Bushido warrior hokusai THINK IAFOR 2

June 2, 2016

In Part 12 of his “Death in the Japanese Tradition” monograph, Professor Stuart D. B. Picken explains the apparent influence of the mentality of bushido, the way of the warrior, on Japanese attitudes towards death.

1. Romanticist Tendencies in Japanese Culture

Having observed how death in Japanese society became institutionalized through Buddhism taking control of the death system, a control it maintains still, we may now turn our attention to another strand of death’s multiple image in Japanese culture. This concerns the manner in which suicide was manipulated through the principles of feudal loyalty and later, by modern militarism, to be the supreme proof of loyalty and devotion to duty. This discussion takes in the concepts of Bushido, the values of Confucianism and neo-Confucianism, as well as the ideals of the neo-samurai that devastated Asia and brought Japan to complete humiliation and atomic destruction.

“There developed from feudal times, an image of death as glorious, that came to be manipulated in the interests first of centralized state control and later, of Imperial expansionism.”

The central argument is very simple. There developed from feudal times, an image of death as glorious, that came to be manipulated in the interests first of centralized state control and later, of Imperial expansionism. While the purely military form of suicide has almost vanished, influences are still felt in Japan’s unique varieties of suicide, especially when viewed against their social context. Such influences may be seen in the mentality of the Japanese Red Army terrorists whose willingness to die made them far more effective than those terrorists who may be persuaded to surrender in the face of overwhelming odds. They may be seen too, in those meaningless and random acts of violence that occur in Japan from time to time when some crazed being, perhaps with a history of mental illness, fantasizes that he is purifying society of some ill, and kills an innocent bystander. The sarin gas attack in Tokyo by members of the OM Shinri-kyo sect is probably a mixture of both. These will be discussed I more detail in the context of terrorism.

“death (especially by suicide) is still heavily romanticized and beautified”

Those influences are also at work in popular culture, from television dramas, where a trained eye can tell as the plot proceeds, who in the story should commit suicide at the end, to the manga, that western observers mistakenly see as comic books. While many of these have a ‘macho’ image or a strain of rightist ideology, death (especially by suicide) is still heavily romanticized and beautified.

I remember attending an updated version of what was originally a bunraku play by the Edo dramatist, Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725) in the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo. It was in modern Japanese, with appropriate music. The staging and props were excellent, the shitamachi (downtown) atmosphere captured perfectly. Edo was alive again! The whole audience felt it. The drama progressed through the usual predictable stages in an impossible love between a geisha and a samurai. Neither of them could be content with a mere liaison and there was nowhere in society to which they could escape. The climax was reached when, at the final meeting, they decided to commit shinju (the classic, dual love suicide). After their final act of love and their last embrace, the samurai strangled his lover with one of the obi, or cords, from the girdle of her kimono. He wept, drew his sword, and sliced his jugular vein whereupon a great fountain of blood sprayed up and tinged the snow on the stage with a beautiful pink. The effect was well produced and very effective. The audience rose to cheer and clap as the actor concluded his performance. Around me were people with tears in their eyes whispering, “Beautiful!” “Magnificent!” as the complete and final scene lay before them. Only one or two foreigners seemed surprised. I confess to having felt somewhat emotional, partly in response to the play. It was difficult not to have a feeling of sympathy for the hero and heroine and the nobility of their tragic end. I was moved however, by the response of the audience as well. The year was 1981. Japanese tastes in popular drama had not changed in three hundred years! Such events may seem anachronistic or eccentric, but they serve to remind the observer that while the externals of contemporary Japan betoken a modernized industrial nation, the kokoro, the heart of tradition, survives to a much greater extent than most people are often willing to admit.

In his Mirror, Jewel and Sword, published in 1973, eleven years after his death, Kurt Singer states the point as a broad cultural characterization:

“Able to show great bravery, bordering sometimes on madness, he (the Japanese) does not like to endure long hardship and adversity. Unlike the Russian, he prefers suicide to silent despair.”

