Samurai Ethics in the Works of Kazuo Ishiguro

Thesis (M.A.), 2010

83 Pages, Grade: 3,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Samurai Ethics in the Novels of Kazuo Ishiguro
2.1. Samurai Ethics - An Overview
2.2. The Position of Woman - Ishiguro’s Female Characters
2.3. Suicide
2.4. The Duty of Loyalty
2.4.1. Filial Piety
2.4.2. Teacher-Student relationship
2.4.3. Loyalty to the Master
2.4.4. Serving a Higher Purpose
2.5. Self-Control
2.6. Ishiguro’s Imaginary Homeland(s)

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Japanese-British writer Kazuo Ishiguro is not very fond of critics concentrating on Japanese elements in his works1, however, his first short stories and the following two novels take place - even if, as it is the case with A Pale View of Hills, only partly- in Japan, making it hard not to concentrate on the writer´s apparent preoccupation with his Japanese heritage. His third novel, featuring an English setting and characters - an old mansion, a butler, and his employer, may have been viewed as an attempt to break away from this line of interpretation on the one hand, on the other, however, it was the one work which first merited a mention of the similarities between the butler´s philosophy of life and the samurai code of honour. To the author, though, his three novels, namely A Pale View of Hills, An Artist of the Floating World, and The Remains of the Day, are linked primarily by their characters, who all seem to be stuck in similar situations, having to face their past - in all three cases the past ultimately revolves around their choices before, during and in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War - and consequently struggle with their long-repressed feelings of regret and even shame. Ishiguro himself explains the focus of his earlier works as follows:

I am drawn to periods in history where moral values in society have undergone a sudden change because a lot of the things I am interested in tend to find a cutting edge in those situations. I am interested in how people who tried to do something good and useful in their lives suddenly find that they have misplaced their efforts.2

In his short stories and novels the characters are indeed in conflict with the change in values, mostly brought about by the Second World War. However, if one takes a closer look at Ishiguro´s works, one will come to realize that those outdated moral values are often quite reminiscent of the ethics predominating in Tokugawa Japan and supposedly adhered to by the samurai class. As a matter of fact, the author´s “imaginary Japan”3 seems to rely very much on the ethics of the samurai.

In the short stories “The Summer after the War” - in which incidentally an old propaganda poster showing a samurai warrior features - and “A Family Supper” the young narrators have to deal with their older family members’ bitterness about the fading of Japan´s traditional values and their being replaced by American influences. Especially in the latter story the echo of the way of the samurai, bushid ō , is present in the theme of suicide.

In A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World the picture of interwar Japan Ishiguro paints is dominated by the old structures of samurai values. The first novel´s subplot, for instance, shows the protagonist´s father in law baffled by the sudden lack of respect and blind obedience his former students show him after the war, clearly expecting the rules of bushid ō to apply still.

At the same time, the protagonist Etsuko and her friend Sachiko are trying to break free from the restrictions of traditional values which would confine them to a life of passivity. As such in the aftermath of the war, the characters in A Pale View of Hills are caught in a world hanging between their traditional samurai ethics and the new values developing in the defeated Japan under American occupation. Similarly, Masuji Ono, the protagonist of An Artist of the Floating World, also finds himself in conflict with samurai ethics. In his memories of his life before the war he recalls several situations in which he had to choose between finding his own way, or following the path of bushid ō . Questions of filial piety, loyalty to his sensei, and in the end even seppuku are of concern to him, as will be elaborated later. However, it is the protagonist of The Remains of the Day, the English butler Stevens, who almost seems to be the personification of the values of bushid ō. Stevens virtually lives the life of a samurai serving his feudal lord. His approach to fulfilling his duty, his relationship to his father, his loyalty to Lord Darlington, and his definitions of certain values can be - as will be proven later - traced back to the Hagakure, a collection of rules and anecdotes supposed to serve as a reference for the proper behavior of a samurai.

There is another question concerning The Remains of the Day, which cannot be neglected. The protagonist´s attitudes to his life may be incredibly close to those of a samurai in the Tokugawa period, but there is still the option to read him as simply the most extreme case of the cliché of an uptight English butler. Is Stevens the “parody of a parody”4 - in this case most likely Wodehouse´s Jeeves - or is he something else entirely, namely a Japanese samurai in disguise? Another interesting point is the general tone of Ishiguro´s narrators. His language is often very understated and restrained, even in the most extreme circumstances, facing horrible truths about their lives, his narrators never lose their composure. Can this be taken as another instance in which samurai ethics come to play into Ishiguro´s writing? Is Kathy´s quiet resignation at the end of Never Let Me Go, for example, a sign that she has indeed accepted her imminent death as a necessary sacrifice to serve a higher purpose in the same way a samurai would be content to die for his master´s benefit, no matter how insignificant it may be in the grander scheme of things?

