As a reader I having the kind of month that makes me want to get the girls to bed early because I can’t wait to read!

Two speculative books based on Japan came out and I’m really enjoying the spin these two authors put on the culture.

However, the second one (I’ll post a review of both books later, they’re very worth picking up) sparked a niggling idea in its treatment of yakuza.

I happened to watch a Beat Takeshi Yakuza film with Naoto the evening before I went to see the author speak. And its possible the author’s explantions of his character to the audience are what’s niggling me, and not what’s presented in the book.

However, it has to do with the concepts of “face” and “honor.”

I’m probably about to make the very transgression that makes me irritated about Americans writing about Japan: revarnishing stereotypes instead of digging through to the more complicated truth below.

However, in general, broad strokes, I don’t think Yakuza are “honorable.” I think they have carefully constructed “face.”

Think about ye olde Knight of the Round Table. He is considered to have honor. No matter what action he takes, he must reconcile that action with his internal sense of honor. So let’s say the king to whom he owes allegiance asks him to burn down an innocent village. As an honorable Knight, he can’t follow an action against the dictates of his honorable conscience, so it’s MORE honorable for him to disobey the King than to burn the village.

So what’s the consequence of not burning the village? Well, certainly the King will be angry, but there’s a small chance the King will forgive him for being the honorable Knight. Or he may ride off into the woods and become an honorable brigand type of hero.

That’s honor.

Now imagine “Face” applied to this scenario. The Knight is sent to burn the innocent village. His “Face” based on being a Knight oweing allegiance to his King id more than likely to force him to burn the village. If he acknowledges the innocence of the villagers he’s openly acknowledging his King is capable of giving bad orders– a big no no. If somehow he decides to take the drastic step of acknowledging his King is a dud, “face” will force him to die. No romantic briganding for him, the King will have hunt him down and kill him for ruining his “face.”

And this is what I think Beat Takeshi’s Yakuza taught me. In his movie, the Yakuza didn’t seem to be acting on some kind of internal sense of honor, but maintaining the “face” of their particular little clan of Yakuza. In that movie, maintaining “face” meant showing a unified force and acknowledging mistakes with instant and bloody punishments (often self administered.)

This is another big reason we don’t have Knights running around with missing fingers– honor demands you act in accordance to high prinicples, so its hard to imagine a scenario where Knight would be required to punish himself to maintain that honor.

Anyway, it’s a niggly distinction to make.

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