Currently I read through a book called “Daughter of the Samurai” by Etsuko Sugimoto. She wrote it in English by herself through her thirty years of living in America. It was published in the U.S first, then it was translated into other languages including Japanese. I read the Japanese version.
She was born in 1873 and died in 1950. She lived through turbulent times in which society had dynamically changed since the end of samurai soceity. In that era, it was very rare to live in a foreign country for a woman except for studying abroad as a representative of Japan. She was unusual because of many reasons. Her older brother ran away to the U.S., so she got a chance to study which, at the time, was reserved for men. Also, her brother, the head of their household at the time, arranged her to be married to his Japanese friend who lived in the U.S. Additionally, after returning to Japan because of losing her husband, her two kids missed their American life and convinced her to move back to the U.S. She started writing because she needed money. She also taught at Columbia University for a few years.
Her wide-open eyes captured differences between Japan and the U.S. in that era from her point of view. For example, she wrote about self-authority. She was amazed at Americans’ self-authority and wrote the following. “We can act from a spirit of freedom without breaking tradition, without bringing disgrace to the family name, without breaking someone’s heart and without losing anything which belongs to this world.” Futhermore she wrote, “Japanese have a tendency to consider everything and everyone invisible until they have been placed in their appropriate place or right position.” This is one of secret keys to understanding the Japanese way and Japanese society.
In that era, Japanese were more effected by Buddhism than today. Buddhism made people think about everything from the perspective from the end of their life. People prepared for their deaths the same way as preparing for a trip. It helped them to think of their life purpose and mission from childhood. They prided themselves on those preparations and that perspective. They cultivated this self-respecting attitude from childhood through their Buddhist upbringing.
Modern Japanese society clearly lost their self-respecting attitude and sense of pride. I felt that I could touch my Japanese roots. It filled me.