Masayuki Ishii compares Japanese and Western approaches to aspects of life. Taking in both sports and the arts, he reflects on how different approaches can be equally advantageous in academia.
By Masayuki Ishii, Associate Professor of Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University
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Japanese like “the way of ~”. Originating from bushido (the way of the samurai), there is sado (tea ceremony) and kado (the art of flower arrangement), judo and kendo (Japanese fencing). In particular, many athletes seem to like “the way of ~”, with some people going as far as saying sumo-do (the way of sumo) and yakyu-do (the way of baseball.)
The “way (road)” in “the way of ~”, is a single road. In Japan, more value is placed on “continuing one thing” than “doing various things.” Former Tohoku Rakuten Eagles manager Katsuya Nomura, called himself “catcher for life” during his playing days, but this stance towards life of being “~ for life” is, even today, taken in a positive light by many as the Japanese way of living and a professional ethic.
There is one important premise in “the way of ~”. After reaching the end of the “way,” there is a “state of expertise”, like a universal world opening up to everything. So, those “people who know the way,” can, for example, understand other people from a completely different world. It is like two experts (from different fields) talking to each other and saying, “Yes, I see, I see.” I feel that this concept of “universality in people who have reached the top” in Japan is originally behind university entrance exams giving preference to nonacademic students and medalists in sports entering the political scene.
I wonder if this sense prevails in the Western world. If there are any readers from America or Europe, I would love to hear your opinions on this topic. My current line of thinking is that this concept does not exist in the West. Therefore, I believe this is an important point when considering the culture surrounding sport here and over there.
In “Bushido”, Inazo Nitobe sets bushido (the way of the samurai) against knighthood, but in all likelihood, the nuance of “the way” does not lie in chivalry, the original word for knighthood. I think, when comparing Japanese and European cultures, that what should be set against bushido is the Renaissance. In contrast to the sudden jump from the samurai world into the Meiji period in Japan, there is the huge transitional period in European history called the Renaissance, which stretched between the middle ages and modern times.
The Renaissance conjures up images of omnipotent geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci, but as is in Japan, where many people will not reach the state of expertise, in Europe, many people are neither omnipotent nor geniuses. Rather, what is important is one’s stance towards life, such as “attitudes” like “trying to do various things” or “having knowledge of things in general.”
The English amateurs in the 19th century who created the culture of sports displayed an identity just like the Renaissance “attitude.” Take, for example, “Chariots of Fire”, the movie depicting a lively group of runners in the early 20th century. The main character, Harold Abrahams, was aiming to win the Olympic 100 meters while studying at Cambridge University, but at the same time he was a tenor in the university’s male choir. When attending an opera with his friends, he fell in love with a female actress, and sang with his teammates while playing the piano on a ship heading off on a tour. He probably also wrote amateur poetry as well as speaking a smattering of French.
From the 19th century to the early 20th century, amateur athletes were exactly like that. So, the question of amateurism surrounding sports in those days was not one of whether to be paid or not, but rather one of “attitude” toward sports. Concentrating all your efforts toward “one thing” was not considered an attractive way to live. That is where the shadow of Renaissance-type orientation clearly falls. Of course, one cannot point out enough that behind this there was a sense of privilege that one could afford the time and money to do all these things.
In Japan, where there is respect for “the way”, craftsmen are rated highly. After spending many years polishing their skills, they have garnered overwhelming respect, maybe even earning the kind of respect to be considered national human treasures. This is, without a doubt, one of the charms of Japanese culture. But I do want to say that living for “the way” in itself, has a problem concerning “taste.” We say “jack of all trades, but master of none,” when someone has a bit of time and money to spare and tries various things, even if not an omnipotent genius, and tries to get a “general handling” of the things he wants to do. He also tries throwing in a few sports. This is also a way to have an affinity with sports. So I like truth seeking sports orientated students, but I also want to support the Renaissance-type students who join group activities.
About the Author:
Associate Professor of Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University
Graduated from the Waseda University School of Education with a major in physical education. Completed a course in European cultural and regional environmental theory at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies. Assumed his current position after serving as Instructor at Hiroshima Prefectural University. Area of expertise is sports history. His major writings include “English Social History as Seen through Rugby”, published in Quarterly Ethnic Studies Magazine (edited by the National Museum of Ethnology), and “Orientalism of the Field” published in Sports Magazine (Minerva Publishing).
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