A Critical Review of the Classic Samurai Text: Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Inazo Nitobe
(An excerpt from the book: Inner Bushido)T
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.
Truthfulness or ‘Makoto’ – One’s Perfect Word
What can really be said about truthfulness? Can anyone really disagree with it value? Is there any system of values around the world that would object to this virtue? If not, then is this virtue actually unique to Japanese Bushido?
I’ve really been looking forward to reviewing this virtue for quite some time now. I was expecting it to be an inspiring, insightful portion of the book that would really make me think. And, the truth is that it did make me was think… a lot. However, this was the first tenet of Nitobe’s book that truly disappointed me.
I strongly connect and agree with the importance of the virtue of Makoto, but was let down by his articulation of the samurai’s use and understanding of Makoto. I’ll explain. But before I do, I must also remind the reader that Nitobe is only describing what he believes the samurai thought of themselves. Nitobe is not necessarily advocating his own description, but merely articulating samurai sentiment. Furthermore, one should remember that Nitobe was not a samurai, but a Christian academic.
Nitobe attributes near paranormal powers to the perfection of Truthfulness. Nitobe states, “Sincerity’s far-reaching and long enduring nature is found in its power to produce changes without movement and by its mere presence to accomplish its purpose without effort.” In other words, truthfulness is self-evident. Truthfulness needs no justification. People can recognize truthfulness when they see it, hear it, or read it. Truthfulness doesn’t need substantiation, an argument or rebuttal. This could also be taken to mean that all one must do is consistently demonstrate truthfulness for things to work themselves out. To me, this sounds a lot like… (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.