The taming of the samurai : honorific individualism and the making of modern Japan


The taming of the samurai : honorific individualism and the making of modern Japan

Eiko Ikegami

Harvard University Press, 1995

  • : hbk

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Includes bibliographical references and index



Modern Japan offers us a view of a highly developed society with its own internal logic. Eiko Ikegami makes this logic accessible through a sweeping investigation into the roots of Japanese organizational structures, focusing on the diverse roles that the samurai have played in Japanese history. From their rise in ancient Japan, through their dominance as warrior lords in the medieval period, and their subsequent transformation to quasi-bureaucrats at the beginning of the Tokugawa era, the samurai held centre stage in Japan until their abolishment after the opening up of Japan in the mid-19th century. This book demonstrates how Japan's so-called harmonious collective culture is paradoxically connected with a history of conflict. Ikegami contends that contemporary Japanese culture is based upon two remarkably complementary ingredients, honourable competition and honourable collaboration. The historical roots of this situation can be found in the process of state formation, along very different lines from that seen in Europe at around the same time. The solution that emerged out of the turbulent beginnings of the Tokugawa state was a transformation of the samurai into a hereditary class of vassal-bureaucrats, a solution that would have many unexpected ramifications for subsequent centuries. Ikegami's approach, while sociological, draws on anthropological and historical methods to provide an answer to the question of how the Japanese managed to achieve modernity without travelling the route taken by Western countries. The result is a work that should facilitate a better undertsanding of, and appreciation for, Japanese society.


  • Part 1 A sociological approach - introduction
  • honour, state formation, and social theories. Part 2 Origins in violence: the coming of the Samurai - violence and culture in the ancient world
  • vassalage and honour
  • the rite of honourable death - warfare and the Samurai sensibility. Part 3 Disintegration and reorganization: social reorganization in the late medieval period
  • a society organized for war. Part 4 The paradoxical nature of Tokugawa State formation: Tokugawa State formation
  • an integrated yet decentralized state structure
  • the Tokugawa neo-feudal state - a comparative evaluation. Part 5 Honour and violence in transformation: honour and order - the State and Samurai self-determination
  • the vendetta of the forty-seven Samurai
  • proceduralization of honour. Part 6 Honour polarization in Vassalic bureaucracy: State-centre honour and Vassalic bureaucracy
  • Hagakure - the cult of death and the honorific individuality
  • Confucian and post-Confucian Samurai. Part 7 Honorific individualism and honorific collectivism: themes of control and change. Epilogue: honour and identity.

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