My first professional interview ever happened in a Japanese company. I was just about to graduate, they hired me and I entered the world of Arigatou gozaimasu. I learnt about Japanese habits (deep bows, beautiful hot springs, endless sucking up while eating hot soups). I spent hours miming with my Japanese colleagues since they spoke little English. I had dinner at 6:30 p.m. (as the saying goes: when in Rome, do as Romans do) and made sure there was no hole in my socks so that I could safely take off my shoes as they do. I loved omiyage, their gift-giving custom as they always have a gift for you when visiting. I longed for a slice of Castella cake, I went mad each time my questions remained unanswered, maybe because they were not contemplated in my interviewees’ mental schemes.
As Nitobe Inazo explained so well in 1899 in his cult book Bushido: The Soul of Japan: “Coming to profess great honor and great privileges, and correspondingly great responsibilities, [samurai] soon felt the need of a common standard of behavior, especially as they were always on a belligerent footing and belonged to different clans”.
Rectitude, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honour, loyalty and character were the eight most important virtues for a samurai. And for me too.
Below you will find some quotes I took from Inazo’s work, to better explain each of them.
“Rectitude is the power of deciding upon a certain course of conduct… without wavering; – to die when is right to die, to strike when to strike is right. Without rectitude neither talent nor learning can make of a human frame a samurai.”
“Courage is doing what is right. To run all kind of hazards, to jeopardize one’s self, to rush into the jaws of death – these are too often identified with Valor… but… death for a cause unworthy of dying for, was called a dog’s death.”
“Benevolence, or Bushi no nasaké – the tenderness of a warrior – implied mercy where mercy was not a blind impulse, but where it recognized due regard to justice, and where mercy did not remain merely a certain state of mind, but where it was backed with the power to save or kill. Benevolent man is ever mindful of those who are suffering and in distress.”
“Politeness is a poor virtue, if it is actuated only by a fear of offending good taste, whereas it should be the outward manifestation of a sympathetic regard for the feeling of others. In its highest form, politeness almost approaches love.”
“Sincerity is the end and the beginning of all things; without sincerity there would be nothing. Bushi no ichi-gon – the word of a samurai… was sufficient guaranty of the truthfulness of an assertion.”
“The sense of honor, implying a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth [characterize] the samurai, born and bred to value the duties and privileges of their profession. A good name – one’s reputation, the immortal part of one’s self… assumed as a matter of course, any infringement upon its integrity was felt as shame.”
“The duty of loyalty was the key-stone making feudal virtues a symmetrical arch. Personal fidelity is a moral adhesion existing among all sorts and conditions of men… but it is only in the code of chivalrous honor that loyalty assumes paramount importance.”
“The first point to observe in knightly pedagogics was to build up character. Luxury was thought the greatest menace to manhood, and severest simplicity was required of the warrior class.”
As a journalist, my sword is a pen, so I think I should use it with Bushidō principles in my mind and in my soul.
Akira Kurosawa, Seven Samurai, 1954