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The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture

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A recognized classic of cultural anthropology, this book explores the political, religious, and economic life of Japan from the seventh century through the mid-twentieth, as well as personal family life.


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A recognized classic of cultural anthropology, this book explores the political, religious, and economic life of Japan from the seventh century through the mid-twentieth, as well as personal family life.

30 review for The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    Some hesitation. Let me begin on the day I bought the Invention of Nature, once packed away in my satchel I, like the chicken in the joke, crossed the road and entered a second-hand bookshelf, there I spied this book, it rang a bell, but distantly, I left I think only with the aforementioned Sorel: Europe and the French Revolution and maybe something else because “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a book, must be in want of several more" (view spoiler)[ th Some hesitation. Let me begin on the day I bought the Invention of Nature, once packed away in my satchel I, like the chicken in the joke, crossed the road and entered a second-hand bookshelf, there I spied this book, it rang a bell, but distantly, I left I think only with the aforementioned Sorel: Europe and the French Revolution and maybe something else because “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a book, must be in want of several more" (view spoiler)[ there see, if only I had been Jane Austen's editor... (hide spoiler)] . Later I confess I had a look on Goodreads and indeed I remembered that I had wanted to read The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (view spoiler)[ I have a deep dislike of the 'To-Read' list and am in a different mental universe to those who add books to such a list perhaps even with a happy whistle, this runs counter to my book reading policy which relies heavily on serendipity, and may be thought of as a life long experiment to demonstrate the presence of predestination and fate in one's reading life (hide spoiler)] so the following month when I had returned to hospital for an appointment, I afterwards marched back up hill and bought Ruth Benedict's book. Having read it and feeling a slight hesitancy about it I will begin properly with respect and honour. It is a solid achievement. Benedict was a US anthropologist pottering about when she received a commission in 1944 from the government to write a study of the Japanese with a view to whether they would surrender, and if militarily defeated, if they would fight on, or rebel, or just generally cause a nuisance, and more generally to help get under the Japanese skin which might help an occupation to progress smoothly. Starting from scratch with no knowledge of Japanese she laboured on and the book was published in 1946, so I guess it represents twelve to eighteen months of contentious and solid work. Which is an achievement. The work consisted of reading the secondary literature on Japan, noting things she didn't understand, interviewing Japanese Americans, taking them with her to watch Japanese films and asking them to explain why the plots seemed so strange, reading novels, school books and memoirs - from one of these she cities the daughter of a samurai family who allowed in a missionary school a patch of garden to grow what ever she likes, experiences wild joy at planting potatoes while all her school-fellows plant flowers. As you probably have guessed the downsides of this book are exactly the same as its positives - it was written at a particular time, for a particular purpose drawing on limited sources, and the end result now is not only seventy years on, historical but also circular. Specifically from 1868 there began in Japan the Meji restoration which swept away the old shoguns and aimed to make the Emperor the central figure in Japanese life, prior to this the Emperors had spent several centuries as ceremonial figures, dependant sometimes on handouts or selling samples of their calligraphy in order to make ends meet. The Meji era reformers stressed that duty owed to the Emperor trumped all other duties and obligations. Unsurprisingly then Benedict found from School books and war films that duty to the Emperor trumped any other duty or obligation. Incidentally and implicitly for her this meant that so long as the Imperial will was for Japan to fight to demonstrate it's proper place in the hierarchy of world nations (ie at the top), then the Japanese would fight -down to their last bamboo spear and beyond, while once the Imperial will was that Japan must live in peace and friendliness that all Japanese would do so with no less enthusiasm. We might agree that such a potential was implicit in Japanese culture, but it seems it was specifically actualised only in a particular historical circumstance, but for Benedict there seems to be no distinction between ideology and culture. The beliefs that certain groups of people wished to inculcate in wider society are treated unproblematically as pure manifestations of culture. Further the actual people she interviewed were Japanese American, either emigrants recalling their lives in Japan before coming to America or those born in the USA drawing upon their family traditions, this I guess tended to a view of Japanese society as being conservative and unchanging, while as an observer one's immediate assumption thinking about post 1945 is to think of Japan in terms of change and modernity. Both views are probably right to some extent, but the point is that Benedict's study is profoundly informed by the circumstances in which it was done. This I think limits the book's value over time, naturally if you want to enjoy old Japanese war films, it is just the ticket, but seventy odd plus years down the road in a somewhat different political environment it is probably not quite as valuable as it was - although I must stress that Benedict was writing for a specific purpose - to aid Americans in the task of occupying a defeated Japan, she wasn't intending to create something to stand for all time. In any case Benedict died in 1948, she didn't get so much as a chance to revise or revisit her work. Equally perhaps distinguishing between elite ideologies and the culture as a whole wasn't relevant to the purpose of the book in 1946. A curious feature of the book is that it is a distorted mirror to the USA, the study is largely a compare and contrast between the USA and Japan, after a while as a third party foreigner, the USA of the 30s and 40s seemed considerably odder and more strange than the Japan which Benedict was describing. Japanese sense of a proper hierarchy and dislike of profiteers who violated this seemed quite natural and proper from a UK perspective. While solemnly Benedict tells us that the Japanese have no concept of evil while Americans in addition to having to be at war with the evil in their natures, are full of resentment against things they have to do like sleeping, eating spinach and getting married. I felt the lack of a consistent awareness of cultural gender differences was interesting given that Ruth Benedict was as far as I am aware herself of female persuasion, mostly man did seem to mean purely man rather than people, yet there wasn't a great deal of interest in women's roles in Japanese culture beyond that from their late teens through to their marriages that they got to have the best and most elaborate hairstyles. Though Mother-in-law vs Daughter-in-law tensions were Benedict felt, particularly intense. The principal issue that she identified was that Japanese live within a network of obligations and duties, analogous to owing money to many different and competing creditors, one may temporarily satisfy some to a certain extent, but only at the cost of not satisfying others, perhaps by this point I had already become more crazy than ever because this seemed to me entirely natural, the debt to ones parents for life and upbringing, to kin for occasional indulgences, to the bastard bank for the mortgage, duties of citizenship and humanity. This network of obligations she notices provides for really satisfying unhappy endings in Japanese fiction, and she suspects this means that happinesses, like that lovely warm bath, tend to be postponed or avoided in favour of meeting some obligation or other (such as to the family, or benefactor and the Emperor). Shame is felt so extremely, that ideas of revenge against people who insult you is taken extremely seriously - here I did wonder if she had read too many novels featuring samurai in the course of her research but then again it perhaps is a fair point about the culture of early twentieth century Japan and its search for international prestige through colonialism. For a brief instance while reading I did feel deeply that her discussion of all these circles of duty made sense of the Olympus scandal, but then I thought that all businesses take their reputation and image extremely seriously and generally seem to prefer to cover up, evade, or lie rather than to come clean about mistakes - and in that sense perhaps corporations are people after all. Anyway as in Childhood and Society it all comes back to breastfeeding and toilet training. The American mother as you may expect is angry and resentful at having to share her breast milk while according to Benedict the Japanese mother appreciates breastfeeding as a sensual pleasure and indeed if she delays weaning will be teased for enjoying feeding her child too much. Then according to Benedict your standard American child is fed and put to bed by the clock, this fills the young American with rage and resentment. By contrast the young Japanese is entirely indulged at first, only as they get older are they teased for their attachment to the breast and softly through teasing brought into all those circles of duty. This fills the Japanese with rage and resentment and this difference is why your typical American will stock pile guns and eventually go on a killing spree while the typical Japanese will adjust easily to a changed situation but then suddenly commit suicide. Having written that I hasten to add, without earnestness, it does strike me that for all that Benedict claims that there is an essential piraticality beneath the Japanese character, she didn't really demonstrate it. It is a consistently interesting book, though in the nature of such books, at least with me, it does spark disparate chains of thought (view spoiler)[ too much so even for spoiler text (hide spoiler)] . I would say it is good for what it is, but with the caveat that it is both dated and focused on the period from 1868 to 1945 and in this edition the lack of a bibliography means it won't take you any further without assistance. Despite a chapter on self discipline which touches on Zen I felt it was not enlightening about religion or necessarily about the Arts. As a companion book to reading the literature of that '68 to '45 period this might be useful, but perhaps less so for the age of the Godzilla film or even the Kurosawa epic and I'd be fooling myself if it added anything to my past reading of Basho, but perhaps it shone a light on The Toyota Way, I'll need to sleep some more on that. From a policy point of view the book was a great success, Benedict's vision in the wake of Japan's surrender must have been very reassuring, and to that extent it must also have served Japan well in the short and medium term. On the other hand on can see in the tendency to managing the economy and a valuing of social stability above all, that maybe stability has allowed for a degree of entropy and ossification to build up in the long term, while a more radical departure in 1945 might have allowed for different social and economic problems to have emerged seventy years on.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Olivier Delaye

