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7.The Repayment“Hardest to Bear”

  “Giri,”runs the Japanese saying,is“hardest to bear。”A person must repay giri as he must repay gimu,but it is a series of obligations of a different color。There is no possible English equivalent and of all the strange categories of moral obligations which anthropologists find in the culture of the world,it is one of the most curious。It is specif-ically Japanese。Both chu and ko Japan shares with China and in spite of the changes she has made in these concepts they have certain family likeness to moral imperatives fa-miliar in other Eastern nations。But giri she owes to no Chinese Confucianism and to no Oriental Buddhism。It is a Japanese category and it is not possible to understand their courses of action without taking it into account。No Japanese can talk about motivation or good repute or the dilemmas which confront men and women in his home country without constantly speaking of giri。

  Giri has two quite distinct divisions。What I shall call“giri to the world”-literal-ly“repaying giri”-is one's obligation to repay on to one's fellows,and what I shall call“giri to one's name”is the duty of keeping one's name and reputation unspotted by any imputation,somewhat after the fashion of German“honor。”Ciri to the world can roughly be described as the fulfillment of contractual relations-as contrasted with gimu which is felt as the fulfillment of intimate obligations to which one is born。Thus giri in-cludes all the duties one owes to one's in-law's family;gimu,those to one's own immedi-ate family。The term for father-in-law is father-in-giri;mother-in-law is mother-in-giri,and brother-and sister-in-law are brother-in-giri and sister-in-giri。This terminology is used either for spouse's sibling or for sibling's spouse。Marriage in Japan is of course a contract between families and carrying out these contractual obligations throughout life to the opposite family is“working for giri。”It is heaviest toward the generation which ar-ranged the contract-the parents-and heaviest of all on the young wife toward her mother-in-law because,as the Japanese say,the bride has gone to live in a house where she was not born。The husband's obligations to his parent-in-law are different,but they too are dreaded,for he may have to lend them money if they are in distress and must meet other contractual responsibilities。As one Japanese said,“if a grown son does things for his own mother,it is because he loves her and therefore it couldn't be giri。You don't work for giri when you act from the heart。”A person fulfills his duties to his in-laws punctiliously,however,because at all costs he must avoid the dreaded condemnation:“a man who does not know giri。”

  The way they feel about this duty to the in-law family is vividly clear in the case of the“adopted husband。”When a family has daughters and no sons the parents choose a husband for one of their daughters in order to carry on the family name。His name is e-rased from the register of his own family and he takes his father-in-law's name。He en-ters his wife's home,is subject“in giri”to his father-and-mother-in-law,and when he dies is buried in their burying ground。In all these acts he follows the exact pattern of the woman in the usual marriage。The reasons for adopting a husband for one's daughter may not be simply the absence of a son of one's own;often it is a deal out of which both sides hope to gain。These are called“political marriages。”The girl's family may be poor but of good family and the boy may bring ready cash and in return move up in the class hierarchy。Or the girl's family may be wealthy and able to educate the husband who in return for this benefit signs away his own family。Or the girl's father may in this way associate with himself a prospective partner in his firm。In any case,an adopted husband's giri is especially heavy-as is proper because the act of changing a man's name to another family register is drastic in Japan。In feudal Japan he had to prove him-self in his new household by taking his adopted father's side in battle,even if it meant killing his own father。In modem Japan the“political marriages”involving adopted hus-bands invoke this strong sanction of giri to tie the young man to his father-in-law's busi-ness or family fortunes with the heaviest bonds the Japanese can provide。Especially in Meiji times this was sometimes advantageous to both parties。But resentment at being an adopted husband is usually violent and a common Japanese saying is“If you have three go of rice(about a pint),never be an adopted husband。”The Japanese say this resent-ment is“because of the giri。”They do not say,as Americans probably would if we had a like custom,“because it keeps him from playing a man's role。”Giri is hard enough anyway and“unwilling”enough,so that“because of the giri”seems to the Japanese a sufficient statement of the burdensome relation。

  Not only duties to one's in-laws are giri;duties even to uncles and aunts and neph-ews and nieces are in the same category。The fact that in Japan duties to even such rela-tively close relatives do not rank as filial piety(ko)is one of the great differences in family relations between Japan and China。In China,many such relatives,and much more distant ones,would share pooled resources,but in Japan they are giri or“contrac-tual”relatives。The Japanese point out that it often happens that these persons have nev-er personally done a favor(on)for the person who is asked to come to their aid;in helping them he is repaying on to their common ancestors。When one has to help these more distant relatives,as when one helps one's in-laws,one says,“I am tangled with giri。”

