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Bushidō and the Samurai: Images in British Public Opinion, 1894—1914

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2008

Colin Holmes
University of Sheffield
A. H. Ion
University of Sheffield


I shall turn Japanese, for they at least can think, and be reticent! … I fail to see any Western people in a position to set the Japs an example in their diplomacy … their organization, their strategy, their virile qualities, their devotion and self control. Above all, their national capacity for self reliance, self-sacrifice and their silence, …

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1980

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1 See Lehmann, Jean-Pierre, The Image of Japan from Feudal Isolation to World Power 1850–1905 (London, 1978).Google Scholar For an earlier, brief account of Western perceptions of Japan, including British opinion, see Kiernan, V. G., The Lords of Human Kind (Harmondsworth, 1972), pp. 181202.Google Scholar

2 See Varley, H. Paul with Ivan, and Morris, Nobuko, The Samurai (Harmondsworth, 1974);Google ScholarStorry, Richard, The Way of the Samurai (London, 1978), although on pp. 89 he notes more recent changes of opinion on Bushidō and the samuraiGoogle Scholar; for a recent Japanese book on Bushidō see Mototaya, Nara, Bushidō no Keifu (Tokyo, 1975).Google Scholar This does not deal with opinion in Britain. Lewis, A., Knights and Samurai. Feudalism in France and Japan (London, 1974), attempts a comparison of European and Japanese feudal systems but offers little on the nature of Bushidō.Google Scholar

3 Tsunoda, Ryusaku, Bary, William Theodore de, and Keene, Donald, Sources of Japanese Tradition (New York and London, 1964), vol. I, p. 386.Google Scholar

4 Ibid., p. 386. See also Bellah, Robert N., Tokugawa Religion. The Values of Pre-Industrial Japan (Glencoe, Illinois, 1957), pp. 90–8.Google Scholar

5 Norman, E. H., Andō Shōeki and the Anatomy of Japanese Feudalism (Tokyo, 1949), vol. I, p. 108.Google Scholar

6 Bellah, , Tokugawa Religion, p. 98.Google Scholar

7 Matsuzawa, H., ‘The Rise and Fall of Bunmei-ron (Theories of Civilization)’, unpublished MS. Paper given at the Japan Foundation Seminar at St Antony's College, Oxford, November 1978.Google Scholar

8 Masamichi, Asukai, Kindai no Choryū (Tokyo, 1976), pp. 72–4.Google Scholar

9 Brown, Delmer M., Nationalism in Japan: An Introductory Historical Analysis (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1955), pp. 137–8.Google Scholar

10 Storry, , The Way of the Samurai, p. 8, notes the major impact of Nitobe in relation to ideas on Bushidō.Google Scholar

11 Buckle, T. H., History of Civilization in England (London, 1903 edn), vol. I, pp. 30113. This book, first published in 1857, had a profound influence on Meiji intellectuals.Google Scholar

12 Nish, Ian H., The Anglo-Japanese Alliance: The Diplomacy of Two Island Empires 1894–1907 (London, 1966)Google Scholar and his Alliance in Decline: A Study of Anglo-Japanese Relations 1908–1923 (London, 1972), discuss Anglo-Japanese relations during the years with which we are concerned.Google Scholar

13 Masamichi, Asukai, Kindai no Choryū, pp. 90–5.Google Scholar

14 Takayoshi, Matsuo, Taisho Demokurashii (Tokyo, 1974), p. 38.Google Scholar

15 Searle, G. R., The Quest for National Efficiency. A Study in British Politics and Political Thought 1899–1914 (Oxford, 1971), provides the ambience of these years.Google Scholar

16 The Spectator, 16 August 1902.Google Scholar

17 For comment on Rosebery's involvement in the efficiency movement see James, Robert Rhodes, Rosebery (London, 1963), p. 453.Google Scholar

18 Gilbert, Bentley B., The Evolution of National Insurance in Great Britain (London, 1973 edn), is valuable on the atmosphere of the time.Google Scholar

19 Searle, , The Quest for National Efficiency, pp. 55–9.Google Scholar

20 Ibid., p. 57.

21 Nitobé, Inazo, Bushido. The Soul of Japan (New York and London, 1907 edn), p. XXI.Google Scholar

22 Ibid., p. 172.

23 Nitobé, Inazo, The Japanese Nation. Its Land, Its People, Its Life (New York and London, 1912), p. 78.Google Scholar See also Okakura, Kakuzo, The Awakening of Japan (London, 1905), p. 171.Google Scholar

24 Reported in The Times, 25 January 1905. Graham Wallas was in the chair.Google Scholar

25 Okakura, Y., The Japanese Spirit (London, 1905), p. 100.Google Scholar Nitobe's work was also influential in giving Westerners the impression that Bushidō was extremely important in accounting for Japan's military successes. See his qualified comment in Nitobe, The Japanese Nation, p. 324. At a much more popular level the idea was also put forward in Sakurai, T., Human Bullets. A Soldier's Story of Port Arthur (London, 1907), p. 127.Google Scholar

