Japan from the inside out

Shimojo Masao (8): Loyalty and filial piety

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Loyalty and Filial Piety

Though Japan is one of the countries of the Confucian cultural sphere, its native psychological temperament and social systems differ greatly from those of the Korean Peninsula and China. One of those differences is the strong Japanese awareness of belonging to an organization. The sense of loyalty to organizations and groups is stronger in Japan, while the tendency on the Korean Peninsula and China is to favor independence. People there will move to competing organizations and groups if the conditions are favorable.

Of the Confucian virtues of loyalty and filial piety, loyalty is given greater emphasis in Japan. The respect for filial piety on the continent is related to an emphasis on the blood relationship between father and son. When deceased ancestors are celebrated in religious rites in the Confucian culture, those related by blood must conduct the services. Therefore, one objective of marriage is to produce a male heir. It was a tradition that the failure to bear sons would be considered legitimate grounds for divorce, and the wife could not complain. The reason for such practices as taking concubines and adopting children from blood relatives was to maintain the bloodline. Historically, the interests of the family rather than those of the individual are emphasized on the Korean Peninsula and China.

That’s why, on the Korean Peninsula and China, castration was used as a form of criminal punishment and there was a role for court eunuchs. Such was not the case in Japan. Save for execution, castration was the most serious punishment that could have been administered. Cutting off the sexual organs and removing the ability to procreate eliminates the possibility of descendants, which also meant that honoring the spirits of one’s ancestors would no longer be possible. That was regarded as the absence of filial piety.

In China, those who received this punishment would be assigned important roles in the court, but an official system for court eunuchs did not exist on the Korean Peninsula. Instead, they were put in the service of court officials or those in authority in such places as temples.

The Korean system was not adopted in Japan, even though the latter was also influenced by Confucian culture. That’s because in Japan, the subordinate-superior relationship with land as an intermediary factor was considered of greater importance than a blood relationship. Private ownership of land began earlier in Japan than on the Continent, and with the appearance of the samurai class, land was bequeathed to one’s descendants. Those in superior positions allowed others the right of land ownership. That in turn led to the creation of a psychological structure in which the subordinates felt a sense of obligation and rendered their loyalty to the superior.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), the daimyo granted the samurai with a heredity land stipend usually assessed in units of koku (one koku = 4.96 bushels). The standard was the amount of rice the land produced, and the stipend was based on the samurai’s rank. The samurai converted the rice to money and lived off the proceeds. The same concept survives in the corporate world today; Japanese salarymen still think of themselves as corporate warriors who owe allegiance to the company. The basic unit is now the nuclear family rather than the extended family.

Koreans, in contrast, continue to compile records for the entire clan (known as jokbo), and such clans with the surname of Bak or Kim still thrive. That’s the difference between societies which emphasize blood relations and those that emphasize organized groups.

– Shimojo Masao

One Response to “Shimojo Masao (8): Loyalty and filial piety”

  1. camphortree said

    When my cousin, an only female child was married in a rural village in Shikoku, her groom was adopted by the bride’s family, and he took her family name. This is how the families with only daughters still preserve and continue their family names in the village. This is done throughout Japan. The ancestors are the guardian angels of the families and their descendants. The descendants are supposed to show appreciation by occasionally clapping hands at either the Buddhist altars or the tiny Shinto shrines, often both in their homes. The groom adoption happened to a famous American author, Lafcadio Hearn known as 小泉八雲 when he was married to a daughter of the house of Koizumi in the Meiji Era. Their marriage life went on pretty well, and he became a very successful author while being an English teacher in Japan.

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