Singer’s portrait of Japanese life, although written in the 1930s, is still relevant in its perceptiveness. (Singer, Kurt, Mirror, Jewel and Sword Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1981 p. 30). It also has a persuasive ring of modernity about it, from the way in which he uncannily foresaw some of the manifestations of the Pacific War, through a deep grasp of the metaphysics underlying the Japanese view of life. Some of these should emerge in the following pages.

The tendency has not died out either. Japanese who endure long hours of work, unpleasant assignments and the necessity to work away from home, tanshin funin as they are called, frequently romanticize their circumstances in order either to, draw comfort for themselves or to add special significance to their life and activities. The mechanisms of the mind at work are in any case identical to those of the past. The past takes us back to the tradition of bushido, the way of the warrior.

2. Bushido: Origins and Development

Bushido, the way of the bushi, is a term that describes the behavior of a class of professional warriors that emerged from the provinces of Japan during the tenth and eleventh centuries. Within a hundred years they had become the ruling elite of Japan and they remained so until 1868. (Varley, H. Paul The Samurai London: Pelican Books, 1970 p.44 ff; Storry, Richard The Way of the Samurai London: Orbis Publishing House, 1978, p.19 ff). In a broader sense, bushido may also refer to the ancient military spirit of the Japanese people, which manifested, itself even in the military costumes of some Haniwa figurines and which indeed may be deeply rooted in the Japanese social psychology.

The real era of the warrior, the bushi, was from the 10th century until the beginning of the Tokugawa age, in the early 1600s. During the relatively peaceful Edo age, the bushi was a professional warrior with no battles to fight, although street fights were not uncommon, as the expression ‘Kaji to kenka wa Edo no hana‘ “fires and fights are the flowers of Edo” suggests. (It is hard to resist the comparison with the somewhat less glorious ‘Flowers of Edinburgh’ of the same early 18th century period. This was the name given to the stench that rose from the streets caused by the emptying of bedpans from house windows. It shows how far apart cultures can be in their imagery.

It was however, during the Edo period that the spirit of the warrior was peacefully distilled throughout society, integrated into education and made the lifestyle of a people who were schooled in the virtues of feudal loyalty and the idea of dying, if necessary, for that ideal. It was that experience which prepared the nation for the Meiji era.

3. The Philosophy of Budhido

The code of bushido was a code of ethics for a feudal society. It was a class ethic designed to distinguish the warrior class from the ordinary people. It was never intended to be the foundation of a social ethic in a modern nation state. However, a transition was made from the traditional bushido to popularized bushido from the samurai to the neo-samurai mentality, in order to strengthen loyalty to the Emperor system. The final version of the neo-samurai code is the senjinkun. The Imperial Rescript to the Army issued in 1882 was the first public statement of the ideology. The Imperial Army’s Code of Conduct, issued by General Tojo in 1941 is usually taken as the document explicitly calling for what the Americans labeled banzai attacks by the kamikaze pilots. However, what General Tojo commended, keeping one’s name pure rather than surviving in disgrace, has a history that goes back to the feudal era. It is to the traditional form of that code I should now like to turn, to the philosophy of bushi itself. The term ‘philosophy of bushi ‘ is not used without justification. The most exact translation would be ‘the way of the warrior’. The notion of way (do) however, has many philosophical overtones that ought not to be neglected. Consider first its use in other contexts.

In ancient times, Japan had no way of describing its folk religion, its ethics or traditions of religious belief enshrined in its mythology and in the ritual worship of the kami. When Buddhism arrived in Japan during the seventh century, in the Nara period, two expressions were coined to distinguish between the indigenous tradition and the newly imported one. One was butsudo (the way of Buddha) and the other one was shindo (usually pronounced shinto: the way of the kami). The Chinese character for do is also pronounced michi, and it is the regular word for a road or track through fields. Its use in earlier Chinese thought provides its fuller philosophical background. The Chinese philosophical school known as Daoism has as its central concept dao, represented by the same Chinese character as is pronounced do in Japanese. (Daoism is associated with the work of Lao Tzu whose work the Tao Te Ching remains the classic exposition of the doctrine. For an English rendering of the text see: D.C. Lan Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching London: Penguin, 1963).

