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Bushido, the Soul of Japan

Nitobe Inazo's (新渡戸(にとべ)稲造(いなぞう)) "Bushido: The Soul of Japan" is an in-depth exploration of the samurai code of ethics and its influence on the moral and cultural fabric of Japanese society.

Bushido, often translated as "the way of the warrior," is a Japanese code of conduct and a way of life for samurai, stressing virtues such as loyalty, honor, obedience, duty, filial piety, and self-discipline, influenced by Confucianism, Buddhism, and Shintoism.

Written in English and first published in the US, Nitobe's book on Bushido became an international bestseller, influencing notable figures such as Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, as well as the founder of the Boy Scouts.

You can read the English text here: https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/12096/pg12096-images.html

Download this lesson as a PDF.

Through the lens of Bushido, emphasizing seven virtues—examined below—Nitobe sought to bridge the understanding between East and West, explaining how these principles had shaped the Japanese character and continue to impact modern Japan. He viewed these virtues as foundational not only for the historical samurai but also for Japanese society as a whole.

Here are the seven virtues, followed by their meanings and the English titles Nitobe attributed to them.

Let’s go through them closer with examples.

() Gi: Righteousness | Rectitude or Justice

Nitobe Inazō describes () as the power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; to die when it is right to die, to strike when to strike is right. He emphasizes that () represents the moral backbone of the samurai, combining ethical decision-making with the courage to follow through on those decisions, ultimately defining it as the foundation of all samurai virtues.


義理(ぎり) obligation; duty

[義 (righteousness) + 理 (reason; logic)]

正義(せいぎ) justice; righteousness

[正 (correct) + 義 (righteousness)]

義務(ぎむ) duty; obligation

[義 (righteousness) + 務 (service; duty)]

義兄(ぎけい) older brother-in-law

[義 (righteousness) + 兄 (older brother)]

義弟(ぎてい) younger brother-in-law

[義 (righteousness) + 弟 (younger brother)]

忠義(ちゅうぎ) loyalty; devotion

[忠 (loyalty) + 義 (righteousness)]

義父(ぎふ) father-in-law

 [義 (righteousness) + 父 (father)]

義母(ぎぼ) mother-in-law

 [義 (righteousness) + 母 (mother)]

義足(ぎそく) artificial limb; prosthetic leg

 [義 (righteousness) + 足 (leg; foot)]

(ゆう) Yu: Courage, the Spirit of Daring and Bearing

(ゆう) isn’t merely physical bravery but also the courage of moral convictions. It is the courage to face not only danger and death but also to uphold the truth and justice under all circumstances. He portrays this virtue as the essence of a samurai's spirit, highlighting the importance of acting rightly, especially when such actions involve personal risk or defy the general consensus.



courage; bravery [勇 (courage) + 気 (spirit; mind)]

 勇敢(ゆうかん) brave; valiant

 [勇 (courage) + 敢 (dare)]

 勇猛(ゆうもう) fierce; brave

 [勇 (courage) + 猛 (fierce)]

勇士(ゆうし) brave person; warrior

 [勇 (courage) + 士 (warrior; gentleman)]

(じん) Jin: Benevolence; Compassion | Benevolence, the Feeling of Distress

(じん)  is described as “the highest of all the attributes of the human soul.” He describes benevolence as the natural feeling of distress at the suffering of others and the inclination to alleviate that suffering, showcasing it as a virtue that transcends mere pity or charity, deeply rooted in the samurai's responsibility to be empathetic and protective towards those under his care.


仁義(じんぎ) humanity and justice

 [仁 (benevolence; humanity) + 義 (righteousness; justice)]

仁愛(じんあい) benevolence; charity

 [仁 (benevolence; humanity) + 愛 (love; affection)]

仁科(にしな) benevolent kindness

 [仁 (benevolence; humanity) + 科 (department; subject)] - Note: This is less common and can be a family name.

(れい) Rei: Respect; Etiquette | Politeness

Nitobe distinguishes this virtue from superficial manners, portraying it as a deep-seated cultural practice that harmonizes social interaction and reflects a compassionate regard for the feelings and dignity of others, connecting it with broader virtues like benevolence and humility, and highlighting its role in the moral education and societal harmony in Japan.