However, before any of these questions can be answered, it is vital to take a close look at the samurai ethics. In this work the focus will be on a few key values which are important in bushid ō and which can be found in the works of Kazuo Ishiguro. Those moral values and codes of conduct will be examined closely and their relevance for the short stories and novels previously mentioned (this excludes The Unconsoled, since this novel is not considered relevant to this particular subject matter) will be evaluated.

2. Samurai Ethics in the Novels of Kazuo Ishiguro

2.1. Samurai Ethics - An Overview

In this essay the term samurai ethics will be used synonymously with the aforementioned Japanese expression bushid ō , although it is “a term popularized during [the 19th] century to designate traditional Japanese ideals of conduct”5 and as such, it was not known - at least not as the same concept- during the time the samurai existed as warriors in feudal Japan. Bushid ō , as we know it today, did not come into being before the 19th century, when the government of the Meiji-era abolished the samurai caste6, therefore the term, which, translated literally, means ʻthe way of the warriorʼ is an “anachronistic creation.”7

Despite this fact samurai and bushid ō still go hand in hand in most minds. And although it was later called The Book of the Samurai, Hagakure, compiled in the 18th century with Japan’s prestigious warrior caste in mind, was created at a time when the samurai were already beginning to lose their social status, while the term bushid ō was yet to be imbued with its later meaning.8 Nevertheless, its content was attributed to the way of the warrior and the topic of bushid ō did not lose its relevance for Japanese, as well as non-Japanese, scholars. In 1899 Inazo Nitobe wrote Bushido - The Soul of Japan, in which he introduced bushid ō as an alternative to religion. He was prompted to do so by a Western colleague, who asked him how Japanese children could be taught moral behavior when there was no religious education in Japanese schools9. Since bushid ō combines elements from Shinto, Zen Confucianism and Buddhism,10 Nitobe had no reservations about presenting it as a kind of religion in itself. The virtues he promotes are for the most part the same that Yamamoto already advertised more than a century ago in his work, namely: “justice”11, “valor”12, “benevolence”13 - which, according to Nitobe is “a tender virtue and mother-like“14, because of mercy’s more “feminine nature”15 he and his peers “were warned against indulging in indiscriminate charity”16 - “politeness”17, “truthfulness”18, “honor”19, “the duty of loyalty”20 and “self-control”21. Furthermore, he offers chapters about ritual suicide (“seppuku ” 22 ) and the “[p]osition of [w]oman”23. Additionally, one has to mention that there is a certain hierarchy among those ideals, although Nitobe neglects to elaborate on the topic beyond his comment on benevolence, the Tale of the Forty-Seven Ronin, for example, shows that, in a conflict between righteousness (or justice, as Nitobe called it) and loyalty to the feudal lord, choosing to break the law in order to be loyal was considered to be the honourable decision.24

Since not all of those virtues are present in Ishiguro’s novels, I will concentrate on only a few of them, including the significance of Ishiguro’s use of suicide as a theme in his works and his treatment of female characters in light of bushid ō values. Unsurprisingly, the “[b]ushidō ideal of womanhood was preeminently domestic.”25 Apart from being restricted mostly to housework and childbearing, however, women were expected to behave in almost the same way as men. The main difference is that, as soon as they were married, their husbands would take the role of their master26, demanding absolute loyalty. In turn, men had to bestow their unquestioning loyalty and obedience on their feudal lord.27 As Nitobe summarizes, “woman, [. . .] annihilated herself for man, that he might annihilate himself for the master, that he in turn might obey heaven.”28 Loyalty is one of the most important bushid ō values. It entails filial piety, respect and loyalty towards superiors, such as teachers and mentors29, and patriotism. This virtue is considered a duty; “[t]he expression of obedience, or rather the absence of self-assertion before a superior, was the most important of all rules of conduct.”30 In terms of bushid ō, loyalty really does mean to be “completely at one with [one’s] master and serv[ing] him as though [one’s] own body were already dead.”31 Yamamoto continues by explaining what exactly this means on the level of a samurai ’s actual duties towards his master; “[b]eing a retainer is nothing other than being a supporter of one’s lord, entrusting matters of good and evil to him, and renouncing self-interest.”32 Ergo, a retainer was supposed to have no opinions, he would follow any order as long as it came from his master . As a consequence, the feudal lord had complete control over the samurai’s life and if one of them offended him in any way, he could always give them the final order, to commit ritual suicide.33 However, “[o]bedience and reverence on the part of the inferior had its counterpart in the proper maintenance of dignity on the part of the superior, all of which required calmness of manner, subdued tone of speech, gentleness of expression.”34 In other words, both the inferior and the superior were expected to be polite and always in control of their emotions.

