Thursday, June 7, 2012

Majin Power

I am a fan of Japanese giant robot cartoons of the '70s and '80s.

My childhood's highlights include a lot of Getter Robo and Tosho Daimos as well as Grendiser. Unfortunately, my favourite robot - Mazinger Z - was never aired in Malaysia. It was never broadcast.

For years, I lived my life based on the values of their hot-blooded pilots, until I discovered that the basis for the samurai mythos, which in turn was interpreted to become these cartoon characters, was based on a lie.

The whole samurai thing, is a lie. Perpetrated by the greatest samurai of them all - Miyamoto Musashi. Miyamoto wrote the Book of Five Rings which consolidated the romantic image of the samurai as ethical warriors who would die before defeat, fighters who would favour death before dishonor.

The reason? Well, Miyamoto was a samurai who lived in the Tokugawa era, after the Battle of Sekigahara which unified all of Japan and ended all wars. Samurais still enjoyed a state salary and held the right to carry weapons.

Some people, though, were calling for the samurais to be deemed illegal and represented an unnecessary expenditure. Since the samurais were educated and could read and write, they began writing books to make themselves look great and worthy of a state allowance.

One of these books was the Book of Five Rings, which Miyamoto wrote. In it, he said that a true samurai is well-versed in fighting, the arts, literature, the crafts as well as other disciplines, making them the Renaissance men of their period.

There are many historical records that say samurais would not die before dishonor and that some of them went home after holding a siege at a castle or fort for a while.

Fast forward a few centuries later, and I saw in a documentary about Japan that the samurai ethos has seeped through society, as well as their devotion and beliefs in Zen Buddhism.

I saw a lunch-maker who said that he must get every bento (lunch box) correct because if he fucks up a lunch box, then someone's day will be fucked up and they would not work properly, creating a chain reaction that would destroy society and the world.

All this, based on lies.

I believe in being honest at all costs. In Margin Calll - reportedly the BEST movie about Wall Street ever, the Kevin Spacey character said something along the lines that he is a trader based on trust. His entire career, his business, his industry, lies in him being honest to the people he does business with. Because if he becomes an asshole, no one would do business with him again. EVER. And that is much worse than anything else.

The mixture of lies and honesty from Japanese history and culture is a constant reminder to me of how the world is just fucked up.

Whenever I feel jaded, though, I watch those cartoons again, and I remember why I am still here.