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Bushido, the Soul of Japan by Inazo Nitobe

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Republic does the Frenchman. It may be that we do not read _Sartor
Resartus_ as zealously as the Englishman. Personally, I believe it was
our very excitability and sensitiveness which made it a necessity to
recognize and enforce constant self-repression; but whatever may be the
explanation, without taking into account long years of discipline in
self-control, none can be correct.

Discipline in self-control can easily go too far. It can well repress
the genial current of the soul. It can force pliant natures into
distortions and monstrosities. It can beget bigotry, breed hypocrisy or
hebetate affections. Be a virtue never so noble, it has its counterpart
and counterfeit. We must recognize in each virtue its own positive
excellence and follow its positive ideal, and the ideal of
self-restraint is to keep our mind _level_--as our expression is--or, to
borrow a Greek term, attain the state of _euthymia_, which Democritus
called the highest good.

The acme of self-control is reached and best illustrated in the first of
the two institutions which we shall now bring to view; namely,


of which (the former known as _hara-kiri_ and the latter as
_kataki-uchi_ )many foreign writers have treated more or less fully.

To begin with suicide, let me state that I confine my observations only
to _seppuku_ or _kappuku_, popularly known as _hara-kiri_--which means
self-immolation by disembowelment. "Ripping the abdomen? How
absurd!"--so cry those to whom the name is new. Absurdly odd as it may
sound at first to foreign ears, it can not be so very foreign to
students of Shakespeare, who puts these words in Brutus' mouth--"Thy
(Caesar's) spirit walks abroad and turns our swords into our proper
entrails." Listen to a modern English poet, who in his _Light of Asia_,
speaks of a sword piercing the bowels of a queen:--none blames him for
bad English or breach of modesty. Or, to take still another example,
look at Guercino's painting of Cato's death, in the Palazzo Rossa in
Genoa. Whoever has read the swan-song which Addison makes Cato sing,
will not jeer at the sword half-buried in his abdomen. In our minds this
mode of death is associated with instances of noblest deeds and of most
touching pathos, so that nothing repugnant, much less ludicrous, mars
our conception of it. So wonderful is the transforming power of virtue,
of greatness, of tenderness, that the vilest form of death assumes a
sublimity and becomes a symbol of new life, or else--the sign which
Constantine beheld would not conquer the world!

Not for extraneous associations only does _seppuku_ lose in our mind any
taint of absurdity; for the choice of this particular part of the body
to operate upon, was based on an old anatomical belief as to the seat of
the soul and of the affections. When Moses wrote of Joseph's "bowels
yearning upon his brother," or David prayed the Lord not to forget his
bowels, or when Isaiah, Jeremiah and other inspired men of old spoke of
the "sounding" or the "troubling" of bowels, they all and each endorsed
the belief prevalent among the Japanese that in the abdomen was
enshrined the soul. The Semites habitually spoke of the liver and
kidneys and surrounding fat as the seat of emotion and of life. The term
_hara_ was more comprehensive than the Greek _phren_ or _thumos_ and
the Japanese and Hellenese alike thought the spirit of man to dwell
somewhere in that region. Such a notion is by no means confined to the
peoples of antiquity. The French, in spite of the theory propounded by
one of their most distinguished philosophers, Descartes, that the soul
is located in the pineal gland, still insist in using the term _ventre_
in a sense, which, if anatomically too vague, is nevertheless
physiologically significant. Similarly _entrailles_ stands in their
language for affection and compassion. Nor is such belief mere
superstition, being more scientific than the general idea of making the
heart the centre of the feelings. Without asking a friar, the Japanese
knew better than Romeo "in what vile part of this anatomy one's name did
lodge." Modern neurologists speak of the abdominal and pelvic brains,
denoting thereby sympathetic nerve-centres in those parts which are
strongly affected by any psychical action. This view of mental
physiology once admitted, the syllogism of _seppuku_ is easy to
construct. "I will open the seat of my soul and show you how it fares
with it. See for yourself whether it is polluted or clean."

I do not wish to be understood as asserting religious or even moral
justification of suicide, but the high estimate placed upon honor was
ample excuse with many for taking one's own life. How many acquiesced in
the sentiment expressed by Garth,

"When honor's lost, 'tis a relief to die;
Death's but a sure retreat from infamy,"

and have smilingly surrendered their souls to oblivion! Death when honor
was involved, was accepted in Bushido as a key to the solution of many
complex problems, so that to an ambitious samurai a natural departure
from life seemed a rather tame affair and a consummation not devoutly to
be wished for. I dare say that many good Christians, if only they are
honest enough, will confess the fascination of, if not positive
admiration for, the sublime composure with which Cato, Brutus, Petronius
and a host of other ancient worthies, terminated their own earthly
existence. Is it too bold to hint that the death of the first of the
philosophers was partly suicidal? When we are told so minutely by his
pupils how their master willingly submitted to the mandate of the
state--which he knew was morally mistaken--in spite of the possibilities
of escape, and how he took up the cup of hemlock in his own hand, even
offering libation from its deadly contents, do we not discern in his
whole proceeding and demeanor, an act of self-immolation? No physical
compulsion here, as in ordinary cases of execution. True the verdict of
the judges was compulsory: it said, "Thou shalt die,--and that by thy
own hand." If suicide meant no more than dying by one's own hand,
Socrates was a clear case of suicide. But nobody would charge him with
the crime; Plato, who was averse to it, would not call his master a

Now my readers will understand that _seppuku_ was not a mere suicidal
process. It was an institution, legal and ceremonial. An invention of
the middle ages, it was a process by which warriors could expiate their
crimes, apologize for errors, escape from disgrace, redeem their
friends, or prove their sincerity. When enforced as a legal punishment,
it was practiced with due ceremony. It was a refinement of
self-destruction, and none could perform it without the utmost coolness
of temper and composure of demeanor, and for these reasons it was
particularly befitting the profession of bushi.

Antiquarian curiosity, if nothing else, would tempt me to give here a
description of this obsolete ceremonial; but seeing that such a
description was made by a far abler writer, whose book is not much read
now-a-days, I am tempted to make a somewhat lengthy quotation. Mitford,
in his "Tales of Old Japan," after giving a translation of a treatise on
_seppuku_ from a rare Japanese manuscript, goes on to describe an
instance of such an execution of which he was an eye-witness:--

"We (seven foreign representatives) were invited to follow the Japanese
witness into the _hondo_ or main hall of the temple, where the ceremony
was to be performed. It was an imposing scene. A large hall with a high
roof supported by dark pillars of wood. From the ceiling hung a
profusion of those huge gilt lamps and ornaments peculiar to Buddhist
temples. In front of the high altar, where the floor, covered with
beautiful white mats, is raised some three or four inches from the
ground, was laid a rug of scarlet felt. Tall candles placed at regular
intervals gave out a dim mysterious light, just sufficient to let all
the proceedings be seen. The seven Japanese took their places on the
left of the raised floor, the seven foreigners on the right. No other
person was present.

"After the interval of a few minutes of anxious suspense, Taki
Zenzaburo, a stalwart man thirty-two years of age, with a noble air,
walked into the hall attired in his dress of ceremony, with the peculiar
hempen-cloth wings which are worn on great occasions. He was accompanied
by a _kaishaku_ and three officers, who wore the _jimbaori_ or war
surcoat with gold tissue facings. The word _kaishaku_ it should be
observed, is one to which our word executioner is no equivalent term.
The office is that of a gentleman: in many cases it is performed by a
kinsman or friend of the condemned, and the relation between them is
rather that of principal and second than that of victim and executioner.
In this instance the _kaishaku_ was a pupil of Taki Zenzaburo, and was
selected by friends of the latter from among their own number for his
skill in swordsmanship.

"With the _kaishaku_ on his left hand, Taki Zenzaburo advanced slowly
towards the Japanese witnesses, and the two bowed before them, then
drawing near to the foreigners they saluted us in the same way, perhaps
even with more deference; in each case the salutation was ceremoniously
returned. Slowly and with great dignity the condemned man mounted on to
the raised floor, prostrated himself before the high altar twice, and
seated[19] himself on the felt carpet with his back to the high altar,
the _kaishaku_ crouching on his left hand side. One of the three
attendant officers then came forward, bearing a stand of the kind used
in the temple for offerings, on which, wrapped in paper, lay the
_wakizashi_, the short sword or dirk of the Japanese, nine inches and a
half in length, with a point and an edge as sharp as a razor's. This he
handed, prostrating himself, to the condemned man, who received it
reverently, raising it to his head with both hands, and placed it in
front of himself.

[Footnote 19: Seated himself--that is, in the Japanese fashion, his
knees and toes touching the ground and his body resting on his heels. In
this position, which is one of respect, he remained until his death.]

"After another profound obeisance, Taki Zenzaburo, in a voice which
betrayed just so much emotion and hesitation as might be expected from a
man who is making a painful confession, but with no sign of either in
his face or manner, spoke as follows:--

'I, and I alone, unwarrantably gave the order to fire on the foreigners
at Kobe, and again as they tried to escape. For this crime I disembowel
myself, and I beg you who are present to do me the honor of witnessing
the act.'

"Bowing once more, the speaker allowed his upper garments to slip down
to his girdle, and remained naked to the waist. Carefully, according to
custom, he tucked his sleeves under his knees to prevent himself from
falling backward; for a noble Japanese gentleman should die falling
forwards. Deliberately, with a steady hand he took the dirk that lay
before him; he looked at it wistfully, almost affectionately; for a
moment he seemed to collect his thoughts for the last time, and then
stabbing himself deeply below the waist in the left-hand side, he drew
the dirk slowly across to his right side, and turning it in the wound,
gave a slight cut upwards. During this sickeningly painful operation he
never moved a muscle of his face. When he drew out the dirk, he leaned
forward and stretched out his neck; an expression of pain for the first
time crossed his face, but he uttered no sound. At that moment the
_kaishaku_, who, still crouching by his side, had been keenly watching
his every movement, sprang to his feet, poised his sword for a second in
the air; there was a flash, a heavy, ugly thud, a crashing fall; with
one blow the head had been severed from the body.

"A dead silence followed, broken only by the hideous noise of the blood
throbbing out of the inert head before us, which but a moment before had
been a brave and chivalrous man. It was horrible.

"The _kaishaku_ made a low bow, wiped his sword with a piece of paper
which he had ready for the purpose, and retired from the raised floor;
and the stained dirk was solemnly borne away, a bloody proof of the

"The two representatives of the Mikado then left their places, and
crossing over to where the foreign witnesses sat, called to us to
witness that the sentence of death upon Taki Zenzaburo had been
faithfully carried out. The ceremony being at an end, we left the

I might multiply any number of descriptions of _seppuku_ from literature
or from the relation of eye-witnesses; but one more instance will

Two brothers, Sakon and Naiki, respectively twenty-four and seventeen
years of age, made an effort to kill Iyeyasu in order to avenge their
father's wrongs; but before they could enter the camp they were made
prisoners. The old general admired the pluck of the youths who dared an
attempt on his life and ordered that they should be allowed to die an
honorable death. Their little brother Hachimaro, a mere infant of eight
summers, was condemned to a similar fate, as the sentence was pronounced
on all the male members of the family, and the three were taken to a
monastery where it was to be executed. A physician who was present on
the occasion has left us a diary from which the following scene is
translated. "When they were all seated in a row for final despatch,
Sakon turned to the youngest and said--'Go thou first, for I wish to be
sure that thou doest it aright.' Upon the little one's replying that, as
he had never seen _seppuku_ performed, he would like to see his brothers
do it and then he could follow them, the older brothers smiled between
their tears:--'Well said, little fellow! So canst thou well boast of
being our father's child.' When they had placed him between them, Sakon
thrust the dagger into the left side of his own abdomen and
asked--'Look, brother! Dost understand now? Only, don't push the dagger
too far, lest thou fall back. Lean forward, rather, and keep thy knees
well composed.' Naiki did likewise and said to the boy--'Keep thy eyes
open or else thou mayst look like a dying woman. If thy dagger feels
anything within and thy strength fails, take courage and double thy
effort to cut across.' The child looked from one to the other, and when
both had expired, he calmly half denuded himself and followed the
example set him on either hand."

The glorification of _seppuku_ offered, naturally enough, no small
temptation to its unwarranted committal. For causes entirely
incompatible with reason, or for reasons entirely undeserving of death,
hot headed youths rushed into it as insects fly into fire; mixed and
dubious motives drove more samurai to this deed than nuns into convent
gates. Life was cheap--cheap as reckoned by the popular standard of
honor. The saddest feature was that honor, which was always in the
_agio_, so to speak, was not always solid gold, but alloyed with baser
metals. No one circle in the Inferno will boast of greater density of
Japanese population than the seventh, to which Dante consigns all
victims of self-destruction!

And yet, for a true samurai to hasten death or to court it, was alike
cowardice. A typical fighter, when he lost battle after battle and
was pursued from plain to hill and from bush to cavern, found himself
hungry and alone in the dark hollow of a tree, his sword blunt with
use, his bow broken and arrows exhausted--did not the noblest of
the Romans fall upon his own sword in Phillippi under like
circumstances?--deemed it cowardly to die, but with a fortitude
approaching a Christian martyr's, cheered himself with an impromptu

"Come! evermore come,
Ye dread sorrows and pains!
And heap on my burden'd back;
That I not one test may lack
Of what strength in me remains!"

This, then, was the Bushido teaching--Bear and face all calamities and
adversities with patience and a pure conscience; for as Mencius[20]
taught, "When Heaven is about to confer a great office on anyone, it
first exercises his mind with suffering and his sinews and bones with
toil; it exposes his body to hunger and subjects him to extreme poverty;
and it confounds his undertakings. In all these ways it stimulates his
mind, hardens his nature, and supplies his incompetencies." True honor
lies in fulfilling Heaven's decree and no death incurred in so doing is
ignominious, whereas death to avoid what Heaven has in store is cowardly
indeed! In that quaint book of Sir Thomas Browne's, _Religio Medici_
there is an exact English equivalent for what is repeatedly taught in
our Precepts. Let me quote it: "It is a brave act of valor to contemn
death, but where life is more terrible than death, it is then the truest
valor to dare to live." A renowned priest of the seventeenth century
satirically observed--"Talk as he may, a samurai who ne'er has died is
apt in decisive moments to flee or hide." Again--Him who once has died
in the bottom of his breast, no spears of Sanada nor all the arrows of
Tametomo can pierce. How near we come to the portals of the temple whose
Builder taught "he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it!"
These are but a few of the numerous examples which tend to confirm the
moral identity of the human species, notwithstanding an attempt so
assiduously made to render the distinction between Christian and Pagan
as great as possible.

[Footnote 20: I use Dr. Legge's translation verbatim.]

We have thus seen that the Bushido institution of suicide was neither
so irrational nor barbarous as its abuse strikes us at first sight. We
will now see whether its sister institution of Redress--or call it
Revenge, if you will--has its mitigating features. I hope I can dispose
of this question in a few words, since a similar institution, or call it
custom, if that suits you better, has at some time prevailed among all
peoples and has not yet become entirely obsolete, as attested by the
continuance of duelling and lynching. Why, has not an American captain
recently challenged Esterhazy, that the wrongs of Dreyfus be avenged?
Among a savage tribe which has no marriage, adultery is not a sin, and
only the jealousy of a lover protects a woman from abuse: so in a time
which has no criminal court, murder is not a crime, and only the
vigilant vengeance of the victim's people preserves social order. "What
is the most beautiful thing on earth?" said Osiris to Horus. The reply
was, "To avenge a parent's wrongs,"--to which a Japanese would have
added "and a master's."

In revenge there is something which satisfies one's sense of justice.
The avenger reasons:--"My good father did not deserve death. He who
killed him did great evil. My father, if he were alive, would not
tolerate a deed like this: Heaven itself hates wrong-doing. It is the
will of my father; it is the will of Heaven that the evil-doer cease
from his work. He must perish by my hand; because he shed my father's
blood, I, who am his flesh and blood, must shed the murderer's. The same
Heaven shall not shelter him and me." The ratiocination is simple and
childish (though we know Hamlet did not reason much more deeply),
nevertheless it shows an innate sense of exact balance and equal justice
"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Our sense of revenge is as
exact as our mathematical faculty, and until both terms of the equation
are satisfied we cannot get over the sense of something left undone.

In Judaism, which believed in a jealous God, or in Greek mythology,
which provided a Nemesis, vengeance may be left to superhuman agencies;
but common sense furnished Bushido with the institution of redress as a
kind of ethical court of equity, where people could take cases not to be
judged in accordance with ordinary law. The master of the forty-seven
Ronins was condemned to death;--he had no court of higher instance to
appeal to; his faithful retainers addressed themselves to Vengeance, the
only Supreme Court existing; they in their turn were condemned by common
law,--but the popular instinct passed a different judgment and hence
their memory is still kept as green and fragrant as are their graves at
Sengakuji to this day.