    One of the greatest books on Japanese culture out there, and still very relevant today. If you love Japan or are simply interested to know more about this fascinating country, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword is a must-read and re-read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    AC

    This book is a masterpiece. Each time a height has been scaled and the reader returns to the valley, he sees yet another, taller peak on the horizon.... It is essential reading. Benedict is an anthropologist -- though I've read a good amount of anthropology, I had never read Patterns of Culture. And I was somewhat skeptical, remembering the bland cover of Patterns on the old copy my father had when I was a child. But Benedict writes with such depth and intelligence and broad vision that I now see This book is a masterpiece. Each time a height has been scaled and the reader returns to the valley, he sees yet another, taller peak on the horizon.... It is essential reading. Benedict is an anthropologist -- though I've read a good amount of anthropology, I had never read Patterns of Culture. And I was somewhat skeptical, remembering the bland cover of Patterns on the old copy my father had when I was a child. But Benedict writes with such depth and intelligence and broad vision that I now see that her reputation is fully deserved. She is brilliant..., and humane. It is not necessarily the case, of course, that everything she writes about Japan is entirely correct -- though her general approach must be right. And, of course, Japan may have changed much since 1945. But books like this really do transcend particular pages and footnotes. There is a lot of facile criticism of this book -- criticizing her for using the distinction of shame/guilt, for viewing Japanese culture through the lens of kinship structures, and so forth. Forget the critics -- like many such books, she puts them to shame (pun intended). They're what my students would call 'salty'. Anyway -- a MUST read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Shari

