son, Gon’nojō, “Young men today are inclined to be effeminate. It is an age in which warriors who are approachable, sociable, non-confrontational, and gentle are glorified as being virtuous men. This proclivity means samurai are limited in their potential, and are unassertive. Above all, as men are absorbed with protecting their station and stipend, I think they are just wasting away. – Hagakure: Book 2-111

Regarding Edo period society, I know very little. I cannot really form an opinion on what Tsunetomo means as he says what I’ve posted above. My guess, based on what I’ve read here, is that he glorified the Sengoku Period. Which is ironic, considering what he said about glorifying the past:

[…] Thus, any longing for the “good old days” of a hundred years ago is futile. It is more judicious to adapt and improve the ways of the present. Men who hold a nostalgic view of the past are misguided in their outlook because they are blind to the reality of the present. Conversely, those who revel in the present, but loathe the customs and traditions of yesteryear, can’t differentiate between core principles and insignificant details. – Hagakure: Book 2-18

 

I think Tsunetomo, being unable to fill these warrior roles within the Sengoku period, idolizes them as being the epitome of manliness. And I believe the documentation he has made he kind of sets the bar as a way of trying to preserve the “manliness” of the Sengoku Period. He may have seen this move away from the Sengoku Period as the loss of manliness.

What Is This I Don’t Even

This section is for stuff that I really didn’t get. I literally can’t even so if anyone can even, please let me know. I’m just lost here

51. Master Genshin was asked, “I have heard that if you are attacked by someone in the [shogun’s] palace, it will work in your favor to keep calm and simply report the incident to the inspector (o-metsuke) without retaliating, even if you are at fault. I wonder if it’s worth enduring the shame, thinking that you may be better off for it later on.” The master responded: “This is where skill with words is indispensable. You can take the other fellow to the inspector, or you could go on your own and explain the situation. Say ‘Although the humiliation is difficult to bear, as the incident took place at my master’s palace, I prioritized his feelings, and chose to endure the shame [through not taking immediate action], and hope for your understanding as I explain the details of the affair.’ If nothing happens, you can kill the other man because you are already dead.” – Hagakure: Book 2-51

How are you already dead? What does that mean?

If you concur with everything brought up at a formal discussion or when chit-chatting, and just dally in the conversation, you will be unable to see higher reason. When somebody describes an object as black, think to yourself, “It can’t be black, but could be white. There must be a reason for it to be white.” Endeavoring to attach a reason to something will help you deduce a higher logic. You will be incapable of exceeding others without making efforts like this.

If it is something that can be said on the spot, do so in a way that won’t cause offense. If he cannot be told, keep conversing without causing ire, and craft a logical response in your mind. This is how to develop sounder logic than others. Points concerning a man who severed ties with another (relayed verbally). This approach is different to “conjecturing,” “forestalling,” or “holding reservations.” – Hagakure: Book 2-10

What is this “higher logic”? Why is it “higher” than regular logic?

Personal Favourites

This is the final section, which will just cover things that I particularly liked from Hagakure. Just gonna post them here rapid-fire.

If you focus only on the good points of a man, then everybody can be a good model to learn from.” – Hagakure: Book 1-64

You may seek to borrow items from others every now and again. But, it is akin to begging if you ask too often. If you can make do without asking people for favors, then it is better not to ask. Hagakure: Book 1-78

In the Kingdom of Tang (China), there was a man who adored pictures of dragons. He had dragon motifs on his clothes, utensils, and other things. His profound love of dragons was felt by the dragon god, who sent a real dragon to appear before the man’s window. The man was so surprised that he fainted. Some people like to talk big, but act in a way that doesn’t match their words. – Hagakure: Book 1-81

It is preposterous to feel crestfallen when dismissed from duty. It was customarily said at the time of Lord Katsushige: “You won’t make a true man of service unless you have experienced being a rōnin seven times. Fall down seven times, and get up eight (nanakorobi-yaoki).” – Hagakure: Book 1-126

If one is insensitive when sympathizing with a man who is plagued by misery by blurting lame comments like “How sorry I feel for you,” he will become even more despondent and unable to see reason. Instead, it is better to cheer him up by nonchalantly implying it is not serious at all. Say, “Actually, this is quite propitious old chap. It could have been much worse!” With such reassurance, the unfortunate man will see things differently. As we live in an ephemeral world, feelings of sorrow or joy need not be embraced for long. – Hagakure: Book 2-57

On that note, I thank you for sharing in this experience with me. I do hope to hear your thoughts and as always, thank you for reading.