The term dao had probably as versatile a range of meanings as did the Greek concept of logos– (translated as ‘word’ in St. John’s Gospel St John 1:1 “In the beginning was the word – Logos”). In fact, the Chinese New Testament uses the term dao to translate logos. The tradition of Confucianism, mentioned earlier, spoke of the Way of Heaven. Again, the term used was do. The distinction of ‘ways’ was intended to convey a difference in system and outlook, which western minds would regard as philosophical, theological or ethical. In the case of Japanese thought, these particular distinctions are difficult to draw with any degree of finality, but all three aspects are implied. The idea was that of a system of belief that offered answers to general questions about humanity and the world, and of a set of disciplines or practices, which follow from these. Therefore, to speak of bushido as the ‘philosophy of the warrior’ is not to use the term philosophy in the loose sense in which people speak of a ‘philosophy of life’. It is to use the exact equivalent, however loosely worked out, of a highly influential philosophical position.

4. The Ethics of Bushido: the Hagakure

The most famous single text of bushido is the volume usually called the Hagakure. It is also known popularly as the Nabeshima Rongo (Saga of the Nabeshima Clan), and was written around 1716. (Selections in English are published under the title Hagakure, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1979, tr. William Scott Wilson).
In this document we find the early statement:

Bushido to wa shinu koto to mitsuketari

This is not easy to render into English, but essentially it means that the philosophy of the warrior is a philosophy of dying. That is the conclusion of the man who uttered the sentence. How should that conclusion be interpreted? Professor Emeritus of the University of Tokyo, Furukawa Tesshi, who assisted Professor Watsuji Tetsuro in producing a new edition of the Hagakure during the World War II takes as the starting point of his interpretation of the dictum, the words shinu-koto, which may be rendered ‘a situation calling for death’. (See article by Furukawa Tasshi “The Individual in Japanese Ethics” ed. Moore The Japanese Mind (Honolulu: East-West Center Press, University of Hawaii 1967) p.228 ff.) Furukawa argues, and I think on good grounds, that this was taken as an injunction to act with ‘purity and simplicity in the spiritual sense’, to act with unmediated directness and total spontaneity, given the duty to act at all.

His arguments are derived from the Hagakure’s criticism of the vendetta-type situation described in the saga of the forty-seven loyal retainers of Ako, or that of the Soga brothers, while exalting the bloody incident of the Nagasaki Brawl of 29 December, 1700, as the ultimate demonstration of the samurai ideal. The contrast between these two sagas is extremely important, if one is to grasp the full significance of what bushido taught.

Criticism of the Incident of the 47 Ronin

Both incidents are well-known events of Japanese history. The revenge of the forty-seven loyal retainers (ronin) of Ako who avenged the wrongs done to their lord, Baron Ako, took years to complete. A famous Kabuki play, known as Chushingura, was written about the saga. The narrative of the Soga brothers tells of a vendetta in which they avenged their father who had been murdered by one of his relatives. This act of revenge required a total of seventeen years to bring to completion.

In apparent criticism of this time lag, the Hagakure declares:

“The right way of avenging is to strike at the enemy without delay or hesitation, even in the danger of being killed by him. In this case, it is no disgrace at all to be killed by the object of one’s vengeance. It would be disgraceful, however, not to strike at once, thus losing forever the opportunity of vengeance in the vain hope of accomplishing one’s purpose satisfactorily. While one is hesitating to fight against heavy odds, time is wasted and the opportunity passes away never to return, and the project of vengeance is given up for good. One has only to cast oneself at one’s enemies, no matter how heavy the odds, with an unflinching determination to exterminate them all. That determined act alone will place the glory of success in one’s hands.” (Hagakure op.cit p.29 ff Ch. 1)

That closing sentence, to which we shall return later, is the founding charter of the later creed of rightists in pre-war Japan, and echoes of it are still to be heard. “Not theory” they vehemently declared, “but pure action” is the instrument of Japan’s salvation. (See Ivan Morris’s work on right-wing movements in post-war Japan: Nationalism and the Right Wing: A Study in Post-War Trends (Oxford: University Press, 1960). This type of thinking gave powerful impetus to the belief that suicide, as an act of loyalty, would achieve ends that more regular and constitutional forms of behaviour could not.

