Bushido - The Soul of Japan

Click Here to Enlarge
Author: Inazo Nitobe
Pub: 1969 by Charles E. Tuttle Co.
Pages: 203
Ranking:Three Star Rating
In Print: Check Price Now!


This book is considered the authoritative scholar's description of Bushido. Other books that cover Bushido, are Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, and Code of the Samurai by Daidöji Yüzan. Of these three books, I much prefer Code of the Samurai, but Bushido by Nitobe is the starting point of any research into Bushido. So if Bushido is of interest to you... start with this book!



 PUBLISHER'S FOREWORD                    IX
 INTRODUCTION                            XV

     I. BUSHIDO AS AN ETHICAL SYSTEM ............... I
    II. SOURCES  OF BUSHIDO  ...................... II
   III. RECTITUDE OR JUSTICE ...................... 23
    VI. POLITENESS ................................ 50
   VII. VERACITY AND SINCERITY .................... 61
  VIII. HONOUR .................................... 72
    IX. THE DUTY OF LOYALTY ....................... 82
    XI. SELF-CONTROL ............................. 103
    XV. THE INFLUENCE OF BUSHIDO ................. 158
   XVI. IS BUSHIDO STILL ALIVE? .................. 168
  XVII. THE FUTURE OF BUSHIDO .................... 182


From the Inside Cover:

Chivalry has a magical connotation. Bushido is the Japanese feudal equivalent of chivalry. It follows that Bushido has magic and charm, and appeals to the heart, intelligence, and emotions, This little book has a subtle charm almost irresistible in its appeal. It is brimming with thought and tradition, rich in comparative illustrations of Oriental and Occidental ways of looking at life and its many facets- spiced with a bit of satire, but never exhibiting a narrow or bigoted outlook. Bushido may literally be translated as "military knights' ways," or "precepts of knighthood." It embodies the maxims of educational training governing the samurai, or warrior class, of Japan-the class that throughout the nation's feudal age set the standard for the whole people in manners and ideals of character, and mental and moral codes of obligation.

The samurai cultivated the martial virtues, were indifferent to death or pain in their loyalty to their overloads. They were privileged to wear two swords, the swords symbolizing the "soul of the samurai."

Honor was their byword, and the fear of disgrace was so great that it hung like Damocles' sword over the head of every samurai, and sometimes assumed a morbid character. To quote the author: "As in religious monomania there is something touchingly noble as compared with the delirium tremons of a drunkard, so in that extreme sensitiveness of the samurai about their honor do we not recognize the substratum of a genuine virtue?" Bushido was an organic growth of centuries of military careers. It is unwritten, like the English Constitution, yet out of it has grown the Japan of today. This reprint is a "must" for an understanding of the soul of Japan.



THIS attractive little book explaining the "soul of Japan" has had a remarkable welcome and response since it was first published in 1905. Today the demand is as great as ever despite the "Westernization" of Japan. Possibly the chief reason for the demand is that the book answered and continues to answer, for the Japanese as well as the Westerner, the reason why certain ideas and customs prevail in Japan. Bushido has been variously defined, but it would seem that the definition most generally accepted is that Bushido is the unwritten code of laws governing the lives and conduct of the nobles of Japan, equivalent in many ways to the European chivalry.

The knights and nobles of feudal Japan were the samurai, retainers of the daimyo. Thus, Bushido was the code of conduct of the samurai, the aristocratic warrior class which arose during the wars of the 12th century between the Taira and Minamoto clans-and came to glorious fruition in the Tokugawa period.

The samurai cultivated the martial virtues, were indifferent to death and pain in their loyalty to their overlords. Samurai were privileged to wear two swords, which were in turn "the soul of the samurai," according to Nitobe.

Bushido presents the cause of Japan in simple but sincere and very readable terms. The author illustrates the points he presents with parallel examples from European history and literature. Finally and foremost, he believes in the law written in the heart. This book was originally published in 1905 by G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York.



ABOUT ten years ago, while spending a few days under the hospitable roof of the distinguished Belgian jurist, the lamented M. de Laveleye, our conversation turned during one of our rambles, to the subject of religion. "Do you mean to say," asked the venerable professor, "that you have no religious instruction in your schools?" On my replying in the negative, he suddenly halted in astonishment, and in a voice which I shall not easily forget, he repeated "No religion! How do you impart moral education?" The question stunned me at the time. I could give no ready answer, for the moral precepts I learned. in my childhood days were not given in schools; and not until I began to analyse the different elements that formed my notions of right and wrong, did I find that it was Bushido that breathed them into my nostrils.

