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

*Japanese Text: Saiki Kazuma et al. eds., Mikawa monogatari, hagakure (Nihon shis
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 bushid, the way of the
warrior. Dictated between 1709 and 1716 by a retired samurai, Yamamoto Tsunetomo
(1659-1719), to a young retainer, Tashir 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 bushid, Hagakure was not widely circulated in the
Tokugawa period beyond Saga domain on the southern island of Kyushu, Yamamoto
Tsunetomos 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 bushid and
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 bushid 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 () or man of service (hknin)?
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 shinigui (literally, rushing madly toward death)?
7. Explain the authors notion of the thought-moment? How should the bushi position
himself vis--vis this thought-moment?
8. Explain the authors 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?

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),

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 bushid an example of an invented tradition? Explain.
12. The notion of bushid was used as military propaganda at various points in Japans
modern period. How does Yamamotos text lend itself to use by militarists?
13. Describe the bushis 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.
Further Reading/Listening
1. Oleg Benesch. Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and
Bushido in Modern Japan (Oxford Press; 2014).
2. Sagara Tru ed., Kygunkan, gorinsho, hagakure-sh (Nihon no shis Vol 9).
Chikuma shob, 1968.
3. Saiki Kazuma et al. eds., Mikawa monogatari, hagakure (Nihon shis taikei Vol. 26). .
Iwanami shoten, 1974.
4. Hagakure zensh. Gogatsu Shob. 1978.
5. Yamamoto Tsunetomo; kuma Miyoshi ed., Hagakure: gendaiyaku.
6. Mishima Yukio. Hagakure nymon (A Primer on The Hagakure). 1967.
7. Yamamoto Tsunetomo. Hagakure zensh. Gogatsu shob, 1978
8. YouTube Reading: Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Inazo Nitobe - Chapter 1/17:
Bushido as an Ethical System: