Top Story: 16. December 2007
Fleetingness of life was the theme in famous movie by Akira Kurosawa. In the movie, Kurosawa follows a character played by Takashi Shimura, who has a stomach cancer. Going to hospital, he finds out he has less than year to live.
The movie is perhaps one of the best symbols for the Japanese word “IKIRU", which means "to live".
Last month I was editing the movie Arura which dealt with the concept of living and it’s meaning to usual Japanese. My fiancee often tells me “I cannot be sure that you or I exist tomorrow” meaning the fleetingness of life.
Confuniacism and zen, both have strong references and teachings related to this. We should do our best today, because there might not be tomorrow available for fixing our troubles.
In Arura movie, an interviewee said that in contrary of common answer “to live means being happy”, it means learning for her. If you think everything is learning, even losing becomes a chance.
Haruki Murakami mentioned in his short story in “After the Quake” (in Super Frog Saves the Tokyo) about losing. Ernest Heming way said that what truly defines us, is not how we win, but how we lose. Therefore, I wanted to take a look into the nation’s life through the loss and similar situation.
Leaf of red rose sticks to the branch strongly, and even rots rather than giving up to it’s host. Give it a typhoon or put it through hurricane and you can be sure that the fragrant leaves are still there.
But tiniest breeze of wind will loosen the leaves of sakura, and they fall, as if they would silently decide that it’s their time to go. (For someone this might look like giving up.)
Japanese are the latter type. For example, if there is situation when they cannot possibly withstand the situation and keep their face and dignity, they will silently give up.
Now, some might say that for example, that in Pearl Harbor, the suicide attackers were in fact “fighting to the end” to defeat the enemy and win. During war, the government, actually cited emperor’s haiku which said “every Japanese must die beautifully like falling sakura”. By this, the goverment meant that families and all the soldiers should not be afraid to give up their lives for the war. Grenades were given for each families during the American landing to Okinawa. Many of the families used the grenade, rather than being held captive.
But personally I want to believe that suicide attacks were Japanese way of giving up. In a sense, Japan was already accepting it’s defeat, even though the government kept playing the propaganda orchestra.
In those circumstances it must have felt completely natural. Someone could say that suicide bombers, and suicide divers and kaiten, human torpedoes were a modern form of committing seppuku in front of enemy, giving up in most proper and right way.
Nowadays, in conflict situation, Japanese are more bound to keep their posture, and gracefully step back, rather than give up their personal effort in order to overthrow the enemy. This is very important to understand for foreigners such as me. Even in such situation, Japanese are rarely seen taking agressive pose and insult the enemy, no matter how painful emotions might lie beneath.
In business world, Japanese are also highly skillfull in usage of the most effective self defence, smile.
I do find it very beautiful, how Japanese pay attention to the beauty of their behaviour, even in highly distressing situations, and consider the other person, even if the person wouldn’t do the same in return.
Bushido teaches us that the way, and path is important, and we shouldn’t worry much about the result. To keep one’s back straight, and walk the path with graceful steps, is more important.
Japanese people make decisions related to this when they lead their daily lives, and at least in the old times, this resulted a harmonious and peaceful life.
Often, I hear foreigners who have moved to Japan saying that “they feel more” and that “their lives are more full” in Japan. I, myself too, have noticed that when I go to Japan, I seem to appreciate the fleetingness of moment more.
Why this happens, is still a mystery for me. Japanese appreciate simplicity over complicated ways.
If there is elegant and simple solution to problem with fairly lesser benefit, Japanese often choose that rather than the complicated and messy solution that would result optimal result.