Bushido, Seppuku, and the Shameful Death of Jesus Christ

seppuku

This is part of a series on Bushido and Jesus. You can find the Japanese version here.

Dear Hiroshi,

Easter is this Sunday. It is the most important Christian holiday and the most significant event in the history of the world. It is the event that changed my life. I’m writing you this letter to help you understand why.

Photo Apr 06, 11 41 02 AM

You and I are alike in many ways. We share a love for sports and competition, an ambition to make a mark in the world, and a desire to love our wives and children. We were both raised by Japanese mothers and have had to learn how to live without fathers. My dad died and yours abandoned you. I don’t know whose pain is worse, but my heart hurts for you and I am proud of the way you have fought and persevered, though you were left alone. You graduated from one of the top universities in Japan and are working at an American investment bank now. Well done, brother.

In the midst of our similarities, there are two things that have also made our lives very different. Unlike you, I was born and raised in America and taught Christianity by both of my Japanese parents. These two factors, more than anything, are the foundation of many of our differences. I will touch on the American piece later, but today I want to talk about Christianity.

You and I both know how few Japanese people are Christians. I’ve thought about this for many years now, both why so few Japanese are Christians and why I was given the opportunity to become a Christian. The one thing that has become clear to me is that I have a passionate desire and glad duty to explain the teachings of Christianity through Japanese culture. That being said, let’s talk about Bushido.

_______

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Bamboo Forest in Japan by Brian David Casey

     BUSHIDO taught us the code of conduct befitting Japanese men. Although the days of the samurai have long passed, the spirit of virtue encompassed in Bushido lives on today, though sadly we find fewer and fewer Japanese men who have the fortitude to continue in its ways. I’ve wondered about the core differences between Americans and Japanese, and I can say with confidence that the virtue of honor and the converse of shame are aspects of the Japanese soul that are difficult for the average American to understand. Their emphases are far weaker in America.

Inazo Nitobe explained it well when he wrote:

“The sense of honor, implying a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, could not fail to characterize the samurai, born and bred to value the duties and privileges of their profession…Indeed, the sense of shame seems to me to be the earliest indication of the moral consciousness of our race.”

You asked me yesterday whether I shared your desire to be successful, powerful, and respected. Yes and no, I told you. Did you understand what I meant? Yes, because I did, and still am tempted to pursue these things. No, because I found freedom through the exchange that Jesus offered me–his honor for my shame.

It’s fun to talk about our successes and the potential of the future, but what about our failures, what about our shame? I won’t ask you if you have shame because I know that you do, both from things that have happened to you apart from your control and things that you are personally responsible for. It’s the same for me. I want you to know that no amount of future success can ever erase the marks of shame. I think you know that deep inside.

_______

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     SEPPUKU, that was the answer in the old days. That was the resolution when you had too much shame. It seems foreign and grotesque to modern culture today, but there was something profound in the way men took their lives. As Nitobe said, “It was an institution, legal and ceremonial…it was a process by which warriors could expiate their crimes, apologize for errors, escape from disgrace, redeem their friends, or prove their sincerity.” In the end, shame leads to death. These men made visible a reality we often prefer not to see.

This is where Jesus changed everything for me. He lived a perfect honorable life and yet he suffered a shameful death, willingly giving himself up to be shamed and executed, although he had done nothing wrong. I cannot help but think of his death in connection with the highest form of seppuku. He of all people had the power to escape from death at any moment, so in a way, his death was a form of suicide quite similar to Socrates.

_______

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WHY DID HE DIE?

For you, for me, for everyone who has shame that leads to death. Although I do not want to admit it, I should be the one committing seppuku, not Jesus. I am the one with shame. I am the one who deserves to die. But he came to rescue me. He had the courage to take the shame of the world by dying on the cross. To reference Nitobe again, Jesus expiated my crimes, apologized for my errors, created an escape from my disgrace, and redeemed me as one of his friends. In exchange, he gave me his honor. This is what it means to be a Christian.

This is why I am free. I do not need to continuously increase and protect the honor of my name anymore because Jesus has given me his name, and this can never be taken away from me. I do not have to worry about the consequences of my shame because he has fully died for all of my past, present, and future shame. Instead of motivating me to dishonor Jesus, it gives me more fuel to honor him by loving others with all of my heart.

_______

There is so much more I want to share, and so much more I want to hear from you, but for today I will leave it at that. We Christians call today “Good Friday,” because the shameful death of Jesus Christ has freed us from the fear of shame. Sunday we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his victory over shame and death. I hope you can join us as a guest this weekend and one day soon celebrate it for yourself.

I love you, my brother.

Steve

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Ánderson says:

    Reblogged this on Human After All and commented:
    An example of contextualization of Christianity for the Japanese people

  2. Ánderson says:

    Hey brother, how can I subscribe to your blog, either RSS or mail subscription would work for me 🙂

  3. Thanks Steve for this article. I just now posted it on the JapanCAN blog. I used one of your photos, if that isn’t OK, let me know and I’ll change it.

  4. David Cole says:

    It’s disheartening for me to read this entire article about Jesus and Bushido without the mention of the idea of “covenant” even once. Covenant is at the core of both Jesus and Bushido. I hope the idea is developed in future articles.

  5. This was a great article, thank you for sharing

  6. Stuart Adamson says:

    Thanks so much for your article. I’ve always said we need to be a student of the culture for the sake of the gospel. You are a great example of that.

  7. jrodenbeck says:

    I don’t know a lot about Japanese culture, but I think this is an excellent approach. Very thoughtful. Very reflective. Very special.

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