Though Lao-tse taught to recompense injury with kindness, the voice of
Confucius was very much louder, which counselled that injury must be
recompensed with justice;--and yet revenge was justified only when it
was undertaken in behalf of our superiors and benefactors. One's own
wrongs, including injuries done to wife and children, were to be borne
and forgiven. A samurai could therefore fully sympathize with Hannibal's
oath to avenge his country's wrongs, but he scorns James Hamilton for
wearing in his girdle a handful of earth from his wife's grave, as an
eternal incentive to avenge her wrongs on the Regent Murray.

Both of these institutions of suicide and redress lost their _raison
d'etre_ at the promulgation of the criminal code. No more do we hear of
romantic adventures of a fair maiden as she tracks in disguise the
murderer of her parent. No more can we witness tragedies of family
vendetta enacted. The knight errantry of Miyamoto Musashi is now a tale
of the past. The well-ordered police spies out the criminal for the
injured party and the law metes out justice. The whole state and society
will see that wrong is righted. The sense of justice satisfied, there is
no need of _kataki-uchi_. If this had meant that "hunger of the heart
which feeds upon the hope of glutting that hunger with the life-blood of
the victim," as a New England divine has described it, a few paragraphs
in the Criminal Code would not so entirely have made an end of it.

As to _seppuku_, though it too has no existence _de jure_, we still hear
of it from time to time, and shall continue to hear, I am afraid, as
long as the past is remembered. Many painless and time-saving methods of
self-immolation will come in vogue, as its votaries are increasing with
fearful rapidity throughout the world; but Professor Morselli will have
to concede to _seppuku_ an aristocratic position among them. He
maintains that "when suicide is accomplished by very painful means or at
the cost of prolonged agony, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, it
may be assigned as the act of a mind disordered by fanaticism, by
madness, or by morbid excitement."[21] But a normal _seppuku_ does not
savor of fanaticism, or madness or excitement, utmost _sang froid_ being
necessary to its successful accomplishment. Of the two kinds into which
Dr. Strahan[22] divides suicide, the Rational or Quasi, and the
Irrational or True, _seppuku_ is the best example of the former type.

[Footnote 21: Morselli, _Suicide_, p. 314.]

[Footnote 22: _Suicide and Insanity_.]

From these bloody institutions, as well as from the general tenor of
Bushido, it is easy to infer that the sword played an important part in
social discipline and life. The saying passed as an axiom which called


and made it the emblem of power and prowess. When Mahomet proclaimed
that "The sword is the key of Heaven and of Hell," he only echoed a
Japanese sentiment. Very early the samurai boy learned to wield it. It
was a momentous occasion for him when at the age of five he was
apparelled in the paraphernalia of samurai costume, placed upon a
_go_-board[23] and initiated into the rights of the military profession
by having thrust into his girdle a real sword, instead of the toy dirk
with which he had been playing. After this first ceremony of _adoptio
per arma_, he was no more to be seen outside his father's gates without
this badge of his status, even if it was usually substituted for
every-day wear by a gilded wooden dirk. Not many years pass before he
wears constantly the genuine steel, though blunt, and then the sham arms
are thrown aside and with enjoyment keener than his newly acquired
blades, he marches out to try their edge on wood and stone. When be
reaches man's estate at the age of fifteen, being given independence of
action, he can now pride himself upon the possession of arms sharp
enough for any work. The very possession of the dangerous instrument
imparts to him a feeling and an air of self-respect and responsibility.
"He beareth not his sword in vain." What he carries in his belt is a
symbol of what he carries in his mind and heart--Loyalty and Honor. The
two swords, the longer and the shorter--called respectively _daito_ and
_shoto_ or _katana_ and _wakizashi_--never leave his side. When at home,
they grace the most conspicuous place in study or parlor; by night they
guard his pillow within easy reach of his hand. Constant companions,
they are beloved, and proper names of endearment given them. Being
venerated, they are well-nigh worshiped. The Father of History has
recorded as a curious piece of information that the Scythians sacrificed
to an iron scimitar. Many a temple and many a family in Japan hoards a
sword as an object of adoration. Even the commonest dirk has due respect
paid to it. Any insult to it is tantamount to personal affront. Woe to
him who carelessly steps over a weapon lying on the floor!

[Footnote 23: The game of _go_ is sometimes called Japanese checkers,
but is much more intricate than the English game. The _go-_board
contains 361 squares and is supposed to represent a battle-field--the
object of the game being to occupy as much space as possible.]

So precious an object cannot long escape the notice and the skill of
artists nor the vanity of its owner, especially in times of peace, when
it is worn with no more use than a crosier by a bishop or a sceptre by a
king. Shark-skin and finest silk for hilt, silver and gold for guard,
lacquer of varied hues for scabbard, robbed the deadliest weapon of half
its terror; but these appurtenances are playthings compared with the
blade itself.

The swordsmith was not a mere artisan but an inspired artist and his
workshop a sanctuary. Daily he commenced his craft with prayer and
purification, or, as the phrase was, "he committed his soul and spirit
into the forging and tempering of the steel." Every swing of the sledge,
every plunge into water, every friction on the grindstone, was a
religious act of no slight import. Was it the spirit of the master or of
his tutelary god that cast a formidable spell over our sword? Perfect as
a work of art, setting at defiance its Toledo and Damascus rivals, there
is more than art could impart. Its cold blade, collecting on its surface
the moment it is drawn the vapors of the atmosphere; its immaculate
texture, flashing light of bluish hue; its matchless edge, upon which
histories and possibilities hang; the curve of its back, uniting
exquisite grace with utmost strength;--all these thrill us with mixed
feelings of power and beauty, of awe and terror. Harmless were its
mission, if it only remained a thing of beauty and joy! But, ever within
reach of the hand, it presented no small temptation for abuse. Too often
did the blade flash forth from its peaceful sheath. The abuse sometimes
went so far as to try the acquired steel on some harmless creature's

The question that concerns us most is, however,--Did Bushido justify
the promiscuous use of the weapon? The answer is unequivocally, no! As
it laid great stress on its proper use, so did it denounce and abhor its
misuse. A dastard or a braggart was he who brandished his weapon on
undeserved occasions. A self-possessed man knows the right time to use
it, and such times come but rarely. Let us listen to the late Count
Katsu, who passed through one of the most turbulent times of our
history, when assassinations, suicides, and other sanguinary practices
were the order of the day. Endowed as he once was with almost
dictatorial powers, repeatedly marked out as an object for
assassination, he never tarnished his sword with blood. In relating some
of his reminiscences to a friend he says, in a quaint, plebeian way
peculiar to him:--"I have a great dislike for killing people and so I
haven't killed one single man. I have released those whose heads should
have been chopped off. A friend said to me one day, 'You don't kill
enough. Don't you eat pepper and egg-plants?' Well, some people are no
better! But you see that fellow was slain himself. My escape may be due
to my dislike of killing. I had the hilt of my sword so tightly fastened
to the scabbard that it was hard to draw the blade. I made up my mind
that though they cut me, I will not cut. Yes, yes! some people are truly
like fleas and mosquitoes and they bite--but what does their biting
amount to? It itches a little, that's all; it won't endanger life."
These are the words of one whose Bushido training was tried in the fiery
furnace of adversity and triumph. The popular apothegm--"To be beaten is
to conquer," meaning true conquest consists in not opposing a riotous
foe; and "The best won victory is that obtained without shedding of
blood," and others of similar import--will show that after all the
ultimate ideal of knighthood was Peace.

It was a great pity that this high ideal was left exclusively to priests
and moralists to preach, while the samurai went on practicing and
extolling martial traits. In this they went so far as to tinge the
ideals of womanhood with Amazonian character. Here we may profitably
devote a few paragraphs to the subject of


The female half of our species has sometimes been called the paragon of
paradoxes, because the intuitive working of its mind is beyond the
comprehension of men's "arithmetical understanding." The Chinese
ideogram denoting "the mysterious," "the unknowable," consists of two
parts, one meaning "young" and the other "woman," because the physical
charms and delicate thoughts of the fair sex are above the coarse mental
calibre of our sex to explain.

In the Bushido ideal of woman, however, there is little mystery and only
a seeming paradox. I have said that it was Amazonian, but that is only
half the truth. Ideographically the Chinese represent wife by a woman
holding a broom--certainly not to brandish it offensively or defensively
against her conjugal ally, neither for witchcraft, but for the more
harmless uses for which the besom was first invented--the idea involved
being thus not less homely than the etymological derivation of the
English wife (weaver) and daughter (_duhitar_, milkmaid). Without
confining the sphere of woman's activity to _Kueche, Kirche, Kinder_, as
the present German Kaiser is said to do, the Bushido ideal of womanhood
was preeminently domestic. These seeming contradictions--Domesticity and
Amazonian traits--are not inconsistent with the Precepts of Knighthood,
as we shall see.

