There is a quote that I think is fitting for the challenge that Benedict was given in writing The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, which is “There are two kinds of opportunities: one which we chance upon, the other which we create. In time of great difficulty, one must not fail to create his opportunity”, (Takamori Saigo, 1989: 28). When Benedict was given the opportunity to do an ethnography, she was made to do so during a time of great difficulty. She was unable to go on a field trip to Japan to observe in person the Japanese culture the way that most anthropologists normally would have due to World War II.
She created her opportunity to make an impact on the way that Americans viewed and understood Japan and its people. Throughout her book, she used the symbols of the sword and the chrysanthemum to represent the Japanese culture. Benedict explained that the Japanese culture was shaped by social hierarchy (taking one’s proper place), honor, virtue, and duty. During the war, the Japanese used guns and ships as an outward symbol of the undying Japanese spirit. They were symbols much as the sword of the samurai had been the symbol of his virtue (1989: 23).
Virtue is a quality that was very mportant to the Japanese as Benedict spoke of frequently throughout her ethnography. During the war, soldiers were expected to give up everything, including their life if called for. They scorned the American soldiers for taking safety precautions in their planes and for surrendering themselves to the Japanese army. Benedict used this quote when speaking of the Americans installing safety precautions in their B-29’s and fighter planes: “There was virtue only in accepting life and death risks; precautions were unworthy” (1989:36).
Much as our country did not understand the Japanese culture, they did not nderstand ours. Although American soldiers were willing to surrender themselves and become prisoners of war to save their lives, the Japanese were the opposite. Save for a select few, the Japanese would sacrifice their lives to protect their virtue before surrendering themselves. This is why most Japanese prisoners of war came from those who were injured or unconscious. Once they became prisoners of war, they completely changed their attitude (though some were unwilling) and would help the Americans if they required it.
This type of about face was shocking to the Americans as it was unexpected nd so unlike our own culture. What the soldiers did not understand was that it was so against the Japanese virtue to be taken prisoner of war, they knew that they would be unable to return home due to the shame that was placed on them for failing to follow their duty to do everything for their country, including die, before being taken prisoner, which is why they then changed and became willing to help the soldiers and become model prisoners.
The willingness of the Japanese to sacrifice themselves not only stems from their virtue, but also the on they wear to the Emperor. The duty that the Japanese ave is extensive, and there are many different forms. Benedict speaks of “taking one’s proper station, and the Japanese rules of respect and virtue many times in the book, there is a specific hierarchy in their society and within their families. The father must respect his father and his grandfather and so on. Whereas Americans are informal with family, Benedict said “In Japan it is precisely in the family where respect rules are learned and meticulously observed (1989: 48).
Besides the familial hierarchy, Benedict spoke about the history of social hierarchy. The Japanese people have a whole formal language with which to peak to those that are higher in the hierarchy, this is followed with bowing. Benedict mentions that it is not just class differences, it also includes age, sex, family ties, and previous dealings, also someone wearing a military uniform (1989: 48). The Japanese learn how they are expected to act starting immediately as babies. They also get the most freedom during this age and when they are elderly.
During their childhoods, especially ages siIx to nine they are expected to learn shame. Benedict mentions this in chapter twelve when she says: “gradually, after they are six or seven, responsibility for ircumspection and ‘knowing shame’ is put upon them and upheld by the most drastic of sanctions: that their own family will turn against them if they default” (1989: 286-287). Knowing shame teaches the children to care what others think of them because how they act will reflect upon their family, and if they act poorly their family will not support them.
This shapes them to act respectfully and honorably, especially for the young boys as they are the ones that carry ko for their family and ancestors. A form of social hierarchy shows in the duty the Japanese bestow upon themselves and their descendants. Benedict states hat “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” (1989). The word on doesn’t translate properly into English as there is no word within our language that translate into everything on stands for.
The English word obligation is the closest our language can get, but even that does not do justice to all of the meanings that on entails. Benedict explains the attitude about indebtedness by giving an example of a word that the Japanese use and is stronger than thank you. That word is katajikenai, and it is written with the eaning ‘insult,’ or ‘loss of face’. Explaining its actual meaning that could be literally translated to both ‘l am insulted’ and ‘l 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 1989:116). 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 our own culture.
The emperor was a large part of the Japanese culture, and the on chu the Japanese had for him comes from the emperor being treated as a god within the culture. While citizens may have found problem with the other parts of their government, there was never a problem with the emperor and he was always viewed as supporting the view of the people. Every part of what they have reminds them of the On they wear for him. This includes every erson, from the poor to the soldiers. And they may think of him even before eating a meal or going to bed.
This was an on that was worn for life. The kamikaze pilots were being said to have been repaying their imperial on with their life sacrifice. Benedict used this book and her research to help the United States to better understand the Japanese culture and explain how we should treat them to properly give them respect. Throughout her book, she used the symbols of the sword and the chrysanthemum to represent the Japanese culture. Benedict explained that the Japanese culture was shaped by social ierarchy (taking one’s proper place), honor, virtue, and duty.
She gave examples of these by explaining their actions in the war, how they treated their families, the way the Japanese learn honor, virtue and duty, the social hierarchy, and some of the history of the Japanese. The sword is an example of the self- responsibility the Japanese give themselves. Just as a sword can rust, their soul can rust if they are not taking proper care of their responsibilities. He has to acknowledge/accept all of the consequences that come from his actions and make careful decisions. The chrysanthemum is a symbol of the country itself.