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The Samurai’s Garden and Suicide’s Impact

A look at Gail Tsukiyama’s "The Samurai’s Garden" and the impact Japanese culture had on some characters and their decision to commit suicide.

  Japanese culture is able to cause one to kill oneself for reasons many in Western society do not understand.  In Gail Tsukiyama’s The Samurai’s Garden, the main character Stephen meets people who kill themselves or know someone who killed themselves. Japanese culture is deeply embedded with honor, shame, and suicide and this influences the characters Tomoko and Kenzo gravely. 

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 Japanese culture is deeply ingrained with honor and shame which causes some people to commit suicide or flee town.  Matsu explains the village of Yamaguchi to Stephen, “‘Yamaguchi is also called the Village of Lepers,’ Matsu said, ‘When some of those who had the disease were no longer wanted by others in town, they took what few belongings they had and went up into the mountains, hoping to die peacefully.’”  (Tsukiyama 23).  The existence of a village where lepers are forced to flee to keep from dishonoring their families shows how Japanese culture is influenced by honor and shame.  The Japanese people in the village did not want to see the lepers and this shamed some lepers into fleeing the village, other lepers were not so lucky.  Matsu explains to Stephen what the dishonor of leprosy can do, “‘Some of those suffering from the disease quickly left the village, while others ended their lives, hoping not to dishonor their families.’”  (Tsukiyama 29).  Matsu is explaining to Stephen that the disease of leprosy can shame a Japanese person into killing themselves so as not to dishonor their family.  In Western society, it is unimaginable that someone would be dishonoring themselves and their family by contracting a disease, but in Japanese culture, this is commonplace.  Japanese culture sees contracting leprosy as a shameful act because it is not fully understood by them.  The Japanese people who contract leprosy feel like they have two choices; they can either kill themselves or they can flee the village.  To a Japanese leper, there is no option of staying with one’s family because one would dishonor them by doing so.  Japanese culture places honor on a pedestal and the lepers feel that without honor, they and their families have nothing.  The only way to keep their families honor is to kill themselves, so that is what many Japanese lepers “choose” to do.  Matsu’s sister Tomoko has to deal with Japanese culture’s harsh demands.

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