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Chivalry is a flower no less indigenous to the soil of Japan than its emblem, the cherry blossom; nor is it a dried-up specimen of an antique virtue preserved in the herbarium of our history. It is still a living object of power and beauty among us; and if it assumes no tangible shape or form, it not the less scents the moral atmosphere, and makes us aware that we are still under its potent spell. The conditions of society which brought it forth and nourished it have long disappeared; but as those far-off stars which once were and are not, still continue to shed their rays upon us, so the light of chivalry, which was a child of feudalism, still illuminates our moral path, surviving its mother institution. It is a pleasure to me to reflect upon this subject in the language of Burke, who uttered the well-known touching eulogy over the neglected bier of its European prototype.
In this generously annotated edition, Nitobe's classic 1900 study of Bushido, the Japanese "Way of the Warrior," is refreshed for contemporary readers. As historian Alexander Bennett notes in his introduction, Nitobe, a scholar who was descended from samurai and who had studied in the U.S. and Germany, was intrigued to compare Eastern and Western cultures. The publication of Nitobe's treatise (first written in English, not Japanese) on Bushido as an expression of the Japanese spirit emphasizing justice, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, and loyalty made him famous in the West. By carefully including cross-cultural references such as citations of biblical references to anatomy in a discussion of seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment) Nitobe ensured himself a wide audience, and the book was translated into dozens of languages (into Japanese in 1908). Bennett enhances Nitobe's text with a thoughtful and thorough overview of its historical context, noting the author's education abroad as reflecting the contemporary Japanese credo of wakon-yosai (Japanese spirit, Western knowledge), and his focus on an ethos associated with Japan's warrior class as reflecting the country's rising power and imperial ambitions in the early 20th century. Bennett's careful research ensures modern readers can fully appreciate a still-fascinating text on the values of the samurai, and consider how they might still apply to the present day.