Artemis Hunt

 

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Woke AF: Hagakure

Reflections: Hagakure

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I’m at the age now where it’s time for me to start being exceptionally boring and read books all day instead of play video games. The caveat of course is that manga technically count as books so I’m still a filthy degenerate. However, I did decide to read something within the realm of non-fiction and that turned out to be ‘Hagakure’. So now I’m sort of ‘reporting in’ on that . I don’t want to call this a book review because I don’t think that there are really any good ways to review non-fiction other than to summarize the points and say what you think. So I’m just calling it a ‘Reflection’ and we’ll leave it at that.

This is the copy that I purchased. Bear in mind as this text is some 300 years old and it has several translations. So I have left the reference as a definitive point that you can trace my reading to. I will be citing the book directly in many parts of this post. However, I’m not going to be able to reference page numbers. I bought the kindle edition because ebook master race. Sue me. Fortunately, the setup is such that it will be easy to direct readers to the source because it’s quite similar to the Bible in that it has ‘Book – Passage’ format.

Introduction

I was attracted to Hagakure I was looking for a point of reference in what samurai believed. I have loved samurai ever since I was young because swords are cool and (quite frankly) eastern arms just look more badass than western ones. I’m just attracted to swords and samurai armor even though I find them pragmatically weaker than their western counterparts. What I got was a list of, I guess we’d call them maxims or aphorisms as well as anecdotes on Bushidou. Sometimes even contradictory but I suppose that’s the nature of this sort of thing. “All things in moderation”, eh? So, let’s begin with what Bushidou is.

‘Bushidou’ as a codified construct begins its existence in the Tokugawa shogunate. It seems to have been constructed as a means of transitioning a warrior class into the general populace in an era that no longer needs warriors.

A number of military and Confucian scholars started formulating and refining protocols to guide warriors in their peacetime role, which became referred to as “shidou” or “bushidou” – (Hagakure, Introduction)

So if there was a code of Bushidou that existed before this period, it may not have been formalized. And quite frankly, it may have even been changed through this codification to be what the society needed rather than the principles that underlaid it before. The samurai depicted in Hagakure exist as moral guidelines to be imitated. They are meant to have undying loyalty to their lord to the point where all other things are immaterial. I’ll bring it up later but those to become samurai were advised to stay away from buddhism (how can a loyal retainer serve two masters?) and poetry (considered a distraction). And I believe this sort of hits at the core message. Yamamoto Tsunetomo sums up what it means to follow Bushidou quite nicely. “The way of the warrior is to be found in dying”. This seems to be meant both physically and spiritually. I drew many parallels to what I knew of Buddhism but ironically enough Tsunetomo shows much contempt for Buddhism. The Nabeshima clan he served seems to show that contempt, really. So I suspect it’s a clan history thing. I wonder if it has any roots in the Nobunaga shogunate…

The Four Oaths

Tsunetomo describes the Way of the Warrior as aspiring to follow the four oaths. These oaths are:

  1. I will never fall behind others in pursuing the Way of the Warrior.
  2. I will always be ready to serve my lord.
  3. I will honor my parents.
  4. I will serve compassionately for the benefit of others.

(Hagakure, Idle Talk in the Dead of Night)

Even if I had not read these oaths at the beginning of the book, I probably would have picked up at least the last three oaths through reading. The first one kind of slips in. It’s not that it’s not noticeable, it’s just that I never would have worded it that way or taken it to be an oath. But once you know it’s there, it’s hard to ignore. So let’s talk about the oaths.

The First Oath

The first oath is “I will never fall behind others in pursuing the Way of the Warrior”. If we interpret these oaths as being in order of importance, then this would be the most important oath to take. There’s an excellent passage in Hagakure and I do wish that I had taken note of but I feel like at that point I had pretty much gotten the core message and I wasn’t highlighting as much as I used to. I looked through the book twice and couldn’t find it so I’ll quote this one from memory. It’s a quote by Oshou Tannen, I’m like 80% sure. Oshou Tannen was the head priest at a Buddhist temple and he has a few good quips. Anyway, it goes something like this,

“One doesn’t become chief retainer by wanting to become Chief Retainer. But on the other hand, one doesn’t become Chief Retainer if they don’t.”