26 Apart from the works already mentioned, Okuma, Shigenobu (ed.), Fifty Years of New Japan (London: Kraus reprint 1970), vol. I, p. 238 contains a similar stress.Google Scholar

27 Suyematsu, K., The Risen Sun (London, 1905), pp. 186–93, 206 contains a discussion of Bushidō.Google Scholar

28 Luvaas, Jay, The Education of an Army (London, 1965), p. 196.Google ScholarBut see Punch, 29 December 1894 and 27 April 1895, for some appreciation of Japanese prowess outside these circles.Google Scholar

29 Amery, L. S., My Political Life (London, 1953), vol. I, p. 218.Google Scholar See also Repington, Charles A'Court, Vestigia (London, 1919), pp. 252–3.Google Scholar For details on Repington's life see The Concise Dictionary of National Biography, 1901–1950 (Oxford, 1961), p. 363.Google Scholar

30 Amery, , My Political Life, p. 218.Google Scholar

31 The Times, 4 October 1904.Google Scholar

32 The War in the Far East 1904–1905. By the Military Correspondent of The Times (London, 1905), chapter XXXIII.Google Scholar

33 SirHamilton, Ian, A Staff Officer's Scrapbook during the Russo-Japanese War (London, 1905), p. 13.Google Scholar See also the article by Captain Barrett, Ashley W., ‘Lessons to be learned by Regimental Officers from the Russo-Japanese War’, Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, LI (07-12 1907), p. 799, for further military comment on the importance of Bushidō.Google Scholar

34 Wyatt, H. F., God's Test by War (London, 1912), pp. 9, 14. None of the comments we have been considering gave any credence to the Yellow Peril arising out of Japanese military prowess. This is the reverse side of what is being discussed here and, as yet, it is inadequately studied.Google Scholar The best account is Gollwitzer, H., Die Gelbe Gefahr: Denken zum Imperialistischen Schlagworts (Göttingen, 1962), pp. 4767.Google Scholar

35 Emerson, E., ‘Japan at War’, Contemporary Review 86 (1904), p. 16.Google Scholar

36 See also Redesdale, Lord, The Garter Mission to Japan (London, 1906), p. 64 for reference to the importance of Bushidō.Google Scholar

37 The Times, 30 August 1905. This was written by John Woulfe Flanagan.Google Scholar

38 On Stead, see Who Was Who 1929–1940 (London, 1941), p. 1283.Google ScholarStead was the son of W. T. Stead, the well-known editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. He escapes any mention in Lehmann, The Image of Japan.Google Scholar

39 Stead, Alfred, ‘Japan in the Far East’, Fortnightly Review, 78 (1905), p. 597.Google ScholarThe emphasis was also made in Suyematsu, The Risen Sun, p. 317.Google Scholar

40 Diary, Beatrice Webb MS. vol. 24, 1904, p. 62.Google Scholar

41 For comment on the Far East tour see Winter, J. M., ‘The Webbs and the Non White World: A Case of Socialist Racialism’, Journal of Contemporary History, IX (1974), pp. 181–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

42 Dalton, Hugh, Call Back Yesterday (London, 1953), p. 131.Google Scholar

43 Diary, Beatrice Webb MS., vol. 51, 1937, p. 101.Google Scholar The longer term consequences of such expansion and the role of Bushidō and the samurai in it are the concern of Lord Russell of Liverpool, The Knights of Bushido (London, 1958), a work which, together with the Kurosawa's film, ‘The Seven Samurai’, and Yukio Mishima's ritual suicide, has provided many contemporary Westerners with their impressions of Bushidō and the samurai tradition.Google Scholar The samurai image in the cinema is discussed in Silver, A., Samurai Film (New York, 1977).Google Scholar A good indication of Mishima's interest in the samurai tradition is provided in his evocative essay, Taiyō To Hagane, published in translation as Sun and Steel (London, 1971).Google Scholar

44 Webb, Beatrice, Our Partnership, edited by Drake, Barbara and Cole, Margaret I. (London, 1948), p. 400.Google Scholar

45 SirLodge, Oliver, Public Service versus Private Expenditure. Fabian Tract. No. 121 (London, 1907), p. 10.Google Scholar

46 Ibid., p. 11.

47 Communication of 17 April 1905.Google Scholar

48 Wells, H. G., A Modern Utopia (London, 1905), pp. 251, 273.Google Scholar For a critique of Wells's scheme see Hobson, J. A., ‘The New Aristocracy of Mr Wells’, Contemporary Review, LXXXIX (1906), pp. 487–97.Google Scholar

49 See her article, East London Labour’, Nineteenth Century XXIV (1888), pp. 176–7, for a graphic, early exposition of this.Google Scholar

50 Beatrice Webb, My Apprenticeship, illustrates in a number of places, the thoughts of someone desperately searching for spiritual guidance. The phrase ‘consciousness of sin’ appears in Ibid (London, 1926 edn), p. 206.

