Having only wisdom and talent is the lowest tier of usefulness.
March 2, 2008 5:33 PM   Subscribe

The Hagakure, written by Yamamoto Tsunemoto in the early 1700s, is a guide to being a warrior and servant in a decadent world. It's probably known best to Westerners, at least indie-film folk and Forest Whitaker fans, as being the favorite text of the hero of Ghost Dog. Study it well and you could be as cool as Ghost Dog. (NSFW)

The Hagakure made Ghost Dog so chill that watching him drive for four minutes is oddly soothing.
posted by Bookhouse (20 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Quotes of varying quality:

It is bad taste to yawn in front of people. When one unexpectedly has to yawn, if he rubs his forehead in an upward direction , the sensation will stop.

Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige's wall there was this one: ''Matters of' great concern should be treated lightly.'' Master lttei commented, "Matters of small concern should be treated seriously."

Furthermore, drinking a decoction of the feces from a dappled horse is the way to stop bleeding from an injury received by falling off a horse.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:38 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Excellent link, thanks
posted by bonaldi at 6:08 PM on March 2, 2008

It is also important to note that most modern (read as american) translations of the Hagakure are mysteriously missing about 3 chapters on deportment of a samurai during sex, with women, animals and children.

However, there is sage advice... like how to keep your corpse looking nice should you die unexpectedly.
posted by Sam.Burdick at 6:09 PM on March 2, 2008

Furthermore, drinking a decoction of the feces from a dappled horse is the way to stop bleeding from an injury received by falling off a horse.

If it's all just common sense stuff, I don't really see the point.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:42 PM on March 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Lord Elpa once said while sipping from a delicate cup of sake
that it was indeed of the honorable man
to give up the excess of your selfishness
and part with the burden of your wordly possession
and deliver it promptly to your master Lord Elpa
except when it belongs to the impure walmarto-shitake
for it belongs to the feeble minded
who well deserve it.People think that they can clear up
profound matters if they consider them deeply
but they exercise perverse thoughts and come
to no good because they do their reflecting with
only self-interest at the center.
posted by elpapacito at 6:48 PM on March 2, 2008

Our bodies are given life from the midst of nothingness. Existing where there is nothing is the meaning of the phrase, "form is emptiness."(realaudio) That all things are provided for by nothingness is the meaning of the phrase, "Emptiness is form." One should not think that these are two separate things.
posted by basicchannel at 6:57 PM on March 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

There are three rules that I live by: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Now you stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese.
posted by Senator at 7:02 PM on March 2, 2008 [5 favorites]

Dammit, Bookhouse. You've given me respiratory blue balls or something. I'm dying to try that forehead business and see if it works, but now that I want to yawn I can't.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:05 PM on March 2, 2008

Anybody got some more info on the Hagakure? I seem to remember something about it being written after the heyday of the samurai and that it was more of an idealistic text than anything practical.

Like writings about the knights of Europe that make them all out to be noble chilvalrous gentlemen.
posted by Science! at 9:32 PM on March 2, 2008

Also, Ghost Dog was awesome.
posted by Science! at 9:32 PM on March 2, 2008

Ghost Dog owes a lot to Melville's Le Samourai.
posted by juv3nal at 12:06 AM on March 3, 2008

My dad read the Hagakure at an extremely impressionable age.

As a result, the lessons taught at our homestead were of a much more obscure and honour-bound nature than at those of my friends. And largely impractical. When I told The Papa (as he is known to all members of the family) that I was moving to Japan, to live indefinitely, he was the one person to whom that news made perfect sense.
posted by squasha at 12:36 AM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

I seem to remember something about it being written after the heyday of the samurai and that it was more of an idealistic text than anything practical

From someone I trust in Japan:

Reading the Hagakure chronicles we should not be put off by the fact that Yamamoto had led a peaceful life. His loyalty to his Lord was unquestionable. Most of the orations by Yamamoto in Hagakure refer to his Lord's father and those before him. For example, the Lord Naoshige had, in battle, by himself, slain over 200 men. He, most brave, renowned, and distinguished as a samurai would well have known wherein the essential secret of facing an opponent in war would lie.

Also note that the complete work is quite long and most of it has not been translated to English:

The original manuscript has long since disappeared. Four differing transcripts exist today. There are thirteen hundred aphorisms in eleven volumes that were retranscribed.

Some of these have already been translated and printed in the form of books and articles. I have worked on the transcripts of Kurihara Koya who published the Hagakure Shinzui (The Essence of Hagakure) in 1935 and Kochu Hagakure (Interpretation of the Hagakure) in 1940. There are many parts that have not been translated into English before.