Chief Retainer is the coveted title of the one that is closest to their lord. Tsunetomo describes it as being the highest ideal for a samurai. I only realized how good this quote was after I began drafting so I’m really saddened by the fact that I could not find it again. Anyway, this is a good quote because it really wraps up all four of the oaths. First, you can’t become the Chief Retainer if you want to be Chief Retainer… for yourself. For the glory, for the stipend. Desiring the position of Chief Retainer for yourself is a betrayal of the four oaths.

A man believed he was owed a generous reward after serving his lord diligently for many years. His friends were quick to offer their congratulations when he received a much-appreciated letter from his lord, but he was to be disappointed. To everybody’s surprise, all he was award was  a small increase in stipend. They continued to rejoice as this was still a welcome reward, but he looked surprisingly dejected. Full of woe he lamented: “I feel so embarrassed, and I find it hard to face you all. I suppose I was of little consequence to my lord after all. I will retire from service and become a recluse.” His close friends consoled him, and persuaded him not to retire.

Yes his attitude clearly demonstrates that his heart was not really in service. His main motivation was self-aggrandizement. It goes without saying that when you receive a reward, or even in the case of demotion from samurai to foot soldier (ashigaru), or if you are ordered to commit seppuku for a crime you did not commit, a hereditary retainer unflinchingly accepts his fate. Saying he was too ashamed to show his face proves that he was an egoist only concerned with his own standing. All warriors should bear this in mind, although it will be beyond comprehension for conceited rogues. – Book 1 – 87

It kind of wraps up oaths two and four. “It is ruinous to follow two Ways. The warrior needs only to train in Bushidou – the Way of the samurai – and seek nothing else” (Book 1 – 139). The retainer in the story was following two masters – himself and his lord. In serving himself, he forgot the core of Bushidou. “The way of the warrior is to be found in dying”. If you are dead, then you have no need for personal wealth. You have no “self” to serve. He wasn’t serving compassionately for others, he was greedy. He wanted wealth for himself.

A samurai is not a true retainer without placing himself in absolute servitude at the feet of his lord, thinking of himself as already dead, like a ghost, always mindful of his lord’s wellbeing from the bottom of his heart, and thinking of sound solutions for the resolution of problems within the domain – Book 1 – 35

This brings us to the first oath – never fall behind others in your pursuit of the Way. If you truly wish to serve your lord, you’ll want that Chief Retainer position because through it you can best serve your lord. You’ve probably seen these people at work, right? They do their job not because they love their job, but because they want the money that comes with it. Work in retail? You know what retail voice is. And you know what else? Everyone else knows what retail voice is too. Customers aren’t fooled by your false sincerity. And this is why the Lord will never promote a selfish bastard to Chief Retainer. Your eyes must be earnest.

There are a series of other passages that may be interpreted this way. I didn’t highlight all of them but I will mention a few I guess.

A samurai should not, in the slightest degree, say or do something faintheartedly. Never forget this. The depth of one’s heart is discernible even through something seemingly inconsequential – Book 1 – 142

You will have no doubt noticed this in life as well. Maybe the cooking isn’t as good as it could be. Maybe the room is ‘clean enough’. This sort of thing is everywhere. This contentedness for something that isn’t done to the best of one’s ability. Hell, I’ve done this on many exams, particularly those in which I did not care for the subject at all *coughWorthlessHumanitiesCoursescough*

According to an old retainer: “A samurai should be excessively obstinate. Anything done in moderation will fall short of your goals. If you feel that you are doing more than is needed, it will be just right.” – Book 1 – 188

A few times, he will note that “Everything done before the age of 40 should be done with all your strength. Only after reaching age 40 should you begin to moderate yourself” (paraphrased).

If you don’t believe, rather audaciously, that you are the singularly most gallant warrior in Japan, it will be difficult to exhibit true valor. The extent of one’s courage is evident in one’s confident attitude. – Book 1 – 47

The Second Oath

The second oath is “I will always be ready to serve my lord.” This one is fairly self-explanatory but it extends beyond this idea of mere subordination. The Lord – Retainer relationship is one that goes both ways. There are several anecdotes in which a retainer expresses very firm discontent, things that may be considered disobedience, yet through disobedience, the lord will come around.

[…] By and large, an ambitious vassal seeks to admonish his lord because it will be thought of as an act of merit, or because he has been coerced by others. A loyal remonstration should be courteous and discrete so that it is received with good grace. If your lord refuses to listen, then do your best to obscure his failings. Take his side as his advocate, and ensure that no rumors arise to defile his name. Often it is the case that retainers become belligerent, and they turn their backs when their lord doesn’t heed their counsel. Making a commotion is the most perfidious kind of behavior for a retainer. – Book 2 – 114

And in the event that your lord ignores your advice (and you still live), you should try to cover up his mistakes.

The gaze of retainers today seems to be very low. Their eyes resemble those of crooks driven by covetousness and cunning. Even if a samurai seems to have spirit, this is merely a feigned exterior. A samurai is not a true retainer without placing himself in absolute servitude at the feet of his lord, thinking of himself as already dead, like a ghost, always mindful of his lord’s wellbeing from the bottom of his heart, and thinking of sound solutions for the resolution of problems within the domain. This is the same for samurai who occupy stations both high and low. He must be completely unflinching in his resolve, even if it falls contrary to the bidding of the gods or Buddha. – Book 1 – 35

I feel like this selection emphasizes what I’m trying to get at above. The retainer’s loyalty is to the good of the lord and the domain.

Aside: This is prime Edo period (During Tokugawa Iemitsu’s reign no less) which creates a structure not unlike that which I remember being taught as Feudalism. What little I currently know about Tokugawa Iemitsu is that he was somewhat paranoid of the Japan his Grandfather Tokugawa Ieyasu unified. He established some rules with the intent of weakening powers in the region (lords) so that they may never challenge him. When I read more about this, I will probably make more comments on it but this is one such policy.

The intent is that when you challenge your lord, you’re challenging your lord because he may be ignorant or naive. Your desire should be that your lord have a long and prosperous reign. You can see the remarks at the beginning where Tsunemoto doubts the loyalties of retainers during his time. This will again go back to the prior section, who do the retainers serve? Themselves? Or their Lords and the domain?

To summarize the essence of samuraihood, first and foremost the warrior must be devoted body and soul to his lord. In addition, he must internalize the virtues of wisdom (chi), compassion (jin), and courage (yū). Although it may seem impossible to embody these three virtues, it really is easy. To nurture wisdom simply requires listening to others. Immeasurable knowledge comes from this. Compassion is for the sake of others. It is opting to do good things for other people rather than through selfish motives. – Book 2 – 7

I selected this because of the last line I’ve copied here. “Compassion is for the sake of others”. This also appears in my kendo manual. You’re asked to contemplate what you wield your sword for, and the idea here is that you wield it for others. This compassion extends not only to your lord, or those in your domain, but even to those you kill on the battlefield. The very first practice you’re taught is Nukitsuke (a draw slash), Kirioroshi (a killing blow dealt to the head), Chiburi (cleaning the blade), and Noto (return the sword to its scabbard). This entire process seems to be very ceremonial and if I’m remembering correctly, part of Kirioroshi is done in compassion for the enemy you’ve wounded. After your draw slash has critically wounded the foe, it is inhumane to allow them to suffer. The killing blow is a stroke of mercy. And I don’t want that quote to come back to me out of context.

Anyway, this section is getting long but the next two are short, I promise.

The Third Oath

The third oath is “I will honor my parents.” Quite frankly, there aren’t that many passages that emphasize this that I made note of. Those that I did make note of were… less than pleasant by modern standards. “The oldest daughter is special, but any others should be discarded.” (Book 2 – 117). This was a different time friends.

In raising a boy, the first priority is to encourage valor. From his youngest days, the child should be taught to respect his father as his lord, as well as matters of protocol and etiquette, service, proper speech, self-control, and even how to walk down a road. Warriors of old did this. If he is lazy, he should be scolded and not fed for a day. This is all training to be a good retainer. – Book 11 – 162

I will probably use those notes in the next post. More details on that at the end of this post.

