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“Bushido is the Japanese feudal equivalent of chivalry.”
So begins the inner blurb to one of the most popular and thought provoking books on samurai ethics, Bushido; The Soul of Japan.
Written by Nitobe Inazo, who was born to a samurai retainer of the Nanbu Clan of Morioka (Iwate) in the closing years of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1862, the book pioneered understanding of the Japanese spirit in a time when it was rapidly transforming from the shadows of feudalism into a modern nation.
Bushido as a word first appeared in the Japanese vocabulary in the 17th century, and entered common usage in Japan and the West following the publication of this book.
First published in 1905, some 29 years after the samurai caste had been abolished, the book would become one of the first major works introducing the western reader to the ethics and culture of the samurai. Since that time it has been a bestseller. In this book, Nitobe promoted the Way of the Warrior as one of following the virtues of courage, honour, loyalty, sincerity, politeness and self control, and using western chivalry as examples makes his point.
Although translated into Japanese following its success in the west, it was highly criticised at first, not becoming popular in Japan until the 1980s. Nitobe was a prolific writer, fluent in English and German along with his native Japanese. He was a bureaucrat, diplomat, statesman an educator and an author, and was featured on the \5,000 note between 1984 and 2004.
Having been written in 1900, the book today reads as antiquated and in many instances refers to authors and texts no longer recognised by modern readers. Despite this, Bushido; The Soul of Japan still remains an important glimpse into the warriors’ code, and explains why certain Japanese thought patterns and customs still prevail to this day.
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