Japan is an influential and powerful country in its own right. More than economy and political related issues, Japan has influenced the world at large. Even if the world denies this, the apparent influence of Japanese culture is evident in things that can be seen around. Movies, cartoons, fashion, lifestyle and cuisine—there are many more aspects of society that has taken a bit (or sometimes, a lot) of effect or influence in the environment that people are living in today; an example would be how sushi is as common as burger and fries today.
Perhaps, the most influential thing that the Japanese has given the world in its entirety is the anime or the Japanese animation. Almost everyone knows the likes of Gundam, Doraemon and even the Astro Boy. Nevertheless, this paper will focus on one aspect which is very ingrained in the Japanese tradition, culture, history and even literature. There is one thing which just about everyone knows and holds in such a high regard more than those robots and big-eyed superheroes—they are the Samurai warriors.
Samurai Warriors, the Bushido and Everything Else In Between. Samurais are known as warriors—strong, honorable and bureaucratic military men who have a specific way of living and conduct. These men are so powerful that they are equated with security, bloodshed and courage. However, one important thing to note about these Japanese warriors is the fact they are not as fantastic or as strong people think they are with regard to their origins. Samurais are actually lowly servants known as the saburai (bowmen) that are subjected to ridiculously high taxes that they eventually revolted against the government.
Interestingly, these men (later to be known as the Samurai) are given access to so many equipments, privileges and weapons that they later on became so respected and powerful that they even surpassed the aristocrats and noble families of Japan. The Samurai later on formed clans who practice a certain code of honor. Even if they are ruthless warriors who have such strong beliefs in dominance and power, they were regarded with such respect and esteem that being a Samurai is such a tremendous privilege and honor that a Samurai lord can even be equated with the Emperor himself. (JapaneseLifestyle. com)
The Way of the Bushido What then is the Bushido? What is its connection with the Samurai warrior? Bushido is the way of life, a way of living that a Samurai should both embody and practice. In simple terms, bushido is death. Samurai should keep in mind that death is inevitable and that a warrior should even expect it and take honor in the concept of one’s death. This is not a case of psychological illness or dementia; rather, it is a case of loyalty. If one is to choose between being a slave of another country or clan versus committing suicide and/or imminent death, a warrior is sure to choose death.
The reason why hara-kiri or seppuku exists is because of this fact—a warrior would die rather than accept defeat and bring shame to one’s own clan and family. However, Bushido is not actually negative, violent or gruesome at all; it is merely a case of keeping in mind that in everything that a warrior should do, he should remember that everything is transitory and not permanent, and because of this, a warrior will give his best in everything that he does—whether in a tea ceremony, making love with geishas and most especially in fighting.
In this way, everything that a warrior has and everything that he does is treated with such importance and greatness since he knows there is a possibility that it will not happen again. The Bushido is very different from the carpe diem. While this (carpe diem) concept teaches us to seize the moment and make the most out of things—there is a tendency for excesses—over eat, over think etc. and eventually, take everything for granted.
The Bushido is different because even if a warrior thinks of the transitoriness of things or its impermanence, he will not think of taking things for granted or excesses because at the back of his mind, there is death looming. When a warrior thinks of death, he thinks that everything should be precious. And this is what makes a Samurai a great warrior. (Daidoji and Cleary 3-5) The Japanese Pop Culture and the World At Large Japanese Pop Culture or J-pop is perhaps the most creative and colorful kind of culture.
There is a great misunderstanding however if we talk about culture. Sometimes, when culture is defined it is vague and creates confusion, most especially if a person is to connect it to the world of popular culture. The word culture is sometimes used to denote something which is of exceptional standard, class or art. It distinguishes those things which are mediocre and passable to those of a high quality. However, what is its connection to popular culture, most especially to the Japanese pop culture?
It is perhaps connected with the fact that when a person says culture it could mean certain aspects of the society that mobilizes the people. In this case, J-pop has certainly mobilized and even created a movement that has influenced not only the Japanese but the world at large. (Martinez 1-4) In an article by Laura Tiffany, she gives an extensive overview of how Japanese pop culture has more than influenced the United States of America, she also mentions of how far it has reached the shores of other countries as well.
Japanese pop culture has been so well received that there is even a mall being built entirely for its purpose—to celebrate the crazy and fantastic world of J-pop. The J-pop is not merely getting obsessed with Japanese animations or even eating sushi all the time—it’s a movement that has mobilized hundreds of people to better appreciate the Japanese culture. However, there is a difference from the real and true Japanese culture and the Japanese pop culture that is taking the world by storm. It is often perceived that the world of Japanese is very rigid and traditional.
Their society which is regarded as a patriarchal are comprising of women who are submissive, men are powerfully dominant and children study day and night just to get into a good school. In fact, Martinez wrote in her book, The Worlds of Japanese Popular Culture: …this image of Japan is: a homogenous society, where hierarchy and formality continue to be important. Japanese society is portrayed as one where esthetics and harmony are highly valued, and yet feudal violence lives on in the guise of the yakuza (gangsters). (2)
Japan, the country and the Japanese as a whole are still regarded as the outside world, and most especially, the Western world as still living in the traditions of old Japan. Putting sushi platters aside, Japanese culture is often thought as those comprising of Japanese war lords, yakuza and samurai warriors. This is indeed connected to the real Japanese history but the popular culture that Japan have now is also reflecting these same subjects, thus, it is not surprising then why other nationalities from other parts of the globe has certain ideas about Japan.
However, what is most important to note about that situation is the fact that what people regard now as popular culture is in fact a manifestation of the traditions of the Japanese people. Everything that is shown and paraded around the areas of Akihabara, Harajuku and Shibuya are but mere manifestations of what are the aspirations, thinking, attitudes and way of life of the present pop and hip culture are all connected to the old-fashioned and traditional Japan.