The Fourth Oath

The fourth (and final) oath is “I will serve compassionately for the benefit of others.” There are quite a few of these examples. This is referenced quite often when it comes working with your lord. The retainer was an extension of the lord. Presumably, the lord wanted to serve his people for the good of the country and to help maintain his position. This post is already plenty long so I’m going to try to limit this section to this one vignette.

When discussing paraphernalia needed for a wedding, one person made the observation: “A koto and shamisen are not included in this list, but we will need them.” Another person remarked curtly, “We don’t need them at all.” This individual made his comments fully aware of the company present, but contradicted himself the following day by stating that the two instruments were in fact essential for weddings after all, and that two of each, of the highest quality, should be acquired. Upon hearing this story, I thought: What a venerable fellow [for admitting he was wrong]. Master Jōchō said to me: “It is wrong to think like that. He acted that way simply to assert his authority. Such conduct is often encountered among outsiders of equivocal loyalty employed in our domain. First of all, it is rude to behave in such a way to a person of higher station; and it does not benefit his lord at all. To an adherent of the Way of the warrior, even if an item is reckoned to be completely unnecessary, correct deportment dictates that one first acknowledge the other person’s assessment, and mention that it can be discussed later on so as to not cause embarrassment. Furthermore, the items in question were actually necessary, so he requested that they be added to the list the next day. This was devious, discourteous behavior that consequently humiliated his colleague publicly, and was very careless.” – Book 1 – 20

So what’s going on here? Quite simply, two men had a disagreement in public. The next day, the instigator acknowledges that he was wrong. Now it’s very important that we acknowledge when we are wrong, so Tsunetomo’s aide Tashiro Tsuramoto (the person actually writing these  things down) says that the belligerent was quite venerable for admitting his mistake. Tsunemoto corrects this naive kid.

The instigator made 3 mistakes. First, the instigator addressed someone of higher status rather rudely. The society at the time, as mentioned earlier was quite similar to that which we would associate with feudalism. So openly ‘confronting’ one’s superiors is not acceptable. Second, he directly contradicted his superior. This is different from what I would consider an ‘indirect contradiction’ which Tsunemoto mentions. “This can be discussed later”. I’ve only read about this so don’t put too much faith in what I’m about to say but it seems that the Japanese really find this to be rude even to this day. So if I were to say “The train station is to the north?” the listener would respond yes even if the train station were to the south. It’s also sort of baked into expressions. So we would say, “Would you like to go to the pool?” and the way it’s said in Japanese is probably closer to  “Won’t you go to the pool?” Peculiar. Anyway, if you do feel strongly about something that you want to admonish the speaker about it, you should do it privately. And third, by acknowledging his mistake, not only did he disrespect his elder, openly contradict them, but he then had to walk all of that back. So what was the point of having that entire argument in the first place?

Now I know you’re asking, where’s the compassion. The whole oath is about compassion for others. Compassion is the lesson learned from this. A little bit of compassion would have benefited everyone. First, the instigator would not have publicly humiliated himself. To have caused such a fuss only to turn around the next day, what a disgrace. Second, the lord would not have been humiliated by the actions of his retainer. Third, the families would not have been humiliated. Lastly, the planner would not have been humiliated. Privately disagreeing might have achieved the desired goal one way or another without anyone having any disgrace. When you act, remember that you represent yourself, your lord, your family, and you don’t want those names dragged through the mud for a moment of passion. Compact your passion into compassion.

Conclusion

First, some foreshadowing. There are some really woke lines in here, or things that I found particularly amusing that didn’t quite find the mould that I was setting up here. So I’ll publish the Hagakure: Woke AF edition… sometime in the future. I do these posts when I feel the urge so it’s unpredictable. I needed to finish this blog post so I could finally focus on the next history book that I want to read. More reflections or summaries to come!

Long story short, I don’t think the life of a Nabeshima samurai is for me. I’m a very selfish person. I’m a capitalist, greed is useful. Greed can be relied upon. If everyone is greedy, everyone is predictable. Tsunemoto mentions that the arts are to be forsaken for a samurai. I enjoy the arts. I enjoy life. And perhaps that is the problem, after all – “The way of the warrior is to be found in dying” (Yamamoto Tsunemoto). Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

Reflections: Hagakure