Scandinavia and the World

Comments #9828770:


I know gun-fu 24 2, 1:41pm

@CorruptUser Note that the book Bushido: The Soul of Japan was written by Nitobe Inaz┼Ź. In English. What is less known is that he made up a lot of it out of wholesale cloth, basing much of it on the ideas of Chivalry he read about when studying English literature at Tokyo Imperial University, and his time studying at Johns Hopkins University and Halle University in Germany.

He was a Christian, not a Buddhist or Shinto, with very western ideas. He married an American woman: Mary Patterson Elkinton who was a Quaker. Over the years they traveled extensively between Japan, The United States, and Germany, and he wrote a number of books in Japanese, English and German. He eventually earned 5 doctorates. (A highly intelligent and well educated man!)

Bushido: The Soul of Japan is not wholly incorrect, but it is heavily romanticized and influenced by western ideas. It was written, in English, during a period of time that Nitobe was living in California. The book was a huge success in America which was at the time fairly obsessed with things Japanese. (The book was published in 1899.) Because it was written by a Japanese man people in The United States took it as more truthful than it really was.

However the book was not translated into Japanese and released in Japan until few years later. Japan at the time was undergoing a period of nationalist growth, and curiously the book became a best seller there as well. The growing nationalist movement saw in its romanticized notions of Bushido a justification of their nationalist views. It changed the way they saw their own history, even though it wasn't very accurate and cribbed a lot of its notions from European mythology. (And I do mean mythology. The chivalric code was always a sort of fantasy rather than a reality in Europe.)

As far as historical texts about Bushido go, Hagakure is a better place to start. However it is a more personal contemplation on rather than a description of what Bushido was in general at the time (more than 100 years earlier.)

A better idea of what the life of a Samurai was can be determined by studying the life of Miyamoto Musashi, and by reading his writings in The Book of Five Rings, fifty or sixty years prior to Hagakure. Far more brutal and less honorable than the romanticized notions in Bushido: The Soul of Japan. The idea of Bushido as we think of it today (and even as the Japanese think of it today) is about as accurate as our ideas of King Arthur's notions of Chivalry. i.e. not very.