Saturday, May 07, 2005

Japan, From Will Durant's Our Oriental Heritage

This is background on Japan's Golden Age for my study of Asian Empathy from the Life-Giving Sword

(p 829)

Buddhist Japan, 522-1603, civilized by China and Korea, refined and softened by religion.

Feudal and peaceful Japan, Tokugawa Shogunate, 1603-1868, self contained seeing no territory nor external trade, agriculture wedded to art and philosophy.

Modern Japan, opened up by America in 1853, wars of expansion, trade dependency, imperialism of Europe and America, the only possible conclusion is world war.

The Sacred Isles are created when two gods, Izanagi and Izanami, brother and sister, stood on the floating bridge of heaven and thrust a spear in the ocean and held it aloft. From the spear drops fell and they became Japan where they fell. By watching tadpoles, they learned the secrets of sex and gave birth to the Japanese.

From them was born the divine lineage of the emperors of Dai Nippon. From the time of their love there has been only one imperial dynasty in Japan.

Fourth century Japanese were described by Chinese writers as having no farm animals, facial tattoos, armed with spears and arrows, wearing no shoes. They were polygamous, peaceful, and respectful, loved to drink and lived long lives. The women wore body make-up rich in scarlet and pink.

(p 832)

Early peasants where independent soldier-gentlemen and there was no exploitation or poverty, and there was no stealing. Handicrafts came from Korea and crafts guilds were created. Free artisans where at the top of the class structure and there were also slaves. It was partly feudal and tribal, eventually landed barons operated peasants as serfs.

The early Japanese worshiped animals, ancestors and sex. Spirits were everywhere, in the night sky, in the plants and trees, insects and animals, even in men. Deities were innumerable, hovered over the homes and danced in the flames.

The dead were feared and worshiped, precious objects were laid on their graves and prayers and delicacies were offered before their ancestral tablets every day.

(p 833)

Buddhism entered in 522 satisfying the religious needs of the people and the political needs of the government. Buddha is represented differently than in his time, not the revolutionary escape from the Hindu ways of need, want and control, but the Mahayana version of Buddhism. Gentle gods and cheerful ceremonies promised personal immortality and gracefully brought piety, peacefulness and obedience to make them happy with their agricultural existence. Their content with life, joy in celebrations and a unity of feeling gave politicians the benefits of order and national strength.

Leaders gave Japan to the Buddha, lavishing resources on temples, the clergy, included the ethics in decrees. Japan socially advanced with artistic renaissance but as palace coups by rival controlling families changed the political landscape, repression and domination often replaced progress with autocratic domination.

(p 835)

In 898, one such family, the Fugiwara, installed Daigo, remembered as the greatest Emperor of Japan. Japan borrowed culture and spirituality from China so successfully that they entered a Golden Age where Japan rivaled any other nation at any other age with the beauty of its art and the radiance of its people.

Cooking, poetry, music, gardens and architecture were imported with discrimination where Japan maintained its own spirit and character adapting new knowledge to ancient values.

(p 836-837)

The wealth, luxury and intellectual refinement of Japanese families would not be rivaled until the Palace of Versailles or the courts of the French Enlightenment. The whole nation was stimulated to rise to standards of learning and taste and sex had been liberated, adultery was winked at. Harmonies of color wavered on every sleeve, music and dance accompanied life's steps, literature flourished and morals relaxed.

This period of brilliant refinement was brief because it relied on concentrated wealth that could be impacted by virtually any social disruptions or changes in the environment. The ascendancy of the wealthy to the heights of luxury tended to corrupt official rule to the point of offering positions of responsibility to the highest bidders.

As the poor observed the mounting wealth, criminals were allowed to live in open splendor and gangs of bandits roamed all of Japan. Centrally weakened, Japan became vulnerable to attack, a common thread in her history. The sudden decline from the Golden Age encouraged the families to become independent forces fracturing the nation, giving leadership to Shoguns, men accurately defined as war lords.

The Shoguns recognized the Emperor and maintained his family preserving the lineage of the Sacred Islands, but only with the smallest possible investment. Since the Japanese forces could no longer protect the average farmer, taxes were now collected by the Shoguns.

(p 838)

By 1192, Yoritomo of the Minamoto clan established an independent authority called the Kamakura Bakufu. While Kamakura was an important Buddhist city, Bakufu simply means military. Yoritomo died suddenly and his descendent's where weak leaders, giving the adage “the great man has no seed.” Soon after his death another family, the Homos, set up a parallel authority with their Regency which acted as “boss of bosses” family for the various Shoguns.

In China, the Kublai Khan became aware of this fracture and ordered the building of a flotilla which, as a poet said, “made the hills weep for the loss of their trees.” Clever Koreans, forever in fear of Japan, had falsely described Japan to him in terms of the former golden age. He sailed to Japan assured of a conquest but a famous storm welled up in the ocean drowning his armada of 3,500 ships and 70,000 fighters. This storm is, of course, the Kamikaze, the Divine Wind.

Takatoki was the last of the Homos. He was as defective has his ancestors had been clever, he collected dogs instead of taxes, and in this leadership void a series of coups, typically complicated with treachery installed the Ashikaga clan for 250 years intermittent civil war. Towards the end of their rule, painting and other arts became more important than governmental organization allowing Japan to descend into chaos.

(p 839)

An interesting trio emerged from this decline, encouraged by the chaos to attempt control of the nation. Legend has it that they were childhood friends who joined in an oath to support whichever of them succeeded in becoming top Shogun. Nobuaga was the first to try and failed but he had been supported by the second, Hideyoshi, who succeeded in becoming a major force by building on the successes of the first. Hideyoshi is a very important figure but the third, Iyeyasu is the most interesting of the three, and he had to buy his time.

