The Annotated Bushido

Chapter VII


without which Politeness is a farce and a show. [1905 start:] Without veracity and sincerity, politeness is a farce and a show.] "Propriety carried beyond right bounds," says Masamuné, "becomes a lie." An ancient poet has outdone Polonius in the advice he gives: "To thyself be faithful: if in thy heart thou strayest not from truth, without prayer of thine the Gods will keep thee whole." [1905: The apotheosis of Sincerity to which Confucius gives expression in the Doctrine of the Mean, attributes to it transcendental powers, almost identifying them with the Divine. "Sincerity is the end and the beginning of all things; without Sincerity there would be nothing." He then dwells with eloquence on its far-reaching and long-enduring nature, its power to produce changes without movement and by its mere presence to accomplish its purpose without effort. From the Chinese ideogram for Sincerity, which is a combination of "Word" and "Perfect," one is tempted to draw a parallel between it and the Neo-Platonic doctrine of Logos--to such height does the sage soar in his unwonted mystic flight.]

Lying or equivocation were deemed equally cowardly. The bushi held that his high social position demanded a loftier standard of veracity than that of the tradesman and peasant. Bushi no ichi-gon--the word of a samurai--was sufficient [1905: --the word of a samurai, or in exact German equivalent Ritterwort--was sufficient] guaranty of the truthfulness of an assertion. His word carried such weight with it that promises were generally made and fulfilled without a written pledge, which would have been deemed quite beneath his dignity. Many thrilling anecdotes were told of those who atoned by death for ni-gon, a double tongue.

The regard for veracity was so high that, unlike the generality of Christians who persistently violate the plain commands of the Teacher not to swear, the best of samurai looked upon an oath as derogatory to their honor. I am well aware that they did swear by different deities or upon their swords; but never has swearing degenerated into wanton form and irreverent interjection. To emphasize our words a practice of literally sealing with blood was sometimes resorted to. [1905: a practice was sometimes resorted to of literally sealing with blood.] For the explanation of such a practice, I need only refer my readers to Goethe's Faust.

A recent American writer is responsible for this statement, that if you ask an ordinary Japanese which is better, to tell a falsehood or be impolite, he will not hesitate to answer "to tell a falsehood!" [1905: "To tell a falsehood!"] Dr. Peery is partly right and partly wrong; right in that an ordinary Japanese, even a samurai, may answer in the way ascribed to him, but wrong in attributing too much weight to the term he translates "falsehood." This word (in Japanese uso) is employed to denote anything which is not a truth (makoto) or fact (honto). [1905: not a truth (makoto) or fact (honto).] Lowell tells us that Wordsworth could not distinguish between truth and fact, and an ordinary Japanese is in this respect as good as Wordsworth. Ask a Japanese, or even an American of any refinement, to tell you whether he dislikes you or whether he is sick at his stomach, and he will not hesitate long to tell falsehoods and answer, "I like you much," or, "I am quite well, thank you." To sacrifice truth merely for the sake of politeness was regarded as an "empty form" (kyo-ré) [1905: (kyo-rei)] and "deception by sweet words."

I own I am speaking now of the Bushido idea of veracity: but it may not be amiss to devote a few words to our commercial integrity, of which I have heard much complaint in foreign books and journals. A loose business morality has indeed been the worst blot on our national reputation; but before abusing it or hastily condemning the whole race for it, let us calmly study it and we shall be rewarded with consolation for the future.

Of all the great occupations of life, none was farther removed from the profession of arms than commerce. The merchant was placed lowest in the category of vocations,--the knight, the tiller of the soil, the mechanic, the merchant. The samurai derived his income from land and could even indulge, if he had a mind to, in amateur farming; but the counter and abacus were abhorred. We know the wisdom of this social arrangement. Montesquieu has made it clear that the debarring of the nobility from mercantile pursuits was an admirable social policy, in that it prevented wealth from accumulating in the hands of the powerful. The separation of power and riches kept the distribution of the latter more nearly equable. Professor Dill, the author of "Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire," has brought afresh to our mind that one cause of the decadence of the Roman Empire, was the permission given to the nobility to engage in trade, and the consequent monopoly of wealth and power by a minority of the senatorial families.

Commerce, therefore, in feudal Japan did not reach that degree of development which it would have attained under freer conditions. The obloquy attached to the calling naturally brought within its pale such as cared little for social repute. "Call one a thief and he will steal:" put a stigma on a calling and its followers adjust their morals to it. [1905: adjust their morals to it, for it is natural that "the normal conscience," as Hugh Black says, "rises to the demands made on it, and easily falls to the limit of the standard expected from it."] It is unnecessary to add that no business, commercial or otherwise, can be transacted without a code of morals. Our merchants of the Feudal period [1905: the feudal period] had one among themselves, without which they could never have developed as they did, [1905: developed, as they did,] such fundamental mercantile institutions as the guild, the bank, the bourse, insurance, checks and bills of exchange, etc.; [1905: checks, bills of exchange, etc.;] but in their relations with people outside their vocation, the tradesmen lived too true to the reputation of their order.

This being the case, when the country was opened to foreign trade, only the most adventurous and unscrupulous rushed to the ports, while the respectable business houses declined for some time the repeated requests of the authorities to establish branch houses. Was Bushido powerless to stay the current of commercial dishonor? Let us see.

Those who are well acquainted with our history will remember that only a few years after our treaty ports were opened to foreign trade, feudalism was abolished, and when with it the samurai's fiefs were taken and bonds issued to them in compensation, they were given liberty to invest them in mercantile transactions. Now you may ask, "Why could they not bring their much boasted veracity into their new business relations and so reform the old abuses?" Those who had eyes to see could not weep enough, those who had hearts to feel could not sympathize enough, with the fate of many a noble and honest samurai who signally and irrevocably failed in his new and unfamiliar field of trade and industry, through sheer lack of shrewdness in coping with his artful plebeian rival. When we know that eighty per cent. of the business houses fail in so industrial a country as America, is it any wonder that scarcely one among a hundred samurai who went into trade could succeed in his new vocation? It will be long before it will be recognized how many fortunes were wrecked in the attempt to apply Bushido ethics to business methods; but it was soon patent to every observing mind that the ways of wealth were not the ways of honor. In what respects, then, were they different?

Of the three incentives to Veracity that Lecky enumerates, viz: the industrial, the political, and the philosophical, the first was altogether lacking in Bushido. As to the second, it could develop little in a political community under a feudal system. It is in its philosophical, and, as Lecky says, [1905: in its philosophical, and as Lecky says,] in its highest aspect, that Honesty attained elevated rank in our catalogue of virtues. With all my sincere regard for the high commercial integrity of the Anglo-Saxon race, when I ask for the ultimate ground, I am told that "Honesty is the best policy," that it pays to be honest. [1905: told that "honesty is the best policy,"--that it pays to be honest.] Is not this virtue, then, its own reward? If it is followed because it brings in more cash than falsehood, I am afraid Bushido would rather indulge in lies!

If Bushido rejects a doctrine like this, [1905: rejects a doctrine of quid pro quo rewards,] the shrewder tradesman will readily accept it. Lecky has very truly remarked that Veracity owes its growth largely to commerce and manufacture,--in other words, [1905: owes its growth largely to commerce and manufacture; as Nietzsche puts it, "Honesty is the youngest of virtues"--in other words,] it is the foster-child of industry. [1905: the foster-child of modern indust y.] Without this mother, Veracity was like a blue-blood orphan whom only the most cultivated mind could adopt and nourish. Such minds were general among the samurai, but, for want of a more democratic and utilitarian foster-mother, the tender child failed to thrive. Industries advancing, Veracity [1905: veracity] will prove an easy, nay, a profitable, virtue to practice. [1905: Just think, as late as November 1880, [1905: Just think--as late as November, 1880,] Bismarck sent a circular to the professional consuls of the German Empire, warning them of "a lamentable lack of reliability with regard to German shipments inter alia, apparent both as to quality and quantity;" now-a-days [1905 apparent both as to quality and quantity." Nowadays] we hear comparatively little of German carelessness and dishonesty in trade. In twenty years her merchants learned that [1905: In twenty years her merchants have learned that] in the end honesty pays. Already our merchants have found that out. For the rest I recommend the reader to two recent writers for well-weighed judgment on this point. It is interesting to remark in this connection that integrity and honor were the surest guaranties which even a merchant debtor could present in the form of promissory notes. It was quite a usual thing to insert such clauses as these: "In default of the re-payment [1905: repayment] of the sum lent to me, I shall say nothing against being ridiculed in public;" [1905: ridiculed in public";] or, "In case I fail to pay you back, you may call me a fool," and the like.

Often have I wondered whether the Veracity of Bushido had any motive higher than courage. In the absence of any positive commandment against bearing false witness, lying was not condemned as sin, but simply denounced as weakness, and, as such, highly dishonorable. In fact, the idea of honesty is so intimately blended, and its Latin and its German etymology so identified with [1905: As a matter of fact, the idea of honesty is so intimately blended, and its Latin and its German etymology so identified with honour, that it is high time I should pause a few moments for the consideration of this feature of the Precepts of Knighthood.]  <continue>

Veracity (makoto)

The reason for the change in chapter title in the 1900 and 1905 editions is not clear, but perhaps Nitobe came to feel that that veracity and truthfulness are synonymous qualities while veracity and sincerity can be viewed as complementary, so that sincerity becomes a moral quality giving rise to veracity. In other words, instead of listing two behavioral qualities, the 1905 edition suggests a behavioral quality informed by a moral one.

As a textual reminder, titles of books are routinely italicized in the 1905 edition, but those changes are not reflected in this online version. Unless otherwise noted, italicized terms here are those that were also italicized in the 1900 first edition.

Date Masamune (1567-1636) was the founding daimyo of the Sendai domain. The quotation is one of the five precepts supposedly left behind by Date at the time of his death, although there does not appear to be any documented basis for attributing those precepts to him.

A reference to Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), early-Heian-period aristocrat and scholar who was exiled to Kyushu in 901 and whose spirit was enshrined at Kitano Tenmangū in Kyoto after various calamities were recorded in the wake of his death. He is regarded as the patron saint of learning.

Polonius is Lord Chamberlain to King Claudius in Shakespeare's play Hamlet. He gives voice to such platitudes as "Neither a borrower nor a lender be" (1.3.81) and "To thine own self be true" (1.3.84).

The following quotation comes from Chapter 25.2 of the Doctrine of the Mean.

Neoplatonism is a relatively recent designation for a period of non-mainstream Platonic philosophy beginning with Plotinus (204-270) and continuing up to the early sixth century. The precise nature of Nitobe's "doctrine of Logos" is not exactly clear, but it may have something to do with the "seminal reasons" (logoi spermatikoi) that for Plotinus constitute the productive essence of the soul. There are more detailed discussions of Neoplatonism and Plotinus at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), one of the key figures of the German Enlightenment, published the first part of Faust in 1808 and the second part in 1832.

A reference to the writer named in the following sentence, Rufus Benton Peery (1868-1934), a Lutheran missionary in Saga Prefecture, Kyushu, who published his The Gist of Japan: The Islands, Their People, and Missions in 1897 (the book is available in digitized form from the Internet Archive). Peery arrived in Japan in 1892 and left missionary service in 1903.

Peery, The Gist of Japan, p. 86 [Nitobe's note]

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) was an American poet, critic, and editor who in 1888 included an essay on the Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) in his book The English Poets.

Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755) -- usually referred to as Charles de Montesquieu or simply Montesquieu -- was a French political philosopher who is known for promoting the separation of powers in government. Nitobe appears to be referring to his De l'esprit des lois (The Spirit of the Laws) of 1748.

Samuel Dill (1844-1924), a Belfast-born classical scholar and educator, published Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire in 1898.

 A common English proverb.

 Hugh Black (1868-1953) was a Scotland-born American theologian and writer. The quotation comes from Chapter IX ("The Medieval Concept of Sainthood") of Culture and Restraint (1901).

 William Edward Hartpole Lecky, (1838-1903) was an Irish historian. He discusses the growth of veracity and the three forms it takes in the first chapter ("The Natural History of Morals") of Volume I of History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne, originally published in two volumes by Longman in 1862.

 Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a German philosopher who rejected the moral values of Christianity and advocated a heroic, life-affirming moral viewpoint. The quotation comes from the "On the Hinterwordly" section of the First Part of Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883-1885).

 Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) was the statesman largely responsible for the unification and shaping of the modern German state, first as Minister President of Prussia from 1862 and then as Imperial Chancellor from 1871 to 1890.

The quoted incident is reported by the German writer and historian Heinrich von Poschinger (1845-1911) in his Conversations with Prince Bismarck (in an English edition that was published by Harper & Brothers in 1900).

Knapp, Feudal and Modern Japan, Vol. I, Ch. IV. Ransome, Japan in Transition, Ch. VIII. [Nitobe's note]

Arthur May Knapp (1841-1921) was a graduate of Harvard Divinity School who traveled to Japan in 1887 as a representative of the American Unitarian Association. A second trip followed beginning in 1889, and in 1900 he returned again to edit the Japan Advertiser newspaper, apparently staying in the country for 10 years. Feudal and Modern Japan was published by the J. Knight Company of Boston in 1896; a digitized version of the second edition of Volume II is available from the Internet Archive. Information about Knapp (some of it conflicting) can be found at the Harvard Square Library site (which reproduces the 1952 book Heralds of a Liberal Faith) and in the reprinted version of the 1902 book Unitarianism in America (the text is available from Project Gutenberg, and snippets from several editions can be viewed at Google Books).

(James) Stafford Ransome (1860-1931), a correspondent for the British journal The Engineer -- as well as other publications -- published Japan in Transition: A Comparative Study of the Progress, Policy, and Methods of the Japanese Since Their War with China in 1899.