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Ango Sakaguchi – Darakuron – On Decadence – Part 2


During the war, writers were prohibited from telling love stories about widowed wives. Military and political leaders feared that such stories would only lead to moral degeneracy among widows. They wanted these women to spend the rest of their lives as exemplars of fidelity. The military was uniquely aware of the pitfalls of immorality. As a result, this prohibition was issued not because they didn’t understand the nature of a woman’s heart, but in fact, because they knew it all too well (1).

It is said that the samurai of old Japan did not understand the emotions of women. To me this is merely a superficial understanding of things. Bushido, the way of the samurai, was an exceedingly unrefined system of laws that was more than anything, a way for samurai to protect themselves against their own moral defects.

For a samurai, it is one’s duty to exact retribution upon his enemies by chasing them down to any extreme, even should he be required to become a beggar. But was there ever a loyal samurai who really felt a true burning desire for revenge and was compelled to chase down and slay his enemy? For samurai, all that mattered were the laws of revenge and the honor that it prescribed. While in fact, we Japanese are by nature a very forgiving people who do not hold grudges. Our true nature is a shared optimism that yesterday’s foe is today’s friend. Compromise and reconciliation with yesterday’s foe is a daily part of our lives. Our enemies exist precisely so that we might reconcile with them. We yearn to serve both our master and yesterday’s enemy (2). The Japanese people could never have been forced off to battle had we not been ordered to never endure the shame of being captured alive. We were obedient to the law, but our true feelings were exactly the opposite. The history of Japanese warfare is not a history of bushido, but a history of scheming and trickery. That is why we might know the mechanisms that move history not through relying on facts and evidence, but by looking inside ourselves. Just as our military leaders prohibited love stories about widowed women, the samurai of the past needed the bushido to protect themselves and their subordinates from both their own moral weaknesses.


(1) When Sakaguchi’s talks about immorality he does so not from his own perspective, but from the perspective of the military. His aim is not to judge what the military did, but to understand why it made sense as a viable option to them.

(2) Sakaguchi has taken a famous line and general saying from the Records of the Grand Historian. The original translates as, “a loyal follower serves but one master.” (忠臣は二君に仕えず). He has re-written it  as “we constantly yearn to serve two masters,” (忽ち二君に仕えたがる) in order to highlight the close proximity and direct opposition that exists between duty and one’s true nature. This is the beginning of his explanation for why the Japanese people supported Japan’s involvement in World War II.

この戦争中、文士は未亡人の恋愛を書くことを禁じられていた。戦争未亡人を挑発堕落させてはいけないという軍人政治家の魂胆で彼女達に使徒の余生を送らせようと欲していたのであろう。軍人達の悪徳に対する理解力は敏感であって、彼等は女心の変り易さを知らなかったわけではなく、知りすぎていたので、こういう禁止項目を案出に及んだまでであった。 いったいが日本の武人は古来婦女子の心情を知らないと言われているが、之(これ)は皮相の見解で、彼等の案出した武士道という武骨千万な法則は人間の弱点に対する防壁がその最大の意味であった。 武士は仇討のために草の根を分け乞食となっても足跡を追いまくらねばならないというのであるが、真に復讐の情熱をもって仇敵の足跡を追いつめた忠臣孝子があったであろうか。彼等の知っていたのは仇討の法則と法則に規定された名誉だけで、元来日本人は最も憎悪心の少い又永続しない国民であり、昨日の敵は今日の友という楽天性が実際の偽らぬ心情であろう。昨日の敵と妥協否肝胆(かんたん)相照すのは日常茶飯事であり、仇敵なるが故に一そう肝胆相照らし、忽(たちま)ち二君に仕えたがるし、昨日の敵にも仕えたがる。生きて捕虜の恥を受けるべからず、というが、こういう規定がないと日本人を戦闘にかりたてるのは不可能なので、我々は規約に従順であるが、我々の偽らぬ心情は規約と逆なものである。日本戦史は武士道の戦史よりも権謀術数の戦史であり、歴史の証明にまつよりも自我の本心を見つめることによって歴史のカラクリを知り得るであろう。今日の軍人政治家が未亡人の恋愛に就(つ)いて執筆を禁じた如く、古(いにしえ)の武人は武士道によって自らの又部下達の弱点を抑える必要があった。

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 20/10/2010 8:50 am

    It’s not clear to me what the author considers the moral defect moving from paragraph 2 to 3. That the samurai were too forgiving?


  1. Literary References, Japanese-Style « Aliens in This World

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