Musui’s Story: A Transition From Isolation to Interaction
The varying social interactions between status groups in Katsu Kokichi’s autobiography, Musui’s Story, convey a shift from the hierarchically strict Heian/Kamakura epochs to the more socially open late Tokugawa period. Throughout the work, Katsu illustrates his various dealings and communications with peasants, merchants, artisans and fellow samurai. While in theory a social hierarchy still presided, Musui’s Story dismisses the notion that social groups remained isolated from each other, as in previous Japanese eras, and instead reveals that people of Japan in the late-Tokugawa-era mingled with one another during their lives, regardless of their social status. Considering the demise of the aristocracy that inhibited so much of Heian Japan, the late Tokugawa era fostered the idea that no matter your status or class it remained possible to interact with anyone outside the imperial family. Musui’s Story served as an indicator of transition from status groups that people attain through birth, to class groups that anyone can achieve no matter their ranking upon birth. While better-positioned social groups in society still garnered additional respect, it did not mean that their position in society remained fixed and could not move up or down the social hierarchy due to their actions. Katsu’s work personifies a prime source for understanding that while status group ideals still endured, a clear rift continued forming between the ideals and the reality of Japan at the time when it came to social interactions. The character of Katsu embodied uniqueness, considering his birth to a well to do yet low ranking Samurai family in Edo. His early interactions, especially those that take place after he runs away from home, serve to illustrate the spreading chasm between social ideals and social realities. For example, Katsu received lodging from a samurai, and an offer of a spot in their household even though on his...
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