Korean culture is much more willing to fight and embrace new ideas in order to truly fulfill Confucian ideals, whilst Japanese culture is content to reinforce ideals that sometimes go against the traditional Confucian framework; therefore, Japanese culture does not embrace Confucianism in the way that Korean culture does.
These facts are very clearly demonstrated in the K-Drama Tree With Deep Roots and the Japanese war novel Taiko. These first threads of dissent in Korean culture can be justified in the ways that Japanese culture goes against three of the primary Confucian relationships, ruler to ruled, father to son, friend to friend, husband to wife, and older brother to younger brother. These relationshiops are complex and important with the framework of Confucianism.
First of all, within the context of Taiko many of the rulers do not take particularly great care of their subjects, and routinely allow them to die whenever their needs are not being served. A particularly cruel example of this occurs when Nobunaga comes home to his people and gives them food and riches, but states that this can never happen again because “It would be a fault for a man who runs the government to let the poor get used to charity (Yoshikawa 548). Demonstrating that he is not willing to allow his people to die, but he is not willing to take any pains to make their lives extremely great besides keeping them from dying. However, later on in the novel, Hideyoshi who had shown a very large amount of concern for the rights of the common folk in the beginning of the novel allows one of his underlings to kill men who are refusing to work efficiently on the walls necessary for their battle strategy because they have not been paid yet (Yoshikawa 560). This scene demonstrates the cold natured attitude rulers maintain in Japanese culture, and the disregard the rulers have for the ruled.
Furthermore, historically Hideyoshi’s own adopted daughter Go was the first member of his family to become a Christian, however, this conversion did not come without a fight, in which he banned Christianity in an attempt to stop the infiltration of this culture (Kitagawa 17). This instance demonstrates that even when a ruler’s family member has a very particular and debatably harmless desire the ruler in Japanese culture can ignore and forbid the ruled’s happiness. Furthermore, this was not a purely altruistic denial of westernization in Japan at the time because Nobunaga and Hideyoshi were both willing to embrace the luxuries and weaponry of the west. According to a study by Delmer Brown “The effective of the new weapon deeply impressed local military barons” (Brown 238). And this historical thread can be seen once again in Taiko, “there were two things that [Nobunaga’s] digestion absolutely rejected: Christinatiy and Christian education. But if these two thins had not been allowed to the missionaries they would not have come with their weapons, medicines, and other wonders” (Yoshikawa 551). Therefore, Hideyoshi is willing to embrace outside influences that protect his rule, western firepower, but unwilling to allow his subjects the same hypocritical decision.
Second, Taiko demonstrates the complete lack of respect fathers have in their relationships with their sons through the multiple father son relationships in the novel. The first instance of father and son interaction of a negative nature happens within the first book. In this opening scene Hideyoshi’s father gives him the advice that shapes his life. He informs his son that women are afraid of swords, which explains why his mother doesn’t want him to be involved in Samurai culture, and then gives his son a sword (Yoshikawa 10). This scene plants the seeds that will lead Hideyoshi down a road that will end with him becoming a very powerful Samurai, but also a man with many mistresses, as opposed to the socially acceptable concubines of the time period, and who never visits his family and wife. Therefore, this father’s bad advice at a young age demonstrates a disconnect between Confucian relationships and the behavior of men within this culture. Furthermore, once Hieyoshi’s father dies and his mother remarries, his stepfather, Chikuami, constantly abuses him and tells him that he will never amount to anything. His stepfather was so vindictive that whenever his mother would attempt to shield him “Chikuami’s rough hands and voice lashed out with severity” (Yoshikawa 21). This is once again another example of the complete lack of respect Japanese fathers have for their sons, and the negative impact they can have on their decisions and in this instance their psychological well being.
Third, the Confucian relationship between friends is never very respected within the context of the novel as allegiances and alliances are constantly disrespected and relationships are bonded by drinking. This lack of respect is very directly referenced in this novel when Hideyoshi’s friend from the past says:
Surely you must remember, Lord Katsui, those days of eating, drinking and singing until dawn. Friends will put their arms around each other’s shoulders, revealing things they wouldn’t even talk to their own brothers about. At the time, you think that person is the best friend you ever had, but later you both get involved in the real world and you have a lord or a wife and children. When you both look back at the feelings you had when you were living together in the barracks, you find that they’ve changed quiet a bit” (Yoshikawa 762).
This passage emphasizes the fact that friendship is not revered within Japanese culture as Confucianism states, while also emphasizing the inability of many people with this culture to successfully fulfill all of the Confucian relationships. Furthermore, a more action oriented example of this disrespect in friendship, once again involving Hideyoshi, can be seen in Hideyoshi’s appropriation of his battle strategist, Hanbei, and friend’s sister as his mistress, Oyu, when they are both very clearly uncomfortable with the situation. However, once Hanbei dies and asks for his sister’s freedom from Hideyoshi, she is granted her freedom (Yoshikawa 535). Even though in this instance, Hideyoshi does fulfill his friends wishes, it is still fairly disrespectful that he waited until his friend was dead to release his sister from a situation that they were both farily uncomfortable with, demonstrating once again the lack of thought put into these Confucian bonds in Japanese culture.
