Japan Encyclopedia

By Boye Lafayette De Mente

A-Bomb/Genshi Bakudan
Alien Registration/Gaijin Toroku
Area Codes
Flower Arranging/Ikebana
Ghosts and Goblins/Yurei and Bakemono
Historical Table
Incense Burning/Koh-do
Suicide (Ritual)/Harakiri

Abacus/Soroban-(soe-roe-bahn) The soroban, or abacus, was developed in China well over 1,000 years ago and brought to Japan in the 1500s. Just as it had in China, this marvelous calculating device was to become a vital part of Japanese life, influencing not only the conduct of business, but the manual and mental dexterity of people.

Often described as the world's first computer, the soroban differs from the computer-in particular the electronic calculator-in that its use requires both physical and mental skill. The user actually does all of the calculating mentally and merely records the results on the soroban.

When the electronic pocket calculator became popular in the mid-1970's, it was feared that the use of the soroban would die out, along with the special skills that it developed. But this was not the case. There was a sudden drop-off in the number of young people signing up for soroban classes, but a few years later, it began to make a surprising comeback.

Now between three and four million people a year take the Japanese chamber of commerce and industry's annual abacus proficiency test, according to records kept by the National Abacus Education Federation (NACF).

Interestingly enough, almost half the people who take the test each year are children, some of them as young as 12.

The Federation says the main reason so many young people are interested in the soroban is that it is simple to learn and operate and introduces an element of fun and personal achievement into mathematics.

Japanese teachers and educational leaders are delighted with the continuing popularity of the soroban because sing electronic calculations require neither manual skill nor mental agility and, as a result, has a detrimental effect on students and others who use them regularly.

For those who might believe the soroban is too inefficient and/or too slow to complete with computers, consider this: at a number of contests between computer and soroban users held in Tokyo, the soroban users not only held their own, they won several of the contests.

In another surprising development, it was found that people who use electronic calculators are much more prone to make mistakes than people who use the soroban. In the early 1980's, many Japanese companies, concerned about problems caused by operator errors, began to restrict the use of calculators in favor of the abacus.

Perhaps even more surprising there is a soroban institute in the United States, at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, founded by Dr. Leo Richards.

Dr. Richards says the abacus has value in the psychological aspects of learning. It provides youngsters with a hands-on experience of mathematical processes. He says any concept can be taught with the abacus. In fact, the user creates mathematics.

Richards adds that the soroban in stills discipline and confidence, while the calculator, which performs all the operations itself, is alienating. Japan's NAEF agrees. It says that the soroban can turn a mathematical duffer into a whiz kid, removing a lot of the intimidating mystery from math.

Many Japanese companies still require proficiency with the soroban as a necessary qualification for employment. In 1983, the Nakano Abacus Institute in Tokyo began a program to increase the popularity of the soroban in Western countries.

A-bomb/Genshi Bakudan-(Gain-she bah-kuu-dahn) Japan is the only country to have been atom-bombed. The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atom bombs dropped by U.S. Air Force planes on August 6 and August 9, 1945. The rationale used by the American government in making the decision to drop the bombs was that without such a demonstration of awesome power and destructive capability, Japan would not surrender, an invasion of Japan's homeland islands would be necessary to end the war, and many more lives would be lost in the process.

Besides almost totally leveling the two large cities, the bombs killed over 200,000 people, injured several hundred thousand others, and left thousands suffering from radiation ailments that did not show up until years later.

In the years following the end of hostilities between the U.S. and Japan, both Nagasaki and Hiroshima were rebuilt. Now the only physical evidence of the bombs and man's inhumanity to man are memorials erected to commemorate the events and express hope that atom bombs will never again be used.

Ajinomoto-(Ah-jee-no-moe-toe) a powdered seasoning made of monosodium glutamates, a jinomoto has long been popular in Japan for its food-enhancing qualities. It is now known and used around the world. Monosodium glutamate was originally extracted from seaweed but is now processed from sugarcane molasses.

Alien Registration/Gaijin Toroku-(Guy-jeen Toe-roe-kuu) all foreigners intending to stay in Japan for more than 90 days must register with the local ward or district office where they live (even if they are on a tourist visa and staying in a hotel). Upon registration, they receive a Gaijin Toroku Shomeisho (show-may-e-show), or Alien Registration Certificate, a small identification booklet, which must be carried at all times.

