Musui: A Despicable Samurai essay

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Musui’s Story is an extraordinary autobiography of a samurai named Katsu Kokichi who lived during the last decades of Tokugawa period of Japan. It is special because the book provides readers with a vivid insight of the life of a samurai during the period. Moreover, the author depicts a very different image of the samurai and changes people’s stereotype about it. After reading the whole book, I realize that the author was a despicable samurai because a lot of his behavior was against the codes of samurai. He used to indulge in running a protection racket, cheating, stealing, and lying.

            Samurai was guided by the code of bushido. It is not anything physical but spiritual. It is illustrated in bushido that every samurai should respect and honor his master. However, Musui (Katsu Kokichi’s pen name) lived in the era of peace. During this period, the importance of samurai had already declined because they did not have battles to fight. Therefore, samurais were not as significant as they used to be during the period of warfare. Also, the significance of bushido code had declined. According to the book, Musui started to violate bushido code when he was young. He stole money from his mother (Kokichi, 1993, p. 11). Even though this happened at his early ages, I believe that he already knew the principles of samurai at that time. For instance, after he was defeated by a group of children, he thought about committing harakiri, which was considered as a sacred samurai ceremony through which a samurai regained his honor after failing his task (Kokichi, 1993, p. 13). Therefore, he knew how to behave properly as a samurai, but he just disobeyed those codes.

            In addition, when he grew up as an adult, he intensified his effort to break rules with his improper behavior. After he decided to run away again, he intentionally lied to officials at Hakone in order to get through the tollgate to another province (Kokichi, 1993, p. 62). Thus, his behavior was not only against the bushido code but also illegal. Furthermore, Musui also did a lot of things, which an authentic samurai should not do. He acted like a merchant because he bought and sold swords. He wasted his money and energy in the Yoshiwara. “I went to a brothel in Tokiwa-cho and called for a woman to pass the time”(Kokichi, 1993. p. 111). Moreover, the gambling game spoiled Musui more who lent money to his friends at a high rate of interest. All the behaviors mentioned above were very dishonorable for a samurai.

            All in all, Musui was absolutely a despicable samurai. His disgraceful and unlawful behavior proved that he was not a real samurai. Throughout the whole book, I can figure out that the author was so proud of his behavior that he never felt guilty to have fallen from the ideals of being a samurai. The author presented pride instead of shame and regret in this book. In my perspective, Musui was a typical and practical example of many samurai who lived during that age. Therefore, he was not the only one who behaved like that. That is why Musui did not feel ashamed about his whole life.

            Contextually at this point, I feel it becomes more important to analyze what the bushido code is all about and what psycho-sociological factors actually led the samurais like Musui to a path of disgrace. Bushido actually formalized, expanded, and refined the older codes of samurai. The tradition of discipline and dutiful obedience, on which the codes related to samurai were based, were deeply entrenched in the general Japanese society. Samurais were a part of the society and the other sections of the society generally regarded bushido as a very difficult code for implementing a perfectionist and humanistic way of life. The code stressed the importance of martial arts, loyalty, and frugality. The samurai was supposed to remain faithful to his master and execute all his orders without a single mistake. There were some extra requirements of character like sense of justice, fairness, and calmness. (Wilson, 1982) Moreover, bushido provides with a strange depiction of death from a philosophical angle. Explaining this, Yamamoto et al (2003, p.14) state that “if you (the samurai) but make the choice of death and fail to hit the target, your body will eventually die but no shame will come to you. No shame will come to you even though you will be regarded as crazy and as dying like a dog. This is the essence of Bushido.”

            Needless to say, being an ideal samurai was like being a superhuman. And in my opinion, such a level of perfection of character could not be a practical ideal to materialize and implement during the Tokugawa period. Musui and others like him were actually victims of the circumstances of that time.

            Musui focused on his material needs like money and sex, and in doing so, forgot to address his spiritual commitments. He might have been too weak to become an ideal samurai. Yet, his disgraceful way of life, as we find in the writings of Kokichi (1993), cannot be justified. I feel so because his mistakes were serious not only from the idealistic perspective of bushido but also from the viewpoint of the common people. Ultimately, he cannot be defended for his actions and attitude.

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