Even if the Japanese pop culture right now seem to be so loud and modern, somehow, it still embodies the aspects of what the Japanese society is all about. Not only is the Japanese culture affecting pop culture, but it also shaking (and sometimes, even shocking) other parts of the world. In a book by Roland Kelts, titled Japanamerica: How the Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U. S. , he concludes that there is so much influence that the pop culture has brought to the United States of America: it was back in 1977 that Frank, motivated by the unexpected success of Star Wars, sought Japan’s contemporary cultural output—the nation’s imagination—in the form of an animation series for import to the United States. So enamored were he and his colleagues of the seemingly endless reach of Star Wars, they immediately rebranded the Japanese animation, Battle of the Planets. (13) Even the famous Gwen Stefani even uses Japanese-inspired fashion in her music videos and fashion style, even going as far as making her own fashion line based on Japanese street fashion (Tiffany).
In short, the Japanese pop culture is taking the world by storm. One thing that is interesting though is the presence of the Japanese war lords—not only are they in the Japanese pop culture, they are more than present in almost all aspects of both Eastern and Western culture. The Samurai Warriors in Pop Culture? Hollywood, the famous, glamorous, glitzy world of Hollywood, has even produced movies that are inspired (and even focused) on the wonderful world of the Japanese warriors—the Samurais.
Even big cartoon companies, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, are both importing modern cartoons and animations that feature Samurai sword fights, Samurai love triangles, Samurai clothing and hairstyles, even the Samurai look—eyes glaring and brows furrowed in agitation. The Way of the Bushido is so apparent in the things that are around the modern, fast paced and technologically advanced world of the generation today that it is so ridiculously opposite and ironic. There are so many aspects in the society today that mirror these influences.
And because people are so bent on seeing these Samurai warriors or way of living seen on the big screen or in fashion, it may only mean that people are so interested in them. There are various examples of these influences, most famous are the ones seen in the movies, while others are reflected in cartoons and even in fashion. The Samurai Sword and the Samurai Moves Somehow, Western actions movies are not just all about muscles and brawl. Two very famous movies were inspired by Japanese culture, but most especially, they are inspired by Samurai sword fighting.
The Last Samurai and Kill Bill are two movies that show two different versions of inspirations. The Last Samurai is an epic film that features Tom Cruise as an American captain caught in the warring world of Japanese military (who wants the Western culture and practices) and feudal warlords (who are desperate to preserve the Japanese heritage and culture). Even if the movies is more like an action movie that has a Samurai context in the storyline, the fact still remains that people are still interested in doing and watching these kinds of movies and are actually influenced by these movies.
Kill Bill, on the other hand, portrays Uma Thurman as a strong heroine who knows all the proper moves in marital arts and sword fights. The movie is obviously inspired by Japanese Samurai movies and even the Japanese pop culture. The colorful costumes, characters, lines and even cinematography is clearly Japanese pop culture that some fight scenes that are too gory are even shown in an animated style as to avoid too much blood thirsty and violent moments.
The Samurai Animations— Samurai X (Rurouni Kenshin) and Samurai Jack Clearly, if there are Samurai action movies, it is inevitable that there are Samurai cartoons and animations—after all, these anime or manga are very famous. Samurai X or Rurounin Kenshin is an original written Japanese manga that eventually became famous. Even if the storyline covers earlier periods of Japan (all those years of warlord periods and eras), it still became a big hit in both forms of cartoons and comics.
Even if tackles very serious topics about politics, consumerism, feudalism and even on colonialism, the scenes are still funny (all those ridiculous facial expressions and dialogue lines) and yet it features all the gore that a true Japanese Samurai action movie rightfully deserves. The anime show Samurai X may be a little biased since it is really made straight from the manga and was created by the Japanese themselves. However, a different cartoon show was created for the American viewers in mind—it got so successful and huge that it has been reported to have won Emmy awards, the Emmy awards.
This show was aired on the Cartoon Netwoork—Samurai Jack—is a fusion of both comedy and history as it uses a rather different form or narration and plot line. More important than the uncommon and extraordinary way of telling the story line is the fact that the protagonist or lead himself, Samurai Jack, is (obviously) a Samurai and that he thinks and uses words that are meant to pertain to the Way of the Bushido and its beliefs. The Samurai/Japanese Culture in Other Aspects Even if people don’t realize it, sometimes, they are exuding the fashion of the Samurai.
The famous topknot that Japanese men (or Samurai warriors) sport is sometimes seen on people, and they don’t even realize it that it has a connection somehow to Japan in the historical sense. These may be of course, over reading things too much—but there are things that indeed clothing been inspired by the traditional Japanese. A few examples would be those clothing inspired by kimono or the unforgettable cherry blossoms; in addition, key chains or backpacks with Samurai swords in them can be seen around, and who can forget those shirts with cute Samurai warriors and ninja cartoons? Conclusion
In conclusion, the Samurai concept or belief is still evident, not only in the Japanese pop culture but in the world’s pop culture in general. This is not really a negative thing; rather, it can be a good thing. Even if the Japanese war lords are long past and it may be judged that they have a certain negative effect because it promotes blood wars and violence, the Japanese Samurai still has a lot of good things that they keep in mind. The Way of the Samurai is instilled with discipline, honor, obedience and duty. They make it a point to excel in everything—be it in tea ceremonies or swordfights.
Even if there are really no swordfights anymore it is still imperative that people today, most especially, the youth adheres to the more positive virtues that the Samurai teaches. It is a good thing therefore that the concept of the Samurai is still evident in pop culture—because more than selling kawaii things that are cute and kitschy, it just proves that the past influences the present and future and that there is still a room for the traditions and culture of a country’s past for its modern present and technological future.