The direct inception of this little book is due to the frequent queries put by my wife as to the reasons why such and such ideas and customs prevail in Japan.

In my attempts to give satisfactory replies to M. de Laveleye and to my wife, I found that without understanding feudalism and Bushido, the moral ideas of present Japan are a sealed volume.

Taking advantage of enforced idleness on account of long illness, I put down in the order now presented to the public some of the answers given in our household conversation. They consist mainly of what I was taught and told in my youthful days, when feudalism was still in force.

Between Lafcadio Hearn and Mrs. Hugh Fraser on one side and Sir Ernest Satow and Professor Chamberlain on the other, it is indeed discouraging to write anything Japanese in English. The only advantage I have over them is that I can assume the attitude of a personal defendant, while these distinguished writers are at best solicitors and attorneys. I have often thought, "Had I their gift of language, I would present the cause of Japan in more eloquent terms!" But one who speaks in a borrowed tongue should be thankful if he can just make himself intelligible.

All through the discourse I have tried to illustrate whatever points I have made with parallel examples from European history and literature, believing that these will aid in bringing the subject nearer to the comprehension of foreign readers.

Should any of my allusions to religious subjects and to religious workers be thought slighting, I trust my attitude toward Christianity itself will not be questioned. It is with ecclesiastical methods and with the forms which obscure the teachings of Christ, and not with the teachings themselves, that I have little sympathy. I believe in the religion taught by Him and handed down to us in the New Testament, as well as in the law written in the heart. Further, I believe that God hath made a testament which may be called "old" with every people and nation, Gentile or Jew, Christian or Heathen. As to the rest of my theology, I need not impose upon the patience of the public.

In concluding this preface, I wish to express my thanks to my friend Anna C. Hartshorne for many valuable suggestions.




AT the request of his publishers, to whom Dr. Nitobe has left some freedom of action concerning prefatory matter, I am glad to offer a few sentences of introduction to this new edition of Bushido, for readers of English everywhere. I have been acquainted with the author for over fifteen years, indeed, but, in a measure at least, with his subject during forty-five years.

It was in 1860, in Philadelphia (where, in 1847, I saw the Susquehanna, Commodore Perry's flagship launched), that I looked on my first Japanese and met members of the Embassy from Yedo. I was mightily impressed with these strangers, to whom Bushido was a living code of ideals and manners. Later, during three years at Rutgers College, New Brunswick, N. J., I was among scores of young men from Nippon, whom I taught or knew as fellow-students. I found that Bushido, about which we often talked, was a superbly winsome thing. As illustrated in the lives of these future governors, diplomatists, admirals, educators, and bankers, yes, even in the dying hours of more than one who "fell on sleep" in Willow Grove Cemetery, the perfume of this most fragrant flower of far-off Japan was very sweet. Never shall I forget how the dying samurai lad, Kusakabe, when invited to the noblest of services and the greatest of hopes, made answer: "Even if I could know your Master, Jesus, I should not offer Him only the dregs of a life." So, "on the banks of the old Raritan," in athletic sports, in merry jokes at the supper table when contrasting things Japanese and Yankee, and in the discussion of ethics and ideals, I felt quite willing to take the "covert missionary retort," about which my friend Charles Dudley Warner once wrote. At some points, codes of ethics and proprieties differed, but rather in dots or tangents than as occultation or eclipse. As their own poet wrote - was it a thousand years ago? -- when in crossing a moor the dew-laden flowers brushed by his robe left their glittering drops on his brocade, "On account of its perfume, I brush not this moisture from my sleeve." Indeed, I was glad to get out of ruts, which are said to differ from graves only by their length. For, is not comparison the life of science and culture? Is it not true that, in the study of languages, ethics, religions, and codes of manners, "he who knows but one knows none"?

Called, in 1870, to Japan as pioneer educator to introduce the methods and spirit of the American public-school system, how glad I was to leave the capital, and at Fuji, in the province of Echizen, see pure feudalism in operation! There I looked on Bushido, not as an exotic, but in its native soil. In daily life I realised that Bushido, with its cha-no-yu, ju-jutsu ("jiu-jitsu"), hara-kiri, polite prostrations on the mats and genuflections on the street, rules of the sword and road, all leisurely salutations and politest moulds of speech, canons of art and conduct, as well as heroisms for wife, maid, and child, formed the universal creed and praxis of all the gentry in the castled city and province. In it, as a living school of thought and life, girl and boy alike were trained. What Dr. Nitobe received as an inheritance, had breathed into his nostrils, and writes about so gracefully and forcibly, with such grasp, insight, and breadth of view, I saw. Japanese feudalism "died without the sight" of its ablest exponent and most convincing defender. To him it is as wafted fragrance. To me it was "the plant and flower of light."

