THE ANNOTATED BUSHIDO

The Annotated Bushido

Chapter XI

SELF-CONTROL,

which was universally required of samurai.

[1905 start:] The discipline of fortitude on the one hand, inculcating endurance without a groan, and the teaching of politeness on the other, requiring us not to mar the pleasure or serenity of another by manifestations of our own sorrow or pain, combined to engender a stoical [1905: stocial] turn of mind, and eventually to confirm it into a national trait of apparent stoicism. I say apparent stoicism, because I do not believe that true stoicism can ever become the characteristic of a whole nation, and also because some of our national manners and customs may seem to a foreign observer hard-hearted. Yet we are really as susceptible to tender emotion as any race under the sky.

I am inclined to think that in one sense we have to feel more than others--yes, doubly more--since the very attempt to restrain natural promptings entails suffering. Imagine boys--and girls too--brought up [1905: boys--and girls, too--brought up] not to resort to the shedding of a tear or the uttering of a groan for the relief of their feelings,--and there is a physiological problem whether such effort steels their nerves or makes them more sensitive.

It was considered unmanly for a samurai to betray his emotions on his face. "He shows no sign of joy or anger," was a phrase used in describing a strong character. [1905: was a phrase used, in describing a great character.] The most natural affections were kept under control. A father could embrace his son only at the expense of his dignity; a husband would not kiss his wife,--no, not in the presence of other people, whatever he may do [1905: he might do] in private! There may be some truth in the remark of a witty youth when he said, "American husbands kiss their wives in public and beat them in private; Japanese husbands beat theirs in public and kiss them in private."

Calmness of behavior, composure of mind, should not be disturbed by passion of any kind. I remember when, during the late war with China, a regiment left a certain town, a large concourse of people flocked to the station to bid farewell to the general and his army. On this occasion an American resident resorted to the place, expecting to witness loud demonstrations, as the nation itself was highly excited and there were fathers, mothers, and sweethearts of the soldiers in the crowd. As the whistle blew [1905: The American was strangely disappointed; for as the whistle blew] and the train began to move, the hats of thousands of people were silently taken off and their heads bowed in reverential farewell; no waving of handkerchiefs, no word uttered, but deep silence in which only an attentive ear could catch a few broken sobs. In domestic life, too, I know of a father who spent whole nights listening to the breathing of a sick child, standing behind the door that he might not be caught in such an act of parental weakness! I know of a mother who, in her last moments, refrained from sending for her son, that he might not be disturbed in his studies. Our history and everyday life are replete with examples of heroic matrons who can well bear comparison with some of the most touching pages of Plutarch. Among our peasantry an Ian Maclaren would be sure to find many a Marget Howe.

It is the same discipline of self-restraint which is accountable for the absence of more frequent revivals in the Christian Church of [1905: in the Christian churches of] Japan. When a man or woman feels his or her soul stirred, the first instinct is to quietly suppress any indication of it. In rare instances is the tongue set free by an irresistible spirit, when we have eloquence of sincerity and fervor. It is putting a premium upon a breach of the third commandment to encourage speaking lightly of spiritual experience. It is truly jarring to Japanese ears to hear the most sacred words, the most secret heart experiences, thrown out in promiscuous audiences. "Dost thou feel the soil of thy soul stirred with tender thoughts? It is time for seeds to sprout. Disturb it not with speech; but let it work alone in quietness and secrecy,"--writes a young Samurai [1905: writes a young samurai] in his diary.

To give in so many articulate words one's inmost thoughts and feelings--notably the religious--is taken among us as an unmistakable sign that they are neither very profound nor very sincere. "Only a pomegranate is he"--so runs a popular saying--"who, when [1905: runs a popular saying "who, when] he gapes his mouth, displays the contents of his heart."

It is not altogether perverseness of oriental minds that the instant our emotions are moved [1905: the instant our emotions are moved,] we try to guard our lips in order to hide them. Speech is very often with us, as the Frenchman defined it, "the art of concealing thought."

Call upon a Japanese friend in time of deepest affliction and he will invariably receive you laughing, with red eyes or moist cheeks. At first you may think him hysterical. Press him for explanation and you will get a few broken commonplaces--"Human life has sorrow;" "They who meet must part;" "He that is born must die;" "It is foolish to count the years of a child that is gone, but a woman's heart will indulge in follies;" and the like. [1905: commonplaces--"Human life has sorrow"; "They who meet must part"; "He that is born must die"; "It is foolish to count the years of a child that is gone, but a woman's heart will indulge in follies"; and the like.] So the noble words of a noble Hohenzollern--"Lerne zu leiden ohne klagen"--had found many responsive minds among us long before they were uttered.

Indeed, the Japanese have recourse to risibility whenever the frailties of human nature are put to severest test. I think we possess a better reason than Democritus himself for our Abderian tendency, for laughter with us oftenest veils an effort to regain balance of temper when disturbed by any untoward circumstance. It is a counterpoise of sorrow or rage.

The suppression of feelings being thus steadily insisted upon, they find their safety valve [1905: safety-valve] in poetical aphorisms. A poet of the tenth century writes "In Japan and China as well, humanity, when moved by sorrow, tells its bitter grief in verse." A mother who tries to console her broken heart by fancying her child absent [1905: by fancying her departed child absent] on his wonted chase after the dragon-fly, hums, [1905: after the dragon-fly hums,]

"How far to-day in chase, I wonder,

Has gone my hunter of the dragon-fly!"

I refrain from quoting other examples, for I know I could do only scant justice to the pearly gems of our literature, were I to render into a foreign tongue the thoughts which were wrung drop by drop from bleeding hearts and threaded into beads of rarest value. I hope I have in a measure shown that inner working of our minds which often presents an appearance of callousness or of an hysterical mixture of laughter and dejection, and whose sanity is sometimes called in question.

It has also been suggested that our endurance of pain and indifference to death are due to less sensitive nerves. This is plausible as far as it goes. The next question is,--Why are our nerves less tightly strung? It may be our climate is not so stimulating as the American. It may be our monarchical form of government does not excite us as much as the 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 the 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 [1905: acme and pitch] of self-control is reached and best illustrated in the first of the two institutions which we shall now bring to view; namely, [1905: in the first of the two institutions which we shall now bring to view, namely, the institutions of suicide and redress.]   <continue>

 

Self-Control

Once more Nitobe offers an explanation in the form of a paradox: the Japanese are "apparently" stoic while actually just as sensitive as any other people.

In Japanese, Kido iro ni arawasazu. The phrase appears near the end of the first chapter of The Autobiography of Fukuzawa Yukichi (Fuku-ō jiden, 1899), in which Fukuzawa describes his childhood as the son of a samurai. In the translation by Eiiichi Kiyooka (Columbia UP, 1966 and 2007, p. 19), the relevant passage is as follows:

One day while reading a Chinese book, I came upon these ancient words: "Never show joy or anger in the face." These words brought a thrill of relief as if I had learned a new philosophy of life. Since then I have always remembered these golden words, and have trained myself to receive both applause and disparagement politely, but never to allow myself to be moved by either.

It is not clear whether Nitobe was influenced directly by this passage or whether he may have simply drawn upon his own extensive reading. An Internet search in Japanese, for example, leads to the information that Makino Tadatoshi (1734-1755), seventh daimyo of the Echigo Nagaoka domain, was described in the domain's official genealogy as "never showing joy or anger in the face."

The source, if one exists, has not been identified. In 1999, it may be recalled, Japan's consul-general in Vancouver, Canada, was arrested for assaulting his wife, behavior he attempted to excuse by citing "cultural differences." More recently, the English version of the report published in July 2012 by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission attributed the "fundamental causes" of the accident to the "ingrained conventions of Japanese culture." The New York Times report of this finding may be found here

The Sino-Japanese War, which established Japan's position as a modern nation-state, was fought in 1894-95. Satō Masahiro, in his Japanese translation, attributes the examples that follow to Nitobe's personal experience: 1) the "American resident" may have been Nitobe's wife, Mary; 2) the father could be taken as Nitobe himself, whose son Tōmasu died (in 1892) just a week after he was born; 3) the mother was presumably Nitobe's mother Seki, who encouraged her son to devote himself to his studies to the extent that Nitobe did not return home from 1871 to 1880, and when he did return, it was two days after his mother had died (Nitobe had not been informed of the seriousness of her condition).

Plutarch (c. 45-c. 120) was a Greek biographer and philosopher best known for his Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans (usually called the Lives or the Parallel Lives), of which 26 pairs and four single lives are extant. For an online collection of translations (based on the Loeb Classical Library edition), see Bill Thayer's Website.

Ian Maclaren, the pen name of the Scottish minister John Watson (1850-1907), wrote a series of stories on rural Scottish life, the most popular of which was Beside the Bonnie Briar Bush (1894). This novel features the character Marget Howe, who is portrayed as being an ideal mother to her son.

The third commandment (Exodus 20:7) says "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain."

No source has been identified for this quotation. Satō Masahiro, in his Japanese translation, speculates that Nitobe wrote this himself in his own diary; Nitobe's diaries, however, remain unpublished.

No specific source has been identified for this saying, which is based on the observation that a pomegranate splits open when it is ripe, exposing its pulp in unseemly fashion.

Sakurai Ōson's Japanese translation of 1908 takes the form of a haiku: kuchi aite / harawata miyuru / zakuro kana (its mouth opens / exposing its entrails to view-- / a pomegranate).

A reference to the French diplomat usually simply called Talleyrand (Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, 1st Prince de Bénévent, 1754-1838). This famous bon mot is thought to originate with the English churchman Robert South (1634-1716), who in a 1676 sermon at Westminster Abbey said, "Speech was given to the ordinary sort of men whereby to communicate their mind; but to wise men, whereby to conceal it." The line can be found, for example, in the first volume of Twelve Sermons Preached upon Several Occasions (6th ed., 1727, p. 341 ) available from the Internet Archive.

Frederick III (1831-1888), the only son of Emperor William I of Germany. Frederick succeeded his father in 1888, only to die of cancer of the larynx 99 days later. The meaning of the misquoted German (which should be "Lerne leiden, ohne zu klagen.") is "Learn to suffer without complaining." The motto formed the inscription on the reverse side of commemorative medals issued upon Frederick's death.

Democritus (c. 460-c. 370 BC) was a Greek philosopher who advocated an atomistic theory of the natural world. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has the following to say about him:

The reports indicate that Democritus was committed to a kind of enlightened hedonism, in which the good was held to be an internal state of mind rather than something external to it. The good is given many names, amongst them euthymia or cheerfulness, as well as privative terms, e.g. for the absence of fear. Some fragments suggest that moderation and mindfulness in one's pursuit of pleasures is beneficial; others focus on the need to free oneself from dependence on fortune by moderating desire. Several passages focus on the human ability to act on nature by means of teaching and art, and on a notion of balance and moderation that suggests that ethics is conceived as an art of caring for the soul analogous to medicine's care for the body (Vlastos 1975, pp. 386–94). Others discuss political community, suggesting that there is a natural tendency to form communities.

 

Abden was the birthplace of Democritus, who has been nicknamed the "laughing philosopher."

Ki no Tsurayuki (c. 868-c. 945) was the compiler of the first imperial anthology of Japanese waka poetry, the Kokinshū (Collection of Ancient and Modern Poetry, 905). The passage quoted here forms part of the entry for the 19th day of the Second Month in Tsurayuki's Tosa nikki (Tosa Diary, 935), considered the first example of the nikki genre and written in the persona of a woman.

Kaga no Chiyojo (1703-1775) was a haikai (haiku) poet of the middle Edo period. This verse is attributed to her, but there is apparently no source for it in her writings.

The full title of this novel by Thomas Carlyle (1798-1881) is Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdröckh (1833-34). Purportedly a treatise on the "philosophy of clothes," it is a loosely organized and often satirical work that ultimately rejects materialism and affirms the spiritual (the meaning of the Latin title is "The Tailor Retailored"). Nitobe has referred to the novel before in Chapter II and Chapter VI.

Euthymia, or "cheerfulness," can also be translated as "tranquillity" or "serenity." That Democritus called euthymia the highest good is based on the account of Cicero in the fifth book of De finibus bonorum et malorum (On the Ends of Good and Evil, c. 45 AD).