The Japanese cultural concept of "wa" (和), which underscores harmony, equilibrium, and unity within a communal framework, casts a profound influence over various strata of societal existence. This paradigm resonates through social interactions, decision-making dynamics, and the behavioural norms exhibited by individuals within Japanese society.
However, an intricate perspective emerges concerning revered historical figures such as Miyamoto Musashi and Saigo Takamori, particularly among specific echelons of the British populace. This perspective is illuminated through a detailed examination of specific actions:
1. Individualism versus Collectivism: Rooted in a milieu that accentuates the collective welfare over individual pursuits, the dichotomy between the celebrated individual feats of Musashi and Takamori and the collective spirit of "wa" becomes apparent. Musashi, renowned for his martial prowess, engaged in numerous renowned duels that showcased his individualistic pursuit of excellence. His most famous encounter, the duel against Sasaki Kojiro on Ganryu Island, highlighted his personal quest for supremacy, contrasting with the collaborative ethos of "wa."
2. Disruptive Actions and Societal Disruption: Musashi's extraordinary martial skills and unorthodox lifestyle, while emblematic of self-mastery, stood in contrast to the societal stability and cohesion that "wa" endeavour's to foster. Similarly, Saigo Takamori's actions during the Boshin War, particularly his leadership in the Satsuma Rebellion, exemplify historical significance but concurrently challenge the harmony "wa" seeks to maintain. The rebellion, though driven by ideals of imperial restoration, entailed conflict and upheaval, undermining the harmonious ideal.
3. Cultural Evolution and Shifting Values: The contemporary Japanese landscape has undergone profound cultural shifts, resulting in a distinct value spectrum compared to the eras of Musashi and Takamori. The virtues and values once held in esteem might not seamlessly align with modern societal priorities and orientations.
4. Modern Paradigms of Exemplarship: In present-day Japan, admiration extends to figures who embody qualities of diligence, adaptability, and personal betterment while coalescing harmoniously with others. Modern icons from domains like business, science, and arts emerge as symbols of "wa" in action. In some circles Musashi was claimed to be unwashed. While this is a debatable assertion and may be as a result of rumours circulated by his enemies if it were true (as well as his possible left-handedness) it would have identified him as a social pariah during his time. Likewise, there is some emergent evidence that in his final days Takemori had contracted a waterborne parasite which caused his testicles to enlarge and become sore - not something the average person, let alone Japanese, would want!
5. Cultural Dynamics and Interpretative Nuances: The evolution of societies prompts the reevaluation of historical figures and their ideals. Musashi and Takamori, once revered for their contributions, find themselves placed within a shifting context where the historical significance of their actions might not uniformly align with contemporary sensitivities.
Understanding the variegated viewpoints encompassing these historical luminaries is imperative. While some abstain from emulating national heroes due to the reasons elucidated, others discern elements within Musashi's duels and Takamori's leadership that resonate with their personal values and aspirations. Evidently, the "wa" principle retains its pivotal status within Japanese culture; however, its nuanced application showcases a kaleidoscope of interpretations, shaped by personal inclinations, life experiences, and perspectives.
Okinawan and Japanese Budo
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan