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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars

on 27 August 2016
Bushido: The Soul of Japan was written at the turn of the century (1900) by Inazo Nitobe, to give Westerners a greater understanding of the unique values and influences that lie at the heart of Japanese culture. It was originally published in English and later translated into Japanese. It is clearly a book of its time, both in terms of the language used and attitude towards Japanese society and gender roles, but many of its core moral values and traditions are still relevant today.

According to Nitobe, the phrase Bushido literally means Military-Knights-Way, or as it’s more commonly known, The Way of the Warrior. The concept originated from a set of moral values that were upheld by the Samurai (Bushi), a privileged class of knights, who believed that the path of the warrior was one of honour, duty and loyalty until death. The phrase Bushido was first coined in the 18th century and is often compared to the chivalric code of European Knights, though its roots can be traced as far back as feudal Japan. Although the guiding principles of Bushido stemmed from military custom and tradition, they were gradually tempered by the religious influences of Zen Buddhism, Shintoism and, in later centuries, western culture and ideology. Over time, the practice of Bushido became not just a discipline of combat, but a spiritual way of life.

Throughout the book, Nitobe draws many parallels between Eastern and Western philosophies, religion and literature, thus providing a deeper insight into the conduct and teaching of the samurai, as well as the distinct attributes that define his character, such as: respect, wisdom, politeness, benevolence and self-control. From the author’s explanation of each of these moral values, we’re given a greater appreciation of the life of a samurai and the essential role that education and culture played in his intellectual training.

It was not enough for a samurai to learn skills of swordsmanship, martial art and military strategy. Mental discipline such as calmness of the mind and mastery of emotion through the teaching of Zen Buddhism was of equal importance in his training. Education also played a key role in shaping the samurai culture. Literacy, the art of calligraphy, etiquette of the tea ceremony, poetry and music were all considered essential skills of a samurai. Many of these practices eventually filtered into the general population, and grew to become an innate part of Japanese heritage.

From a modern perspective, some parts of the Bushido training may seem shockingly unacceptable, in particular, the value that was placed on self-sacrifice (Seppuka), where a disgraced warrior could regain his honour through ritual suicide. However, it could also be argued that western opinion on this subject has been partially clouded by the misinterpretation and corruption of its use e.g. by the Japanese military in WW2. To live and die by the sword was ingrained into a samurai’s sense of honour and duty from an early age, but it was also counterbalanced by the equally prized Bushido virtues of fortitude, endurance and patience. In certain circumstances, it was considered more courageous to endure personal suffering than to hasten one’s own death, as highlighted by Nitobe, ‘’Bear and face all calamities and adversities with patience and a pure conscience.’

Similarly, Nitobe could be criticised for his anti-feminist attitude towards women, but it’s important to remember that this book was written at a time before women’s rights hadn’t yet come to the fore. Whilst its true that the wife or daughter of a samurai were seen as subservient to men, they did wield some control over the household affairs, finances and upbringing of their children. Samurai women were also well educated, accomplished in several art forms and trained in knife skills, (tantojutso) in order to protect their family, home, and even their chastity if the need arose. In samurai culture, the devotion a wife placed on her family was considered as honourable a duty as her husband’s loyalty to his lord and country. ‘She was no more the slave of man than was her husband of his liege-lord, and the part she played was recognised as Naijo, ‘the inner help’.

At just over 100 pages, this book is a short read, though not a quick one. Some readers might find the academic style of writing overly dry and dense, however there are many poetic descriptions woven into the narrative to balance this out. If you’re keen to gain a greater understanding of the founding principles of bushido, and discover the true spirit behind this fascinating country, you should find this book an enlightening read.
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on 25 April 2013
If you are reading this it is for one of two reasons

An interest in history or a wish to learn bushido. Mine was the latter
Now I must admit as will all literature, especially educational I remember the great Buddhist quote "do not let anything into your heart unless it agrees with your own common sense" and if that is the case then why read anything at all if all it will do it confirm what you know. Because this book reminds you of things you know but forget to follow, politeness was my main fault

The author is educated, the intellectual equivalent of Robert Louis Stevenson or Fitzgerald from how he deftly moves from one authors work to another never lingering to long to be boring and certainly never quoting with offering proper context and adding something poignant to the narrative.

