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Bushido: The Soul of Japan (Bushido--The Way of the Warrior)
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Manufacturer: Kodansha International
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Binding: Hardcover
Dewey Decimal Number: 181
EAN: 9784770027313
ISBN: 4770027311
Label: Kodansha International
Manufacturer: Kodansha International
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 160
Publication Date: 2002-03-01
Publisher: Kodansha International
Studio: Kodansha International

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Editorial Reviews:

A century ago, when Japan was transforming itself from an isolated feudal society into a modern nation, a Japanese educator queried about the ethos of his people composed this seminal work, which with his numerous other writings in English made him the best, known Japanese writer in the West during his lifetime.
He found in Bushido, the Way of the Warrior, the sources of the virtues most admired by his people: rectitude, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, loyalty and self-control. His approach to his task was eclectic and far-reaching. On the one hand, he delved into the indigenous traditions, into Buddhism, Shintoism, Confucianism and the moral guidelines handed down over hundreds of years by Japan's samurai and sages. On the other hand, he sought similarities and contrasts by citing not only Western philosophers and statesmen, but also the shapers of European and American thought and civilization going back to the Romans, the Greeks and Biblical times.
This book is a classic to which generations of scholars and laymen alike have long referred for insights into the character of the Japanese people. And all of its many readers in the past have been amply rewarded, as will be all those who turn to its pages in the next and future decades.


Spotlight customer reviews:

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: illuminating, but something of a whitewash
Comment: Quite a few studies of the samurai ethos floating about by now, but I would consider this one of the two or three must-reads in the field, along with Tsunetomo Yamamoto's book.

Despite what the copyright date says, this was written in 1905 by a renowned scholar in the field (a Japanese Christian), originally in English. Unlike Yamamoto, the author is fluent with the history of Western philosophy and approaches his subject from that angle.

Unlike other samurai books, it's not like this is a collection of advice on how to be an honorable samurai. The whole thing seems to be an attempt at a historical monograph addressed to a Western student. The author states his goals in chapter one: "My attempt is . . . to relate firstly, the origin and sources of our chivalry; secondly, its character and teaching; thirdly, its influence among the masses; and, fourthly, the continuity and permanence of its influence."

It is quite elegantly written. Take this, from the first paragraph:

"Chivalry is a flower no less indigenous to the soil of Japan than its emblem, the cherry blossom; nor is it a dried-up specimen of an antique virtue preserved in the herbarium of our history. It is still a living object of power and beauty among us, and if it assumes no tangible shape or form, it none the less scents the moral atmosphere and makes us aware that we are still under its potent spell. The conditions of society which brought it forth and nourished it have long disappeared; but as those far-off stars which once were and are not, still continue to shed their rays upon us, so the light of chivalry, which was a child of feudalism, still illuminates our moral path, surviving its mother institution."

Fortunately, the whole thing isn't written in this vein, but it is carefully written.

One thing worth nothing: the book came out in 1905, when a newly industrializing Japan had just bonked the Russian giant over the head. As a result of this, Nitobe takes quite the high tone with the samurai tradition, never really looking at its dark side. No, it is the source of everything great in Japanese culture.

There are reports of American soldiers taking over villages in the Pacific during WWII, in which the women and children (their men having been killed), rather than submit to the dishonor of being captured in battle, hurled themselves and their infants over cliffs, to the astonishment of the American GIs.

Things like this were also a by-product of bushido, are they not?

However, if you feel that, in any meaningful discussion of a chivalric tradition, unsavory aspects such as this need to be addressed, then you won't find what you're looking for in Nitobe's book.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: A Bible of Aristotelian-Like Virtues
Comment: This book is highly relevant to Japanese society today, and I'm glad that at least some reviewers have noted that fact. Nitobe writes in a style one would expect from a man educated in the manner of Edwardian England, but that does nothing to detract from what he says. It may give the impression that his message is dated, but the opposite is true: he writes clearly and directly and his laconic gems of expression lead straight to a solid undertanding of the modern Japanese heart. He manages to pull off this feat by using apt comparisons to our Western pre-Christian heritage, primarily comparisons to pagan Rome and Greece, writers like Tacitus, Polybius, and Aristotle. Nitobe also often quotes Shakespeare and the likes of Carlyle, Nietzsche, and Emerson, but almost always as an extension of his use of classical literature. If a Western reader wants to know what Western culture would have looked like without the Judeo-Christian ethic, this book is likely a window directly into that alternate universe. Under the best outcomes, Bushido appears as something like a combination of the spirits of Athens and Sparta in harmony.