The first, Nobuaga, had accumulated leaderless bandit forces into an army with the help of the second, Hideyoshi. When he died, Hideyoshi completed the coup against the Homos, presumably with the help of the third, Iyeyasu. He made himself the ruler of half of Japan and gained the trust of the largely symbolic Emperor, and convinced him to allow a conquest of Korea, which in turn would allow him to give China to Japan. This plan seemed insane to the three, Iyeyasu, who after debate decided to abide and allow its expected failure to destroy Hideyoshi, allowing him to build on the power of the other two.

The Koreans had innovated naval warfare in a way that was not seen again until the battles of the ironclads of the US Civil War. Their Monitor defeated the entire Japanese navy of 72 ships, those not sunk were burned to their waterlines. This defeat did not ruin Hideyoshi, instead he settled down to life with his concubines and was given the title of Taiko, the antecedent of our word tycoon but he was better known to Japan as Monkey-face. A visiting missionary described him as “cunning beyond belief.” Not particularly religious, he none the less convinced the Japanese to contribute all the metal weapons to a colossal statue of the Buddha, the Daibutsu of Kyoto. Newly disarmed, the people had no choice but to accept his edits, one of which was to redefine the role of the warrior class, the Samauri.

Christians had established themselves in the southern port of Nagasaki and had driven the Buddhists out. Needless to say, this alarmed central Japan and the possible aims of the Jesuits was not lost on them. Monkey-face sent a messenger with five peremptory questions, asking why Buddhism was being repressed but also asked, interestingly, why the Portuguese colonialists ate useful animals, such as oxen and cows. There were also questions about the slavery practices of the Portuguese who were exporting Japanese to foreign buyers. Unsatisfied with their response, Monkey-face sought to crush the Christians, though it would take a few more generations to bring about a repression similar to the Masada resistance of the Jewish Zealots in Middle-eastern history.

Monkey-face died in 1598 and made his cohort, Iyeyasu promise to build a new capital in Tokyo and recongnize Hideyori, Monkey-face's son, as heir to the Regency they had taken from the Homos.

Kyeyasu reneged, mentioning that a technical flaw made his Samauri blood oath invalid, and quickly moved on to the task of consolidating Japan. Monkey-face's son and heir refused to take a hint and abdicate, this required a siege which against the huge Castle of Osaka, Monkey-face's son and his retainers eventually committed ritual suicide. Iyeyasu ended threats to his ascendancy by killing Monkey-face's remaining family, including all the children.

He changed his attitude quickly and transformed Japan into a peaceful and stable nation. Creating a long peace required winning the Sumurai away from the blood violence of the sword. He give them literature and philosophy and prestige, they contributed to the arts and theater.

Once again Japan's brilliant potential blossomed into another explosion of national beauty. Despite denying Japan any kind of democracy he was advanced and socially aware, he declared that the “people are the foundation of the empire.” He maintained patriarchal control and did not hesitate to punish insubordination with death, a rebel could expect to see his whole family killed for his transgressions. He preserved the Shogunate feudal system he felt it allowed a balance between centralized and distributed power and which allowed for the continuity of Japan's traditional structure. Japan under his leadership was unquestionably the best feudal society throughout all the ages of humanity.

**Menenorui... (see Life Giving Sword).

His heirs ruled successfully and amiably for eight generations, and his last ruling heir, **, was an amazingly advanced social innovator.

Iyeyasu was the first of many to declare that worth of a nation is measured in the humanity shown to its convicted criminals. Severe punishment is not the sign of a nation of bad people, but indicates a nation of corruption and incompetence.

The blending of Shinto ancestor worship and the fully modern Buddhism brought together the country in a way that pleased Iyeyas. He was lenient with the Christians based in Nagasaki though the Jesuit and Portuguese colonial designs were transparent. The intolerance and bitter denunciations of Japan's faith was disturbing. Neophyte Christians not only fought a holy war with the Buddhists but dogmatically attacked each other. During Monkey-face's regency, a Spanish Galleon was forced ashore by small Japanese flotilla. The Spanish captain was indignant at what he felt was piracy and complained to high officials. When he entered a minister's office, he was asked how the Christians had been so successful in aligning so many nations to one man, Jesus Christ. Being a load sailor, not a practiced diplomat, he told the Japanese what they really needed to know, “Our kings begin by sending men of religion to the nations they wish to conquer. The religieux induced people into embracing Christ and once there has been suitable progress in conversion, soldiers are sent to combine with the newly converted Christians making infiltration and domination very easy.”

Monkey-face was disturbed enough to bring a death ultimatum but he didn't live long enough to enforce the edict. Eventually, the Christians were persecuted enough to build a Masada type fortress of 37,000 soldiers, and like the Zealots, they were either killed in the rebellion for religious freedom or committed suicide.

Iyeyasu planned well for the long run, and eight generations of his heirs ruled Japan until the upheavals of the modern global age and highly capitalized industry. Some where mediocre but effective, others ruled with a strong hand as did Iyemitsu, third in his line when he eliminated the Portuguese Jesuit threat. Others built new Golden Ages of culture but the most remarkable of his heirs was the last, the socially advanced and aware Yoshimune who brought Japan into line with all the fundamental desires of the Buddha in the most revolutionary sense.

(p 844)

Like every liberal movement, it his initiative was expensive and Yoshimune borrowed from the lower but wealthy merchant class and compensated by reducing the expenses of government. He shocked the gentry by dismissing the prettiest ladies of the court. He dressed in cotton rather than silks, kept is regent apartments like peasant's home and dined on country cuisine. So open was he that he placed a complaint box before the palace of the Supreme Court and commoners were rewarded for their openness now matter how caustic their complaints.

Iyeyasu's Tokugawa dynastic age was the happiest period in Japan's long history. His people lived stable country lives, they were not necessarily wealthy but they were healthy, enjoyed perpetual peace and aimed very high in the pursuits of all their traditional arts. No one could know the effect of the arrival of American warships after 1850, nor expect the sudden excitement that stimulated the Japanese to beat the West at its own game, to rekindle the expansionist insanity of Monkey-face, the senseless cruelty inflicted on the Asian continent during the Second World War. No one could expect the generosity of the American Marshall plan or the results of the ill-planned strategies of the American Federal Reserve which brought much of American industry under the control of Japan.

