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[[ Read Ebook ]] Ù The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan ç Long Recognized As A Core Book In Any Study Of Japanese Culture And Literature, The Nobility Of Failure Examines The Lives And Deaths Of Nine Historical Individuals Who Faced Overwhelming Odds, And, Realizing They Were Doomed, Accepted Their Fate To Be Killed In Battle Or By Execution, To Wither In Exile, Or To Escape Through Ritual Suicide Morris Then Turns His Attention To The Kamikaze Pilots Of World War II, Who Gave Their Lives In Defense Of Their Nation In The Full Realization That Their Deaths Would Have Little Effect On The Course Of The War Through Detail, Crystal Clear Prose And Unmatched Narrative Sweep And Brilliance, Professor Morris Takes You Into The Innermost Hearts Of The Japanese People The history of an attitude He traces half a dozen tragic heroes from their initial, meteoric success, through their downfall and honorable deaths A perfect Aristotelian tragedy except that they don t have a tragic flaw At least in Japanese eyes In Japanese eyes, they fell because of their sincerity, their purity, their single minded devotion Aristotle might regard it as a fault escaping the Golden Mean, or at least not selecting the proper object of loyalty but in Japan, that s proof that they really are just too good for this earth.He carefully pieces together what really is known and what is said And what gets conveniently pared off for not matching the myth Oddly enough, this isfor the villains of the piece than the heroes Sometimes this is because there is less known about the heroes, which givesflexibility, but the myth tends to shear off any of an opponent s motives for acting as they did Yoshitsune s brother, who hunted him to his death, had reasons for his actions Yoshitsune had a tendency to exceed orders, and he had accepted honors from the emperor without the approval of his brothers Does this get mentioned in the legends Even as the brother s obviously inadequate excuse Of course not The brother is motivated purely by spite, envy and vindictiveness And some of his supporters get blackened as well for their part And this happens over and over and over again.Morris emphasizes a little too much the contrast between Western success and Japanese failure These heroes tend to get posthumously exonerated and praised Sugawara No Michizane the rare one who died in his bed was regarded as the author of any number of disasters that followed after his death and hit the family of his opponents And of course, how did King Arthur end up Or Roland Or Robin Hood But the Japanese models are interesting And the stories really are tragic, even if half three quarters ninety percent fiction. Utagawa Toyokuni 1769 1825 As Ivan Morris 1925 1976 is best known for his translations and interpretations of the hyper aestheticized culture of the Japanese imperial court of the Heian era 794 1185 , one may well be startled to learn that the last book he published before his regrettably premature death was an examination of the role of failed heroes throughout Japanese history In fact, he tells us in his preface to The Nobility of Failure Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan 1975 that Mishima Yukio complained to him that his focus on the Heian period court ignored Japan s long martial history and left out crucial aspects of the Japanese character Morris took this to heart and wrote a 500 page response examining the lives and deaths of nine famous Japanese men of action which closes with a chapter about the kamikaze pilots of the Second World War Morris chose to focus on tragic heroes, because they play a role in Japanese culture which has no real counterpart in the West Perhaps when searching for a Western analogue one might think of Admiral Nelson being struck down just as his greatest victory was revealing itself, but to die under such circumstances would not be viewed as tragic by a samurai on the contrary, Nelson s fate would be the most hotly desired goal of any samurai The Spartans who fell at Thermopylae were defeated, but they slowed and weakened the Persians so that the rest of Greece could finish the job on the plain of Marathon over, they shared the samurai s estimation of honorable death in battle Not even the men who died at the Alamo most of whom did not share the death dedicated values of the Spartans and samurai are tragic heroes in the sense at hand because their lengthy resistance and ultimate defeat assured the subsequent defeat of the Mexican forces No, a tragic hero in the sense considered here is one who dies not only in defeat, but theabject, ineluctable and obviously vain from our point of view the defeat, the greater the tragic hero is As Morris mentions, just such heroes were the men Mishima most admired, and it is now clear to me that Mishima was not trying to spur an uprising when he addressed that band of soldiers from that balcony He knew perfectly well that they were not going to do anything, and, even if they did, they would accomplish nothing against the power of the Japanese state No, he joined the men he most admired by dying in the most pointless defeat he could arrange After speaking his bold and by his lights noble words and viewing the probable mix of consternation, fear and disbelief in his audience s faces, he withdrew to a small coterie of his fellow believers and committed seppuku harakiri surely the most painful way to kill oneself except possibly burning oneself alive.In this book Morris has two primary topics the role of the tragic hero in Japanese culture and the tragic heroes themselves Most of the text is occupied with presenting the lives and the historical and cultural context of each of these tragic heroes, which provides the reader with vivid snapshots of particularly colorful moments in Japanese history I very much appreciate that Morris, accomplished translator that he was, liberally quotes from original source materials histories, diaries, poetry, etc that yield a richly connotative contemporaneous flavor to the portrait For example, Morris commences with the