The Annotated Bushido


Summary / Notes


Chapter IX


which was the key-stone making feudal virtues a symmetrical arch. Other virtues feudal morality shares [1905 start: Feudal morality shares other virtues] in common with other systems of ethics, with other classes of people, but this virtue--homage and fealty to a superior--is its distinctive feature. I am aware that personal fidelity is a moral adhesion existing among all sorts and conditions of men,--a gang of pick-pockets [pickpockets] owe allegiance to a Fagin; but it is only in the code of chivalrous honor that Loyalty assumes paramount importance.

In spite of Hegel's criticism that the fidelity of feudal vassals, being an obligation to an individual and not to a Commonwealth, is a bond established on totally unjust principles, a great compatriot of his made it his boast that personal loyalty was a German virtue. Bismarck had good reason to do so, not because the Treuè he boasts of was the monopoly of his Fatherland or of any single nation or race, but because this favored fruit of chivalry lingers latest among the people where feudalism lasted longest. In America where "everybody is as good as anybody else," and, as the Irishman added, "better too," such exalted ideas of loyalty as we feel for our sovereign may be deemed "excellent within certain bounds," but preposterous as encouraged among us. Montesquieu complained long ago that right on one side of the Pyrenees was wrong on the other, and the recent Dreyfus trial proved the truth of his remark, save that the Pyrenees were not the sole boundary beyond which French justice finds no accord. Similarly, Loyalty as we conceive it may find few admirers elsewhere, not because our conception is wrong, but because it is, I am afraid, forgotten, and also because we carry it to a degree not reached in any other country. Griffis was quite right in stating that whereas in China Confucian ethics made obedience to parents the primary human duty, in Japan precedence was given to Loyalty. At the risk of shocking some of my good readers, I will cite one out of innumerable examples of Loyalty, as it is an instance well-known in our literature. [1905: At the risk of shocking some of my good readers, I will relate of one "who could endure to follow a fall'n lord" and who thus, as Shakespeare assures, "earned a place i' the story."]

The story is of one of the purest characters in our history, Michizané, who, falling a victim to jealousy and calumny, is exiled from the capital. Not content with this, his unrelenting enemies are now bent upon the extinction of his family. Strict search for his son--not yet grown--reveals the fact of his being secreted in a village school kept by one Genzo, a former vassal of Michizané. When orders are dispatched to the school-master [1905: schoolmaster] to deliver the head of the juvenile offender on a certain day, his first idea is to find a suitable substitute for it. He ponders over his school-list, scrutinizes with careful eyes all the boys, as they stroll into the class-room, but none among the children born of the soil bears the least resemblance to his protégé. His despair, however, is but for a moment; for, behold, a new scholar is announced--a comely boy of the same age as his master's son, escorted by a mother of noble mien.

No less conscious of the resemblance between infant lord and infant retainer, were the mother and the boy himself. In the privacy of home both had laid themselves upon the altar; the one his life--the other her heart, yet without sign to the outer world. Unwitting of what had passed between them, it is the teacher from whom comes the suggestion.

Here, then, is the scape-goat! [1905: scapegoat!]--The rest of the narrative may be briefly told.--On the day appointed, arrives the officer commissioned to identify and receive the head of the youth. Will he be deceived by the false head? The poor Genzo's hand is on the hilt of the sword, ready to strike a blow either at the man or at himself, should the examination defeat his scheme. The officer takes up the gruesome object before him, goes calmly over each feature, and in a deliberate, business-like tone, pronounces it genuine.--That evening in a lonely home awaits the mother we saw in the school. Does she know the fate of her darling? [1905: Does she know the fate of her child?] It is not for his return that she watches with eagerness for the opening of the wicket. Her father-in-law has been for a long time a recipient of Michizané's bounties, and after his banishment her husband continued in the service of the enemy of his family benefactor. [1905: of Michizané's bounties, but since his banishment, circumstances have forced her husband to follow the service of the enemy of his family's benefactor.] He himself could not be untrue to his own cruel master; but his son could serve the cause of the grandsire's lord. As one acquainted with the exile's family, it was he who had been entrusted with the task of identifying the boy's head. Now the day's--yea, the life's--hard work is done, he returns home and as he crosses its threshold, he accosts his wife, saying: "Rejoice, my wife, our darling son has proved of service to his lord!"

"What an atrocious story!" I hear my readers exclaim,--"Parents deliberately sacrificing their own innocent child to save the life of another man's." But this child was a conscious and willing victim: it is a story of vicarious death--as significant and not more revolting than [1905: of vicarious death--as significant as, and not more revolting than,] the story of Abraham's intended sacrifice of Isaac. In both cases it was obedience to the call of duty, utter submission to the command of a higher voice,--but I abstain from preaching. [1905: to the call of duty, utter submission to the command of a higher voice, whether given by a visible or an invisible angel, or heard by an outward or an inward ear;--but I abstain from preaching.]

The individualism of the West, which recognizes separate interests for father and son, husband and wife, necessarily brings into strong relief the duties owed by one to the other; but Bushido held that the interest of the family and of the members thereof is intact,--one and inseparable. This interest is wound up with affection [1905: is bound up with with affection]--natural, instinctive, irresistible; hence, if we die for one we love with natural love (which animals themselves possess), what is that? "For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?"

In his great history, Sanyo relates in touching language the heart struggle of Shigemori concerning his father's rebellious conduct. "If I be loyal, my father must be undone; if I obey my father, my duty to my sovereign must go amiss." Poor Shigemori! We see him afterward praying with all his soul that kind Heaven may visit him with death, that he may be released from this world where it is hard for purity and righteousness to dwell.

Many a Shigemori has his heart torn by the conflict between duty and affection. In such conflicts [1905: Indeed neither Shakespeare nor the Old Testament itself contains an adequate rendering of ko, our conception of filial piety, and yet in such conflicts] Bushido never wavered in its choice of Loyalty. Women, too, encouraged their offspring to sacrifice all for the king. Ever as resolute as Widow Windham and her illustrious consort, the samurai matron was ever ready [1905: Even as resolute as Widow Windham and her illustrious consort, the samurai matron stood ready] to give up her boys for the cause of Loyalty. An utter surrender of "life and limb" on the part of the governed, left nothing for the governing but self-will, and this has for its natural consequence the growth of that absolutism so often called "oriental despotism," as though there were no despots of occidental history!

Let it be far from me to uphold despotism of any sort; but it is a mistake to identify feudalism with it. When Frederick the Great wrote that "Kings are the first servants of the State," jurists thought rightly that a new era was reached in the development of freedom. Strangely coinciding in time, in the backwoods of North-western Japan, Yozan of Yonézawa made exactly the same declaration, showing that feudalism was not all tyranny and oppression. A feudal prince, although unmindful of owing reciprocal obligations to his vassals, felt a higher sense of responsibility to his ancestors and to Heaven. He was a father to his subjects, whom Heaven entrusted to his care. In a sense not usually assigned to the term, Bushido accepted and corroborated paternal government--paternal also as opposed to the less interested avuncular government (Uncle Sam's, to wit!). The difference between a despotic and a paternal government lies in this, that in the one the people obey reluctantly, while in the other they do so with "that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of heart which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of exalted freedom." The old saying is not entirely false which called the king of England the "king of devils, because of his subjects' often insurrections against, and depositions of, their princes," and which made the French monarch the "king of asses, because of their infinite taxes and Impositions," but which gave the title of "the king of men" to the sovereign of Spain "because of his subjects' willing obedience." But enough!--

Since Bushido, like Aristotle and some modern sociologists, conceived the state as antedating the individual,--the latter being born into the former as part and parcel thereof--he [1905: as part and parcel thereof,--he] must live and die for it or for the incumbent of its legitimate authority. Readers of Crito will remember the argument with which Socrates represents the laws of the city as pleading with him on the subject of his escape. Among others he makes them (the laws or the state) say:-- [1905: makes them (the laws or the state) say:]  "Since you were begotten and nurtured and educated under us, dare you once to say you are not our offspring and servant, you and your fathers before you?" These are words which do not impress us as any thing extraordinary; for the same thing has long been on the lips of Bushido, with this modification, that the laws and the state were represented with us by a personal being. Loyalty is an ethical outcome of this political theory.

I am not entirely ignorant of Mr. Spencer's view according to which political obedience--Loyalty--is accredited with only a transitional function. It may be so. Sufficient unto the day is the virtue thereof. We may complacently repeat it, especially as we believe that day to be a long space of time, during which, so our national anthem says, "tiny pebbles grow into mighty rocks draped with moss."

We may remember at this juncture that even among so democratic a people as the English, "the sentiment of personal fidelity to a man and his posterity which their Germanic ancestors felt for their chiefs, has," as Monsieur Boutmy recently said, "only passed more or less into their profound loyalty to the race and blood of their princes, as evidenced in their extraordinary attachment to the dynasty."

Political subordination, Mr. Spencer predicts, will give place to loyalty [1905: will give place to loyalty,] to the dictates of conscience. Suppose his induction is realized--will loyalty and its concomitant instinct of reverence perish from the earth? [1905: disappear forever?] We transfer our allegiance from one master to another, without being unfaithful to either: from being subjects of a ruler that wields the temporal sceptre we become servants of the monarch who sits enthroned in the penetralia of our heart. A few years ago a very stupid controversy started by [1905: controversy, started by] the misguided disciples of Spencer made havoc among the reading class of Japan. In their zeal to uphold the claim of the throne to undivided loyalty, they charged Christians with treasonable propensity in that they avow fidelity to their Lord and Master. They arrayed forth sophistical arguments without the wit of Sophists, and scholastic tortuosities minus the niceties of the Schoolmen. Little did they know that we can, in a sense, "serve two masters without holding to the one or despising the other," "rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." Did not Socrates, all the while he unflinchingly refused to concede one iota of loyalty to his daemon, obey with equal fidelity and equanimity the command of his earthly master, the State? His conscience he followed, alive; his country he served, dying. Alack the day when a state grows so powerful as to demand of its citizens the dictates of their conscience!

Bushido did not require us to make our conscience the slave of any lord or king. Thomas Mowbray was a veritable spokesman for us when he said:--  [1905: when he said:]

"Myself I throw, dread sovereign, at thy foot.

My life thou shalt command, but not my shame.

The one my duty owes; but my fair name,

Despite of death, that lives upon my grave,

To dark dishonor's use, thou shalt not have."

A man who sacrificed his own conscience to the capricious will or freak or fancy of a sovereign was accorded a low place in the estimate of the Precepts. Such an one was despised as nei-shin, a cringeling, who makes court by unscrupulous fawning or as chô-shin, a favorite who steals his master's affections by means of servile compliance; these two species of subjects corresponding exactly to those which Iago describes,--the one, a duteous and knee-crooking knave, doting on his own obsequious bondage, wearing out his time much like his master's ass; the other trimming in forms and visages of duty, keeping yet his heart attending on himself. When a subject differed from his master, the loyal path for him to pursue was to use every available means to persuade him of his error. [1905: to persuade him of his error, as Kent did to King Lear.] Failing in this, let the master deal with him as he wills. In cases of this kind, it was quite a usual course for the samurai to make the last appeal to the intelligence and conscience of his lord by demonstrating the sincerity of his words with the shedding of his own blood.

Life being regarded as the means whereby to serve his master, and its ideal being set upon honor, the whole [1905: being set upon honor, the whole education and training of a samurai were conducted accordingly.]  << continue >>

Loyalty (chūgi)

A densely referential chapter of the book that encapsulates the paradoxes inherent in reconciling Christianity with bushidō, even if only partly.

Fagin is the name of a character in Charles Dickens's novel Oliver Twist (1838) who gives vagrant children a place to stay and earns money by teaching them to become pickpockets.

Philosophy of History (Eng. trans. by Sibree), Pt. IV., Sec. II., Ch. I. [Nitobe's note] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was a German idealist philosopher who has traditionally been seen as advocating the teleological development of "spirit" in history. There is a page on Hegel at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. John Sibree's translation of Lectures on the Philosophy of History was first published in London in 1857.

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 under Emperor Wilheml I from 1871 to 1890.

Apparently intended as a humorous reference to a paradoxical mode of expression stereotypically ascribed to the Irish.

A reference to Sir Walter Scott's novel Woodstock; or, The Cavalier (1855), in the ninth chapter of which the character Everard says, "Come, come, this comes of some of your exalted ideas of loyalty, which, excellent within certain bounds, drive us mad when encouraged up to some heights."

Although Nitobe attributes this "complaint" to Montesquieu (1689-1755), the actual source is the French mathematician, physicist, and religious philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), who in his Thoughts (Pensées, 1670, Krailsheimer No. 294) refers to "Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, error on the other."

Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935) was a French army officer of Jewish descent who in 1894 was falsely convicted of selling secrets to Germany. Reconvicted in 1899, he was finally exonerated of all charges in 1906. Nitobe is referring to the widely perceived sense of injustice surrounding the affair outside of France. A clear, concise summary of the Dreyfus Affair is contained in the Columbia Encyclopedia.

Religions of Japan. [Nitobe's note] William Elliot Griffis (1843-1928) was an author, scholar, and Congregationalist minister who resided in Japan from 1870 to 1874. A graduate of Rutgers College, he supervised education in the Echizen domain (including present-day Fukui Prefecture) and taught at Kaisei Gakkō, the forerunner of Tokyo Imperial University. The Religions of Japan from the Dawn of History to the Era of Meiji was published in 1895. Griffis, of course, wrote the introduction to the revised edition of Bushido published by Putnam in 1905.

An allusion to Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra 3.13.48-53, in which Domitius Enobarus is given the following lines:

Mine honesty and I begin to square.

The loyalty well held to fools does make

Our faith mere folly: yet he that can endure

To follow with allegiance a fall'n lord

Does conquer him that did his master conquer

And earns a place i' the story.


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 in the wake of the various calamities that were reported after his death. He is regarded as the patron saint of learning. Nitobe is actually summarizing the plot of the Bunraku (puppet) and Kabuki play Sugawara denju tenarai kagami (Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy, 1746). The Kabuki 21 site offers a full summary, and an introduction can be found at the Japanese Text Initiative at the University of Virginia.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is told in Genesis 22.

Matthew 5:46.

Rai San'yō (1780-1832) was a Confucian scholar whose 22-volume Nihon gaishi (Unofficial History of Japan), completed in 1826, exerted considerable influence upon the young pro-emperor samurai of the late Edo period. Taira no Shigemori (1138-1179) was the eldest son of Kiyomori and held to be an exemplar of loyalty to the emperor. This reputation rested on the incident described by Nitobe in which Shigemori confronted his father -- then at the height of his power and influence -- by saying that if Kiyomori wished to attack the emperor for conspiring against him, he should first strike down his son. San'yō also included a poem based on this incident in his 1828 collection of Chinese poetry Nihon gafu (Japanese Ballads). Prewar elementary-school textbooks also related the incident.

A reference to the wife of Colonel (later Sir) Francis Windham (dates unknown), a supporter of Charles I and Charles II who gave refuge to the latter before the king escaped to France in 1651. According to Chapter LX in Volume X of David Hume's The History of England from the Invasion of Julius Cæsar to the Revolution in 1688 (1807), Windham's wife gave this speech when welcoming the fugitive Charles to Trent House, meaning that her husband was still alive at the time. Interestingly, the 1811 play The Royal Oak, by William Dimond, has Windham offer himself up to Cromwell's agents in place of the king, a ruse that allows Charles to elude capture and echoes the story of Genzo.

This begins the section that in 1905 was transposed to "Chapter V: Benevolence," continuing up to the end of the next paragraph ("But enough!--"). The relevant notes have been included in both locations.

Frederick II ("The Great,"1712-1786) was king of Prussia and one of the "enlightened despots" of 18th-century Europe. He wrote "the sovereign is the first servant of the state" in his Political Testament of 1752.

A reference to Uesugi Yōzan (1751-1822), daimyo of the Yonezawa domain (in the southern part of present-day Yamagata Prefecture), known for his reformist policies.

The following characterizations of European monarchs are taken from Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha (1680), Chapter II, Section 18. Filmer (1588-1653) was a strong advocate of absolute monarchy. An online version of Patriarcha can be found at the website of the Constitution Society.

Burke, French Revolution. [Nitobe's note]  Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was an Irish political philosopher and statesman whose book criticized the destabilizing radicalism of the French Revolution.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and scientist whose works are among the most important in the history of Western thought. Known as the founder of formal logic, he wrote on such subjects as politics, ethics, science, literary theory, rhetoric, and metaphysics. There is a page on Aristotle at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The Crito (360 BC) is one of the dialogues of Plato (c. 429-c. 347 BC), in which the imprisoned Socrates (c. 469-399 BC) explains to his old friend Crito -- who has come to set him free -- why he feels obligated to obey the laws of Athens and commit suicide. The quotation that follows appears near the end of the dialogue, when Socrates is speaking as a personification of those laws.

Principles of Ethics, Vol. I, Pt. II, Ch. X. [Nitobe's note] Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was a British philosopher and sociologist who attempted to apply Darwinism to philosophy and the study of society. In Spencer's view, sympathy derived from humankind's "innate moral sense." An introduction to Spencer can be found in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The entire national anthem takes the form of a 31-syllable waka, which can be translated fairly literally as follows: "As for your life, / a thousand ages, eight thousand ages (may you live) / until pebbles become boulders and / moss grows upon them."

Emile Gaston Boutmy (1835-1906) was a French political scientist and sociologist who wrote Essai d'une psychologie politique du peuple anglais au XIXe siècle (Essay on the Political Psychology of the People in 19th Century England) in 1901. An English translation was published by G. P. Putnam's Sons in 1904. The quotation comes from Part II, Chapter I ("The Alien Races").

The Sophists were widely admired itinerant Greek philosophers of the 5th century BC who specialized in teaching rhetoric and the successful conduct of life. They took payment for their services and were sometimes perceived as employing specious logic, which led to their being criticized by Plato and others. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a fairly detailed introduction to the Sophists.

The Schoolmen -- now more usually called Scholastics -- were academics at medieval European universities who employed a rigorous dialectical method of reasoning. The Catholic Encyclopedia has a lucid entry on Scholasticism.

Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13 for the first quotation; Matthew 22:21 for the famous quotation about rendering unto Caesar.

The historical Thomas Mowbray (1366-1399) first enjoyed the favor of King Richard II (1367-1400), turned against him, regained the king's favor, and was ultimately exiled to Venice. He voices the lines quoted by Nitobe in Shakespeare's Richard II 1.1.170-74.

The reference is to Shakespeare's Othello 1.1.44-61, where Iago explains to Roderigo his reason for serving Othello as follows:

O, sir, content you;

I follow him to serve my turn upon him:

We cannot all be masters, nor all masters

Cannot be truly follow'd. You shall mark

Many a duteous and knee-crooking knave,

That, doting on his own obsequious bondage,

Wears out his time, much like his master's ass,

For nought but provender, and when he's old, cashier'd:

Whip me such honest knaves. Others there are

Who, trimm'd in forms and visages of duty,

Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves,

And, throwing but shows of service on their lords,

Do well thrive by them and when they have lined their coats

Do themselves homage: these fellows have some soul;

And such a one do I profess myself.


In Shakespeare's King Lear, Kent is exiled for standing up for Lear's daughter Cordelia, but disguises himself as a peasant so that he can continue loyally serving his lord.