The Ideal of the Nagasaki Brawl of 1700

The Nagasaki Brawl fulfills the requirements of the above specification as an act of ‘pure and simple’ response to duty. It began in the most trivial way. Two samurai, walking down a slushy street in Nagasaki passed a city official and his manservant. The servant shouted insults at them for splashing him with muddy snow and in indignant reprisal, the samurai kicked the man down and gave him a vicious beating. Later that night, the servant and some of his friends went to the residence of the two samurai, beat them without mercy, and humiliated them by robbing them of their swords. Battered and helpless, they were unable to defend themselves, but soon after they were joined, by about fifteen other samurai who had heard the commotion. Immediately, and without any further thought, the two injured men and their friends went to the home of the official and his servant, where they engaged in a bloody reprisal, killing a large number of people, including the two original opponents. Thereafter, having satiated their thirst for revenge, they disemboweled themselves en masse, bringing the entire incident to a ‘glorious’ end.

The Virtue of Unreflective Loyalty

Whatever else may be meant by ‘pure and simple’, it appears to refer to a course of action that is swift, decisive, final and free of moral speculation or any possible comeback. In an earlier chapter it was stressed that loyalty had to be demonstrated by action. The type of act that loyalty demanded may now be seen very clearly. The principle of obedience and the virtue of loyalty, once willingly embraced, carried with them, when warranted by the situation, the dutiful requirement of the ‘pure and simple’ act, the shinu koto.

The principle of obedience to the ideal of loyalty is so firmly implanted that from the feeling of outrage to the completion of the act of revenge, the mediation of any intellectual process would only be a hindrance. This is substantiated under such circumstances by the language normally used to describe the behavior of samurai. A term often used is mushaburi, which means powers, gallantry or bravery. It also has the nuance of a warrior quaking with excitement. In other words, what makes bravery a virtue is not the moral quality, but the emotional spontaneity involved. The verbal form, mashaburitsuku, meaning to tremble with excitement, or to reach the point where one’s impulses have taken complete control, is also the verb used to describe the way in which a bushi should enter a fight. The concept of shinu koto has emotional as well as moral content. This concept also involved not simply a willingness to die, but an attitude of instant response to duty that implied almost dying to oneself in a religious sense. It is here that the very precarious position of the individual in Japanese ethics is seen, as well as the source of the continued tendency, to stress wider loyalty above individual rights in spite of the processes of ‘democratization’ even after 1945. A few further quotations from the Hagakure should amplify the above points:

Bushido is a single straight way to death, practising over and over again every day and night how to die a samurai‘s death on every possible occasion and every possible cause…Readiness to die at the call of one’s duty should be kept ever fresh and alive by repeating the vow every day and every moment.” Hagakure op.cit. p.30, Ch. 1)

“When one equally repeats his vow to die at any moment at the call of his duty every morning and every evening, one can act freely in Bushido at a moments notice, thus fulfuling his duties as a feudal vassal without a flaw, even to the very last moment of his life.” (Hagakure op.cit. pp. 17-18, Ch. 1)

These appear to be two essential characteristics of the actions for which bushido called. Firstly, they are actions that are the natural outcome of the principle of obedience, and are therefore ‘pure’ in intention. Secondly, they are performed without any reflection whatsoever upon consequences, and are to that extent ‘simple’, being uncomplicated by reflection. Western moralists might prefer to call this an expression of behavior rather than a reflective course of action. Nevertheless, it is the only type of action consistent with the spirit of bushido.

