RTTP: Setup Session 2
Bushido & The Fundamentals of Our National Entity
Japanese copy of the Fundamental Principles of the Nation (Kokutai no Hongi) with an image of a samurai commiting ritual suicide
Bushido saying: "The best flower is the cherry blossom; the best human is a samurai"
Chinese characters for "bushido" (Way of the Samurai)
This is not an unproblematic term, as historian Karl Friday has pointed out, since it came into vogue in the 17th and 18th centuries to describe a set of values that were supposed to have been held by the warrior (samurai) class during Japan’s medieval period. However, the very writers who attempted to codify these principles (for example, Yamamoto Tsunetomo and Daidoji Yuzan) did so at a time when Japan was at peace, and were invoking examples from the past in order to prepare samurai not for a life of warfare, but for careers as administrators and bureaucrats. The concept was again revived during the Meiji period, not as an ethical code for warriors, but rather as a set of guidelines for all subjects of the emperor. Nevertheless, Japan’s leaders — particularly those in the military and the bureaucracy — took the principles of bushido extremely seriously. They include:
  1. Honor. Inazo Nitobé defined this as “a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth.” Accompanying this was a keen sense of shame, a need to redeem oneself for one’s mistakes, and a burning desire to avenge slights to oneself or to one’s superiors.
  2. Acceptance of Death. “The Way of the Samurai,” Yamamoto Tsunetomo writes, “is found in death.” This was more than simple willingness to face death, but rather an enthusiasm for an honorable death. It certainly implied a selfless bravery in battle, but ultimately encouraged the practice of seppuku — ritual suicide by disembowelment — as a means of regaining lost honor.
  3. Loyalty to Superiors. This is an extension of the Confucian concept of Filial Piety, and involves a complete rejection of self. As Yamamoto writes, “being a retainer is nothing more than being a supporter of one’s lord, entrusting matters of good and evil to him, and renouncing self-interest.” Such loyalty even takes precedence over traditional religion, since if the retainer “will only make his master first in importance … the gods and Buddhas will give their assent.”
  4. Self-Discipline. One must constantly monitor one’s personal behavior, always avoiding carelessness. Studies, particularly in the ways of warfare, must be undertaken constantly. Great attention needs to be paid to personal appearance and actions, as all of these will contribute to or detract from one’s reputation.
  5. “No Mind.” When faced with a momentous decision, it is best to act according to one’s impulses. If one is truly self-disciplined, one will be prepared for any eventuality, and will not need to think about how to respond. Those who hesitate, weighing the costs and benefits of different courses of action, are contemptible, because they are ultimately motivated by fear of death and desire for personal gain. (Game Book, 32-3)
Scroll with the words "Death Before Dishonor"
Death Before Dishonor
On Death
The Way of the Samurai is found in death. When it comes to either/or, there is only the quick choice of death. It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance. To say that dying without reaching one’s aim is to die a dog’s death is the frivolous way of sophisticates. When pressed with the choice of life or death, it is not necessary to gain one’s aim. [Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, translated by William Scott Wilson (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2012), p. 3] (Game Book, 48)
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Above all, the Way of the Samurai should be in being aware that you do not know what is going to happen next. ... Victory and defeat are matters of the temporary force of circumstances. The way of avoiding shame is different. It is simply in death. [Hagakure, p. 16] (Game Book, 48)
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In constantly hardening one’s resolution to die in battle, deliberately becoming as one already dead, and working at one’s job and dealing with military affairs, there should be no shame. But when the time comes, a person will be shamed if he is not conscious of these things even in his dreams, and rather passes his days in self-interest and self-indulgence. And if he thinks that this is not shameful, and feels that nothing else matters as long as he is comfortable, then his dissipate and discourteous actions will be repeatedly regrettable. [Hagakure, p. 19] (Game Book, 48)

How does this perspective on death compare with Western perspectives on death?