Bushido being a teaching primarily intended for the masculine sex, the
virtues it prized in woman were naturally far from being distinctly
feminine. Winckelmann remarks that "the supreme beauty of Greek art is
rather male than female," and Lecky adds that it was true in the moral
conception of the Greeks as in their art. Bushido similarly praised
those women most "who emancipated themselves from the frailty of their
sex and displayed an heroic fortitude worthy of the strongest and the
bravest of men."[24] Young girls therefore, were trained to repress
their feelings, to indurate their nerves, to manipulate
weapons,--especially the long-handled sword called _nagi-nata_, so as to
be able to hold their own against unexpected odds. Yet the primary
motive for exercises of this martial character was not for use in the
field; it was twofold--personal and domestic. Woman owning no suzerain
of her own, formed her own bodyguard. With her weapon she guarded her
personal sanctity with as much zeal as her husband did his master's. The
domestic utility of her warlike training was in the education of her
sons, as we shall see later.

[Footnote 24: Lecky, _History of European Morals_ II, p. 383.]

Fencing and similar exercises, if rarely of practical use, were a
wholesome counterbalance to the otherwise sedentary habits of woman. But
these exercises were not followed only for hygienic purposes. They could
be turned into use in times of need. Girls, when they reached womanhood,
were presented with dirks (_kai-ken_, pocket poniards), which might be
directed to the bosom of their assailants, or, if advisable, to their
own. The latter was very often the case: and yet I will not judge them
severely. Even the Christian conscience with its horror of
self-immolation, will not be harsh with them, seeing Pelagia and
Domnina, two suicides, were canonized for their purity and piety. When a
Japanese Virginia saw her chastity menaced, she did not wait for her
father's dagger. Her own weapon lay always in her bosom. It was a
disgrace to her not to know the proper way in which she had to
perpetrate self-destruction. For example, little as she was taught in
anatomy, she must know the exact spot to cut in her throat: she must
know how to tie her lower limbs together with a belt so that, whatever
the agonies of death might be, her corpse be found in utmost modesty
with the limbs properly composed. Is not a caution like this worthy of
the Christian Perpetua or the Vestal Cornelia? I would not put such an
abrupt interrogation, were it not for a misconception, based on our
bathing customs and other trifles, that chastity is unknown among
us.[25] On the contrary, chastity was a pre-eminent virtue of the
samurai woman, held above life itself. A young woman, taken prisoner,
seeing herself in danger of violence at the hands of the rough soldiery,
says she will obey their pleasure, provided she be first allowed to
write a line to her sisters, whom war has dispersed in every direction.
When the epistle is finished, off she runs to the nearest well and saves
her honor by drowning. The letter she leaves behind ends with these

"For fear lest clouds may dim her light,
Should she but graze this nether sphere,
The young moon poised above the height
Doth hastily betake to flight."

[Footnote 25: For a very sensible explanation of nudity and bathing see
Finck's _Lotos Time in Japan_, pp. 286-297.]

It would be unfair to give my readers an idea that masculinity alone was
our highest ideal for woman. Far from it! Accomplishments and the
gentler graces of life were required of them. Music, dancing and
literature were not neglected. Some of the finest verses in our
literature were expressions of feminine sentiments; in fact, women
played an important role in the history of Japanese _belles lettres_.
Dancing was taught (I am speaking of samurai girls and not of _geisha_)
only to smooth the angularity of their movements. Music was to regale
the weary hours of their fathers and husbands; hence it was not for the
technique, the art as such, that music was learned; for the ultimate
object was purification of heart, since it was said that no harmony of
sound is attainable without the player's heart being in harmony with
herself. Here again we see the same idea prevailing which we notice in
the training of youths--that accomplishments were ever kept subservient
to moral worth. Just enough of music and dancing to add grace and
brightness to life, but never to foster vanity and extravagance. I
sympathize with the Persian prince, who, when taken into a ball-room in
London and asked to take part in the merriment, bluntly remarked that in
his country they provided a particular set of girls to do that kind of
business for them.

The accomplishments of our women were not acquired for show or social
ascendency. They were a home diversion; and if they shone in social
parties, it was as the attributes of a hostess,--in other words, as a
part of the household contrivance for hospitality. Domesticity guided
their education. It may be said that the accomplishments of the women
of Old Japan, be they martial or pacific in character, were mainly
intended for the home; and, however far they might roam, they never lost
sight of the hearth as the center. It was to maintain its honor and
integrity that they slaved, drudged and gave up their lives. Night and
day, in tones at once firm and tender, brave and plaintive, they sang to
their little nests. As daughter, woman sacrificed herself for her
father, as wife for her husband, and as mother for her son. Thus from
earliest youth she was taught to deny herself. Her life was not one of
independence, but of dependent service. Man's helpmeet, if her presence
is helpful she stays on the stage with him: if it hinders his work, she
retires behind the curtain. Not infrequently does it happen that a youth
becomes enamored of a maiden who returns his love with equal ardor, but,
when she realizes his interest in her makes him forgetful of his duties,
disfigures her person that her attractions may cease. Adzuma, the ideal
wife in the minds of samurai girls, finds herself loved by a man who,
in order to win her affection, conspires against her husband. Upon
pretence of joining in the guilty plot, she manages in the dark to take
her husband's place, and the sword of the lover assassin descends upon
her own devoted head.

The following epistle written by the wife of a young daimio, before
taking her own life, needs no comment:--"Oft have I heard that no
accident or chance ever mars the march of events here below, and that
all moves in accordance with a plan. To take shelter under a common
bough or a drink of the same river, is alike ordained from ages prior to
our birth. Since we were joined in ties of eternal wedlock, now two
short years ago, my heart hath followed thee, even as its shadow
followeth an object, inseparably bound heart to heart, loving and being
loved. Learning but recently, however, that the coming battle is to be
the last of thy labor and life, take the farewell greeting of thy loving
partner. I have heard that K[=o]-u, the mighty warrior of ancient China,
lost a battle, loth to part with his favorite Gu. Yoshinaka, too, brave
as he was, brought disaster to his cause, too weak to bid prompt
farewell to his wife. Why should I, to whom earth no longer offers hope
or joy--why should I detain thee or thy thoughts by living? Why should I
not, rather, await thee on the road which all mortal kind must sometime
tread? Never, prithee, never forget the many benefits which our good
master Hideyori hath heaped upon thee. The gratitude we owe him is as
deep as the sea and as high as the hills."

Woman's surrender of herself to the good of her husband, home and
family, was as willing and honorable as the man's self-surrender to the
good of his lord and country. Self-renunciation, without which no
life-enigma can be solved, was the keynote of the Loyalty of man as well
as of the Domesticity of woman. She was no more the slave of man than
was her husband of his liege-lord, and the part she played was
recognized as _Naijo_, "the inner help." In the ascending scale of
service stood woman, who annihilated herself for man, that he might
annihilate himself for the master, that he in turn might obey heaven. I
know the weakness of this teaching and that the superiority of
Christianity is nowhere more manifest than here, in that it requires of
each and every living soul direct responsibility to its Creator.
Nevertheless, as far as the doctrine of service--the serving of a cause
higher than one's own self, even at the sacrifice of one's
individuality; I say the doctrine of service, which is the greatest that
Christ preached and is the sacred keynote of his mission--as far as that
is concerned, Bushido is based on eternal truth.

My readers will not accuse me of undue prejudice in favor of slavish
surrender of volition. I accept in a large measure the view advanced
with breadth of learning and defended with profundity of thought by
Hegel, that history is the unfolding and realization of freedom. The
point I wish to make is that the whole teaching of Bushido was so
thoroughly imbued with the spirit of self-sacrifice, that it was
required not only of woman but of man. Hence, until the influence of its
Precepts is entirely done away with, our society will not realize the
view rashly expressed by an American exponent of woman's rights, who
exclaimed, "May all the daughters of Japan rise in revolt against
ancient customs!" Can such a revolt succeed? Will it improve the female
status? Will the rights they gain by such a summary process repay the
loss of that sweetness of disposition, that gentleness of manner, which
are their present heritage? Was not the loss of domesticity on the part
of Roman matrons followed by moral corruption too gross to mention? Can
the American reformer assure us that a revolt of our daughters is the
true course for their historical development to take? These are grave
questions. Changes must and will come without revolts! In the meantime
let us see whether the status of the fair sex under the Bushido regimen
was really so bad as to justify a revolt.

