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8.Clearing One's Name

  Giri to one's name is the duty to keep one's reputation unspotted。It is a series of virtues-some of which seem to an occidental to be opposites,but which to the Japanese have a sufficient unity because they are those duties which are not repayments on bene-fits received;they are“outside the circle of on。”They are those acts which keep one's reputation bright without reference to a specific previous indebtedness to another person。They include therefore maintaining all the miscellaneous etiquette requirements of“proper station,”showing stoicism in pain and defending one's reputation in profession or craft。Giri to one's name also demands acts which remove a slur or an insult;the slur darkens one's good name and should be got rid of。It maybe necessary to take vengeance upon one's detractor or it may be necessary to commit suicide,and there are all sorts of possible courses of action between these two extremes。But one does not shrug off lightly anything that is compromising。

  The Japanese do not have a separate term for what I call here“giri to one's name。”They describe it simply as giri outside the circle of on。That is the basis of classifica-tion,and not the fact that giri to the world is an obligation to return kindnesses and that giri to one's name prominently includes revenge。The fact that Western languages sepa-rate the two into categories as opposite as gratitude and revenge does not impress the Japanese。Why should one virtue not cover a man's behavior when he reacts to another's benevolence and when he reacts to his scorn or malevolence?

  In Japan it does。A good man feels as strongly about insults as he does about the benefits he has received。Either way it is virtuous to reply。He does not separate the two,as we do,and call one aggression and one non-aggression。To him aggression only begins outside“the circle of giri”;so long as one is maintaining giri and clearing one's name of slur,one is not guilty of aggression。“The world tips,”they say,so long as an insult or slur or defeat is not requited or eliminated。A good man must try to get the world back into balance again。It is human virtue,not an all-too-human vice。

  Giri to one's name and all the hostility and watchful waiting that accompany it in any culture,however,is not a virtue that is characteristic of the Asiatic mainland。It is not,as the phrase goes,Oriental。The Chinese do not have it,nor the Siamese,nor the Indians。The Chinese regard all such sensitivity to insults and aspersions as a trait of“small”people-morally small。It is no part of their ideal of nobility,as it is in Japan。Violence which is wrong when a man starts it out of blue does not become right in Chi-nese ethics when a man indulges in it to requite an insult。They think it is rather ridicu-lous to be so sensitive。Nor do they react to a slur by resolving by all that is good and great to prove the aspersion baseless。

  The full significance of giri to one's name cannot be understood without placing in context all the non-aggressive virtues which are included in it in Japan。Vengeance is only one of the virtues it may requite upon occasion。It includes also plenty of quiet and temperate behavior。The stoicism,the self-control that is required of a self-respecting Japanese is part of his giri to his name。A woman may not cry out in childbirth and a man should rise above pain and danger。When floods sweep down upon the Japanese vil-lage each self-respecting person gathers up the necessities he is to take with him and seeks higher ground。There is no outcry,no running hither and thither,no panic。When the equinoctial winds and rain come in hurricane strength there is similar self-con-trol。Such behavior is a part of the respect a person has for himself in Japan even gran-ted he may not live up to it。There is noblesse oblige in this self-control in Japan and in feudal times more was therefore required of the samurai than of the common people but the virtue was a rule of life among all classes。If the samurai were required to go to extremes in rising above bodily pain,the common people had to go to extremes in accep-ting the aggressions of the armed samurai。

  The tales of samurai stoicism are famous。They were forbidden to give way to hun-ger but that was too trivial to mention。They were enjoined when they were starving to pretend they had just eaten:they must pick their teeth with a toothpick。“Baby birds,”the maxim went,“cry for their food but a samurai holds a toothpick between his teeth。”In the past war this became an Army maxim for the enlisted soldier。Nor must they give way to pain。

  Giri to one's name also requires that one live according to one's station in life。If a man fails in this giri he has no right to respect himself。This meant in Tokugawa times that he accepted as part of his self-respect the detailed sumptuary laws which regulated practically everything he wore or had or used。We are horrified by Tokugawa laws which stated that a farmer of one class could buy such and such a doll for his child and the farmer of another class could buy a different doll。In Japan getting rich is under suspi-cion and maintaining proper station is not。Even today the poor as well as the rich invest their self-respect in observing the conventions of hierarchy。It is a virtue alien to Ameri-can。

  Giri to one's name is also living up to many sorts of commitments besides those of proper station。A borrower may pledge his giri to his name when he asks for a loan;a generation ago it was commons to phrase it that“I agree to be publicly laughed at if I fail to repay this sum。”If he failed,he was not literally made a laughingstock;there were no public pillories in Japan。But when the new year came around,the date on which debts must be paid off,the insolvent debtor might commit suicide to“clean his name。”New Year'Eve still has its crop of suicides who have taken this means to re-deem their reputations。

  All kinds of professional commitments involve giri to one's name。The Japanese re-quirements are often fantastic when particular circumstances bring one into the public eye and criticism might be general。There are for instance the long list of school princi-pals who committed suicide because fires in their schools-with which they had nothing to do-threatened the picture of the Emperor which was hung in every school。Teach-ers too have been burned to death dashing into burning schools to rescue these pictures。By their deaths they showed how high they held their giri to their names and their chu to Emperor。There are also famous stories of persons who were guilty of a slip of the tongue in ceremonious public readings of one of the Imperial Rescripts,either the one on Edu-cation or the one for Soldiers and Sailors,and who have cleared their names by commit-ting suicide。Within the reign of the present Emperor,a man who had inadvertently named his son Hirohito-the given name of the Emperor was never spoken in Japan-killed himself and his child。

  Giri to one's name as a professional person is very exigent in Japan but it need not be maintained by what an American understands as high professional standards。The teacher says,“I cannot in giri to my name as a teacher admit ignorance of it,”and he means that if he does not know to what species a frog belongs nevertheless he has to pre-tend he does。If he teaches English on the basis of only a few years'school instruction,nevertheless he cannot admit that anyone might be able to correct him。It is specifically to this kind of defensiveness that“giri to one's name as a teacher”refers。The business man too,in giri to his name as a business man,cannot let anyone know that his assets are seriously depleted or that the plans he made for his organization have failed。And the diplomat cannot in giri admit the failure of his policy。In all such giri usages there is ex-treme identification of a man with his work and any criticism of one's acts or one's com-petence becomes automatically a criticism of one's self。

  In Japan,this defensiveness goes very deep and it is the part of wisdom-as it is also universal etiquette-not to tell a person to his face in so many words that he has made a professional error。

  This sensitivity is especially conspicuous in situations where one person has lost out to another。It may be only that another person has been preferred for a job or that the person concerned has failed in a competitive examination。The loser“wears a shame”for such failures,and,though this shame is in some cases a strong incentive to greater efforts,in many others it is a dangerous depressant。He loses confidence and becomes melancholy or angry or both。His efforts are stymied。

  It is especially marked after childhood is ended,for Japanese children are more playful about competition and not so worried about it。With young men and adult,how-ever,performance deteriorated with competition。Subjects who had made good progress,reduced their mistakes and gained speed when they were working by themselves,began to make mistakes and far slower when a competitor was introduced。They did best when they were measuring their improvement against their own record,not when they were measuring themselves against others。The Japanese experimenters rightly analyzed the reason for this poor record in competitive situations。Their subjects,they said,when the project became competitive,became principally interested in the danger that they might be defeated,and the work suffered。They felt the competition so keenly as an aggression that they turned their attention to their relation to aggressor instead of concentrating on job in hand。

  The Japanese have always been inventive in devising ways of avoiding direct com-petition。Their elementary schools minimize it beyond what Americans would think pos-sible。Their teachers are instructed that each child must be taught to better his own re-cord and that he should not be given opportunities to compare himself with others。In their grade schools they do not even keep any students back to repeat a grade and all children who enter together go through their entire elementary education together。Their report cards grade children in elementary schools on marks for conduct but not on their school work:when really competitive situations are unavoidable,as in entrance exami-nations to the middle schools,the tension is understandably great。Every teacher has stories of the boys who when they know they have failed commit suicide。

  This minimizing of direct competition goes all through Japanese life。An ethic that is based on on has small place for competition。Their whole system of hierarchy with all its detailed rules of class minimizes direct competition。The family system minimizes it too for the father and son are not institutionally in competition as they are in America:it is possible for them to reject each other but not for them to compete。

  Etiquette of all kinds is organized to obviate shame-causing situations which might call in question one's giri to one's name。These situations which are thus minimized go far beyond direct competition。The host,they think,should greet his guest with certain ritual welcoming and in his good clothes。Therefore anyone who finds a farmer in his work clothes at home may have to wait a bit。The farmer gives no sign of recognition un-til he has put on suitable clothes and arranged the proper courtesies。It makes no differ-ence even if the host has to change his clothes in the room where the guest is waiting。He simply is not present until he is there in the proper guise。In the rural areas,too,boys may visit girls at night after the household is asleep and the girl is in bed。Girls can either accept or reject their advances,but the boy wears a towel bound about his face so that if he is rejected he need feel no shame next day。The disguise is not to prevent the girl from recognizing him;it is purely an ostrich technique so that he will not have to ad-mit that he was shamed in his proper person。Etiquette requires too that as little cogni-zance as possible be taken of any project until success is assured。It is part of the duties of go-betweens arranging a marriage to bring the prospective bride and groom together before the contract is completed。Everything is done to make this a casual meeting for if the purpose of the introduction were avowed at this stage any breaking-off of the negotia-tions would threaten the honor of one family or of both。Since the young couple must each be escorted by one or both of their parents,and the go-betweens must be the hosts or hostesses,it is most properly arranged when they all“run into each other”casually at the annual chrysanthemum show or in a well-known park or place of recreation。

  In all such ways,and in many more,the Japanese avoid occasions in which failure might be shameful。Though they lay such emphasis on the duty to clear one's name of insult,in actual practice this leads them to arrange events so that insult need be felt as seldom as possible。This is in great contrast to many tribes of the Pacific Inlands where clearing one's name holds much the same pre-eminent place that it does in Japan。

  The Japanese are paragons of politeness and this pre-eminent politeness is a meas-ure of the lengths to which they have gone in limiting the occasions when it is necessary to clear one's name。They retain as an incomparable goad to achievement the resentment insult occasions but they limit the situations where it is called for。It should occur only in specified situations or when traditional arrangements to eliminate it break down under pressure。Unquestionably the use of this goad in Japan contributed to the dominant posi-tion she was able to attain in the Far East and to her policy of Anglo-American war in the last decade。

  The politeness of the Japanese should not lead Americans to minimize their sensitiv-ity to slurs。It is hard for us to realize the deadly seriousness that attaches to light re-marks in Japan。In his autobiography,published in America just as he wrote it in Eng-lish,a Japanese artist,Yoshio Markino,has described vividly a perfectly proper Japa-nese reaction to what he interpreted as a sneer。When he wrote the book he had already lived most of his adult life in the United States and in Europe but he felt as strongly as if he were still living in his home town in rural Aichi。He was the youngest child of a land-owner of good standing and had been most lovingly reared in a charming home。Toward the end of his childhood his mother dies,and,not long after,his father became bank-rupt and sold all his property to pay his debts。The family was broken up and Markino had not a cent to help him in realizing his ambitions。One of these ambitions was to learn English。He attached himself to a near-by mission school and did janitor work in order to learn the language。At eighteen he had still never been outside the round of a few provincial towns but he had made up his mind to go to America。

  I visited upon one of the missionaries to whom I had more confidence than any other。I told him my intention to go to America in hope that he might be able to give me some useful information。To my great disappointment he exclaimed,“What,you are intending to go to America?”His wife was in the same room,and they both sneered at me!At the moment I felt as if the blood in my head went down to my feet!I stood on the same point for a few seconds in silence,then came back to my room without saying“good bye。”I said to myself,“Everything is quite finished。”

  On the next morning I ran away。Now I want to write the reason。I always be-lieve that insincerity is the greatest crime in this world,and nothing could be more insincere that to sneer!

  Even murderers I may forgive according to their condition。But about sneering,there is no excuse。Because one cannot sneer at innocent people without intentional insincerity。

  Let me give you my own definition of two words。Murderer:one who assassi-nates some human flesh。Sneerer:one who assassinates others'SOUL and heart。

  Soul and heart are far dearer than the flesh,therefore sneering is the worst crime。Indeed,that missionary and his wife tried to assassinate my soul and heart,and I had a great pain in my heart,which cried out,“why you?”