Bushido saying: "The best flower is the cherry blossom; the best human is a samurai"
Woodblock print of the Forty-Seven Ronin
On Determination,  Bravery in Battle & Revenge
No matter what it is, there is nothing that cannot be done. If one manifests the determination, he can move heaven and earth as he pleases. ... Moving heaven and earth without putting forth effort is simply a matter of concentration. [Hagakure, p. 37] (Game Book, 50)
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In connection with military matters, one must never say that something can absolutely not be done. By this, the limitations of one’s heart will be exposed. [“The Recorded Words of Asakura Soteki”, in Ideals of the Samurai, p. 83] (Game Book, 51)
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A certain person was brought to shame because he did not take revenge. The way of revenge lies in simply forcing one’s way into a place and being cut down. There is no shame in this. By thinking that you must complete the job you will run out of time. By considering things like how many men the enemy has, time piles up; in the end you will give up. No matter if the enemy has thousands of men, there is fulfillment in simply standing them off and being determined to cut them all down, starting from one end. You will finish the greater part of it. [Hagakure, p. 15] (Game Book, 55)
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Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate. Neither wisdom nor technique has a place in this. A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. [Hagakure, p. 16] (Game Book, 55)

What's wrong with rationality?

Bushido saying: "The best flower is the cherry blossom; the best human is a samurai"
Image of samurai bowing
On Personal Behavior
It is because a samurai has correct manners that he is admired. [Hagakure, p. 17] (Game Book, 52)
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At a glance, every individual’s own measure of dignity is manifested just as it is. There is dignity in personal appearance. There is dignity in a calm aspect. There is dignity in a paucity of words. There is dignity in flawlessness of manners. There is dignity in solemn behavior. And there is dignity in deep insight and a clear perspective. [Hagakure, p. 65] (Game Book, 52)

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… [I]n Bushido, however loyal and filial a man may be in his heart, if he is lacking in the correct etiquette and manners by which respect is shown to lord or parent, he cannot be regarded as living in proper conformity with it. Any negligence of this kind not only towards his lord but also towards his parents is no conduct for anyone who sets up to be a samurai. And even when out of their sight and in private, there must be no relaxation and no light and shade in the loyalty and filial duty of a warrior. Wherever he may be lying down or sleeping, his feet must never for an instant be pointing in the direction of his lord’s presence. If he sets up a straw bale for archery practice anywhere, the arrows must never fall toward the place where his lord is. Similarly, when he puts down his spear or halberd their points must never be in that direction either. And should he hear any talk about his lord, or should anything about him escape his lips, if he is lying down he must spring up, and if he is sitting at ease he must straighten himself up, for that is the Way of the Samurai. [Beginner’s Book of Bushido, pp. 22-23] (Game Book, 52-3)

Why are correct manners and personal dignity so important?

Bushido saying: "The best flower is the cherry blossom; the best human is a samurai"
Woodblock print of the 47 Ronin with the words "The Real 47 Ronin Story"
On Loyalty
Every morning one should first do reverence to his master and parents and then to his patron deities and guardian Buddhas. If he will only make his master first in importance, his parents will rejoice and the gods and Buddhas will give their assent. For a warrior there is nothing other than thinking of his master. If one creates this resolution within himself, he will always be mindful of the master’s person and will not depart from him even for a moment. [Hagakure, p. 9] (Game Book, 53)
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Being a retainer is nothing other than being a supporter of one’s lord, entrusting matters of good and evil to him, and renouncing self-interest. If there are but two or three men of this type, the fief will be secure. [Hagakure, p. 6] (Game Book, 53)
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Concerning martial valor, merit lies more in dying for one’s master than in striking down the enemy. [Hagakure, p. 42] (Game Book, 53)

What should you do when loyalty is in conflict with morality?

Bushido saying: "The best flower is the cherry blossom; the best human is a samurai"
Scroll with Chinese characters for "Utmost Sincerity"
Utmost Sincerity
On Sincerity
Lies and insincerity are unbecoming. This is because they are for self-profit. [Hagakure, p. 40] (Game Book, 54)
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When various reports are being given, one should not allow the least bit of distortion in terms of their truth or falsehood. If one hears that an official has put his own profit to the fore, he should be strictly ordered to the proper punishment. [“The Seventeen Articles of Asakura Toshikage”, in Ideals of the Samurai, p. 70] (Game Book, 54)
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No matter how lacking a man may be in humanity [i.e., humaneness, the highest Confucian virtue], if he would be a warrior, he should first of all tell no lies. It is also basic that he be not the least bit suspicious, that he habitually stand on integrity, and that he know a sense of shame. The reason being that when a man who has formerly told lies and acted suspiciously participates in some great event, he will be pointed at behind his back and neither his allies nor his enemies will believe in him, regardless of how reasonable his words may be. One should be very prudent about this. [“The Recorded Words of Asakura Soteki”, in Ideals of the Samurai, p. 83] (Game Book, 54)
Chinese characters for the "Doctrine of the Mean" (Zhong Yong)
Doctrine of the Mean (Zhong Yong)
Only those who are absolutely sincere can fully develop their nature. If they can fully develop their nature, they can then fully develop the nature of others. If they can fully develop the nature of others, they can then fully develop the nature of things. If they can fully develop the nature of things, they can then assist in the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth. If they can assist in the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth, they can thus form a trinity with Heaven and Earth. (A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, 107-8)
Bushido saying: "The best flower is the cherry blossom; the best human is a samurai"
Picture of a ritual suicide (seppuku)
On Seppuku
If one felt that … [his] failure were a mortification, it would be the least he could do to cut open his stomach, rather than live on in shame with a burning in his breast and the feeling that he had no place to go, and, as his luck as a warrior had run out, he was no longer able to function quickly and had been given a bad name. But if one regretted losing his life and reasoned that he should live because such a death would be useless, then for the next five, ten or twenty years of his life, he would be pointed at from behind and covered with shame. After his death his corpse would be smeared with disgrace, his guiltless descendants would receive his dishonor for having been born in his line, his ancestors’ name would be dragged down, and all the members of his family would be blemished. Such circumstances are truly regrettable. [Hagakure, pp. 58-59] (Game Book, 55)

