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Continuing To Comprehend The Hidden Leaves or Trying To Understand The Hagakure Part 3


I have been confused by the title of Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s treatise on what makes a Samurai thus far. Why did Tsunetomo’s book translate to The Hidden Leaves?It is something that has confounded me since I began reading it. The only example of “Hidden Knowledge” comes from Chapter 2 and that might actually only be supposition on my part1. Chapter 3 & 4 however, introduce the reader to what I think might be the best example of a “Hidden Leaf” of knowledge as Tsunetomo introduces us to rgoup mentality of Edo Period Japanese society.

When reading Chapters 3 and 4 of The Hagakure: The Book of Samurai, one is bound to be confused by the sheer brevity of both chapters. It’s like when you read something by Douglas Adams and after reading a chapter of 20 pages the next chapter ends up being a simple sentence that is nothing more than a flight announcement. When you begin reading Chapter 3, you have already made your way through 42 pages2 of what is essentially a dissertation of what it means to be a Samurai. Yamamoto Tsunetomo has inundated you with his beliefs of what makes the “best” Samurai and bombarded you with parables to get his point across. One of the themes Tsunetomo keeps coming back to is the decline the “Modern” Samurai during the Tokugawa Shogunate/Edo Period. He never comes out and says the Samurai of the Edo Period are weak but he does imply it strongly. Chapter 3 is used to illustrate not just the decline of the Samurai but to strongly imply that, perhaps, the era of the Samurai is coming to a close… or is it?

Chapter 3

Tsunetomo uses 3 quotes of “Lord Naoshige” and that man’s reflection on what the Japanese concept of giri. Giri is the Japanese term for duty, more specifically duty through self-sacrifice. It has long been a cornerstone of Japanese society that one does things for the betterment of whole than for the benefit of just the individual. This philosophy is at the very core of giri. Lord Naoshige makes a reflection that one can havea family member die yet shed no tears but then ca nturn around and reflect on a person that he has no connection to that may have lived hundreds of years ago and grasp what that person sacrificed for the betterment of everyone and she many tears. Self-sacrifice or giri, is a theme that Tsunetomo continues to drive home to demonstrate what it means to be in service as a vassal. No matter if a Samurai disagrees with his Lord, he must carry out the orders asked of him because being a vassal isn’t about your own personal glory. It is about your ability to serve your Lord and in turn serve the group under the Lord’s protection.

Tsunetomo then relates a tale of Naoshige being told of an elderly man of 90 that lived nearby where Naoshige had been travelling. Naoshige’s retainers mentioned the old man and said he should visit him to commend him on living so long. Rather than seeing living long as some great accomplishment, Naoshige saw the man’s very existence as somewhat wretched because the old man had probably outlived everyone he loved or mattered to him. Naoshige had no connection to the man and felt there really was no sense of giri just because the man was old. In fact, Naoshige seemed to view the concept of the man as serving no purpose having lived so long. Rewarding a man that is decrepit just for having lived isn’t enough of an accomplishment because it doesn’t serve Naoshige any good and therefore does even less for the group under his protection. It may seem cruel to say it but Naoshige, according to Tsunetomo’s view of “The Way”, committed no breach of conduct by not seeing the man and thus is justified in not paying the 90 old man a visit. At times giri may seem cruel but never is giri fickle.

The last example of Lord Naoshige is a reflection on unnecessary struggle. Using the example of how time is wasted by trying to preserve a family, Tsunetomo makes Lord Naoshige’s reflection o nthe matter relate to giri. By trying to stop the march of time and struggling against the decline of one’s family and personal fortune, one may actually accelerate the the decline by not giving in to the natural way of things. In fact, one might preserve his own line/family by focusing n his service to the bigger group (i.e. society) more. After all, what good is it to only preserve only your good fortune if it isn’t benefiting everyone? These are three examples that Tsunetomo use from one man to illustrate the role of giri in “The Way”. The chapter is a mere 3 paragraphs long and probably the best example of using parable as tool to teach by Tsunetomo yet in The Hagakure.

I feel as if the last parable of Lord Naoshige is somewhat subtle, even subliminal. As if Tsunetomo is saying that those “Modern” Samurai are fighting against their caste’s fall from grace, when they should just let it happen and by doing so they might be able to restore the caste of Samurai to its previous greatness. Tsunetomo would rater the Samurai as they were in the Edo Period fall so that the strongest and true Samurai would rise again to serve in the capacity they were meant to originally. It just feels like a subversive call to arms using the words of Lord Naoshige.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 of The Hagakure is only slightly longer than Chapter 3. In fact it is double the amount of paragraphs3 . Not that length is the issue here because Tsunetomo did more with 3 paragraphs to get his point across in chapter 3 than he did in the 42 previous pages about the role of The Samurai and “The Way”. The amazing thing is, Tsunetomo still manages to talk about 2 topics concisely. Fiirst he uses 3 different parables to demonstrate that while a Samurai should always fervently serve his Lord, thee are just simply times that restraint, mercy and courtesy must show themselves.

