Gordon Bowles (essay date 1947)
SOURCE: A review of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 10, No. 2, September, 1947, pp. 237-41.
[In the following review, Bowles discusses Benedict's observations and analyses in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.]
It is difficult to judge fairly the merits and demerits of a descriptive analytical study when the author lacks firsthand acquaintance with his source material. In the present instance, the author has sought to meet the handicap by a threefold program of extensive reading, the generous use of well-qualified informants, and the employment of modern techniques of critical analysis. She has also attempted to turn this handicap into an advantage by using the data as a demonstration of what a trained observer can do with secondhand data at long range.
The reader cannot help being impressed by the orderly manner in which the data have been assembled and by the incisive phrasing and keen logic with which they have been presented. These speak for themselves and are a tribute not only to the author but to the entire study of society as a science. Dr. Benedict is certainly to be congratulated in having made available such an excellent study. The reader gets the impression, however, that the justification for such an experiment has been carried somewhat to excess. He feels that the study has sufficient merit in itself as not to have necessitated such a complete apologia as that contained in Chapter I, no matter how important and true its content.
The Chrysthemum and the Sword is an interpretation of Japanese personality and character primarily during periods of response to emotional stress and, as Dr. Benedict points out, "All the ways in which the Japanese departed from Western conventions of war were data on their view of life and on their convictions of the whole duty of man."
By far the most valuable aspect of the study is the analysis of the Japanese sense of loyalty, especially as this involves the incurring of obligations and their repayment. A very useful table is given … which outlines schematically these obligations and their reciprocals.
The obligations or on of an individual are fivefold: those received from the emperor, from the parents, from one's lord, from one's teacher, and through the contacts of daily life. Each on has its reciprocal payment but the payment is of two kinds, those which have no limit in time or space and which can never be fully repaid (i.e., duty to the Emperor, to one's parents, and to one's work) and those which can and must be specifically repaid. The first is termed gimu and the latter girn or debts which are repaid "with mathematical equivalence." Such giri payments are of two types: giri-to-the-world, which involves duties to one's liege lord, duties to one's family, duties incurred as a result of gifts of money or favors, and finally duties to closely related kin such as aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces; the second type of giri, that to one's name, involves the clearing of "one's reputation of insult or imputation of failure." This giri involves also two other factors: "One's duty to admit no (professional) failure or ignorance" and "One's duty to fulfill the Japanese proprieties, e.g., observing all respect behavior, not living above one's station in life, curbing all displays of emotion on inappropriate occasions, etc."
Chapters 5 through 8, the heart of the book, are devoted to this summary of Japan's ethical code, to...
(The entire section is 1473 words.)