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3 I n t r o d u c t i o n : K n o w i n g Nat u r e O ne of the most celebrated stories in Japanese history is that of the Akō Incident. Like most samurai stories, it portrays pride, revenge, and, quite noticeably, a lot of agonizing pain. It also portrays sacrifice . In the story, pain, in the form of seppuku, or ritual disembowelment, serves as a gory expression of personal loyalty. In turn, personal loyalty serves as the glue holding together Japan’s early modern order, based as it was on Confucian filial piety and vassalage. One of the most visceral manifestations of the importance of loyalty to Japan’s early modern order was glorified pain through disembowelment. Before you discontinue reading in disbelief that I would start this book with a samurai story, remember that some cultures ascribe nobility to this kind of death: it is hard to question a man’s sincerity for a cause when he is, on the most dramatic of occasions, tearing out his entrails with his bare hands to demonstrate it.1 In 1701, the lord of Akō Domain, a country samurai named Asano Naganori (1667–1701), got into a dangerous squabble with the shogun’s court etiquette master, Kira Yoshinaka (1641–1702). Though the precise reasons for Asano’s “grudge” remain a mystery, the standard explanation, relayed by the Confucian scholar Muro Kyūsō (1658–1734), is that the “Asano house had failed to give an adequate bribe to Kira in return for his guidance in matters of etiquette,” and Kira consequently snubbed the Asano House.2 4 Introduction Apparently, Asano sought to settle the matter by attacking Kira inside the Edo Castle precincts. “Do you remember my grudge from these past days?” he shouted, according to one witness. In striking Kira with his blade, Asano broke the law, and after considerable deliberation, councilors granted him the privilege of taking his own life by disembowelment. When he did so, he left behind a handful of vassals who eventually avenged their lord’s death by killing Kira on a snowy winter evening in 1702. They presented Kira’s severed head to their master’s grave at the Sengakuji Temple. Flummoxed by the clash between private filial ethics and brazen public disobedience, the Tokugawa shogun’s chief Confucian councilors granted them, too, the honor of cutting open their bellies. Supposedly, they took their own lives to preserve Japan’s precarious burgeoning nation: they sacrificed themselves to maintain the uneasy balance between warrior ethics and the development of early modern law. As Eiko Ikegami writes, the judgment of the Tokugawa shogunate “placed the values of law and order above those that had governed the medieval lives of the samurai.”3 Now, fast-forward two and a half centuries to a different kind of national sacrifice in 1966, this one for Japan’s industrial order. Imagine a poor, elderly man appearing and disappearing as he walks slowly between the towering shadows cast by the Daikyō Petroleum Refinery in Yokkaichi, on the Pacific coast of Japan’s main island. He enters his home never to be seen alive again. When Lord Asano sliced open his belly at the dawn of the eighteenth century, Yokkaichi was home to modest fishing villages and was a prominent post station along the Tōkaidō, or Eastern Sea Circuit. By 1966, Yokkaichi had transformed utterly: it boasted large petroleum refineries that fed Japan’s new industrial hunger pangs. Colossal facilities, these refineries were part of a konbinato, or Soviet-style industrial center, and stood as powerful symbols of Japan’s postwar economic recovery. Like Japan’s early modern order, however, they also demanded forms of sacrifice . The refineries destroyed the small village of Isozu, located along the Suzuka River: the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo declined its stinking catches and the lungs of its inhabitants burned from sulfur dioxide. Isozu’s fishermen protested, even trying to plug an industrial drainpipe on one occasion; petrochemical corporations and the local government brushed them aside. Once again, Japan faced an ethical impasse, not between warrior ethics and early modern law, but between unbridled industrial growth and public health: sacrifices were required.4 One of those desperate souls sacrificed was Kihira Usaburō, the lone, Introduction 5 wandering seventy-five-year-old man described earlier, whose home was in the shadows of one of the largest refineries. Mired in poverty and lungs burning with pain, he hanged himself in...


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