(p 846)

The Imperial family, descendants of the mother and father gods who created the Sacred Isles, were supported by the Shogunates but in a way that might embarrass a modern family. The emperor was surround with concubines, he was secluded, kept idle and efemenint with silks and perfumes. They submissively played the role but where often forced into common crafts to supplement income.

Shoguns, in contrast, luxuriated, expected treatment normal for kings and emperors. When borne through the streets all the people were expected to kneel with their heads on their hands on the ground. Fires where extinguished, houses shuttered and pets locked up as he passed through, submission was enforced by the police. Cultured ladies entertained the Shogun without reserve and his retinue, including jesters, accompanied him everywhere. Shoguns, also called Daimyo, acknowledged allegiance to the emperor, and some even managed to declare independence for their regions in defiance of the central Shoguns.

Japan, in many ways was a version of China, so much culture had been transplanted, but Japan was a military state, and China was nationally pacifist. Chinese gentlemen where scholars, Japanese gentlemen were swordsmen, and only Iyeyasu interested the Daimyo's soldiers in culture, traditionally there were as likely to try out a new sword on a beggar as a dog.

Samauri did no labor except occasionally die for Daimyo or Japan. They gambled and brawled and their soul was their sword, despite long periods of peace there was considerable sword play in the streets.

Like knights in shining armour, they fought bravely for anyone who appealed to them for help or a just cause. They lived by their own code, despised materialism, never borrowing, lending or counting money. Bushido, the Way, was reminiscent of the early Buddhists and Tao, combined mediation, practice and superior knowledge in to Zen practice which evolves to this day.

The famous courage of the Japanese soldiers could not have been inherited from China, so fearless were they that within the Samauri code there were innumerable reasons for ritual suicide. Hara-kiri, more politely called seppuku, was the first lesson of Samauri youth. A special small sword was carried kept so that Samauri could disembowel themselves. Soldiers forced into surrender were as likely to do this as not, ministers were expected to follow their Daimyo into death with seppuku. Revenge vendettas were always a component of law, but often Samauri would kill themselves after righting wrongs. Peasants and women were forbidden Hara-kiri, but aristocratic women were taught jigaki, which was throat cutting, so they could kill themselves in protest.

**Ronin story...

(p 850)

Japanese law was rough justice, encasing the original evolution from tribal to feudal society, it functioned based on the simple concepts of revenge. Powerful Shogunate codified law but the street level enforcers the Samauri swordsmen took orders from their respective Daimyos.

Entire families were held responsible for the actions of their members, and paid for transgressions in numbers of five, cruelty in punishment exceeds what you have probably heard. Banishment was a common sentence but in many cases families forced to live in mountain hollows consolidated both militarily and spiritually, finely honing martial arts while implementing Buddhism in a very fundamental way.

In the mid 700's the Emperor Shomu abolished the death penalty, beginning a tradition of leniency in leadership, social advances require a committed and holistic approach and when he died his heirs were forced to reapply it since they lacked the ability to continue his initiatives.

Yoshimune, the innovator, was disgusted by prison conditions and punishment cruelty, lapses in justice where prisoners were simply lost in the system, the charges long forgotten. He codified the justice system, abolished family responsibility, and reformed the prisons.

(p 851)

In Yoshimune's Japan the ancient eight layer caste system had been reduced to 4 layers, Samurai, artisans, peasants and merchants, with merchants belonging to the lowest caste. Beneath this layers were a class of slaves, about five percent of the population. They were criminals, war captives, children who had been kidnapped or sold by their parents into bondage, and beneath the slaves where pariahs known as Eta, considered despicable by the Buddhist because they worked with dead animals, as butchers, tanners or scavengers.

Most Japanese were peasants, farming the eight of Japan which will raise crops. The Nara dynasty nationalized the land, and rented it to the farmers, but found that lack of ownership created farmers who didn't care for the land. Private ownership was restored but the state invested in the crops in the spring by providing seed. In densely populated Japan, one square mile fed 2000 people, making farming painfully intensive and farmers had to provide the state with one month of forced labor, where he was treated like a prisoner. Taxes might have been as much of 72% of the farm product, though usually 40% . Peasants possessed a place to cook and some utensils, his home was a shanty and his clothes were scant.

(p 852)

Natural disasters plagued Japan, being volcanic it is vulneralbe to earthquakes. Between 1177 and 1185, there had been an earthquake, a famine, and a fire which almost destroyed the capital, Kyoto. The city was dying of hunger, all the refinements of happier times could not be sold for food that didn't exist. Infants clung to the mother's breast not knowing if she was alive.

(p 855)

At one time, a lady's sleeves reached below her knees, and each had a little bell that tinkled as she walked. On wet and snowy days, women walked on raised wooden slippers an inch or more in height. In Tokugawa Japan, clothes became so extravagant that the shoguns felt they had to step in, outlawing the multiple superimposed robes, whose colors provided rainbows of colors determined by the rank of the wearer. Laws were cleverly circumvented but in time the rage for robes abated and Japanese fashions returned to the simple cotton of the Buddhists.

Japanese of all ages are the cleanest of people, those who could afford so, changed three times a day, and all bathed daily. Hot baths were used to keep warm in winter. Diet has always been healthy whether simple or extravagant, the staple rice was enhanced with fish, vegetables, seaweed, fruit and occasionally meat. Meat was rare except with the rich and the soldiers. They were long lived and known for feats of endurance. Meat was outlawed at times in deference to Buddhist beliefs, but when the wealthy priests were discovered to be eating meat secretly, the Japanese viewed it as a delicacy.

Fine cooking was core to the culture during better times, artists and philosophers divided themselves into warring clans and fought with recipes. Table manners were like a religion, bites were prescribed enactments. Meals were begun with a hot bowl of sake, and sake was long known to be life's single solution.

