Nitobe Inazō’s Bushido

Science or Fiction?1

Christian Etzrodt, International College of Liberal Arts, Yamanashi Gakuin University [About | Email]

Volume 18, Issue 3 (Article 8 in 2018). First published in ejcjs on 16 December 2018.


The aim of this paper is to determine whether Nitobe Inazō provided an accurate description of the ethical code of the samurai in his famous work Bushido, or an idealised and nostalgic text without any foundation in the works of historical samurai. In order to do so, I am comparing Nitobe’s Bushido with a sample of 29 original bushidō-texts from the Kamakura to the Edo period. The surprising result of this analysis is that Nitobe did not only include the most discussed values of the original samurai texts in his book, but also gave a representative description of most of them. Despite much, modern criticism of his work, it seems that Nitobe was not the politically motivated commentator which modern history has made him, but an accurate assessor of the ethics of the bushi class.

Keywords: Bushidō, Nitobe Inazō.


In recent years several researchers have claimed that Nitobe Inazō’s Bushido, The Soul of Japan—written in 1899 in English—does not provide an accurate description of pre-modern samurai ethics, but should be regarded as an attempt to invent a tradition (e.g. Benesch, 2004). This argument is based on the recognition of fundamental differences between pre-modern samurai ethics and bushidō texts from the Meiji period onward (Benesch, 2011b: 2). Moreover, that the latter ‘were more strongly influenced by the dominant Zeitgeist and Japan’s changing geopolitical position than by any traditional moral code’ (Benesch, 2011b: 3). The aim of this paper is to test this claim in general as well as the more specific criticism against Nitobe’s work. I will show that Nitobe Inazō provided a reasonably accurate description of pre-modern samurai ethics, despite the fact that he was not an expert in the field. Therefore, the claim that all modernbushidōtexts are unrelated to the traditional samurai code of behaviour seems to be incorrect. Furthermore, I will argue that Nitobe was able to give an informed description of pre-modern samurai ethics, because he learned those values in his early socialisation. Finally, I will suggest that it makes more sense to read his work as a late-stage primary text rather than an extremely unsuccessful attempt to provide an academic survey of the diversity of the samurai ethics.

In order to test the criticism against Nitobe’s Bushido, I am going to compare his description of traditional samurai ethics with original bushidō-texts from the Kamakura to the Edo period. I start with a textual analysis of the values discussed in those texts (see the Appendix for this part) and classify their interpretations of those values based on similarities with the aim to identify majority and minority positions in the pre-modern bushidō discourse. Finally, I will evaluate whether Nitobe’s description is compatible with any of the pre-modern positions. The methodology underlying this approach is Karl Popper’s method of falsification. I treat Nitobe’s statements in his book Bushidoas the hypotheses, which I am going to test against the original bushidō-texts (the empirical data). If the discrepancies would be too big, then his book could be regarded as falsified, which would support the claims of Nitobe’s critics. Otherwise, if I would fail to falsify Nitobe’s work, then this would suggest that the criticism against his work is not justified.

The selection criterion for the 29 bushidō-texts was based on two factors. I have included only texts that were available in English translations (mainly because of my limited ability to read Japanese, especially old Japanese), and I ignored those texts, which discussed only one value, for practical reasons, because it would have expanded the Appendix significantly without adding much information. The majority of the bushidō-texts are from the Edo period (1603-1867), which is an obvious choice. But I have also included a large number of older texts, because of the diversity of the samurai discourse about their ethical code. The mainstream discourse in the Edo period under the Tokugawa Shogunate was dominated by Confucian and Neo-Confucian scholars, but in the periphery of Japan, far away from the Shogun, other traditions could have survived. An example for such an underground text is the Hagakureby Yamamoto Tsunemoto in this sample.

I have started with this project, because most of Nitobe’s recent critics did not support their claims with textual evidence. I assume that some of those critics had knowledge of traditional bushidō-texts and that their criticism was based on their knowledge. But I have the suspicion that at least some critics repeated the criticism against Nitobe’s Bushido uncritically, because such an attitude matched the current Zeitgeist. On the other hand, I also have a problem with Oleg Benesch’s attempt to show the non-existance of a widely accepted pre-modern samurai ethic through a detailed examination of the development of modern bushidō-theories (Benesch, 2014: 5). Benesch’s study of the evolution of bushidō-theories in the Meiji era has a very high value, and I am not in disagreement with his major conclusions, but it does not prove the non-existance of a widely accepted pre-modern samurai ethic. In order to test the claim of an invented tradition, we actually have to compare the pre-modern texts with the modern theories of bushidō. And this is what I am trying to do here for Nitobe’s Bushido.

A short overview of the evaluation of Nitobe’s Bushido

The reception of Nitobe Inazō’s description of the samurai ethic in his book Bushido: The Soul of Japan was very different inside and outside of Japan (Benesch, 2011b: 261). In Japan his work was from the beginning either ignored or not taken serious (Benesch, 2011b: 169), and only after Nitobe’s image was printed on the 5,000 Yen note his popularity increased (Benesch, 2011b: 154). In contrast, in the West his work received high praise after the publication (Howes and Oshiro, 1995: 13; Powles, 1995: 107; Nagao, 2002: 57). ‘Many saw it as a masterful work, artfully conceived, gracefully executed, full of mature judgment, and richly suggestive of moral ideas from the East as well as the West’ (Oshiro, 2004: 65). And Nitobe was regarded as an authority ‘intimately acquainted with the institution he describe[d]’ (Schmidt, 1904: 507). Even the US President Theodore Roosevelt was so impressed that he bought copies for his children (Jansen, 2000: 487). Of course, not everybody agreed with this interpretation. For example, Basil Hall Chamberlain rejected Nitobe’s book, because he stated that the author invented the term Bushido, and that it therefore would not represent the ideas of samurai of old (Powles, 1995: 113f.).2 Directly after World War II the interest in the book declined, because many people associated it with Japanese fascism (Oshiro, 2004: 65), but soon the interest recovered. However, the perception of Nitobe’s book among academics changed dramatically with the decline of the nihonjinronin the 1980s. The nihonjinronwas a complex of heterogeneous theories that wanted to explain the uniqueness of Japanese culture. Nitobe’s Bushidowas among the first attempts to define a national identy (Morris-Suzuki, 1998: 168; Navarro and Beeby, 2010: 57); it directly or indirectly influenced many of those later theories. But with the increasing criticism of the nihonjinronas unscientific, also the attitude towards Nitobe’s work turned negative. The following is a list of objections brought forward against his description of the samurai ethic.

1a) Nitobe Inazō was accused of being unqualified to write about bushidō. This criticism appears in two variations. On the one hand, Inoue Tetsujirō stated that Nitobe was not an academic specialised in Japan Studies and therefore not competent to write about this topic (Oshiro, 2004: 65f.; Benesch, 2011b: 156). Nitobe himself admitted that he is not an expert in this field, however he revealed this to the Japanese audience only (Benesch, 2011a: 1104; 2011b: 157). And on the other hand, Nitobe was regarded as too westernised to be able to write about Japanese culture (Ōta, 1983: 7; Hurst, 1990: 511f.; Ota, 1995: 239ff.; Bierwirth, 2005: 20; Turnbull, 2011: 154; Benesch, 2011b: 159). Coincidentially, Nitobe claimed that his knowledge about samurai ethics resulted from his early socialisation, when the old traditions were still alive (Nitobe, 2001: xiii).

