Saturday, 4 April 2015

Soy Sauce 9

                                                           ‘It is hard to be an individual in Japan.’
                                                                                      Haruki Murakami

Social status determines social interaction, based on seniority and gender and education and company affiliation. The language has a rich vocabulary of honorifics and humble prefixes and pronouns, word choices and verb endings, to express relationships of superiority or inferiority. Without knowledge of a stranger’s background, Japanese may prefer to avoid eye contact or any other interaction, in order to avoid potential errors in etiquette; the exchange of meishi business cards has become so valuable, because it provides enough information to facilitate social exchange. In a culture that stresses the value of empathy, one person cannot speak without considering the other. Hierarchy is natural and involves a ranking of roles and a rigid set of rules, but responsibility is also collective and authority diffuses to a degree greater than in other cultures. The person ‘in charge’ is bound into a web of group interdependence as tightly as his subordinates. While Americans act to minimize status differences, Japanese find it unbecoming when a person does not behave within his status.
Japanese societal emphasis on collective harmony with others doesn’t extinguish appreciation for private personal uniqueness. Individuality is even celebrated as Iki, the sincere originality capable of contributing strength and empathy, and refinement and beauty.
But ultimately, the sphere of the self is still judged by the ability to contribute. There is no ‘I’ in team. The nail that sticks up is pounded down. Individualism is viewed negatively and equated with selfishness. Many social problems are blamed on the behaviour of ‘selfish mothers,’ whose children develop psychosomatic illnesses in an effort to avoid school, and resulting academic or social failure. They become adults who may make similar excuses to evade work, as they have apparently always done. 

Friday, 3 April 2015

Soy Sauce 8

Prior to the advent of Chinese influence in the sixth century, Japan did not have a stratified society. But the harmony of a large population living off the limited resources of a remote island kingdom, Wa, was dependent on a cooperative attitude and the recognition of social roles. Confucianism brought an emphasis on order and status in the public sphere. Heaven and Nature and human society would be balanced by each person's acceptance of their societal role, and their proper behaviour and contribution in the social hierarchy. This expectation was elegantly derived in the Confucian Da Xue, the Great Learning.

    ‘The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue   
     throughout the world, first ordered well their own States.
     Wishing to order well their States, they first regulated their 
     Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their 
    Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts.
    Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in 
     their thoughts.
    Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the
     utmost of their knowledge.
    Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.

   Things being investigated, knowledge became complete.
   Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere.
   Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified.
   Their hearts being rectified, their persons were cultivated.
   Their persons being cultivated, their families were regulated.
   Their families being regulated, their States were rightly governed.

  Their States being rightly governed, the entire world was at peace.’

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Soy Sauce 7

   ‘Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate. Neither wisdom
    nor technique has a place in this. A real man does not think of victory
    or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing
    this, you will awaken from your dreams.’
                  Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure- The Book of the Samurai, 1716

Even the Quaker author of Bushidō, Soul of Japan, who so confused Giri as Bushidō, and Bushidō as the code of the Samurai, had this part right.

    ‘In revenge there is something that satisfies one’s sense of justice. Our
     sense of revenge is as exact as our mathematical faculty and until                                
     both Terms of the equation are satisfied we cannot get over the sense  
     of something left undone.’
                                                              Inazō Nitobe, 1900

In a modern era of law and order and interdependent economies, the Japanese still live in a world where repressed and sublimated emotions drift like chlorine gas. But the aggression their old heroes used to visit upon their enemies has been driven underground or inward. Boredom and depression and anger go deep into the interior of one’s own heart.
Giri obligations also extend to Japanese Yakuza gangsters operating outside the law. Doing jingi refers to this honour among thieves, and the one-sworded swashbucklers of the Tokugawa shogunate who sought shelter with strangers, as insurance against any future vengeance from them. 
Repayment of the Giri favour calls forth future favours in turn. Relations of social dependence thus continue indefinitely, their very inequality binding individuals to each other. One’s behaviour is continually rebalanced within the hierarchical circular framework of on-gimu-giri centrifugal forces. 

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Soy Sauce 6

Japanese society was constructed on the ethics of indebtedness, the smooth machinery of which depended on a gyroscopic balance between the magnitude of the obligation and the magnitude of the resentment of each man’s debt. The concept of passively contracted duty, On, is crucial and pervasive. The virtue of a man only begins at the moment he actively dedicates himself to the job of demonstrating gratitude. On is not a single debt but a constant shadowing measurement of loyalty and kindness and love and obligational solvency. There are categories of duties to ones parents, Oya on, duties to the Emperor, Ko on, duties to one’s landlord and boss, Nushi on, duties to one’s teacher, Shi no on, and on and on. On is a collective obligation machine of individual control, the Japanese social equivalent of the three laws of thermodynamics- you can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game. It’s the Nash equilibrium with mutual coercion.
Repayments have to be carried out to the best of one’s abilities, and are divided into two distinct categories, each with a different set of rules- Gimu, unconditional and limitless both in amount and duration, and Giri, quantitatively equivalent, mathematically precise and due on special occasions in a limited time. In the binary world of Zen, there are two forms of Giri.
Giri-to-the-world encompasses duties to your liege lord, your affinal family, unrelated persons owed repayment for On received, and then more distant relatives owed repayment for On received from common ancestors.
Giri-to-one's-name covers one’s duty to Japanese proprieties (observing all respectful behavior, not living above one's station, curbing displays of emotion, etc.), the responsibility to admit no professional dereliction or ignorance and, most importantly, the obligation to ‘clear’ one's reputation of insult or imputation of failure. The inherent duty of revenge in Japanese culture is not regarded as aggression, but redress, a ‘good thing’ in circumstances of insult or defeat. A murderer assassinates one’s flesh but a sneerer assassinates one’s soul and heart, by far the worse crime. The Japanese view of honour is as important as the German view of die Ehre. The Japanese possess no principle that a man cannot be insulted unless he thinks he is, or that it is only ‘what comes out of a man’ that defiles him, not what is said or done against him.
Inflicted slights on family honour or national pride, are wounds that will not heal, except by cleansing through vindication. Vendetta is a morning tub of cleanliness grown into passion, washing off the dirt that others have thrown at you. One cannot be virtuous if any of it sticks. Forgiveness is viewed as an improper act.

                          ‘Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate. Neither wisdom
                           nor technique has a place in this. A real man does not think of victory
                           or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing
                           this, you will awaken from your dreams.’
                              Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure- The Book of the Samurai, 1716

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Soy Sauce 5

Japanese culture was shaped by an extreme sensitivity to social hierarchy, honour, virtue and duty, Apollonian patterns that played out in every action, from war to childrearing. Some Japanese values are clearly Confucian, and came over from China as the Five Ethical Principles of the philosopher Mencius.
The first is the concept of filial piety, the affection between father and son, implicit as a debt and duty to repay one's parents and ancestors for the privilege of existence. If a funeral hearse drives past, you must hide your thumb in a fist. Thumb, in Japanese, is translated as ‘parent-finger,’ and concealing it is considered protection for your progenitors. Even my dog-eared copy of the Hagakure, the Book of the Samurai that accompanied me around Japan, written athousand years after Mencius recorded his principles, exalted this first commandment.

‘To find a retainer with a loyal heart one need look no further than the house of a warrior who is faithful to his parents. A warrior should remain committed to his parents from the depths of his soul, or else after they have passed away he will be filled with regret for what he should have done.’
Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure- The Book of the Samurai, 1716

The second of Mencius’ ethical principles was loyalty to the Emperor, implicit as a debt and duty to repay him for the same privilege. The third criterion described separate functions for husband and wife; the fourth a proper order between old and young. This was still doctrine, a samurai millennium later.

‘As time passes and men age and deteriorate, set your pace to catch those ahead of you and start living healthy and you may fulfill your dreams of long servitude to your lord. When everyone excels it is hard to stand out, but as others start to decline it becomes much easier to achieve greatness.’
Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure- The Book of the Samurai, 1716 

As was the fifth element, trust between friends.