Self-control meant the suppression of all emotion. “[I]magine boys - and girls too - brought up not to resort to the shedding of a tear or the uttering of a groan for the relief of their feelings,”35 Inazo Nitobe writes, but grief and pain were not the only taboo emotions, as he explains; “[a] father could embrace his son only at the expense of his dignity; a husband would not kiss his wife, - no not in the presence of other people.”36 Since “a characteristic feature of Bushidō was the debasement of woman”37, there was a “consequent contempt for love and affection in general.”38 It should be obvious from the advice Nitobe added when he mentioned the virtue of benevolence - the only virtue one should apparently not overdo - that anything related to emotion is considered a potential weakness and showing weakness automatically resulted in loss of honour, something which the samurai were extremely sensitive about.39 They were after all known for their readiness to die for their honour.

In fact, if all dignity and honour were lost, the samurai (and this was not only an option for men) always had one last way to restore at least some of it. Seppuku, or hara-kiri, as it is more commonly known in the West, was indeed “a process by which warriors could expiate their crimes, apologize for errors, escape from disgrace, redeem their friends or prove their sincerity.”40 There were very strict regulations concerning seppuku, regarding mostly how it was supposed to be done. Most commonly the samurai would slash his stomach from left to right, then suffer the excruciating pain without showing any sign of it and finally, no sooner than when he was unconscious or already dead, his head would be cut off.41

Any samurai could be ordered to commit seppuku, often without trial, and there were no restrictions concerning age - Nitobe, for example, reports a case of an eight year- old who had to kill himself because of a crime his older brothers committed42. Again, this may prove just how wary the samurai were of showing mercy. Of course, many samurai chose this fate voluntarily to salvage lost honour, or follow their master into death - in fact, so many chose this path that it became a problem and was eventually prohibited by law.43

This concludes the short overview of the samurai ethics that come into play in Ishiguro’s works.

2.2. The Position of Woman - Ishiguro ’ s Female Characters

As I have pointed out before, women had a very limited role to play in bushidō. They were condemned to passivity and considered to be weak, emotional, and inferior to men. In this chapter Ishiguro’s portrayal of his female characters will be explored and compared to the bushid ō standard.

Etsuko and Sachiko from A Pale View of Hills are complete opposites when it comes to lifestyle and values. While the one is a - on the surface - happily married housewife, who is expecting her first child, the other is a single woman with a daughter she doesn’t seem to care about much, dreaming of a life in the West with her American lover. Etsuko’s case, however, isn’t as simple and straightforward as it seems. The very beginning of the novel makes it clear that the “subservient wife”44, Etsuko presents herself as when she tells her story, cannot be who she really was, since she ended up leaving Japan and marrying an Englishman, which is an incredible break with tradition from a Japanese point of view. Cynthia F. Wong comes to the same conclusion:

Etsuko’s outward devotion to her marriage and her role as a Japanese wife contrasts with Sachiko’s more outward and irresponsible attitude towards family. Although Etsuko’s exile to England reveals a more rebellious nature than she lets on, that aspect of her character is not evident in the past that she recounts.45

Etsuko is an unreliable narrator as it seems, probably presenting a censored version of her past to make herself look better and cast off the feelings of guilt she doesn’t admit to have, despite voicing her suspicion that her younger daughter visited her “to reassure [her she] was not responsible for Keiko’s death.”46

The society she leaves behind seems to adhere to the values of bushid ō, expecting women to live according to the following standard; “[a]s daughter, woman sacrificed herself for her father, as wife for her husband, and as mother for her son. Thus from earliest youth she was taught to deny herself. Her life was not one of independence, but of dependent service.”47 As we learn from the way Etsuko’s father-in-law reacts to a story about blatant wife abuse - a man threatens his wife with a golf-club because she does not want to vote for the same party in the election48 -, this standard is quite popular even in Ishiguro’s post-war Japan, where men are still amused when a husband cannot “get [his wife] to obey [him].”49 The only thing that shocks Ogata about the story is that “a wife these days feels no sense of loyalty towards the household. She just does what she pleases, votes for a different party if the whim takes her.”50 Of course, this would be less of an indication of the general misogyny if it were only the “anachronistic father-in-law”51 who made comments like that, but Ogata is far from alone with his opinion. None of the men are especially shocked by the story and nobody argues when the accused Hanada explains why he threatened his wife in the first place:

I was trying to make her see sense, of course. My wife votes for Yoshida just because he looks like her uncle. That’s typical of women. They don’t understand politics. They think they can choose the country’s leaders the same way they choose dresses.52

This opinion reflects the bushid ō idea of women being irrational and prone to make decisions based on their emotions alone. Furthermore, this attitude is not limited to men. Sachiko’s elderly cousin expresses a very similar opinion, when she talks to Etsuko:

After all, it isn’t good that a woman should be without a man to guide her. Only harm can come of such a situation. My father is ill, but his life is in no danger. She should come back now for her own wellbeing if for nothing else.53

She does not say that Sachiko’s help is required in the care for the sick man, instead the focal point of her argument why Sachiko should come back to live with them is simply that a woman needs a man in the house to tell her what to do. A woman who makes her own decisions is considered dangerous. This echoes the story golf-club story, of course; women are irresponsible, therefore somebody needs to keep them in check and consequently they are expected to obey their father until they are married when their husband can take over.

Failing to live up to that standard leads to being ostracized and becoming the topic of gossip.54 Sachiko is fairly indifferent to other people’s reactions to her, however, and Etsuko’s claim that she “understood something of that aloofness [she] had noticed about her”55 because she was herself conceived as “unfriendly”56 and “made no special effort to seem otherwise”57 might be a hint that she has more in common with the other woman than she likes to admit outright. Still, in her memories Etsuko is the one who is married and expresses concern about her friend’s daughter, Mariko, who gets into fights and doesn’t go to school.58 Etsuko lives up to the standard mostly, proving herself to be concerned with child-care and never speaking up in the presence of men. At least she does all of that in her version of her past. Sachiko, on the other hand, defies the social norm and seems to do as she pleases. She symbolizes the coming change in post-war Japanese society. Now that the war is lost and the market opened to American imports “[m]aterialism is rampant, and Sachiko is one such young woman who would gladly forsake traditional Japanese

customs for a slice of the American pie.”59 But materialism is not the only new influence in Japan, Sachiko is also trying to live a more or less emancipated life. She is on the verge of that new mindset at least. She may still stake her future on a man60, but she also hopes for an independent life for herself and her daughter.

America is a far better place for a young girl to grow up. Out there, she could do all kinds of things with her life. She could become a business girl. Or she could study painting at college and become an artist. All these things are much easier in America, Etsuko. Japan is no place for a girl. What can she look forward to here?61

Sachiko is already disillusioned with her life in Japan; she knows that there is “nothing at for [her] at her uncle’s house. Just a few empty rooms, that’s all. [She] could sit there in a room and grow old. Other than that there’ll be nothing.”62 Outside of marriage and child-care there is no life for a woman in Japan. Sachiko and Etsuko are living among mostly traditional Japanese who expect them to act according to the norm. Ishiguro, however, juxtaposes Sachiko with the ʻoldʼ values. He has created a character who wants to break out, who probably reflects his protagonist’s own desire to do so. He also shows post-war Japan as a place where values are beginning to become less rigid. In the eyes of the new generation Japan’s defeat in the Second World War invalidated most of the conservative beliefs. Consequently, when Etsuko speaks of “an unmistakable air of transience”63 in the beginning of her reminiscence, she might be referring to more than just her apartment complex. Ila Goody notes that

Ishiguro’s point of view is more overtly balanced between those generational characters whose allegiances are to the realms of the fathers and those who, significantly passing over the sons, perceive and acknowledge the rising dominion of the daughters.64

In A Pale View of Hills Ishiguro’s focus is indeed on the female characters, however, there are not many characters who, as Goody puts it, acknowledge any kind of “dominion of the daughters”. All of them seem to be struggling at best. Even at the end of the novel Etsuko does not seem to have fully come to terms with herself and her choice. Her conversations with her younger daughter, Niki, show that there is still some discord between her and her daughter’s modern way of life.