We hear much of the outward respect European knights paid to "God and
the ladies,"--the incongruity of the two terms making Gibbon blush; we
are also told by Hallam that the morality of Chivalry was coarse, that
gallantry implied illicit love. The effect of Chivalry on the weaker
vessel was food for reflection on the part of philosophers, M. Guizot
contending that Feudalism and Chivalry wrought wholesome influences,
while Mr. Spencer tells us that in a militant society (and what is
feudal society if not militant?) the position of woman is necessarily
low, improving only as society becomes more industrial. Now is M.
Guizot's theory true of Japan, or is Mr. Spencer's? In reply I might
aver that both are right. The military class in Japan was restricted to
the samurai, comprising nearly 2,000,000 souls. Above them were the
military nobles, the _daimio_, and the court nobles, the _kuge_--these
higher, sybaritical nobles being fighters only in name. Below them were
masses of the common people--mechanics, tradesmen, and peasants--whose
life was devoted to arts of peace. Thus what Herbert Spencer gives as
the characteristics of a militant type of society may be said to have
been exclusively confined to the samurai class, while those of the
industrial type were applicable to the classes above and below it. This
is well illustrated by the position of woman; for in no class did she
experience less freedom than among the samurai. Strange to say, the
lower the social class--as, for instance, among small artisans--the more
equal was the position of husband and wife. Among the higher nobility,
too, the difference in the relations of the sexes was less marked,
chiefly because there were few occasions to bring the differences of sex
into prominence, the leisurely nobleman having become literally
effeminate. Thus Spencer's dictum was fully exemplified in Old Japan. As
to Guizot's, those who read his presentation of a feudal community will
remember that he had the higher nobility especially under consideration,
so that his generalization applies to the _daimio_ and the _kuge_.

I shall be guilty of gross injustice to historical truth if my words
give one a very low opinion of the status of woman under Bushido. I do
not hesitate to state that she was not treated as man's equal; but until
we learn to discriminate between difference and inequalities, there will
always be misunderstandings upon this subject.

When we think in how few respects men are equal among themselves,
_e.g._, before law courts or voting polls, it seems idle to trouble
ourselves with a discussion on the equality of sexes. When, the American
Declaration of Independence said that all men were created equal, it had
no reference to their mental or physical gifts: it simply repeated what
Ulpian long ago announced, that before the law all men are equal. Legal
rights were in this case the measure of their equality. Were the law the
only scale by which to measure the position of woman in a community, it
would be as easy to tell where she stands as to give her avoirdupois in
pounds and ounces. But the question is: Is there a correct standard in
comparing the relative social position of the sexes? Is it right, is it
enough, to compare woman's status to man's as the value of silver is
compared with that of gold, and give the ratio numerically? Such a
method of calculation excludes from consideration the most important
kind of value which a human being possesses; namely, the intrinsic. In
view of the manifold variety of requisites for making each sex fulfil
its earthly mission, the standard to be adopted in measuring its
relative position must be of a composite character; or, to borrow from
economic language, it must be a multiple standard. Bushido had a
standard of its own and it was binomial. It tried to guage the value of
woman on the battle-field and by the hearth. There she counted for very
little; here for all. The treatment accorded her corresponded to this
double measurement;--as a social-political unit not much, while as wife
and mother she received highest respect and deepest affection. Why among
so military a nation as the Romans, were their matrons so highly
venerated? Was it not because they were _matrona_, mothers? Not as
fighters or law-givers, but as their mothers did men bow before them. So
with us. While fathers and husbands were absent in field or camp, the
government of the household was left entirely in the hands of mothers
and wives. The education of the young, even their defence, was entrusted
to them. The warlike exercises of women, of which I have spoken, were
primarily to enable them intelligently to direct and follow the
education of their children.

I have noticed a rather superficial notion prevailing among
half-informed foreigners, that because the common Japanese expression
for one's wife is "my rustic wife" and the like, she is despised and
held in little esteem. When it is told that such phrases as "my foolish
father," "my swinish son," "my awkward self," etc., are in current use,
is not the answer clear enough?

To me it seems that our idea of marital union goes in some ways further
than the so-called Christian. "Man and woman shall be one flesh." The
individualism of the Anglo-Saxon cannot let go of the idea that husband
and wife are two persons;--hence when they disagree, their separate
_rights_ are recognized, and when they agree, they exhaust their
vocabulary in all sorts of silly pet-names and--nonsensical
blandishments. It sounds highly irrational to our ears, when a husband
or wife speaks to a third party of his other half--better or worse--as
being lovely, bright, kind, and what not. Is it good taste to speak of
one's self as "my bright self," "my lovely disposition," and so forth?
We think praising one's own wife or one's own husband is praising a part
of one's own self, and self-praise is regarded, to say the least, as bad
taste among us,--and I hope, among Christian nations too! I have
diverged at some length because the polite debasement of one's consort
was a usage most in vogue among the samurai.

The Teutonic races beginning their tribal life with a superstitious awe
of the fair sex (though this is really wearing off in Germany!), and the
Americans beginning their social life under the painful consciousness of
the numerical insufficiency of women[26] (who, now increasing, are, I am
afraid, fast losing the prestige their colonial mothers enjoyed), the
respect man pays to woman has in Western civilization become the chief
standard of morality. But in the martial ethics of Bushido, the main
water-shed dividing the good and the bad was sought elsewhere. It was
located along the line of duty which bound man to his own divine soul
and then to other souls, in the five relations I have mentioned in the
early part of this paper. Of these we have brought to our reader's
notice, Loyalty, the relation between one man as vassal and another as
lord. Upon the rest, I have only dwelt incidentally as occasion
presented itself; because they were not peculiar to Bushido. Being
founded on natural affections, they could but be common to all mankind,
though in some particulars they may have been accentuated by conditions
which its teachings induced. In this connection, there comes before me
the peculiar strength and tenderness of friendship between man and man,
which often added to the bond of brotherhood a romantic attachment
doubtless intensified by the separation of the sexes in youth,--a
separation which denied to affection the natural channel open to it in
Western chivalry or in the free intercourse of Anglo-Saxon lands. I
might fill pages with Japanese versions of the story of Damon and
Pythias or Achilles and Patroclos, or tell in Bushido parlance of ties
as sympathetic as those which bound David and Jonathan.

[Footnote 26: I refer to those days when girls were imported from
England and given in marriage for so many pounds of tobacco, etc.]

It is not surprising, however, that the virtues and teachings unique in
the Precepts of Knighthood did not remain circumscribed to the military
class. This makes us hasten to the consideration of


on the nation at large.

We have brought into view only a few of the more prominent peaks which
rise above the range of knightly virtues, in themselves so much more
elevated than the general level of our national life. As the sun in its
rising first tips the highest peaks with russet hue, and then gradually
casts its rays on the valley below, so the ethical system which first
enlightened the military order drew in course of time followers from
amongst the masses. Democracy raises up a natural prince for its leader,
and aristocracy infuses a princely spirit among the people. Virtues are
no less contagious than vices. "There needs but one wise man in a
company, and all are wise, so rapid is the contagion," says Emerson. No
social class or caste can resist the diffusive power of moral

Prate as we may of the triumphant march of Anglo-Saxon liberty, rarely
has it received impetus from the masses. Was it not rather the work of
the squires and _gentlemen_? Very truly does M. Taine say, "These three
syllables, as used across the channel, summarize the history of English
society." Democracy may make self-confident retorts to such a statement
and fling back the question--"When Adam delved and Eve span, where then
was the gentleman?" All the more pity that a gentleman was not present
in Eden! The first parents missed him sorely and paid a high price for
his absence. Had he been there, not only would the garden have been more
tastefully dressed, but they would have learned without painful
experience that disobedience to Jehovah was disloyalty and dishonor,
treason and rebellion.

What Japan was she owed to the samurai. They were not only the flower of
the nation but its root as well. All the gracious gifts of Heaven flowed
through them. Though they kept themselves socially aloof from the
populace, they set a moral standard for them and guided them by their
example. I admit Bushido had its esoteric and exoteric teachings; these
were eudemonistic, looking after the welfare and happiness of the
commonalty, while those were aretaic, emphasizing the practice of
virtues for their own sake.

In the most chivalrous days of Europe, Knights formed numerically but a
small fraction of the population, but, as Emerson says--"In English
Literature half the drama and all the novels, from Sir Philip Sidney to
Sir Walter Scott, paint this figure (gentleman)." Write in place of
Sidney and Scott, Chikamatsu and Bakin, and you have in a nutshell the
main features of the literary history of Japan.