That which the seven sages sought,

Those men of olden times,

Was sake, beyond all doubt

Instead of holding forth

While, with grave mien,

How much better to drink sake,

To get drunk and shout aloud.

Since it is true

That death comes at last for all,

Let us be joyful

While we are alive

Even the jewel that sparkles in the night

Is less to us than the uplifting of the heart

Which comes by drinking sake

Even more sacred though was tea, imported as a remedy for tasteless hot water it grew, after many false starts, grew into a graceful and complex ceremony. It was a shogun who popularized it first when it cleared a hangover. Rikyu established strict rules of tea, clappers signaled guests that the ceremony was beginning, there was an absolution bowl of pure water, gossip was forbidden, only noble issues were discussed, no deceit was allowed either, and the ceremony was limited to four hours. No tea-pot was used, a beautiful cup of carefully prepared tea was passed from guest to guest, each carefully wiping the rim. When the cup was finished, the guests passed it around again to admire the craftsmanship of the potter. Potters stimulated the tea ceremony by creating ever more beautiful designs helping form the tranquil, courteous and charming manners of Japan. Flowers are loved too and the same Rikyu and the art of flower arrangement grew with the evolution of the tea ceremony. Womanhood in aristocratic Japan consisted of flowers, poetry and dance.

When in spring all the cherry blossoms bloom, all Japan gazes at them, the trees are not cultivated for fruit but for the flower which symbolizes the the faith and bravery of the swordsman. Japan is devoted to flowers and all of nature, they instinctively and carefully cultivate all the moods of nature in gardens and in the home, they love asymmetry in their tiny tortured trees and in rocks brought from volcanoes and the sea. Gardeners dig tiny lakes, build streams, patiently grow gnarled trees and connect them with paths and bridges that spring from a naturally imperfect and beautiful forest. Ideally they attach their homes to the gardens, they are frail and pretty, simplistically and perfectly built with subtlety refined carpentry.

The family lived in tranquility throughout all of Japan's storms and wars surrounded not by possessions but by natural beauty, both rich and poor. All lived modestly and uncompleted by bric-a-brac or displays of wealth, a bookshelf or cupboard containing things necessary to sleep, accented by a natural rendition in the calligraphy of painting and poetry.

(p 860)

Freedom for the Japanese is in the family not in the individual, this is where social stability is derived, where the father is omnipotent. He could be tyrannical, he could dismiss sons or daughters in law yet keep the grandchildren with him, he could even kill a criminal or unchaste offspring, a lower caste father could sell his children into slavery or prostitution. Commoners were monogamous, but the aristocratic cold have concubines as they could afford, Christians grated the Japanese by their assertion that adultery was a sin. In the golden ages, wives could outstrip their husbands in sexual conquests and might even trade their love skills for a poem.

Asian culture universally encouraged family growth, but not in the Samurai. Population pressure reverted previous rules encouraging young marriage to prevent marriage before thirty. They were encouraged to adopt if they had only daughters, since girls could not inherit in a warrior class.

(p 866)

In the give and take relationship with Chinese culture, a young monk from a major family became aware of more philosophy than the accepted Buddhism, trade at that time was forbidden with China but the youth determined to learn about the Chinese sages. Fugiwara Seigwa visited sea going communities in an attempt to smuggle himself to the Chinese mainland but actually found in one of these towns another youth reading from the Confucian text which is “The Great Learning.” He obtained this and other texts from the literary smugglers and founded a group dedicated to Confucian scholarship. He was so popular that the spoiled Buddhist monks ok Kyoto, the capital, thought him an outrage and tried to silence him.

(p 873)

Since Seigwa had died suddenly, the Tokugawa shogunate was happy to adopt his star student, Hayashi Razan, and granted him an important advisory position in their Regency. He denounced Christianity as an irrelevant mess and Buddhism as a weaking influence for Japan and a threat to the family fabric. Typically open and impressionable of the Tokugawa clan, the present Shogun, Iyemitsu created a fashion out of Confucian lectures and allowed its influence into the Japanese cultural spectrum. One later Japanese Confucian, Ogyu Saorai, proclaimed his greatest joy (besides reading) was to “eat beans and criticize the great men of Japan.” Other priests complained that Ogyu “thought he knew everything there is to be known”, to which he responded that “if there is anything to be said, it has already been said by Confucius.” Samurai raged at his conceit, but the open and aware shogun Yoshimune loved his courage and protected him from the intellectual mob of priests and scholar-soldiers.

(p 874)

Those who admired Confucius and China eventually fell into a wasteful and unfortunate struggle with the traditional admirers of ancient Japan. In the battle a reactionary and anti-Chinese movement formed, and a literal and fundamental version of Japanese history was formulated and published. Not just Confucius but the Buddha became a target for a movement known as the Sonno Jo-i. They targeted any nationality they were aware of and incubated nationalist hatred which would return Japan to the historically suicidal expansionist needs of the conquests of Korea and China.

(p 877)

Higher education in Japan was founded by Hayashi Razan when the Tokugawa clan allowed him to create schools for administration and Confucian studies. His school eventually became the University of Tokyo. Confucian teachers were allowed the status of Samurai and wore swords, an important and tolerant allowance by the Shogunate. By 1750 there were 800 similar schools but only for the Samurai class, merchants, be they rich, were of lower caste and had to learn from public lectures.

(p 878)


The real artist must not try to think for the audience but to lure them into active thought, he must find one fresh perception that will reflect all the ideas and emotions. Each poem must be a quite record of one moment's inspiration.

When Lady Kaga no Chiyo lost her husband,

All things that seem

Are but

One dreamer's dreamer's

I sleep, I wake

How wide the bed with none beside me

Having also lost her child,

Today, how far may he have wandered,

The brave hunter of dragon-flies!


