Dora B. Montefiore, New Age September 1904
Source: New Age, p. 586-587, 15 September 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
A Japanese friend, a naval engineers has sent me a little book, by Dr. Inazo Nitobe, of Tokio, bearing as its title, Bushido: The Soul of Japan. It purports to be a description of the ancient chivalry of Japan; for Bu-shi-do means literally Military-Knight-Ways – the ways which fighting nobles should observe in their daily life as well as in their vocation – in a word, the “Precepts of Knighthood,” the “noblesse oblige” of the warrior class. It is not, the author tells us, “a written code,” but it “possesses all the more the powerful sanction of veritable deed, and of a law written on the fleshly tablets of the heart. ... Only as it attains consciousness in the feudal ages, its origin in respect to time may be identified with feudalism. But feudalism itself is woven of many threads, and Bushido shares its intricate nature.” As we know, the Samurai, or Knights of Japan, were the “fine fleur” of its feudalism, which had its rise late in the twelfth century; and Bushido seems to have been at first the code of military honour to which their souls responded – a code based on the principles of “Chi,” “Yin,” “Yu,” or Wisdom, Benevolence, and Courage. These virtues were so consistently and practically inculcated on the young aspirants for knighthood, and the example of the Samurai seems to have permeated so completely all classes of society; that it is now no exaggeration to say that the ethical precepts of Bushido stand to the Japanese nation in the same relation as do the ethical precepts of the various “revealed religions” to other nations. In other words, the Japanese derive their spiritual inspiration and guidance from an ethical code evolved from the very human necessity of self-defence, and from the desire to bear themselves nobly, and to live and die “sans peur et sans reproche.”
It is of special interest at this moment, when even those of us who stand for and who desire peace among the nations cannot help marvelling at the method, the exactitude, the temper, and the efficiency shown by the troops of the Mikado, who are pressing so hardly the immense armies of the Czar – it is of special interest to attempt to trace from the writings of one of their own philosophical students the psychology and the springs of action of this new and virile force in world politics. “To know and to act are one and the same” is one of their counsels of perfection; and one cannot help feeling that much of the so-called rapidity of their rise and change may be due to the fact that this maxim is not with them a dead letter. “To know, but not to act,” appears to be the rule of conduct among our legislators, who employ all the expensive machinery of specialist Commissions and expert evidence, only to shuffle off the necessity for action, and to shelve some urgent question for another Session. The first point to be observed in knightly pedagogics is, we are told, the building up of character. “Religion and theology were relegated to the priests.” .... Like an English poet, the Samurai believed, “’tis not the creed that saves the man; but it is the man that justifies the creed.” Philosophy, literature, and ęsthetic accomplishments form a large part of the Japanese knight’s training, whilst his body is exercised with fencing, archery, “jujutsu,” horsemanship, and the use of the spear. As regards this universal cultivation of music and letters, the author writes: “What Christianity has done in Europe towards rousing compassion in the midst of belligerent horrors, love of music and letters has done in Japan. The cultivation of tender feelings breeds considerate regard for the sufferings of others.” That this philosophic inspiration has stood the test of “the reproof of chance,” which, as our own great writer has told us, “is the true proof of man,” we have been able to observe not only in the present war, where the Japanese troops have extended the same merciful treatment to the wounded enemy as they have to their own comrades, but “we know also that every Japanese soldier is taught bandaging and “first help” as a part of his military training; “and even in the rush and the horror of battle the simple soldier who thinks and acts according to the unwritten Bushido code of ethics turns aside to succour and, if possible, place in safety his wounded comrade. At the close of the Japanese-Chinese war, when prisoners were returned to their homes, every Chinese prisoner who had lost a limb in action was, after being carefully nursed and tended by Japanese women, presented by the Empress with a beautiful mechanical limb of the very best make possible to obtain. Could true courtesy and chivalry go further?
Professor Lecky, quoted by our author, tells us that Bushido praised those women most “who emancipated themselves from the frailty of their sex, and displayed an heroic fortitude worthy of the strongest and bravest of men.” Young girls were therefore trained to repress their feelings, to indurate their nerves, to handle weapons, and to aspire to the ideal of a Boadicea – a heroine for whom Mr. Labouchere has no word of praise. “ When a Japanese virgin saw her chastity menaced, she did not wait for her father’s dagger. Her own weapon lay always in her bosom. It was a disgrace to her not to know the proper way in which she had to perpetrate self-destruction.” And more than this, “she must know how to tie her lower limbs together with a belt, so that, whatever the agonies of death might be, her corpse be found in utmost modesty with the limb’s properly composed.” Of the position of women in Japanese. society there exist in England many false impressions, derived mostly from musical comedy, in which the women represented belong generally to “the oldest profession on earth”; and where the situations arising between Englishmen and “Geishas” satisfy the pruriency and propitiate the prudery of English cant. It is a matter for speculation how we should look upon a play which reversed the situation, and gave a picture of the adventures of a Japanese gentleman amongst English women following the same profession! So pleased is the middle-class English woman with the suggestive charms of the-stage geisha, that she habitually appears at fancy dress charity balls and church bazaars disguised as what she considers a “Japanese lady,” with well plastered hair stuck full of pins, and small fans. This would be equivalent to a Japanese lady impersonating her English sister in the paint and dyed hair of Regent Street. Fortunately for the middle-class girl and woman, she can now, “an she will,” learn something more accurate about the women of the yellow race, which has sprung into prominence within the last few years. Many excellent books and review articles are now published on Japan; and in a number of The Indian Review for July Mr. Ernest Young writes: “What of the brave Samurai women? They are at the present time the hope of Japan. As teachers, as nurses, they still serve, and they still fight, but with peaceful weapons. They are the most intelligent of their sex, and are already doing much to raise the level of womanhood in their own country. They have the unconquerable spirit of the men, and one may venture to prophesy that they will in time achieve what is the avowed object of many of them – the establishment of the position of their sisters in the home life upon another basis than that which depends merely upon the caprice of a man, be he either husband or father.”
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.