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  • Writer's pictureAkiko Murakami

"The LAST SAMURAI" to think about what is worth dying (& living!) for...

Have you ever seen the Hollywood movie, "The Last Samurai" (2003)? If you haven't, then I highly recommend you watch it. Then you may have more of an idea of the dramatic time of Japanese history, around the end of the EDO period (1603-1867), before modernization and Westernization (militarization) started.

I think it is a good movie to question us... what is worth dying for? Of course, today, we don't have to sacrifice our lives, but it is important to SEE what is going on without being blinded by the mainstream media and trends made by some people in power.

Honestly, to my surprise, when I saw the movie for the first time, I was moved by the theme and the story setting. I felt a lot of respect for the Japanese culture and spirituality illustrated by the filmmakers.

Later, I learned Tom Cruise himself dedicated a lot to study our culture and history for this film.

Producer Marshall Herskovitz praised actor/producer Tom Cruise for his work ethic, dedication, and incredible focus.

"Tom threw himself wholeheartedly into the preparation.

I've never seen an actor do as much research for a film.

He had a library of information and was amazingly helpful."

I was most grateful to them for their effort and deep research on this critical timing of the "Meiji Restoration". Only from the Western point of view, this timing can be seen very differently, not from the Japanese point of view only..

Today, once you are in Japan, you will see the post-WWII Japanese society and people greatly influenced by American modern pop cultures. But my feeling is, it is time to really learn from our Japanese culture, traditions and wisdom, and seriously think about the better future for all for the generations to come. History is just old stories and facts in the past if we do not use it constructively.

The Edo period was unique, because the 15 generations of Tokugawa Shogun, the administrative leaders of Japan took a "closed policy" for 260 years. The 1st Shogun, when he was young, had learned well of the Westerners' strategy of conquering the world. They sent Christian missionaries along with open-trade policy and gradually spread Christianity and colonization.

Greatly due to this closed policy, during the Edo period, a very Japanese and self-sustaining culture thrived throughout Japan, including a city of one million people - EDO, today's Tokyo. There were no civil wars. Yes, there was a limited well-trained samurai (warriors) class, but they did not need to use their swords in the battlefields. They had the privilege to carry their swords to prove their status but were asked to keep a high mental and moral state not to use them.

Almost all the people were living very simple, eating super-healthy and small amount of food (mainly just rice, miso soup, seasonal vegitables, pickles, and sometimes fish), living with absolute respect and harmony with nature. They were very humble, family-oriented, took very good care of what they produced, and did not waste almost anything.

Today, their lifestyles are being re-evaluated with new terms as:




"sharing economy"


or even

LOHAS (Lifestyle Of Health And Sustainability).

Their healthy diet is praised as "macrobiotic" all around the world as a better alternative.

It is true, back then, as the freedom and resources were so limited, there was far less space for EGOs of "more and more", materializm, gourmet, luxury to grow.

↑ Common people's meal in Edo (white rice) , Tokyo

↑ One example of Shogun's meal

↑  Pesants' meal (brown rice and other grainds)

At the same time, people generally had a good moral education and spiritual base both from their parents and schools based on Buddhism, Taoism and Shinto beliefs. So, people respected each other, had good self-respect for themselves, were not lonely (community-based sense of belonging), and held respect for nature and elderly people. They were living naturally knowing the ideas such as the "Law of Cause and Effect" and "any wrong actions would be shame on the family and the ancestors".

It was the time people were still believing in the supernatural power of "something great". Grateful for every harvest from their land and every sunrise. In other words, they knew they were a part of the big WHOLE.

What’s more, people were amazingly physically and mentally tough, and true to themselves.

Today, generally Japanese are blessed with peace and freedom of choice, economic and materialistic abundance regardless of sex, but we are seeing very un-wise lifestyles. Japan is notorious for the worlds highest suicide rate, for our huge food wastage (60 % are imported), nuclear power plants, etc.

I believe there is a lot to learn from our past, our traditions. It seems the Post War Japan cut off what had been the norm so easily without knowing the true value of them. It is our challenge today to update the ideas and include them in our everyday lives, without going backward.

Isn't it worth living for?

During the Edo period, for 260 years, there were no civil wars until the Westerners in the movie. Japanese society shifted very quickly after the external pressure.

A world-famous Hollywood star, Tom Cruise and a good Japanese actor, Ken Watanabe play the key roles in the film.

"In order to prepare for the role of Captain Nathan Algren in The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise endured months of strenuous physical training while at the same time trying to get inside his character. Cruise's character Algren is a decorated veteran of the Civil War who's lost his soul. Hired by the Emperor of Japan to train Japan's first modern army, Algren finds a kindred spirit in the form of Samurai leader, Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe).

Together the two men discover much about each other's culture and find that ultimately their lives are not so different as they appear on the surface."

Source: [ThoughtCo.] ​

This is a lesson that we can all learn from.

I like this soundtrack..

(Hans Zimmer) by Youtube.


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