Utagawa

UtagawaMusashi Myamoto (1584-1645), peerless samurai swordsman, is here depicted by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) looking at his reflection in a two-sided metal mirror held by an old, fortune-telling priest.

Interpreted symbolically, this scene represents both the essential purpose and method of Adapted Philosophy. Musashi’s elaborately fashionable costume suggests that he is rich. Why, then, is he consulting a fortuneteller? Why is a notoriously wild warrior standing so restrained and passive? Why is a man traditionally shaggy, slovenly, and disheveled so gussied up?

Utagawa suggests an answer to these questions. At this time in his life, Musashi the renowned warrior was a masterless samurai. That is, he was one of thousands of warriors adrift in a hierarchical, tradition-directed, and increasingly peaceful society. Lacking a clan leader to give him status, tasks, and a stipend, he represents a person of standing and solid reputation who nevertheless is feeling more than a little lost. So why not try on new persona, one that suggests success even if may appear more than a little uncomfortable and outlandish?

This last question is the very one to which I imagine the priest is offering a subtle answer. To me, he represents a Socrates-like sage who is suggesting that perhaps Musashi should look at himself more calmly and closely. If he does, he might decide to seek a more authentic path than the one apparently he is contemplating. The priest does not presume to say what that path should be. Instead, with a touch of irony, he is nudging Musashi toward a more reflective attitude that might solve his problem in a more satisfying and lasting way.