Japanese Spirit
The Necessary Weasel in manga known as Yamato-Damashii.
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(permanent link) added: 2013-02-27 05:38:09 sponsor: KingZeal (last reply: 2013-03-16 13:14:59)

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"Do you remember the first time when you were a child that you stood up and walked on your own? If you don't remember doing it, and yet you did it, it means that you weren't conscious of it at the time. So how did you know how to do it? The answer is all humans are born already knowing how to stand up. Just as birds are born knowing how to fly, and fish are born already knowing how to swim. It's because of what we call instinct. All living creatures use instinct to obtain their natural powers when the time comes that they need them."
--Yoruichi Shihouin, Bleach, summarizing the philosophy.

"Yamato-damashii" is loosely translated into "the spirit/soul of Japan", and defined as anything and everything which makes Japan (and the Japanese) unique, distinct, and great. Of course, this creates the logical question: "What is Japanese?"

At its most basic, Yamato-damashii implies pure merit, worthiness or simply becoming a "better" person. It is the process by which any living being can achieve its maximum potential or even higher. It can be described as a plethora of virtues, in words that may not translate directly into English well, but here we'll organize them into three forms: talent, insight, and persistence.

If you've ever read, seen or heard of a Japanese story with even a hint of a To Be a Master or Defeating the Undefeatable plot, each of these three traits probably sound familiar to you. Most successful or powerful characters will have at least one and elements of others, but you can spot the Protagonist as the shining example (a seishin or "genius"). In the off chance that (s)he doesn't have all three, resolve will be the most likely of the three, followed by persistence, and they'll probably find out that they actually had a talent all along that was easily overlooked. This is because Yamato-Damashii is fueled by the belief that everyone who tries their best and finds their resolve will unlock their true potential when the time is right.

Ki, or some other equivalent Force, will be what measures a character's mastery of the trinity. Regardless of physical or mental disadvantages, an abundance of ki will usually make you Master of Your Domain. Ki is largely symbolic of overall worthiness in this regard, although it is more likely to be treated as a measurable and objective ability. In a battle of Ki, the person with the greater amount will often be able to No Sell just about anything to symbolize that they have ascended to a higher level of talent.

Heroes that follow this are likely to defeat the villain or solve their problems largely by themselves, or only with indirect support. Others in a Five-Man Band may help the hero reach their destination, deal with specific threats or fight the Co-Dragons, but they will barely do anything more than buy time or distract the villain for the Final Battle. Further, the heroes are more likely to go well out of their way to put honor and pride at a higher priority than victory. When the villain is defeated (and it's always just one villain in the end [[note]]See The "Ghaleon" Rule[[/note]]), it is almost always AFTER they've achieved their One-Winged Angel form or have acquired the almighty MacGuffin; when the hero finally succeeds, it is always with the knowledge that the villain was completely crushed at their most powerful and despite every dirty trick.

Often, the hero will not reach their peak until their resolve and persistence are tested against the Big Bad himself, at which point they will win via Eleventh Hour Superpower.[[note]]Which is lifted directly from the concept of musubi (or, the power of creation), which is he divine spark that all souls have, but is only unlocked by the truly prosperous.[[/note]]


NOTE: Putting everything in this section within the "Analysis" tab, as the article is quite long as it is.

Yamato-damashii has existed in some form for centuries. Japan has a long history of national and ethnic pride, partially codified in the Shinto belief that the Japanese islands themselves were divine. In the past, when China was the cultural center of the Asian world, Yamato-damashii was used to draw distinction between the academic and scholarly Chinese values and the simpler Japanese common sense.[[note]]There was a parable of a Chinese scholar who is murdered by a burglar. For all his intellect and reason, it didn't save him from such a simple and childish death.[[/note]] Aside from scholars like Motoori Norinaga, the concept was barely mentioned throughout the centuries afterward, but reached its peak once Japan began to modernize itself. With the entire country desperate to copy, and catch up to, the more advanced West, it became important once again to define what being "Japanese" meant.

Positively, Yamato-Damashii is a rejection of emotionless logic and the failure to try because something is difficult or seems impossible. In this sense, it follows the simple creed of "the only way to fail is not to try your best". On the pragmatic level, Yamato-Damshii is intended to refer to "Real Life" ingenuity, and not blind optimism. It inspires people to constantly be better, to focus more on uncharted paths than roads already paved, and to retain hope even at the Darkest Hour. One way of looking at how this differs from the west is that, unlike Shintoism, Christianity has a clear disconnect between mortals and the divine; humans should try to be like God, but can never BE divine. On the other hand, Shintoism believed that every human was born with a musubi, or a divine spark just waiting to be unlocked. In this philosophy, every person is born with everything they ever need to become great in their own way. In short, people who have talent should not be held back to accomodate for the less-talented, and the less-talented should acknowledge their limitations and perhaps try to succeed in other respects.