Bushido is about living to the sword, living with honour and learning how much honour demands of us. Most of all you come to learn that bushido is the culmination of all the great Asian and oriental 'ways of thinking' and while I do not agree with how it has been used the lessons at its heart speak just as much to my time in the laboratories and conferences rooms as they do the dojo.

Also it changed my perspective on war, that I didn't not see coming so well done for actually engaging

It is free, give it a go and most of all face your death with some honour in the end it is all that matters (I speak from experience, thankfully I survived and this lead me to bushido)
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on 21 June 2016
This book is short, and accessibly written (provided you view ordinary late nineteenth-century writing as accessible).

When reading this book, it is important to remember two things:

1. It was written in 1900. The approach and the ethics therefore reflect the attitudes and society of the nineteenth century, not the twenty-first.
2. It was written by a Japanese man who had seen the fall of the feudal system, to explain Japanese and, particularly, samurai culture to Westerners. In fact, it was originally written in English and only later translated into Japanese.

Some people have criticised this book for its ethics in general - but I think this is unjust, as it's a book of its time. Although there are parts which do more than merely raise eyebrows, it is only fair to the book, and to the author, to acknowledge that our ethics are a century away from Nitobe's. It is unfair to expect a nineteenth-century Japanese man to have exactly the same moral values as twenty-first century Westerners.

Others have criticised the book for its very intent: to explain Japanese culture in terms that Westerners could understand. Again, it's very easy to criticise from our twenty-first century internet-enabled Western point of view. If we want to know about Japan, or any other country, we can look it up on the internet in a few moments. In fact, nowadays, it's very hard not to know at least a little about other cultures unless you deliberately shut yourself off.

It was different at the end of the nineteenth century: Japan had only just emerged from its isolation, and not only was its culture strange to the Western world, but most societies were much less multicultural than they are now, so people were less likely to have encountered a culture other than their own.

Thus, Nitobe discusses Bushido with lots of Western and Christian comparisons and examples, because these are what will make sense to his chosen audience.

The result is a very interesting book.

Nitobe himself was born in 1862, so he was eight years old when feudalism was abolished, and ten when the carrying of swords was forbidden. This not only gives Nitobe a unique perspective, but also means that when the book was written, many Japanese people would have remembered the feudal system. To them, it was not some foreign practice - it was their own culture. It was normal.

So with this book, there is a strange mix of explanation and defence. Nowadays, it's shocking to read the story of an eight-year-old samurai boy being ordered to commit seppuku (ceremonial suicide by disembowelment) and actually doing it. But under bushido - and to Nitobe, who seems to have been of the samurai class himself, or close to it - the story emphasises the strength of devotion to duty, and courage, of even samurai children.

The attitude to women, too, is shocking nowadays. However, it's important to remember that since this was written in 1900, the attitude to women in the West wasn't much different. Admittedly, young girls in the West weren't given daggers in case they needed to commit suicide to protect their honour - but then, neither were boys. If you read much about the life of women in the West during the late 19th century, you do wonder who had the better deal: the samurai girl in feudal Japan, or the middle-class young woman in London.

All in all, this is a very interesting and thought-provoking book - and not the least because it's not written as a scholarly study by an outsider, but by a man trying to explain (and, in some senses, justify) his own culture. It therefore has the result of telling the reader perhaps more about feudal Japanese society and culture than even the author intended.
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on 10 April 2014
Completely bamboozled by the code of bushido don't think it is for me but others might find a certain amount of zen in it
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on 26 April 2015
An oldie but a goodie. Definitely worth a read. X
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on 6 July 2015
Another very interesting book
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on 15 April 2013
life in every breath bushido a way of life, bushido the way of the warrior. this book was free, so i am happy
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on 13 April 2015
Good read
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on 1 February 2015
Good book
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on 29 January 2015
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