Death before dishonor?

Bushido saying: "The best flower is the cherry blossom; the best human is a samurai"
Portrait of the Meiji Emperor
Imperl Rescript for Soldiers and Sailors
Imperial Rescript for Soldiers and Sailors
… Soldiers and Sailors, We are your supreme Commander-in-Chief. Our relations with your [sic] will be most intimate when We rely upon you as Our limbs and you look up to Us as your head. Whether We are able to guard the Empire, and so prove Ourself worthy of Heaven’s blessings and repay the benevolence of Our Ancestors, depends upon the faithful discharge of your duties as soldiers and sailors. If the majesty and power of Our Empire be impaired, do you share with Us the sorrow; if the glory of Our arms shine resplendent, We will share with you the honor. If you all do your duty, and being one with Us in spirit do your utmost for the protection of the state, Our people will long enjoy the blessings of peace, and the might and dignity of Our Empire will shine in the world. As We thus expect much of you, Soldiers and Sailors, We give you the following precepts:

1.  The soldier and sailor should consider loyalty their essential duty. Who that is born in this land can be wanting in the spirit of grateful service to it? No soldier or sailor, especially, can be considered efficient unless this spirit be strong within him. A soldier or a sailor in whom this spirit is not strong, however skilled in art or proficient in science, is a mere puppet; and a body of soldiers or sailors wanting in loyalty, however well ordered and disciplined it may be, is in an emergency no better than a rabble. Remember that, as the protection of the state and the maintenance of its power depend upon the strength of its arms, the growth or decline of this strength must affect the nation’s destiny for good or for evil; therefore neither be led astray by current opinions nor meddle in politics, but with single heart fulfill your essential duty of loyalty, and bear in mind that duty is weightier than a mountain, while death is lighter than a feather. Never by failing in moral principle fall into disgrace and bring dishonor upon your name. ...


3.  The soldier and the sailor should esteem valor. ... To be incited by mere impetuosity to violent action cannot be called true valor. The soldier and the sailor should have sound discrimination of right and wrong, cultivate self-possession, and form their plans with deliberation. Never to despise an inferior enemy or fear a superior, but to do one’s duty as soldier or sailor — this is true valor. Those who thus appreciate true valor should in their daily intercourse set gentleness first and aim to win the love and esteem of others. If you affect valor and act with violence, the world will in the end detest you and look upon you as wild beasts. Of this you should take heed.


4.  The soldier and the sailor should highly value faithfulness and righteousness. ... Faithfulness implies the keeping of one’s word, and righteousness the fulfillment of one’s duty. If then you wish to be faithful and righteous in anything, you must carefully consider at the outset whether you can accomplish it or not. If you thoughtlessly agree to do something that is vague in its nature and bind yourself to unwise obligations, and then try to prove yourself faithful and righteous, [you] may find yourself in great straits from which there is no escape. ... Ever since ancient times there have been repeated instances of great men and heroes who, overwhelmed by misfortune, have perished and left a tarnished name to posterity, simply because in their effort to be faithful in small matters they failed to discern right and wrong with reference to fundamental principles, or because, losing sight of the true path of public duty, they kept faith in private relations. You should, then, take serious warning by these examples.