    I was wondering... Could a treatise on an entire country and its people, no matter how beautifully worded and presented, be objective if... a) the author of the said treatise didn't live in that country b) the author is from the victorious country (Who was it who said that history is written by the victors?) c) the country being analyzed was, in many years of its history, closed to the outside world (Was it James Michener who claimed that Japan had put up one of the most effective iron curtains in I was wondering... Could a treatise on an entire country and its people, no matter how beautifully worded and presented, be objective if... a) the author of the said treatise didn't live in that country b) the author is from the victorious country (Who was it who said that history is written by the victors?) c) the country being analyzed was, in many years of its history, closed to the outside world (Was it James Michener who claimed that Japan had put up one of the most effective iron curtains in the history of mankind?)? Perhaps I should also add that ... d) the author didn't speak the language of the said country. (I did see the movie Lost in Translation. And a lot can get lost in translation sometimes. I should know. Over two decades here in Japan and I still get lost in Shinjuku Station, never mind the biggest hospital in my neighborhood.) Still...this one gets a good rating from me. I rate it not for its objectivity, but for its relative accuracy. Benedict wrote with what materials she had and could obtain, and the result was not so bad. She did claim in the first chapter that Japan is a country of contradictions - "different". That claim alone gives the reader fair warning that she could be wrong in some of her interpretations (and that she could also be right). And this tone resonates in the whole book. She keeps repeating the word "different" that Japan appears quite exotic, even alien, in some parts (just try to grasp "giri"...getting out of Shinjuku Station when you get lost in it seems an easier task). Needless to say, Japan now is not like how Benedict saw it. Many aspects of the country's people and culture have evolved. Nevertheless, this book offers a good study of where the country was in the author's time. And what a chaotic time it was... There is also the interesting side to this book that many miss to see. In her aim to reveal Japan, Benedict unwittingly, or perhaps intentionally, reveals her own.

  5. 4 out of 5

    David

    It's a total secret, but the island nation of Japan and I have one of those "if we’re both single in 2015 let's get married" things. If it comes to that, and on the strength of "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword", I've decided that Ruth Benedict can do the reading. Because her book is Yum, Yum, absolute Yum. It is a complete guilty pleasure. Reading this book I felt like a dog rolling around in something absolutely disgusting. But I just couldn't stop. Ruth's milkshake brings all the Japonophiles t It's a total secret, but the island nation of Japan and I have one of those "if we’re both single in 2015 let's get married" things. If it comes to that, and on the strength of "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword", I've decided that Ruth Benedict can do the reading. Because her book is Yum, Yum, absolute Yum. It is a complete guilty pleasure. Reading this book I felt like a dog rolling around in something absolutely disgusting. But I just couldn't stop. Ruth's milkshake brings all the Japonophiles to the yard. I love Japan because… "one principal of [a school for girls], advocating for his upper middle class students some instructions in European languages, based his recommendations on the desirability of their being able to put their husband's books back in the bookcase right side up after they had dusted them." "It is told of Count Katsu who died in 1899 that when he was a boy his testicles were torn by a dog. He was of samurai family but his family had been reduced to beggary. While the doctor operated upon him, his father held a sword to his nose. 'If you utter one cry,' he told him, 'you will die in a way that at least will not be shameful.'" Yeah, but I'm suspicious of what Count Katsu was doing with a dog at his testicles. "Within the reign of the present Emperor, a man who had inadvertently named his son Hirohito – the given name of the Emperor was never spoken in Japan – killed himself and his child." I love it, but I struggle to believe it. Didn't this father know what the Crown Prince's son / Crown Prince was called? Hirohito was the eldest son of the Meiji Emperor's eldest son; there weren't any surprises in the succession. Did the father kill the boy when Hirohito became the Taisho Emperor’s Regent? Or wait until he inherited the throne "for real"? "In the rural areas, too, boys may visit girls after the household is asleep and the girl is in bed. Girls can either accept or reject their advances, but the boy wears a towel bound about his face so that if he is rejected he need feel no shame next day. The disguise is not to prevent the girl from recognizing him; it is purely an ostrich technique so that he will not have to admit that he was shamed in his proper person." "The favorite form [of industrial action] is for the workers 'to occupy the plant, continue work and make management lose face by increasing production. Strikers at a Mitsui-owned coal mine barred all management personnel from the pits and stepped daily output up from 250 tons to 620. Workers at Ashio copper mines operated during a 'strike,' increased production, and doubled their own wages.'"

  6. 5 out of 5

    Smiley

    3.75 stars First published in 1946, this 13-chapter classic "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" by Dr Ruth Benedict having never been to Japan herself has still inspired and informed its readers more as one of the 'Nihonjinron' books (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihonjinron) popularly written, published and read after World War II. This formidable study "reprinted over fifty times" assigned by the US Office of War Information was "to spell out what the Japanese were like" (back cover) by means of 3.75 stars First published in 1946, this 13-chapter classic "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" by Dr Ruth Benedict having never been to Japan herself has still inspired and informed its readers more as one of the 'Nihonjinron' books (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihonjinron) popularly written, published and read after World War II. This formidable study "reprinted over fifty times" assigned by the US Office of War Information was "to spell out what the Japanese were like" (back cover) by means of all the techniques of which she was capable as a cultural anthropologist. Thus, its first chapter aptly entitled "Assignment: Japan" implies her challenging work and looming responsibility. Around a decade ago, I came across a quote scribbled on the blackboard in a computer classroom at the university, "Nobody is perfect but a team can be"; this has long impressed me since it sometime reminds me of the famous pioneering Q.C. initiated and developed by Dr W. Edwards Deming in Japan as a postwar tradecraft/technology imported from the USA. After its English publications with wide readership, its Japanese readers were also interested in buying and reading its Japanese version. However, there were pros and cons in relation to its research methodologies from various scholars on Japanese culture. This is not fair to her because, I think, this study would have been more perfect if it had been researched, discussed and thought out by an eminent team. Therefore, we need to forgive and praise her since she did her best within a limited time frame, that is, only one year after Japan surrendered in August 1945. There are a few points I would like to share with my Goodreads friends soon; in the meantime, please visit this website: http://www.jpri.org/publications/occa... to read an interestingly in-depth article by Professor Sonia Ryang, in which I think you can read and know more on its different argumentative viewpoints, then I hope you would see why this study has long since been remarkable by an intrepid anthropologist named Dr Benedict. Enjoy!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Hieu Cao

