Sunday, April 26, 2015

Study Guide: Hagakure (In the Shadow of Leaves; 1709-1716)


Study Guide: Hagakure (In the Shadow of Leaves; 1709-1716)

*Japanese Text: Saiki Kazuma et al. eds., Mikawa monogatari, hagakure (Nihon shisō taikei Vol. 26). Iwanami shoten. 1974.
*English Translation: The Secret Wisdom of the Samurai. Yamamoto Tsunetomo. Translated by Alexander Bennett. Tuttle Publishing. 2014. (Click here to purchase.)

Hagakure has come to be known as a foundational text of bushidō, the “way of the warrior.” Dictated between 1709 and 1716 by a retired samurai, Yamamoto Tsunetomo (1659-1719), to a young retainer, Tashirō Tsuramoto (1678-1748), Hagakure was less a rigorous philosophical exposition than the spirited reflections of a seasoned warrior. Although it became well known in the 1930s, when a young generation of nationalists embraced the supposed spirit of bushidō, Hagakure was not widely circulated in the Tokugawa period beyond Saga domain on the southern island of Kyushu, Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s home. (Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University)

Study Questions

Answer each of the following.

1. Discuss the famous opening passage. What is the connection between bushidō and death?

I have found that the Way of the samurai is death. This means that when you are compelled to choose between life and death, you must quickly choose death. There is nothing more to it than that. You just make up your mind and go forward. The idea that to die without accomplishing your purpose is undignified and meaningless, just dying like a dog, is the pretentious bushidō of the city slickers of Kyoto and Osaka. In a situation when you have to choose between life and death, there is no way to make sure that your purpose will be accomplished. All of us prefer life over death, and you can always find more reasons for choosing what you like over what you dislike. If you fail and you survive, you are a coward. This is a perilous situation to be in. If you fail and you die, people may say your death was meaningless or that you were crazy, but there will be no shame. Such is the power of the martial way. When every morning and every evening you die anew, constantly making yourself one with death, you will obtain freedom in the martial way, and you will be able to fulfill your calling throughout your life without falling into error.”[1]


2. Does the author believe that the bushi must accomplish his mission before resigning himself to death? Explain.

3. What does the author mean when he says “make yourself one with death” and “live as though already dead”?

4. How does the author define the ideal retainer (家臣) or “man of service” (hōkōnin)?

5. Explain the concept of ichinen (single-mindedness). How is it different from funbetsu (discriminating thought)? Which of the two does the author privilege?

6. Describe the concept of shinigurui (literally, “rushing madly toward death”)?

7. Explain the author’s notion of the “thought-moment”? How should the bushi position himself vis-à-vis this thought-moment?

8. Explain the author’s view of women. Cite evidence from the text.

9. What values does Yamamoto Tsunetomo consider most important for a bushi? How does he think these values should be instilled?

10. What philosophical or religious influences can you find in the text? Is this a Confucian/neo-Confucian perspective? A Shinto perspective? A Buddhist perspective?

11. Is bushidō an example of an “invented tradition”? Explain.

12. The notion of bushidō was used as military propaganda at various points in Japan’s modern period. How does Yamamoto’s text lend itself to use by militarists?

13. Describe the bushi’s role in society after the unification of Japan in 1590 and the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1600. What happened to the samurai class (shizoku) in the early modern period (i.e. Edo period)? In the modern period (i.e. post-Meiji)?

Further Reading/Listening

1. Oleg Benesch. Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan (Oxford Press; 2014). *Click here to purchase.
2. Sagara Tōru ed., Kōyōgunkan, gorinsho, hagakure-shū (Nihon no shisō Vol 9). Chikuma shobō, 1968.
3. Saiki Kazuma et al. eds., Mikawa monogatari, hagakure (Nihon shisō taikei Vol. 26). . Iwanami shoten, 1974.
4. Hagakure zenshū. Gogatsu Shobō. 1978.
5. Yamamoto Tsunetomo; Ōkuma Miyoshi ed., Hagakure: gendaiyaku.
6. Mishima Yukio. Hagakure nyūmon (A Primer on The Hagakure). 1967.
7. Yamamoto Tsunetomo. Hagakure zenshū. Gogatsu shobō, 1978
8. YouTube Reading: Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Inazo Nitobe - Chapter 1/17: Bushido as an Ethical System:

[1] From Sources of Japanese Tradition, edited by Wm. Theodore de Bary, Carol Gluck, and Arthur L. Tiedemann, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 476-478.
[2] (底本)国立国会図書館蔵餅木鍋島家本

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