Zen Nihilism and Bushido

It is worth noting in passing, that the philosophy of the bushi was closely allied to, and supported by, Zen Buddhism, which the samurai found particularly conducive to the state of mind required to perform their duties. Indeed, before battle, they often celebrated the ritual of the tea ceremony, originally a Zen institution, in much the same way that Christian knights received the last rites of the Church before battle, or even before a tournament. The difference was that the purpose of performing the tea ceremony was to empty the mind of thoughts, arguments or contradictions that might stand in the way of a spontaneous and glorious end. The central notions of Zen included the denial of the reality of ‘self’ and the importance of ku, that is, ‘nothingness’ or ‘no self’. (For a philosophical discussion see Nishida Kitaro Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness tr. Robert Shinzinger – Ford, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1951).

Such notions are nihilistic, and while values like loyalty and obedience appear to belong to a more positive moral framework, the raison d’etre of the code of the bushi, apart from obvious political advantages to a select few, is extremely hard to uncover. However, whether or not Zen’s part was significant, the alliance between bushido and Zen Buddhism is a facet of Japanese cultural history that bears further examination. In fact, Zen’s general connection with the martial arts (the link no doubt going back to the days of encounter in China between Buddhism and Taoism) seems quite out of character in Buddhist philosophy. Nevertheless, it did exist and remains another part of the ritual trappings of suicide in the Japanese tradition. It should be remembered also that, as pointed out earlier, most ‘executions’ by seppuku took place in Buddhist temples that subscribed to the values of the bushi.

Feudalism Japanese and Western

The connection between suicide and the military tradition in Japan is beyond doubt. It is exemplified in the classics of the tradition of the warrior, supported by the religion closest to his way of life and it is laid before him in the great deeds of the past. While the values of Bushido were exploited in the militarism of the Meiji-Showa period, it would be completely wrong to say that they have entirely vanished. Lingering feudalism has remained detectable in many areas of modern Japanese life. But before passing to the modern period, we can make a simple and illuminating comparison between the principal themes of the literature of the Japanese and European feudal ages. Parallels have been drawn between the feudal ages of Japan and those of the West, seeking to demonstrate their similarities. Doubtless there were some, but as always, of more interest than the similarities are the contrasts.

The Romanticization of Death Versus the Romanticization of Women

Consider the position of women, whose role was seen by both civilizations to the production of pure blood heirs to the estates. They were therefore subjected to careful scrutiny of their ancestry, health and moral responsibility. Infidelity was severely punished. However, while in Japan the position of women declined dramatically compared to what it had been in the Heian period, the ideal of womanhood emerged as a romantic motif of Western chivalry. In Europe, far from being totally degraded, they often became the object of a cult of adoration. Indeed, some of the epic western themes are based on the romanticization of women and ideal womanhood. In contrast, Japanese literature of the age dealt not with the romanticization of women, but with the romanticization of death. This is the major point of contrast. (The Hagakure already referred to is one of the first examples of the point. Tsuda Sokichi An Enquiry into the Japanese Mind as Mirrored in Literature (Tokyo: Ministry of Education, 1970

Western stories of devoted friendship, of Damon and Pythias, Achilles and Patrocolos or David and Jonathan, find their counterpart in the samurai tradition. The romantic female figures that tower in Western history because of the passions they inspired – Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships, Cleopatra Queen of Egypt, who died because of Mark Antony, and the mysterious the Queen of Sheba whom Solomon revered, were women whose like are not found in Japanese history. Indeed, if accounts of samurai life are accurate, there was little room in the mentality of the samurai for women of any kind. The samurai may have had a wife. He may have had a sweetheart. But he had also a feudal master who called for the deepest loyalty and devotion from him, the giving of which met that any passion he might have felt towards women was subordinated.

Suicide Versus Surrender

Of course, death is a risk run by the warrior in any civilization and fame rests on victory, which cannot be attained without risk. Death is the ultimate risk and, therefore, the warrior must always be prepared to face death.

“But while this held true in both forms of civilization, the Japanese warrior saw death in a different light from his Western counterpart. For the Western knight, death was the ultimate form of defeat.”

