Inazō Nitobe and Bushidō


Many words can be used to describe Dr. Inazō Nitobe (1862 – 1933), but perhaps the most suitable are those inscribed on the large kasuga lantern found to the right of the garden entrance gate: “apostle of goodwill to the nations.”

Born in Morioka, Japan, Dr. Nitobe held many titles in his life including agriculturalist, professor, writer, Quaker, Undersecretary General for the League of Nations, President of Tokyo’s first women’s university, and Chairman of the Institute of Pacific Relations. He received an extensive education in both agriculture and foreign languages from schools in Tokyo, Sapporo, the U.S.A., and Germany, where he completed a PhD in Agricultural Economics. Throughout, he expressed a desire to create a stronger bond between Japan and the West, dedicating his life to becoming “a bridge across the Pacific,” bringing Japanese culture to the West and western culture to Japan through his writing, lectures, and political work.

Nitobe’s most famous work in the West is his book Bushidō: the Soul of Japan. Written in English while he was studying in Pennsylvania and California and published in 1900, Bushidō met with great success in the West. Over the years it has been translated into dozens of languages and read by many politicians and leaders including U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy  and Theodore Roosevelt, who bought 60 copies to give to friends.

In this masterwork, Nitobe describes in detail bushidō (“the way of the warrior”), the ethical code that governed the samurai warrior class before its demise, but which still continues to influence the modern Japanese psyche. He wrote that to live by the code of bushidō was to embody the traits Japanese people held in highest regard: courage, rectitude, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honour, loyalty, and self-control. Combined with a profound respect for nature, Japanese gardeners continue to create and maintain gardens with this spirit in mind. In this way, the Japanese garden is more than just an attractive space, it is a channel for Japanese values.