The DŌ of Japanese Identity
All cultures each are built upon various sets of principles, philosophies, and traditions. Some principles are shared between the various cultures, displaying similarities. Other principles display the sharp contrasts between cultures separated by distance, language and ideology. Social nature of humankind is that of categorizing and organizing differences, creating an “us,” and inversely a “them.” Within these categories of difference lies human identity. The varying identities of humanity’s many cultures and peoples are not easily defined. The separation of a personal identity from another is the basis of cultural context as a whole. Histories, traditions, and philosophical understandings of the self are a part of what composes individual identity, within larger social contexts. The crafting of a group’s cultural identity is undoubtedly far more complex. Western cultures are a blending of various influences. Yet, there are clear distinctions between U.S. American culture and cultures of European roots. Asian cultures are equally as varied. Although ignorance often lumps all of Asia as one culture, further investigation shines light on the truth of immense diversity. As distinct as U.S. American culture is from Europe, so too is Japanese culture distinct from the whole of Asia. From the sixth century (C.E.), during the age of immigration for Buddhist and Confucianist ideologies, through the Sengoku era of perpetual warfare from 1300 through 1600, the theories of a Japanese application of dō were beginning to take root in the cultural make-up of a distinct Japanese identity. During the Tokugawa era, and reaching forward into the Meiji period of restoration of 1868, a reformation of identity and historical placement offered a new set of tools in examining the cultural legacy of dō in connection with a modern, globalizing structure of society. Leading up to and beyond the victories and, ultimately, the defeats of World War II, and into the bubble economy of the 1980’s, the meaning of dō was again shifted and refocused to be more directly in line with the emerging conventions of contemporary Japan. Along with Japan’s cultural traditions, the concept of dō, and the philosophies inherently connected with it, help craft the modern Japanese identity. It is the evolution of these philosophies, which have been consistently revised for each generational era, which has allowed dō to continue to remain relevant in the socio-cultural understanding of the Japanese people. The philosophical principles of dō, through various forms and applications, continue to impact modern Japanese society, just as it has done so throughout history. Through its relationship with a historical and modern identity of Japanese people, traditional Japanese culture allows an avenue to the understanding of dō. From this understanding, investigation into the social and philosophical concepts that have contributed to a complex western understanding of Japanese identity in the 21st century can begin.
Senior Thesis by Michael Lynch, written in English, titled, "The Dō of Japanese Identity"