Area Codes-Japan has nine telephone area codes:
01 (Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate, and Akita prefectures)
02 (Miyagi, Yamagata, Fukushima, Niigata, Nagano, Ibaragi, Tochigi, and Gunma prefectures)
03 (The 23 wards of metropolitan Tokyo)
04 (The Tokyo suburbs, Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa prefectures)
05 (Yamanashi, Gifu, Shizwoka, Aichi, and Mie prefectures)
06 (Metropolitan Osaka)
07 (Osaka suburbs, Toyama, Fukui, Shiga, Kyoto-Fu, Hyogo, Nara and Wakayama prefectures)
08 (Totton, Shimane, Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Tokushima, Kagawa, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, Kagoshima and Okinawa prefectures) The international telephone code for Japan is 81.

Biwa-(Bee-wah) the biwa is a four-or fived-stringed, pear-shaped lute that was originally introduced into Japan from China in the 7th and 8th centuries- the first version (muso-biwa) was primarily used by blind priests, and the second version (gaku-biwa) was used for court music.

The earliest type was used by Buddhist priests when chanting sutras, the latter, by court musicians when performing for court functions.

In the 13th century, storytellers began using the biwa as accompaniment, and, in the 16th century, ballad singers took up the instrument. These traditional, epic-like ballads were known as jouri (joe-uu-ree) and were later accompanied by the shamisen. Modern forms of music for the biwa were developed during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Bowing/Ojigi-(on-jee-ghee) bowing, the traditional Japanese way of greeting people and saying farewell, as well as showing respect, is one of the most important aspects of Japanese culture far more meaningful and important to the Japanese than the handshake or wave in Western cultures.

The bow, done at the right time and in the right way, is important to the Japanese because their social etiquette of most other countries.

In feudal times, failing to bow or bowing incorrectly was a very serious offense, which, in the case of a commoner, could and often did mean immediate death at the hands of a haughty samurai.

Generally speaking, the lower the bow and the longer it is held, the stronger its implications. The higher the rank of the person receiving the bow, the lower the bow tends to be. When the bow is in the form of a supplication or apology, the trunk of the body may be bowed as low as a 90-degree angle.

The best way to learn how to bow properly is to observe the Japanese in different situations.

Flower arranging/ Ikebana- (E-kay-bah-nah) the word ikebana literally means "living flowers" and refers to the idea of arranging flowers so that they look alive and embody the principles of heaven, earth and humans.

Broadly speaking, ikebana is an exercise in aesthetics, in recognizing and achieving harmony with nature, and in developing good character and therefore morality.

The art of ikebana in the tearoom of the Silver Pavilion of the Jisho Temple in Kyto (which was built for the 8th shogun of the Ashikaga family, Yoshimasa).

With the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603, the practice of ikebana became widespread, and many schools developed-some advocating the formal (rikka), or standing, style: others, a natural style known as hage-ire, or thrown in. The formal school gave birth to the heaven-earth-man (ten-chi-jin) principle, which all schools now follow.

Flower arranging was once popular with both men and women, but is not practiced primarily by women and is considered a vital part of the upbringing of all young girls, several million of whom take lessons in it each year.

There are over 20 well-known ikebana schools in Japan today, plus numerous of shoots and branches. Among the best known are sogetsu-ryu, ko-ryu, saga-ryu, ohara-ryu, Ikenobo, kyofu-ryu, ko-ryu, Enshu-ryu, Adachi-shiki, and Nakayama Bumpo-kai.

Ghosts and Goblins/Yurei and Bake Mono- (You-raye and Bah-kay moe-no) ghosts and goblins played a major role in the legends and myths of Japan, and until the mid-1900s, they were an important aspect of folklore. In ancient times, goblins were said to have originally been deities who became depraved and were banished from heaven. There were many different kinds of bake mono, or goblins, associated with rivers, mountains, valleys and other areas. Ghosts were also plentiful and came in different forms.

Ghosts and goblins are still popular themes in Japanese movies, TV films, plays and literature and dozens of such stories are known by all Japanese.

Hara-kiri-(Hah-rah-kee-ree) the Japanese word hara-kiri is widely recognized around the world-though it is invariably mispronounced as something like "harry-kerry" because of the sensational nature of ritual suicide.

