A Critical Review of the Classic Samurai Text: Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Inazo Nitobe
(An excerpt from the
book: Inner Bushido)
We continue to explore Bushido’s major principles, concepts, and values as articulated in the classic 1899 Japanese text, Bushido: The Soul of Japan, by Inazo Nitobe, and evaluate their applicability in today’s modern world. Bushido: The Soul of Japan 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.
Nitobe offers for consideration seven virtues of Bushido that attempt to illustrate the philosophical values of the samurai. However, it should be recognized that there are not, in truth, seven virtues of Bushido. This is only Nitobe’s subjective articulation of samurai culture and it is little more than an artificial construct. Other academics like Nitobe or practitioners of Bushido could easily and perhaps in an equally comprehensively fashion offer four, ten, or even one-hundred virtues of Bushido. Furthermore, the seven virtues presented here are concentric. That is, each value overlaps with and is influenced by another. No single virtue of Bushido exists or can exist by itself. Remember, all systems, including Bushido, Aikido, or any other, are ultimately artificial. The holistic nature of any system of values is unlikely to be comprehensively articulated in written language. Some virtues transcend written word. Nonetheless, we will attempt to explore each thoroughly.
Courage or ‘Yuu’
Nitobe begins his discussion of Courage by identifying courage as the element responsible for preserving ‘giri,’ a notion discussed in our previous article, as a legitimate virtue parallel to Rectitude. He says, “Giri might easily have been turned into a nest of cowardice, if Bushido had not a keen and correct sense of Courage.”
Before defining the Courage associated with Bushido, Nitobe first summarizes a popular conception of courage as “the spirit of daring and bearing…” but notes that this is a quality of the soul “which appeals most easily to juvenile minds.” He continues to say that “rushing into the jaws of death” is a frequently cited example of courage, but that “such rashness of conduct is unjustly applauded.”
Clearly, Nitobe would not find value in the so-called “Courage” that Hollywood frequently attempts to illustrate in martial arts and other war-related movies of today. Nitobe then goes on to further distinguish between physical courage and moral courage and he implies that moral courage is far superior. For example, he quotes… (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.