The Annotated Bushido

Chapter III


the most cogent precept in the code of the samurai. [1905  start:] Here we discern the most cogent precept in the code of the samurai.] Nothing is more loathsome to him than underhand dealings and crooked undertakings. The conception of Rectitude may be erroneous--it may be narrow. A well-known bushi defines it as a power of resolution;--"Rectitude is the power of deciding upon a certain course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering;--to die when it is right to die, to strike when to strike is right." Another speaks of it in the following terms: "Rectitude is the bone that gives firmness and stature. As without bones the head cannot rest on the top of the spine, nor hands move nor feet stand, so without rectitude neither talent nor learning can make of a human frame a samurai. With it the lack of accomplishments is as nothing." Mencius calls Benevolence man's mind, and Rectitude or Righteousness his path. "How lamentable," he exclaims, "is it to neglect the path and not pursue it, to lose the mind and not know to seek it again! When men's fowls and dogs are lost, they know to seek for them again, but they lose their mind and do not know to seek for it." Have we not here "as in a glass darkly" a parable propounded three hundred years later in another clime and by a greater Teacher, who called Himself the Way of Righteousness, through whom the lost could be found? But I stray from my point. Righteousness, according to Mencius, is a straight and narrow path which a man ought to take to regain the lost paradise.[1905: paragraph break]Even in the latter days of feudalism, when the long continuance of peace brought leisure into the life of the warrior class, and with it dissipations of all kinds and accomplishments of gentle arts, the epithet Gishi (a man of rectitude) was considered superior to any name that signified mastery of learning or art. The Forty-seven Faithfuls--of whom so much is made in our popular education--are known in common parlance as the Forty-seven Gishi.

In times when cunning artifice was liable to pass for military tact and downright falsehood for ruse de guerre, this manly virtue, frank and honest, was a jewel that shone the brightest and was most highly praised. Rectitude is a twin brother to Valor, another martial virtue. But before proceeding to speak of Valor, let me linger a little while on what I may term a derivation from Rectitude, which, deviating [1905: which, at first deviating] slightly from its original, became more and more removed from it, until its meaning was perverted in the popular acceptance. I speak of Gi-ri, literally the Right Reason, but which came in time to mean a vague sense of duty which public opinion expects an incumbent to fulfil. In its original and unalloyed sense, it meant duty, pure and simple,--hence, we speak of the Giri we owe to parents, to superiors, to inferiors, to society at large, and so forth. In these instances Giri is duty; for what else is duty than what Right Reason demands and commands us to do. [1905: and commands us to do?] Should not Right Reason be our categorical imperative?

Giri primarily meant no more than duty, and I dare say its etymology was derived from the fact that [1905: from the fact, that] in our conduct, say to our parents, though love should be the only motive, lacking that, there must be some other authority to enforce filial piety; and they formulated this authority in Giri. Very rightly did they formulate this authority--Giri--since if love does not rush to deeds of virtue, recourse must be had to man's intellect and his reason must be quickened to convince him of the necessity of acting aright. The same is true of any other moral obligation. The instant Duty becomes onerous. Right Reason steps in to prevent our shirking it. Giri thus understood is a severe taskmaster, with a birch-rod in his hand to make sluggards perform their part. It is a secondary power in ethics; as a motive it is infinitely inferior to the Christian doctrine of love, which should be the law. I deem it a product of the conditions of an artificial society--of a society in which accident of birth and unmerited favor instituted class distinctions, in which the family was the social unit, in which seniority of age was of more account than superiority of talents, in which natural affections had often to succumb before arbitrary man-made customs. Because of this very artificiality, Giri in time degenerated into a vague sense of propriety called up to explain this and sanction that,--as, for example, why a mother must, if need be, sacrifice all her other children in order to save the first-born; or why a daughter must sell her chastity to get funds to pay for the father's dissipation, and the like. Starting as Right Reason, Giri has, in my opinion, often stooped to casuistry. It has even degenerated into cowardly fear of censure. I might say of Giri what Scott wrote of patriotism, that "as it is the fairest, so it is often the most suspicious, mask of other feelings." Carried beyond or below Right Reason, Giri became a monstrous misnomer. It harbored under its wings every sort of sophistry and hypocrisy. It would have been easily turned into a nest of cowardice, if Bushido had not a keen and correct sense of  [1905: It would have been easily turned into a nest of cowardice, if Bushido had not a keen and correct sense of courage, the spirit of daring and bearing.] <continue>

Gi (gi)

Beginning with this chapter, Nitobe introduces the individual core values of bushidō. Rectitude is given pride of place, although no explanation is offered as to why it should be considered the most "cogent" precept of the samurai.

As previously mentioned, Nitobe is always willing to accept the possibility that the virtues of bushidō may be abused, a strategy that adds considerable subtlety to his argument. Here it is interesting to observe how he treats Giri, the sense of obligation that derives from Rectitude. He notes that while Giri was at first almost the same thing as Rectitude, it deteriorated into a more routine sense of moral obligation, and was subsequently perverted at times to justify entirely selfish and coercive behavior on the part of those in authority. The true samurai, however, had the moral fiber (as demonstrated by the other virtues to be described) that prevented this form of decrepitude from setting in.

The prominent references to Jesus and Christian love to be found in this chapter sometimes take Japanese readers by surprise. It is worth keeping in mind that Nitobe ultimately values Christianity more highly than he does bushidō, despite the importance of the latter to the ethical makeup of the Japanese.

Hayashi Shihei (1738-1793), a political-economy (keiseiron) theorist of the mid-Edo period whose 16-volume Kaikoku heidan (The Military Affairs of a Maritime Nation, 1787-91) argued for the implementation of modern naval and coastal defenses. The Tokugawa shogunate placed Hayashi in confinement for his efforts. The quoted passage comes from the first section of Gakusoku (Principles of Study, ca. 1793).

Maki Yasuomi (1813-1864), also known as Maki Izumi no Kami, was a Shinto priest active in the chauvinistic sonnō-jōi ("Revere the Emperor and Expel the Barbarian") movement of the late Edo period. He committed suicide after taking part in a failed attempt by samurai from the Chōshū clan to seize control of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto.

Mencius (Mengxi, 372-289 BC; Mōshi in Japanese ) is perhaps the most famous Confucian philosopher next to Confucius himself. Mencius believed in an innate sense of human goodness that could be recovered through a process of self-cultivation. The quotation comes from the Mencius 6A11.

A reference to 1 Corinthians 13:12, which in the King James Version reads "For now we see through a glass, darkly."

Or Akō rōshi ("the masterless samurai of the Akō clan"), the group of 47 retainers who in 1702 swarmed the Edo residence of Kira Yoshihisa to avenge the honor of their lord, Asano Naganori, who had been forced to commit suicide after attempting to kill Kira inside Edo Castle. The incident is one of the most famous in Japanese history and has been the subject of numerous literary works, including the Kanadehon chūshingura (Treasury of Loyal Retainers) jōruri (puppet) play of 1749.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), prolific and immensely popular Scottish writer known especially for his historical novels. The quotation is from Chapter VI of Scott's novel Waverley (1814).

A reference to Jesus Christ, one of numerous Christian allusions to be found in Bushido.