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Can it really be just ten years since the Great Rising Sun Hysteria?  Remember how the Japanese were going to inherit the Earth and America would become a sort of a vassal state?  The Japanese had cornered a big chunk of the car and electronics markets.  They bought everything from Pebble Beach to Rockefeller Center.  And the Western intellectual elites convinced themselves that the knew the reasons why:  that the Japanese were an egoless, homogenous, nonmaterialistic, socialized people, willing to exchange individual initiative, personal gratification and acquisitiveness for job security, social security and  the psychic comfort of cultural conformity. Of course, then the whole thing went to hell in a handcart and folks realized that the Japanese system suffered from the eternal and inevitable cancer of all centralized systems; Japanese culture had produced a profoundly uncreative people.

They were okay at imitating the success of thers, chiefly us; they could rip off watches, cameras, televisions and the like.  And they had stumbled into a bonanza when the tiny little cars that their island necessitated turned out to be ideal vehicles for the gasoline shortages and price increases of the 70's.  But as conditions changed in the world, the system proved incapable of the kind of dynamism that characterizes the American system.  It turned out that just about anybody can put together stuff just as well as the Japanese did--Koreans, Indonesians, Indians, Mexicans, etc--and they'd do it cheaper.  Energy costs fell and suddenly no one wanted a tiny little car anymore.  And since there were no fundamentally Japanese inventions, the succeeding generations of goods were all coming from American minds.  What happens to a production based economy when others will produce the same stuff cheaper and all the intellectual productivity resides in a rival nation?  Nothing good.

Meanwhile, it gradually dawned on people that the Japanese citizenry wasn't willingly deferring their materialist yearnings; they just couldn't afford to buy the stuff they wanted, like land and houses, which in a little island nation with many people and great wealth were prohibitively expensive.  So all of the wealth in the society ended up in savings accounts and was essentially diverted from productive uses.  One of the hoariest canards of the past two decades is the supposed imbalance between American and Japanese savings rates.  Sure the Japanese have a lot of money sitting in passbook savings accounts earning 2% interest.  Indeed, they have much more of their national wealth tied up in such savings than we do.  But that is it.  That's where all of their money is.  Meanwhile, American money is invested in our homes and our 401k accounts, neither of which are included in savings calculations.  If you count these savings, it turns out that Americans are the greatest savers in the history of Humankind.  Plus, these are productive uses for national wealth.  They are investments which cause a beneficial ripple effect in the economy.  The Japanese, on the other hand, may as well be stuffing their money in their mattresses for all the good it does their nation.

But anyway, there was that decade-long spasm when the media and the Left convinced themselves that the Japanese had it all figured out.  So there was this ridiculous craze in Japanese management techniques and faux profound philosophical teachings.  Riding in on the crest of this wave came A Book of Five Rings by one of the most revered warriors in Japan's history, Miyamoto Musashi.
Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Genshin, aka Miyamoto Musashi, was orphaned by the age of seven and, in order to earn his way in the world, became a swordsman, killing his first man at the age of 13.  Eventually he fought some 60 duels without ever being defeated.  By the end of his career, he had become so expert and dominant that he would fight his opponents with nothing but a stick.  Then in 1643, he retired to a contemplative seclusion in a cave, where, just before his death. he wrote Go Rin No Sho (A Book of Five Rings), a book of strategy addressed to his disciple Teruo Nobuyuki.

The book is essentially a treatise on the Way of the warrior, the strategy that should be employed in combat:

    It is said the warrior's is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both
    Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both
    divisions of the Way. Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.
    Although not only warriors but priests, women, peasants and lowlier folk have been known to die
    readily in the cause of duty or out of shame, this is a different thing. The warrior is different in that
    studying the Way of strategy is based on overcoming men. By victory gained in crossing swords
    with individuals, or enjoining battle with large numbers, we can attain power and fame for ourselves
    or for our lord. This is the virtue of strategy.


    This is the Way for men who want to learn my strategy:

       Do not think dishonestly.
       The Way is in training.
       Become acquainted with every art.
       Know the Ways of all professions.
       Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
       Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything.
       Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
       Pay attention even to trifles.
       Do nothing which is of no use.