  The great traditional giri relationship which most Japanese think of even before the relation with in-laws,is that of a retainer to his liege lord and to his comrades at arms。It is the loyalty a man of honor owes to his superior and to his fellows of his own class。This obligation of giri is celebrated in a vast traditional literature。It is identified as the virtue of the samurai。In old Japan,before the unification of the country effected by the Tokugawas,it was often considered a greater and dearer virtue even than chu,which was at that time the obligation to the Shogun。

  When in the twelfth century a Minamoto Shogun demanded of one of the daimyo the surrender of an enemy lord he was sheltering,the daimyo wrote back a letter which is still preserved。He was deeply resentful of the imputation upon his giri and he refused to offend against it even in the name of chu。“Public affairs,”he wrote,“(are a thing)over which I have little personal control but giri between men of honor is an eternal veri-ty”which transcended the Shogun's authority。He refused“to commit a faithless act a-gainst his honored friends。”This transcendent samurai virtue of old Japan suffuses great numbers of historical folktales which are known today all over Japan and are worked up into noh dramas,kabuki theater and kagura dances。

  One of the best known of these is the tale of the huge invincible ronin(a lordless samurai who lives by his own wits),the hero Benkei of the twelfth century。Entirely without resources but of miraculous strength he terrorizes the monks when he takes shel-ter in the monasteries and cuts down every passing samurai in order to make a collection of their swords to pay for outfitting himself in feudal fashion。Finally he challenges what appears to him to be a mere youngster,a slight and foppish lord。But in him he meets his match and discovers that the youth is the scion of the Minamotos who is scheming to recover the Shogunate for his family。He is indeed that beloved Japanese hero,Yoshit-sune Minamoto。To him Benkei gives his passionate giri and undertakes a hundred ex-ploits in his cause。At last,however,they have to escape with their followers from an overwhelming enemy force。They disguise themselves as monkish pilgrims traveling over Japan to collect subscriptions for a temple and to escape detection Yoshitsune dresses as one of the troop while Benkei assumes its headship。They run into a guard the enemy has set along their path and Benkei fabricates for them a long list of temple“subscrib-ers”which he pretends to read from his scroll。The enemy almost lets them pass。At the last moment,however,their suspicions are aroused by the aristocratic grace of Yoshit-sune which he cannot conceal even in his disguise as an underling。They call back the troop。Benkei immediately takes a step which completely clears Yoshitsune from suspi-cion:he berates him on some trivial issue and strikes him across the face。The enemy is convinced;it is beyond possibility that if this pilgrim is Yoshitsune,one of his retainers should lift his hand against him。It would be an unimaginable breach of giri。Benkei's impious act saves the lives of the little band。As soon as they are in safe territory,Ben-kei throws himself at Yoshitsune's feet and asks him to slay him。His lord graciously of-fers pardon。

  These old tales of times when giri was from the heart and had no taint of resentment are moden Japan's daydream of a golden age。In those days,the tales tell them,there was no“unwillingness”in giri。If there was conflict with chu,a man could honorably stick by giri。Giri then was a loved face-to-face relation dressed in all the feudal trim-mings。To“know giri”meant to be loyal for life to a lord who cared for his retainers in return。To“repay giri”meant to offer even one's life to the lord to whom one owed eve-rything。

  This is,of course,a fantasy。Feudal history in Japan tells of plenty of retainers whose loyalty was bought by the daimyo on the opposite side of the battle。Still more im-portant,as we shall see in the next chapter,any slur the lord cast upon his retainer could properly and traditionally make the retainer leave his service and even enter into negotiations with the enemy。Japan celebrates the vengeance theme with as much delight as she celebrates loyalty to the death。And they were both giri;loyalty was giri to one's lord and vengeance for an insult was giri to one's name。In Japan they are two sides to the same shield。

  Nevertheless the old tales of loyalty are pleasant daydreams to the Japanese today for now“repaying giri”is no longer loyalty to one's legitimate chieftain but is fulfilling all sorts of obligations to all sorts of people。Today's constantly used phrases are full of resentment and of emphasis on the pressure of public opinion which compels a person to do giri against his wishes。They say,“I am arranging this marriage merely for giri”;“merely because of giri I was forced to give him the job”;“I must see him merely for giri。”They constantly talk of being“tangled with giri,”a phrase the dictionary trans-lates as“I am obliged to it。”They say,“He forced me with giri,”“he cornered me with giri,”and these,like the other usages,mean that someone has argued the speaker into an act he did not want or intend by raising some issue of payment due upon an on。In peasant villages,in transactions in small shops,in high circles of the Zaibatsu and in the Cabinet of Japan,people are“forced with giri”and“cornered with giri。”A suitor may do this by taxing his prospective father-in-law with some old relationship or transac-tion between the two families or a man may use this same weapon to get a peasant's land。The man who is being“cornered”will himself feel he must comply;he says,“If I do not hold the shoulder of my on-man(man from whom I receivedon),my giri is in bad repute。”All these usages carry the implication of unwillingness and of compliance for“mere decency's sake,”as the Japanese dictionary phrases it。