    I learn more from how my classmates respond to this book than from reading the book itself. The reason is not difficult to understand. Japanese culture is fairly familiar with me through manga, anime and the zeal about Japan in Vietnam several years ago. Also, despite its distinctive culture, Japan shares with other East Asian countries the philosophy of Buddhism and Confucianism which integrate so deeply in those countries' social life. On the other hand, how the Western perceive the Eastern is I learn more from how my classmates respond to this book than from reading the book itself. The reason is not difficult to understand. Japanese culture is fairly familiar with me through manga, anime and the zeal about Japan in Vietnam several years ago. Also, despite its distinctive culture, Japan shares with other East Asian countries the philosophy of Buddhism and Confucianism which integrate so deeply in those countries' social life. On the other hand, how the Western perceive the Eastern is not quite obvious to me. Moreover, the Western perception of the Eastern exposes the deep root of Western culture to level of daily life which I couldn't penetrate when studying Western Tradition and Challenging of Modernity, two courses about the development of Western ideologies. In short, I recommend this book for East Asian students who are taking courses about Western culture or sociology. It's paradoxical but you will understand what I mean when you read this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    An intriguing book, but there is no way to ignore the many false premises upon which this book is based, the pitifully scant citations (very disappointing in an academic work- she could have made the entire book up, for all we know), and the painfully sweeping generalizations which do their best to paint Japan as a nation as uniform and alien as possible. Based on secondhand reports from expatriates living in internment camps, Westerners who had spent time in Japan, and Japanese prisoners of war An intriguing book, but there is no way to ignore the many false premises upon which this book is based, the pitifully scant citations (very disappointing in an academic work- she could have made the entire book up, for all we know), and the painfully sweeping generalizations which do their best to paint Japan as a nation as uniform and alien as possible. Based on secondhand reports from expatriates living in internment camps, Westerners who had spent time in Japan, and Japanese prisoners of war, this book is certainly interesting, but by no means a conclusive, thorough, or particularly accurate depiction of Japan.

  9. 5 out of 5

    MameYakko

    I read this book in Japanese because it seemed difficult to read even in Japanese, so I thought it would be even more difficult to read the original work in English. I wanted to know how the Japanese culture was viewed by Americans. It was weird to learn how we the Japanese are through an analysis done by a foreigner who had never visited Japan, but her account was very clear and mostly accurate.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lyn Elliott

    Excellent. Proper review to come, after I’ve gone through it again and made notes at all the places I’ve marked - the book is bulging with post-its.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kazen

    Benedict studied Japan via completely secondary sources, and while she did as well as she could there's still a bunch of stuff she gets wrong. At the same time, she gets other things quite right. Picking apart the wheat from the chaff was quite the experience. More (somewhat ranty) thoughts in my standalone review on Booktube: https://youtu.be/Vkiudwqn70c Benedict studied Japan via completely secondary sources, and while she did as well as she could there's still a bunch of stuff she gets wrong. At the same time, she gets other things quite right. Picking apart the wheat from the chaff was quite the experience. More (somewhat ranty) thoughts in my standalone review on Booktube: https://youtu.be/Vkiudwqn70c

  12. 5 out of 5

    Patrick McCoy

    The Chrysanthemum and the Sword is a seminal study of Japanese culture by Ruth Benedict who was commissioned by the US government to study Japanese culture in order to understand how to govern it after WWII. It turns out that she was a colleague of the infamous Margaret Mead, and like Mead I’m not sure her legacy is completely positive. She is most famous for her analysis of Japan as a culture of shame in relations to western cultures, which are cultures of guilt. However, many of her observatio The Chrysanthemum and the Sword is a seminal study of Japanese culture by Ruth Benedict who was commissioned by the US government to study Japanese culture in order to understand how to govern it after WWII. It turns out that she was a colleague of the infamous Margaret Mead, and like Mead I’m not sure her legacy is completely positive. She is most famous for her analysis of Japan as a culture of shame in relations to western cultures, which are cultures of guilt. However, many of her observations about the Japanese no longer hold true, since Japanese culture has changed so much since WWII. In particular the analysis of societal obligations is no longer valid in my opinion, although I think there are traces of this legacy even today, but not to the extent that Benedict writes about. I am assuming that this study also suffers from the fact that Benedict never had the opportunity to live among the Japanese to make observations on the culture firsthand, which seems to me to be a huge limitation. However, I did find her chapter on “The Meiji Reform” interesting and well written. I had been meaning to read this book for a long time, but was recently reminded of it by a colleague at a meeting where we were reviewing the English entrance examination questions. One of my Japanese colleagues felt that a particular question was reinforcing Japanese stereotypes and said, “That sentence looks like it was written by Ruth Benedict!” So I’m not sure how the book has been received by the Japanese themselves, but I have seen references to it by other Japanese anthropologists and observers. (Sawa Kurotani, who writes the Behind The Paper Screen column for The Daily Yomiuri, and Takeo Doi, author of Anatomy of Self)