An understanding of the cultural and social role that hara-kiri played in Japanese life for so many centuries is one of the most fascinating facets of Japanese history, and it is a key to understanding that history.

Historical Table

Year Japan/Abroad

660 B.C Mythical date of the ascension of
Japan's first emperor, Jimmu.
300-645 A.D. Yamato Period
End of the Roman Empire
538-552 Introduction of Buddhism from Korea
581-618 Sui Dynasty in China
593-622 Regency of Prince Shotoku
First envoy sent to China
618-907 Tang Dynasty in China
Downfall of the Soga clan, rise of the Fujiwara
Promulgation of Japan's first constitution
710-784 Nara Period

Publication of Kojiki
(Record of Ancient Matters)
Publication of Nihon Shoki (Chronicle of Japan)
Dedication of the Great Buddha of Todai Temple in Nara
771-814 Reign of Charlemange
794-1185 Heian Period
Sending of envoys to China abolished
995-1029 Heyday of the Fujiwara clan
1002-1019 The great novel Genji Monogatari written
1169-1181 Heyday of Kiyomori Taira
1180-1185 War between the Taira and Minamoto clans
1185-1333 Kamakura period
Founding of the Kamakura shogunate
Magna Carta signed
1260-1368 Yuan Dynasty in China
First Mongol invasion of Japan
Marco Polo leaves Italy for China
Second Mongol attempt to conquer Japan
Kamakura shogunate falls
Emperor Godaigo temporarily regains power
1333-1573 Ashikaga (or Muromachi) period
Founding of the Ashikaga shogunate
1467-1477 Onin War, between contending clans
Columbus discovers New World
Vasco de Gama reaches India
Portuguese ship lands on Japanese island of Tanega
Catholic missionary, Francis Xavier lands in Kagoshima
1568-1600 Azuchi-Momoyama Period
Nobunaga Oda seizes Kyoto
Nobunage assassinated
Hideyoshi Toyotomi appointed Civil dictator
Hideyoshi sends army to invade Korea
Ieyasu Tokugawa wins battle of Sekigahara
1600-1867 Tokugawa (or Edo) period
1602 Founding of Dutch East India Company
Founding of the Tokugawa shogunate
Tokugawa shogun captures Osaka Castle, eliminates Hideyoshi's heirs
1637-1638 Christians of Shimabara rebel
1638 Japan closed to outside world, except for a Dutch trading post
1776-1787 American Revolution and Independence
French Revolution
Commodore Perry arrives at Uraga, Japan
Japan signs Treaty of Kanagawa with U.S.
Treaty of Friendship and Commerce with U.S.
Tokugawa shogunate gives up power
Emperor Meiji ascends throne, assumes power
1868-1912 Meiji Period
Feudal clan system abolished, industrialism started
Rebellion of Satsuma province quelled
First real constitution promulgated
1894-1895 Japan goes to war against China
Japan forms alliance with England
1904-1905 Japan goes to war against Russia
Japan annexes Korea
1912-1926 Taisho Period
1914 Japan sides with allies in war against Germany
1915 Japan demands major concessions from China
1918 Japan's first parliamentary cabinet formed
1923 Great earthquake devastates Tokyo and Yokohama
1926-1989 Showa period
1931 Japan seizes Manchuria
1933 Japan leaves League of Nations
1933 War against China continues
1940-1941 Japan expands war into southeast Asia
1941 Japan bombs Pearl Harbor
1945 Japan surrenders, Pacific War ends
1945-1952 Allied Forces occupy Japan, institute
political, social, and economic
1952 Japan regains independence, begins rise to position of economic leadership
1958-1970 Japan achieves economic superpower status, second only to the United States. Japanese corporations establish hundreds of plants over seas, buy out large numbers of American and other foreign companies, and engage in a frenzy of investments abroad, concentrating on prime commercial properties. Government removes restrictions on foreign travel in the mid-1960's, resulting in huge numbers of Japanese traveling abroad each year and spurring remarkable growth in the travel industry worldwide.
1964 The Shinkansen "Bullet Train" begins operation. The Olympic Games are held in Tokyo, heralding Japan's postwar debut on the international sense.
1965 Government signs peace treaty with South Korea.
1970 World Exposition held in Osaka
1971 U.S. returns island of Okinawa to Japan
1972 Japan follows U.S. move and normalizes relation with the People's Republic of China
1973 Middle East War causes rapid escalation oil prices and Japan's first "oil crisis"
1976 Former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka is accused of accepting a bribe from Lockheed in the purchase of planes and is arrested
1978 The new Tokyo International Airport is opened in Narita, some 60 kilometers northeast of Tokyo on Chiba Peninsula, eight years after it was built. The opening was delayed by opposition from local farmers who were supported by militant university students.
1986 Takako Doi, elected head of the socialist party, becomes the first woman ever to lead a political party in Japan.
1988 The "Recruit Scandal" erupts. Leaders of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are accused of accepting stock and cash bribes from Recruit Co., a personnel recruiting and publishing conglomerate.
1989- Heisei period
1989 Emperor Hirohito dies after the longest reign in the history of the country, and is replaced by Crown Prince Akihito. Heisei, which means "Peace and Prosperity", is adopted as the new "reign name." For the first time since 1955, the Liberal Democratic Party close it majority in the Diet's Upper House. 1990 Japan's so-called "bubble economy" collapses, brought down by speculation in domestic real estate, stocks, overpriced overseas investment, and foreign pressure to force the value of the Yen upward. Economy begins a period of belt-tightening and retrenching.
1991 Fractional in fighting brings down Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and his cabinet. He is replaced by Kiichi Miyazawa.
1992 A Controversial bill that allows Japan to send troops abroad on peace-keeping missions is passed- the so-called PKO Bill.
1993 The Liberal Democratic Party is ousted after ruling since 1955. Morihiro Hosokawa, who had broken with the old guard in May 1992, and formed a new party called the Japan New Party, becomes prime minister.
1994 In April, Prime Minister Hosokawa is ousted and replaced by Tsutomu Hata, former foreign Minister, as political in fighting among the factions continues.

