Throughout Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan, we are presented with scenarios that are morally questionable according to the standards of Western culture, such as seppuku. However, I contest we must look through a different lens when dealing with the morality of other cultures.
If we are able to take more in depth look at the customs and practices of the historical characters in Taiko, rather than immediately casting them off as morally reprehensible, we will draw closer to limiting ethnocentrism, as well as possessing a firmer understanding of moral truth. For example, in Book 2 of Taiko, Tokichiro explains to Nobunaga that he can rebuild the castle walls within three days, however, if he fails, his punishment will be severe,
“He accepted the commission and prepared to withdraw, but Nobunaga asked him again, ‘Wait. Are you sure you can do it?’ From the sympathetic tone of Nobunaga’s voice, it was clear that he did not want Tokichiro to be forced to commit seppuku if he was to fail,” (Yoshikawa 156).
From this short excerpt we can see that the moral necessity required by Tokichiro’s failure would be the ritual suicide of seppuku. From a Western perspective, this would is not only seen as strange and archaic, but even morally wrong on the grounds that a life would be wasted over a trivial matter. However, if we remove our own cultural lens as we look at the practice of seppuku, we may be able to discover the meaning behind the practice, as well as its moral justification.
Seppuku was typically reserved for the Samurai as a form of capital punishment for a variety of offenses, but in this case for bringing shame upon Tokichiro’s name. I believe the criteria we should use when judging a culture’s practices as moral or immoral should hinge upon the practices pursuit of righteousness. It would be foolish for any one man to claim they have a complete understanding of the absolute moral truth, therefore, we must use our reason and attempt to identify what makes something moral. Tokichiro’s commitment to suicide upon failure, is based upon the self-inflicted punishment he would receive for bringing shame upon him. His actions would not show any selfishness or benefit him in any way, but rather a humble admission of guilt. Therefore, I contest that the action of seppuku is an attempt to maintain the dignity of the samurai and displays a pursuit of righteousness. Therefore, we must resist the urge to label this action as immoral, merely because it is something we do not fully understand, but rather we must try to realize that this practice is rooted in an ideal that values justice and dignity.
When we look at differences in other cultures, it becomes all too easy to label them as right or wrong, using our own values as a guide for morality. However, I urge all of us to ask ourselves, how certain are we that Western culture possesses all moral truth?
Work cited: Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan. New York: Kodonasha, 2012. Print.
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