  13. 4 out of 5

    P.H. Wilson

    Real rating 6.7/10 Dated to say the least with some factual inaccuracies, such as her statement that the Tang Dynasty had a classless society which the Japanese did not adopt, however the Tang had a well documented class system. Although it must be said that the Japanese did adopt a multitude of things from the Chinese as Kanmu was a great admirer. The overall knowledge level and assuredness of the text is not there as she constantly has to state a colleague or friend informed her and she freely a Real rating 6.7/10 Dated to say the least with some factual inaccuracies, such as her statement that the Tang Dynasty had a classless society which the Japanese did not adopt, however the Tang had a well documented class system. Although it must be said that the Japanese did adopt a multitude of things from the Chinese as Kanmu was a great admirer. The overall knowledge level and assuredness of the text is not there as she constantly has to state a colleague or friend informed her and she freely admits to never visiting Japan. Which I find a huge flaw as I have known people who have traveled to China and have BA's in Chinese and no one could understand a word of Mandarin they spoke, but they were assured by their Chinese professors that they were learning pure mandarin when it turned out to be Cantonese or Dongbeihua. Cultural notes from afar are never quite acceptable. Also while I realise it was just after the war, the book talks about America far too much and a little too pro-American for a book discussing another culture. That said the knowledge she draws from other books is quite decent and the section on ON is very interesting and worth a read. Ultimately this is a book for those who have a vision of Japan that does not exist anymore and those who actually know very very little about East Asian culture, those even semi-versed should turn elsewhere.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Velvetea

    ASTONISHING how this book taught me so much about Japanese culture that 1 year and 4 months living here hadn't yet fully showed me.....Usually strictly informational books don't grab me this much, but I was entranced with each sentence, read most of it open-mouthed, and I copied down so many quotes that by the end I had a book of my own!! I strongly recommend this to anyone with an interest in Japanese society, and especially how it opposes Western thinking. I recommend it even MORE strongly to ASTONISHING how this book taught me so much about Japanese culture that 1 year and 4 months living here hadn't yet fully showed me.....Usually strictly informational books don't grab me this much, but I was entranced with each sentence, read most of it open-mouthed, and I copied down so many quotes that by the end I had a book of my own!! I strongly recommend this to anyone with an interest in Japanese society, and especially how it opposes Western thinking. I recommend it even MORE strongly to those also living in Japan and experiencing our differences first-hand. Much of what is said in this book is dated, but a lot to it still holds true... it's the unshakable Japanese Spirit.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Emmitouflee

    First of all, Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword does a decent job of a difficult task which is to conduct an ethnographical study of a culture and country that one has never lived in. I found the book to be engaging and well-written, if at times slightly protractive and repetitive. I admired the dearth in judgmental statements, and how in her preamble, Benedict emphasized the importance of looking at something with an open-mind or generosity that will allow for better understanding First of all, Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword does a decent job of a difficult task which is to conduct an ethnographical study of a culture and country that one has never lived in. I found the book to be engaging and well-written, if at times slightly protractive and repetitive. I admired the dearth in judgmental statements, and how in her preamble, Benedict emphasized the importance of looking at something with an open-mind or generosity that will allow for better understanding. However, it would only be fair, going forth, to acknowledge the limitations as a result of the lack of first-hand immersion into the Japanese society, for reasons Benedict explains early on in the book. Although, I feel the fact that, as far as I know, Benedict did not do fieldwork in Japan after the end of the war to supplement her research is an inherent weakness of her work. I found my own skepticism impinging my reading of the text, and frequently found myself wondering just how Benedict managed to draw such neat conclusions, as in her own words, Japanese people were or are full of intrinsic contradictions and polarizing characteristics. I, myself, would be the first to acknowledge an aversion to characterizing any culture, even the ones I identify with, and certainly would not be able to do so from what essentially can be categorized as second-hand sources. That being said, I am of the opinion that the seminal book provides a good foundation into comprehending the origins of Japanese culture. It does feel outdated in some areas, for example, and this might well be due to my own lack of referable framework, when Benedict talks of the endeavors to reduce competition in Japanese education, it did not align at all with my grasp on East Asian educational systems today which includes class rankings and deference to outstanding students, and I am interested in finding out just how much Japan as changed. However, even I can see that, while the Japan of today with its fashion trends, popular culture and violent pornography is different to the Japan of 70 years ago, there are also aspects that have remained similar if not the same, for example in terms of respectful customs. I confess myself greatly disappointed by the lack of time spent on the acts of violence committed by the Japanese soldiers during World War II. When Benedict talked of the prisoners of war, I thought she was heading in that direction, but ultimately, the subject of the violent ways soldiers were trained and the acts of atrocities that were committed toward Chinese and Korean women especially was never touched on at all. For me personally, that is too big of a feature of Japanese warfare to just bypass entirely. However, it is necessary to consider the audience she was writing for as well as the objective of her research at the time.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ng

    It seems the author was pulled into the war effort as a sort of military anthropologist - Japanese military decisions were so difficult for the Allies to understand that they needed academic help! It's amazing what a different world she paints. Japan was within one lifetime of being forced out of isolation at the time, and she really shows the link between their World War II thinking and their old ways. And she doesn't simplify the old ways as being just one construct: she discusses how the ascen It seems the author was pulled into the war effort as a sort of military anthropologist - Japanese military decisions were so difficult for the Allies to understand that they needed academic help! It's amazing what a different world she paints. Japan was within one lifetime of being forced out of isolation at the time, and she really shows the link between their World War II thinking and their old ways. And she doesn't simplify the old ways as being just one construct: she discusses how the ascent of the shogunate changed things too. I don't think modern Japanese culture is like this at all, but you can see the links. It's also interesting what she implies about American culture, especially because there was apparently quite a debate on how to handle the occupation of Japan. If America's leadership today had been as willing to admit ignorance of a foreign culture, the occupation of Iraq might be going a lot better.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Govinda Parasrampuria

    The history part was informative and interesting to some extent, but the explanation of Japanese people's behavior was just too condescending IMO. I'm currently living in Japan, and I don't think much of it is accurate. I daresay the book is heavily outdated. It got sooo boring at the halfway mark, it was taking me forever to make progress. After putting me sleep for several weeks, I finally decided to quit on this book. The fact that the version I read had so many typographical errors didn't hel The history part was informative and interesting to some extent, but the explanation of Japanese people's behavior was just too condescending IMO. I'm currently living in Japan, and I don't think much of it is accurate. I daresay the book is heavily outdated. It got sooo boring at the halfway mark, it was taking me forever to make progress. After putting me sleep for several weeks, I finally decided to quit on this book. The fact that the version I read had so many typographical errors didn't help one bit. Read it for the history part only if you want, but there will definitely be better options available.