Incense Burning/Koh-do- (Koe-doh) Incense burning as a religious ritual to calm the mind, expand the senses and achieve spiritual awareness developed in Japan soon after the introduction of Buddhism in the 6th century. It very quickly became popular at the Imperial Court, and with the country's famous samurai warrior class after it rose to prominence in the 10th and 11th centuries.

The Aristocratic counties and noble amused themselves by "listening to the fragrances" to help them create imaginary scenes for their poetry and plays. From the 14th century, warriors perfumed their helmets and armor with incense to create a mood of elegance and sophistication and to demonstrate their cultural achievements.

The popularity of incense appreciation reached its heyday in Japan during the 7th and 8th centuries, when it spread from the court and samurai to the upper and middle class.

Altogether, there are some 500 kinds of incense available in Japan, but usually only a few dozen of these are regularly used by koh-do devotes. Most of then are manufactured by Nippon Kodo, the country's leading incense stick-maker.

A full incense-burning ceremony lasts up to 90 minutes and includes "listening" to the various scents, as well as enjoying their aroma. Sometimes participants try to create literary themes related to the scents of two or more kinds of incense-a practice known as kumi-koh (kuu-me-koh).

The Ore-Ryu School of Incense Appreciation in Tokyo, currently headed by grand master Sanehori Sanjonishi, a nephew of the empress, is regarded as the center of the art.

Karate-(kah-rah-tay) Karate literally means "empty hands." Originally, it was a form of self-defense developed in China around the 7th century, when originally people were not allowed to bear arms. It consisted of highly refined techniques of striking an opponent with the bare hands or feet in especially vulnerable areas and taking advantage of the added power achieved by delivering blows with extraordinary speed and concentration.

Karate was introduced into Okinawa in the 14th century, but it was to be several more centuries before it made its way to the mainland of Japan-which is surprising, given the extraordinary interest the samurai class and ninja had in all martial arts.

Today, karate is known and practiced in most countries of the world, especially in Europe and the U.S., primarily as a means of developing physical, spiritual and moral strength.

There are two kinds of karate contests-kumite (kuu-me-tay) and kata (kah-tah). In a kata contest, the contestant performs a series of prescribed, formalized movements-as if defending or attacking-and is judged on the quality of his or her kiai (kee-aye)- the shout that accompanies thrusts or kicks.

In a kumite contest, two opponents spar with each other, going through a variety of movements to demonstrate their skill. The winner is decided on the basis of which opponent had the best form, the best mental attitude, and more likely would have won if the contest had been for real. Gichin Funakoshi (1870-1957) was the Okinawan who introduced karate to mainland Japan and probably had more influence on the sport than any other man.