ʻI suppose you don’t like it very much, do you, Mother? ʻLike what, Niki?ʼ

ʻThe way things are with me. You don’t like me living away. With David and all that.ʻ [ ] ʻI’m not ashamed of you, Niki,ʼ I said. ʻYou must live as you think best.ʼ65

Etsuko appears defeated, giving in to her daughter to avoid an argument, rather than being happy for Niki’s freedom. When Niki complains that “[s]o many women just get brainwashed. They think all there is to life is getting married and having a load of kids”66, Etsuko answers “[b]ut in the end, Niki, there isn’t very much else.”67 Obviously, Etsuko is no triumphing hero of feminism. She left the misogynist society behind, but in the end she still concedes, “It’s not a bad thing at all, the old Japanese way.”68 Naturally, this could only be her regret and guilt speaking. After all, at this point Etsuko’s first daughter has committed suicide and her leaving Japan might be to blame for that. Niki seems to be suspicious about it as well: “Obviously, you’d say that now. I bet that’s not what you thought at the time though.”69 Ishiguro leaves the reader in the dark as to what exactly Etsuko’s opinion on the old Japanese way was at the time. She herself claims, “I don’t remember now.”70 There never is a direct confrontation between Etsuko and her husband either. Why she left him is never explained. Possibly, “Etsuko’s disillusionment with married life in Japan is recounted through her remembrances of another woman, Sachiko.”71 Sachiko could very well fill the gap between past and present Etsuko. She certainly seems more likely to end up in a foreign country than Etsuko. Moreover, she already has a troubled daughter.72 Whether Etsuko is just retelling her own story with Sachiko as a placeholder for herself, or if Sachiko really was a friend whose attitude influenced her, is also not clear. It is strongly implied, however, that “Etsuko’s marriage to Jiro was unhappy - that Jiro had time only for his work and newspaper, and that otherwise he either ignored or bullied his wife.”73 In this, there is an obvious parallel between Etsuko and Sachiko, who seems to have suffered from abuse as well, as Shaffer notes:

Sachiko’s past marriage, like Etsuko’s present one, shows all the signs of wife abuse. Sachiko’s husband was ‘very strict and very patriotic’; never ‘the most considerate of men,’ he forbade Sachiko to learn English, even forcing her to throw away her English books74

Two female characters, both apparently going through the same experiences, both - as it seems - within their right to want to escape, and yet one of them is last seen ready to sacrifice her daughter’s happiness in order to wait for her American lover who might just leave her hanging again, while the other ends up a lonely widow plagued by guilt and regret because her older daughter killed herself. Ishiguro’s novel can hardly be considered affirmative of feminist ideas. To get back on topic, Ishiguro’s use of samurai ethics is limited to the general attitude of everyone around Sachiko and Etsuko in the latter’s backstory. They provide a fairly hostile background in which the two women are struggling to find their place. For Sachiko, the only way is to leave Japan. Etsuko, however, is not as blatant about her attitude. She presents herself as somebody who follows all the rules without complaint, even when she has to face her husband’s disinterest and her father-in-laws unconcealed misogyny. That there must have been a change in her attitude at some point can only be concluded from the fact that she did leave her husband and her home. Although Ishiguro has created an environment so dominated by the old-fashioned belief in the inferiority of women (even in post-war Japan), neither Etsuko nor Sachiko are granted a happy end. Instead, Etsuko seems to be lonely and full of remorse by the end of the novel, while Sachiko is portrayed as irresponsible, arrogant, neglectful, and downright cruel to her daughter. Ila Goody writes the following about her:

Sachiko [. . .], remains on the dangerous edge of the border into a new history, unbound by the forms of discipline and loyalty that once constituted social coherence. She is a kind of stranded object, without appropriate placement in either culture.75

This is an interesting observation which can be made for both Sachiko and Etsuko. One might even go as far as to say that it fits even better for the latter. Etsuko does not seem to have integrated too well into English society. It also appears that she feels her English husband never really cared about her first daughter76, but she was not happy in Japan either - otherwise she probably would not have left. In the end, she is out of place wherever she is.

In When We Were Orphans Ishiguro literally has a female character sacrifice herself for her son. When Christopher Banks’s mother is first introduced she is an imposing figure who is dedicated to the fight against the opium trade.77 By the time Christopher discovers the truth about his parents’ disappearances Philip tells him that his mother priorities changed after she was kidnapped by Wang Ku: “Your mother, I thought she would be devastated to know what our campaign had amounted to, but she no longer cared. All she wanted was for you to be looked after. She only wanted news of you.”78 Christopher finds out that he owes everything “to [his] mother’s sacrifice”79. She gave up her freedom so he could live the life he wanted, sponsored by her captor. His father on the other hand simply abandoned him to live with his mistress.80

Even Kathy can be put into this category. She may not be a mother, but all clones end up as sacrifices. In this case, however, it has very little to do with gender, since male and female clones share the same fate - although it is implied that Kathy is a better carer than most81, which plays into the bushid ō idea of women being more caring and gentle than men.