5.  The soldier and sailor should make simplicity their aim. If you do not make simplicity your aim, you will become effeminate and frivolous and acquire fondness for luxurious and extravagant ways; you will finally grow selfish and sordid and sink to the last degree of baseness, so that neither loyalty nor valor will avail to save you from the contempt of the world.

These five articles should not be disregarded even for a moment by soldiers and sailors. Now for putting them into practice, the all important thing is sincerity. These five articles are the soul of Our soldiers and sailors, and sincerity is the soul of these articles. If the heart be not sincere, words and deeds, however good, are all mere outward show and can avail nothing. If only the heart be sincere, anything can be accomplished. Moreover these five articles are the “Grand Way” of Heaven and earth and the universal law of humanity, easy to observe and to practice. If you, Soldiers and Sailors, in obedience to Our instruction, will observe and practice these principles and fulfil your duty of grateful service to the country, it will be a source of joy, not to Ourself alone, but to all the people of Japan. [Imperial Precepts to the Soldiers and Sailors and the “Boshin” Imperial Rescript (Tokyo: Department of Education, 1913)] (Game Book, 56-7)

How do these precepts compare with the principles of bushido?

Emperor Hirohito in a large imperial chysanthemum icon
Japanese copy of "The Fundamentals of our National Entity"
Fundamentals of Our National Entity
March, 1937
The various ideological and social evils of present-day Japan are the fruits of ignoring the fundamentals and of running into the trivial, of lack in sound judgment, and of failure to digest things thoroughly; and this is due to the fact that since the days of Meiji so many aspects of European and American culture, systems, and learning, have been imported, and that, too rapidly. As a matter of fact, foreign ideologies imported into our country are in the main the ideologies of enlightenment that have come down since the eighteenth century, or their extensions. The views of the world and of life that form the basis of these ideologies are those of rationalism and positivism, lacking in historical views, which on the one hand lay the highest value on, and assert the liberty and equality of, individuals, and on the other hand lay value on a world that is by nature abstract, transcending nations and races. Consequently, importance is laid upon human beings and their gatherings, which have become isolated from historical entireties, abstract and independent of each other. It is political, social, moral, and pedagogical theories based on such views of the world and of life that have, on the one hand made contributions to the various reforms seen in our country, and on the other have had deep and wide influence on our nation’s primary ideology and culture.
Opening of the Japanese Diet in 1890
The movement for enlightenment in our country began with the importation of the ideology of free rights of the people, which is the political philosophy of the period of enlightenment in France, and was followed by the introduction of such things as British and American conceptions of parliamentary politics, materialism, utilitarianism, and German nationalism; and efforts were made to carry out reforms in our bigoted habits and institutions. Such a movement, under the name of civilization and enlightenment, was a marked trend of the times, and brought into being the so-called Age of Europeanization, by influencing politics, economics, concepts, and customs. There arose, however, a movement in the face of it for return to tradition. This was a movement carried out in the name of the preservation of national virtues, and was a manifestation of national consciousness against the tide of the surging importation of European culture. And indeed this was because there was danger of extreme Europeanization doing injury to our national tradition and corrupting the national spirit running through our history.
Painting showing a battle between tradition and modernity
This brought about a pitting of one against the other, of Europeanism and the principle of preservation of national traits, so that concepts became confused, the people being bewildered as to what to follow — national tradition, or new foreign ideas. But with the promulgation in 1890 of the Imperial Rescript on Education, the people came to discern the things accomplished by the Imperial Founder and Ancestors in the planting of virtues at the time of the founding of the nation, and herein they found a sure direction along which they should go. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that this great Way based on this national entity was clearly manifested, foreign ideologies which remained as yet undigested led the fashion even in the days following, because importation of European civilization remained lively. In short, the concept of foreign individualism came in afresh and under a new ensign as positivism and as naturalism. Prior to and following this importation, idealistic concepts and scholastic theories were also brought in; and this was followed by the introduction of democracy, socialism, anarchism, communism, etc., and recent days saw the importation of Fascism; so that today we have reached a point where there has arisen an ideological and social confusion with which we are faced and wherein there has sprung up a fundamental awakening in regard to our national entity. (Game Book, 59-60)
Anmaterasu Emerges from the Cave
The Imperial Regalia (Mirror, Sword, and Jewel)
Ninigi with the Imperial Regalia
Jimmu (Japan's first emperor, according to tradition)
Eperor Hirohito in the middle of a large imperial chrysanthemum icon
Loyalty means to reverence the Emperor as [our] pivot and to follow him implicitly. By implicit obedience is meant casting ourselves aside and serving the Emperor intently. To walk this Way of loyalty is the sole Way in which we subjects may “live,” and the fountainhead of all energy. Hence, offering our lives for the sake of the Emperor does not mean so-called self-sacrifice, but the casting aside of our little selves to live under his august grace and the enhancing of the genuine life of the people of a State. The relationship between the Emperor and the subjects is not an artificial relationship [which means] bowing down to authority, nor a relationship such as [exists] between master and servant as is seen in feudal morals. ... The ideology which interprets the relationship between the Emperor and his subjects as being a reciprocal relationship such as merely [involves] obedience to authority or rights and duties, rests on individualistic ideologies, and is a rationalistic way of thinking that looks on everything as being in equal personal relationships. (Game Book, 64)
Kokutai: image of Emperor Hirohito at the center of the Womb World Mandala
In our country, Sovereign and subjects have from of old been spoken of as being one, and the entire nation, united in mind and acting in full cooperation, have shown forth the beauties of this oneness with the Emperor as their centre. The august virtues of the Emperor and the duties of the subjects converge and unite into a beautiful harmony. ...
Flag of Imperial with a globe in the center
It is when this harmonious spirit of our nation is spread abroad throughout the world and every race and State, with due attention to its appointed duties, gives full play to its own characteristics, that true world peace and its progress and prosperity are realized. (Game Book, 69)