  18. 5 out of 5

    John Ratliffe

    Anyone who has associated with the Japanese people would find this book interesting. The author wrote this book without visiting Japan as part of the MacArthur occupation after WWII, and yet it is still an exceptional effort to define the cultural forces at work on the Japanese before WWII, and perhaps still. However, the book requires a lot of concentration while reading because the concepts presented are so complex and unfamiliar. I appreciated the book as I have some history in dealing with t Anyone who has associated with the Japanese people would find this book interesting. The author wrote this book without visiting Japan as part of the MacArthur occupation after WWII, and yet it is still an exceptional effort to define the cultural forces at work on the Japanese before WWII, and perhaps still. However, the book requires a lot of concentration while reading because the concepts presented are so complex and unfamiliar. I appreciated the book as I have some history in dealing with the Japanese and always found their behavior and attitudes to be unfathomable. This book helped in retrospect. I recommend it as part of any study a person wishes to undertake of Japanese culture.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Caligula

    A very detailed account of Japanese culture that was praised by Yukio Mishima for capturing the essence of Japan and the explanation behind what may seem to any American "strange" and even "brutal" codes of living. A must read for anyone interested in Japan. Although he is not mentioned in the book, it brings an understanding of Yukio Mishima's self-torture, eccentricity, and militant passion for "old" Japan and the code by which they lived. A very detailed account of Japanese culture that was praised by Yukio Mishima for capturing the essence of Japan and the explanation behind what may seem to any American "strange" and even "brutal" codes of living. A must read for anyone interested in Japan. Although he is not mentioned in the book, it brings an understanding of Yukio Mishima's self-torture, eccentricity, and militant passion for "old" Japan and the code by which they lived.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Edward

    A foundational work in Japanese culture studies and Japan-America cultural understanding. Whatever you think of Benedict's theories, her ideas helped shape American post-war understanding of the Japanese people. What MacArthur and GHQ did at the political level, this book did at the academic one. Published in the aftermath of the Pacific War in 1946, it goes without saying that some of the contents are outdated. Many of the social shifts Benedict's work foreshadowed in the 1940s have since matur A foundational work in Japanese culture studies and Japan-America cultural understanding. Whatever you think of Benedict's theories, her ideas helped shape American post-war understanding of the Japanese people. What MacArthur and GHQ did at the political level, this book did at the academic one. Published in the aftermath of the Pacific War in 1946, it goes without saying that some of the contents are outdated. Many of the social shifts Benedict's work foreshadowed in the 1940s have since matured over the past 70+ years, rendering some of her then-acute observations quaint by comparison today. But like De Tocqueville's "Democracy in America," any serious discussion about the current Japan must include her work. It is appropriate that both De Tocqueville and the Puritans are mentioned by Benedict since they illustrate the same effect in American history: old habits die hard. Just because the Puritans are long gone does not mean their impact has disappeared. It takes time for centuries-old cultural patterns to lose their hold on populations. Which is precisely why outsider observation of a culture can be so useful. Living within a culture can blind you to what seems unique or odd to strangers. This is what made De Tocqueville's landmark work so enduring. There will always be limitations of course--a foreigner ultimately has no right to tell a people group who they are, any more than individuals have a right to define other individuals for them. Bad cultural analysis cannot tell the difference between critical evaluation and "ethnocentrism" as Benedict calls it, and often strays into the latter. This is not some liberal-academic attempt to be "politically correct." Resisting the urge to judge another culture through the lens of your own norms has educational purpose and corrective value. Rejecting this can expose you to false positives and correlations. This is often the source of stereotypes. A common one for Japan: Japanese are weak and submissive because they rarely challenge their political leaders. Obviously they don't understand democracy, or have a "slavish nature," etc. Americans are better because we mistrust government officials to the point of almost hating government all together, elevating the individual over all else, and are thus truly free. "We" are not like "them," and the difference is fundamentally unbridgeable. Evaluations of this kind should immediately stink of assumption and casual arrogance to anyone regardless of what knowledge they possess. But Benedict goes to great lengths to show just why it is so shallow: "The Japanese judge therefore that we are a lawless people. We judge that they are a submissive people with no ideas of democracy. It would be truer to say that the citizens' self-respect, in the two countries, is tied up with different attitudes; in our country it depends on his management of his own affairs and in Japan it depends on repaying what he owes to accredited benefactors. Both arrangements have their own difficulties; ours is that it is difficult to get regulations accepted even when they are to the advantage of the whole country, and theirs is that, in any language, it is difficult to be in debt to such a degree that one's whole life is shadowed by it." You have to step outside of your own society in order to really see why someone in a different one feels as strongly about its values as you do about yours. Then, and only then, can you make fair critiques, AND possibly learn something in return about your own people. This is not an easy thing to do, and even the Japanese have had this problem in the past (Benedict argues that this was their primary mistake in the pre-war years--assuming that their cultural ideas were universally good and that the rest of Asia would naturally accept them under conquest). No one is really immune to that temptation, as old as the first inter-tribal contacts, to see anything different as weird or wrong. Among the many good points this book makes, it was consistently refreshing to see Benedict make the effort to really try to understand the Japanese in a way that was fair and balanced. And this was in the late 1940s, after the U.S. had fought a bitter, island-hopping war with them abroad, and oppressed Japanese-Americans at home. If Ruth Benedict can be culturally sensitive and open-minded during a time like this, there is no reason an American can't do the same today for Iraqis, Pakistanis, Chinese, North Koreans, or any of the other "bad guys" constantly presented to us as enemies we can never truly relate to.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Frank McAdam