But while this held true in both forms of civilization, the Japanese warrior saw death in a different light from his Western counterpart. For the Western knight, death was the ultimate form of defeat. Legitimate and proper surrender was therefore possible. Even the captivity of a king such as Richard the Lionheart of England was no shame. His rescue from the clutches of Leopold was an act out of which ballads (and movies) have been made. The Japanese knight saw things differently. Captivity may have meant hideous suffering and humiliation. On the other hand, death, if bravely faced in the name of one’s lord, might result in reward. Provided one was seen to be courageous and loyal, whether one lived or died made little difference. The family would be, protected by the lord and the family name would survive. This kind of thinking led to that new conception of death best exemplified in the Hagakure. Japanese samurai saw their lives as being of little consequence and so they were prepared to die out of loyalty to the lord they served.

Contrasting Values on Love and Death

If the eternal theme of the West were summed up in the film title ‘Love Story’, then there is no romantic story in Japanese culture to match in popularity the story of the forty-seven Ronin who avenged their master’s death and then committed seppuku. Stories of revenge are not popular in the West since the vengeful spirit itself is not respected.

“Love relationships of any kind were considered dangerous. They were regarded as a distraction that endangered the proper performance of duty.”

As a passing comment, one wonders if the pattern of many contemporary Japanese marriages does not reflect the sternness of that ethos. Businessmen who spend long periods away from home demonstrate a devotion to company or organization and are probably sublimating their natural impulses. An estimated 200,000 company employees in Japan live apart from their families as tanshin funin. The samurai might also have had dalliances with courtesans, but the rule was obeyed, that such relationships were ephemeral. Love relationships of any kind were considered dangerous. They were regarded as a distraction that endangered the proper performance of duty. To be in love with someone or to form a romantic liaison of any kind was to create a giri-ninjo, (duty versus human feeling) crisis of unmanageable proportions. (Minamoto Ryoen Giri to Ninjo (Tokyo: Chuo Koran-sha, 1969). The Love Suicides at Sonezaki, make precisely this point. In not a few cases, such liaisons ended in double suicide. Women were classified either as mothers and wives, or as entertainers who provided a few moments of physical pleasure.

“the vast number of bars staffed by hostesses does suggest that the entertainer role is still very much alive”

While I am not suggesting that the average Japanese prefers the company of a courtesan to that of his wife, the vast number of bars staffed by hostesses does suggest that the entertainer role is still very much alive. Sex tours abroad by company employees have an image, which matches that of an army unit going behind the lines to a pleasure spot. When the Japanese Self-Defence forces first ventured abroad since the end of World War II, on a United Nations Peace-keeping mission, the press reported and played up the issue of whether or not they should carry condoms with them. The illustration here became a sensitive issue when Korean women in particular claimed compensation from the Japanese government for forced prostitution during World War II when they were recruited involuntarily and compelled to act as ‘comfort women’ for the Japanese Imperial army. The allegation had been denied for years, but the discovery and subsequent release in 1991 of sensitive documents verified the practice and called for the Tokyo government to make wide-ranging apologies to neighboring governments and to the individuals concerned. The matter went to the Japanese courts later in 1991.

“At any rate, the role of women in Japan is worth pondering in relation also to the slow progress of women’s rights.”

At any rate, the role of women in Japan is worth pondering in relation also to the slow progress of women’s rights. The spirit of women may have been affected by what the Romans called the dura virum nutrix: the mentality of the matronly woman who sees her role as that of a severe nurse of men. I can recollect a young American who married a student of mine being told by his prospective Japanese father-in-law: “If you tire of your wife, go to a professional woman. Otherwise you may have trouble”. He didn’t listen to the advice and he did have trouble, unfortunately. Perhaps it is not only Japanese women who need to be liberated from their neo-samurai mentality.

The samurai view of death was enriched by the other root of Japanese thought, namely the influence of Chinese Confucianism. Shinto saw death as natural, and Buddhism added a cosmic background to explain it in metaphysical terms. The social role of death was added to by the Confucian element in Japanese feudal society and is the cultural root of many instances of death and suicide in modern Japan. It was the complex combination of bushido and Confucianism that provided the basis of the modern militaristic ideology of the nation from 1868 to 1945 that brought it to grief and near annihilation.

