The Annotated Bushido


Summary / Notes


Chapter XVII


whose days seem to be already numbered. Ominous signs are in the air, that betoken its future. Not only signs, but redoubtable forces are at work to threaten it.

[1905 start:] Few historical comparisons can be more judiciously made than between the Chivalry of Europe and the Bushido of Japan, and, if history repeats itself, it certainly will do with the fate of the latter what it did with that of the former. The particular and local causes for the decay of Chivalry which St. Palaye gives, have, of course, little application to Japanese conditions; but the larger and more general causes that helped to undermine Knighthood and Chivalry [1905: knighthood and chivalry] in and after the Middle Ages are as surely working for the decline of Bushido.

One remarkable difference between the experience of Europe and of Japan is, that whereas in Europe when Chivalry was weaned from Feudalism [1905: whereas Europe, when chivalry was weaned from feudalism] and was adopted by the Church, it obtained a fresh lease of life, in Japan no religion was large enough to nourish it; hence, when the mother institution, Feudalism, [1905: feudalism,] was gone, Bushido, left an orphan, had to shift for itself. The present elaborate military organization might take it under its patronage, but we know that modern warfare can afford little room for its continuous growth. Shintoism, which fostered it in its infancy, is itself superannuated. The hoary sages of ancient China are being supplanted by the intellectual parvenu of the type of Bentham and Mill. Moral theories of a comfortable kind, flattering to the Chauvinistic tendencies of the time, and therefore thought well-adapted [1905: well adapted] to the need of this day, have been invented and propounded; but as yet we hear only their shrill voices echoing through the columns of yellow journalism.

Principalities and powers are arrayed against the Precepts of Knighthood. Already, as Veblen says, "the decay of the ceremonial code--or, as it is otherwise called, the vulgarization of life--among the industrial classes proper, has become one of the chief enormities of latter-day civilization in the eyes of all persons of delicate sensibilities. "The irresistible tide of triumphant democracy, "which can tolerate no form or shape of trust"--and Bushido was a trust organized by those who monopolized reserve capital of intellect and culture, fixing the grades and value of moral qualities--is alone powerful enough to engulf the remnant of Bushido. [1905 replacement, correcting punctuation: Principalities and powers are arrayed against the Precepts of Knighthood. Already, as Veblen says, "the decay of the ceremonial code--or, as it is otherwise called, the vulgarization of life--among the industrial classes proper, has become one of the chief enormities of latter-day civilization in the eyes of all persons of delicate sensibilities." The irresistible tide of triumphant democracy, which can tolerate no form or shape of trust,--and Bushido was a trust organized by those who monopolized reserve capital of intellect and culture, fixing the grades and value of moral qualities,--is alone powerful enough to engulf the remnant of Bushido.] The present societary forces are antagonistic to petty class spirit, and Chivalry [1905: chivalry] is, as Freeman severely criticizes, a class spirit. Modern society, if it pretends to any unity, cannot admit "purely personal obligations devised in the interests of an exclusive class." Add to this the progress of popular instruction, of industrial arts and habits, of wealth and city-life,--then we can easily see that all the stoutest armor and sharpest sword of Bushido can avail nothing. [1905: then we can easily see that neither the keenest cuts of samurai sword nor the sharpest shafts shot from Bushido's boldest bows can aught avail.] The state built upon the rock of Honor and fortified by the same--shall we call it the Ehrenstaat, or, after the manner of Carlyle, the Heroarchy?--is fast falling into the hands of quibbling lawyers and gibbering politicians armed with logic-chopping engines of war. The words which a great thinker used in speaking of Theresa and Antigone may aptly be repeated of the samurai, that "the medium in which their ardent deeds took shape is forever gone."

Alas for knightly virtues! alas for samurai pride! Morality ushered into the world with the sound of bugles and drums, is destined to fade away as "the captains and the kings depart."