Most of Ishiguro’s female characters seem to be condemned to passive roles. Miss Kenton waits in vain for Stevens to pay her any attention and then marries another man, because he asked her and she does not know how to approach Stevens. Ono’s daughters seem to have no desire to make their own choices. They both marry men their families picked for them, and they both speak their mind only very indirectly82. The only female character who stands up for herself is Etsuko. In hindsight, however, she presents herself as a very traditional housewife. She needs Sachiko to tell her story. Sachiko is her means to create some distance between herself and her past choices which she seems to regret in the present. In her memories of Japan she was subjected to her misogynist husband and father-in-law, but she never addresses her problems directly. Instead she claims to have been happy, creating a discrepancy between past and present events which only Sachiko’s story can explain.

2.3. Suicide

Kazuo Ishiguro has a few qualms about the topic of suicide and its connection to Japanese culture, as he explains in an interview:

What the British make of it is a bit bizarre. They seem to think the Japanese are dying to kill themselves. They seem to pick up on . aspects of Japanese culture like that; they seem to find that the most tenable thing about an otherwise rather contradictory culture. They like kamikaze and hara-kiri.83 Nitobe would probably not have considered this misconception the West has about the Japanese strange. Perhaps he even had a part in planting the seed for it, after all, the book he wrote in order to familiarize the West with his culture - and he wrote it in English first - contained the following passage:

The glorification of seppuku offered, naturally enough, no small temptation to its unwarranted committal. For causes entirely incompatible with reason, or for reasons entirely undeserving of death, hot headed youths rushed into it as insects fly into fire; mixed and dubious motives drove more samurai to this deed than nuns into covent gates. Life was cheap—cheap as reckoned by the popular standard of honor. The saddest feature was that honor, which was always in the agio, so to speak, was not always solid gold, but alloyed with baser metals. No one circle in the Inferno will boast of greater Japanese population than the seventh, to which Dante consigns all victims of self-destruction!84

Unwarranted committal or not, Nitobe refers to a time when samurai were still a social class in feudal Japan, a time long past, of course. The prejudice that vexes Ishiguro so, however, did not vanish along with the warrior class. Like the concept of bushid ō, it was reincarnated again and again in recent popular media and before that, sadly, as propaganda material during the Second World War.

Ishiguro may be baffled by this tendency to stereotype all Japanese as the self- destructive descendants of samurai, but, nevertheless, in every one of his ʻJapaneseʼ novels (meaning A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World, which have Japanese protagonists) there is at least one suicide. Some of them are even in the spirit of seppuku - slicing open one’s stomach with a sharp implement - others have at least the same motivation as the ritual suicides, namely being an apology and an attempt to salvage honour.

In his first novel, Ishiguro lets his protagonist Etsuko bring up the problem herself when she talks about her oldest daughter’s suicide;

Keiko, unlike Niki, was pure Japanese, and more than one newspaper was quick to pick up on this fact. The English are fond of their idea that our race has an instinct for suicide, as if further explanations are unnecessary; for that was all they reported, that she was Japanese and that she had hung herself in her room.85

Ironically, Etsuko does not offer up much in the way of further explanations for her daughter’s suicide. All the reader learns is that Keiko was unhappy in England and probably lonely, while Etsuko does her best not to have to face up to her feelings of guilt. Obviously, Keiko’s death has absolutely nothing to do with samurai ethics, or her Japanese heritage. What remains is another gap in the narrative. Nevertheless, it is important to note how Ishiguro uses the theme of suicide in his first novel. Keiko’s suicide is the trigger for Etsuko’s whole reminiscence. As Rocío G. Davis puts it:

The lingering question of Keiko’s suicide hovers over the whole tale, and the implication is that it is cultural displacement, resulting from Etsuko’s search for happiness, that was at the root of her eldest daughter’s misery.86