    As an anthropologist, Ruth Benedict was more or less conscripted during World War II to do ethnological research into the Japanese character in order to provide the US government with an understanding how best to fight the Japanese and so win the war. The major problem Benedict faced was the inability to do true field research at a time when travel to Japan itself was impossible. Instead, she was forced to rely on interviews with Japanese POW's and those held in internment camps within the US. T As an anthropologist, Ruth Benedict was more or less conscripted during World War II to do ethnological research into the Japanese character in order to provide the US government with an understanding how best to fight the Japanese and so win the war. The major problem Benedict faced was the inability to do true field research at a time when travel to Japan itself was impossible. Instead, she was forced to rely on interviews with Japanese POW's and those held in internment camps within the US. This may or may not have biased the results of her investigations. It's difficult now to evaluate more than seventy years later the accuracy of Benedict's findings. This is simply because the Japanese way of life itself has changed so drastically in the intervening years. It's a fairly safe bet, for example, that not many Japanese alive today regard the Meiji Emperor's 1882 Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors to be the "true Holy Writ" of Japan, assuming they even know it exists. Similarly, the longest chapter in the book is devoted to child rearing, but it was written at a time when the Japanese birth rate was among the highest in the world whereas it's now among the lowest. This throws into doubt Benedict's entire argument: "A people so truly permissive to their children very likely want babies. The Japanese do... Every Japanese man must have a son." I think the book does contain genuine insights into the character of the Japanese people. But the danger in characterizing an entire people with generalizations is that one is likely to reduce such a people to mere stereotypes. Moreover, such characterizations are for the most part only true for the time and place in which they are made, i.e., they are dependent on circumstances. Seventy years on, no characterization of the American people as they existed in the 1940's would still be valid simply because the country and the world have both changed so much in the interim. The same is true of the Japanese.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jysoo

    I was not sure what to expect when I started to read this book on Japanese culture written by an American scholar of Ruth Benedict. As a Korean, the culture of my country is closer to that of Japan than the States, and I was not sure whether there is something I can learn from the book. I was plain wrong --- I thoroughly learned the value of “outside” opinion. I guess there are points she didn’t get right, but it is her who pointed out many important issues of Japanese culture which people livin I was not sure what to expect when I started to read this book on Japanese culture written by an American scholar of Ruth Benedict. As a Korean, the culture of my country is closer to that of Japan than the States, and I was not sure whether there is something I can learn from the book. I was plain wrong --- I thoroughly learned the value of “outside” opinion. I guess there are points she didn’t get right, but it is her who pointed out many important issues of Japanese culture which people living inside just cannot appreciate. She explained several key concepts which are uniquely Japanese, such as importance of hierarchy (“taking one’s proper station”), debt (on) and repayment (gimu, giri), Also explained are the concept of “giri to one's name”, and the seemingly paradoxical situation of emphasizing self-discipline and generosity on physical pleasure. What I find particularly helpful are examples, taken from real life in Japan, pertaining to the concept she wants to explain.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    Well written and lucid in its explanations, this is a fairly outdated exposition of the Japanese culture (or rather the national character of its people) circa 1946, immediately after the war. Things have changed dramatically since then, and I'm sure Benedict would hardly recognise the people she studied so closely in pre-War Japan. However, the principles and values that she highlights are still alive and well, in my experience with Japanese nationals. This was a key reading for a module in Jap Well written and lucid in its explanations, this is a fairly outdated exposition of the Japanese culture (or rather the national character of its people) circa 1946, immediately after the war. Things have changed dramatically since then, and I'm sure Benedict would hardly recognise the people she studied so closely in pre-War Japan. However, the principles and values that she highlights are still alive and well, in my experience with Japanese nationals. This was a key reading for a module in Japanese anthropology at SOAS which I took for my Master's. I do wish I'd taken the time to read this book during my time as an MA student, but I remember many of the names and incidents from The Chrysanthemum and the Sword that my professor expounded on during lectures. So I suppose perhaps it wasn't all that necessary for me to read the material at the time. But reading it over two years after it was required of me was a sort of bizarre but appealing exercise in academic nostalgia.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Stone