As brief as the poems were, novels could run to twenty volumes, 4000 pages. Lady Murasaki no-Shikibu wrote the Gengi Monogatari, The Gossip about Gengi. She was a Fujiwara who married another Fujiwara but was left a widow. She turned to writing, at a time when paper was so scarce she actually, sacrilegiously, recycled the Buddhist sutras for her novel. Gengi, the son of a Daiymo and his favorite concubine leads the life of the woman's idea of a man, sentiment and seduction, always brooding and languishing over love as he goes from one woman to the next. Gengi, in reflecting over his life seeks repentance with a monk but then sees a lovely princess and once again falls in love. Gengi's first wife dies in childbirth, and is free to remarry, he falls in love with a princess, Murasakai. The author installs herself in her own novel and maybe she found happiness within her own fantasy.

The jollyist writer of Japan was similar to Dickens. He could not escape poverty despite is talent, but he accepted poverty with good humor. Instead of furniture, he had paintings of furniture on his walls, on holidays he sacrificed to the gods with pictures of excellent offerings. He was given a bathtub so he wore it on his head on the way home and knocked down the pedestrians who came his way. When a publisher came to his house for business and offered him a bath, while the guest was washing he borrowed his clothes and was able to present himself at new years ceramonies in proper dress.

On his deathbed he made his students promise to place packets on his chest just before his creamation. What they didn't know is that the packets were firecrackers.


Pillow Sketches

Lady Sei Shonagon was a Fujiwara in the time of Lady Murasaki and wrote casual sketches of the refined and scandalous life during one Japan's better times.

Her list of likes and dislikes

Cheerful things,

*Coming home from excursions with the carriages over flowing

*To have lots of footmen to make the carriages speed along

*A riverboat going downstream

*Teeth nicely blackened

Dreary things,

*A nursery where a child has died

*A brazier with the fire gone out

*A coachman who is hated by his ox

*The birth of only girls in the house of a scholar

Detestable things,

*People who break into your story with their own version quite different from your own

*While chatting with a friendly man, hear him talk admiringly of woman he has known

*A visitor who tells long stories while you are in a hurry

*The snoring of a man you are trying to conceal, and has gone to sleep in a place in which he has no business


(p 899)


Asian pottery was purely functional and unglazed until the 8th century. Experimenters in China and Korea and Japan in a short period mastered glazes and pastes of porcelain which what is now called “China” today. Japanese potters traveled to China over several centuries to learn ceramic secrets, and eventually rivaled the Chinese. With the arrival in Japan of tea in the 1500s, the new and indefensible religious practice of the tea ceremony created demand for the most delightful pottery possible for the central tea cup. The founding tea master, Rikyu, initiated the art of the tea-cup with a huge order sent to a Korean potter's family living in the capital of Kyoto. A Kyoto pottery craze followed, its style being the famous Raku, and a district was founded where virtually every house was a pottery.

(p 908)


Japanese painting is closely linked to calligraphy, the brushes are the same. It was a religious or instructional expression for most of Japan's time until in the late 1700s artists stunned the ruling Samurai with depictions of normal people in real life. Artists moved on to immortalizing actors and then visited the brothels to create seductively disarming works of female beauty in ways that had been purely for religious depiction in previous ages. Printing advanced from monochrome to true polychrome allowing two very popular and familiar artists into many homes, Hokusai and Hiroshige.

Hokusai was born in the artisan class, the son of a mirror maker, he is known today to the world for his Thirty-six views of Fuji, the most famous print being the boat in the wave before the mountain. He lived very long and created so much work, and at the age of 89 he reluctantly surrendered life with this phrase, “if the gods would only give me ten more years, maybe I could become a great painter.”

In the Mangwa, he illustrated every detail of everyday life, humorous, scandalous, and percept to every detail. He created the images a dozen a day and this work numbered fifteen volumes. He was looked down upon in his time and his poor family survived by selling food and almanacs.

Hiroshige was more respected in Japan, whereas Hokusai has been more accepted in the West. Hiroshige painted scenes more realistically and gave Japanese print owners views of their country in such volumes that it allowed everyone to travel as the National Geographic does today. His most famous volume was the 56 Stations of Tokaido, drawn along the post road between Tokyo and Kyoto. In his last phrase before death he went much easier, “I lay my brush down at Azuma, I journey to the Holy West, to see the scenery there.”

(p 912)

Japan leaves Peace

Japan left this joyful period of paternal militancy and guidance, brilliant celebration, almost comic renaissance, intense concentration and fascination with all things orderly and irreverent just as these two painters died.

Japan had been isolated and was unaware of the mechanization of civilization happening around the Atlantic, and was unprepared for the shock of the cheapening of everyday and colossal things produced beyond rational expectations of consumption by the highly capitalized factories and their mines.

Her beautiful crafts could not compete in price with the dour and utilitarian implements of the age of coal and iron and the big ships of global trade. The cruel beauty of war encapsulated artfully into the culture of the Samurai could in no way compete with the chemistry and metallurgy Western destruction.

Japan leapt awake, and accepted science and industry, having been humiliated repeatedly by the intimidating West, she committed to beating her abusers at their own game and has done so with amazing success. She lost so much in the change, and awakened a dark and dangerous desire to expansion into China and Korea which the Tokugawa's had successfully repressed.

By the time this book was written in the 1930s, she had invaded the mainland countries, with cruelty. There is no comparison between these criminal behaviors and the joy of the life giving swords. Could have Iyeyasu prevented the colonialization of the Asian mainland, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor ?? Would that have prevented the most pain and humiliation of the first and last nuclear attack on the human race ??