  The next morning he departed with his entire possessions tied in a handkerchief。

  He had been“assassinated,”as he felt,by the missionary's incredulity about a penniless provincial boy's going to the United States to become an artist。His name was besmirched until he had cleared it by carrying out his purpose and after the missionary's“sneer”he had no alternative but to leave the place and prove his ability to get to Amer-ica。

  “Even murderers I may forgive according to their condition。But about sneering,there is no excuse。”since it is not proper to“forgive,”one possible reaction to a slur is revenge。Markino cleared his name by getting to American but revenge ranks high in Japanese tradition as a“good thing”under circumstances of insult or defeat。Yoshisabu-ro Okakura in a book on The life and Thought of Japan uses a particularly Japanese cus-tom as a parallel:

  many of the so-called mental peculiarities of the Japanese owe their origin to the love of purity and its complementary hatred of defilement。But,pray,how could it be otherwise,being trained,as we actually are,to look upon slights inflicted,either on our family honor or on the national pride,as so many defilements and wounds that would not be clean and heal up again,unless by a thorough washing through vindi-cation?You may consider the cases of vendetta so often met with in the public and private life of Japan,merely as a kind of morning tub which a people take with whom love of cleanliness has grown into a passion。

  And he continues,saying that thus the Japanese“live clean,undefiled lives which seem as serene and beautiful as a cherry tree in full bloom。”This“morning tub,”in other words,washes off dirt other people have thrown at you and you cannot be virtuous as long as any of it sticks to you。The Japanese have no ethic which teaches that a man-cannot be insulted unless he thinks he is and that it is only“what comes out of a man”that defiles him,not what is said or done against him。

  Japanese tradition keeps constantly before the public this ideal of a“morning bath”of vendetta。Countless incidents and hero tales,of which the most popular is the histori-cal Tale of the Forty-Seven Ronin,are known to everybody。They are read in their school books and played in the theater,made up into contemporary movies,and printed in popular publications。They are a part of the living culture of Japan today。

  These two themes from the historical tales-revenge upon someone who has been right when you were wrong,and revenge for a slur,even from one's lord-are com-monplaces in the best-known literature of Japan,and they have many variations。When one examines contemporary life-histories and novels and events,it is clear that,however much the Japanese appreciate revenge in their traditions,stories of vengeance are today certainly as rare as in Western nations,perhaps rarer。This does not mean that obses-sions about one's honor have grown less but rather that the reaction to failures and slurs is more and more often defensive instead of offensive。People take the shame as seriously as ever,but it more and more often paralyzes their energies instead of starting a fight。The direct attack of vengeance was more possible in lawless pre-Meiji days。In the mod-ern era law and order and the difficulties of managing a more interdependent economy have sent revenge underground or directed it against one's own breast。

  The vulnerability of the Japanese to failures and slurs and rejections makes it all too easy for them to harry themselves instead of others。Their novels describe over and over again the dead end of melancholy alternating with outbursts of anger in which educated Japanese have so often lost themselves in the last decades。The protagonists of these sto-ries are bored-bored with the round of life,bored with their families,bored with the city,bored with the country。But it is not the boredom of reaching for the stars,where all effort seems trivial compared with a great goal pictured in their mind's eye。It is not a boredom born of the contrast between reality and the ideal。When the Japanese have a vision of a great mission they lose their boredom。They lose it completely and absolute-ly,no matter how distant the goal。Their particular kind of ennui is the sickness of an o-ver-vulnerable people。

  The most extreme aggressive action a modern Japanese takes against himself is sui-cide。Suicide,properly done,will,according to their tenets,clear his name and rein-state his memory。The Japanese respect for suicide allows it to be an honorable and pur-poseful act。In certain situations it is the most honorable course to take in giri to one's name。

