Samurai costume, detail.

“To appear and to pretend. The sham of bushidô in pre-modern Japan ”, by Olivier Ansart, Les Belles Lettres,“ Japon ”, 176 p., € 25, digital € 18.

The “way of the warrior” (bushido), set of moral rules specific to the group of samurai – loyalty to the lord, obedience to the master, honor, frugality, sense of action, etc. -, is the great Japanese identity myth. It continued and amplified until modern times, especially during the wars of the first half of the XXe century. Former director of the Franco-Japanese House in Tokyo, today professor at the University of Sydney, Olivier Ansart signs, with To appear and pretend, a lively essay that deconstructs this conventional ideology by bringing back the bushido to what it probably was: a sham, a comedy, in which the protagonists pretended to be what they were not.

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For the author, the values ​​invoked, loyalty and honor, were indeed so disconnected from real social relations that they were never more than a masquerade: a loyalty of the vassal to the lord, transformed by modern nationalism. in a national virtue, that of the loyalty of a people to its emperor – an idea completely foreign to the bushido -, which covered many betrayals and crimes in the Japan of the first XXe century.

The warrior is no longer a warrior

Appeared with the birth of the samurai, at the end of the first millennium of our era, new values, physical courage, loyalty, a sense of effort, that of honor acquired by prowess on the battlefield, imposed themselves in the universe of men at arms under various denominations and ended up constituting an ideology radically distinguishing them from the refined values ​​of the court aristocracy living in Kyoto, then the capital. Medieval warriors lived in their mansions, on their lands, and conflicts that could lead to war were commonplace. The great novelty of the regime of the Tokugawa shoguns (1600-1867) was to install a public authority capable of bringing warriors into line, forcing them to live in cities located at the foot of the castles of their lords, to transform them into civil servants. seigniorial administrations and – which may seem a paradox for a regime led by the military – to impose peace throughout the period.

Also read this article from 2004: The samurai, a mythical figure who has become a national symbol

Now, in a peaceful world, the warrior no longer makes war, the warrior is no longer a warrior. The emotional relationships that might have united the lord and his vassal in battle turned into impersonal relationships. Olivier Ansart shows that the bushido (the word dates from the end of the XVIe century), “Speech addressed to people who are no longer warriors but who say that they are”, fostered the formation among the samurai of an identity from which they could not escape, as it dissolved. From there, we entered a universe of appearance.

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