The Annotated Bushido

Chapter VIII


that it is high time I should pause a few moments for the consideration of this feature of the Precepts of Knighthood.

[1905 start:] The sense of honor, implying a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, could not fail to characterize the samurai, born and bred to value the duties and privileges of their profession. Though the word ordinarily given now-a-days [1905: nowadays] as the translation of Honor was not used freely, yet the idea was conveyed by such terms as na (name) men-moku (countenance), guai-bun (outside hearing), reminding us respectively of the biblical use of "name," of the evolution of the term "personality" from the Greek mask, and of "fame." A good name being assumed as a matter of course, [1905: A good name--one's reputation, "the immortal part of one's self, what remains being bestial"--assumed as a matter of course,] any infringement upon its integrity was felt as shame, and the sense of shame (Ren-chi-shin) was one of the earliest to be cherished in juvenile education. "You will be laughed at," "It will disgrace you," "Are you not ashamed?" were the last appeal to correct behavior on the part of a youthful delinquent. Such a recourse to his honor touched the most sensitive spot in the child's heart, as though it had been nursed on honor while it was in its mother's womb. [1905: while it was in its mother's womb; for most truly is honor a pre-natal influence, being closely bound up with strong family consciousness. "In losing the solidarity of families," says Balzac, "society has lost the fundamental force which Montesquieu named Honor." Indeed, the sense of shame seems to me to be the earliest indication of the moral consciousness of the race.] The first and worst punishment which befell humanity in consequence of tasting "the fruit of that forbidden tree" was, to my mind, not the sorrow of childbirth, [1905: child-birth] nor the thorns and thistles, but the awakening of the sense of shame. Few incidents in history excel in pathos the scene of the first mother plying with heaving breast and tremulous fingers, [1905: the first mother plying, with heaving breast and tremulous fingers,] her crude needle on the few fig leaves which her dejected husband plucked for her. This first fruit of disobedience clings to us with a tenacity that nothing else does. All the sartorial ingenuity of mankind has not yet succeeded in sewing an apron that will efficaciously hide our sense of shame. That samurai was right who refused to compromise his character by a slight humiliation in his youth; "because," he said, "dishonor is like a scar on a tree, which time, instead of effacing, only helps to enlarge."

Mencius had taught centuries before, in almost the identical phrase, what Carlyle has latterly expressed,--namely, that "Shame is the soil of all Virtue, of good manners and good morals."

The fear of disgrace was so great that if our literature lacks such eloquence as Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Norfolk, it nevertheless hung like Damocles' sword over the head of every samurai and often assumed a morbid character. In the name of Honor, deeds were perpetrated which can find no justification in the code of Bushido. At the slightest, nay, imaginary insult, the quick-tempered braggart [1905: At the slightest, nay--imaginary insult--the quick-tempered braggart] took offense, resorted to the use of the sword, and many an unnecessary strife was raised and many an innocent life lost. The story of a well-meaning citizen who called the attention of a bushi to a flea jumping on his back, and who was forthwith cut in two, for the simple and questionable reason that [1905: for the simple and questionable reason, that] inasmuch as fleas are parasites which feed on animals, it was an unpardonable insult to identify a noble warrior with a beast--I say, stories like these are too frivolous to believe. Yet, the circulation of such stories implies three things; [1905: three things:] (1) that they were invented to overawe common people; (2) that abuses were really made of the samurai's profession of courtesy; [1905: the samurai's profession of honor;] and (3) that a very strong sense of honor [1905: sense of shame] was developed among them. It is plainly unfair to take an abnormal case to cast blame upon the Precepts, any more than to judge of the true teachings of Christ from the fruits of religious fanaticism and extravagance, inquisitions and hypocrisy, to wit. [1905: religious fanaticism and extravagance,-- inquisitions and hypocrisy.] But, as in religious monomania there is something touchingly noble, as compared with [1905: something touchingly noble as compared with] the delirium tremens of a drunkard, so in that extreme sensitiveness of the samurai about their honor do we not recognize the substratum of a genuine virtue?

The morbid excess into which the delicate code of honor was inclined to run was strongly counter-balanced [1905: strongly counterbalanced] by preaching magnanimity and patience. To take offense at slight provocation was ridiculed as "short-tempered." The popular adage said: "To bear what you think you cannot bear is really to bear." The great Iyéyasu left to posterity a few maxims, among which are the following:-- "The life of man is like going a long distance with a heavy load upon the shoulders. Haste not. * * * * * Reproach none, but be forever watchful of thine own short-comings. * * * * [1905: Haste not. . . . Reproach none, but be forever watchful of thine own short-comings. . . .] Forbearance is the basis of length of days." He proved in his life what he preached. A literary wit put a characteristic epigram into the mouths of three well-known personages in our history: to Nobunaga he attributed, "I will kill her if the nightingale sings not in time;" to Hidéyoshi, "I will force her to sing for me;" and to Iyèyasu, "I will wait till she opens her lips." [1905: "I will kill her, if the nightingale sings not in time"; to Hidéyoshi, "I will force her to sing for me"; and to Iyéyasu, "I will wait till she opens her lips."]

Patience and long suffering were also highly commended by Mencius. In one place he writes to this effect: "Though you denude yourself and insult me, what is that to me? You cannot defile my soul by your outrage." Elsewhere he teaches that anger at a petty offense is unworthy a superior man, but indignation for a great cause is righteous wrath.

To what height of unmartial and unresisting meekness Bushido could reach in some of its votaries, may be seen in their utterances. Take, for instance, this saying of Ogawa: "When others speak all manner of evil things against thee, return not evil for evil, but rather reflect that thou wast not more faithful in the discharge of thy duties." Take another of Kumazawa:--"When others blame thee, blame them not; when others are angry at thee, return not anger. Joy cometh only as Passion and Desire part." Still another instance I may cite from Saigo: [1905: I may cite from Saigo, upon whose overhanging brows "Shame is ashamed to sit":--]"The Way is the way of Heaven and Earth: Man's place is to follow it: therefore make it the object of thy life to reverence Heaven. Heaven loves me and others with equal love; therefore with the love wherewith thou lovest thyself, love others. Make not Man thy partner but Heaven, and making Heaven thy partner do thy best. Never condemn others; but see to it that thou comest not short of thine own mark." Some of those sayings remind us of Christian expostulations and show us how far in practical morality natural religion can approach the revealed. Not only did these sayings remain as utterances, but they were really embodied in acts.

It must be admitted that very few attained this sublime height of magnanimity, patience and forgiveness. It was a great pity that nothing clear and general was expressed as to what constitutes Honor, only a few enlightened minds being aware that it "from no condition rises," but that it lies in each acting well his part. [1905: each acting well his part; for nothing was easier than for youths to forget in the heat of action what they had learned in Mencius in their calmer moments. Said this sage: "'T is [sic] in every man's mind to love honor; but little doth he dream that what is truly honorable lies within himself and not anywhere else. The honor which men confer is not good honor. Those whom Châo the Great ennobles, he can make mean again."] For the most part, an insult was quickly resented and repaid by death, as we shall see later, while Honor--too often nothing higher than worldly approbation [1905: than vainglory or worldly approbation]--was prized as the summum bonum of earthly existence. Fame, and not wealth or knowledge, was the goal toward which youths had to strive. Many a lad swore within himself as he crossed the threshold of his paternal home, that he would not recross it until he had made a name in the world: [1905: made a name in the world;] and many an ambitious mother refused to see her darling again unless he [1905: refused to see her sons again unless they] could "return home," as the expression is, "caparisoned in brocade." To shun shame or win a name, Samurai boys [1905: samurai boys] would submit to any privations and undergo severest ordeals of bodily or mental suffering. They knew that honor won in youth grows with age. In the memorable siege of Osaka, a young son of Iyéyasu, in spite of his earnest entreaties to be put in the vanguard, was placed at the rear of the army. When the castle fell, he was so chagrined and wept so bitterly that an old councillor tried to console him with all the resources at his command; "Take comfort, Sire," said he, "at thought of the long future before you. In the many years that you may live, there will come divers occasions to distinguish yourself." The boy fixed his indignant gaze upon the man and said--"How foolishly you talk! Can ever my fourteenth year come round again?" Life itself was thought cheap if honor and fame could be attained therewith: hence, whenever a cause presented itself which was considered dearer than life, with utmost serenity and celerity was life laid down.

Of the causes in comparison with which no life was too dear to sacrifice, was [1905: Of the causes in comparison with which no life was too dear to sacrifice, was the duty of loyalty, which was the key-stone making feudal virtues a symmetrical arch.]  <continue>

Honor (meiyo)

Asian and European authorities both ancient and (relatively) modern are adduced to elucidate the concept of honor. As elsewhere, the sheer number of sources can make identification difficult.

Othello 2.3.282-83. The words are Cassio's, spoken to Iago after Othello has stripped Cassio of his rank.

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) was a French novelist and playwright who is much admired for his skill in characterization as found, for example, in the connected series of novels and stories known collectively as La Comédie Humaine (The Human Comedy, 1829-1847). The quotation comes from the 1841 novel The Village Rector, Chapter VIII ("The Rector of Montegnac").

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 advocating 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.

A reference to Arai Hakuseki (1657-1725), a Confucian scholar who participated actively in government under the sixth and seventh Tokugawa shoguns, Ienobu and Ietsugu, instituting economic and political policies aimed at strengthening the shogunate. The source of the quotation remains to be identified.

Mencius (or Mengzi , 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. Nitobe is probably referring to the Mencius 2A6, where -- after the parable of the child and the well -- Mencius (in the Legge translation) says, "From this case we may perceive that the feeling of commiseration is essential to man, that the feeling of shame and dislike is essential to man, that the feeling of modesty and complaisance is essential to man, and that the feeling of approving and disapproving is essential to man."

A further reference to Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus (1833-34); the quotation comes from Book 3, Chapter III ("Symbols").

A reference to the character of Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, in Richard II. Mowbray is banished from England following accusations of treason by Henry Bolingbroke (himself also banished as he and Mowbray prepare to duel).

Damocles was a flatterer of Dionysius (?431-367 BC), the Greek tyrant of Syracus, who at a banquet seated Damocles under a sword suspended by a single hair to demonstrate the precarious nature of happiness.

Apparently a kind of urban legend. Sakurai Ōson, in his 1908 translation, prefaces the story with the words "zokugo ni tsutō," meaning something like "as the common story has it."

Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) was the last of the three great unifiers of 16th-century Japan and founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, which lasted from 1604 to 1867. The quotation comes from The Precepts Bequeathed by Lord Tokugawa (Tōshōgū go-ikun), a collection of maxims supposedly left behind by Ieyasu but actually of uncertain provenance.

The following apocryphal story of the different attitudes of the three great unifiers toward a recalcitrant cuckoo derives from Essays to While the Evening Away (Kasshi yawa or Kōshi yawa), a collection of anecdotal essays written between 1821 and 1841 by Matsura Seizan, daimyo of the Hirado domain, in what is now Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu. The Japanese title of the collection is based on the calendrical designation for the Seventeenth Day of the Eleventh Month, which was when Matsura started writing.

Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) was the first of the three great unifiers of 16th-century Japan.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536 or 1537-1598) was the second of the three great unifiers of 16th-century Japan.

Mencius 2A9. The full passage, in Legge's translation, is as follows:

Hûi of Liû-hsiâ was not ashamed to serve an impure prince, nor did he think it low to be an inferior officer. When advanced to employment, he did not conceal his virtue, but made it a point to carry out his principles. When dismissed and left without office, he did not murmur. When straitened by poverty, he did not grieve. When thrown into the company of village people, he was quite at ease and could not bear to leave them. He had a saying, "You are you, and I am I. Although you stand by my side with breast and arms bare, or with your body naked, how can you defile me?" Therefore when men now hear the character of Hûi of Liü-hsiâ, the mean become generous, and the niggardly become liberal.


Evidently a reference -- at least in part -- to Mencius 2B12, in which Mencius responds to reported criticism by Yin Shih of his tardiness in leaving Qin after finding the king there wanting. Mencius argues against impetuous action as follows (in the Legge translation):

"Am I like one of your little-minded people? They will remonstrate with their prince, and on their remonstrance not being accepted, they get angry; and, with their passion displayed in their countenance, they take their leave, and travel with all their strength for a whole day, before they will stop for the night."

Nitobe may be combining this with an account in Mencius 1B10 of how a display of anger on the parts of King Wen (in The Book of Poetry) and King Wu (in The Book of History) "gave repose to all the people of the kingdom."

Ogawa Rissho (1649-1696) was a Confucian scholar and student of Itō Jinsai (1627-1705). He wrote several treatises on ethics. No specific source has been identified.

Kumagawa Banzan (1619-1691) was a Confucian scholar who was incarcerated after his work was deemed to be critical of the Tokugawa shogunate. No specific source has been identified.

Saigō Takamori (1827-1877), a key figure of the Meiji Restoration and leader of the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. The quotation combines Precepts 24 and 25 of The Precepts Bequeathed by Saigō of Satsuma (Nanshūō ikun), a collection of 41 maxims and sayings published in 1890 (Saigō's reputation had been rehabilitated by the government the previous year).

The quotation echoes the words of Juliet chastising her nurse in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet 3.2.99-103:

Blister'd be thy tongue

For such a wish! he was not born to shame:

Upon his brow shame is ashamed to sit;

For 'tis a throne where honour may be crown'd

Sole monarch of the universal earth.


The quotation comes from an couplet by the poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) in An Essay on Man (1733-34). The complete couplet goes "Honor and shame from no condition rise; / Act well your part, there all the honor lies."

Mencius 6A17.

Tokugawa Ieyasu lay siege to the Toyotomi-clan stronghold of Osaka Castle in the winter of 1614 and the summer of 1615. The anecdote mentioned here concerns Ieyasu's tenth son, Tokugawa Yorinobu (1602-1671), who became the founding daimyo of the Kii Tokugawa (the Wakayama domain).

The councillor is Matsudaira Masatsuna (1576-1648), who served as chief financial officer for the first two Tokugawa shoguns. The anecdote is related in such histories as Tōshōgū gojikki  furoku (Appendix to the True Records of Tokugawa Ieyasu) and Nanryū genkōroku (Records of the Words and Deeds of Tokugawa Yorinobu).