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Filoptohos of Agia Marina Church

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Naum Aksenov
Naum Aksenov

Bushido - The Soul Of Japan

What are the ideals envisioned by Nitobe? Someone asked me what I felt bushido is. I think the virtues Nitobe puts down as righteousness, courage, compassion, respect, integrity, honor, and loyalty are good to have as a normal functioning human and martial artist. Compassion and courage and respect are severely lacking in most people. To be a good warrior means to have martial skills. Those skills need to be tempered with compassion and righteousness and wisdom first.

Bushido - The Soul Of Japan


A man invested with the power to command and the power to kill was expected to demonstrate equally extraordinary powers of benevolence and mercy: Love, magnanimity, affection for others, sympathy and pity, are traits of Benevolence, the highest attribute of the human soul. Both Confucius and Mencius often said the highest requirement of a ruler of men is Benevolence.

Kodansha's new edition of Nitobe's Bushido provides uswith the opportunity to interpret the work's historical significance forboth nineteenth-century Japan and its imperial adventures in 1894-1945.Indicative of ideas surfacing during the nineteenth century, Nitobe claims"Bushido was and still is the animating spirit, the motor force of ourcountry." The "animating spirit," Yamato Damashi, is a"guiding principle" Nitobe equates with bushido. There seems to belittle doubt that Nitobe's work influenced twentieth-century Japaneseself-conceptions of the ideal type: "The Soul of Japan became not onlyan international bestseller, but served as the cornerstone for theconstruction of an edifice of ultra-nationalism that led Japan down the pathto a war she could not win."

Since Bushido appeared in America in 1900, it has prompted chargesthat Nitobe romanticized bushido and ascribed a unity, both in doctrine andadherence, that many claim it never attained. As many contemporaryphilosophers of Japanese thought have pointed out, bushido was neither the"living code of ideals and manners" nor "the code of moralswhich the knights were required or instructed to observe" that Nitobeargued it was. Negotiations between Confucianism and Neo-Confucianismremained the social ethics operative in Japan since the sixth century. Atbest, some have argued, bushido seems to have been, prior to the seventeenthcentury, a loosely held set of presuppositions that any bushi or warrior, notjust samurai, were likely to hold, and, during the seventeenth and eighteenthcenturies, an ideal fostered by such samurai as Yamaga Soko and YamamotoTsunetomo. But this criticism misses an important and neglected aspect ofNitobe's work, his building a bridge of understanding between Japan andthe West. While some Europeans had been engaged in the task of comparativephilosophy since the seventeenth century (e.g. Leibniz's writings onChinese philosophy), Nitobe and others engaged in their own comparativeanalyses linking East and West from a Japanese perspective. Nitobe'sstudy has crucial limitations, but it is worth considering in the light ofrecent interest and development in East-West studies.

Bushido would prove a useful supplement in both upper-divisionJapanese and East Asian history courses, especially those emphasizing thenineteenth and twentieth centuries. The book would also be helpful in aspecialized course on samurai history and the history of bushido as anexample of revisionist history, illustrating challenges any culture facesrecovering its own past as a guide to the present and/or future. Theoreticalresemblances to Epicetus's Enchiridion, Hsun Tzu's Art of War,Mushai's Book of Five Rings, and Tsunetomo's Hagakure also makeBushido an appropriate text for a course in military ethics.

Bushidō represented regulations for samurai attitudes and behavior which evolved significantly through history. It is loosely analogous to the European concept of chivalry. Contemporary forms of bushido are still used in the social and economic organization of Japan. Bushido is best used as an overarching term for all the codes, practices, philosophies and principles of samurai culture. 041b061a72


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