A century ago, when Japan was transforming itself from an isolated feudal society into a modern nation, a Japanese educator queried about the ethos of his people composed this seminal work, which with his numerous other writings in English made him the best, known Japanese writer in the West during his lifetime.
He found in Bushido, the Way of the Warrior, the sources of the virtues most admired by his people: rectitude, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, loyalty and self-control. His approach to his task was eclectic and far-reaching. On the one hand, he delved into the indigenous traditions, into Buddhism, Shintoism, Confucianism and the moral guidelines handed down over hundreds of years by Japan's samurai and sages. On the other hand, he sought similarities and contrasts by citing not only Western philosophers and statesmen, but also the shapers of European and American thought and civilization going back to the Romans, the Greeks and Biblical times.
This book is a classic to which generations of scholars and laymen alike have long referred for insights into the character of the Japanese people. And all of its many readers in the past have been amply rewarded, as will be all those who turn to its pages in the next and future decades.
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.