Our Man in Japan -- War of the Samurai
DeanRaker - Columns - Comments - 08/22/04

By Shou Suzuki (a.k.a. Kitsune)

Turn on Mega Man Anniversary Collection. Go to Mega Man 6. You will see a robot made of Yamato.

"Great! A robot made of Ya...say what? What the hell is Yamato?"

Some would say it's the soul of Japan. To explain, let's tell the story like a fairy tale.

Once upon a time there was a set of islands in the Pacific Ocean. They housed a relatively peaceful culture. Women played significant roles in the society. Everyday life was the stuff of fishermen and ocean salt, huts and rice wine (in fact, the Japanese word "to buy" is taken from their practice of using sea shells for currency: it consists of the picture for sea shell together with the picture for movement).

And things continued, mildly, for a long time. There were many clans, such as the Ainu and those in the southern part of the islands we now call Kyushu, the Ryukyuus, and Shikoku.

Then there came a clan called the Yamato. This is the part where you're given three lives, two continues, a sword made of coral, and a screen filling special move based on ancient Japanese spiritual dolls. But the problem is you can't win this game. The final boss of the Yamato kicks your ass. In fact, you could say the Yamato were bad enough dudes that they rescued history and formed a new country. With their Raging Break Arts, they scoured the land in offensive orgy mode. The result? The winner was definitely them. Think of it as cowboys and Indians, but the cowboys don't annihilate the Indians. Instead, they assimilate them: they hold pow wows in saloons, wearing tomahawks and firing guns. But as you know from World War II, there's a problem with the Yamato: this guy are sick.

Though it's a simplified perspective, some identify in the ideology of the Yamato the cultural impulses that led to World War II. Theirs was an ideology separate from the Ainu and other clans. Today, while the other clans are all but forgotten outside of dry history classes, the Yamato lives on.

But as a young Japanese living in Japan, I do not want to identify with that part of my culture. I want to ignore it as much as possible. I want to focus on the earlier, more pacifist, matriarchal side of Japan. After all, despite years of sexual regression from an earlier enlightened period, Japan is still a "she", particularly if you think in stereotypical gender terms.

Some would say we emphatically reject the parts of the culture manipulated for propaganda to spread the dark haze of our crimes during World War II. For instance, the majority of the Japanese don't fervently believe in Shinto, and many of the old stories have taken on a mythical quality rather than a religious one. This is not necessarily due to any scientific discovery or intellectual enlightenment. Instead, it's due to the historical use of those stories as a war-mongering Yamato spirit. Miyazaki's Spirited Away has been called natuskashii which means 'nostalgic', 'remembering', or 'warm', because it takes us back to a time where we can say, "Remember when we used to believe like that?"

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