By Palina Kot
I have been living in Japan for just 2 years, and I am still trying to understand the Japanese soul. Being a foreigner means not just to face a language barrier, but to also be confronted with cultural differences. It also raises misunderstandings. So to communicate with people better I started to go through what makes Japanese people “Japanese.” I am sure that there are many points forming Japanese mentality, but the one I found the most interesting for me is Bushido (武士道). It literally means “the way of the warrior” and historically it was a code of the samurai, whom we all heard of. Despite the time of the Samurai having already passed, nowadays bushido is also tightly woven into the Japanese spirit.
The term “Bushido” was popularized by the book of Nitobe Inazō, “Bushido: The Soul of Japan” (1900). However, experts say that it is a romanticized interpretation of bushido, and there are differences with historical literature about samurai. In this article, I am talking about the elements of Contemporary Bushido. Today, the modern spirit of Bushido is not about death as the final aim of the warrior. Instead, it is about how the warrior has no aim, only a path (simplified from Laozi). Yes, Bushido is taken out of context, but it makes sense. How do people use it in their lives nowadays? They live not for a final aim, they live for the way. In other words, they enjoy the process. I would like to provide a short example. Imagine someone wants to write a book. If they are being honest, they’d like to have a book that they have written themselves, but don’t like the process of writing. Someone else may derive pleasure from writing and doesn’t have a goal to write a book, but simply follows their path. I suppose you can imagine who derives more enjoyment from the process of writing.
In my own life, I have met many students who while studying for a PhD, find themselves pushing through to get their doctorate but despising their daily research and routine. I am also a PhD student now, but I have never focused on getting a doctoral degree. My aim is my research pathway. My aim is in my everyday experiments. So I end up loving every single process during my research: from culturing cells and preparing solutions to taking out the trash and washing laboratory glassware. Getting a PhD is like a side product of my path and not the central object.
So why should we talk about warriors and the Bushido philosophy nowadays? Who should we fight with? In my opinion, we should fight with ourselves. Have you ever struggled with yourself in the morning when you did not want to get up? Did you push yourself to finish the assignment today, not tomorrow? Then, you are a warrior for yourself. You are struggling with everyday obstacles both outside and within yourself. You are a samurai inside.
I am really interested in the opinions of Japanese people and other foreigners about what the Japanese soul is. I would love to hear your feedback on Bushido and the Japanese spirit, and you can write it on our web page nagazasshi.com (under the article “Samurai Inside Us”) or on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/nagazasshi).