    To attain the Way of strategy as a warrior you must study fully other martial arts and not deviate
    even a little from the Way of the warrior. With your spirit settled, accumulate practice day by day,
    and hour by hour. Polish the twofold spirit heart and mind, and sharpen the twofold gaze perception
    and sight. When your spirit is not in the least clouded, when the clouds of bewilderment clear away,
    there is the true void.

    Until you realise the true Way, whether in Buddhism or in common sense, you may think that things
    are correct and in order. However, if we look at things objectively, from the viewpoint of laws of
    the world, we see various doctrines departing from the true Way. Know well this spirit, and with
    forthrightness as the foundation and the true spirit as the Way. Enact strategy broadly, correctly and

    Then you will come to think of things in a wide sense and, taking the void as the Way, you will see
    the Way as void.

    In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has
    existence, spirit is nothingness.

Essentially, he has two extremely simple messages:  be humble and study what other people do.  This is a thoroughly Japanese philosophy and the recipe for both their success in the 80's and their demise in the 90's.  It is really tactical thinking more than it is strategic.  The Japanese system calls for precisely duplicating what already exists, for learning what is already known.  The American system demands innovation, the end run around the status quo. If you want a metaphor for the two systems, two images come inescapably to mind:  David vs. Goliath and the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones shoots the enormous scimitar wielding Arab.     You can just picture Musashi studying Goliath's moves or the Arab's techniques, being reactive and imitative, while the American picks up a gun or a sling and uses technological innovation to triumph.

Now imagine if you will thousands of American businessmen riding the train to work in the morning with this book clutched in their hands, eagerly seeking clues to the Japanese economic miracle in the pages of a 17th century sword fighting manual.  Pretty amusing, eh?  It's quite a lovely little book and it is helpful for understanding the strengths and limitations of the Japanese psyche.  But if you approach it seeking profound and vital truths to apply in your own life, you are more than likely going to be disappointed.

Andrew Geller adds:
And just think, for all those years I tried to make sense out of it as it applied to my study of the samurai's arts in Aikido. I do not disagree with your broad criticisms of the Japanese culture and its attempts to imitate (though I'll be damned if Ford, GM, or Chrysler could make as usable and durable a car as my Camry wagon).

I do however, disagree that these traits are intrinsic to Musashi's philosophy.  From Yoshikawa's novelization of his life, it does seem like he could absorb another fighter's art quickly and utterly, to the point where he knew what the other would do before the opponent did.  I think that this is innovative.  And the opponent is defeated before he knows what hit him.  Perhaps that is the strategic lesson.  It is certainly the way of Aikido -- using the attacker's force and motion against him.  In the "Difference between Seeing and Perceiving" and in the "Immovable Mind" he clearly moves toward anticipation and pre-emptive actions. This may be tactical rather than strategic -- I'm not sure what that means.  I never quite knew what the business honchos thought they could get out of it.  They just liked to envision themselves as samurais, and would take lessons like Musashi offers that an opponent must be completely, utterly defeated.


Grade: (C+)


Book-related and General Links:
    -Musashi (1935)(Eiji Yoshikawa) (Charles S. Terry, Translator)

or the FILMS:
    -Samurai I - Musashi Miyamoto (1955)
    -Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955)
    -Samurai III - Duel at Ganryu Island (1956)

    -Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) Website
    -BIO: Concerning the life of Miyamoto Musashi
    -BIO: Who is Miyamoto Musashi?
    -ETEXT: A Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho)(Miyamoto Musashi)(Translated by Victor Harris)
    -REVIEW: of A Book of Five Rings (New and Noteworthy: Paperbacks, NY Times)
     -REVIEW: of MUSASHI By Eiji Yoshikawa Translated by Charles S. Terry. Foreword by Edwin O. Reischauer (SHELDON FRANK, NY Times Book Review)
      -Film Page:  Japan on Film (University of Michigan)
    -ESSAY: The Social Contradictions of Japanese Capitalism: The economic woes of Asia have been much written about -- in purely economic terms. But behind many of those woes lies a social crisis in Japan, whose modern young people inhabit a pre-modern society. It is a crisis that perhaps only a social revolution can resolve. (Murray Sayle, The Atlantic)