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Life-Giving Sword by Yagyu Munenori

Secret Teachings of the House of the Shogun

Yagyu Munenori, translated by William Scott Wilson

As I was browsing a shelf of cookbooks in an Asian grocery in Denver, you can imagine my surprise when I found a title called the Life-Giving Sword. How ironic and contradictory, and appropriate. Having trouble starting my study of Asian empathy, I greedily starting absorbing many contradictory concepts of Zen and suddenly realized that I, myself, as a child had practiced the core technique of the author's school, the art of no-sword during the endless race riots that permeated my youth. In its simplest form, no-sword means fighting an armed enemy without a weapon of your own, where the weapon is really a distraction to its bearer. When the opponent tries to kill, you preempt his strike with a planned maneuver which places you inside the swing path of the sword, enabling you to disarm the enemy with killing him. Saving his life thus is empathy of the greatest degree. Not the facilitation of healing in groups seeking peace as Carl Rogers practiced, but the true practice of healing learned and proved on the battlefield. Both self survival and the karmic joys of healing are derived from the concept of letting-go. The author, his friends and mentors, and successors cannot seem stress the need for emptiness and fluidity enough. Poems, anecdotes, mysterious and contradictory advice all seek to bring the disciple to.. nothingness. The goal is the moon in the water, a perception of something that doesn't exist, yet is such a beautiful metaphor and image.

Buddhism is of course the religion of life and respect for all in your environment, a rebellion from Hinduism which brought much more practical meaning to spirituality. But the practice of no-sword tempers the need for peace with a need for creating peace out of disorder, there are definitely times when killing is appropriate, when killing is necessary to preserve life, especially in governmental conflict. The life giving sword is sometimes the killing sword, but only when absolutely necessary. In one incident, the author himself deposed an unstable leader who, in the 1600s, was planning an invasion of Korea and China. Had the author been alive and influential prior to the second world war, Japan would never have bombed Perl Harbor in Hawaii. Knowing Asian history, the endless conquests, up to the cruelty and corruption of the present Chinese government predisposes one to think Asian psychology would be ineffectual and childish but thinkers like the author cut through that life giving principles and make you wonder why Asia consistently ignores its teachers.

Growth of Martial Arts in Japan

(p 8 - 36)
During the early Edo period in the early 1600s martial arts took many steps forward, three important texts were written by contemporary samurai and priests. Takuan Soho had written The Mysterious Record of Unmoving Wisdom which philosophical piece looking at swordsmanship from the perspective of Zen Buddhism. The mind must be kept free from attachment and fixation, stopping the mind, abiding, meant certain death from the opponent's sword. Takuan had been banished by the hated Toyotomi government for disagreement with its policies on religious leadership.

Swordsman/artist Miyamoto Mausashi had written The Book of the Five Rings with a practical approach to swordsmanship, on how to use the sword, where to stand and use the sun or shadows. The point of battle was not showmanship it was winning, but he stressed all the same philosophies that Takuan had where stopping and fixation were certain death, to the point where historians can assume that they had met and compared thoughts.

The continually moving mind is philosophically symbolized by the avatar Fudo Myo-o, the Unmoving Brightness King, often depected holding a sword in one hand for cutting through ignorance, and a rope in the other for tying up passions. The philosophical Takuan had dedicated his work to this to Fudo and the artist Musashi sculpted a statue of this Buddhist that still inspires awe.

The final text of this triad is this book written around 1632. Munenori found the middle ground between technique and spirituality and especially applied them to everyday life as well as national crisis.

Munenori had inherited the ideals of no-sword from a long line of ancestor priests and samurai. The martial arts school his family ran had won over a very important student, the third shogun of the Tokugawa government and Munenori as his teacher became amazingly influential in the stability of Japan. Munenori saw in the sword a way to forge his students into humans aware of the Buddhist way, the sword was a medium for life rather than death.

The samurai and priests of the time where wanderers as well as scholars, teachers and soldiers. They created a huge matrix of friends and mentors that went far into China, their devotion to the Chinese psychology is woven into their texts where Chinese characters are more important than their own Japanese. Their poems are adapted from the Chinese style. This contrasts much of what I have read about animosity between those nations. Travels to China involved sea voyages, the motions and rhythms of the ocean give more depth to the concepts of fluidity and emptiness.

The Zen networks also amalgamated resistance to the corrupt and psychologically unstable Toyotomi government, Munenori's family had suffered loss of their lands and subsequent poverty at their hands. The Toyotomi were planning a disaster reminiscent of the second world war, an invasion of Korea and Ming China.

Munenori's family was from a mountainous area only barely accessible via obscure paths and virtually isolated during winters. These Krakatoa's regions were perfect refuge for vanquished samauri who were unable to return to their cities and fiefs. These hidden communities where famous for their samurai and were often drawn into conflicts despite their isolation. Munenori's family had the added reputation of talent in covert action, his mother was descendant of the foremost Ningas. Political winds forced his village of Yagyu to excel in every aspect of life, not just military. Through many services to the various controlling forces, Munenori had been invited with his father to instruct an important leader, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ieyasu was very impressed with their Buddhist principles of peaceful swordsmanship and brought them close in his circle.

Under the corrupt control of the present shogunate, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, it became clear that vast armies would eventually face each other and it was Ieyasu who would challenge the control of the Toyotomi. In the battles that ensued Munenori's family vanquished many of the Toyotomi forces and their bravery was well documented. Undocumented where their covert actions and persuasive powers over the many Japanese lords. As sword instructors, the clan members were installed in virtually every regional army and worked as a unified force to defeat the Toyotomi. Munenori thus had power in the shogunate government far beyond the dojo of a sword instructor. Tokugawa Ieyasu pressed Munenori well into his old age for knowledge, he admonished him for not teaching him enough.

** Sickness

** Emptiness

** Takuan Soho – polymath, pickle

if you follow the world you turn your back on the Way

Takuan Soho, No-Mind

(p 43)

Cast away all attachment, become enlightened and establish yourself in No-Mind.


The Heiho Kadensho

Shoe Presenting Bridge

The Death Dealing Sword – one meets an opponent head on, bringing death to his sword.

The Life Giving Sword – one gives life to the opponents sword, leading the opponent to a place where he gives up the sword, hence giving life. An opponent should be subdued without killing him. In some cases, an especially evil swordsman may be killed to save countless others in the future.

(p 44)

The mind is the foundation and the mind is initial. The very first thought is the initial act. It initiates the initiative.