  The rules of giri are strictly rules of required repayment;they are not a set of moral rules like the Ten Commandments。When a man is forced with giri,it is assumed that he may have to override his sense of justice and they often say,“I could not do right(gi)because of giri。”Nor do the rules of giri have anything to do with loving your neighbor as yourself;they do not dictate that a man shall act generously out of the spon-taneity of his heart。A man must do giri,they say,because,“if he does not,people will call him‘a person who does not know giri'and he will be shamed before the world。”It is what people will say that makes it so necessary to comply。Indeed,“giri to the world”often appears in English translation as“conformity to public opinion,”and the dictionary translates“It can't be helped because it is giri to the world”as“People will not accept any other course of action。”

  It is in this“circle of giri”that the parallel with American sanctions on paying money one has borrowed helps us most to understand the Japanese attitude。We do not consider that a man has to pay back the favor of a letter received or a gift given or of a timely word spoken with the stringency that is necessary in keeping up his payments of interest and his repayment of a bank loan。In these financial dealings bankruptcy is the penalty for failure-a heavy penalty。The Japanese,however,regard a man as bank-rupt when he fails in repaying giri and every contact in life is likely to incur giri in some way or other。This means keeping an account of little words and acts Americans throw lightly about with no thought of incurring obligations。It means walking warily in a com-plicated world。

  There is another parallel between Japanese ideas of giri to the world and American ideas of repaying money。Repayment of giri is thought of as repayment of an exact equiv-alent。In this giri is quite unlike gimu,which can never be even approximately satisfied no matter what one does。But giri is not unlimited。To American eyes the repayments are fantastically out of proportion to the original favor but that is not the way the Japa-nese see it。We think their gift giving is fantastic too,when twice a year every house-hold wraps up something in ceremonious fashion as return on a gift received six months earlier,or when the family of one's maidservant brings gifts through the years as a return on the favor of hiring her。But the Japanese taboo returning gifts with larger gifts。It is no part of one's honor to return“pure velvet。”

  Whenever possible written records are kept of the network of exchanges,whether they are of work or of goods。In the villages some of these are kept by the headman,some by one of the work-party,some are family and personal records。For a funeral it is customary to bring“incense money。”Relatives may also bring colored cloth for funeral banners。The neighbors come to help,the women in the kitchen and the men in digging the grave and making the coffin。In the village of Suye Mura the headman made up the book in which these things were recorded。It was a valued record in the family of the de-ceased for it showed the tributes of their neighbors。It is also a list which shows those names to which the family owes reciprocal tributes which will be honored when a death occurs in other families。These are long-term reciprocities。There are also short-term ex-changes at any village funeral just as at any kind of feast。The helpers who make the coffin are fed and they therefore bring a measure of rice to the bereaved family as part payment on their food。This rice too is entered in the headman's record。For most feasts also the guest brings some rice-wine in part payment for the party drinks。Whether the occasion is birth or death,a rice-transplanting,a housebuilding or a social party,the exchange of giri is carefully noted for future repayment。

  The Japanese have another convention about giri which parallels Western conven-tions about money repayment。If repayment is delayed beyond due term it increases as if it drew interest。Doctor Eckstein tells a story of this in his dealings with the Japanese manufacturer who financed his trip to Japan to gather material for his biography of Nogu-chi。Doctor Eckstein returned to the United States to write the book and eventually sent the manuscript to Japan。He received no acknowledgement and no letters。He was natu-rally troubled for fear something in the volume might have offended the Japanese,but his letters remained unanswered。Some years later the manufacturer telephoned him。He was in the United States,and shortly afterward he arrived at Doctor Eckstein's home bringing with him dozens of Japanese cherry trees。The gift was lavish。Just because it had been held in abeyance so long it was proper that it should be handsome。“Surely,”his benefactor said to Doctor Eckstein,“you would not have wanted me to repay you quickly。”

  A man who is“cornered with giri”is often forced into repayments of debts which have grown with time。A man may apply for assistance to a small merchant because he is the nephew of a teacher the merchant had as a boy。Since as a young man,the student had been unable to repay his giri to his teacher,the debt has accumulated during the passing years and the merchant has to give“unwillingly to forestall apology to the world。”

  
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