1b) Nitobe’s description of the values of the samurai was not only accused of being uncritical (Lehmann, 1984: 767), but also ‘misleading’ (Hurst, 1990: 512), full of mistakes (Ota, 1995: 244f.), contradictory (Benesch, 2011b: 161, 164; Benesch, 2014: 93), and adjusted to modern times (Schwentker, 2008: 116f.). Moreover, they are accused of being idealised and unreal (Storry and Forman, 1978: 8), nostalgic (Jansen, 2000: 553), ideological (Bierwirth, 2005: 12), romanticised and Orientalistic (Navarro and Beeby, 2010: 55). Most tellingly, they are accused of being ‘of limited use for understanding the samurai or pre-Meiji history or thought’ (Benesch, 2014: 4), ‘a mildly exoticised version of the British public school ethos’ (Morris-Suzuki, 1998: 68), and ‘an impossible and quixotic attempt’ (Starrs, 2004: 8f.). In the same direction goes Oleg Benesch’s (2011a: 1103) criticism of the genre of bushidōin general from the 1890s onwards as a ‘romanticised image of the samurai’ and idealisation that was ‘motivated by cultural and political currents at the time.’ Benesch does not refer here to Nitobe, but he is mentionening Nitobe’s Bushidoas an example of these kind of works shortly after (Benesch, 2011a: 1104).

2) Part of the problem is that Nitobe was criticised for blending his own Christian values with the traditional ethical code of the samurai in the description of the bushidō(Ōta, 1983: 17; Hurst, 1990: 513; Starrs, 2004: 8f.; Uemura Masahisa cited in Oshiro, 2004: 65f.; cf. Powles, 2002: 142; Nagao, 2002: 61; Navarro and Beeby, 2010: 60).

3) Furthermore, Cameron Hurst (1990: 516) stated that Nitobe’s Bushidois nothing more than a summary of Confucian works, which cannot be equalised with the values of the samurai.

4) On the other hand, Stephen Turnbull’s (2011: 154) main objection against Bushido, The Soul of Japanis that Nitobe misrepresented bushidō as a rigid code ‘that was ancient and universally adhered to by the samurai, who effectively swore to obey it like a version of the Hippocratic Oath,’ although the samurai ethics were in fact heterogeneous (cf. Benesch, 2011a: 1103; Benesch, 2011b: 14f.; Benesch, 2014: 4).

5) And finally, Nitobe’s work should be condemned, because it was becoming the foundation of Japanese ultranationalism (Hurst, 1990: 512; Schwentker, 2008: 117f.), and is therefore ‘potentially dangerous’ (Storry and Forman, 1978: 8). Some authors, however, add that this was not Nitobe’s intention and that he did not endorse those interpretations of his work (Ion, 1995: 101; Kominami, 2003: 224; Oshiro, 2004: 66). Furthermore, Oleg Benesch (2011b: 34, 151f.) pointed out that Nitobe’s Bushidowas not significant for the development of the Japanese nationalistic ideology in the Meiji era.

In this paper, I will not discuss the last point. Instead I will focus on the first four criticisms. In order to judge whether the accusations are correct or not, I will compare Nitobe’s description of the samurai ethics with 29 primary texts of samurai from the Kamakura period to the Edo period. If his description would be accurate, not tainted by Christianity, and not just Confucian ethics, then it would be reasonable to conclude that Nitobe Inazō was actually competent to write about bushidō. After this, I will discuss Turnbull’s criticism independent of the pre-modern bushidō-texts based on Nitobe’s statements in Bushido, The Soul of Japan.

A short overview of the discussed bushidō-authors

Of the 29 bushidō-texts one is from the Kamakura period (1192-1333), three are from the Early Muromachi period (1336-1467), five from the Sengoku period (1467-1568), five are roughly from the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600), and the last 15 are from the Edo period (1603-1867).

The representative of the Kamakura period—in which actual power was transferred from the emporer and the unconsolidated group of samurai behind him to the shogun (Sato, 1995: xix)—is Hōjō Shigetoki’s(北条重時;1198-1261) The Message of Master Gokurakuji.Hōjō was a general and Shogunal Deputy in Kyōto. The faithful Buddhist retired in 1256 and became a monk of the Ritsu-sect (Wilson 1982: 36f.).

The three authors from the Early Muromachi period—in which the Ashikaga shogunate took over from the Kamakura shogunate—are the general Imagawa Sadayo (今川貞世;1325-1420; Takagi, 1960: 365; Brower, 1983b: 272), the governor Shiba Yoshimasa (斯波義将; 1349-1410; Cleary, 2009: 17), and the emperor’s Chief Advisor IchijōKaneyoshi (一条兼良; 1402-1481; Brower, 1983a: 256; Cleary, 2009: 25). Imagawa was a Buddhist and Confucian (Wilson, 1982: 59), who entered the monastery after retirement in 1367 (Takagi, 1960: 365; Brower, 1983b: 272). HisRegulationswere regarded as a basic text in religious education during the Edo period (Wilson, 1982: 59). Shiba retired into Buddhist orders (Cleary, 2009: 17). Ichijō was influenced by Shintoism, Buddhism, and Confunianism, and become a Buddhist monk after retirement (Cleary, 2009: 25; Frédéric, 2002: 368).

Buddhists wrote four of the five texts from the Sengoku period—a period of continuous social and military conflicts, which started with the Ōnin War (1467–1477): the general Asakura Toshikage(朝倉敏景;1428-1481; Takagi, 1960: 73), the warlord Hōjō Sōun (北条早雲;1432-1519; Wilson, 1982: 75), the advisor of the Asakura Daimyōs Asakura Norikage(朝倉教景;1474-1555; Wilson, 1982: 82), and Takeda Shingen (武田信玄; 1521-1573). Shingen forced his father into retirement and became the Daimyōof Kai (now Yamanashi Prefecture). From this base he conquered Shinano (now Nagano Prefecture) but failed to unite Japan under his leadership (Elison, 1983c: 323). The last text of this period was written by Shingen’s brother Takeda Nobushige (武田信繁; 1525-1561). Nobushige supported his brother in expelling his father, although his father wanted Nobushige to succeed him. Nobushige served Shingen loyal as general and died in battle (Takagi, 1960: 1594; Wilson, 1982: 100). The selected work by Nobushige became one of the most widely read books during the Edo period (Wilson, 1982: 101).

The first text from the Azuchi-Momoyama period—in which Japan was finally unified under the Tokugawa shogunate—is Torii Mototada’s (鳥居元忠; 1539-1600) The Last Statement of Torii Mototada. Torii was in the service of Ieyasu Tokugawa. He was ordered to hold Fushimi Castle against a superior force, in order to allow his master to escape. When Torii realised that he was defeated, he and his bushicommitted suicide (Takagi, 1960: 1722).

The four other texts of the Azuchi-Momoyama period by the DaimyōKatō Kiyomasa (加藤清正; 1562-1611; Elison, 1983a: 168), the DaimyōKuroda Nagamasa (黒田長政; 1568-1623; Elison, 1983b: 314), the Shogun’sChief of Police Yagyū Munenori (柳生宗矩; 1571-1646), and the Zen teacher Suzuki Shosan’s (鈴木正三; 1579-1655; Tyler, 1983: 283; Frédéric, 2002: 919; Cleary, 2009: 43) were actually already written in the Edo period. But since these authors had experienced larger battles before they wrote these texts, it makes sense to regard those works as Azuchi-Momoyama texts. Katō was a devote Nichiren Buddhist, who was known for brutally suppressing Christianity (Griffis, 1913: 163; cf. Elison, 1983a: 168). Kuroda was born as a son of a Christian Daimyōand baptised, but he later gave up Christianity, when it became prohibited (Wilson, 1982: 134f.; Elison, 1983b: 314). Yagyū was another Zen Buddhist (Cleary, 2005: 7).