礼儀(れいぎ) manners; etiquette

 [礼 (etiquette; manners) + 儀 (ceremony; affair)]

礼節(れいせつ) propriety; courtesy

 [礼 (etiquette; manners) + 節 (node; virtue)]

礼賛(らいさん) praise; homage

 [礼 (etiquette; manners) + 賛 (praise; approve)]

礼服(れいふく) formal attire; ceremonial dress

 [礼 (etiquette; manners) + 服 (clothing; attire)]

礼状(れいじょう) letter of thanks; formal letter

 [礼 (etiquette; manners) + 状 (letter; document)]

礼拝(れいはい) worship; service

 [礼 (etiquette; manners) + 拝 (worship; adore); Buddhist reading is らいはい; Christian reading is れいはい]

礼節(れいせつ)(まも)る to observe etiquette

 [礼節(れいせつ) (etiquette; manners) + (まも)る (to protect; to observe)]

礼儀正(れいぎただ)しい polite; courteous

 [礼儀(れいぎ) (etiquette; manners) + (ただ)しい (correct; proper)]

(まこと) Makoto: Honesty; Sincerity | Veracity or Truthfulness

Here, Nitobe highlights the fundamental importance of honesty in Bushido, asserting that true politeness must be rooted in sincerity. One should never sacrifice truth merely for the sake of politeness. He describes the bushi's word as inherently trustworthy, highlighting this to the samurai's conflict between maintaining Bushido's honesty and adapting to the less familiar and traditionally disdained commercial practices.


誠実(せいじつ) sincerity; integrity

 [誠 (sincerity) + 実 (truth; reality)]

誠心誠意(せいしんせいい) sincerity; good faith

 [誠 (sincerity) + 心 (heart; mind) + 意 (intention; meaning)]

誠意(せいい)(しめ)す to show sincerity

 [誠意(せいい) (sincerity) + (しめ)す (to show; to indicate)]

(まこと)(こころ) a sincere heart

 [(まこと) (sincerity) + の + (こころ) (heart; mind)]

誠意(せいい)()って sincerely; with sincerity

 [誠意(せいい) (sincerity) + を()って (with; having)]

名誉(めいよ) Meiyo: Honor

Nitobe Inazō defines 名誉(めいよ) in the samurai code as a deep awareness of personal dignity and worth, intrinsic to the samurai's identity, where maintaining a good reputation and avoiding shame are paramount, guiding their actions and decisions in pursuit of righteousness and societal respect.


名誉職(めいよしょく) honorary position

 [名誉(めいよ) (honor) + (しょく) (post; position)]

名誉毀損(めいよきそん) defamation; libel

 [名誉(めいよ) (honor) + 毀損(きそん) (damage; harm)]

名誉教授(めいよきょうじゅ) honorary professor

 [名誉(めいよ) (honor) + 教授(きょうじゅ) (professor)]

名誉(めいよ)ある honorable

 [名誉(めいよ) (honor) + ある (exist; be)]

名誉会員(めいよかいいん) honorary member

 [名誉(めいよ) (honor) + 会員(かいいん) (member)]

名誉回復(めいよかいふく) restoration of honor

 [名誉(めいよ) (honor) + 回復(かいふく) (recovery; restoration)]

名誉挽回(めいよばんかい) recovery of one's honor

 [名誉(めいよ) (honor) + 挽回(ばんかい) (recovery; retrieval)]

名誉(めいよ)負傷(ふしょう) wounded in honor

 [名誉(めいよ) (honor) + の + 負傷(ふしょう) (injury; wound)]

名誉市民(めいよしみん) honorary citizen

 [名誉(めいよ) (honor) + 市民(しみん) (citizen)]

忠義(ちゅうぎ) Chugi: Loyalty; Devotion | The Duty of Loyalty

忠義(ちゅうぎ) stands as the cornerstone of ethics, distinguishing it uniquely from other moral systems with its emphasis on unwavering allegiance and fealty to a superior, which is considered paramount over other virtues within the samurai code.


忠義心(ちゅうぎしん) heart of loyalty and devotion

[忠義(ちゅうぎ) (loyalty and devotion) + (しん) (heart; mind)]

忠義心(ちゅうぎしん)(しめ)す show a heart of loyalty and devotion

 [(しめ)す show; indicate]

忠義(ちゅうぎ)()くす to fulfill one's loyalty and devotion

 [忠義(ちゅうぎ) (loyalty and devotion) + ()くす (to exhaust; to serve fully)]

忠義(ちゅうぎ)()きる to live with loyalty and devotion

 [忠義(ちゅうぎ) (loyalty and devotion) + に + ()きる (to live; to exist)]

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