(p 45)

Training in technique is done to transcend training itself, by taking training to the ultimate the swordsman goes beyond the fetters of technique. Swordsmanship can be executed with interference from the mind.

At this point you don't know where your mind is, daemons and heresies will not be able to find it

Fixation is Sickness

(p 46)

To think only of winning is sickness, to think only of martial arts is sickness, to think of making an attack or waiting for one is sickness, to fixate on eliminating sickness is sickness.

Emptiness is a concept that transcends conceptual thinking. With Emptiness a swordsman is able to see the inside and the outside, the active and the pre-active. To be able to judge an opponent's actions before they are manifested. This is achieved through tremendous meditation.

Emptiness is the mind of your opponent, the mind has no form and no color and is a void. Buddhism teaches you that the mind is Emptiness.

(p 49)

Having no conflicts in association with friends from beginning to end is a matter of seeing into the principles of a relationship, this too is a martial art of the mind.

(p 65)

Victory is determined a thousand miles away

(p 68)

Weapons are instruments of ill omen, because the way of heaven brings life. But killing when it cannot be avoided is also the way of Heaven. There is a time when ten thousand will suffer because of the evil of one man. Therefore killing this one brings ten thousand lives. The death-dealing sword may be the life-giving sword for many others.

(p 70)

Armies oppose each other in vast battlefields but a general opposes an army in the few square inches of his mind. He models how he will lead his army into battle.

It is essential to understand the inner workings of a society to prevent chaos, to observe the personal agendas of officials so that they do not throw a society into chaos.

(p 71)

A man who is close to a lord, may plunder far away.

(p 72)

Arranging things in your home is a matter of finding what is right for each place, this is a matter of seeing into the principles of places, not unlike the heart of martial arts. The arena may change but the principles are the same, even in national affairs.

It is missing the point to think that martial arts is about cutting people down, it is about killing evil. The stratagem is about killing one to give life to ten thousand.

What is written here is not to leave this school, but it is not about making secret of the Buddhist way. To keep it secret is the way to make it known. Not making it known would be the same as not writing it down.

Do not read and think “this is the Way”, reading books brings you to the gate of the Way. Reading may make you as knowledgeable as an ancient but it will not help you make the Way your own. It will be difficult to approach the way with out reading but then there are many who have achieved natural harmony without studying at all.

(p 74)

In the Great Learning it says to extend your knowledge to all things, to know people of the world to and understand the principles of all existing things. If you do not understand the principles of things then nothing will come of your actions. If you lack knowledge, you harbor doubts and these doubts will never leave your mind.

Studying is a way of making a clean sweep of your mind. What you don't understand obstructs your mind and everything becomes difficult. When questions are cleared up they become nothing, you will achieve an emptiness and your actions will be in harmony with what you have learned without your being aware of it.

When you have run the length of various practices, those practices will no longer remain in your mind and that lack of mind is at the heart of all things. By then forgetting your training and casting off your mind, you can become more aware of yourself and your environment. You enter through training and arrive at absence.

(p 76-78)

The mind that takes a stance and intently considers is called the will, it is internal but when it manifests itself it is called the Ch'i. Will is the master and Ch'i is the servant, if the Ch'i overruns its bounds it stumbles, the will reins in the ch'i and makes it take its time.

It is essential to remain calm so that the Ch'i is reigned in by the will and the will is not dragged by the Ch'i.

Deception is strategy, from false the truth is arrived at. Deception is such that, even with his knowledge, the opponent is taken in by it. If your opponent it not taken in, the devise another deception. The truth is hidden within the deception and through the deception the opponent is drawn down the path of truth. In Buddhism this is the expedient way, in Shinto it is the mystery. In military terms it is through deception that victory can be obtained without hurting others, by putting things in order by applying the contrary.

Once surprised, your opponent's mind will be taken, his skill undone. Tossing aside your sword is a martial deception, if you have adopted the skill of no-sword, what use is a sword to you? It is your opponent's sword that is your weapon.

Grasping the opportunity is always grasping the moving power from your opponent, this is kizen. Ki refers to Ch'i concentrated in the mind. Observing the opponent's ch'i before it can function is grasping the opportunity. Ki is manifested Ch'i and is hidden within.


(p 89-90)

To think of only winning is sickness. To think only of martial arts is sickness, to think only of expelling sickness is sickness. What remains stationary in the mind is sickness, as these sickness manifest in the mind, you must expel them.

Expelling Sickness

Use thought to arrive at No-Thought, use attachment to become un-attached. Thinking of expelling sickness is a thought, the thought of expelling a thought is using a thought, though it is sickness to be consumed by this thought.

If you can expel the sickness of any remaining thoughts with thought you arrive at No-Mind. It is like using wedges to fell a tree, one wedge can be used to release another to be used again, and when the tree is felled, no wedges remain in the tree.

Sickness is expelled by abandoning your mind to it and carrying on in its midst.

(p 91)

What is called sickness is fixation, the monk who as left fixation behind can mingle with dirt of worldly affairs without becoming stained. He is free in whatever he does and abides in no single place. A monk asked an ancient “what is the way?”, the ancient replied “the way is your ordinary mind.” Expelling all sickness from the mind, living in the ordinary mind, abiding midst sickness, that is the state of being without sickness.

When you have made great efforts to attain skill without really noticing, you have put aside thoughts of doing things well and have attained the realm of no-thought / no-mind. You will not be self conscious and your mind will not be occupied with your actions. You will make no mistakes, but if your mind slips, you will miss your aim. If you maintain no-mind you will always hit the mark.

(p 95)

The mind that releases the mind. If the mind is released yet always brought back, it will not be free. The mind that releases the mind is one that is let go and does not stop moving. If you keep a released mind, your movements will always be free. Even pets are better raised unleashed. Confucians become fixated on reverence, placing this concept above all others, and live their lives by it alone and their mind resembles a pet on a leash.