The life of the samurai changed in the Edo period. The Edo period was not only a period of peaceful and orderly conditions during two and a half centuries (Blomberg, 1994: xf.), but the administration of the Tokugawa shogunate created also regulations for the Daimyōs (the Buke Sho-Hattoin 1615) and their vassals (the Shoshi Hatto from 1632 to 1683). The Buke Sho-hattodemanded from all samurai ‘to avoid ostentation and practice frugality’ (Blomberg, 1994: 150). On the other hand, the Shoshi Hattoadditionally mentioned that loyalty and filial piety are ‘prized’ values and that rectitude should be ‘the first concern’ of the samurai (Blomberg, 1994: 151).

Among the 15 bushidō-texts from the Edo period Neo-Confucian samurai wrote six. They are the scholar and teacher Nakae Tōju (中江 藤樹; 1608-1648; Hane, 1983: 312; Cleary, 2009: 32), his disciple Kumazawa Banzan (熊沢蕃山; 1619-1691; McMullen, 1983: 307; Cleary, 2009: 53), the scholar and botanist Kaibara Ekken (貝原益軒; 1630-1714; Katagiri, 1983: 108; Frédéric, 2002: 448f.), the Neo-Confucian and military teacher Naganuma Muneyoshi(長沼宗敬; 1635-1690; Cleary, 2009: 79), the lecturer Daidōji Yūzan (大道寺友山; 1639-1730; Sadler, 2007: ix), and the shogunal tutor Muro Naokiyo (室直清; 1658-1734; Miyake, 1983: 271; Frédéric, 2002: 669). However, it should be mentioned that Daidōji’s influential Introduction to the Way of the Warrior—which was published posthumously—is considered to be relatively free from Confucian influence (Kodansha, 1983a: 56). Neo-Confucianism was the favoured doctrine of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Classical Confucian samurai wrote three of the 15 texts from the Edo period: the Confucian and military teacher Yamaga Sokō (山鹿素行; 1622-1685; Earl, 1983: 290), the educator and civil administrator Tomida Dairai(fl. ca. 1800; Cleary, 2009: 181), and the headmaster of the Yūzōkan, the school of the Tsu domain (now part of Mie Prefecture),Saitō Setsudō (1797-1865) who introduced “Dutch science” to the curriculum (Cleary, 2009: 225; Kodansha, 1983c: 374; Frédéric, 2002: 810). Yamaga publicly criticised orthodox Neo-Confucianism as a corruption of Confucius’s teachings (Blomberg, 1994: 160). He was also strongly influenced by Shintō and his works laid the philosophical foundation of bushidō (Earl, 1983: 290; Frédéric, 2002: 1038; Cleary, 2009: 61).

Two Shintoists are among the 15 authors from the Edo period. The first is Izawa Nagahide (井沢長秀; 1668-1731)—a hereditary retainer of a local lord in Kyushu—who studied also Confucianism (Cleary, 2009: 113). The other is the military teacher Adachi Masahiro(fl. ca. 1780-1800), who was also influenced by Taoism and Zen Buddhism (Cleary, 2009: 185).

Two other works were written by Zen Buddhists: the fencing master Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武蔵; 1584-1645; Kodansha, 1983b: 220) and the hereditary retainer of a local lord in Kyushu Yamamoto Tsunemoto (山本常朝; 1659-1719; Steben, 2008: 20f., 26f.). Miyamoto was famous for winning all of his more than 60 duels. Moreover, his Book of Five Ringsbecame a classical discourse on bushidō (Takagi, 1960: 882; Kodansha, 1983b: 220). Yamamoto’s Hagakureon the other hand was not written for publication. So-called ‘awakened’ samurai read it in secret (Tanaka, 2001: xivf.). The Hagakurebecame one of the most controversial bushidō-texts (Sparling, 1977: viii).

Little is known about the last two authors from the Edo period. Hōjō Chikuho-shi could have been a follower of Hōjō Ujinaga’s (1609-1670) school. The text was very likely published in 1687 (Cleary, 2009: 133). And Yamamoto Ujihide’s text was printed in 1718 (Cleary, 2009: 121).

The content of these original bushidō-texts is systematically summarised at the end of the paper in the Appendix (see Tables 2a – 2j).

A comparison of the original bushidō-texts with Nitobe’s Bushido

The first question, which I want to discuss, is whether Nitobe Inazō identified the most important values of the original samurai-texts in his book correctly or not. The answer to this question is clear. Nitobe very accurately identified the most discussed values in bushidō(see Table 1). Nitobe assigned chapters to the different values, which he considered most important. The only important value that Nitobe did not give its own chapter was filial piety, which was included into the chapter of loyalty. However, it was also very common among the samurai to discuss loyalty and filial piety together.

Table 1: Discussion of Values in Regulations, bushidō-Texts, and Nitobe’s Book
Value Official regulation Positively mentioned Negatively mentioned Chapter in Nitobe’s Bushido
Loyalty yes 20 0 IX
Honesty no 12.5 5.5 VII (Veracity & Sincerity)
Courage no 16 0 IV
Benevolence no 15 1 V
Acceptance of death no 15 0 XII (Suicide & Redress)
Filial piety yes 14 1 IX (Loyalty)
Rectitude yes 13 2 III (Rectitude or Justice)
Self-control no 13 0 XI
Respect no 12 1 VI (Politeness)
Honour no 9 2 VIII
Modesty no 8 0 -

The only other value that was discussed by a significant number of samurai and was not included in Nitobe’s Bushido is modesty. But considering that this value was only a minor topic among the samurai and that it was furthermore defined heterogeneously, it does not seem to be unreasonable to exclude modesty from the list of characteristic bushidō-values.

The next question is whether Nitobe described the different values as they were defined in the original bushidō-texts. Of course, this question requires a detailed analysis of the different values, because a single unified bushidō never existed (Benesch, 2011a: 1103)—not even in the Edo period under the influence of the Buke Sho-Hattoand the Shoshi Hatto, which were officially regulating the samurai caste. I will start with the value acceptance of death.

Regarding acceptance of death four different positions can be distinguished. The most extreme position defines the essence of bushidōas the samurai’s willingness to die (Kato Kiyomasa, Yamaga Sokō, Daidōji Yūzan, and Yamamoto Tsunetomo; cf. Benesch, 2011a: 1106). Closest to this celebration of a death cult is the position of Shiba Yoshimasa, Torii Mototada, and Adachi Masahiro. Their definition is weaker insofar as they include an element of choice. Shiba said that a samurai would regret it, if he would chose not to die, whereas Torii and Adachi insisted that a samurai should not avoid dying. On the opposing pole of this spectrum of ideas are the Neo-Confucian samurai in the Edo period (Nakae Tōju, Kaibara Ekken, Naganuma Muneyoshi, and Yamamoto Ujihide), which emphasised that a samurai should only sacrifice himself, if justice or the nation (the Shogun and not the local lord) demands this from him. And finally, the last position can be regarded as a compromise between the Neo-Confucian and the more extreme positions. This last group of samurai (Miyamoto Musashi, Izawa Nagahide, and Saitō Setsudō) shared with the previous Neo-Confucian group the opinion that samurai should not throw their life away, but they replaced justice with other reasons for which it was considered worth dying. Nitobe Inazō’s description of the value of acceptance of death reflects this last compromise-position. He said that a samurai was supposed to die for the right reason. And although this is not the mainstream position in the bushidō-texts, it is not an incorrect description either. By the way, this result does not support the claim of Karl Friday (1994: 341) that although the willingness to die was central to modern bushidō-texts, it was not accurately describing the actual behaviour of medieval samurai and therefore should not be taken seriously. However, in my sample the acceptance of death was an important topic in ethical texts written by medieval samurai. The importance of the topic increased from the pre-Edo period (29% of the samurai of these periods addressed this topic) to the Edo period (73%). In addition, Friday (1994: 342) concludes that it ‘is a logical fallacy […] to deduce norms of actual behaviour from formal legal and moral codes.’ The problem with this argument is that Friday commits the same logical fallacy by deducing out of the absence of moral behaviour the non-existance of a medieval samurai ethic. Probably closer to the truth is that a pre-modern bushidōexisted andthat many samurai did not follow it consistently.

