The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, short review.

  • CULTURE
  • In 1944, while the United States of America knew they have almost won the war and will be soon taking over the Japanese, they needed to properly acknowledge themselves about their enemy. Since the Japanese were the most alien enemy they have ever fought throughout their war history, they had to take into account different habits of acting and thinking like never before especially in the field of handling their prisoners of war. Thusly, the government commissioned Ruth Benedict to write a cultural analysis about them in order to predict their future behavior. Ruth Benedict was an American anthropologist, born on the 5th of January 1887. She had a great influence on cultural anthropology; her main fields of expertise were culture and anthropology. She was prominent in the US and her teacher and mentor was Franz Boas, who was known as the father of anthropology. Consequently, this research paper by Ruth Benedict had the aim of helping the Americans understand cultural patterns of the Japanese that might be driving their aggression while simultaneously hoping to find possible weaknesses or means of persuasion that have been missed. Furthermore, the US might partially know what to expect from their reaction to their defeat, to the changing role of the emperor and to democracy. In fact, this research paper was originally entitled “Japanese behavior patterns” and after the end of the war it was expanded to the current text of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. The book was published in New York in 1946 with 324 pages. Ruth Benedict, without any doubt is a great anthropologist, however, since she has never been to Japan, we ask ourselves, does she have the necessary expertise to write the book? Due to the inability to have a field trip to Japan, Benedict had to practice Anthropology at a Distance in which she based all her work on academic books, Japanese novels in translation, movies and interviews with Japanese Americans. Due to wartime propaganda portraying the Japanese as treacherous and uncivilized, Benedict had to conduct her research with high generosity (tough mindedness) and without any sense of American narcissism. Furthermore we ask ourselves, what are Benedict’s main points in the book and how does she support them adequately?

    Benedict, Ruth. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1946. Print.

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    Ruth Benedict tackles the book by focusing on several main points. According to her research results and analysis, Benedict explains Japanese people’s assumptions about the conduct of life and the conditionality of their outlook on life. According to them, everything from ethics to life goals is situational and their assumptions affect the focus and perspectives in which they view life. Additionally, Benedict provides us with the habits that are expected and taken for granted in Japan. Furthermore, how does Japan view her involvement in the war? Unlike the rest of the world did, Japan looked at the war as a cultural problem rather than a military one. Since there was anarchy in the world as long as every nation had absolute sovereignty; it was necessary for Japan to fight to establish a hierarchy. Japan wanted all the nations to be in one world where they would raise China and eliminate the US, Russia and Britain. Accordingly, what is the difference between Japan and western nations? The difference could be apparent from the most apparent aspects. For instance, what others didn’t understand was that Japan was not careless about material armament. But ships and guns were just the outward show of the undying Japanese spirit. They were symbols much as the sword of the samurai had been the symbol of his virtue. They idolized the emperor and died in his name but separated him from the war and would never blame him for any losses, they would blame the military. In terms of behavior, how different are Japanese soldiers from the western ones? What Ruth discovered is that the main difference in behavior between western soldiers and the Japanese was the cooperation the latter gave to the Allied forces as prisoners of war. For instance, they knew no rules of life that applied in this new situation and they were dishonored and their life as Japanese was ended. Furthermore, we ask ourselves, how is Japanese culture shaped?

    Ruth Benedict argues that Japanese culture is shaped primarily by an extreme awareness to social hierarchy, honor, virtue and duty (on and giri). These social patterns, play out in every social action, from war to child-rearing. Benedict states that “On not only means obligation, but also debt, loyalty, kindness and love, and debt in Japan has to be carried the best an individual can” (Benedict, 1946). The word on doesn’t have a proper explanation since the English word obligation doesn’t contain all the meanings of on. Benedict explains the attitude about indebtedness by giving an example of a word that Japanese use and is stronger than thank you. That word is katajikenai, and it is written with the Kanjis ‘insult,’ ‘loss of face’. Explaining its actual meaning that could be literally translated to both ‘I am insulted’ and ‘I am grateful’. Benedict demonstrates the separation between guilt cultures and shame cultures. Some important terms that Benedict provides us with are: Ko on which is an on received from the Emperor; Oya on:On received from the parents; Gimu: the fullest repayment of these obligations; Chu: Duty to the Emperor, the law, Japan; ko: duty to parents and ancestors; Giri: these debts are regarded as to be repaired with mathematical evidence to the favor received and there are time limits. From the little duties we can see how on, gimu, giri, chu and ko show the characteristics of Japanese people and how their behavior differs from the rest of the nations. Since the Japanese view their emperor as a God, in terms of participating in the war and respecting him, they base their beliefs and actions upon the ko on and chu to fight for their emperor until their last breath. Therefore, they were docile to him when he told them to surrender and build a new Japan

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    In my opinion, since this book was published in 1946, we notice that it is slightly outdated. Undoubtedly, Ruth Benedict’s cultural and ethnographical theories are accurate however; many of her predictions weren’t equitable. Benedict predicted that as long as the countries around Japan are peaceful Japan can remain committed to pacifism. It is apparent that despite many wars occurring after WWII, due to the demilitarization of Japan and article 9 of the constitution, Japan has remained peaceful until now. Finally, we can say that this book definitely helped the government know what to expect from the Japanese. Despite changing society tremendously, if we look at it from an optimistic point of view, we can say that Japan is currently a really peaceful country and definitely a megalopolis that attracts many foreigners for many aspects.

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