As a retired US Army officer living in Japan (off and on for the last 34 years), married into a Japanese family, witness to the raising of my daughters in the Japanese way (as Nitobe says, "to be able to hold their own against unexpected odds"), there is no doubt in my mind that Bushido is alive and thriving in modern Japan. When I was a teacher at the US Military Academy, we used this book in some elective philosophy classes to convey to students how Confucianism has become, over the centuries, the dominant influence in the Japanese way of life. Bushido adds to Confucianism healthy measures of resourcefulness, self-reliance, and emotional stamina within the central concept of filial piety. Emphasis on these virtues adds up to a character that values patience and self-control as its principal strengths in a personality whose purpose-driven-life is one of respect. It is hard, even for the most jaded cynic, to not have soaring admiration for the average Japanese person, at least those who have been steeped in this mighty tradition.

Many find it hard to imagine that such a culture could have spawned the war crimes and abuses witnessed in China and Korea during WWII. What most do not know is that the Japanese soldiers were the most chivalrous people on Earth in the early 20th century (during the Russo-Japanese War four years after this book was written). People who feel exploited and betrayed react with virulence and frequently end in moral failure; witness our own history of war crimes which even today we are loathe to own up to. There is no paradox. What Bushido does is foster an excellent environment for the possibility of a strong and honest character--that is what is most compelling about it.

I recommend reading this book with a copy of Aristotle's Rhetoric near to hand. Between the two the reader will never want for moral guidance and will be able to dispense with any library of self-help books or religion.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Not only historic Japan, but also Japan at present
Comment: I am a Japanese graduate student, aged 24, who studies molecular biology. I would like to add to the excellent reviews so far that this book is full of insights to understand not only historic Japan but also Japan and Japanese people at present.

The first reason is that most Japanese know Nitobe's name, face and act of writing this book. It is because his portrait was featured on the 5000 Yen banknote printed from 1984 to 2004.

The second reason is that many leaders at present, including, as far as I know, Masahiko Fujiwara, a mathematician, who wrote a recent Japanese best-seller titled Kokka no Hinkaku (Style of a nation) and some professors in my department's faculty, admire this book.

The third reason is that, though modernization and westernization wiped out the great fraction of Bushido customs, its spirits prevail in the minds of Japanese people. You may ask 'How is it possible without Bushido customs?', as M. de Laveleye, a Belgian jurist, asked Nitobe in the preface of the book, 'How do you impart moral education without religion?'. The answer, Masahiko Fujiwara points out, lies in people's reading classics, such as Genji Monogatari, Heike Monogatari, poems by Matsuo Basho and so on. In fact, as I see it, Bushido characteristics mentioned in this book, rectitude, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, the duty of loyalty, and self-control, still remain in Japan.

I agree with Dr. Fujiwara in general, but, I regard Manga (comic books) and Anime, now summed up as Otaku or Akihabara culture, as the main source of the Japanese moral for the younger generations. People of my age did not read much of original classics, when they are children. Instead, we have been surrounded by and soaked with many classics reproduced as Manga or/and anime (eg Nihon Mukashi Banashi (Japanese folklore), Asaki Yumemishi (Genji Monogatari), Vagabond (the story of Miyamoto Musashi, a famous Samurai), and so on). Some people despise Manga as picture books, but it is not. It is a powerful media of information that is easy to read and, therefore, rapidly, widely, and voluntarily read. So, Bushido spirits prevail in the minds of Japanese people much more deeply than you imagine.

For the reasons above, I assure you that reading this book will greatly enhance your understanding of both historic and present Japan and Japanese people.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: elegant, concise and informative
Comment: Not only does this book provide the philosphy behind Japanese culture, this philosphy still offers a reasonable ethic to live by. Certainly I do not recommend seppuku (ritual suicide) as component of a healthy value system. But rectitude(justice), courage, benevolence, politeness, veracity, honor, loyalty, education, and self-control are healthy values which Bushido is based on.

This book is not for everyone, Nitobe assumes the reader is well versed in the classics of western literature, philospophy and relgion. This facility would be common to college graduates of the 19th century, these days we do not receive such a broad liberal arts education. I found I had to do some self education to understand his finer points...yet I am the better for it.

Not only did I learn more about Japan and Japan's place in world history, through Nitobe's analysis I became more aware of my own culture and it's standing relative to the rest of the world.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Understanding Bushido is like cooking...
Comment: No, really. Bushido is not a science and it's not easy to understand. It is made up of many parts, each designed to carefully balance each other. Justice, Courage and Loyalty are just some of the ingredients needed to be added in just the right amounts. Too much can be as bad as too little. A man worried just about Justice might forget about Benevolence and a man worried about Honor might forget about Politeness.
Bushido is not like a coat, that you can put on and take off, but a way of life. A Master Chef does not just practice his art on the weekend - and neither does a Samurai.


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