legendary prince Yamato Takeru, who murdered his twin brother in a privy and in his first great victory disguised himself as a woman, ingratiated himself with the enemy commanders and then Prince Ouso another of Takeru s names waited until the festivities were at their height, when he pulled out the sword from the breast of his robe and, seizing the elder Kumaso by the collar, pierced him through the chest The younger Kumaso rushed from the room in terror The prince chased him to the foot of the stairs, grabbed him from behind, and thrust his sword up his backside. Then the chieftain said, Do not move your sword any further I have something to say to youTakeru heard him out among other things, the impaled chieftain gave Ouso the name Takeru brave and then killed him, slashing him to pieces like a ripe melon I am excerpting here from Morris translation of an extended passage from the oldest Japanese history, the Kojiki. This Ur hero goes on to cheat, swindle and betray many other enemies, a kind of Japanese Ulysses When he returns to the Yamato court, he is sent at once to fight the enemies in the East, and, a clear sign of the composite nature of this account, he changes his personality and methods completely No longer a treacherous bully, he becomes a sensitive and empathetic hero as well as the gullible victim of deceits which maneuver him into desperate situations Moreover, in this part of the story he must also combat supernatural beings, which were completely absent from the account of the campaign in the West.Ultimately, one of these supernatural entities undoes him through deceit , and, dying, Takeru painfully tries to return to the court to give a report to his father, the emperor He fails and succumbs on the desolate Plain of Nobo, but not before emitting nostalgic poems and a final message to his father replete with the proper filial sentiments As Morris emphasizes, it is in these poems and final message that the Japanese hero manifests his true emotion and records his sincerity It is this emotional sincerity which characterizes the Japanese hero, not his bravado, the women he seduces or the men he slaughters, and most certainly not his victories or defeats This tradition stretches down to the kamikaze pilots who all wrote their farewell poems the night before their last flight.Morris proceeds chronologically, and the heroes become less legendary andfirmly grounded in history The firstor less historical figure Morris considers is a 6th century soldier named Yorozu, about whom we know next to nothing except that he was the first Japanese in recorded history to commit suicide in defeat Defeat in itself is not dishonorable in traditional Japan, but to become a prisoner of the enemy is an unexpungeable dishonor According to the account in the Nihon Shoki, the second oldest Japanese history, Yorozu fought valiantly on the losing side, of course in an extremely lopsided contest between the rival Mononobe and Soga clans which was partially a struggle over whether Buddhism was to be officially acknowledged by the imperial court until he was severely wounded and likely to fall into the enemy s hands, at which point he plunged his own dagger into his throat In the account in the Nihon Shoki, the significance of this act was heightened by various supernatural phenomena, and it was carefully arranged for Yorozu to be completely alone against his adversaries at the end This is many centuries before bushido, the way of the samurai, had been formulated, much less codified The Nihon Shoki was submitted to the Emperor in 720, and this attitude must surely be even older.I suppose that slicing one s carotid artery was too easy, for suicide in defeat eventually acquired associated rites and developed into the excruciating seppuku. If you were able to do that, your makoto usually translated into English as sincerity, but with much deeper and richer connotations than it now carries could not be doubted 4 Morris looks closely at such figures as Sugawara no Michizane and Saigo Takamori, about whom I have written elsewhere, as well as Minamoto no Yoshitsune, Kusunoki Masashige and Amakusa Shiro, the sixteen year old Japanese Messiah who led a peasant Christian rebellion in 1638 and who, not surprisingly, was spotted walking on the sea off the coast of Kyushu All most interesting And Morris writes very well Each of these case histories adds a new aspect to the multi faceted notion of failed hero in Japanese culture, but the central theme is the hero, far from surviving or succeeding, is fated by his sincerity and lack of political acumen to die at an early age as a glorious failure To magnify the pathos, it was preferable that the hero be initially graced with brilliant victories before he was obliged by fate to walk open eyed into a complete and total defeat.But let me get to the other focus of this book the role of the tragic hero in Japanese culture The stories surrounding these failed heroes were told in Japanese marketplaces and festivals by their itinerant story tellers and acting companies they permeated Japanese literature, theater Noh, Kabuki and Bunraku and,recently, cinema and television Like central cultural myths everywhere they were used and abused for all possible political purposes Shorthand phrases such as hoganbiiki sympathy with the loser entered the language to quickly refer to the associated conceptual and emotional complexes Morris suggests why the Japanese have a fascination with such tragic heroes In a predominantly conformist society, whose members are overawed by authority and precedent, rash, defiant, emotionally honest men like Yoshitsune and Takamori have a particular appeal The submissive majority, while bearing its discontents in safe silence, can find vicarious satisfaction in identifying itself emotionally with these individuals who waged their forlorn struggle against overwhelming odds and the fact that all their efforts are crowned with failure lends them a pathos which characterizes the general vanity of human endeavour and makes them the most loved and evocative of heroes.And further This understanding of lacrimae rerum is