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History of the Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai Essay


Hagakure or Hagakure Kikigaki (Jap. Hidden in Leaves) is an 18th-century Japanese text representing the principles of Bushido, the code of behavior for Samurais. Hagakure presents a guide containing spiritual instructions collected by the Samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo. The author claims that Bushido is a “way of dying,” so a Samurai must always be ready to die according to the principles of honor. The identity of a Samurai is a complex phenomenon based on the Japanese military ethics of medieval and early modern times. The meaning of the term “Samurai” could differ in various epochs but was always connected with warfare.

In Hagakure, among other things, a Samurai’s identity is defined by the explanation of what a Samurai is and what he is not. According to the book, a Samurai has to struggle for his identity but it is an interesting question, with what he struggles. As Hagakure tells at the beginning of the first chapter, “The Way of the Samurai is found in death” (Tsunetomo 17).

So, a Samurai must be prepared in advance to make a choice between life and death, and this is the primary feature of his identity, prior to the service to a master, politeness, and other duties. But an obstacle to the achievement of the required characteristics is such an immanent specificity of a human being as the fear of death: “We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like” (Tsunetomo 17).

Apparently, the first thing that a Samurai has to struggle with to achieve his true identity is himself and his willingness to live. In that way, the second paragraph of the first chapter represents a Samurai’s struggle for his identity. Apart from that, he also has to fight his other negative traits, such as selfishness, which is mentioned in the same chapter a few passages later: “exclude self-interest, and make an effort, you will not go far from your mark” (Tsunetomo 19).

However, his own traits are not the only thing a Samurai has to fight for the identity. The other problem is his own lord, to whom Bushido requires him to be entirely obedient and loyal. A master can present danger to Samurai’s identity by demanding slave-like obedience, thus humiliating him. The two passages in the first chapter about the relations between a master and his Samurai (Tsunetomo 48) state that, first, if a master’s demand contradicts with a Samurai’s conviction (read: with his identity), a Samurai has a right to deny the command. Moreover, a Samurai is allowed to demand satisfaction if his master deliberately injures his honor. Furthermore, the highest form of loyalty of a Samurai to his master is correcting the mistakes of the latter by the former, which helps to secure the domain.

To conclude, Hagakure presents a complex source of Samurai identity and mentions the things a Samurai has to struggle with in order to preserve his identity. First of these things is his own fear of death, which is an obstacle on his way to fulfilling Bushido. The next one is his own selfishness. The last danger to a Samurai’s identity is his master, who can injure his honor, thus damaging his identity. All of the passages related to these issues are placed in the first chapter of Hagakure.

Works Cited

Tsunetomo, Yamamoto. Hagakure: The book of the Samurai. Trans. William S. Wilson. New York City, New York: Kodansha, 1992. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, June 26). History of the Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/history-of-the-hagakure-the-book-of-the-samurai/

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"History of the Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai." IvyPanda, 26 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/history-of-the-hagakure-the-book-of-the-samurai/.

1. IvyPanda. "History of the Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai." June 26, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/history-of-the-hagakure-the-book-of-the-samurai/.


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IvyPanda. "History of the Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai." June 26, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/history-of-the-hagakure-the-book-of-the-samurai/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "History of the Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai." June 26, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/history-of-the-hagakure-the-book-of-the-samurai/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'History of the Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai'. 26 June.

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