Nitobe Inazō was a Japanese scholar who moved to the United States, became a Quaker, and later took on roles on the Japanese government and diplomatic corps. He wrote an influential English-language book about “bushido,” the ethical code of the samurai, at the end of the 19th century.
Bushido was specifically designed for noble men of the samurai order in feudal Japan. So it is more a “code of chivalry” that is meant for a specific class, gender, age, occupation, and societal organization. It was also passed along informally rather than being written down as a formal law, and so we have to take Nitobe’s word for it that it was as he says.
Nitobe traces bushido to sources in Buddhism, Shintoism, and to the teachings of Confucius and Mencius. It has a strong element of loyalty to the political order and the nation, and of respect/exaltation of the emperor.
The virtues of bushido, according to Nitobe, are these:
- rectitude, which includes decisiveness, firmness, poise, straightforwardness, duty, and filial piety
- courage, which includes valor, fortitude, bravery, endurance, composure, tranquility, equanimity, focus, and mudita
- benevolence, which includes compassion, empathy, love, magnanimity, patience, forbearance, affection, pity, mercy, epikeia, gentleness, sensitivity, and tenderness
- politeness, which includes modesty, graciousness, civility, respect for others, propriety, fashion sense, grace, decorum, etiquette, ceremony, poise, serenity, taste, and sympathy
- veracity/truthfulness, which includes sincerity, and trustworthiness
- honor, which includes dignity, self worth, pride, integrity, a sense of shame, righteous anger, good temper, simplicity, and ambition
- loyalty, which includes fidelity, patriotism, sacrifice, teamwork, and reverence
While Nitobe does not include intellectual virtues in his list, he does mention that training in philosophy, literature, history, tactics, and a number of arts, was an important part of samurai instruction.
Nitobe also adds self control under its own heading, describing it more as a semi-stoical reserve or emotional composure than the “continence” of traditional ethical philosophy. Maybe this is more an explanation of a personality trait than the description of a virtue per se.
He devotes a separate chapter to “the training and position of women” that touches on which virtues bushido valued in women. Those mentioned included heroic fortitude, self defense, chastity, arts (music, dance, and literature specifically), harmony, hospitality, selflessness, and service.
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