‘You will know who your true friends are when you get sick or distressed. If one you thought was your friend keeps his distance from you during trying times then he should be considered a coward.’
Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure- The Book of the Samurai, 1716

Monday, 30 March 2015

Soy Sauce 4

                                ‘Their way of writing is very different from ours because they write from
                                 the top of the page down to the bottom. I asked Anjiro why they did
                                 not write in our way and he asked me why we did not write in their
                                 way? He explained that as the head of a man is at the top and his feet
                                 are at the bottom, so too a man should write from top to bottom.’
                                                                              St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552)

Geography determines climate. The islands of Japan were fermented in fūdo, a sui generis climate of peculiar rhythms. Four distinct seasons coloured thought and behaviour, and human nature in Japan became an extension of Nature herself. The arrival of Buddhism softened the sharp edges of the interior mountain feudal barriers to a common identity. As geography and climate forged Japanese society, society fashioned brain patterns, and brain patterns fashioned language. Vowels and consonants are processed respectively in the right and left hemispheres of Western brains, but Japanese brains process both sounds in the left hemisphere.
The Japanese hear the sound of temple bells, insects (which they perceive as music) and snoring with the left half of the brain, the opposite of Westerners.
Also, as in German, Japanese verbs fall at the end of sentences, and new words can be made by adding several together. In Lost in Translation, Charlotte asked Bob why the Japanese ‘switched the r’s and the l’s here.’ But there is no switch. There is simply no consonant. Deck the hars with boughs of horry… Fa ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra …
Grammar determines world-view. Japanese language developed a unique structure and body of native words that allowed the speaker to express oneself both precisely and vaguely at the same time. Foreigners may speak it fluently, and correct in their usage, but never get beyond the alien structure of their own original language, and into the nuanced meaning that Japanese makes provision for.
Language ultimately defines psychology and etiquette and the interpersonal dependencies that determine the unique form of human relationship within a society. In Japan, this resulted in a complete fusion of the ego and the alter ego, where defined boundaries between self and other became ambiguous or fluid, and the individual could not properly exist. The group was the identity, and social and political conformity came with, and was, the turf. And the turf was a giant isolated anthill of purity.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Soy Sauce 3

As the Samurai gained power and influence, miso and tamari culture flowed. Prominent soy sauce painters emerged, creating works of exquisite art on the sliding doors of great shrines. The finest shoyu became known as murasaki ‘Deep Purple’, and used with raw fish sashimi.  

        ‘Smell the aroma from the depths of the brewing keg! 
         Waves of fragrance, deep purple, tamari; Flowers of wisteria.
         Its origins reaching back… Its brewing lineage inherited from the 
         great teacher… in the emperor's kingdom. 
         Its aroma is of the finest quality. Its flavor most excellent, 
         Its fame, the noblest and purest flower…’

In the chaos of the Warring States era, samurai Lord Takeda Shingen’s use of soy sauce as a seasoning for his army's food advanced its popularity. But with the end of hostilities and the quarter millennium of peace that came with Tokugawa Ieyasu’s victory, the power of both the samurai and soy sauce art were diluted. The warriors became bureaucrats, the paintings became coloured ukiyo-e woodblock prints, and the shoyu became a simple but unique condiment for the Japanese. There were no others. 
After WWII, there was even less sauce. Artists shunned soy sauce art as an authoritarian remnant of former times. An American armed forces official named Miss Appleton was placed in charge of reviving Japan’s shoyu industry. In 1945 she issued an order instructing all eight thousand manufacturers to produce only quick chemical soy sauce, or forgo their quota of soybeans. In the salty and sweet and sour and bitter and umami world of the American occupation of Japanese culture, it was their soy sauce, or no sauce.
Before contact with the West, the Japanese had no national identity. Nihonjiron developed in response to the need to explain themselves to foreigners, and foreigners themselves began their visions of the uniqueness of Japan. The Japanese viewed themselves as a unique isolate race that had genetically evolved on island cut off from the promiscuous cross-currents and endless tribal miscegenation of continental history. And the belief that such purity should never be defiled.