Some more information on the hagakure and its author, with some original translations in the subsequent pages.
posted by splice at 2:16 AM on March 3, 2008

Read it with a grain of salt, though. Yamamoto has never been in a fight his whole life, he was an artistic minded scribe, spending all of his life in an office. He himself states his father was deeply dismayed by his lack of fighting skills and his great interest in books. Hagakure is clearly the result of him overcompensating his lack of battle experience and his inability to live up to his fathers expectations. The result is indeed a highly idealistic image of a perfectly virtuous and fearless warrior. However I don't believe one second real warriors, standing knee-deep in blood on a battlefield littered with the bodies of foes and friends alike felt any different from any others throughout history anywhere on the world. And I suspect Hagakure would have been a very different book if Yamamoto had ever fought in a real battle.
Another interesting read: A Book of Five Rings, by Miyamoto Musashi.
posted by Nightwind at 4:44 AM on March 3, 2008

Nightwind, did you pay any attention to my link? The "he wasn't a warrior" argument is adressed there. Yamamoto Tsunetomo was born only 20 years after the last uprising. He was trained in the same ways as his forebears and it's unlikely he was completely off the mark in his orations.

I note that you find Musashi's book interesting. The fellow I linked to above practiced under the 10th and 11th headmasters of Musashi's school in Japan. He seems to think that the Hagakure shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.
posted by splice at 6:30 AM on March 3, 2008

To add on to Nightwind's point, by the time the Hagakure was written, the Samurai were rapidly transforming from a military class to a tax-collecting and administrative class under the Tokugawa peace. For most Samurai from this point on, their primary concerns were less about comportment on the battlefield, and more about drinking contests, poetry circles, getting the right ceramics for tea ceremony, visiting the most fashionable brothels, gambling, and trying to find alternative sources of income. For higher ranking Samurai, you could add practicing for the various ceremonial duties imposed by your daimyo, the Bakufu or the Imperial household.

While a number of martial arts were formalized and organized into schools during this period, this primarily served the purposes of dueling and competition while maintaining a symbolic justification of samurai status.

Even the circumstances surrounding the Ako Incident were the result of a violation of the rigid codes of etiquette (including the Hagakure and similar manuals) that in part served to keep the Samurai in line.

There is an interesting illustration of the life of a low-ranking Samurai near the end of the Edo period in the film Twilight Samurai, where the main character is literally a bean counter.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:16 AM on March 3, 2008

I often wonder if American's fascination with Samurai and Ninja would be tempered if they knew the reality of that lifestyle and culture and weren't filtered by books like the Go Rin No Sho and Hagakure. Good source materials and interesting maybe, but they painted a picture of a lifestyle that was largely mythic. True Japanese thinking would be better served by reading Nishida or Watsuji than Basho or Musashi.

It'd be like judging the Old West Cowboys by Clint Eastwood movies....
posted by Dantien at 10:32 AM on March 3, 2008

True Japanese thinking would be better served by reading Nishida or Watsuji than Basho or Musashi.

It'd be like judging the Old West Cowboys by Clint Eastwood movies....

Well, yeah. I'm not a historian, so I'm fine with the myths. They're more fun. If Ghost Dog spent the movie counting beans instead of killing dudes, it's a less fun movie.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:00 AM on March 3, 2008

The Hagakure is hilarious and ludicrous. There's a few nuggets of good advice in there, but it's mostly ridiculous reasons to kill yourself and others.

The most disturbing entries are the ones about unquestioningly obeying your lord, and the most fun ones are the blog-style "here's something that happened in my life, and a reflection on it. One of them talked about how he and a friend went to Kase Execution Grounds to test out swords (on prisoners). They had a good time. It read very much like someone talking about how they had a good time going up to the batting cages on the weekend.
posted by ignignokt at 1:41 PM on March 3, 2008

Speed and strength are what youth substitute for skill and lack of fear.

I like the fact that he admits he likes to sleep and when he gets older and retires, plans to sleep in a lot.
Some interesting stuff, colorful, not a lot of wisdom, but some. I do find Musashi more interesting and useful. Sun Tzu is probably the most useful.

I suppose the modern equivalencies would be Hammes’ “ The Sling and the Stone” (or perhaps Moyar’s more ideologically centered work...or or Chasing Ghosts by Tierney to be kind ) versus say, “The Utility of Force” by Smith

You have these sort of war grimores. In the case of the Hagakure (and to a lesser degree 5 rings) concrete sorts of things to do in the given age - how to comport oneself, specific strategies, and so forth. In essence the how of things. Interesting as history, not so much as method.
The Utility of Force - while still set in its time (albiet far more useful since it’s geared for the modern age) drives at illuminating the issue - what force is for, what it can be used to acheive, who uses it and why and what their goals are in using force instead of other means (not as simplistic a topic as one might expect), specificity in force usage, concessions one must make in execution - as opposed to a “this is how you do it” rote sort of thing.

(I really enjoyed watching Ghost Dog, btw.)
posted by Smedleyman at 2:56 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

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