VOX POPULI: The Virtues of Literary vs. Military

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By JUN KAWASAKI

Where a Westerner might say, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” the Japanese would say, “Bun-bu it-chi” 文武一致 or “Pen and sword in accord.”

It is the latter that applies to Miyamato Musashi 宮本武蔵 (1584-1645), regarded as a paragon samurai swordsman. He emerged when Japan was in the midst of reviving from over two centuries of unrest among provincial feudal lords as the Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康 (1543-1616) shogun dynasty ruled from 1603 till 1868. The ensuring disbandment of the samurai serving provincial feudal lords saw hordes listless and wandering about the country.

Aside from a minor corps of retained samurai, noticeable were those who were proactive and became artisans of sorts. Nonetheless, kendo 剣道 (way of the sword), guided by virtue of a refined sport, is sustained to this day with its vibrant heritage of “pen and sword in accord.”

Musashi, dubbed Takezo by his peers, was born in a farm village of Miyamoto (Okayama-ken), henceforth adopted as his surname. He was a boisterous boy, strong-willed and physically large among his peers. His aggressive nature led him to pursue kendo and it is recorded that he slew a man in single combat when he was just 13.

At 16, after trouncing his second opponent, he embarked on a bushi-shugyo 武士修行 or “warrior pilgrimage,” exemplifying an all-time victory in scores of individual contests plus serving in six provincial battles.

Musashi’s most dramatic and final duel was held in 1612 against Sasaki Kojiro 佐々木小次郎. Sanctioned and witnessed by government officials, Musashi, 28, won with a single blow at Sasaki’s forehead. In 1615, Musashi drew his sword for the last time joining the forces of Tokugawa as a kon-dei 健児 (stalwart foot soldier) at Sekigahara, where the Toyotomi family was defeated.

Responding to an invitation by the Hosokawa family in Kumamoto, Kyushu Island, Musashi altered his course of life to an artisan, and his exquisite artwork such as a hand-carved wood sculpture of Kannon Bosatsu 観音菩薩 (Bodhisattva of Great Compassion) and brush-painted scroll entitled “Koboku Meigeki-zu” 枯木鳴鵙図 (a shrike warbling from an old tree branch) are exhibited at celebrated museums.

Also, turning to writing in 1643, he compiled “Gorin no Sho” 五輪書 (Book of Five Rings), to this day a top-listed kendo bibliography appraised as “a guide for seeking ways to strategy” — not a thesis on strategy per se.

In reflecting on the pervasive bedlam conditions of the time and in variance revered as Kensei 剣聖 (Sword Saint), Miyamoto Musashi ultimately lived a balanced life of “pen and sword in accord,” with chronicles listing him as a Buddha-Dharma devotee.

After 250-plus years of Tokugawa military rule, a transition towards restoring the imperial rule saw diversified strains of intrigue to pass. Among which the full impact was felt with U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry instigating an open trade treaty with Japan in 1854, prompting Japan to dispatch an emissary mission to America in 1860 — under the auspices of a Tokugawa regime in its final state. And in 1868, a historical transition with an apex restoration of the Meiji imperial power becoming a reality.

It was in this epoch-making time when Fukuzawa Yukichi 福沢諭吉 (1835-1901), from a minor samurai family emerged from Oita, Kyushu Island, sought to learn about Western culture from the Dutch who were in Nagasaki. With the initial knowledge gained, he became a member of Japan’s first entourage to America, traveling twice to Europe and as counsel for advanced diplomatic changes occurring in Asia.

Focused on institutions of higher education, unfettered by politics, he proceeded on his own to found what is now Keio University of Tokyo, which is of Ivy League-level prestige.

It was reflections on setbacks of the 1274 and 1281 successive onslaughts by Mongolian forces that stirred Fukuzawa’s awareness of Japan’s insular, vulnerable and constrained status quo. Indeed, a poignant reminder of timeliness to foster beneficial Euro-American ideals for his country.

He had also grasped the drift of foreign powers taking advantage of Asian nations with their colonial settlements. It was his turnabout vision and experience in achieving a phenomenal core of industrial and military capabilities that purportedly deterred foreign powers from venturing intrusions on Japanese soil.

The ensuring 1894-95 triumph in the Sino-Japan conflict involving a protectorate issue on the Korean Peninsula and the 1904-05 defeat of Russia on land and sea positioned Japan high among the world powers.

Fukuzawa Yukichi, living a life guided by principles of humanity and loyalty, seemingly parlayed Nietzche’s philosophical adage. “I love the valiant; but it is not enough to wield a broad sword, one must also know against whom” — a rewarding life of “pen and sword in accord.”

Anjali.

Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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