The next value is rectitude. Three different positions appeared in the samurai-texts. The clear mainstream position is the equation of rectitude with justice (Imagawa Sadayo, Kuroda Nagamasa, Suzuki Shosan, Nakae Tōju, Kaibara Ekken, Naganuma Muneyoshi, Yamamoto Ujihide, Adachi Masahiro, and Saitō Setsudō). Confucian samurai mainly supported this position. A smaller group of samurai (Shiba Yoshimasa, Torii Mototada, Miyamoto Musashi, and Daidōji Yūzan) replaced justice with right reason and individual judgments of right and wrong. Two Zen Buddhists (Yagyū Munenori and Yamamoto Tsunetomo) went even further and rejected the value of rectitude entirely. Yagyū advocated the “original mind” in contrast to judgments of right and wrong and Yamamoto said that emotions are more important than considerations about rectitude. Here Nitobe’s description matches the second group. He declared that right reason demanded from the samurai the fulfillment of their duty. And he described this as a categorical imperative. This is very close to Daidōji’s statement that the fulfillment of one’s duty is the essence of bushidō. Again, this is only a description of a minority position, but it also cannot be rejected as fantasy.

Three different positions can be distinguished regarding the value of honour. Most of the samurai who mentioned honour (or a good reputation) considered it to be an important value (Torii Mototada, Yagyū Munenori, Daidōji Yūzan, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Yamamoto Ujihide, and Saitō Setsudō). In contrast, a small group of Confucian samurai (Kumazawa Banzan, Yamaga Sokō, and Naganuma Muneyoshi) warned against the aim to boost someone’s reputation by looking for trouble and fights. And finally, two Buddhists (Asakura Norikage and Miyamoto Musashi) rejected honour by emphasising that winning is more important than a good reputation. Nitobe’s statement that a bad reputation produces shame is an accurate description of the majority position in this case.

Closely related to the value of honour is the question why a samurai should follow an ethical code. I call this the motivation to follow norms. Usually, actors are following norms, because they want to avoid sanctions. Based on this insight, two types of motives can be distinguished. I define a motive as shame, if other people are applying the sanctions (this requires that other people are aware of the wrongdoing). I define the motive as guilt, if the actor punishes him- or herself with a guilty consciousness (this does not require anybody else to know about the wrongdoing). By applying these definitions to the bushidō-texts it becomes clear that the large majority of samurai emphasised shame or a related concept (e.g. reputation) as the motivation to follow the bushidō(Hōjō Shigetoki, Hōjō Sōun, Torii Mototada, Kuroda Nagamasa, Yagyū Munenori, Yamamoto Ujihide, and Saitō Setsudō; cf. Friday, 2004: 137). One samurai (Daidōji Yūzan) discussed shame and guilt, but concluded that shame is more important than guilt. One samurai (Yamaga Sokō) stated that both shame and guilt are important. And only one samurai (Naganuma Muneyoshi) favoured guilt as the main motive. It is worth noting that Confucianism influenced all three samurai who mentioned guilt. Also here Nitobe’s emphasis on shame is a correct description of the mainstream bushidō.

Regarding the value of courage three different positions can be distinguished. The clear majority of samurai saw courage as an important virtue (Takeda Nobushige, Torii Mototada, Suzuki Shosan, Kumazawa Banzan, Yamaga Sokō, Hōjō Chikuho-shi, Kaibara Ekken, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, and Saitō Setsudō). Two samurai (Kato Kiyomasa and Daidōji Yūzan) believed that courage was just the result of discipline or habituation. And five samurai (Kuroda Nagamasa, Nakae Tōju, Naganuma Muneyoshi, Izawa Nagahide, and Adachi Masahiro) downplayed the importance of courage by implying that it was only a useful virtue, if it was in accordance with justice, loyalty, or the Way. Although this interpretation of courage is characteristic of Neo-Confucian thinking, also Christian and Shintoist samurai are part of this group. Nitobe’s description of courage as a lesser virtue that only under the influence of righteousness had some importance is consistent with this third minority group.

The discussion of the next value, respect, in the bushidōliteraturehad no clear structure. The samurai had three different approaches to this value. The first group demanded that samurai should follow the etiquette in order not to insult other people (Hōjō Sōun, Torii Mototada, Kuroda Nagamasa, Daidōji Yūzan, and Saitō Setsudō). Two of those bushidō-authors connected this idea to harmony (Torii and Daidōji) and one to authority (Kuroda). The second group emphasised the importance of politeness and considering feelings and opinions of others (Takeda Nobushige, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Yamamoto Ujihide, and Tomida Dairai). Yamamoto Tsunetomo connected the idea of politeness to harmony. And the third group of Neo-Confucian and Shintō scholars warned samurai against insulting behaviour, because this could lead to illegal fights and incidents (Kaibara Ekken, Adachi Masahiro, and maybe Kumazawa Banzan). The exception in this discussion was Yagyū Munenori, who stated that the Confucian emphasis of respectfulness would limit the mind. In this case Nitobe’s position does not match any standpoint in the bushidō. He regarded politeness as a poor virtue, except it would be the result of sympathy. Nitobe shares with Yagyū the rather negative perception of the value respect, but the element of sympathy was missing in Yagyū’s work. Nitobe’s description of respect seems to be unrelated to the original bushidō.

The most discussed value in the bushidō-texts was loyalty. Four positions can be distinguished. The most extreme position claimed that samurai were expected to sacrifice themselves for their master (Hōjō Shigetoki, Torii Mototada, Suzuki Shosan, Daidōji Yūzan, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, and Saitō Setsudō). Asakura Norikage undermined this standpoint by stating that a lord only owns the possessions of a samurai, but not his life. However, most of the bushidō-texts demanded only from the samurai to honestly respect the master, to follow his orders, and not to mention the lord’s mistakes to outsiders (Imagawa Sadayo, Hōjō Sōun, Takeda Nobushige, Kato Kiyomasa, Kuroda Nagamasa, Miyamoto Musashi, Nakae Tōju, Kumazawa Banzan, Yamaga Sokō, and Yamamoto Ujihide). And the fourth Confucian position required samurai to show first of all loyalty to the shogun or the nation, and not the local lords (Kaibara Ekken, Naganuma Muneyoshi, and Izawa Nagahide). Here, Nitobe’s description of loyalty is consistent with the last Confucian position. However, this does not need to imply that Nitobe agreed with their argumentation. Nitobe could have emphasised the loyalty to the nation, simply because local feudal lords did not exist anymore when he was writing Bushido. It is furthermore worth noting that this sample of samurai texts does not support the claim of several researchers that before 1600 samurai understood loyalty as reciprocal and contractual, in contrast to a unidirectional duty in the sense of a categorical imperative of the retainer to show loyalty to his lord (Takayanagi, 1960: 9-13; Friday, 1994: 341f.; Benesch, 2011a: 1107). The amount of samurai, which advocated the most extreme interpretation of loyalty, is even slightly higher in the pre-Edo period (33%) than in the Edo period (27%). This contradiction could be explained by the small sample size, but it could also imply that the thesis of a different understanding of loyalty before and after 1600 is simply not correct.