If history can teach us anything, the state built on martial virtues--be it a city like Sparta or an Empire like Rome--can never make on earth a "continuing city." Universal and natural as is the fighting instinct in man, fruitful as it has proved to be of noble sentiments and manly virtues, it does not comprehend the whole man. Beneath the instinct to fight there lurks a diviner instinct to love. [1905: a diviner instinct--to love.] We have seen that Shintoism, Mencius and Wan Yang Ming, [1905: Shintoism, Mencius, and Wan Yang Ming,] have all clearly taught it; but Bushido and all other militant schools of ethics, engrossed, doubtless, [1905: engrossed doubtless,] with questions of immediate practical need, too often forgot to duly [1905: duly to] emphasize this fact. Life has grown larger in these latter times. Callings nobler and broader than a warrior's claim our attention to-day. With an enlarged view of life, with the growth of democracy, with better knowledge of other peoples and nations, the Confucian idea of benevolence--dare I also add the Buddhist idea of pity?--will expand into the Christian conception of love. Men have become more than subjects, having grown to the estate of citizens: nay, they are more than citizens--being men. Though war clouds hang heavy upon our horizon, we will believe that the wings of the angel of peace can disperse them. The history of the world confirms the prophecy the "the meek shall inherit the earth." A nation that sells its birthright of peace, and backslides from the front rank of Industrialism into the file of Filibusterism, [1905: filibusterism,] makes a poor bargain indeed!

When the conditions of society are so changed that they have become not only adverse but hostile to Bushido, it is time for it to prepare for an honorable burial. It is just as difficult to point out when chivalry dies, as to determine the exact time of its inception. Dr. Miller says that Chivalry [1905: chivalry] was formally abolished in the year 1559, when Henry II of France [1905: Henry II. of France] was slain in a tournament. With us, the edict formally abolishing Feudalism in 1871 [1905: abolishing feudalism in 1870] was the signal to toll the knell of Bushido. The edict, issued five years later, prohibiting the wearing of swords, rang out the old, "the unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise," it rang in the new age of "sophisters, economists, and calculators."

It has been said that Japan won her late war with China by means of Remington guns and Krupp cannon; [1905: Murata guns and Krupp cannon;] it has been said the victory was the work of a modern school system; [1905: school-system;] but these are less than half truths. [1905: half-truths.] Does ever a piano, be it of the choicest workmanship of Ehrbar or Steinway burst forth into the Rhapsodies of Liszt or the Sonatas of Beethoven, without a master's hand? Or, if guns win battles, why did not Louis Napoleon beat the Prussians with his Mitrailleuse, or the Spaniards with their Mausers the Filipinos, whose arms were no better than the old-fashioned Remingtons? Needless to repeat what has grown a trite saying,-- that it is the spirit that quickeneth, without which the best of implements profiteth but little. The most improved guns and cannon do not shoot of their own accord; the most modern educational system does not make a coward a hero. No! What won the battles on the Yalu, in Corea and Manchuria, was the ghosts of our fathers, guiding our hands and beating in our hearts. They are not dead, those ghosts, the spirits of our warlike ancestors. To those who have eyes to see, they are clearly visible. Scratch a Japanese of the most advanced ideas, and he will show a samurai. If you would plant a new seed in his heart, stir deep the sediment which has accumulated there for ages,--or else, new phraseology reaches no deeper than his arithmetical understanding. [1905 replaces the previous sentence with the following: The great inheritance of honor, of valor and of all martial virtues is, as Professor Cramb very fitly expresses it, "but ours on trust, the fief inalienable of the dead and of the generation to come," and the summons of the present is to guard this heritage, nor to bate one jot of the ancient spirit; the summons of the future will be so to widen its scope as to apply it in all walks and relations of life.]

It has been predicted--and predictions have been corroborated by the events of the last half century [1905: half-century]--that the moral system of Feudal Japan, like its castles and its armories, will crumble into dust, and new ethics rise phoenix-like to lead New Japan in her path of progress. Desirable and probable as the fulfilment of such a prophecy is, we must not forget that a phoenix rises only from its own ashes, and that it is not a bird of passage, neither does it fly on pinions borrowed from other birds. "The Kingdom of God is within you." It does not come rolling down the mountains, however lofty; it does not come sailing across the seas, however broad. "God has granted," says the Koran, "to every people a prophet in its own tongue." The seeds of the Kingdom, as vouched for and apprehended by the Japanese mind, blossomed in Bushido. Now its days are closing--sad to say, before its fruition [1905: before its full fruition]--and we turn in every direction for other sources of sweetness and light, of strength and comfort, but among them there is as yet nothing found to take its place. The profit and loss philosophy [1905: profit-and-loss philosophy] of Utilitarians and Materialists [1905: utilitarians and materialists] finds favor among logic-choppers with half a soul. The only other ethical system which is powerful enough to cope with Utilitarianism and Materialism is Christianity, but as yet it has not divested itself of foreign accoutrements. [1905: which is powerful enough to cope with utilitarianism and materialism is Christianity, in comparison with which Bushido, it must be confessed, is like "a dimly burning wick" which the Messiah was proclaimed not to quench, but to fan into a flame. Like His Hebrew precursors, the prophets--notably Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Habakkuk--Bushido laid particular stress on the moral conduct of rulers and public men and of nations, whereas the ethics of Christ, which deal almost solely with individuals and His personal followers, will find more and more practical application as individualism, in its capacity of a moral factor, grows in potency. The domineering, self-assertive, so-called master-morality of Nietzsche, itself akin in some respects to Bushido, is, if I am not greatly mistaken, a passing phase or temporary reaction against what he terms, by morbid distortion, the humble, self-denying slave-morality of the Nazarene.]

Christianity and Materialism (including Utilitarianism) [1905: Christianity and materialism (including utilitarianism)]--or will the future reduce them to still more elementary [1905: archaic] forms of Hebraism and Hellenism?--will divide the world between them. Lesser systems of morals will ally themselves to either side for their preservation. On which side will Bushido enlist? Having no set dogma or formula to defend, it can afford to disappear as an entity; like the cherry blossom, it is willing to die at the first gust of the morning breeze. But a total extinction will never be its lot. Who can say that stoicism is dead? It is dead as a system; but it is alive as a virtue: its energy and vitality are still felt through many channels of life--in the philosophy of Western nations, in the jurisprudence of all the civilized world. Nay, wherever man struggles to raise himself above himself, wherever his spirit masters his flesh by his own exertions, there we see the immortal discipline of Zeno at work.

Bushido as an independent code of ethics may vanish, but its power will not perish from the earth; its schools of martial prowess or civic honor may be demolished, but its glory [1905: its light and its glory] will long survive their ruins. Like its symbolic flower, after it is blown to the four winds, it will still bless mankind with the perfume with which it will enrich life. Ages after, when its customaries shall have been buried and its very name forgotten, its odors will come floating in the air as from a far-off unseen hill, "the wayside gaze beyond;" [1905: "the wayside gaze beyond";]--then in the beautiful language of the Quaker poet,

"The traveler owns the grateful sense

Of sweetness near, he knows not whence,

And, pausing, takes with forehead bare

The benediction of the air."


<<  END  >>


In this final chapter, Nitobe places bushidō in the context of a universal system of values and, in that context, bushidō is ultimately found wanting. Thus, Nitobe sees bushidō as eventually being subsumed under either Christianity or materialism, even as he acknowledges that its influence will always inform the Japanese character.

St. Palaye (Jean-Baptiste de La Curne de Sainte-Palaye, 1697-1781) was a French historian and philologist who attempted to explain the origin of chivalry in his two-volume Mémoires sur l'ancienne chevalerie (Memoirs of Ancient Chivalry, 1759). An English translation by Susanna Dobson, available from the Internet Archive, was published in 1784.

English philosophers Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stewart Mill (1806-1873) were the foremost proponents of the "classical" doctrine of utilitarianism, which holds that an action is good to the extent it promotes happiness, and that good should be maximized, producing the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people (meaning, that is, that the happiness of others must also be taken into account). Happiness, or pleasure, thus becomes the utilitarian end of right action. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an entry on utilitarianism.

Thorstein Bunde Veblen (1857-1929) was an American economist and a leader of the institutional economics movement. He published The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions in 1899. The Internet Archive has copies, such as this one, dating from 1912. Googling will lead to a number of online versions. The quotation comes from Chapter III, "Conspicuous Leisure."

