Who plays Hirotaro in the last samurai

"The Last Samurai": Reality and Myth of Stoic Dying

The last samurai, an American? Anyone who takes the film with Tom Cruise, which hits theaters in January, at face value, might answer the question with a yes. After all, it's all about the small difference between history and stories, between the locally limited samurai uprisings of 1874 to 1877 as a result of the Meiji reform and a neat made-up story. Even Japan is not free of such distortions, otherwise the "Seven Samurai" would not have become "The Magnificent Seven". And when a trend paper for the fashion-conscious youngsters of Tokyo calls itself "Samurai" and its publisher announces that it is paying homage to the "spirit of the new samurai", then the younger generation juggles with the historical myth.

But despite all the social upheavals after the rigorous opening of the island state inaccessible to foreigners in 1868 - and thus since the end of the samurai as a special class - it is still present. Therefore, hardly any book dealing with Japan can avoid telling the story of the 47 ronin. These men, abandoned samurai (ronin), because their daimyo had been forced to commit suicide (seppuku) because of a violation of etiquette, avenged this socially sanctioned and at the same time as inappropriate condemnation on the master of ceremonies of the shogun, who called their master, in order to emphasize the difference in class, had deliberately provoked. They knew at all times that they would then be forced to do seppuku themselves. But for the samurai, vassal loyalty ranked as a duty (giri) above all feelings (ninjo) that gave rise to bonds with the world - and of which love for a woman was pretty much the last.

This sequence of values ​​still has an effect, although - as Florian Coulmas writes in his new book "Die Kultur Japans" (CH Beck, Munich. 333 pp., 24.90 euros) - giri now often writes about a formalistic exchange of gift and return is degenerate. However, it is not the only legacy of the samurai, whose self-image and traditions - Wolfgang Schwentker analyzes this in "Die Samurai" (CH Beck, 128 pp., 7.90 euros) - go back to the Heian period (794-1185) .

Beyond these solid studies, things are less concise. There arises for the "last samurai" - so the title of three new books - always just one question: win or go down. And whoever loses dies stoically and in style. In a man-to-man fight or by slashing your stomach with your own hands.

Model and prejudice have long been knotted into a fiction of intelligent, aggressive masculinity in the Gordian way. They should teach managers and salespeople, politicians and athletes alike, how to be power-conscious and level-headed, success-oriented and indifferent in the event of defeat. So "the way of the samurai" is touted as a "guide to strategic action", the "samurai spirit" as a school of management, the "samurai seller" as the cicerone for "the seven ways of the warrior in merciless competition". The Japanese as secretly scary winners in the competition of goods and markets, which the "Wall Street Samurai" try to emulate as "Samurai on the business front", are therefore called "Samurai.com", the "Samurai Society" or "Samurai" GmbH "apostrophized. Because the samurai is about "honor through struggle, struggle for honor". And those who fall by the wayside can comfort themselves by reading "Samurai or On the Dignity of Failure".

In the face of such decals, it is difficult for all attempts to do justice to the complicated state of mind of the samurai. Nevertheless, there was no lack of such attempts in 2003. The books by Florian Coulmas and Wolfgang Schwentker are two examples. And exhibitions such as "Samurai - Ideal and Reality" in the Cologne Museum for East Asian Art or the large Japan Show in the Bundeskunsthalle attempted to make the importance of the "armed servants" visible by means of works of art and weapons. But best of all, a Japanese saying goes: "Once a famous sword, now just a kitchen knife."