The discussion of filial piety was very similar to the previous value of loyalty. The extreme position demanded from samurai their willingness to die for their parents (Daidōji Yūzan, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, and Saitō Setsudō). Furthermore, the more moderate mainstream position required samurai only to obey instructions and to carry on the family customs (Hōjō Shigetoki, Imagawa Sadayo, Shiba Yoshimasa, Torii Mototada, Kato Kiyomasa, Kuroda Nagamasa, Nakae Tōju, Yamaga Sokō, and Yamamoto Ujihide). The Confucian position insisted that samurai who look for fights and die, when they shouldn’t, would violate filial piety (Kaibara Ekken and Izawa Nagahide). Finally,IchijōKaneyoshi’s unique definition of filial piety could even be regarded as a rejection of filial piety in the classical sense. For Ichijō, a samurai who would not criticise his parents for their mistakes would violate filial piety too. In this case, Nitobe’s description of filial piety—that a samurai would sacrifice his son out of loyalty for his lord—is closest to the first minority position.

The next value is benevolence. Four positions can be distinguished. The majority group required rulers to take care of subordinates and weaker people (Hōjō Shigetoki, IchijōKaneyoshi, Asakura Toshikage, Asakura Norikage, Kuroda Nagamasa, Naganuma Muneyoshi, Tomida Dairai, and maybe Suzuki Shosan). The second largest group emphasised that a ruler should pity or feel compassion towards subordinates and weaker people, but is not required to solve their problems (Hōjō Sōun, Takeda Nobushige, Torii Mototada, Kumazawa Banzan, Izawa Nagahide, and Saitō Setsudō). Imagawa Sadayo reduced the demands towards rulers even more, and stated that it would be enough, if lords would not exploit their subordinates. And finally, Daidōji Yūzan dismissed the value benevolence entirely, because he believed that rectitude but not benevolence could limit power. Here, Nitobe claimed that rulers tried to treat subordinates as their children and that benevolence was a supreme virtue. This position is very similar to Kuroda Nagamasa—the only Christian among the 29 of the samurai selected. Kuroda demanded from rulers that they should be selfless and take care of their subordinates with love. Christianity might have influenced Nitobe’s description of benevolence, but since this might have been also true for Kuroda, it would still be an accurate description of a variation of the mainstream bushidō.

The discussion of the value of honesty focused mainly on the question whether a samurai should speak up and tell the truth—even if it would hurt the feelings of others—or should say very little. In this debate the majority of the bushidō-texts emphasised the importance of sincerity and honesty (Shiba Yoshimasa, IchijōKaneyoshi, Asakura Toshikage, Hōjō Sōun, Asakura Norikage, Miyamoto Musashi, Yamaga Sokō, Naganuma Muneyoshi, and Saitō Setsudō). In contrast, the minority position valued harmony higher than honesty (Hōjō Shigetoki, Takeda Shingen, Takeda Nobushige, Yagyū Munenori, and Yamamoto Tsunetomo). Samurai were supposed not to criticise or joke about others and advice should be only given in a polite and respectful way. Unrelated to this debate was the position of a small group of Neo-Confucian samurai (Hōjō Chikuho-shi, Kaibara Ekken, and Muro Naokiyo) who pointed out that deceptions were acceptable in warfare but not in peacetime. Nitobe’s description of dishonesty as highly dishonourable is in this case compatible with the majority position.

The last value in this discussion is self-control. Four different approaches to this virtue appeared in the bushidō. The first majority group demanded from samurai never to loose self-control (Shiba Yoshimasa, Yagyū Munenori, Miyamoto Musashi, and Hōjō Chikuho-shi) in order to preserve a simple and austere life (Daidōji Yūzan and Saitō Setsudō). The second group on the other hand was rather concerned about the appearance of samurai (Takeda Mobushige, Yamamoto Tsunetomo and Saitō Setsudō). They insisted that samurai should not display a week attitude or reveal anxiety. The third group of samurai influenced by Shintoism emphasised the importance of a calm undisturbed mind during fights (Izawa Nagahide and Adachi Masahiro). And finally, the Neo-Confucian samurai were worried that a lack of self-control could lead to conflicts and trouble (Kaibara Ekken, Naganuma Muneyoshi, and Muro Naokiyo). Nitobe’s description that samurai should behave calmly and should have a composed mind that is undisturbed by passions matches the mainstream position.


Based on this analysis it should now be possible to judge whether Nitobe’s Bushidowas an accurate description of the original bushidō-texts, not tainted by Christianity, and not a summary of Confucian ethical ideas or the result of Nitobe’s imagination without any foundation in the ethical code of the samurai.

Nitobe’s description of five values (honour, motivation, benevolence, honesty, and self-control) was matching the majority position. Four of the discussed values (acceptance of death, rectitude, courage, and filial piety) were equivalent to a strong minority position. The description of loyalty was still compatible to a peripheral minority position. And only Nitobe’s presentation of respect seemed to be rather unique. This already would be a good result for somebody who never studied bushidō-texts academically. But if we furthermore consider that we don’t know certainly who the source was, which provided Inazō with the information for his book (very likely his grandfather Nitobe Tsutō [cf. Howes, 1995: 29]), and that I have rather analysed a small selection of samurai texts, it is not impossible that Nitobe provided a very accurate description of his source’s interpretation of bushidō(including the rather unique presentation of respect). As a result, I can only conclude that Nitobe’s Bushidoprovided an accurate description of original bushidō-ideas, although he was not able to present bushidō-texts in their diversity. But this is a mild criticism, since most of Nitobe’s critics have not done this either.

In addition, the second criticism that claimed that Christianity tainted Nitobe’s description of bushidō-values does not convince me. It seems that only in the presentation of benevolence his religious convictions have carried him away from the original ideas. But firstly, this deviation was very small, and secondly it happened only in one out of eleven cases. Additionally, in cases where the social testimonies of Quakers and the samurai ethic conflicted, Nitobe’s belief had no impact on his presentation. For example, he neither described samurai as pacifists nor as a social class without hierarchies. Not even the Testimony of Simplicity let him interpret the value of self-control as material simplicity, although at least one samurai out of my sample was doing so (Saitō Setsudō). Therefore, the case of benevolence alone does not justify the rejection of everything what Nitobe had to say. Furthermore, this criticism does not take into account that the original bushidōwas already influenced by Christian ideas. Kuroda Nagamasa is a good example for this Christian influence.

The third criticism that everything in Nitobe’s book can also be found in Confucian texts and therefore would not describe the values and ideas of samurai is not sound. Only the description of two values (courage and loyalty) in Bushidomatches the characteristic position of Neo-Confucian samurai. Among the similar positions between Nitobe and the original samurai are 42% with Buddhist samurai (41% in the sample), 35% with Confucian samurai (32%), 7% with Shintō samurai (10%), 6% with Christian samurai (3%), and 11% with others (14%). The three samurai in this sample, which have more similarities than discrepancies to Nitobe’s position, are Miyamoto Musashi, Yagyū Munenori, and Shiba Yoshimasa. The first two were Zen Buddhist, whereas Shiba was a Buddhist. This is a surprising result, considering the impact of Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism in the Edo period. Therefore, this data does not support the thesis that Confucianism had a determining impact on Nitobe’s book. Furthermore, it should be obvious that Cameron Hurst’s criticism was self-contradictory in the first place. Nitobe’s Bushidocannot be tainted by Christian values and at the same time nothing more than a summary of Confucian texts, except Christianity tainted Confucian texts too.