51 See above p. 318.Google Scholar

52 Lodge, , Public Service, p. 11.Google Scholar

53 This point is developed by Professor Robert Skidelsky in his paper on the Fabians, given in the University of Sheffield in the autumn of 1978. See also his review of Peter Clarke, Liberals and Social Democrats, in New Society, 11 January 1979. See below p. 326 for further comment on the relationship between Christianity and Bushidō.Google Scholar

54 Searle, , The Quest for National Efficiency, p. 59.Google Scholar

55 See Sidney, and Webb, Beatrice, Soviet Communism. A New Civilization? (London, 1935), for their final views on Russia.Google Scholar

56 Stead, Alfred, ‘The Japanese Ethical Code’, Monthly Review, XIV (1904), pp. 5262Google Scholar, was very much influenced by Nitobe and in Stead's, edited book, Japan by the Japanese (London, 1904), the section on Bushidō was contributed by Nitobe.Google Scholar

57 Stead, Alfred, Great Japan. A Study of National Efficiency (London, 1906), pp. 38, 42, 57.Google Scholar

58 For earlier reference to Rosebery see above p. 314. Such views emphasized the placing of country above class, and support from non-socialist sources for this, and the role which Bushidō and the samurai played in it was also present in Ivanovich, , ‘Japan, Russia and France’, Contemporary Review, 86 (1904), p. 673.Google Scholar Repington's famous article in The Times, 4 October 1904 also stressed this, as did Lloyd, Arthur, Every Day Japan (London, 1909), p. 16.Google Scholar

59 Knox, G. W., Imperial Japan (London, 1905), pp. 57–8.Google Scholar

60 Dyer, Henry, Dai Nippon. The Britain of the East (London, 1904), pp. 31–3Google Scholar; see also his Japan in World Politics (London, 1909).Google Scholar

61 Norman, F. J., The Fighting Man of Japan. The Training and Exercises of the Samurai (London, 1905), p. 3.Google Scholar

62 Longford, J. H., The Evolution of New Japan (Cambridge, 1913), p. 12.Google Scholar

63 The Athenaeum, 3 September 1904, p. 316. This is a useful critique of the significance given to Bushidō by Nitobe and his disciples. For Nitobe's admission, see The Japanese Nation, p. 324.Google Scholar

64 For a full discussion of this see Ion, A. Hamish, ‘British and Canadian Missionaries in the Japanese Empire, 1905–1925’, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Sheffield, 1978, vol. I, pp. 212–15.Google Scholar What is referred to here is Imai's argument. For a fuller discussion by Imai of Bushidō, see his work, Bushido: in the Past and in the Present (Tokyo, 1906).Google Scholar A similar view to Imai's was put forward by Kanzō Uchimura (1863–1930), one of the most famous Japanese Christians, who remarked in 1920 that,‘Bushidō is the finest Product of Japan. But Bushidō by itself cannot save Japan. Christianity grafted upon Bushidō will be the finest product of the world. It will save not only Japan, but the whole world’. See Kanzō, Uchimura, ‘Bushidō and Christianity’, in his Zenshū, Eibun Chosaku (Tokyo, 19711973), vol. III, p. 56.Google Scholar

65 See the correspondence in The Times 2 October 1905. For comments on Awdry's views see Ibid., 7 October 1905. There was a letter from Suyematsu in Ibid., 18 November 1905, in reply to Awdry.

66 For details on Chamberlain see Who Was Who 1929–1940 (London, 1941), p. 235.Google Scholar He was the brother of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, whose work became centrally integrated into Nazi philosophy. For the part played by Basil Chamberlain in obtaining an English outlet for his brother's most famous work, Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, see Holmes, Colin, ‘Houston Stewart Chamberlain in Great Britain’, Wiener Library Bulletin, XXIV (1970), pp. 31–6. In this task it is interesting to note that Basil Chamberlain enlisted the help of Lord Redesdale. See above note 36.Google Scholar

67 Chamberlain, Basil Hal., The Invention of a New Religion (London, 1912), particularly pp. 6 and 14. See above p. 310 for reference to the first systematic exposition of Bushidō.Google Scholar

68 The Porcupine, 31 May 1862 pp. 67, 70, and 7 June 1862, pp. 73–4.Google Scholar

69 Comment appearing in Chirol, Valentine, The Far Eastern Question (London, 1896), p. 225.Google Scholar

70 See the useful article by Lant, Jeffrey L. in The Times, 23 July 1977.Google Scholar

71 See H.O.45 10533/150939 in the Public Record Office. Arnold, Edwin in East and West (London, 1896), p. 275 had commented earlier that ‘Mr Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan have…something to answer for, by reason of their lively misrepresentations of Japan in the comic opera entitled “The Mikado”.’Google Scholar

72 Ransome, Stafford, Japan in Transition (London, 1899) was concerned with the economic transition of Japan from a feudal society to a major power.Google Scholar

73 Graphically illustrated in relation to military matters by two cartoons in Punch ‘A Lesson in Patriotism’ (6 July 1904) and ‘Banzai’ (7 June 1905).Google Scholar

74 Crosland, T. W. H., The Truth about Japan (London, 1904), p. 9.Google Scholar

75 Norman, Henry, The People and Politics of the Far East (London, 1895), p. 375.Google Scholar

76 Nitobe, , Bushidō, pp. 173–4.Google Scholar

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