Image | Katsushika Hokusai


This is Part 12 of Professor Stuart D. B. Picken’s serialised monograph, “Death in the Japanese Tradition: A Study in Cultural Evolution and Transformation”, to be published every Thursday.

The next instalment, Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism and the Neo-Samurai will be published next Thursday on June 09, 2016.


Part 1: Death in the Japanese Tradition: An Introduction
Part 2: Buddhism & Burial: Attitudes to Death in Ancient Japan
Part 3: Death and the Dead in Japan’s Literary Classics
Part 4: Parallel Worlds: Folk Religion, Life & Death in Japan
Part 5: Kami and Ancestors
Part 6: Buddhism and Death in Society
Part 7: The Arrival and Acceptance of Buddhism in Japan
Part 8: Popular Buddhist Death Cults
Part 9: The Death Poem and Buddhism
Part 10: Cross-Cultural Comparisons on Mourning and Object Loss
Part 11: Japanese Buddhist and Christian Images of Death: Comparisons and Contrasts
Part 12: Bushido: The Way of Death
Part 13: Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism and the Neo-Samurai
Part 14: Militarism – Meiji to Showa
Part 15: Nogi Syndrome, Workaholism and Karoshi
Part 16: Suicide in Contemporary Japan
Part 17: Lingering Images in Popular Culture
Part 18: Terrorism, Violent and Tomorrow’s Citizens
Part 19: The Death and Burial of Emperor Showa
Part 20: The Modern Ritualized Death System

Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. […] and Object Loss Part 11: Japanese Buddhist and Christian Images of Death: Comparisons and Contrasts Part 12: Bushido: The Way of Death Part 13: Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism and the Neo-Samurai Part 14: Militarism – Meiji to Showa […]

  2. […] and Object Loss Part 11: Japanese Buddhist and Christian Images of Death: Comparisons and Contrasts Part 12: Bushido: The Way of Death Part 13: Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism and the Neo-Samurai Part 14: Militarism – Meiji to Showa […]

  3. […] and Object Loss Part 11: Japanese Buddhist and Christian Images of Death: Comparisons and Contrasts Part 12: Bushido: The Way of Death Part 13: Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism and the Neo-Samurai Part 14: Militarism – Meiji to Showa […]

  4. […] “Bushido to wa shinu koto to mitsuketari” […]

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About Stuart D. B. Picken

The late Reverend Professor Stuart D. B. Picken began his distinguished career in academia as a Rotary Scholar on a research trip to Japan. A native of Scotland who had dedicated himself to religious studies, he immediately became fascinated by Japanese culture and the practice of Shinto. He was particularly drawn to the parallels and differences he saw in Western pedagogy compared to that of the East and began a lifelong mission to bridge the communication and knowledge gap between the two worlds. Picken was appointed Professor of Philosophy at the International Christian University (ICU) in 1972. Here he turned his Western theological and philosophical training to comparative religious and cultural studies of Japan, at a time when the country was emerging from the shadows of the Second World War. His groundbreaking and controversial work on suicide in Japan made his name within the country, but it was his subsequent work on Shinto that influenced the rehabilitation of the religion at a time when it was dismissed in the West as pagan and primitive, or unjustly caricatured for its wartime associations. Whether in his research or teaching, Picken devoted much of his life to increasing understanding between his adopted country of Japan and the West, and in 2007 he was recognised with the Order of the Sacred Treasure, an imperial decoration for his pioneering research and outstanding contribution to the promotion of friendship and mutual understanding between Japan and the United Kingdom. He also served as the International Adviser to the High Priest of the Tsubaki Grand Shrine, one of Japan’s largest and oldest shrines. From 2009 he was the founding Chairman of The International Academic Forum (IAFOR), where he was highly active in helping nurture and mentor a new generation of academics, and facilitating better intercultural and international awareness and understanding.


Asia, Cultural & Area Studies, Death in the Japanese Tradition, Ethics, Religion & Philosophy, Featured, IAFOR Japan Research Institute, In Depth, Subject Area, World


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