In Japan, the art was substantially improved, with several schools developing, including shotokan, Goju, Rembukan Shito, and Wado.

Karate training includes the basis form (kata) and various punches, jabs and kicks (kumite), which are designed to be practiced by two people, as in real combat.

The concentration of energy, both physical and mental, is such that an experienced karate adopt can shatter between 10 and 15 roof slates or five 1.5-centimenter boards laid on top of each other, with one explosive blow.

Kendo- (Ken-doe) one of the most popular martial arts of Japan, kendo is sword fighting or fencing with a kind of stave made of stripes of bamboo tightly bound together.

Kendo originated in the 7th or 8th century, but it was around the 6th century that it became a vital part of the training and exercise of the samurai warrior class. In those days, solid wooden staves were used in training and tournaments, and in the hands of a skilled kendoist they could be almost as deadly as a sword.

While used by the samurai to home and maintain their sword-fighting skills, kendo stressed the spiritual and moral aspects of the art, as exemplified by Zen Buddhism and Confucianism.

The use of the flexible bamboo staves and protective gear, such as face-masks, torso guards, and gauntlets, dates from the 1700s.

Kendo contests today consist of three bouts or rounds, with the winner determined by the number of times the contestants are able to strike their opponents in specifically prescribed places, such as the face, hands, body and throat. Attacks are usually accompanied by loud shouts designed to fluster the opponent.

Martial arts/Bujutsu- (Buu-jute-sue) the Japanese have apparently always taken an avid interest in sports, and, with the rise of the military class in the 12th century, several martial arts because important part of the training of the bushi (buu-she), or warriors. These skills include sword-fighting (kenjutsu), sword-drawing (iaijutsu), unarmed combat (jujutsu), archery (kyujutsu), spear holding (sojutsu), horsemanship (bajutsu), and swimming (suijutsu).

From the 15th century on, these martial arts were gradually standardized into schools, and they were systematized during the long peaceful Tokugawa shogunate (1600-1867). With the fall of the shogunate in 1867, interest in the martial arts declined. But with the outbreak of war with China in 1894, this interest was revived and promoted by the government, as militaristic nationalism came to the fore.

In 1895, all martial arts came under the centralized control of the Great Japan Martial Arts Association (Dai Nippon Butoku Kai) and became a part of the national education system in 1911.

In 1926, the term justsu (arts) was dropped from the names of several of the disciplines, and do (way) was introduced. Thus kenjutsu became kendo, and jujutsu became judo.

Martial arts were banned in Japan by the Allied Occupation Forces in 1945, but the ban was lifted in 1950, and thereafter the arts developed rapidly as sports, instead of martial training.

Judo was added to the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, and the first World Kendo Tournament was held at the Japan Martial Arts Hall (Nippon Budokan) in 1970. The World Union of Karate-Do Organizations was also formed and held its first World Championship matches in Tokyo in 1970.

Ninja- (Neen-jah) now a fairly well-known word around the world, a ninja is a practitioner of ninjutsu (neen-jute-sue), or "the art of stealing in", a very special category of secret agent that developed in feudal Japan and played a vital role in the lives and fortunes of the shogun and the provincial daimyo lords.

The ninja belonged to specific ninja families, who usually lived in remote mountain areas. They kept their identities secret and trained in secret, beginning virtually as soon as they were able to walk.

They were trained in running (forward, backward, and sideways), climbing, jumping, crawling, and hiding, hanging from rafters and trees, swimming (especially under water), fighting with an amazing variety of weapons, including many that they developed themselves, and using poisons, medicines, and other chemicals.

So incredible were their feats of strength, speed, and skill, along with their ability to penetrate the most closely guarded areas and never be seen, that common people believed they could make themselves invisible and perform other magical feats.

When at work, the ninja wore especially designed black costumes in which their weapons and other aides were artfully concealed-and they almost always worked at night.

The ninja were hired by the different daimyo and samurai families as spies, terrorists, and assassins, especially during periods of internal strife, and they were the most feared of all the enemies a person could face.

There are voluminous records of the exploits of ninja, attesting to their total dedication and extraordinary ability to perform feats that would put even James Bond to shame-and their feats were for real.

