Hagakure - The Book Of The Samurai

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Author: Yamamoto Tsunetomo
Translator: William Scott Wilson
Pub: 1979 by Kodansha International
Pages: 180
Ranking:Three Star Rating
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This is one of those classics that you keep running into quotes from... Although you can learn quite a bit from reading this, I much preferred Code of the Samurai for just general reading about samurai custom and responsibilities. The Hagakure is written in short paragraphs with no apparent 'flow' or connection... just random thoughts. Even though I haven't enjoyed this book as much as others, I can still recall snippets from this book years later, so I must have picked up something from this book!

There's even an interesting movie based around the Hagakure starring Forrest Whitaker, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, worth watching if you haven't seen it.


 Foreword                          7
 Introduction                      9
 From the 1st Chapter             17
 From the 2nd Chapter             65
 From the 3rd Chapter             89
 From the 4th Chapter             91
 From the 6th Chapter             93
 From the 7th Chapter             99
 From the 8th Chapter            111
 From the 9th Chapter            128
 From the 10th Chapter           137
 From the 11th Chapter           153
 Late Night Idle Talk            167
 Notes                           170
 Names, Places and Words         174
 Bibliography                    179


From the inside cover:

THE AUTHOR: Yamamoto Tsunetomo was a samurai who took the tonsure in 1700 and retired to a hermitage near Saga Castle in Kyushu. This was brought about by his not being able to follow his lord, Nabeshima Mitsushige, in death, for this practice had been prohibited in the 1660s by both the Nabeshima fief and the Tokugawa shogunate. Though he had an interest in poetry from an early age, he is not known for any literary works except Hagakure. And though a samurai, he never en- gaged in warfare. The actual writing down of the book was done by a younger samurai, who made many visits to talk with Yamamoto over a period of seven years.

THE TRANSLATOR: William Scott Wilson was born in 1944 in Nashville, Tennessee, and grew up in Florida. He received B.A. degrees from Dartmouth College and the Monterey Institute of Foreign Studies and was a research student at Aichi Prefectural University (Nagoya, Japan). His M.A. in Japanese literary studies was from the University of Washington.



The philosophy of Hagakure represents an attitude far re-moved from our modern pragmatism and materialism. Its appeal is intuitive rather than rational, and one of its prime suppositions is that a person can go anywhere he likes by means of simple cerebration. Intuition based on sincerity and moral guidance leads one back to the bedrock.

It has nothing to say about either time or profit, nor does it advocate wasting time with vague contemplations of the Void. One lives in the world and reacts to things around him, The question is where one plants his feet.

I first became interested in the book while studying Japanese in Monterey, California, in 1972. A Japanese acquaintance of mine suggested that, since I enjoyed the works of Mishima Yukio, Hagakure might be of interest to me. A few weeks later I received various editions from Japan, including Mishima's Hagakure Nyumon ("Introduction to Hagakure"), and began to work on the translation, thinking that I might finish it by the end of the term. As it turned out, the translation took a considerably longer time, including a period of research at Aichi Prefectural University, and the use of a great many more references than were available to me in California.

The three hundred selections given here (there are more than thirteen hundred in all) represent what I feel to be the core of the book. While I have based the selections on those given in other edited works, I have also chosen many that Japanese editors passed over if I thought them to be central, illustrative or simply interesting to the Western reader. The text has traditionally been divided into eleven chapters, under such headings as Precepts, The Sayings of Lord Naoshige, Stories of Other Clans, or, as in the final chapter, simply, Events Not Related in the Other Ten Chapters. The selections given here have been taken from all but the fifth chapter, which is for the most part a record of dates and notable events such as birthdays, the return of a Nabeshima lord from Edo, or the author's visit to the castle.

The original manuscript does not exist today, although there are several copied, slightly differing manuscripts, such as the Kurihara-hon, the Takashiro-hon and the Nakano-hon. I have based these translations primarily on the Mochiki Na-beshimake-hon as given in the Nihon Shiso Taikei ("Outline of Japanese Thought," vol. 26).

In appreciation, I sincerely wish to thank Prof. Yagi Tsuyoshi of Aichi Prefectural University, who kindly guided me throughout this project; Ms. Matsuda Nobuko, who helped me through parts of the translation where I had the most difficulty; and the late Prof. Ivan Morris, who encouraged me in this work. Any and all mistakes are my own.



