The Japanese Model in Diplomacy

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Written by Bailey Piazza

Presenter: Dr. Tomoko Kitagawa

The era following the end of the 16th century Japan is best known as the “Age of the Samurai.” Dr. Tomoko Kitagawa explains that during this turbulent period, Japan was unified and governed by individual domains. These domains were highly susceptible to power usurpations by warring neighboring domains as well as civil wars with other families within the domain itself. Many Japanese men earned their samurai titles in their domains by fighting one another for authority and status in these small communities. However, despite modern interpretations of samurai history in popular culture and even ancient artwork depicting samurais in battle, Kitagawa argues that elite, male, Japanese warriors were not those only ones considered worthy of the “samurai” title. Dr. Kitagawa tells the stories of two outstanding Japanese women who earned their titles as Lady Samurais in unconventional ways. Through unique acts of tremendous bravery and peacekeeping, these women provide a model of diplomacy exceptionally relevant even in today’s world.

“The Lady Samurai wrote to negotiate, promote stability, and believing in careful words they put on paper, they sent out trust and hope. Are we doing the same now?” Dr. Tomoko Kitagawa

Key Takeaways

“Lady Samurais” played a critical role in Japanese diplomacy. Unlike their male counterparts, the Japanese women considered Lady Samurais were not participants in physical battle. These women relied on strategic communication to negotiate and compromise. Kitagawa offers two exemplary Japanese women as examples.

The Legend of Higashi. As a member of a wealthy, elite samurai family, Higashi had little reason to pursue diplomacy studies in her carefree life. However, her household soon rivaled another local elite family. The tension became so great that Higashi’s family feared the loss of its authority in the small region. After the death of her husband, Higashi’s brother and son mobilized to fight each other for ultimate command of the region. Higashi could not bear the thought of losing either relative. Instead of choosing a side, Higashi refrained from participation in battle. Higashi ordered her servants to carry her carriage to the battle line, interrupting the war altogether. The carriage became her fortress so that either side could not instigate battle. For almost 80 days, Higashi wrote letters to both sides, seeking compromise and conditions for a truce. Higashi’s strategy of avoiding violence and relying on words was so successful that it helped Japan avoid what would have been a tragic and bloody war.

The Legend of Nei. Unlike Higaeshi, Nye was not born into a royal or elite family. Her story begins in a household that did not belong to any prominent family of the samurai. Nei eventually married a foot soldier who is now credited as instigating the end of feudalism and the unification of Japan. His lifelong success in battle led him to secure positions of power one after the other until he had reached the highest echelons of power where he began united over 250 domains. Despite her humble beginnings, Nei found herself in the position of being Japan’s first First Lady. In order to assist her husband in his loft goal of unification, Nei employed the power of the pen. Through written correspondence with her husband on the battlefield, Nei was delegated the power to rule over his kingdom in his absence, solidifying her role as First Lady. In other letters, Nei shows diplomatic prowess by maintaining continued communication. By building firm connections with those who lived in far and remote locations, Nei helped prevent unnecessary trouble and aggressions.

These ancient women exemplify how diplomacy should function today.

Writing and communication as diplomatic weapons. Using language to effectively communicate standards and situations to other parties is imperative to achieving mutual understanding. Higashi’s story shows that the power of a good education, in 16th century Japan and even today, is a potent weapon in diplomacy. Nei’s sharp skill in perfecting the art of continued dialogue shows the innate power in cultivating a sense of stability.

Compromise/Negotiation are intrinsic to the art of diplomacy. Unsurprisingly, diplomacy strives to achieve the golden win-win scenario. However, reality does not often offer that opportunity without sacrifice and diligent persistence for agreement.

Patience on all sides of negotiation is vital for diplomatic success. Resolution does not happen overnight. All side of the situation must be considered as well as the consequences and rewards of the solution. Rash decisions forced by time constraints could result in catastrophic costs to negotiators.

“We write to ensure fairness, independence, freedom, and safety. In this sense, we still share the same concerns with the Lady Samurais.” –Dr. Tomoko Kitagawa 

Editor’s Note: The preceding is an essay from a special print report produced by Diplomatic Courier after the 2017 World Government Summit in Dubai, UAE. To read the full report download our free app on your device or view the digital edition here.