Not all of the incredible skills of the ninja have been totally forgotten. There are several ninja devotees in Japan today who are able to duplicate many of the feats of these feudal masters of death.

Ronin- (Roe-neen) literally "wave men", ronin refers to samurai who became masterless during Japan's feudal age and to high school graduates in present-day Japan who fail to pass entrance examinations to universities.

In feudal Japan, when samurai lost their masters because of war or politics or because they were discharged for some offense, they were in a serious predicament. They could not go into commercial business, and other Daimyo in the country were unlikely to take then because their loyalty would always be questionable.

Many of these men roamed the country, looking for odd jobs- hiring their deadly swords out to unscrupulous lords, merchants, and others-or becoming highway robbers.

The more turbulent the times, the larger the number of ronin there were likely to be and the more mischief they were likely to get into.

There are many stories of ronin whose high values prevented them from resorting to unethical or illegal ways of making a living. For such men, suicide was often the only way out. There were also some who practiced a kind of extortion on the more kind-hearted daimyo.

These ronin would present themselves at the mansions of these lords, and ask permission to use a corner of their garden in which to commit hara-kiri. The ronin expected the lords to take pity on them and give them a sum of money.

A favorite theme of chambara movies is the good-hearted, but desperate, samurai who unknowingly goes to the villa of a mean-hearted lord. The lord readily gives the ronin permission to kill himself and then orders his retainers to make sure he does-even though he has pawned his real sword and must use one made of wood to saw open his stomach.

The most famous historical event involving ronin is one of the great dramas of Japan.

Applying the word ronin to high school graduates who fail to get into the university of their choices in both poetic-in a sad way- and satirical. Some students are lucky and remain ronin for only a year. Others fail the university examinations year after and remain in limbo like the less fortunate ronin of an earlier age.

Samurai-(sah-muu-rie) from the latter part of the Heian era (794-1185), warriors were called bushi (buu-she), a term that has been introduced from China. In earlier times, court officials who waited upon the emperor were known as suburo-bito, from the saburo, which means "to serve" or "wait upon". Bushi assigned to guard the emperor came to be known as saburai.

Originally, this word referred only to high-class warriors and court officials. Eventually it was changed to samurai just to make it easier to pronounce.

Japan's famous class of samurai warriors was further strengthened by an institution established in 1185 by Yoritomo Minamoto, a few years before he set up the country's first shogunate government.

Achieving military success in the country, Yoritomo obtained permission from the emperor to establish a system of shugo (shuu-go), or "guards", for all of the districts and provinces as a means of keeping order.

The position of shugo gradually became hereditary and consolidated the development of an elite class of professional warriors. As the generations passed, these warrior families became clans and grew to be more powerful than the hereditary lords they served (most of whom were descendants of noble families from Kyoto). These shugo gradually came to be known as samurai (which is another reading for "guards"). They developed a code, based on Confucian and Zen Buddhist principles, they came to be known as bushido, or the way of the warrior. This code was to dictate virtually every aspect of their lives and influence the total culture of the country until modern times.

The essence of the samurai code was total loyalty to their feudal lord, a willingness to give their lives in the defense of their lord, his honor, and their own, a strict regimen of martial training, and a sternly refined etiquette that governed their actions and behavior in all things.

Part of the code of the samurai was to commit suicide rather than be captured in war or dishonored by failure. The code of the samurai applied to the women, as well as the men, in this elite class.

One special category of samurai were the hatamoto (hah-tah-moe-toe), the higher ranking warriors who were the shogun's personal guard. During the Tokugawa shogunate (1600-1867), the hatamoto were direct vassals of the shogun, and their annual revenue was fixed at a minimum of 10,000 balls of rice.

After the privileged class of samurai was abolished in 1868, the word shizoku, which is the Chinese pronunciation of the same word, was substituted and extensively used until 1945, so that former samurai families were still distinguished from the common people.

Even today, in some rural areas of Japan, the descendants of samurai feudal lords are treated with special respect reminiscent of the Tokugawa period, which officially ended in 1867.

Daimyo- (dime-yoe) during the long Tokugawa shogunate, Japan was divided into fiefs presided over by feudal lords known as daimyo-literally, "great name." The daimyo were divided into two groups based on their relationship with Ieyasu Tokugawa, the founders of Japan's last great feudal house. In the first group were those who had been allied with Ieyasu before the battle of Sekigahara in 1603. The second group was made up of those who had opposed him or were neutral.