Norman Conquest, Vol. V., p. 482. [Nitobe's note] [1905: Norman Conquest, vol. v., p. 482.]   Edward Augustus Freeman (1823-1892) was an English historian and professor at the University of Oxford. The five-volume first edition of The History of the Norman Conquest of England was published between 1867 and 1876. The quotation comes from Chapter XXIV ("Political Results of the Norman Conquest"), in Volume V. Google Books is a good site for viewing digitized versions of the history. Nitobe habitually places the footnote symbol at the end of the quotation.

The Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) refers to the "Heroarchy" in the first lecture of On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History (1840), where he says, "Society is founded on Hero-worship. All dignities of rank, on which human association rests, are what we may call a Heroarchy (Government of Heroes),-- or a Hierarchy, for it is 'sacred' enough withal!"

The following quotation (a rather intriguing choice) comes from the Finale of Middlemarch (1871-1872) by the English novelist George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880). The last two paragraphs of the novel, summing up the life of its heroine, Dorothea Brooke, read as follows (the part quoted by Nitobe is underlined):

Certainly those determining acts of her life were not ideally beautiful. They were the mixed result of young and noble impulse struggling amidst the conditions of an imperfect social state, in which great feelings will often take the aspect of error, and great faith the aspect of illusion. For there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it. A new Theresa will hardly have the opportunity of reforming a conventual life, any more than a new Antigone will spend her heroic piety in daring all for the sake of a brother's burial: the medium in which their ardent deeds took shape is forever gone. But we insignificant people with our daily words and acts are preparing the lives of many Dorotheas, some of which may present a far sadder sacrifice than that of the Dorothea whose story we know.


Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

Saint Theresa (Saint Teresa of Ávila, 1515-1582) was a Spanish nun who determinedly undertook the reform of Carmelite convent life. Antigone was the mythical daughter of Oedipus and his mother Jocasta. In the eponymous 441 BC play by Greek playwright Sophocles, Antigone defies the king by daring to bury her disgraced brother and is punished by being shut up in a cave, where she hangs herself.

A reference to "Recessional," a poem by the British novelist, short-story writer, and poet Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), composed in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The second verse of the poem reads as follows:

The tumult and the shouting dies--

The Captains and the Kings depart--

Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget--lest we forget!


A reference to Hebrews 13:14, which says (quoting Jesus), "For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come." This verse is also quoted by Tom in Chapter XII of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852).

Matthew 5:5 -- Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (King James Version)

Here, filibusterism seems to be used in a sense close to its early meaning of engaging in unauthorized warfare.

George Miller (1764-1848), D.D., was a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, who published a number of theological works. In Chapter XIX of the second volume of his four-volume History, Philosophically Illustrated, from the Fall of the Roman Empire, to the French Revolution (1832), Miller gives 1559 as the date when chivalry was finally "abolished."

If Nitobe is referring to the edict abolishing feudal domains and establishing prefectures (haihan-chiken), that reform was adopted by the Meiji government in July 1871. It is not clear why the 1905 edition mistakenly changes the year to 1870.

The statute prohibiting the wearing of swords except by the police and military or on ceremonial occasions (taitōrei) was promulgated in March 1876.

The two quotations here are taken (in reverse order) from Paragraph 126 of Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) by Edmund Burke (1729-1797). Burke was an Irish political philosopher and statesman whose Reflections criticized the destabilizing radicalism of the French Revolution. The complete paragraph reads as follows (the parts quoted by Nitobe are underlined):

It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in,—glittering like the morning-star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. Oh! what a revolution! and what a heart must I have to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour, and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. Never, never more shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that charity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.


It is unclear why the first edition of Bushido mentions Remington guns instead of Murata guns. Perhaps Nitobe assumed too much in the way of American influence on the Japanese army. In any case, no specific source has been located for either this or the following assertion.

E. Remington and Sons (later Remington Arms) was founded in the United States in 1816; the company was active in the international arms trade in the second half of the 19th century. The Murata Rifle (Murata jū) was the first domestically manufactured rifle used by the Japanese military. Murata Tsuneyoshi (1838-1921), an army officer who eventually rose to the rank of major general, produced an initial single-shot model (based on French rifles) in 1880; a repeat-action model (distinguished terminologically as the Murata renpatsu-jū, or Murata Repeating Rifle) was in use from 1889.