On May 16, 1700, Nabeshima Mitsushige, the third daimyo of the area now known as Saga Prefecture, died at the age of sixty-nine. One of his closest retainers, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, who had gone into the service of Mitsushige as a child, was at that time forty-two years of age. Prohibited from committing disembowelment in sympathy with his master's death by edicts both of his own fief and of the Tokugawa government, and disappointed by the tendencies of Mitsushige's successor, Tsunetomo requested and was granted permission to retire and become a Buddhist priest. That summer he moved to a small hermitage in a place called Kurotsuchibaru, about twelve kilometers north of Saga Castle, and lived there in semi-seclusion. In 1710 he began to be visited by Tashiro Tsuramoto, a young samurai who for unknown reasons had been released from his service as a scribe the year before. Their conversations lasted for seven years, and on September 10, 1716, Yamamoto's utterances, as recorded by Tsuramoto, were arranged as a book and given the title of Hagakure, a word that could mean either "hidden by the leaves" or "hidden leaves." Three years later, Yamamoto passed away at the age of sixty-one.

The fief held by the Nabeshimas was situated on the is-land of Kyushu in the southwest extremity of Japan and belonged to the category known as Tozama, a term applied to the daimyo who had submitted to Tokugawa Ieyasu only after the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. It was this battle that essentially elevated Ieyasu to supreme power among the daimyo and determined the status of their fiefs for the next two hundred and fifty years. At Sekigahara the clan's founding lord, Nabeshima Naoshige (1538 -- 1618), had originally sided with the Tokugawas, but when the battle began, suddenly switched to back the Toyotomis. This was a nearly fatal mistake, and relations between the Tokugawas and the Nabeshimas continued to be tense for the next three generations.

Naoshige was a man of vigorous activity and mind, and there is an entire chapter of Hagakure dedicated to relating his sayings and conduct. He had formerly been one of the chief retainers of Ryuzoji Takanobu, but after Takanobu died, took control of the fief. He was active in Toyotomi Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea and died at the age of eighty-one. His son and successor was Nabeshima Katsushige (1580 --1657), to whom much of Hagakure is dedicated. He seems to have inherited much of his father's character and, at the age of eighteen, accompanied him on the second Korean campaign (1597). It was Katsushige who led his father's troops at Sekigahara and as a consequence had later to put up with repeated harassment from the central government. He also led 34-,000 men at the attack on Hara Castle during the Shimabara Rebellion (1637 -- 38) and was afterwards punished by the Bakufu for his troops having charged the rebel-held castle before the official government attack began. His son, Tadashige, died of smallpox at the age of twenty-three, and when Katsushige died at the age of seventy-eight the fief passed into the hands of his grandson, Nabeshima Mitsushige (1632 -- 1700).

By the time Mitsushige became lord of the Nabeshimas, of Edo, Mitsushige's upbringing was no doubt more cosmopolitan than if he had grown up in the relatively unsophisticated area of Saga. Yet Mitsushige proved his ability as a governor, and it was he who consolidated the foundation of the Nabeshima clan.

Mitsushige had been feudal lord for two years when Yamamoto Tsunetomo was born on June 11, 1659. Tsunetomo's father, Yamamoto Jin'emon, was a man whose character bordered on the eccentric (he was seventy-one years old when Tsunetomo was born), and had served as a retainer to both Naoshige and Katsushige. He apparently felt that his last-born was a superfluous addition to the family, and would have given Tsunetomo to a salt vendor had it not been for the intervention of his group leader, who took the boy and raised him in his own family. In Hagakure we are given a clear impression of what kind of man Jin'emon was, but of Tsunetomo's mother we know nothing more than that her family name was Maeda, and that she was still alive when he had reached the age of fifty-one.

Tsunetomo was a sickly child, and he relates that the doctors predicted that he would not live past the age of twenty. Despite his fragile health, however, he was employed as a page to Mitsushige by the time he was nine, and it was to Mitsushige that he remained devoted for the rest of his life. Mitsushige seems to have been impressed by Tsunetomo's ability in literature, for he encouraged him in this endeavor and they both studied under a man of letters by the name of Kuranaga Rihei, who made overtures for Tsunetomo to become his successor. The young page, however, was more interested in running off to play with Mitsushige's son, Tsunashige, and soon found himself dismissed from service altogether.

For the following years there were no outstanding incidents in his life, and by the time he was twenty he was still without an official position. It is related that at this juncture someone pointed out to him that his face was "too intelligent" and warned him that Mitsushige disliked such an expression. Tsunetomo states that he spent the next year in front of a mirror trying to correct this fault.

