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Bu-shi-do means literally Military – Knight – Ways- the ways which fighting nobles should observe in their daily life as well as in their vocation; in a word, the “Precepts of Knighthood,” the noblesse oblige of the warrior class.

Bushido, then, is the code of moral principles which the knights were required or instructed to observe. It is not a written code; at best it consists of a few maxims handed down from mouth to mouth or coming from the pen of some well-known warrior or savant. More frequently it is a code unuttered and unwritten, possessing all the more the powerful sanction of veritable deed, and of a law written on the fleshly tablets of the heart. It was founded not on the creation of one brain, however able, or on the life of a single personage, however renowned. It was an organic growth of decades and centuries of military career.

Rectitude or justice (Gi)

Here we discern the most cogent precept in the code of the samurai. Nothing is more loathsome to him than underhand dealings and crooked undertakings. A well-known bushi (a bushi is a samurai warrior) defines it as a power of resolution, “Rectitude is the power of deciding upon a certain course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; - to die when it is right to die, to strike when to strike is right.”

Courage, the spirit of daring and bearing (Yu)

Courage was scarcely deemed worthy to be counted among virtues, unless it was exercised in the cause of Righteousness. Courage is doing what is right. To run all kinds of hazards, to jeopardize one’s self, to rush into the jaws of death. “To rush into the thick of battle and to be slain in it,” says a Prince of Mito, “is easy enough, and the merest churl is equal to the task; but it is true courage to live when it is right to live, and to die only when it its right to die”.

Benevolence, the feeling of distress (Jin)

We knew benevolence was a tender virtue and mother-like. If upright Rectitude and stern Justice were peculiarly masculine, Mercy had the gentleness and the persuasiveness of a feminine nature. We were warned against indulging in indiscriminate charity, without seasoning it with justice and rectitude. It is universally true that “The bravest are the tenderest, the loving are the daring.” “Bushi no nasake” – the tenderness of a warrior – had a sound which appeared at once to whatever was noble in us; not that the mercy of a samurai was generically different from the mercy of any other being, but because it implied mercy where it recognized due regard to justice, and where mercy did not remain merely a certain state of mind, but where it was backed with power to save or kill.

Politeness (Rei)

Politeness is a poor virtue, if it is actuated only by a fear of offending good taste, whereas it should be the outward manifestation of a sympathetic regard for the feelings of others. It also implies a due regard for the fitness of the things, therefore due respect to social positions. In its highest form, politeness almost approaches love. We may reverently say, politeness “suffereth long, and is kind; envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up; doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, taketh not account of evil.” /P>

Veracity and sincerity (Makoto)

The apotheosis of Sincerity to which Confucius gives expression in the “Doctrine of The Mean”, attributes to it transcendental powers, almost identifying them with the Divine. “Sincerity is the end and the beginning of all things; without Sincerity there would be nothing.” The bushi held that his high social position demanded a loftier standard of veracity than that of the tradesman and peasant. “Bushi no ichi-gon” – the word of a samurai, was sufficient guaranty for the truthfulness of an assertion. His word carried such weight with it that promises were generally made and fulfilled without a written pledge, which would have been deemed quite beneath his dignity. Many thrilling anecdotes were told of those who atoned by death for ni-gon, a double tongue. In the absence of any positive commandment against bearing false witness, lying was not condemned as sin, but simply denounced as weakness, and, as such, highly dishonorable.

Honor (Meiyo)

The sense of honor, implying a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, could not fail to characterize the samurai, born and bred to value the duties and privileges of their profession. The honor is a pre-natal influence, being closely bound up with strong family consciousness. Also the honor was prized as the summum bonum of earthly existence. Fame, and not wealth or knowledge, was the goal toward which samurai had to strive. To shun shame or win a name, samurai boys would submit to any privations and undergo severest ordeals of bodily or mental suffering.

The duty of loyalty (Chugi)

Personal fidelity is a moral adhesion existing among all sorts and conditions of men. Since Bushido conceived the state as antedating the individual, - the later being born into the former as part and parcel thereof, - he must live and die for it or for the incumbent of its legitimate authority. Loyalty is an ethical outcome of this political theory. Bushido did not require us to make our conscience the slave of any lord or king. 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. 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. (Remember the scene in “The Last Samurai” in which Katsumoto offers the Emporer his life?) Life being regarded as the means whereby to serve his master, and its ideal being set upon honor.

(From Bushido: The Soul of Japan, written by Inazo Nitobe/KODANSHA INTERNATIONAL, and provided to Dish courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933) (would have been 14 when Capt. Nathan Algren arrived in Japan.

Educator, cultural interpreter, and civil servant, he was one of the earliest and most famous of the Japanese Quakers. Hoping to serve as a “bridge” between Japan and the West, he studied in the United States and in Germany. By the time he returned to Japan he had published one book in English and German and had earned the first of five doctoral degrees. In 1897 he moved to the United States, where he wrote his Bushido: The Soul of Japan(1899). He returned to Japan in 1926 and became Chairman of the Institute of Pacific Relations. Nitobe’s numerous writings in English made him the best known Japanese writer in the West during his lifetime. / Issue 38 - September 4265
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