The Krupp Works produced the first steel cannon in 1847 under the direction of Alfred Krupp (1812-1887), the "Cannon King." In the second half of the 19th century the company manufactured armaments for countries around the world.

Famous manufacturers of pianos, the former based in Vienna (primarily under Friedrich Ehrbar, 1827-1905) and the latter in New York (Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, 1797-1871, founder of Steinway & Sons in 1853).

Franz Liszt (1811-1186) was a noted Hungarian composer and pianist and one of the key figures of 19th-century European Romantic music.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), the great German Romantic composer.

Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III, 1808-1873) was emperor of France from 1852 to 1870. The Franco-Prussian (or Franco-German) War of 1870-1871 resulted in France's defeat -- due in no small part to Napoleon's poor leadership -- and led to the full unification of Germany. A mitrailleuse was a mounted rapid-fire weapon that was innovative for its time.

The Philippine Revolution took place in 1896-1898 and resulted in the secession of the Philippines from Spain. The Spanish were equipped with Spanish M93 Mausers manufactured by the Mauser company of Germany. The M93s proved their superiority to American rifles during their use in Cuba in the Spanish-American War.

John 6:63, which in the full King James Version reads, "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life."

A reference to John Adam Cramb (1862-1913) and his Reflections on the Origins and Destiny of Imperial Britain (1900). Cramb was a Scottish historian and novelist who was fervent in his British patriotism. The quotation comes from Part II, Lecture VII, Section 6.

Luke 17:20-21, which, in the King James Version, reads, "And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you."

The Koran quotation has actually been taken indirectly from Chapter VI ("Napoleon, or the Man of the World") of Representative Men: Seven Lectures (1850) by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American Transcendentalist, essayist, and poet.

Utilitarianism (see the mention of Jeremy Bentham and John Stewart Mill, above) holds that an action is good to the extent it promotes happiness, and that good should be maximized, producing the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people (meaning, that is, that the happiness of others must also be taken into account). Happiness, or pleasure, thus becomes the utilitarian end of right action. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an entry on utilitarianism.

Materialism -- which can be traced as far back as the Greek philosopher Democritus (c. 460-c. 370 BC) -- is the doctrine that everything can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena. Nitobe mentions no specific names, but he has earlier referred to Karl Marx (Chapter I), and may possibly have known of the German philosopher Friedrich Albert Lange (1828-1875), whose The History of Materialism and the Critique of its Contemporary Significance (Geschichte des Materialismus und Kritik seiner Bedeutung in der Gegenwart ) was first published in 1865, revised in 1873-1875, and translated into English in 1877-1881. According to the entry on Lange in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, he perceived the need for "a philosophical approach that would be compatible with the recent successes of materialistic explanations as deployed by the natural sciences but not simply be a form of materialism" -- which, however, also suggests that Lange was not a dogmatic materialist.

Isaiah 42:3. Nitobe appears in this case to be relying on the American Standard Version of the Bible, which came out in 1901. The complete verse reads "A bruised reed will he not break, and a dimly burning wick will he not quench: he will bring forth justice in truth." In the King James Version, the same verse goes "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth."

Isaiah was a prophet of Judah in the 8th century BC. Jeremiah, Amos, and Habukkuk were Hebrew prophets of the 6th to 8th centuries BC. Each is associated with the corresponding name of a book of the Old Testament.

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 first treatise of  Nietzche's On the Genealogy of Morals (1897) contrasts an aristocratic or "master" type of morality with a "priestly" or "slave" morality that he says began with Judaism.

A reference to Jesus, whose childhood was spent in the town of Nazareth.

Zeno of Citium (c. 335- c. 263 BC) was the Greek philosopher who founded the Stoic school of philosophy. Only fragments of his works remain.

Together with the preceding "wayside gaze," a quotation from the end of the 1865 poem Snow-Bound by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892). Whittier, one of the so-called Fireside Poets, was an abolitionist and a founding contributor of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. Project Gutenberg has produced an illustrated EBook version of the poem. A text-only version, together with a variety of materials on American Transcendentalism, is available from the Web of American Transcendentalism website at Virginia Commonwealth University.