It was about this time that Tsunetomo began to despair of ever gaining a position as a retainer, and he began to visit a man who was to have no small influence on his life. This was the Zen Buddhist priest Tannen (? -- 1680), a man of un-bending integrity and will, who had resigned his post as head priest at the major Nabeshima temple as a protest against the death sentence of another priest, and when recalled, refused to return. Zen Buddhism and the samurai had been closely related since the thirteenth century in Japan, when the Hojo regents had discovered that its vitality and rejection of life as an object of special craving had much to offer the warrior. Tannen's own ideas concerning the relation-ship of Zen and the warrior can be seen from the section of Hagakure in which he declares that religious matters are for old men, and if young samurai learn about Buddhism it will only bring them disaster, for they will begin to look at the world from two sets of values rather than one. It is significant that Tsunetomo was recognized by Tannen as having understood the principles of Zen after only a short period of training. Another man who was to have considerable influence on Tsunetomo during this period and in later years was the Confucian scholar Ishida Ittei, who was well known in Saga for his sincerity and integrity. He had been an advisor to both Katsushige and Mitsushige and had at one time been exiled for eight years due to his uncompromising opposition to an opinion of the daimyo. It is likely that Tsunetomo's sense of extreme loyalty was more than somewhat encouraged by his lessons from this man.

Finally, among the men who influenced Tsunetomo's attitudes was his nephew, Yamamoto Gorazaemon. Gorozaemon was actually Tsunetomo's elder, and it was through his efforts that the young samurai was finally given some minor position. Tsunetomo was dissatisfied with his lot, however, and put forth more effort to become a "good samurai." Finally, in 1686, he was summoned to Edo as a scribe and was later attached to the imperial capital of Kyoto. Unfortunately, the following year Gorozaemon took responsibility for a large destructive fire and resigned from his position. His protege necessarily followed suit.

Later Yamamoto was reengaged by Mitsushige and continued to serve him in various capacities, many concerned with poetry and written materials. He records that it was, his main ambition to become an Elder, a position similar to being a councilor, but in this he was to be disappointed. In 1695 Mitsushige retired at the age of sixty-three, likely due to deteriorating health. Mitsushige had long desired a book of secret poetry instructions called the Kokidenju, and it was toward obtaining a copy of this book that Tsunetomo now put forth all his efforts. On May 1, 1700, he returned from Kyoto and presented a copy of the book to the bedridden Mitsushige. Two weeks later Mitsushige passed away.

It is difficult to imagine the depth of Tsunetomo's feelings at the death of his master. His first and strongest response must have been towards junshi, or ritual suicide by disembowelment to accompany one's master in death, but this practice had been prohibited by Mitsushige himself in 1661 and by the shogunate the following year. Tsunetomo apparently decided that the greater loyalty required following his master's dictum rather than his fate.

Thus, at the age of forty-two Yamamoto Tsunetomo shaved his head and became a Buddhist priest, his wife becoming a nun. In his twenty years of service he did nothing for which he is noted in Japanese history, and today his name is virtually unknown to the Japanese public. It is a fact that he never once participated in a battle, and the values that he advocated belonged more to a period almost one hundred years before his time. It is perhaps surprising how penetrating his words are to us now.

To speak of Hagakure it is perhaps best to state first what it is not: that is, a well-thought-out philosophy, either in the sense of containing a closely reasoned or logical argument, or in terms of subject matter. On the contrary, it contains an antiintellectual or antischolastic bent through-out, and being a record of a seven-year-span of conversations, the subject matter varies considerably, ranging from the author's deepest feelings concerning the Way of the Samurai to discussions on the implements of the Tea Ceremony or how a certain mansion acquired its name. The book, moreover, does not seem to have been intended for public reading. In a preface the author advocated that in the end all eleven chapters be thrown into the fire, and he later quotes his father as saying, "After reading books and the like, it is best to burn them or throw them away. It is said that reading books is the work of the Imperial Court, but the work of the House of Nakano is found in military valor, grasping the staff of oak." It is a moot point, at any rate, as to whether Yamamoto really intended that the result of his efforts of seven years was to be disregarded, or whether he was simply prefacing his work with the kind of protestations not uncommon in Eastern literature, but it is certain that he never dreamed that his reading audience would be as wide as it finally was. He was the absolute samurai, his thoughts for the most part stopping at the boundaries of the Nabeshima fief, and for years the book remained the secret property of the Nabeshima clan.

Hagakure may be regarded as an expression of Yamamoto's sincerity. His extremism and singularity were not held in check by any anticipation of judgment from the outside, and it is doubtful that he would have felt any such restraint in the first place. His mentors and perhaps geographical position gave encouragement to his own radicalness, and the single idea that focused his thought was not prone to com- promise or dissuasion.

Tsunetomo dwelt on death as the greatest act that a samurai could perform for his master but was not simply a romantic who brooded on dark thoughts. He was keenly aware of the events and issues of the day and responded to them within the framework of his own insights. This he set down in Hagakure.

It would not be quite correct to suggest that the words of this comparatively obscure man have had a radical effect on the thought of Japan. But one would not be amiss in saying that in them is reflected quite clearly the extremity of one of its currents.



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