However, this can be a problem if "talent" is dictated by societal conformity and elitism, and if those without it are outright discarded or shunned. (After all, if someone is talentless, and thus unworthy of having their story told, why should anyone care?) Negatively, Yamato-Damashii can be compared to Social Darwinism, and has also been compared to the western concepts of the "White Man's Burden" and "American Exceptionalism" in that it assigns a specific ethnic group with an immeasurably valuable trait. Yamato-damashii is about all the things that makes Japan and her people good, and by proxy, what the rest of the world lacks. Furthermore, it is specifically a condemnation of academia in favor of common sense, adaptive thinking, and individual merit--in other words, if scholarly wisdom indicates that there is a Million to One Chance, yamato-damashii demands that those odds not only be challenged, but beaten. Furthermore, stemming from the code of bushido, a true follower of yamato-damashii will have risked sure-death for their cause at least once. This led to the glorification of kamikaze tactics in World War II, which (contrary to use of this trope in fiction) did not work out so well. And finally, this trope is also partly responsible for the phenomenon of "karoshi", which translates to "death from overwork" in Japanese. In recent decades, Japanese culture has cultivated the existence of the Salaryman and the Otaku, who pursue their respective interests with obsessive tenacity.

Naturally, there are still traces of this in Japanese culture and media--a minor means of spotting it is with the phrase "Ganbatte! (Do your best!)" in place of the Western "Good luck!"--although some scholars predict it will die out fairly soon. The concept of Kawaisa has been adopted as its chief replacement, although it can be argued that it still promotes a powerful emotional ideal (in this case, cuteness and delicacy) over a logical or unpleasant one. Another possible result of this trope is that Japan at large still has a mistrust of technology in favor of the Good Old Ways.
A story setting doesn't actually need to have a Japan to possess this trope. This is more about the general tone and logic that the story employs, which is more reflective of the setting it was created in than the one it takes place in.

Compare the Pillars of Moral Character, a separate but overlapping Japanese values system that more than likely defines what virtues the character's resolve springs from. Also compare Kawaisa, which is a later attempt at an idealized Japanese culture.

It's highly likely that the entire story concept is derived off of Wuxia (Dragon Ball, the codifer of modern Shounen, was heavily inspired by wuxia).

In America, the closest this concept approaches is the Superhero and Hollywood Action Hero. Westerns also have a similar feeling, but vastly different story structure.

Compare how well the concept fits into The Hero's Journey. Also compare with stories that follow a Thud and Blunder plot. The main character can also very easily categorized as an Übermensch, with their nemesis being representative of the "Last Man".

See The Other Wiki for more information on yamato-damashii.

Examples:

  • Hajime No Ippo not only follows this trope, but specifically calls it out by name more than once. It's flat out stated to be the most common and powerful trait of every Japanese boxer (though other nationalities are capable of it). The virtues of Talent, Resolve, and Persistence are thus personified by the characters of Takamura, Coach Kamagawa, and Ippo himself, respectively.
  • Played absolutely straight in One Piece. Firstly, even with the rather intricate Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors system, Heroic Resolve tends to be the factor that decides the fights in the favor of the heroes. Secondly, considering that they are criminals and all, the Straw Hat Pirates end up doing the morally right thing a lot more often than the marines sided with the corrupt World Government. And thirdly, there exists a force known as Haki which actually means "ambition". Luffy is gifted with the rare Conqueror's Haki with which you can literally knock out Weak-Willed opponents with sheer spirit alone.
  • Naruto zig-zags between whether it wants to follow this trope or not. On the one hand, teamwork is a major focus of Konohagure and they way the construct teams. But on the other, virtually everything comes down to a one-on-one battle anyway, with the best warrior of one side inevitably facing the best of the opposition. Also, the eponymous protagonist at first begins the story with only persistence as his major trait, but he later discovers his unique talent is being Cursed with Awesome, and gains resolve in his desire to become Hokage despite having little to no practical ability. And later chapters reveal that he was always exceedingly talented even without the above curse, though in ways that were not readily noticeable.
  • Bleach plays it absolutely straight with Ichigo as the poster boy. Gifted with ungodly high reiatsu, guided by a superb moral compass, and persistent to never give up and risk everything to succeed. Further, he's not only gone into sure-death scenarios with abandon, but he's actually DIED twice!
  • Interestingly, Dragon Ball did not follow this trope at first. In fact, Akira Toriyama intentionally subverted it several times. In particular, though Goku definitely possesses the traits of Yamato-Damashii, Toriyama would never allow Goku to win a Tournament Arc (until the King Piccolo arc, which is the only time the world was actually at stake), despite fans demanding it. Secondly, the victories against Raditz and Vegeta were both done with true teamwork (as opposed to a God-Mode Sue with token support). However, from the Namek Saga onward, Dragonball slowly helped codify this trope in Shounen. A later example is when fans were dissatisfied with the Android villains (partially because there was more than one, and because they did not appear to be Worthy Opponents), forcing him to make Cell the main antagonist.
    • However, at the same time, Toriyama also codified Ki. According to him, ki is determined by courage and vigor and "being in one's true mind", which is flat out the basis of this trope. In addition, he also introduced Power Levels, which were essentially a sort of scientific measurement of a person's overall ki and battle capabilities. Toriyama stated he specifically introduced Power Levels to show how pointless and unreliable they were. In other words, guts and courage ultimately overruled academic limits. Toriyama did take several steps to try and subvert this trope, but a combination of Executive Meddling and Pandering to the Base shot those attempts down.
  • In the Persona series, the main characters tend to fit this trope quite well. The Protagonist's social links tend to characterize him/her as The Ace, and (s)he typically has stats like Academics, Understanding, Diligence, and Courage that exemplify this. And almost always, the Big Bad is defeated by the hero alone with the aid of an Eleventh Hour Superpower.
  • Deconstructed in Mirai Nikki. In a There Can Be Only One plot involving Scry vs. Scry, the protagonist is not talented (at least, no moreso than the other characters), does not have resolve, and can barely be considered to have anything resolving willpower. But his good heart is what causes the female lead, Yuno, to develop a Mad Love for him, and Yuno certainly everything this trope dictates. She's exceptionally talented, insightful, and determined. But the zigs and zags keep coming throughout the story--Yuno is only The Ace because of her Abusive Parents, and is actually an empty broken person inside who needs Yuki to validate herself. And later on, when Yuki's parents are murdered, he finally gets the resolve he needed...but it starts to slowly erode his willpower and push him into madness to the point that he would rather die than kill Yuno. In the end, Yuno betrays him because of this and it's revealed that she's actually the Big Bad, having manipulated everything to this conclusion. Since Yuki won't kill her and become God, then it wouldn't make sense for them to commit a lovers' suicide; she can travel back in time and be with his past self all over again (as she did last time after SHE became God). In the end, Yuki and Yuno become horribly broken people, and it's only through the intervention of others that the story even manages to avoid an outright Downer Ending.
  • As a manga about swordsmen during the Meiji Restoration, it's no surprise that Rurouni Kenshin uses and discusses aspects of this trope extensively.
    • The three traits:
      • Koyuu: The main character, most of his supporting cast, and the majority of antagonists in the series all have some gift or trait that makes them stand out as fighters. Kenshin, by far, shows himself to be the most talented of all in skill, and starts off the series having attained the title of "the strongest". This is subsequently deconstructed as the series shows the toll that his style of swordsmanship takes on his body, in spite of his talent.
      • Chie: Ideals are thrown back and forth between various characters, each of whom has their own ideas about life. In the very first chapter, Kenshin states that Kaoru's father's ideology of "the sword that protects life" is a utopian, impractical ideal, but one that he would rather believe in instead of the true nature of kenjutsu as a killing art. Other characters have their own ideologies, (e.g. Saitou's "Aku. Soku. Zan.", or "Swift Death to Evil"), and the entire focus of the Kyoto Arc pits Kenshin's principles of the strong protecting the weak versus Shishio's "The strong are food for the weak". Soujirou even asks if winning the fight proves that the victor's ideals are right (a concept which Kenshin rejects). At the end of the arc, it's even stated that time (or "the age") was the one that decided the winner. And subverted in the epilogue to the arc, where Japan's real-world rise to militarism prior to World War II is described, suggesting that Kenshin's fight may have been in vain.
      • Kakan: Starting from the second half of the manga, Kenshin's pivotal fights are decided by two things: the Succession Technique, and the inability to die thanks to sheer force of will. Sanosuke has his own Training Arc, and Yahiko spends most of the manga pushing his limits in order to become stronger. The Succession Technique is even explicitly stated to be affected by the user's will to live and resolve.
    • Japanese Nationalism: Played with.
      • Subverted on the surface. Kenshin doesn't fight for Japan, but for his own ideals and to protect the weak, having learnt the cost of getting politically involved during his career in the Bakumatsu. Shishio, the villain of the Kyoto Arc, seeks the rise of Japan as a great power and intends to shape it in his own ideals.
      • However, subtext suggests a straighter interpretation. A large number of of Kenshin's opponents adopt non-Japanese technology (A Gatling gun, Shishio's Rengoku battleship which he purchased from Enishi, an arm-mounted Armstrong cannon), forms of dress (e.g. Soujirou's and Houji's clothing), and other mannerisms and influences (e.g. Enishi's dealings in China). Kenshin and his supporting cast are more traditional in garb and style, and occasionally described as belonging to the previous era (e.g. the phasing out of kenjutsu and swordsmanship, even Kenshin's own insistence that the hitokiri should've been left behind with the Bakumatsu), and Houji explicitly compares defeating Kenshin to taking over Japan.
    • Patterns: Kenshin's gauntlets in the Kyoto and Jinchuu Arcs plays this completely straight - while Kenshin's supporting cast helps deal with the Big Bad's henchmen (and may interfere in the final fight to little benefit), it's always up to Kenshin to take on the Big Bad himself with minimal external aid, and the fight always boils down to pitting his use of the Succession Technique (as mentioned, a symbol of his resolve) against his opponent's strongest move - following which the opponent is both physically and psychologically defeated.
  • Gurren Lagann gives us this advice: "Go Beyond the Impossible and kick reason to the curb!" Furthermore, you have things like Spiral Power, constant Shonen Upgrades and constant references to confidence, spirit, and resolve. It's safe to say that Gurren Lagann is this trope in its purest form.
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