  This growing tendency to strike at oneself when giri to one's name is threatened need not involve such extreme steps as suicide。Aggressions directed inward may merely produce depression and lassitude and that typical Japanese boredom that was so preva-lent in the educated class。There are good sociological reasons why this mood should have been widespread among this particular class for the intelligentsia was overcrowded and very insecurely placed in the hierarchy。Only a small proportion of them could satis-fy them ambitions。In the nineteen-thirties,too,they were doubly vulnerable because the authorities feared they were thinking“dangerous thoughts”and held them under sus-picion。The Japanese intellectuals usually account for their frustration by complaints a-bout the confusions of Westernization,but the explanation does not go for enough。The typical Japanese swing of mood is from intense dedication to intense boredom,and the psychic shipwreck which many intellectuals suffered was in the traditional Japanese man-ner。Many of them saved themselves from it,too,in the middle nineteen-thirties in tra-ditional fashion:they embraced nationalistic goals and turned the attack outward again,away from their own breasts。In totalitarian aggression against outside nations they could“find themselves”again。They saved themselves from a bad mood and felt a great new strength within them。They could not do it in personal relationships but they believed they could as a conquering nation。

  Now that the outcome of the war has proved this confidence mistaken,lassitude is again a great psychic threat in Japan,they cannot easily cope with it,whatever their in-tentions。“No bombs any more,”one Japanese said in Tokyo;“the relief is wonderful。But we are not fighting any more and there is no purpose。Everyone is in a daze,not caring much how he does things。I am like that,my wife is like that and the people in the hospital。All very slow about everything we do,dazed。People complain now that the government is slow cleaning up after the war and in providing relief,but I think the rea-son is that all the government officials felt the same way as we did。”

  The swing of mood that is natural to Japanese is between intense effort and a lassi-tude that is sheer marking time。The Japanese at the present moment are chiefly con scious of defending their good name in defeat and they feel they can do this by being friendly。As a corollary,many feel they can do it most safely by being dependent。And it is an easy step to feeling that effort is suspect and that it is better to mark time。Lassi-tude spread。

  Yet the Japanese do not enjoy ennui。To“rouse oneself from lassitude,”to“rouse others from lassitude”is a constant call to the better life in Japan,and it was often on the lips of their broadcasters even in wartime。They campaign against their passivity in their own way。Their newspapers in the spring of 1946 keep talking about what a blot it is on the honor of Japan that“with the eyes of the whole world upon us,”they have not cleaned up the shambles of bombing and have not got certain public utilities into opera-tion。They complain about the lassitude of the homeless families who congregate to sleep at night in the railway stations where the Americans see them in their misery。The Japa-nese understand such appeals to their good name。They hope too that as a nation they will be able to put forward utmost efforts again in the future to work for a respected place in the United Nations Organization。That would be working for honor again,but in a new direction。If there is peace among the Great Powers in the future,Japan could take this road to self-respect。

  For in Japan the constant goal is honor。It is necessary to command respect。The means one uses to that end are tools one takes up and then lays aside as circumstances dictate。When situations change,the Japanese can change their bearings and set them-selves on a new course。Except for a few diehards,the Japanese do not need to organize resistance movements and underground opposition to the occupying forces of the Ameri-can Army,They feel no moral necessity to hold to the old line。From the first months,single Americans traveled safely on the sardine-packed trains to out-of-the-way corners of the country and were greeted with courtesy by erstwhile nationalistic officials。There have been no vendettas。When our jeeps drive through the villages the roads are lined with children shouting“Hello”and“Good-bye,”and the mother waves her baby's hand to the American soldier when he is too small to do it by himself。

  The Japanese derive their aggression in a different way。They need terribly to be re-spected in the world。They saw that military might had earned respect for great nations and they embarked on a course to equal them。They had to out-Herod Herod because their resources were slight and their technology was primitive。When they failed in their great effort,it meant to them that aggression was not the road to honor after all。Giri had always meant equally the use of aggression or the observance of respect relations,and in defeat the Japanese turned from one to the other,apparently with no sense of psychic vi-olence to themselves。The goal is still their good name。This kind of situational realism is the bright face of Japanese giri to one's name。

  It is more important than ever for Westerners to understand what giri means in Ja-pan。Giri is a virtue common to all classes。Like all other obligations and disciplines in Japan giri is“heavier”as one goes up the social scale but it is required at all levels of society。At least the Japanese think it is heavier for the samurai。A non-Japanese ob-server is just as likely to feel that giri requires most of the common people because the rewards for conforming seem to him less。To the Japanese it is sufficient reward to be re-spected in his world and“a man who does not know giri”is still a“miserable wretch。”He is scorned and ostracized by his fellows。



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