UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The essence of Hagakure Alexander, Howard Kevin


In 1700 Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a samurai of the province of Saga in northern Kyushu, retired from active duty in order to spend his remaining years praying for his lord, who had died that year. In collaboration with a younger associate, Tashiro Tsuramoto, who recorded his lectures and conversations, Tsunetomo authored a book entitled Hagakure. Finished in 1716, the work had taken six years, and upon completion it consisted of eleven volumes of short passages, mainly of a moral or anecdotal nature. Through didactic illustrations Tsunetomo delineated behaviour proper to the samurai class. Realizing that the extended age of peace of the Tokugawa period was having a debilitating effect on the morals of the warrior class, Tsunetomo attempted in Hagakure to reverse this trend. Aware of the changing circumstances, in which the samurai were increasingly assuming the role of administrators rather than warriors, Tsunetomo emphasized the development of mental attitudes appropriate to the battlefield. Self discipline and unquestioning loyalty, such as might be expected of an ideal warrior, even to the extent of being resigned to death at any time, was, he believed, a prerequisite to service of any kind. By developing such moral virtues as rectitude, courage, honour, decorum, compassion, unselfishness, frugality, and, most importantly, loyalty, Tsunetomo expected a samurai to prepare himself to serve his lord in any capacity. On the other hand, he derided samurai who were obsessed with intellectual or artistic pursuits, stating that they often became excessively proud and lost their ability to carry out their duties effectively. Because of Tsunetomo's emphasis on regional history and on loyalty to his provincial lord, Hagakure, would most certainly have displeased the authorities in Edo had it been widely circulated. Therefore, following the author's orders, it remained secret among the leading samurai of Saga until the middle of the nineteenth century. Then the rigorous loyalty found in Hagakure was redirected away from the regional lord to the emperor, in keeping with the rising sense of nationalism which accompanied the imperial restoration. Hagakure thus took on a new function. During the period of militarism leading to the Pacific War, Tsunetomo's declaration that a warrior must be resigned to death in the cause of loyalty brought widespread recognition to Hagakure. In fact, the book came to be equated with a determination to die for the sake of the emperor. To give a manageable structure to the hundreds of loosely associated passages of which Hagakure is composed, a modified framework of Confucian mores has been employed in this essay. Since the most prevalent philosophy of the book, and indeed of the whole Edo period, was Neo-Confucianism, this framework, however artificial, seems appropriate. Other approaches may also have been possible for Hagakure contains much more than only Neo-Confucian philosophy. The emphasis on simplicity and the reliance on one's own efforts, concepts which form intregal parts of Zen Buddhism, also held great appeal to Tsunetomo. He did not clearly conceptualize his beliefs as being Confucian, Buddhist, or native Japanese components. Rather all his ideas were amalgamated into a syncretism which he expresses Hagakure as the way of the warrior.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.