Everything starts and ends with Keiko’s suicide, which remains something of a mystery, since information about Keiko, her childhood in Japan and her life in England, is sparse. Perhaps this can be seen as a way for the author to get back at his Western readers. The suicide, no doubt vital to the story, is very rarely explicitly brought up by Etsuko. Davis might conclude that “Etsuko’s search for happiness”87 is to be blamed, but very little of that search is evident in the novel. Of course we know that Etsuko left her husband and Japan with her daughter, but we never learn when and why exactly that happened. Whether Keiko’s suicide is a direct consequence of her mother’s choice is left open for interpretation. Etsuko may be betraying herself when she announces that she has “no great wish to dwell on Keiko”88 before dwelling on a woman who neglected her child because she dreamt of leaving Japan with a foreigner. So, the narrator remembers another woman`s search for happiness instead of her own, either to distract herself from her present situation, or to divert the reader’s attention from her role in her daughter’s fate. The frame- story and Etsuko’s memories are tied together by Keiko and Mariko, who, in a few tell-tale moments at the end of the novel, seem to merge for the narrator. Ishiguro never states whether the protagonist merely confuses the two girls because of the similar predicament they must have been in - both of them having to leave their home because of their mother’s choices - or if Mariko and Sachiko were nothing but stand-ins, cast by Etsuko in the roles of herself and Keiko to make her reminiscence less painful, from the beginning. Either way, in her last conversation with Sachiko’s daughter Etsuko suddenly talks as if she is speaking to her own daughter about their future, promising the little girl,“[i]f you don’t like it over there, we’ll come straight back.”89 Ishiguro might have intended this to be an admission of guilt on Etsuko’s part, exposing that she is indeed talking more about herself and her daughter than about a friend.90 Unsubtly, Etsuko even remembers carrying a piece of rope around which scares the little girl into running away from her.91 Brian W. Shaffer comes to the conclusion that “Etsuko’s worst nightmare is glimpsed in this moment: that she is somehow not merely loosely implicated in her first daughter’s suicide but is its instigator.”92 He goes so far as to claim that Etsuko, when she says, “[y]ou’ll like it over there”93, “ʻover thereʼ may refer either to England/America or to death, to the other side of the river.”94 Even if one does not go quite as far with one’s interpretation of Etsuko’s memories, it is still rather heavily implied that the narrator is at least guilty of putting her own happiness before her daughter’s and feeling a substantial amount of guilt because of that. At last she admits, “I knew all along she wouldn’t be happy over here. But I decided to bring her just the same”95 and despite her younger daughter trying to argue with her about it, the obvious conclusion is that Etsuko was in fact just substituting Sachiko and Mariko for herself and Keiko, revealing that she most likely turned out to be a mother as irresponsible and neglectful as her friend.


1 Cf. Wong, Cynthia F. Kazuo Ishiguro. Tavistock: Northcote House, 2005. 11.

2 Shaffer, Brain W. and Cynthia F. Wong. “Introduction.” Conversations with Kazuo Ishiguro. Ed. Brian W. Shaffer and Cynthia F. Wong. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2008. Vii- xii. Viii.

3 Ishiguro, Kazuo and Kenzaburo Oe. “The Novelist in Today´s World: A

Conversation.“Conversations with Kazuo Ishiguro. Ed. Brian W. Shaffer and Cynthia F. Wong. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2008. 52-65. 53.

4 Lewis, Barry. Kazuo Ishiguro. Manchester UP: Manchester, 2000. 75.

5 Benedict, Ruth. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Patterns of Japanese Culture. New York: Mariner, 2005. 317.

6 Cf. Bierwirth, Gerhard. Bushid ō : Der Weg des Kriegers ist Ambivalent. München: Iudicum, 2005. 13.

7 Maraldo, John C. “Tradition, Textuality, and the Trans-lation of Philosophy.” Japan in Traditional and Postmodern Perspectives. Ed. Charles Wei- Hsun Fu and Steven Heine. New York: State University of New York Press, 1995. 225-44.

8 Cf. Wilson, William Scott.“Introduction.“Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai. Otowa: Kodansha, 1983. 15-22. 20f.

9 Cf. Nitobe, Inazo. Bushido - The Soul of Japan. The Samurai Series. El Paso: El Paso Norte Press, 2006. 148-249. 151.

10 Cf. Anesaki, Masaharu: History of Japanese Religion. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1983. 264.

11 Nitobe. 167.

12 Nitobe. 168.

13 Nitobe. 173.

14 Nitobe. 175.

15 Nitobe. 175.

16 Nitobe. 175.

17 Nitobe. 180.

18 Nitobe. 185.

19 Nitobe. 191.

20 Nitobe. 195.

21 Nitobe. 208.

22 Nitobe. 209.

23 Nitobe. 222.

24 Cf. Benedict. 199.

25 Nitobe. 222.

26 Cf. Yamamoto, Tsunetomo. Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai. Translated by William Scott Wilson. Otowa: Kodansha, 1983. 29.