(p 99)

When the hand lies flat, existence is hidden, when the hand is held open, non-existence is manifested. When there is existence, you should see it and strike at it, when there is non-existence you should strike at it, existence and non-existence are not two,

(p 100)

you should strike at the moon in the water

If there is a distance between you and your opponents sword, stealing inside without your opponent knowing is like piercing the reflection of the moon on the water

(p 101)

Shinmyo, Two Chinese Characters (self-actualization)

Shin exists within Myo without. This is Shinmyo the mysterious. Because Shin exists in the trees the leaves turn green and the flowers bloom, they are Myo. Split the tree and look within, you will not be able to see this Shin, yet without it the flowers will not bloom.

Shin is placed at the center of the Mysterious sword, Myo is manifested in the hands and feet, and flowers are made to bloom in the midst of battle.

(p 102)

The middle ground is the balance between going to fast and too slow, going fast is the result of fright, going slow results from being overwhelmed.

(p 103)

Do not lose the ordinary state of mind, if you think “I won't move”, you have already moved. Moving is in itself the principle of not being moved. If a man blinks normally, that is natural, if he stops blinking, his mind has moved.

(p 110)

Returning the mind after striking a blow means you have not left your mind where you have struck. If your mind stops where you have struck, a second blow from you opponent will defeat you.

If you strike your opponent he will rally and become cautious, you will not be able to strike him with the same mind, you must pull back forcibly to yourself and observe your opponent's countenance.

In the ultimate state of mind, the return is so quick there is not the space to slip a single hair between blows to your opponent. You hit, hit and hit again.

This ultimate state of mind is the clarity of victory and defeat. It is the mental state of one expulsion, of emptiness, and the firmly held mind.

One expulsion is ridding the mind of obsessive sicknesses, attachments, the stopping of the mind to a single event. Emptiness allows you to see the mind of your opponent, it has no color, no form, it is a void. The firmly held mind is also empty and cannot be seen, it strikes at the point where the hand has not yet moved.

The wonderful moves of the hands, the steps of the feet are the manifestations of the emptiness of the mind.

(p 115)

The Right Mind is the Original Mind, also called the Mind of the Way. A twisted and strained mind is deluded, it is the human mind. A successful man is in his Original Mind and conforms to it. Movements that don't conform to the Way will not be successful. When you can consciously translate the Way to all the movements of your life you will become accomplished in the Principle of things. Skills can applied to only a single art or ability but it is difficult to become accomplished in the Principle.

It is the very mind itself

That leads the mind astray,

Of that mind, do not be unmindful

The deluded mind is the impetuous mind, it is self-interested. Impetuousness is the flow of the blood which changes your complexion and shows anger.

If something you love is detested by someone else, you grow resentful and angry. If what you detest is detested by another you will enjoin and twist what is wrong and convert it into a deluded version of the Principle of things. If someone gives you money, your face will broaden into a smile and wells with the complexion of an impetuous mind, only bad things can come from this.

(p 119)

The significance of No-Sword is not necessarily taking the sword from an opponent, No-Sword means not being cut by another although you have no sword. If your opponent does not want his sword taken, you should not insist on taking it. When he has this attitude, you should not insist on taking it, when your opponent is thinking only of having his sword taken, he will have difficulty cutting you.

(p 125-126)

Potential is Ch'i, Ch'i is the entrance to the mind. Because of Ch'i, the mind can play outside. Good or evil of the mind is understood only by this potential coming to good or evil after having left the mind. Ch'i guards the entrance to the mind and is called potential.

Good or evil or even supernatural acts depend on thought given before the door is even opened, the potential acts and goes outside and a great function is manifested. You can think of it as Ch'i and not be wrong, the different names depend on location.

The mind follows the ten thousand circumstances and shifts accordingly,

It is the shifting mind that is truly undefined.

“Ten thousand circumstances”, means the moves of your opponents, your mind will shift with each of them.

If your opponent lifts his sword, you mind shifts with the sword, if it moves to the left or right, your mind shifts accordingly. The shifting that is undefined is the core of martial arts. “Undefined” means vague and unseen, the mind is absolutely undetained. If your mind stops you will be defeated in the martial arts, if it remains in the place where it has shifted, the results will be merciless.

(p 128)

Having heard you were the one

who rejected the world,

My thought was only this,

Do not stop your mind

in this temporary stay.

(p 129)

You should toss away the Law,

And so much more the false Law

The law of reality is the true law, even so it should not stop in your mind once you have become enlightened, if you keep it in your mind, it becomes rubbish.

It is sickness if you do not leave the mind of the martial arts behind, use only your ordinary mind.

Confucians do not understand the ordinary mind, they are carried away with “reverence”, it is not the highest principle, only the first rung in the ladder.

(p 132)

In a chaotic society many people are killed for no reason, the death-dealing sword is using to bring chaos under control. Once this is done the same sword can be a life-giving sword.

Emptiness, wind, fire, water and earth.

(p 172)

The Hidden Flower

Knowing the Hidden Flower. If it is hidden, it becomes a flower. If it is not hidden, it will likely not become a flower. Knowing one's self is the essential flower. IN all things, in all Ways, the reason for keeping things secret within the hereditary line is that great performance depends on this secret.

The methods used in the Way of War are an example of this. The schemes, plans, and unexpected methods of a great general will defeat even a strong enemy. This is because the losing side will be confused by rare principles and be destroyed.

(p 178)

The Ordinary Mind is the way, you cannot track it down, as soon as you look for it, it departs. It is not bound to knowing or knowledge, knowing is confusion, not knowing is being blindsided. If you arrive at the Way of no doubt is like a void or a vast vacuity. How can it be confirmed ??

The Way does not use practice. Simply have no blots or stains. If you have the mind of life and death, if you are planning something, your mind is all blots and stains. The everyday mind encounters the Way directly. The everyday mind does not distinguish plus or minus, does not grasp or throw away, finds nothing regular or irregular and sees no holy or secular.