In contrast to Japanese culture, which refuses to embrace the traditional Confucian relationships, Korean culture as evidence by the K-drama Tree With Deep Roots very clearly embraces these relationships in the many positive portrayals depicted.
One of the most positive moments occurs in the second episode of this show when King Sejong resolves to save his people by deciding to save the young boy Ddol Bok who has sworn to kill him (Episode 2). In contrast to Taiko in which many of the rulers are very willing to make any human sacrifice necessary to further their cause King Sejong demonstrates a strong resolve to protect every person in his Kingdom because he realizes that ultimately he holds that responsibility, and how can he expect the same from his people if he doesn’t better their lives first. King Sejong determines later on in the series that one of the best ways he can better the lives of his people is by giving them an alphabet that they can learn very easily, and that allows them to truly interact with him or any other ruler in the future. He also refuses to believe the alphabet is finished until he receives approval for Ddol Bok, the young boy he vowed to protect earlier in the series (Episode 16). Once again, King Sejong puts aside the time he put into the alphabet and personal desires in order to make sure that it truly serves the rights of his people, which he fights for.
Second, Ddol Bok protects his father vehemently, demonstrating a deep respect for this relationship as well as the Confucian relationship between father and son. For example, King Sejong and his father encounter multiple times in their lives where they challenge each other to kill the other one. In one such instance, King Sejong’s father Taejong attempts to kill the young boy Ddol Bok, but Sejong pulls out his own sword stating that his father will have to kill him and his father backs down (Episode 2). This scene shows a large amount of respect, which was not seen within the father son relationships, demonstrated in Taiko, in the way Sejong and Taejong disagree, but never raise a hand to each other. In addition, later on in the narrative Sejong mentions that he is “his father’s son” (Episode 10) demonstrating that in a way he did respect his father even though they had very different styles and opinions. In addition, Ddol Bok and his father have a very close relationship in which they take care of each other. In one scene, Ddol Bok even teaches his father how to how to snarl and stand up for himself because his father is constantly getting pushed around in their small village (Episode 1). And then his father returns the favor by running across the countryside to send a message that will save their community (Episode 2). This protection and respect demonstrates Korean culture’s respect for the father to son Confucian relationship.
Third, a respect for the Confucian relationship of friend to friend is very clearly demonstrated in the relationship between So Yi and Ddol Bok. The seeds of this friendship can be seen in the very first episode of Tree With Deep Roots when So Yi stands up for Ddol Bok to her father (Episode 1). This situation demonstrates the lengths that So Yi was willing to go to in order to stand up for a friend of hers who needed her help. In addition, later on in the series when Ddol Bok is about to learn how to read the Korean alphabet she has so much faith in him and his abilities to say that he can learn the letters in less than a day (Episode 16). Once again, showing her support of him in the face of a high pressure and very difficult moment. Finally, when So Yi is captured he saves her from her possible death (Episode 12). Demonstrating that they have a strong reciprocal relationship in which they will always protect and support each other.
Therefore, Korean culture is much more authentic in it’s relationship to Confucianism in the sense that their culture truly does seek to hold up these ideals, whilst Japanese culture is more concerned with the embrace of whatever ideals line up with their more selfish desires. For example, even when Korean culture does embrace outside ideals, like Christianity, it is because that religion is being emphasized in its relationship to the Confucian relationships and Confucian ideals through “the centrality of ethics and family values” (Kim 119). In contrast, Japanese culture has a much stronger connection to their own nation than they have to the ideals of Confucius, which comes out in pieces of literature and film, which demonstrate a strong nationalistic thread. However, Taiko was published during the 1930’s when an outbreak of war occurred with China. “Japanese literature in the 1930s experienced the darkest moment in its recent history. Political oppression of left-wing political cultural movements, which began as early as 1910, came to bear down with enormous pressure” (Shimazu 102)” which could explain why Taiko is fairly critical of the lack of a true respect for Confucian relationships, whilst demonstrating strong nationalistic threads in order to avoid persecution. Overall, however Taiko perpetuates a Japanese culture, which does not embrace Confucian ideals, whilst Tree With Deep Roots presents a Korean culture that takes care to embrace Confucian ideals in their relationships and throughout their society.
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“Episode 2.” Tree With Deep Roots. Writ. Kim Young-hyun and Park Sang-yeon. Dir. Jang Tae-yoo. Seoul Broadcasting System, 2011. Web.
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