Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan

ISBN : 9780198754251

Oleg Benesch
304 Pages
156 x 234 mm
Pub date
Apr 2016
Past & Present Book Series
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  • The only book-length academic study of bushido, an important subject for anyone with an interest in Japan
  • Provides an overview of modern Japanese history through the lens of a single concept
  • Offers a long-awaited re-evaluation of some of the longest-standing myths about Japanese thought and culture
  • The first book in English to take a historical approach to a subject that has traditionally been dealt with primarily on a philosophical level
  • Combines a variety of approaches and sources to provide a comprehensive history of a concept

Inventing the Way of the Samurai examines the development of the 'way of the samurai' - bushido; - which is popularly viewed as a defining element of the Japanese national character and even the 'soul of Japan'. Rather than a continuation of ancient traditions, however, bushido; developed from a search for identity during Japan's modernization in the late nineteenth century. The former samurai class were widely viewed as a relic of a bygone age in the 1880s, and the first significant discussions of bushido at the end of the decade were strongly influenced by contemporary European ideals of gentlemen and chivalry. At the same time, Japanese thinkers increasingly looked to their own traditions in search of sources of national identity, and this process accelerated as national confidence grew with military victories over China and Russia. 

Inventing the Way of the Samurai considers the people, events, and writings that drove the rapid growth of bushido, which came to emphasize martial virtues and absolute loyalty to the emperor. In the early twentieth century, bushido; became a core subject in civilian and military education, and was a key ideological pillar supporting the imperial state until its collapse in 1945. The close identification of bushido; with Japanese militarism meant that it was rejected immediately after the war, but different interpretations of bushido; were soon revived by both Japanese and foreign commentators seeking to explain Japan's past, present, and future. This volume further explores the factors behind the resurgence of bushido, which has proven resilient through 130 years of dramatic social, political, and cultural change.


1. Backgrounds
2. First Explanations of Bushidō in the Meiji Era
3. The Early Bushidō Boom, 1894-1905
4. The Late Bushidō Boom, 1905-1914
5. The End of the Bushidō Boom
6. The Showa Bushidō Resurgence
7. Bushidō in Postwar Japan
Conclusions and Considerations
Select Bibliography

About the author: 

Oleg Benesch is Anniversary Research Lecturer in History, specializing in the history of early modern and modern Japan. Before arriving at the University of York, Dr Benesch was Past & Present Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London. He has spent almost six years living and researching in Japan, including two years each at Hitotsubashi University and Reitaku University in Tokyo. Dr Benesch's publications and teaching interests cover a variety of fields, including Japanese intellectual, religious, and social history, Chinese intellectual history, as well as the transnational history of modern East Asia. He has presented his research findings at academic conferences and invited lectures throughout East Asia, Europe, North America, and Australia.

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