A pure, cloudless heart is a heart which, dying to one’s ego and one’s own ends, finds life in fundamentals and the true Way. That means, it is a heart that lives in the Way of unity between the Sovereign and his subjects, a Way that has come down to us ever since the founding of the Empire. It is herein that there springs up a frame of mind, unclouded and right, that bids farewell to unwholesome self-interest. The spirit that sacrifices self and seeks life at the very fountainhead of things manifests itself eventually as patriotism and as a heart that casts self aside in order to serve the State. On the contrary, a heart that is taken up with self and lays plans solely for self has been looked upon, from of old, as filthy and impure; so that efforts have been made to exorcise and to get rid of it.
Scroll with the Chinese characters for "selfless"
When man makes self the center of his interests, the spirit of self-effacement and self-sacrifice suffers loss. In the world of individualism there naturally arises a mind that makes self the master and others servants and puts gain first and gives service a secondary place. Such things as individualism and liberalism, which are fundamental concepts of the nations of the West on which their national characteristics and lives are built, find their real differences when compared with our national concepts. Our nation has, since its founding, developed on the basis of a pure, unclouded, and contrite heart; and our language, customs, and habits all emanate from this source. (Game Book, 71)
Image of a samurai committing seppuku
Bushido may be cited as showing an outstanding characteristic our national morality. In the world of warriors one sees inherited the totalitarian structure and spirit of the ancient clans peculiar to our nation. Hence, though the teachings of Confucianism and Buddhism have been followed, these have been transcended. That is to say, though a sense of obligation binds master and servant, this has developed into a spirit of self-effacement and of meeting death with a perfect calmness. In this, it was not that death was made light of so much as that man tempered himself to death, and in a true sense regarded it with esteem. In effect, man tried to fulfill true life by way of death. This means that rather than lose the whole by being taken up with and setting up oneself, one puts self to death in order to give full play to the whole by fulfilling the whole. Life and death are basically one, and the monistic truth is found where life and death are transcended. Through this is life, and through this is death. However, to treat life and death as two opposites and to hate death and to seek life is to be taken up with one’s own interests, and is a thing of which warriors are ashamed. To fulfill the Way of loyalty, counting life and death as one, is Bushido. (Game Book, 73)
Womb World Mandala with Emperor Hirohito superimposed on the globe
Our present mission as a people is to build up a new Japanese culture by adopting and sublimating Western cultures with our national entity as the basis, and to contribute spontaneously to the advancement of world culture. Our nation early saw the introduction of Chinese and Indian cultures, and even succeeded in evolving original creations and developments. This was made possible, indeed, by the profound and boundless nature of our national entity; so that the mission of the people to whom it is bequeathed is truly great in its historical significance. The call for a clarification of our national entity is at this time very much in the fore; but this must unfailingly be done by making the sublimation of Occidental ideologies and cultures its occasion, since, without this, the clarification of our national entity is apt to fall into abstractions isolated from actualities. That is to say, the adoption and sublimation of Occidental ideologies and the clarification of our national entity are so related as to be inseparable. (Game Book, 83-4)
Emperor Hirohito on top of the imperial chrysanthemum icon