Nevertheless, its international success was celebrated in Japan, and by planting the idea that Japan’s moral rectitude gave it the right to join the privileged group of Western colonial nations, Nitobe’s book “made Japanese believe that they were all inheritors of superior values and that they had a claim to right the wrong,” noted Hotta. Instruction in the code was officially abandoned in 1945, though elements of … But the prevalence of bushido values in Japanese society is a reflection of the continuing influence of Confucianism rather than Nitobe’s book, according to Yukiko Yuasa, assistant professor at Teikyō Heisei University in Tokyo. The word "bushido" comes from the Japanese roots "bushi" meaning "warrior," and "do" meaning "path" or "way." Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, wrote that one aim of the Boy Scouts scheme was “to revive some of the rules of the knights of old, which did so much for the moral tone of our race, just as …Bushido… has done, and is still doing, for Japan.” In contrast to the rapturous reception it received overseas, the book was widely criticised in Japan as inaccurate, according to Oleg Benesch in his book Inventing the Way of the Samurai. From Hollywood blockbusters to Japanese TV dramas, the samurai has been portrayed over the years as a model of both physical excellence and moral rectitude, for whom honour and loyalty are more valuable than life. “Many of the teachings that appear in Nitobe’s book are part of Japanese behaviour, so people don’t have to read the book to learn about those values,” she says. The international acclaim that greeted his book suggests Nitobe succeeded in his objective of documenting Japanese values and thereby improving the country’s image in the West. We are at 1975 Magwood Drive, Charleston, SC 29414 “Nitobe’s book offered a way to explain the source of Japan’s growing power,” says Lance Gatling, author of the upcoming The Kanō Chronicles, about Jigorō Kanō, the founder of judo. Signup today! As such, Nitobe made constant references to European philosophy and literature and likened bushido to the chivalry of European knights. According to Saaler, Nitobe sought to counter racism and fears in the West of the ‘Yellow Peril’ by shaping the image of the samurai, and by extension, the Japanese, as not only brave but also chivalrous. As seen through the eyes of US Army Captain Nathan Algren – who is hired by Japan’s Imperial Army to help fight the rebels, but is taken into captivity by them – Katsumoto and his band of rebel samurai epitomise the honourable warrior: fearless, dedicated to their duty, hard-working and disciplined but also polite and benevolent towards their captive. “Chivalry is a flower, no less indigenous to the soil of Japan than its emblem, the cherry blossom….” Nitobe wrote. I have learned not a little from what I have read of the fine Samurai spirit…”. If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter. It preached benevolence and politeness, truthfulness, honour and loyalty to a higher authority. of Warriors, Wall of Although it is one of countless books written on bushido (‘the way of the warrior’), Nitobe’s book remains the most influential source for those seeking to understand a value system that continues to permeate many facets of Japanese society to this day. This website is produced by BBC Global News, a commercial company owned by the BBC (and just the BBC). Appearing at a time when interest in Japan was growing, following its military victories over China and Russia, Nitobe’s book found a willing audience among Western readers who were both impressed and mystified by Japan’s stunning rise. Lee Teng-hui, the recently deceased former President of Taiwan, reminded the Japanese public of the book’s significance in a 2006 memoir detailing how it influenced his own life and thinking. It translates literally to "way of the warrior." Nevertheless, Nitobe’s book continues to inform the outside world of values that remain core to Japanese society. Many of the values he identified as the teachings of bushido – politeness towards others, a high regard for personal honour, self-control and loyalty to a higher authority – remain core to the Japanese view of proper behaviour. Bushido: The Soul of Japan is available now as part of Penguin's Great Ideas series. “Samurai and daimyo (feudal lords) weren’t really living the life of honour and loyalty,” says Sven Saaler, professor of modern Japanese history at Sophia University in Tokyo. We occasionally send out gift cards, coupons, discounts, This image of the samurai, though not historically accurate, is widely entrenched in the popular imagination, due in no small part to a slim volume written in English at the turn of the 20th Century by Inazō Nitobe. “It was important for the Japanese self-image.”, (Credit: The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images). The Last Samurai, a sweeping Hollywood epic, tells the story of Katsumoto, a rebel samurai who dedicates his life to fighting the forces he believes are corrupting Japan’s traditional values. Bushido is widely invoked in sports, with the Japanese national baseball team nicknamed ‘Samurai Japan’, and the national men’s football team called ‘Samurai Blue’. (Credit: Kusakabe Kimbei/Hulton Archive/Getty Images). Food, Wall As such, Bushido: The Soul of Japan can be expected to help shape the world’s understanding of Japan for many years to come. Contrary to Nitobe’s claim, by the Edo period (1603-1868) samurai came to be reviled for abusing their privileges at a time when their martial skills had become obsolete due to two