JIN-397 -- The Education Debate: Reaching for a Classic

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
Commentary on Japan's culture, economy and society
Issue No. 397
Saturday December 16, 2006 TOKYO
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@@ VIEWPOINT: The Education Debate: Reaching for a Classic

Speaking in defense of the revision of Clause 2 of the
Basic Education Law, which calls for "Respect for tradition
and culture, and love for the nation and land that nurtured
them," at a meeting of the House of Councilors' Select
Committee on Education on November 22, Bunmei Ibuki, the
Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology,
said, "The Way is an important model for Japan. It is the Way
of the Merchant. It is Bushido." He added, "The book 'Bushido'
formed the normative consciousness of the Japanese. By
emphasizing such things I would like to supplement the
Koizumi economic reforms."

Ibuki was referring to "Bushido: The Soul of Japan"(1900),
written by Inazo Nitobe (1862 - 1933) in English for a
Western audience and later translated into Japanese.

On the other hand, volunteer faculty members at Tokyo
Woman's Christian University, of which Nitobe was the first
president, released on October 27 a statement in opposition
to revision of the Basic Education Law. According to their
statement, the present Basic Law upholds the philosophy
reflected in "freedom of the spirit" and "equal esteem for
the value of all individuals," ideals Nitobe always stressed.

Akiko Minato, president of the university, pointed out that
the Basic Education Law in effect today was established by
men influenced by Nitobe. He was a Christian. Yet even in the
last chapter of "Bushido" he wrote of the importance of
the individual at the root of Christianity.

"In the first clause of the revised law 'reverence for the
value of the individual' is deleted, and 'public-mindedness'
has been inserted in the preface, " she is quoted as saying
by the "Asahi," a liberal daily. "Nitobe thought that first
the 'individual,' the 'I', is established , and next the
cooperative body we call 'the public'. The individual, in
other words, {developing] character, is the largest goal
of education."

Why all the attention for Nitobe's "Bushido," a book
published in 1900?

Tsuyoshi Kojima, a professor of Chinese thought at Tokyo
University, says that the interpretation offered by Lee
Teng-hui, the former Taiwanese president, in his book entitled
"Bushido: An Analysis," (2003) is symbolic.

"Bushido has been romanticized as something that can be
connected to the modern age. One learned individual made
the nuanced comment that unlike [Yukio] Mishima's
militarist book [on the 'Hagakure'], [Nitobe's] book truly
reflects bushido. Bushido, which was banned by the
Occupation, is now functioning after undergoing a

Professor Kojima claims that Nitobe's" Bushido" is not a
a historical or academic book about traditional Japanese
culture, but rather a reconfiguration by Nitobe, a Quaker,
that turned Bushido into a pure, correct philosophy through
eliminating its barbaric elements.

The journalist Soichiro Tahara says that "Bushido" does
not compile arguments that can easily advance one's
own interests.... The Japanese, who tried to catch up with
the West ever since Meiji [1868 - 1912] , are now pondering
the meaning of life. Their turning to {'Bushido'] is

The usefulness of Nitobe's "Bushido" as a guide for
revamping education in public schools is atavistic
rather than forward looking. I question whether it is the
sort of model Japan requires as the balance of power
shifts in Asia and preserving the technological edge for
adding value to exports at the core of the Japanese
economy becomes an ever greater challenge.

Nitobe was a samurai's scion who embraced Quakerism, which
helps explain why "Bushido" can appeal to a conservative
politician like Bunmei Ibuki and also to a liberal educator
like Akiko Minato. His book is large--it contains multitudes.
Whether or not it contributes to a blueprint for Japanese
education, I'm happy to see the Japanese reaching for a

-- Burritt Sabin

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I read the JIN-397 with interest.

As I am quite curious about the quote "The Way is an important model for Japan. It is the Way of the Merchant. It is Bushido." of Bunmei Ibuki, could you point me to its original in Japanese?

When the Merchant culture was established with the development of market based economy in the late Sengoku era, and later flourished in Edo era, Bushi and Bushido were outside of Merchants and their way of life, as evidenced by the legislated caste-like Shi-Nou-Kou-Shou feudal hierarchy.

Koizumi tried to reform LDP and the political system to better suit the modern Japan by getting rid of feudal influences left in Habatsu-led politics and Yakunin-led economy bound by Riken. The Foreign Minister is reported to have formed his own Habatsu, the Kitokuken-minded anti-privatization rebels being allowed to come back to LDP by Abe. It is almost laughable if the Education Minister thinks Bushido is the merchant's way of life, and going back to this feudal spirit is the way to go.