Hence, living under and being in at the death of feudalism, the body of Bushido, I can bear witness to the essential truth of Dr. Nitobe's descriptions, so far as they go, and to the faithfulness of his analysis and generalisations. He has limned with masterly art and reproduced the colouring of the picture which a thousand years of Japanese literature reflects so gloriously. The Knightly Code grew up during a millenium of evolution, and our author lovingly notes the blooms that have starred the path trodden by millions of noble souls, his countrymen.

Critical study has but deepened my own sense of the potency and value of Bushido to the nation. He who would understand twentieth-century Japan must know something of its roots in the soil of the past. Even if now as invisible to the present generation in Nippon as to the alien, the philosophic student reads the results of today in the stored energies of ages gone. The sunbeams of un-recorded time have laid the strata out of which Japan now digs her foot-pounds of impact for war or peace. All the spiritual senses are keen in those nursed by Bushido. The crystalline lump has dissolved in the sweetened cup, but the delicacy of the flavour remains to cheer. In a word, Bushido has obeyed the higher law enunciated by One whom its own exponent salutes and confesses his Master " Except a grain of corn die, it abideth alone; but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit."

Has Dr. Nitobe idealised Bushido? Rather, we ask, how could he help doing so? He calls himself "defendant." In all creeds, cults, and systems, while the ideal grows, exemplars and exponents vary. Gradual cumulation and slow attainment of harmony is the law. Bushido never reached a final goal. It was too much alive, and it died at last only in its splendour and strength. The clash of the world's movement - for so we name the rush of influences and events which followed Perry and Harris - with feudalism in Japan, did not find Bushido an embalmed mummy, but a living soul. What it really met was the quickening spirit of humanity. Then the less was blessed of the greater. Without losing the best in her own history and civilisation, Japan, following her own noble precedents, first adopted and then adapted the choicest the world had to offer. Thus her opportunity to bless Asia and the race became unique, and grandly she has embraced it - "in diffusion ever more intense." Today, not only are our gardens, our art, our homes enriched by the flowers, the pictures, and the pretty things of Japan, whether "trifles of a moment or triumphs for all time," but in physical culture, in public hygiene, in lessons for peace and war, Japan has come to us with her hands gift-laden.

Not only in his discourse as advocate and counsel for the defence, but as prophet and wise householder, rich in things new and old, our author is able to teach us. No man in Japan has united the precepts and practice of his own Bushido more harmoniously in life and toil, labour and work, craft of hand and of pen, culture of the soil and of the soul. Illuminator of Dai Nippon's past, Dr. Nitobe is a true maker of the New Japan. In Formosa, the empire's new accretion, as in Kioto, he is the scholar and practical man, at home in newest science and most ancient diligence.

This little book on Bushido is more than a weighty message to the Anglo-Saxon nations. It is a notable contribution to the solution of this century's grandest problem - the reconciliation and unity of the East and the West.

There were of old many civilisations; in the better world coming there will be one. Already the terms "Orient" and "Occident," with all their freight of mutual ignorance and insolence, are ready to pass away. As the efficient middle term between the wisdom and communism of Asia and the energy and individualism of Europe and America, Japan is already working with resistless power.

Instructed in things ancient and modern and cultured in the literatures of the world, Dr. Nitobe herein shows himself admirably fitted for a congenial task. He is a true interpreter and reconciler. He need not and does not apologise for his own attitude toward the Master whom he has long loyally followed. What scholar, familiar with the ways of the Spirit and with the history of the race as led by man's Infinite Friend, but must in all religions put difference between the teachings of the Founder and the original documents and the ethnic, rationalistic, and ecclesiastical additions and accretions? The doctrine of the testaments, hinted at in the author's preface, is the teaching of Him who came not to destroy, but to fulfil. Even in Japan, Christianity, unwrapped from its foreign mould and matting, will cease being an exotic and strike its roots deep in the soil on which Bushido has grown. Stripped alike of its swaddling bands and its foreign regimentals, the church of the Founder will be as native as the air. [Best Judo Note: This prediction has proven quite wrong! Christianity has never made very many inroads in Japan.]

ITHACA., MAY, 1905.



No votes yet