    This is probably the earliest comprehensive non-Japanese publication of the topic Nihonjiron. The point of view from an American anthropologist is particularly valuable no matter of the objectivity of her arguments. The book has long been praised as much as censured in both Japan and other parts of the world; however, as an unquestionable pioneer in systematic Japanese anthropological studies from a non-Japanese source, the book hence should be highly valued. I highly recommend the book to any r This is probably the earliest comprehensive non-Japanese publication of the topic Nihonjiron. The point of view from an American anthropologist is particularly valuable no matter of the objectivity of her arguments. The book has long been praised as much as censured in both Japan and other parts of the world; however, as an unquestionable pioneer in systematic Japanese anthropological studies from a non-Japanese source, the book hence should be highly valued. I highly recommend the book to any readers who are interested in the culture of Japan, the rituals, etiquettes, and behaviours of the Japanese people -- the book certainly doesn't contain everything, but it has everything necessary for an outsider to grasp the very basics of Japanese mindset and, in particular, reasons behind the war.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    This was written shortly after World War II but deals mainly with the Japanese culture at the time. As someone who's been interested in Japan for a long time, you'd think I would have liked this. There were some very interesting things I learned, but other than that, this book would almost put me to sleep at times with how dryly written it was. This feels even more like a textbook than the last book for my class that I read. This was written shortly after World War II but deals mainly with the Japanese culture at the time. As someone who's been interested in Japan for a long time, you'd think I would have liked this. There were some very interesting things I learned, but other than that, this book would almost put me to sleep at times with how dryly written it was. This feels even more like a textbook than the last book for my class that I read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Madeline

    I feel like a lot of these statements were largely unfounded. Granted, this book was written decades ago, so some of the statements (not even statements examining Japanese people) were very reflective of the times (in a negative way). It was hard for me to separate from that in and of itself, and the very dry text made this a difficult read. I would say I found about 15% of the book to be really interesting- namely the chapter on Japanese children- but everything else fell very flat.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sezín Koehler

    Messed up, although well written. It's an anthropological account of Japanese culture that was "researched" in the internment camps of California in the 1940's. It was commissioned by the US government, another reason to be sicked by this study. A perfect example of Anthropology trying to be a "hard" science and failing miserably. Messed up, although well written. It's an anthropological account of Japanese culture that was "researched" in the internment camps of California in the 1940's. It was commissioned by the US government, another reason to be sicked by this study. A perfect example of Anthropology trying to be a "hard" science and failing miserably.

  28. 4 out of 5

    David Haws

    In 1944, many Americans were having the Ramen-Varelse argument about Japan—debating if a dialog were even possible. Benedict recognizes her limitations (secondary and questionable data) and produces a thoughtful analysis.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jack

    Fascinating, chilling, and I can only hope, highly outdated and inaccurate in accessing the headspace and general values of the Japanese people whom I live and associate with today. I may well be an eternal barbarian despite my ongoing study of Japanese and struggle to relate to anyone if their values are as alienating and cruel as that which Benedict often describes here! Then again, was not my Ireland of the 1940s fundamentally a Catholic theocracy that is antithetical to my deep-seated values Fascinating, chilling, and I can only hope, highly outdated and inaccurate in accessing the headspace and general values of the Japanese people whom I live and associate with today. I may well be an eternal barbarian despite my ongoing study of Japanese and struggle to relate to anyone if their values are as alienating and cruel as that which Benedict often describes here! Then again, was not my Ireland of the 1940s fundamentally a Catholic theocracy that is antithetical to my deep-seated values of a good and just society? It was...but I am much more comfortable and adept in criticising my own home. It would feel wrong of me on two levels to criticise Japan, because I haven't been here long enough or know it intimately enough to be qualified to do so, nor can I earnestly approach it from a culturally superior standpoint, as I am too wholly formed, however much I may try to subvert unconscious indoctrination, by my own limited worldview to really know right from wrong. I have prided myself inwardly, in being such a passionate reader, to have developed, or at least progressed toward a sensibility further than some others, a keen understanding of human behaviour. At least enough to know propriety, to function in society, to know why we are often so irrational and to adopt a relaxed attitude toward it. It terrifies me to think of all the inadvertent offence I've likely caused living in Japan, and how understanding more and more will only serve to make me all the more aware of my social awkwardness and lack of civility. How funny it is that the awkward nerd is so often drawn to Japan through videogames and anime, to be met with a culture with a byzantine indirect communication style which leaves one constantly treading on eggshells as a natural way to be! And yet, I'm drawn to this country all the more -- can you really understand a place, know it, love it, if you do not also hate it a little bit? I relish the challenge, the impossibility of understanding. Though I may always be a barbarian, an outside-person, as Gaikokujin literally translates, that isn't the end of the world -- I felt like one from an early age. It's a grim, humbling sort of pleasure to build up a self-image of being smart and living in a country with different customs and a difficult language and bumbling around like an idiot. All for the sake of close proximity to great ramen, I guess.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Matt Shaw

    Publishing in 1946, Benedict is unable to see the evolution of Japan as a global player that has occurred since, so this book foresees but cannot account for the accommodations and alterations that Japanese society has undergone. She was hampered by limitations of access to informants, but "ethnography-at-a-distance" via texts, films, and other documentary evidence supplemented with interviews of Japanese-Americans and Japanese POWs served as a solid basis for her work. The "Culture and Personal Publishing in 1946, Benedict is unable to see the evolution of Japan as a global player that has occurred since, so this book foresees but cannot account for the accommodations and alterations that Japanese society has undergone. She was hampered by limitations of access to informants, but "ethnography-at-a-distance" via texts, films, and other documentary evidence supplemented with interviews of Japanese-Americans and Japanese POWs served as a solid basis for her work. The "Culture and Personality" School is obsolete scholarship, and there are certainly flaws in generalities, but this book stands as a well-organized and thought-out document; it also bears mentioning that Ruth Benedict was a good writer. While real, functioning Japanese culture today is a complicated chimera of influences, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword is a really good beginning piece to understand Japanese film, literature, and (to some degree) psychology. I must admit, many tropes in familiar anime and manga make much more sense after reading Benedict's sections concerning on and spiritual strength as greater than material force.

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