The innumerable avenues of popular amusement and instruction--the
theatres, the story-teller's booths, the preacher's dais, the musical
recitations, the novels--have taken for their chief theme the stories of
the samurai. The peasants round the open fire in their huts never tire
of repeating the achievements of Yoshitsune and his faithful retainer
Benkei, or of the two brave Soga brothers; the dusky urchins listen with
gaping mouths until the last stick burns out and the fire dies in its
embers, still leaving their hearts aglow with the tale that is told. The
clerks and the shop-boys, after their day's work is over and the
_amado_[27] of the store are closed, gather together to relate the story
of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi far into the night, until slumber overtakes
their weary eyes and transports them from the drudgery of the counter to
the exploits of the field. The very babe just beginning to toddle is
taught to lisp the adventures of Momotaro, the daring conqueror of
ogre-land. Even girls are so imbued with the love of knightly deeds and
virtues that, like Desdemona, they would seriously incline to devour
with greedy ear the romance of the samurai.

[Footnote 27: Outside shutters.]

The samurai grew to be the _beau ideal_ of the whole race. "As among
flowers the cherry is queen, so among men the samurai is lord," so sang
the populace. Debarred from commercial pursuits, the military class
itself did not aid commerce; but there was no channel of human activity,
no avenue of thought, which did not receive in some measure an impetus
from Bushido. Intellectual and moral Japan was directly or indirectly
the work of Knighthood.

Mr. Mallock, in his exceedingly suggestive book, "Aristocracy and
Evolution," has eloquently told us that "social evolution, in so far as
it is other than biological, may be defined as the unintended result of
the intentions of great men;" further, that historical progress is
produced by a struggle "not among the community generally, to live, but
a struggle amongst a small section of the community to lead, to direct,
to employ, the majority in the best way." Whatever may be said about the
soundness of his argument, these statements are amply verified in the
part played by bushi in the social progress, as far as it went, of our

How the spirit of Bushido permeated all social classes is also shown in
the development of a certain order of men, known as _otoko-date_, the
natural leaders of democracy. Staunch fellows were they, every inch of
them strong with the strength of massive manhood. At once the spokesmen
and the guardians of popular rights, they had each a following of
hundreds and thousands of souls who proffered in the same fashion that
samurai did to daimio, the willing service of "limb and life, of body,
chattels and earthly honor." Backed by a vast multitude of rash and
impetuous working-men, those born "bosses" formed a formidable check to
the rampancy of the two-sworded order.

In manifold ways has Bushido filtered down from the social class where
it originated, and acted as leaven among the masses, furnishing a moral
standard for the whole people. The Precepts of Knighthood, begun at
first as the glory of the elite, became in time an aspiration and
inspiration to the nation at large; and though the populace could not
attain the moral height of those loftier souls, yet _Yamato Damashii_,
the Soul of Japan, ultimately came to express the _Volksgeist_ of the
Island Realm. If religion is no more than "Morality touched by
emotion," as Matthew Arnold defines it, few ethical systems are better
entitled to the rank of religion than Bushido. Motoori has put the mute
utterance of the nation into words when he sings:--

"Isles of blest Japan!
Should your Yamato spirit
Strangers seek to scan,
Say--scenting morn's sun-lit air,
Blows the cherry wild and fair!"

Yes, the _sakura_[28] has for ages been the favorite of our people and
the emblem of our character. Mark particularly the terms of definition
which the poet uses, the words the _wild cherry flower scenting the
morning sun_.

[Footnote 28: _Cerasus pseudo-cerasus_, Lindley.]

The Yamato spirit is not a tame, tender plant, but a wild--in the sense
of natural--growth; it is indigenous to the soil; its accidental
qualities it may share with the flowers of other lands, but in its
essence it remains the original, spontaneous outgrowth of our clime. But
its nativity is not its sole claim to our affection. The refinement and
grace of its beauty appeal to _our_ aesthetic sense as no other flower
can. We cannot share the admiration of the Europeans for their roses,
which lack the simplicity of our flower. Then, too, the thorns that are
hidden beneath the sweetness of the rose, the tenacity with which she
clings to life, as though loth or afraid to die rather than drop
untimely, preferring to rot on her stem; her showy colors and heavy
odors--all these are traits so unlike our flower, which carries no
dagger or poison under its beauty, which is ever ready to depart life at
the call of nature, whose colors are never gorgeous, and whose light
fragrance never palls. Beauty of color and of form is limited in its
showing; it is a fixed quality of existence, whereas fragrance is
volatile, ethereal as the breathing of life. So in all religious
ceremonies frankincense and myrrh play a prominent part. There is
something spirituelle in redolence. When the delicious perfume of the
_sakura_ quickens the morning air, as the sun in its course rises to
illumine first the isles of the Far East, few sensations are more
serenely exhilarating than to inhale, as it were, the very breath of
beauteous day.

When the Creator himself is pictured as making new resolutions in his
heart upon smelling a sweet savor (Gen. VIII, 21), is it any wonder that
the sweet-smelling season of the cherry blossom should call forth the
whole nation from their little habitations? Blame them not, if for a
time their limbs forget their toil and moil and their hearts their pangs
and sorrows. Their brief pleasure ended, they return to their daily
tasks with new strength and new resolutions. Thus in ways more than one
is the sakura the flower of the nation.

Is, then, this flower, so sweet and evanescent, blown whithersoever the
wind listeth, and, shedding a puff of perfume, ready to vanish forever,
is this flower the type of the Yamato spirit? Is the Soul of Japan so
frailly mortal?


Or has Western civilization, in its march through the land, already
wiped out every trace of its ancient discipline?

It were a sad thing if a nation's soul could die so fast. That were a
poor soul that could succumb so easily to extraneous influences. The
aggregate of psychological elements which constitute a national
character, is as tenacious as the "irreducible elements of species, of
the fins of fish, of the beak of the bird, of the tooth of the
carnivorous animal." In his recent book, full of shallow asseverations
and brilliant generalizations, M. LeBon[29] says, "The discoveries due
to the intelligence are the common patrimony of humanity; qualities or
defects of character constitute the exclusive patrimony of each people:
they are the firm rock which the waters must wash day by day for
centuries, before they can wear away even its external asperities."
These are strong words and would be highly worth pondering over,
provided there were qualities and defects of character which _constitute
the exclusive patrimony_ of each people. Schematizing theories of this
sort had been advanced long before LeBon began to write his book, and
they were exploded long ago by Theodor Waitz and Hugh Murray. In
studying the various virtues instilled by Bushido, we have drawn upon
European sources for comparison and illustrations, and we have seen that
no one quality of character was its _exclusive_ patrimony. It is true
the aggregate of moral qualities presents a quite unique aspect. It is
this aggregate which Emerson names a "compound result into which every
great force enters as an ingredient." But, instead of making it, as
LeBon does, an exclusive patrimony of a race or people, the Concord
philosopher calls it "an element which unites the most forcible persons
of every country; makes them intelligible and agreeable to each other;
and is somewhat so precise that it is at once felt if an individual lack
the Masonic sign."

[Footnote 29: _The Psychology of Peoples_, p. 33.]

The character which Bushido stamped on our nation and on the samurai in
particular, cannot be said to form "an irreducible element of species,"
but nevertheless as to the vitality which it retains there is no doubt.
Were Bushido a mere physical force, the momentum it has gained in the
last seven hundred years could not stop so abruptly. Were it
transmitted only by heredity, its influence must be immensely
widespread. Just think, as M. Cheysson, a French economist, has
calculated, that supposing there be three generations in a century,
"each of us would have in his veins the blood of at least twenty
millions of the people living in the year 1000 A.D." The merest peasant
that grubs the soil, "bowed by the weight of centuries," has in his
veins the blood of ages, and is thus a brother to us as much as "to the

An unconscious and irresistible power, Bushido has been moving the
nation and individuals. It was an honest confession of the race when
Yoshida Shoin, one of the most brilliant pioneers of Modern Japan, wrote
on the eve of his execution the following stanza;--

"Full well I knew this course must end in death;
It was Yamato spirit urged me on
To dare whate'er betide."

Unformulated, Bushido was and still is the animating spirit, the motor
force of our country.

Mr. Ransome says that "there are three distinct Japans in existence
side by side to-day,--the old, which has not wholly died out; the new,
hardly yet born except in spirit; and the transition, passing now
through its most critical throes." While this is very true in most
respects, and particularly as regards tangible and concrete
institutions, the statement, as applied to fundamental ethical notions,
requires some modification; for Bushido, the maker and product of Old
Japan, is still the guiding principle of the transition and will prove
the formative force of the new era.

The great statesmen who steered the ship of our state through the
hurricane of the Restoration and the whirlpool of national rejuvenation,
were men who knew no other moral teaching than the Precepts of
Knighthood. Some writers[30] have lately tried to prove that the
Christian missionaries contributed an appreciable quota to the making
of New Japan. I would fain render honor to whom honor is due: but this
honor can hardly be accorded to the good missionaries. More fitting it
will be to their profession to stick to the scriptural injunction of
preferring one another in honor, than to advance a claim in which they
have no proofs to back them. For myself, I believe that Christian
missionaries are doing great things for Japan--in the domain of
education, and especially of moral education:--only, the mysterious
though not the less certain working of the Spirit is still hidden in
divine secrecy. Whatever they do is still of indirect effect. No, as yet
Christian missions have effected but little visible in moulding the
character of New Japan. No, it was Bushido, pure and simple, that urged
us on for weal or woe. Open the biographies of the makers of Modern
Japan--of Sakuma, of Saigo, of Okubo, of Kido, not to mention the
reminiscences of living men such as Ito, Okuma, Itagaki, etc.:--and you
will find that it was under the impetus of samuraihood that they thought
and wrought. When Mr. Henry Norman declared, after his study and
observation of the Far East,[31] that only the respect in which Japan
differed from other oriental despotisms lay in "the ruling influence
among her people of the strictest, loftiest, and the most punctilious
codes of honor that man has ever devised," he touched the main spring
which has made new Japan what she is and which will make her what she is
destined to be.

[Footnote 30: Speer; _Missions and Politics in Asia_, Lecture IV, pp.
189-190; Dennis: _Christian Missions and Social Progress_, Vol. I, p.
32, Vol. II, p. 70, etc.]

[Footnote 31: _The Far East_, p. 375.]

The transformation of Japan is a fact patent to the whole world. In a
work of such magnitude various motives naturally entered; but if one
were to name the principal, one would not hesitate to name Bushido. When
we opened the whole country to foreign trade, when we introduced the
latest improvements in every department of life, when we began to study
Western politics and sciences, our guiding motive was not the
development of our physical resources and the increase of wealth; much
less was it a blind imitation of Western customs. A close observer of
oriental institutions and peoples has written:--"We are told every day
how Europe has influenced Japan, and forget that the change in those
islands was entirely self-generated, that Europeans did not teach Japan,
but that Japan of herself chose to learn from Europe methods of
organization, civil and military, which have so far proved successful.
She imported European mechanical science, as the Turks years before
imported European artillery. That is not exactly influence," continues
Mr. Townsend, "unless, indeed, England is influenced by purchasing tea
of China. Where is the European apostle," asks our author, "or
philosopher or statesman or agitator who has re-made Japan?"[32] Mr.
Townsend has well perceived that the spring of action which brought
about the changes in Japan lay entirely within our own selves; and if he
had only probed into our psychology, his keen powers of observation
would easily have convinced him that that spring was no other than
Bushido. The sense of honor which cannot bear being looked down upon as
an inferior power,--that was the strongest of motives. Pecuniary or
industrial considerations were awakened later in the process of

[Footnote 32: Meredith Townsend, _Asia and Europe_, N.Y., 1900, 28.]

The influence of Bushido is still so palpable that he who runs may read.
A glimpse into Japanese life will make it manifest. Read Hearn, the most
eloquent and truthful interpreter of the Japanese mind, and you see the
working of that mind to be an example of the working of Bushido. The
universal politeness of the people, which is the legacy of knightly
ways, is too well known to be repeated anew. The physical endurance,
fortitude and bravery that "the little Jap" possesses, were sufficiently
proved in the China-Japanese war.[33] "Is there any nation more loyal
and patriotic?" is a question asked by many; and for the proud answer,
"There is not," we must thank the Precepts of Knighthood.

[Footnote 33: Among other works on the subject, read Eastlake and Yamada
on _Heroic Japan_, and Diosy on _The New Far East_.]

On the other hand, it is fair to recognize that for the very faults and
defects of our character, Bushido is largely responsible. Our lack of
abstruse philosophy--while some of our young men have already gained
international reputation in scientific researches, not one has achieved
anything in philosophical lines--is traceable to the neglect of
metaphysical training under Bushido's regimen of education. Our sense of
honor is responsible for our exaggerated sensitiveness and touchiness;
and if there is the conceit in us with which some foreigners charge us,
that, too, is a pathological outcome of honor.

Have you seen in your tour of Japan many a young man with unkempt hair,
dressed in shabbiest garb, carrying in his hand a large cane or a book,
stalking about the streets with an air of utter indifference to mundane
things? He is the _shosei_ (student), to whom the earth is too small and
the Heavens are not high enough. He has his own theories of the universe
and of life. He dwells in castles of air and feeds on ethereal words of
wisdom. In his eyes beams the fire of ambition; his mind is athirst for
knowledge. Penury is only a stimulus to drive him onward; worldly goods
are in his sight shackles to his character. He is the repository of
Loyalty and Patriotism. He is the self-imposed guardian of national
honor. With all his virtues and his faults, he is the last fragment of

Deep-rooted and powerful as is still the effect of Bushido, I have said
that it is an unconscious and mute influence. The heart of the people
responds, without knowing the reason why, to any appeal made to what it
has inherited, and hence the same moral idea expressed in a newly
translated term and in an old Bushido term, has a vastly different
degree of efficacy. A backsliding Christian, whom no pastoral persuasion
could help from downward tendency, was reverted from his course by an
appeal made to his loyalty, the fidelity he once swore to his Master.
The word "Loyalty" revived all the noble sentiments that were permitted
to grow lukewarm. A band of unruly youths engaged in a long continued
"students' strike" in a college, on account of their dissatisfaction
with a certain teacher, disbanded at two simple questions put by the
Director,--"Is your professor a blameless character? If so, you ought
to respect him and keep him in the school. Is he weak? If so, it is not
manly to push a falling man." The scientific incapacity of the
professor, which was the beginning of the trouble, dwindled into
insignificance in comparison with the moral issues hinted at. By
arousing the sentiments nurtured by Bushido, moral renovation of great
magnitude can be accomplished.

One cause of the failure of mission work is that most of the
missionaries are grossly ignorant of our history--"What do we care for
heathen records?" some say--and consequently estrange their religion
from the habits of thought we and our forefathers have been accustomed
to for centuries past. Mocking a nation's history!--as though the career
of any people--even of the lowest African savages possessing no
record--were not a page in the general history of mankind, written by
the hand of God Himself. The very lost races are a palimpsest to be
deciphered by a seeing eye. To a philosophic and pious mind, the races
themselves are marks of Divine chirography clearly traced in black and
white as on their skin; and if this simile holds good, the yellow race
forms a precious page inscribed in hieroglyphics of gold! Ignoring the
past career of a people, missionaries claim that Christianity is a new
religion, whereas, to my mind, it is an "old, old story," which, if
presented in intelligible words,--that is to say, if expressed in the
vocabulary familiar in the moral development of a people--will find easy
lodgment in their hearts, irrespective of race or nationality.
Christianity in its American or English form--with more of Anglo-Saxon
freaks and fancies than grace and purity of its founder--is a poor scion
to graft on Bushido stock. Should the propagator of the new faith uproot
the entire stock, root and branches, and plant the seeds of the Gospel
on the ravaged soil? Such a heroic process may be possible--in Hawaii,
where, it is alleged, the church militant had complete success in
amassing spoils of wealth itself, and in annihilating the aboriginal
race: such a process is most decidedly impossible in Japan--nay, it is
a process which Jesus himself would never have employed in founding his
kingdom on earth. It behooves us to take more to heart the following
words of a saintly man, devout Christian and profound scholar:--"Men
have divided the world into heathen and Christian, without considering
how much good may have been hidden in the one, or how much evil may
have been mingled with the other. They have compared the best part of
themselves with the worst of their neighbors, the ideal of Christianity
with the corruption of Greece or the East. They have not aimed at
impartiality, but have been contented to accumulate all that could be
said in praise of their own, and in dispraise of other forms of

[Footnote 34: Jowett, _Sermons on Faith and Doctrine_, II.]

But, whatever may be the error committed by individuals, there is little
doubt that the fundamental principle of the religion they profess is a
power which we must take into account in reckoning


whose days seem to be already numbered. Ominous signs are in the air,
that betoken its future. Not only signs, but redoubtable forces are at
work to threaten it.

Few historical comparisons can be more judiciously made than between the
Chivalry of Europe and the Bushido of Japan, and, if history repeats
itself, it certainly will do with the fate of the latter what it did
with that of the former. The particular and local causes for the decay
of Chivalry which St. Palaye gives, have, of course, little application
to Japanese conditions; but the larger and more general causes that
helped to undermine Knighthood and Chivalry in and after the Middle Ages
are as surely working for the decline of Bushido.

One remarkable difference between the experience of Europe and of Japan
is, that, whereas in Europe when Chivalry was weaned from Feudalism and
was adopted by the Church, it obtained a fresh lease of life, in Japan
no religion was large enough to nourish it; hence, when the mother
institution, Feudalism, was gone, Bushido, left an orphan, had to shift
for itself. The present elaborate military organization might take it
under its patronage, but we know that modern warfare can afford little
room for its continuous growth. Shintoism, which fostered it in its
infancy, is itself superannuated. The hoary sages of ancient China are
being supplanted by the intellectual parvenu of the type of Bentham and
Mill. Moral theories of a comfortable kind, flattering to the
Chauvinistic tendencies of the time, and therefore thought well-adapted
to the need of this day, have been invented and propounded; but as yet
we hear only their shrill voices echoing through the columns of yellow

Principalities and powers are arrayed against the Precepts of
Knighthood. Already, as Veblen says, "the decay of the ceremonial
code--or, as it is otherwise called, the vulgarization of life--among
the industrial classes proper, has become one of the chief enormities of
latter-day civilization in the eyes of all persons of delicate
sensibilities." The irresistible tide of triumphant democracy, which can
tolerate no form or shape of trust--and Bushido was a trust organized by
those who monopolized reserve capital of intellect and culture, fixing
the grades and value of moral qualities--is alone powerful enough to
engulf the remnant of Bushido. The present societary forces are
antagonistic to petty class spirit, and Chivalry is, as Freeman severely
criticizes, a class spirit. Modern society, if it pretends to any unity,
cannot admit "purely personal obligations devised in the interests of an
exclusive class."[35] Add to this the progress of popular instruction,
of industrial arts and habits, of wealth and city-life,--then we can
easily see that neither the keenest cuts of samurai's sword nor the
sharpest shafts shot from Bushido's boldest bows can aught avail. The
state built upon the rock of Honor and fortified by the same--shall we
call it the _Ehrenstaat_ or, after the manner of Carlyle, the
Heroarchy?--is fast falling into the hands of quibbling lawyers and
gibbering politicians armed with logic-chopping engines of war. The
words which a great thinker used in speaking of Theresa and Antigone may
aptly be repeated of the samurai, that "the medium in which their
ardent deeds took shape is forever gone."

[Footnote 35: _Norman Conquest_, Vol. V, p. 482.]

Alas for knightly virtues! alas for samurai pride! Morality ushered into
the world with the sound of bugles and drums, is destined to fade away
as "the captains and the kings depart."

If history can teach us anything, the state built on martial virtues--be
it a city like Sparta or an Empire like Rome--can never make on earth a
"continuing city." Universal and natural as is the fighting instinct in
man, fruitful as it has proved to be of noble sentiments and manly
virtues, it does not comprehend the whole man. Beneath the instinct to
fight there lurks a diviner instinct to love. We have seen that
Shintoism, Mencius and Wan Yang Ming, have all clearly taught it; but
Bushido and all other militant schools of ethics, engrossed, doubtless,
with questions of immediate practical need, too often forgot duly to
emphasize this fact. Life has grown larger in these latter times.
Callings nobler and broader than a warrior's claim our attention to-day.
With an enlarged view of life, with the growth of democracy, with better
knowledge of other peoples and nations, the Confucian idea of
Benevolence--dare I also add the Buddhist idea of Pity?--will expand
into the Christian conception of Love. Men have become more than
subjects, having grown to the estate of citizens: nay, they are more
than citizens, being men.

Though war clouds hang heavy upon our horizon, we will believe that the
wings of the angel of peace can disperse them. The history of the world
confirms the prophecy the "the meek shall inherit the earth." A nation
that sells its birthright of peace, and backslides from the front rank
of Industrialism into the file of Filibusterism, makes a poor bargain

When the conditions of society are so changed that they have become not
only adverse but hostile to Bushido, it is time for it to prepare for an
honorable burial. It is just as difficult to point out when chivalry
dies, as to determine the exact time of its inception. Dr. Miller says
that Chivalry was formally abolished in the year 1559, when Henry II. of
France was slain in a tournament. With us, the edict formally
abolishing Feudalism in 1870 was the signal to toll the knell of
Bushido. The edict, issued two years later, prohibiting the wearing of
swords, rang out the old, "the unbought grace of life, the cheap defence
of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise," it rang
in the new age of "sophisters, economists, and calculators."

It has been said that Japan won her late war with China by means of
Murata guns and Krupp cannon; it has been said the victory was the work
of a modern school system; but these are less than half-truths. Does
ever a piano, be it of the choicest workmanship of Ehrbar or Steinway,
burst forth into the Rhapsodies of Liszt or the Sonatas of Beethoven,
without a master's hand? Or, if guns win battles, why did not Louis
Napoleon beat the Prussians with his _Mitrailleuse_, or the Spaniards
with their Mausers the Filipinos, whose arms were no better than the
old-fashioned Remingtons? Needless to repeat what has grown a trite
saying that it is the spirit that quickeneth, without which the best of
implements profiteth but little. The most improved guns and cannon do
not shoot of their own accord; the most modern educational system does
not make a coward a hero. No! What won the battles on the Yalu, in Corea
and Manchuria, was the ghosts of our fathers, guiding our hands and
beating in our hearts. They are not dead, those ghosts, the spirits of
our warlike ancestors. To those who have eyes to see, they are clearly
visible. Scratch a Japanese of the most advanced ideas, and he will show
a samurai. The great inheritance of honor, of valor and of all martial
virtues is, as Professor Cramb very fitly expresses it, "but ours on
trust, the fief inalienable of the dead and of the generation to come,"
and the summons of the present is to guard this heritage, nor to bate
one jot of the ancient spirit; the summons of the future will be so to
widen its scope as to apply it in all walks and relations of life.

It has been predicted--and predictions have been corroborated by the
events of the last half century--that the moral system of Feudal Japan,
like its castles and its armories, will crumble into dust, and new
ethics rise phoenix-like to lead New Japan in her path of progress.
Desirable and probable as the fulfilment of such a prophecy is, we must
not forget that a phoenix rises only from its own ashes, and that it is
not a bird of passage, neither does it fly on pinions borrowed from
other birds. "The Kingdom of God is within you." It does not come
rolling down the mountains, however lofty; it does not come sailing
across the seas, however broad. "God has granted," says the Koran, "to
every people a prophet in its own tongue." The seeds of the Kingdom, as
vouched for and apprehended by the Japanese mind, blossomed in Bushido.
Now its days are closing--sad to say, before its full fruition--and we
turn in every direction for other sources of sweetness and light, of
strength and comfort, but among them there is as yet nothing found to
take its place. The profit and loss philosophy of Utilitarians and
Materialists finds favor among logic-choppers with half a soul. The
only other ethical system which is powerful enough to cope with
Utilitarianism and Materialism is Christianity, in comparison with
which Bushido, it must be confessed, is like "a dimly burning wick"
which the Messiah was proclaimed not to quench but to fan into a flame.
Like His Hebrew precursors, the prophets--notably Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos
and Habakkuk--Bushido laid particular stress on the moral conduct of
rulers and public men and of nations, whereas the Ethics of Christ,
which deal almost solely with individuals and His personal followers,
will find more and more practical application as individualism, in its
capacity of a moral factor, grows in potency. The domineering,
self-assertive, so-called master-morality of Nietzsche, itself akin in
some respects to Bushido, is, if I am not greatly mistaken, a passing
phase or temporary reaction against what he terms, by morbid distortion,
the humble, self-denying slave-morality of the Nazarene.

Christianity and Materialism (including Utilitarianism)--or will the
future reduce them to still more archaic forms of Hebraism and
Hellenism?--will divide the world between them. Lesser systems of morals
will ally themselves on either side for their preservation. On which
side will Bushido enlist? Having no set dogma or formula to defend, it
can afford to disappear as an entity; like the cherry blossom, it is
willing to die at the first gust of the morning breeze. But a total
extinction will never be its lot. Who can say that stoicism is dead? It
is dead as a system; but it is alive as a virtue: its energy and
vitality are still felt through many channels of life--in the philosophy
of Western nations, in the jurisprudence of all the civilized world.
Nay, wherever man struggles to raise himself above himself, wherever his
spirit masters his flesh by his own exertions, there we see the immortal
discipline of Zeno at work.

Bushido as an independent code of ethics may vanish, but its power will
not perish from the earth; its schools of martial prowess or civic honor
may be demolished, but its light and its glory will long survive their
ruins. Like its symbolic flower, after it is blown to the four winds, it
will still bless mankind with the perfume with which it will enrich
life. Ages after, when its customaries shall have been buried and its
very name forgotten, its odors will come floating in the air as from a
far-off unseen hill, "the wayside gaze beyond;"--then in the beautiful
language of the Quaker poet,

"The traveler owns the grateful sense
Of sweetness near he knows not whence,
And, pausing, takes with forehead bare
The benediction of the air."


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