I will now discuss Stephen Turnbull’s (2011: 154) criticism that Nitobe described his version of bushidōas a rigid and homogeneous code, which was accepted by all samurai, although such a generally accepted code never existed. In the relevant passage of Bushido, The Soul of Japan, Nitobe (2001: 4f.) states:

Bushido, then, is the code of moral principles which the knights were required or instructed to observe. It is not a written code; at best it consists of a few maxims handed down from mouth to mouth or coming from the pen of some well-known warrior or savant. More frequently it is a code unuttered and unwritten, possessing all the more the powerful sanction of veritable deed, and of a law written on the fleshly tablets of the heart. It was founded not on the creation of one brain, however able, or on the life of a single personage, however renowned. It was an organic growth of decades and centuries of military career.

In this passage, Nitobe says that the samurai ethic existed in different forms: as texts, as an advice from older generations, or as a general knowledge of samurai without ever being explicitly mentioned. Additionally, he claims that no single samurai was responsible for its creation. Furthermore, he tells the reader that the bushidōwas changing over time. Finally, he speaks of ‘a few maxims’ in contrast to a complete codex. This does not sound to me as an attempt to claim that only one rigid and homogeneous bushidōexisted throughout history. In contrast, I interpret this passage as an indirect acknowledgment of the diversity of the samurai ethics. However, although I don’t agree with Turnbull’s criticism in general, his point is insofar valid that Nitobe never stated that he is presenting only one version of bushidō: his own.

Nitobe Inazō was not an expert in the field, and he even hesitated to publish a Japanese translation of Bushido, The Soul of Japan, because he was afraid of the criticism of Japanese specialists (Benesch, 2011b: 157). But despite his limited knowledge and his insecurity, he nevertheless produced a very accurate description of the samurai ethics. How can we make sense out of this? I think that the answer to this riddle starts with Oleg Benesch’s conclusion that Nitobe’s Bushido‘is a unique interpretation relative to contemporary writings in Japanese’ (Benesch, 2011b: 160) and parts of Bushidoseem to be ‘anachronistic and more in line with bushidō discourse from the previous decade’ (Benesch, 2011b: 166). I agree with Benesch that Nitobe’s work had very little to do with the forming Meiji bushidōdiscourse. However, in contrast to Benesch’s position, I believe that the reason for this was not only Nitobe’s ‘isolation from the academic center, Tokyo,’ but also that he had a pre-Meiji source. If Nitobe has received a basic socialisation based on the old samurai ethics, then he should have been able to describe the principles correctly without being able to cite sources for those principles. This could also explain why Nitobe’s version of bushidōis a reasonable description of the samurai ethics, although his theory appears to be nothing more than ‘a hodge-podge of different sources, arguments, and observations, often contradictory’ (Benesch, 2011b: 161), and he ‘did not distinguish between places and periods of history in selecting references for his bushidō’ (Benesch, 2011b: 164).

My conclusion of this analysis is that the criticism against Nitobe’s book is in large parts not reasonable, and that in fact Nitobe Inazō was competent to write about bushidō. His competence was not the result of his academic studies, but the result of his socialisation. It makes more sense to regard his work as a description of a specific variation of the pre-Meiji samurai ethics, which was more influenced by Buddhism than by Confucianism, rather than an amateurish attempt to contribute to the academic Meiji bushidōdiscourse (cf. Benesch, 2011b). Bushido, The Soul of Japanhas a value for academics, if the parts that describe the samurai ethics are seen as a delayed primary text and not as an academic secondary text. Additionally, it is a valuable book for non-academics who want to know more about the ethics of Japanese feudal warriors, because it provides an easy accessible description of their morality.


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[1] I wish to thank Darren Ashmore and the two peer-reviewers for their helpful comments.

[2] This criticism is not correct, since Nitobe did not invent the term bushidō, although he was influential in popularising it (Oshiro, 2004: 65; Benesch, 2011b: 6).