centuries of social stability. In the mid-19th century the precepts of Bushido were made the basis of ethical training for the whole of society (in relation to the emperor). To Western readers, the courage, moral rectitude and other values of bushido described in Nitobe’s book provided a compelling explanation for how a small, and hitherto unknown, country could defeat its much larger and seemingly more powerful neighbours. More recently, bushido has seen renewed interest and Nitobe’s book gained international recognition again in the 1980s, when the world sought to understand the source of modern Japan’s rapid economic and technological advances. That military success, which stunned the Western powers of the time, was quickly followed by Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 and 1905. See more. Read about our approach to external linking. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday. We respect Nitobe traced those values to bushido, which he defined as the samurai’s code of moral principles. According to Eri Hotta, a historian and author of Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy, the book was also “an attempt to place Japan on an equal footing with the best of the Western powers so that they could claim a right to be masters of colonies”. We respect “(The) spirit of bushido permeated all social classes,” Nitobe wrote. special offers & fun updates by email, text message, or snail mail. Bushido refers not only to martial rectitude, but to personal rectitude: Rectitude … Bushido: The book that changed Japan’s image, Why embracing change is the key to a good life. Bushido, the code of conduct of the samurai of premodern Japan. However, Nitobe’s aim in writing his book was not to provide a historically accurate account of the samurai, but to show the outside world that Japan had a value system that was similar to Christian morality. The allure of bushido as a moral code even caught the attention of the then US President, Theodore Roosevelt, who was a keen judo practitioner. After witnessing the noble ways of the samurai, Algren switches allegiance to help Katsumoto in his fateful mission. Even those who remember Nitobe identify him more often as the face on the 5,000 yen note from 1984 to 2004. your privacy. Rectitude or Justice. Man Vs. Just four years before his book’s publication, Japan had emerged victorious in its war against China from 1894 to 1895. “If the opportunity arose, they would also kill their master and take his position.”. Signup today! “The sense of honour, implying a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, could not fail to characterise the samurai…” Nitobe wrote. In his seminal work, Nitobe, who came from a family of samurai, also claimed that the samurai’s values were shared by all in Japan. We occasionally send out gift cards, coupons, discounts, No money from the licence fee was used to create this website. More like this: - Why embracing change is the key to a good life - Is failure the new literary success? The reality was somewhat different, and historians have criticised Nitobe’s description of the samurai as highly romanticised. Bushido is widely invoked in sports, with the Japanese national baseball team nicknamed ‘Samurai Japan’, and the national men’s football team called ‘Samurai Blue’. (Credit: Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images). “It was one of the first Western books on Japanese culture, and it sold like crazy.” Gatling found a copy of Bushido in the Arkansas Public Library that had been printed in 1904, just four years after its initial publication. Through his book, Nitobe, an agricultural economist, educator, diplomat and Quaker convert who was Under-Secretary General of the League of Nations from 1919 to 1929, sought to explain to Westerners (including his American Quaker wife, Mary) the moral values underpinning Japanese culture. Legends, Bushido Japanese In a letter to the diplomat and politician, Count Kentarō Kaneko, dated 13 April, 1904, Roosevelt wrote: “I was most impressed by the little volume on Bushido. After World War Two, bushido, which was associated with Japan’s militarism, became “a target of popular resentment” within Japan, wrote Benesch. - The best books of the year so far. Yet, apart from such intermittent bursts of interest, Nitobe and his former best-seller are not household names in Japan. Welcome to Bushido Japanese Restaurant, an authentic Japanese Sushi Restaurant and Bar, located in the West Ashley area of Charleston, SC. Restaurant. special offers & fun updates by email, text message, or snail mail. Bushido was the code of conduct for Japan's warrior classes from perhaps as early as the eighth century through modern times. Bushido: The Soul of Japan, which was first published in 1900 and became an international bestseller in its day, has just been republished as part of Penguin’s Great Ideas series. your privacy. Bushido, according to Nitobe, instructed the samurai to have a strong sense of justice and the courage to carry out that justice. Bushido definition, (in feudal Japan) the code of the samurai, stressing unquestioning loyalty and obedience and valuing honor above life. Nitobe’s book aimed to counter fears that Japan would one day become a threat to Europe and “to construct a very positive image of Japan as a militarily strong but civilised country that behaved in a civilised way in war,” says Saaler. The money we make from it is re-invested to help fund the BBC’s international journalism. And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly features newsletter, called The Essential List.