There were also three ranks of daimyo, dependin on the revenues of their fiefs and whether or not they owned a castle. These three classes were kokushu (koe-kuu-shu)-provincial lords whose fiefs produced at least 300,000 koku (koku- 4.96 bushels) of rice, joshu (joe-shu), or castle-owning lords whose annual income was 100,000 to 300,000 koku of rice, and ryoshu (rio-shu), or lords without castles, with incomes from 10,000 to 100,000 koku of rice.

The daimyo were responsible to the Tokugawa shogunate for upholding the policies of the central government and were restricted in matters having to do with the security of the shogunate, but within their domains their power was absolute.

Bushido-(boo-she-doe) during Japan's Kamakura period (1185-1333), the samurai warrior class that came into power based its personal and professional codes on Confucian concepts that eventually came to be identified as bushido, or the way of the warrior.

In bushido, loyalty to one's superior is the paramount morality, followed by an over whelming sense of self-sacrifice, martial sport, honor, justice, refined manners, frugality, purity, and modesty.

Death was the ultimate test of the samurai's adherence to bushido, and the samurai for their clan lord. Death in battle and self-destruction on other occasions thus came to be glorified.

But a willingness to die for the sake of their lord and honor was not the only trait that distinguished the bushido-steeped samurai. The code demanded that its followers pursue both physical and spiritual training of the highest order and thus resulted in the development of a class of people who were extraordinary disciplined and accomplished.

After the beginning of the Edo period in 1603 and over two centuries of peace, much of this rigorous training in the precepts of bushido was gradually channeled into more constructive pursuits, such as art, architecture, literature, and various aspects of graceful living.

Shogun- (show-goon) the title shogun is a derivative of sei-i-tai-shogun, which translates, more or less, as "Great-Barbarian Subduing General" and first used around the 6th century to designate generals sent to subdue Caucasian Ainu tribes inhabiting the eastern and northern portions of Honshu.

In 1192, when Minamoto clan leader Yoritomo established himself as the supreme military power in the country, he was given the title sei-i-tai-shogun by the emperor, apparently became it was the highest military title in the land.

The closest English approximation would probably be general issimo, but in effect it meant that Yoritomo was the military dictator of Japan.

Yoritomo thus became Japan's first shogun. Rather then remain in Kyoto, which he saw as an effect society of weaklings, Yoritomo chose Kamakura in distant eastern Honshu for the site of this administrative government, which was called bakufu or "camp office". He retired in 1199 in favor of his son, Yoriie, in order to ensure that the position would be passed on to his descendants Yoriie was succeeded by his younger brother sentomo, but the latter was assassinated in 1219.

Sanetomo was the last of the Yoritomo's family, so the Hojos, the most powerful members of the bakufu government in Kamakura, invited Yoritsune Fujiwara, whose family had virtually ruled Japan for the previous 300-plus years, to fill the post of shogun.

Yoritsune accepted the invitation, but actual power was in the hands of Yoshitoki Hojo. His descendants were to continue acting as regents for the shogun until 1333, when the Kamakura shogunate fell.

The 5th Kamakura shogun was also a Fujiwara (Yoritsugu), but from 1252 on, the Hojos invited Imperial princes to assume the role, while they maintained power. The Imperial prime shoguns were Munetaka (1252-1266), Koreyasu (1266-1289), Hisaakira (1289-1308), and Morikuni (1308-1333).

In 1333, Takauji Ashikaga rose in rebellion and defeated the Kamakura shogunate, which had been weakened by its defense against the Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281. He was appointed shogun in 1388. His descendants were to rule as shogun for the next 235 years-or until 1573.

By the 1500s, the Ashikaga shoguns, who set up their government in Kyoto, had lost control of the country, bringing on an age of wars between clan leaders fighting for supremacy.

First, there was Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582), a descendant of the famous Taira clan. In a series of battles, he emerged as the paramount leader but was assassinated by one of his own retainers when he was 49 years old.

Nobunaga was succeeded by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, his ablest general, who went on to consolidate his power over all of Japan. Hideyoshi chose not to assume the title of shogun, and when he died in 1598 his son Hideyori was still a young boy.