Table 2a: Systematic Summary of bushidō-Texts (1)
Hōjō Shigetoki
北条重時 (1198-1261)
Imagawa Sadayo
今川貞世 (1325-1420)
Shiba Yoshimasa
斯波義将 (1349-1410)
Acceptance of Death - - a samurai will regret it, if he passes the proper time to die (2009: 18)
Rectitude - a lord should distribute just rewards and punishments (1982: 60) only after considering right and wrong, a samurai might get angry (2009: 21)
Honour - - -
Motivation shame (1982: 42) - -
Courage - - -
Respect - - -
Loyalty if a samurai considers only the importance of the master and not his own life, he will have the divine protection of the gods and Buddhas (1982: 38) “It is forbidden to forget the great debt of kindness one owes to his master and ancestors and thereby make light of the virtues of loyalty and filial piety.” (1982: 60) -
Filial Piety a samurai should not disregard the instructtions of his parents (1982: 37) - disobedience even to stupid parents is a violation of the principles of nature (2009: 19)
Benevolence a samurai should treat those people who are worthless for him kindly (1982: 41) a lord should not exploit the subordinates for the sake of his own prosperity (1982: 60) -
Honesty it will bring shame upon a samurai to make jokes about another person’s faults (1982: 42f.) - “People without sincerity of heart should not be considered for anything.” (2009: 21)
Modesty - a samurai should not be prideful of his cleverness (1982: 61) -
Self-control - - self control is important even when nobody is around (2009: 18)
Table 2b: Systematic Summary of bushidō-Texts (2)
Ichijō Kaneyoshi
一条 兼良 (1402-1481)
Asakura Toshikage
朝倉敏景 (1428-1481)
Hōjō Sōun
北条 早雲 (1432-1519)
Acceptance of Death - - -
Rectitude - - -
Honour - - -
Motivation - - shame (1982: 79)
Courage - - -
Respect - - a sloppy appearance is impolite and incompetent as well as a bad example for others (1982: 77)
Loyalty - - if a samurai respects honestly superiors, he will be in conformity with the gods (1982: 76)
Filial Piety not to criticise parents for their mistakes violates filial duty too (2009: 27) - -
Benevolence a samurai should relieve other people’s suffering and give them happiness (2009: 28) a lord should listen to the problems of his subordinates and devise some policy in order to solve them (1982: 70) if a samurai has pity on those below him, he will be in conformity with the goods and Buddhas (1982: 76)
Honesty “The revelation of the great bodhisattva Hachi-man also says that the spirits resides in an honest head.” (2009: 27) a lord should not allow distortion in terms of the truth in reports (1982: 70) to tell a lie can bring shame for a lifetime (1982: 79)
Modesty - - a samurai should not display his own wisdom (1982: 78)
Self-control - - -
Table 2c: Systematic Summary of bushidō-Texts (3)
Asakura Norikage
朝倉教景 (1474-1555)
Takeda Shingen
武田信玄 (1521-1573)
Takeda Nobushige
武田信繁 (1525-1561)
Acceptance of Death - “Man’s life shrinks away, and there is little to be done about it.” (1982: 94) -
Rectitude - - -
Honour “Though a warrior may be called a dog or beast, what is basic for him is to win.” (1982: 84) - -
Motivation - - -
Courage - - a samurai should not exhibit cowardice (1982: 101)
Respect - - a samurai should be polite to weaker people (1982: 102)
Loyalty the retainer’s possessions are the possessions of the master (1982: 85) - a samurai must never be perfidious to his lord (1982: 101)
Filial Piety - - -
Benevolence a lord should provide for his subordinates well Þcreates loyalty (1982: 84f.) - it is essential that a ruler should have compassion toward his retainers and other subordinates (1982: 103, 105)
Honesty a samurai should first of all tell no lies, because such a man cannot be trusted (1982: 83) shame can be avoided, if a samurai says only 30% of what he has to say (1982: 95) a samurai should neither tell a lie, nor criticise the mistakes of others (1982: 102, 109)
Modesty - - -
Self-control - - a samurai should never display a weak attitude (1982: 107)
Table 2d: Systematic Summary of bushidō-Texts (4)
Torii Mototada
鳥居元忠 (1539-1600)
Kato Kiyomasa
加藤清正 (1562-1611)
Nichiren Buddhist
Kuroda Nagamasa
黒田長政 (1568-1623)
Acceptance of Death no samurai should avoid death (1982: 122) a samurai should have the intention to grasp the sword and to die (1982: 131) -
Rectitude a samurai should preserve his righteousness (1982: 123) - it is essential that a lord knows the Way of Truth (justice) (1982: 136f.)
Honour to sacrifice his life for the sake of his lord is an honour to his family; cowardice destroys the good reputation (1982: 122ff.) - -
Motivation Ä shame - trifling things should not be done in public (1982: 135)
Courage a samurai should strive in bravery in order not to hurt the reputation of the family (1982: 123f.) discipline is necessary to die a brave death (1982: 132) bravery must be in ac-cordance with the Way (1982: 136)
Respect a samurai should have correct manners (Þ? harmony) (1982: 124) - in order to show true authority the correct etiquette is necessary (1982: 138)
Loyalty to sacrifice his life for the sake of his lord is an unchanging principle (1982: 122) a samurai should direct his attention exclusively to loyalty and filial piety (1982: 131) carrying out orders is essential (1982: 137)
Filial Piety family members should never disobey the head of the family and remain forever grateful to their ancestors (1982: 122) - his son should carry on the family customs in a manly way (1982: 139)
Benevolence a ruler should have compassion toward his subordinates (1982: 124) - a ruler should be selfless and take care of his subordinates with love and humanity Þharmony (1982: 135ff., 139)
Honesty - - -
Modesty a samurai who is eager to receive promotion values life and is therefore not anymore willing to sacrifice his life (1982: 124) - -
Self-control - - -
Table 2e: Systematic Summary of bushidō-Texts (5)
Yagyū Munenori
柳生宗矩 (1571-1646)
Zen Buddhist
Suzuki Shosan
鈴木正三 (1579-1655)
Zen Buddhist
Miyamoto Musashi
宮本 武蔵 (1587-1645)
Zen Buddhist
Acceptance of Death - - “The truth is that we all must die.” But a death without reason is a shame. (2004: 5)
Rectitude the original mind and not the false mind creates right reason (judgments of good and bad are wrong) (2005: 83, 96) “An attitude of commit-ment to benevolence and justice” (2009: 49) a samurai should follow what is true and right (2004: 18)
Honour the false mind results in a bad reputation (2005: 84) - winning is important but not a good reputation (2004: 6, 14)
Motivation Ä shame - -
Courage - good attitudes emerge from a brave mind (2009: 49) -
Respect Confucian emphasis on respectfulness limits and not frees the mind (2005: 54) - -
Loyalty - “An attitude of self-sacrifice for your leader” (2009: 48; cf. 44) serving an employer well is more important than the own interest (2004: 6)
Filial Piety - - -
Benevolence - “An attitude of commit-ment to benevolence and justice” (2009: 49) -
Honesty the strategic use of deception to gain what is real will become true
Þ harmony through the opposite (2005: 27)
- a samurai needs to be honest (especially with himself) in order to reach enlightenment (2004: 18, 69)
Modesty - - overconfidence is dangerous in battles (but also don’t feel inferior) (2004: 22, 47)
Self-control emotions belong to the false mind, which has to be controlled by the original mind (2005: 84) - the samurai’s mind should be balanced and unaffected by the circumstances (2004: 22)
Table 2f: Systematic Summary of bushidō-Texts (6)
Nakae Tōju
中江 藤樹 (1608-1648)
Kumazawa Banzan
熊沢 蕃山 (1619-1691)
Yamaga Sokō
山鹿素行 (1622-1685)
Classical Confucian-Shintō
Acceptance of Death “[I]n establishing justice and reason, […] they are willing to sacrifice their lives for their lords and parents.” (2009: 36f.) - forgetting about death is shameful (2009: 64)
Rectitude “[W]arriorhood is a different name for the path of justice.” (2009: 34; cf. 36) - -
Honour - to wish for or to seek trouble in order to elevate your reputation is ill-considered and disloyal (2009: 55, 56) “To violate a former office to boost your own reputation is disloyalty.” (2009: 64)
Motivation - - shame (2009: 63ff.)
guilt (2009: 64f.)
Courage the courage that is based on bloodlust and not justice “can perversely impede the human path” (2009: 37) “A good warrior is always courageous.” (2009: 56) “To see what is right yet fail to do it is a lack of courage.” (2009: 64)
Respect - “The ultimate meaning of warriorhood is love and respect.” (2009: 58) -
Loyalty “To properly practice the principles of respect for parents, [..] loyalty, and faithfulness is called culture.” (2009: 33) “A good warrior […] respects his ruler.” (2009: 56) loyalty is important (2009: 64)
Filial Piety - - lack of real filial piety is shameful (2009: 62)
Benevolence - a samurai should pity weaker people and prefer peace (2009: 56) -
Honesty - - “If your facial expression is not genuine as well, people will get the impression of falsehood.” (2009: 66)
Modesty - “One who makes a show of valour is hated by others.” (2009: 58) -
Self-control - - -
Table 2g: Systematic Summary of bushidō-Texts (7)
Hōjō Chikuho-shi (17th century)
Kaibara Ekken
貝原 益軒 (1630-1714)
Naganuma Muneyoshi
長沼 宗敬 (1635-1690)