27 Cf. Rothfork, John. “Zen Comedy in Commonwealth Literature: Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day ” Northern Arizona University. 1996. 30th September 2008.

28 Nitobe. 226.

29 Cf. Anesaki. 264.

30 Anesaki. 263.

31 Yamamoto. 26.

32 Yamamoto. 26.

33 Cf. Nitobe. 214.

34 Anesaki. 263.

35 Nitobe. 205.

36 Nitobe. 205.

37 Anesaki. 286.

38 Anesaki. 286.

39 Nitobe. 192.

40 Nitobe. 211.

41 Cf. Nitobe 213.

42 Cf. Nitobe. 214f.

43 Cf. Wilson. 15.

44 Wang, Ching-chih. Homeless Strangers in the Novels of Kazuo Ishiguro. Floating Characters in a Floating World. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008. 66.

45 Wong. 35.

46 Ishiguro, Kazuo. A Pale View of Hills. London: Faber and Faber, 1991. 11.

47 Nitobe. 225.

48 Cf. Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 62.

49 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 63.

50 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 65.

51 Hall, Laura: “New Nations, New Selves: The Novels of Timothy Mo and Kazuo Ishiguro.” Other Britain, Other British: Contemporary Multicultural Fiction. Ed. Robert A. Lee. London: Pluto Press, 1995. 90-110. 104.

52 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 63.

53 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 161.

54 Cf. Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 13.

55 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 13.

56 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 13

57 Ishiguro, A Pale View of Hills. 13.

58 Cf. Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 15.

59 Lewis. 22.

60 Cf. Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 169.

61 Ishiguro . A Pale View of Hills. 170.

62 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 170f.

63 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 12.

64 Goody, Ila: “‘Fin de siècle, Fin du globe.’ Intercultural Chronotopes of Memory and Apocalypse in the Fictions of Murakami Haruki and Kazuo Ishiguro.” Intercultural Explorations. Ed. Eugene Eoyang. New York: Rodopi, 2005. 95-103. 100.

65 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 181.

66 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 180.

67 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 180.

68 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 181.

69 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 181.

70 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 181.

71 Wong. 23.

72 Cf. Baillie, Justine and Sean Matthews. “History, Memory, and the Construction of Gender in Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills.” Kazuo Ishiguro. Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Ed. Matthews, Sean and Sebastian Groes. London: Continuum, 2009. 45-54. 48.

73 Shaffer, Brian W. Understanding Kazuo Ishiguro. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998. 13.

74 Shaffer. 15

75 Goody. 100.

76 Cf. Lewis. 37.

77 Cf. Ishiguro. When We Were Orphans. London: Faber and Faber, 2001. 71ff.

78 Ishiguro. When We Were Orphans. 345.

79 Ishiguro. When We Were Orphans. 344.

80 Cf. Ishiguro. When We Were Orphans. 336.

81 Cf. Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. London: Faber and Faber, 2005. 3.

82 Cf. Ishiguro. An Artist of the Floating World. 192f.

83 Sexton, David. “Interview: David Sexton meets Kazuo Ishiguro.” Conversations with Kazuo Ishiguro. Ed. Shaffer, Brian W. and Cynthia F. Wong. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2008. 27-34. 30.

84 Nitobe. 215.

85 Ishiguro, Kazuo. A Pale View of Hills. 10.

86 Davis, Rocío G. “Imaginary Homelands Revisited in the Novels of Kazuo Ishiguro.” Miscelanea Journal - Volume 15.

87 Davis.

88 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 11.

89 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 173.

90 Cf. Shaffer. 22.

91 Cf. Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 173.

92 Shaffer. 35f.

93 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 172.

94 Shaffer. 36.

95 Ishiguro. A Pale View of Hills. 176.

Excerpt out of 83 pages


Samurai Ethics in the Works of Kazuo Ishiguro
University of Würzburg  (englische Literaturwissenschaft)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
875 KB
Kazuo Ishiguro, Ishiguro, novel, samurai, 20th century, post modern, postmodernism, literature, short story, never let me go, when we were orphans, a pale view of hills, an artist of the floating world, a family supper, japan, england, the remains of the day, bushido, 2. Weltkrieg, World War II
Quote paper
Lynn Bay (Author), 2010, Samurai Ethics in the Works of Kazuo Ishiguro, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Samurai Ethics in the Works of Kazuo Ishiguro

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free