reflected in an instinctive sympathy with the tragic fate of the failed hero, whose defeat by the forces of a hostile world exemplifies in a most dramatic form the confrontation of every living creature with adversity, suffering and death the pathos of worldly misfortune is especially evocative when the victim stands out as being young, pure and sincere.I may be deluding myself, but The Nobility of Failure is a convincing examination of one of the elements of Japanese culture which clearly set it apart from European cultures and their descendants I was set upon this book through a review by Marguerite Yourcenar in her remarkable, posthumously published collection of articles and essays, Le Temps, Ce Grand Sculpteur, which I recommend to your attention for its beautifully polished prose and Yourcenar s finely honed sense of history and aesthetics Morris does not just tell colorful stories the scholarly side of history is not neglected in the least For example, he tells us that traditionally Takeru is supposed to be a historical figure from the 1st century CE, but experts have established that, actually, the violent young prince was a composite of various Yamato commanders during the 4th century With nearly 200 pages of notes and glossary providing additional details, The Nobility of Failure is the kind of history I would expect to see published by a university press, not by Random House In the words of Kurt Singer, makoto spells readiness to discard everything that might hinder a man from acting wholeheartedly on the pure and unpredictable impulses that spring from the secret centre of his being Like its synonym magokoro, it also implies a purity of spirit and motive What is most interesting is that the objective righteousness of the man s cause is immaterial what matters is the sincerity with which he espouses the cause When I think back on the acts of sporadic violence in the 1930 s by some junior officers in the Japanese armed forces, which included murdering generals and government ministers, not to mention causing war with China, I now have a better understanding of the reluctance of the men in power to destroy or even to punish the transgressing officers Do you recall that scene in Tom Cruise s movie The Last Samurai where the battle has been manfully fought against overwhelming odds and lost At that point, if not sooner, Westerners would surrender Or perhaps they would hole up in a strong position and wait for the enemy to come to them The last charge of the pitiful remnants against the howitzers and Gatling guns in which they were mowed down to the last man except Cruise s character, of course , was not an act of madness, whimsy or incompetence It was a textbook manifestation of makoto. With this hopeless and useless charge their pure sincerity was displayed beyond any doubt And it was not done with the purpose of dispelling doubt it was done because of the perfection of that culminating act Human beings are wondrous and terrifying creatures 4 Thus spake Mishima Yukio in a 1966 newspaper interview I cannot believe in Western sincerity because it is invisible, but in feudal times we believed that sincerity resided in our entrails, and if we needed to show our sincerity, we had to cut our bellies and take out our visible sincerity And it was also the symbol of the will of the soldier, the samurai everybody knew that this was the most painful way to die And the reason they preferred to die in the most excruciating manner was that it proved the courage of the samuraiRating
Ivan Morris was perhaps the the most effective Western proponent of Japanese literature of his day Previous to The Nobility of Failure , his best known work consisted of translations and analysis of thethan remarkable women writers from the turn of the last millenium Lady Murasaki, who in The Tale of Genji perhaps invented the novel, her rival Sei Shonagon, and the pseudonymous author of the autobiography As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams The Nobility of Failure hews back to his other interest the myth of the heroic failure in imperial and aristocratic circles Morris begins with the mythical Yamato Takeru, the son of an early Emperor sent by his father to battle and lose to a mountain deity, passes through defenders of imperial power and populist rebels, to the kamikazi pilots All of these heroes are defeated and die in battle or at first in exile and later, as the cult of suicide developed, by their own hand Frequently enough, they found themselves on the wrong side of modernity and the clans that understood how to seize and manage an empire in the Emperor s name clearly one of the secrets of the longevity of the imperial family has been its ability to cede power to clans and rule only the ritual life of the nation Morris take on the kamikazis is the most interesting examining the evidence, he finds them not to be crude zealots but educated men who embraced their destiny with an understanding that it would not make a difference in the outcome. A great book with a good overview of Japanese history explored through it s cultural myths and legends Morris is eloquent and concise, and his work is thoroughly researched almost half of this study s pages are notes and references truly a treasure trove for researchers I find a lot of the myths really compelling, and the conclusions Morris draws are right on the money His thesis is relatively simple Japan idolizes and remembers it s historic failures muchthan successes There s something about being committed to an ideal or a cause to the bitter end, even if it s wrong, that resonates strongly with the warrior culture of Japan But not just there, I think that in contemporary American culture, with its attraction to whimsy, instantaneous gratification, and billion channel satellites, there can be found a certain respect for people who can commit themselves solidly to a cause There s something romantic about lost causes in general that I think people identify with, the almost types of stories get embedded in our culture as well here I m thinking of Rudy.A good read for a piece of dense and thorough scholarship.