First is the tale of Nabeshima Tadanao, who at 15 pointed out that a sentence of death for a kitchen worker who killed a solider in self-defense. Tadanao made note that punishment did not fit the crime and that the kitchen worker deserved a lighter sentence of confinement (i.e. jail time). Tadanao, at 15, demonstrated the virtues of Mercy and Restraint despite the fact that the kitchen worker killed a man above him in station4. Justice is still served by having the charge brought down from Murder to Manslaughter via self-defense. The kitchen worker was defending himself from being beaten and by showing mercy and restraint in the sentence Tadanao’s clan elders showed that the law, even in a caste system, must be just for all depending on circumstance.

Next we are relayed the tale of a time Lord Katsuhige was hunting and had seemingly killed a a very large boar with one shot. When everyone went to examine the creature, it sprung u pand started running wild. Luckily Nabeshima Matabe was there and struck the boar down. Matae could have used that moment to gloat about his prowess and by doing so bringing shame on his comrades in how slow to react they were. Instead, Matabe decided to comment on the amount of dust the rampaging boar had kicked up. This allowed Matabe’s comrades to save face and showed courtesy not only to them but to his Lord as well, for Lord Katsuhige had not felled the beast with one shot as he had previously thought. Matabe’s example is a call back to Chapters 1 & 2, where Tsunetomo reminds us that a Samurai must serve his lord, remain humble and always display courtesy to his Lord and to others. Matabe also displayed restraint by not playing the braggard and realizing that doing so served no one but himself. He actually exhibited a sense og giri by not drawing attention to what he did, because humiliating everyone does not serve those around you.

The final parable involves the son of Lord Naoshige from Chapter3, Lord Katsuhige. Naoshige instructed his son to train his cutting skills with a sword by executing men that were already sentenced to death. So, Katsuhige took 10 condemned men to the gates of the city and began executing them via decapitation. He killed 9 of the condemned men, skillfully skillfully removing their heads. When he came to the 10 man, Katsuhige stopped. He saw that the tenth man was young and healthy and, if spared, would useful to the community. Lord Katsuhige displayed mercy by sparing the man, Restraint in seeing that killing all but one better served everyone since the condemned man could still be of goood use to everyone and Courtesy was displayed by sparing the man’s life and giving him back to society in hopes of putting his life to use. Katsushige displayed a sense of giri while putting forth all 3 virtues in the action of sparing the man.

The last 3 paragraphs of Chapter 4 are spent discussing Lord Katsuhige’s belief that there are 4 types of man. The Quick Then Lagging Man, The Lagging Then Quick Man, The Perpetually Quick Man and then The Always Lagging Man. The Perpetually Quick Man is always given a task and then that task executed without hesitation. The Lagging then Quick man is just as reliable but he takes time to plan how he will execute e order and then once that is done executes the order swiftly. The Quick Then Lagging Man will leave to do his task right away but then dawdles and procrastinates in the tasks final excution. Lastly there is the Constantly Lagging Man, one who never does anything. Based on what Tsunetomo has already written in the 3 previous chapters, one would think the ideal Samurai is the Lagging Then Quick Man, for Samurai should always serve his Lord but should also plan how to execute the order so as not to put himself or others in to much risk. The Lagging Then Quick Man also best displays a sense of giri because while the Always Quick Man is good, he is more prone to rush into something headfirst and make mistakes, possibly even getting himself killed. Then what good is that man in the end? The Samurai knows when to act right away but also knows that fweer things go wrong with careful planning.

So Chapter 3 of The Hagakure introduces us to giri and its importance, not only to the Samurai but to those around the Samurai. Everyone has their place within Japanese Feudal System. People perform their functions within that system for the greater good of society and thus fulfill their part in performing giri. Chapter 4 then cites 3 examples of fulfilling giri and then presents the 4 types of man and which of these men best represents fulfilling the concept of giri as it pertains to the Lord/Vassal relationship of a Samurai. Altogether, 2 chapters, 2 pages in total and one important concept on display through the eyes of Tsunetomo. The deeper I get into The Hagakure, the more it seems to be a a rather subversive book calling for a somewhat Darwinian cleansing of the Samurai caste. Either that or Tsunetomo is just telling the young Samurai to get the hell off his lawn.

Next Time: The Hagakure Chapters 5 & 6


1Remember, I’m assuming there is a Sempai/Kohai relationship between Tsunetomo and Tsuramoto. There is no PROOF of one.

2At least in the edition I have. In the obviously unspell-checked and poorly edited version I have that is.

3Whopping 6 paragraphs! Combine that with the 3 paragraphs from before and chapters 3 & 4 make 2 full pages!

4Remeber, its a society based on a Caste System in Edo Period Japan.

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