Acceptance of Death - to die is easy and not special, but to sacrifice oneself for justice is difficult
(2009: 70)
a samurai should be willing to sacrifice his life for the country out of gratitude (2009: 87)
Rectitude - justice should be the foundation of war (2009: 76) “When used to settle the troubles of the world and eliminate harm to the people, warfare is just.” (2009: 81)
Honour - - “[T]o pursue prestige thereby is to forget justice.” (2009: 84)
Motivation - - guilt (2009: 93)
Courage “The key to the warrior’s heart is maintaining courage.” (2009: 138) “[C]ourage is essential to prosecute warfare. Without courage, there is no power, no force, to defeat enemies.” (2009: 77) courage is much less important than loyalty (2009: 94)
Respect - do not insult but tolerate others in order to avoid unjust fights (2009: 72, 76) -
Loyalty - Not to die, when you should is to violate loyalty. To die, when you shouldn’t is to violate filial piety. (2009: 70) loyalty refers “to the defense of the nation” (2009: 92)
Filial Piety - - -
Benevolence - - the subjects follow their ruler, because of his benevolence (2009: 85)
Honesty subterfuge in war is acceptable but not in peace time (2009: 135) delusional people believe that using deception in peace time to make gains is acceptable (2009: 71) “The way wise leaders and intelligent commanders govern subordinates is to inspire sincerity by being sincere.” (2009: 87)
Modesty - - “to be unwilling to gloat even if you become successful and famous” (2009: 94)
Self-control nothing should make a samurai lose self control (2009: 138f.) a samurai should not lose control, when insulted, as long as it is not a dishonour (2009: 71f.) “to control yourself and be careful of your character” (2009: 94)
Table 2h: Systematic Summary of bushidō-Texts (8)
Daidōji Yūzan
大道寺 友山 (1639-1730)
Muro Naokiyo
室直清 (1658-1734)
Yamamoto Tsunetomo
山本 常朝 (1659-1719)
Zen Buddhist
Acceptance of Death the essence of bushidōis to die Þloyalty (2007: 3, 5) - the essence of bushidō is to die Þ courage/duty (2001: 13f.)
Rectitude the essence of bushidōis right reason: it demands the fulfillment of one’s duty Þloyalty (2007: 11, 31) - selflessness creates right reason (emotions are more important) (2001: 14f.; cf. 2008: 65; Steben 2008: 11f.)
Honour a bad reputation produces shame (2007: 35) - samurais who do not adhere to honour fall into cynicism and are useless (2001: 36)
Motivation shame (and guilt)
Þ habit (2007: 33ff.)
- -
Courage the fear of loss of reputation motivates to act brave (and with time he will habitually act brave) (2007: 35) - if he shows courage, no shame will come to him, even if he is not successful (2001: 13f., cf. 26)
Respect correct etiquette and manners are important in order to show respect Þharmony (2007: 41) - it is important to consider the feelings/opinions of other people Þharmony (2001: 16f.)
Loyalty a samurai must offer his life to the service of his lord and his family (2007: 3, 5, 11, 15, 113) - a samurai must offer his life to the service of his lord (and his family) (2001: 19, 30)
Filial Piety - - -
Benevolence limits of power are more clearly caused by recti-tude than benevolence (2007: 79) - -
Honesty he should either refrain from talking or stating exactly what he thinks with no regard for the others’ resentment (2007: 87) although warfare does not follow the normal rules, it “should not be immediately identified as a path of falsehood and artifice” (2009: 108) an honest advice is an insult, if the advice is not accepted, therefore it should be given in a polite and acceptable way (2001: 15f.)
Modesty - arrogance leads to defeat (2009: 99) if he can see the infinity of secrets, then he realises the limits of his mastery (2001: 21)
Self-control a samurai should control himself to refrain from doing wrong (amusing things) (2007: 31) samurais who do not control their impulses can be manipulated by their enemies (2009: 99) a samurai should never say anything that will reveal his anxiety, nor should he hesitate (2001: 37)
Table 2i: Systematic Summary of bushidō-Texts (9)
Izawa Nagahide
井沢長秀 (1668-1731)
Yamamoto Ujihide (n.d.)
Adachi Masahiro (active ca. 1780-1800)
Acceptance of Death “There are situations when it’s right to die, [..] and situations where you shouldn’t die.” (2009: 116) an honourable samurai fights to the death for justice (2009: 124) “If you fight willing to die, you’ll survive; if you fight trying to survive, you’ll die.” (2009: 196)
Rectitude - a samurai should “disregard his life for justice” (2009: 124) “If you are brave but you are not cognizant of humanity and justice, you will be antisocial, do harm to others, and bring injury on yourself.” (2009: 192)
Honour - a sign of a great general is “having a good reputation” (2009: 122) -
Motivation - Ä shame -
Courage a samurai should be brave inside without showing it outside, even if he is in danger to be perceived as weak (2009: 115) - “So courage ought to be rooted in justice.” (2009: 192)
Respect - “Not directing foul speech at enemies is an ancient principle of courtesy, even for the lowliest soldiers.” (2009: 123) “When we’re arrogant, we look down on others; when we treat others contemptuously, incidents occur.” (2009: 197)
Loyalty a samurai who looks for fights has “forgotten the principles of loyalty and respect for parents” (2009: 115f.) “One who does not men-tion mistakes of his lord, father, or teachers to people of other houses is loyal and faithful.” (2009: 123) -
Filial Piety - - -
Benevolence a samurai should outwardly appear gentle and loving (2009: 115f.) - -
Honesty - - -
Modesty - - -
Self-control “If you go to an encoun-ter in a calm, unshakable state, you naturally won’t fall apart.” (2009: 118) - “Therefore the imperturbable mind is fundamental. When the mind is disturbed, you cannot perform actions or act on principles, because of the way you’re affected.” (2009: 199)
Table 2j: Systematic Summary of bushidō-Texts (10)
Tomida Dairai (active ca. 1800)
Classical Confucian
Saitō Setsudō (1797-1865)
Classical Confucian
Nitobe Inazō
新渡戸 稲造 (1862-1933)
Acceptance of Death - the samurai’s foremost duty is to die for his lord (2009: 231), but a suicidal attitude is harmful (2009: 238) a samurai should accept death only, if it is right to die (2001: 23, 30, 115, 123)
Rectitude - the samurai’s correct manner should be centered on justice (2009: 230) right reason demands the fulfillment of one’s duty (categorical imperative) (2001: 25f.)
Honour - a samurai fulfills his duties despite miseries, because fears to degrade his honour (2009: 231f.) a bad reputation produces shame
Þ honesty (2001: 72f.)
Motivation - shame (2009: 231, 236, 237) shame (2001: 72ff.)
Courage - even samurai children should be scared to be “ashamed and rebuked as cowards” (2009: 231) only important, if it is exercised in the cause of righteousness (a lesser virtue) (2001: 29f.)
Respect “Regardless of social class, there should be no discourteous behaviour.” (2009: 181) the samurai’s correct manner should be centered on courtesy (2009: 230) politeness is a poor virtue, except it is the result of sympathy (2001: 50, 54)
Loyalty - the main measure of human ethics is loyalty and filial piety and for both a samurai should be willing to die (2009: 240) a samurai would sacrifice his son out of loyalty to the lord or nation (2001: 86ff.)
Filial Piety - - -
Benevolence “Looking after the ignorant and immature is an aim of a noble man.” (2009: 182) a samurai should have a sympathetic heart for the people (2009: 242f.) a ruler should treat his subordinates as his children (a supreme virtue) (2001: 36ff.)
Honesty - the samurai’s correct manner should be centered on honesty (2009: 230) lying was condemned as weakness, and was highly dishonourable (2001: 70f.)
Modesty - - -
Self-control - a samurai should “main-tain a manner of simplicity and austerity” (2009: 232), and should even change the expression in situa-tions of danger (2009: 231) in order to achieve self-mastery (2009: 232) calmness of behaviour, composure of mind, should not be disturbed by passions (stoicism) (2001: 103ff.)

About the Author

Christian Etzrodt (Ph.D. in economics, University of Cologne, 2000; Ph.D. in sociology, Ritsumeikan University, 2006) is a professor of sociology and Associate Dean at the International College of Liberal Arts (Yamanashi Gakuin University). He has published two books and more than 15 articles and book chapters. His books are: Menschliches Verhalten: Eine Synthese aus mikroökonomischen und mikrosoziologischen Theorien (Human Behaviour: A Synthesis of Microeconomic and Microsociological Theories, University Press Konstanz, 2001) and Sozialwissenschaftliche Handlungstheorien: Eine Einführung (Action Theories in the Social Sciences: An Introduction, UTB, 2003). His published articles have been on social theory, philosophy of science, sociology of religion, and sociology of globalization. He has published those articles in prestigious journals that are listed in the Social Science Citation Index including: Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, Zeitschrift für Soziologie, and Human Studies. And he has taught several years the course Sociological Analysis of the Nihonjinron.

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