Bushido: An Antiquated Values System? (Part 1)

Doing the Right Thing… Even When It’s Unpopular
October 16, 2019
HARA TANDEN: Men’s Center & Women’s Center in Aikido
October 25, 2019

Bushido: An Antiquated Values System? (Part 1)

(An excerpt from the award-winning book: Inner Bushido)

A Critical Review of the Classic Samurai Text: Bushido – The Soul of Japan by Inazo Nitobe

Many martial arts students have romantic notions of, and frequently espouse, the virtues of Bushido – the traditional, behavioral code of ancient Japanese samurai.  These individuals often claim to live and abide by such values and sometimes even pass judgment on themselves and others claiming Bushido values as their standard of judgment.  But do people today really know what those values were?  Or, what those values might mean today?  For example, some martial arts students and instructors profess unquestioned loyalty as a virtue of Bushido.  However, is unquestioned loyalty always intelligent?  If, at times, unquestioned loyalty is not intelligent then wouldn’t that also suggest that Bushido, at times, is not intelligent?

And, what about honor?  Does honor really exist as a legitimate virtue?  Or, is honor just a more sophisticated way of inflating or defending one’s ego?  Are these and other alleged virtues of samurai culture relevant outside of the oppressive, feudalistic society from which they emerged?  Do people really understand these behavioral virtues as they existed?  That is, in a context of feudalism?  Is it really possible to live Bushido today as it was in the 12th through 19th centuries?  Is it possible that Bushido is an antiquated system of values that is eitherno longer relevant today or at the very least in need of adaptation and modernization?  Can Bushido exist in cultural environments based on freedom and capitalism?  This book will explore questions like these and will propose possible answers for consideration.  We will summarize Bushido’s major principles, concepts, and values as articulated in the classic Japanese text, Bushido: The Soul of Japan, and evaluate their applicability in today’s modern world.

Bushido, The Soul of Japan was written in 1899 by Inazo Nitobe, a Japanese national who converted to Christianity in early adulthood while attending what is now Hokkaido University in Japan.  At the time, this college was run by Christian missionaries.  Nitobe’s text is one of the first major works on samurai ethics and Japanese culture.  It is considered by some to be the first collective statement of what is commonly referred to as the Seven Virtues of Bushido.  The book is considered significant, in part, because it was written during Japan’s transition from its traditional lifestyle to a modern nation, and as stated in the book’s dedication its intent was to “revere the past and to admire the deeds of the samurai.”  The initial publication of this book was in English, not Japanese, because the book was intended to educate non-Japanese about Japanese values.  It has been read by many prominent Americans including U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.  It is also believed to have been highly influential in the development of the American Boy Scout movement.

The book opens with a candid conversation between the author and a learned Belgian guest. The guest asks Nitobe how Japanese children are educated on morality without religion playing a part in their educational system.  The author replies that in Japan, Bushido, not religion, imparts moral precepts upon its children.  Sensing confusion and astonishment from his guest, Nitobe elaborates, strongly contending that one cannot possibly begin to understand the moral concepts of Japan without first understanding Bushido and the cultural system from which it arose: feudalism. (this article continues in the paperback version)

These articles have been collectively published in the two-time award-winning book: Inner Bushido – Strength Without Conflict by Castle Rock AIKIDO Dojo Cho, Sean Hannon.  The book is available for purchase at Amazon.com.