In the battles that followed Hideyoshi's death, one of his chief allies, Ieyasu Tokugawa, emerged the victor and in 1603 established the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo (Tokyo).

Fourteen of Ieyasu's direct descendants were to reign as shogun-until the year 1867, when the last one, Yoshinobu, abdicated in favor of restoring the emperor to power.

Western contact with Japan in earnest in the last half of the 1500s, but was to end abruptly in the 1630s when Tokugawa Iemitsu, Ieyasu's grandson, closed the country to outsiders.

Finally, it was the inability of the last four Tokugawa shoguns to deal with internal problems and the Western powers that brought the downfall of Japan's last great feudal dynasty.

Suicide (Ritual)/Harakiri- (Hah-rah-kee-ree) ritual suicide, or hara-kiri in common language and seppuku (sape-puu-kuu) in formal language, was an important aspect of feudal Japan (1192-1868). It developed as an integral part of the code and discipline of the samurai warrior class.

Hara-kiri, which literally means "stomach cutting", is a particularly painful method of self-destruction, and, prior to the emergence of the samurai as a professional warrior class, it was totally alien to the Japanese.

The early history of Japan reveal quite clearly that the Japanese were far more interested in living the good life than in dying a painful death. It was not until well after the introduction of Buddhism, with its theme of the transitory nature of life and the glory of death, that such a development became possible.

To the samurai, seppuku-whether meted out as punishment or chosen in preference to a dishonorable demonstration of their honor, courage, and moral character.

When samurai were on the battle field, they often carried out acts of hara-kiri rapidly and with very little formal preparation. But on the other occasions, particularly when it was a very formal ceremony, requiring witnesses and considerable preparation.

In 1868, Lord Redesdale, a British diplomat stationed in Japan, along with six other foreigners, was asked to serve as a witness at the seppuku of a samurai of the Bizen clan who ordered Japanese soldiers to fire on the foreign settlement in Kobe (then called Hyogo).

The detailed description of the ceremony that Lord Redesdale published in his book, Tales of Old Japan, was the first account by a foreigner of this remarkable custom. In this ritual suicide, the victim was a handsome, 32-year-old man who carried out the ceremony to perfection, both fascinating and shocking the Englishman.

Not all Japanese samurai or lords believed in hara-kiri, even though many of them followed the custom. The great Ieyasu Tokugawa, who founded Japan's last shogunate dynasty in 1603, eventually issued an edict forbidding hara-kiri to both secondary and primary retainers.

The custom was so deeply entrenched, however, that it continued, and in 1663, at the urging of Lord Nobutsuna Matsudaira of Izu, the shogunate government issued an other, stronger edict, prohibiting ritual suicide. This was followed up by very stern punishments for any lord who allowed any of his followers to commit hara-kiri.

Still, the practice continued throughout the long. Tokugawa reign, but it declined considerably as time went by.

There were many forms of hara-kiri, including a form to show contempt for an enemy, one to protect against injustice, and one to save others.

The location of an officially ordered seppuku ceremony was important. Often, the ritual was performed at temples (but not shinto shrines), in the gardens of villas, and inside homes. The size of the area available was also important, and it was prescribed previously for people of high rank.

All other matters relating to the act were carefully prescribed and carried out in the most meticulous manner. The most conspicuous participant in seppuku, other than the victim, was the kaishaku (kie-shah-kuu), or assistant, who was responsible for cutting off the victim's head after he had sliced his abdomen open.

The kaishaku was generally a close friend or associate of the condemned.

Ordinary suicide, called jisatsu (jee-sot-sue), is common in Japan today, but the Japanese do not lead the world in suicides. Japan's suicide rate is only slightly higher than the official U.S. rate and well below that of Switzerland and other Northern European and Eastern BIOC countries.

Japan's reputation for suicides is a holdover from the days of the samurai and more recent war years, when Japanese soldiers committed suicide rather than be captured, and kami-kaze ("divine wind") pilots were used in suicidal missions against the U.S. armed forces advancing on Japan.

In present-day Japan, people kill themselves for reasons that are familiar-failed business, too much business pressure, and involvement in scandals. Other somewhat less common reasons are failure in competitive school examinations, involvement in love triangles, and inability of lover's to be together.

While suicides is deplored in Japan, it does not have the sinful overtones that are common in the West.

Flag Counter