Honor in Japan, ronin and the island of Saganoshima
Uncategorized / April 15, 2015

I took my Fuji TX-1, and my Epson with the 21mm Voigt.

This is a trip that I have been looking forward to for a very long time.

Goto, and Nagasaki, served as a hiding place for Christians for many years in the past before religious freedom in Japan. Many people fled persecution by sailing miles out into the ocean, and in some instances establishing a community on the first place they landed on.

The result is a plethora of churches spread all over the place. Some hidden in forests, some right on the shore, and some overlooking its respective island. The resolve that those people had towards being free to worship white Jesus is astonishing. Shame that  all that work resulted in empty pews on Sunday evenings today.

Today’s trip wasn’t about churches and white Jesus though, it was about a story I heard of a group of ronin, who fled the mainland, not so that they could be Christian, but so that they could escape dishonor. A ronin, is a “masterless samurai”. Get that anime shit out of your head, the samurai were a social caste. There were basically only two ways to be cast out, one was for your lord to have died, and the other, more direct approach, was for him to to tell you to bugger off.

Ronin also means wanderer, someone who doesn’t have a home persé, a drifter if you will. When you are cast out by your lord the Bushido code dictates that you commit seppuku, or harakiri and end your life. Refusing to do so, is choosing to live in eternal disgrace.

Let me give you some background on the island before continuing. First it is very small.  It is a little over 3 km around, and there are about 200 people living there presently. At this time of year, since school is out, there are only 3 shuttle services a day to the island. There was no posting of this schedule change at the port which, was a cause for frustration.

Once on the island one thing stood out (immediately) like Nigerian in Switzerland. Everyone looked alike. My mind couldn’t help but try to calculate the depth of this tiny island’s gene pool, and judging by the faces of its inhabitants, it was only ankle deep. I’m not an “all Asians look alike” person either, so…

Anyways, we (I went with my South African friend who told me about the place), made our way to the opposite side of the island. On foot, only about ten minutes or so, where I saw one of the most incredible coastlines I’ve ever seen. It was ocean-curved rocks that gradually transitioned into a lush green hill. Also cliffs with 30-50 feet drops made the view amazing, the weather was quite bad, but I got a few shots in (more shots to come when I develop and scan my film).

Continuing along the path, our next stop was — shrine, and here is where our ronin story continues. A small group of ronin fled the mainland after not being able to commit seppuku. They started a community on this tiny island many years ago, and raised children, and to an extent, lived normal fulfilling lives. Until one day, they could no longer live with the dishonor. So they each gathered in an opening inside of the forest and committed seppuku. One of the wives found them and followed them in committing suicide herself. The following picture is where it happened where the small shrine now stands.



This form of honor, I believe is still very much alive today in Japan. When I lived in Tokyo, some of the homeless people I met were salarymen who had been laid off years ago. Some were still wearing their now ragged suits. They didn’t go home because they couldn’t face their families. They couldn’t say to their wife and kids, “I was laid off today, and I don’t know what to do.” They’d rather waste away in a park than utter those words. When Japan lost the war, they supposedly didn’t know how to surrender. The thought had never crossed their minds that they would need to. Put yourself in the mindset of someone who has just lost his job, and can’t go home, because your role in the family is to provide, and if you can’t do that then you might as well be dead. I guarantee that there are many who did choose death over sleeping on park benches. With no sarcasm, I have to say that there is something very admirable about this way of thinking. Love, for the most part is barely an afterthought in Japan. I’ve seen many relationships that were created for sex, family, social status, money, hafu babies (who can blame them), but rarely have I seen a relationship built on love here. Maybe that is changing though. Regardless, maybe the homeless men created a relationship with their families that was based on them being a provider and nothing else. In chess there is a term called acquiesce. It’s when you hastily make a move that costs you the game, and there was time remaining on the game clock. I think his bad move wasn’t deciding not to go home, but deciding to base his relationship with his family solely on what he could give them. Now he is a ronin in a sense. No job, no home, no family. But there are no islands to flee to this time… oh wait there is one in dire need of new genetic material. Best of luck gentlemen.





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