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Literature / The Hagakure

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The Way of the Samurai is found in death.
Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily.
Every day, when one's body and mind are at peace,
One should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears, and swords, being carried away by surging waves,
Being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake,
Falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one's master.
And every day, without fail, one should consider himself as dead.
This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.
The Hagakure

The Hagakure (meaning "Hidden by the Leaves"), or Hagakure Kikigaki, is the Book of Bushido. It is a practical and spiritual guide for a warrior, drawn from a collection of commentaries by the samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo, former retainer to Nabeshima Mitsushige, the third ruler of what is now the Saga prefecture in Japan. The book was written over a period of seven years, after Tsunetomo retired as a samurai and lived in semi-seclusion as a Buddhist convert. An old friend by the name of Tsuramato Tashiro, a younger samurai, would frequently visit. Over the course of seven years (1709-1716), he had dictated every personal thought, recollection, anecdote or philosophical musing Tsunetomo had. It would be published several years later, well after the older samurai was dead. Obscure at the time of publication, it has since become one of the most influential treatises on the samurai way of life, alongside other integral works as Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five Rings and Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War by Yagyu Munenori.

The Hagakure was written a century after the start of the Tokugawa era. As a time of relative peace and stability, society was changing, and with a total lack of large scale wars the samurai were transforming from warriors to administrators of the land. The book outlines what the author felt should be the true role of the warrior in society. His work represents one approach to the problem of maintaining military preparedness and a proper military mindset in a time when neither had much practical application.

A must read for historians, fans of Japanese culture and Samurai, and for those who even practice the art of Bushido. Also keep in mind that the translations of the Hagakure are only a small part of the original book— William Scott Wilson's translation is composed out of roughly 300 fragments, and the original text out of 13000.

This book provides examples of:

  • Author Tract: Tsunetomo clearly longs for the old days, before the Tokugawa period, and is quick to decry the "weakened" samurai of the next generation. He actually never intended for this collection of his thoughts to be distributed, which may be part of the reason it comes across as so outspoken and unyielding.
  • Back from the Dead: A certain samurai by the name of Ōno Dōken had been condemned to death by burning, and he was reduced to a charred corpse. When an official came by to inspect his remains, what remained of Ōno reportedly sprang up to its feet, grabbed the official's sword and stabbed him to death before collapsing to ashes.
  • Badass Creed: Look at the page quote. There are a couple scattered throughout the book.
  • Badass Crew: "The Men of Seven Spears," a band of famous warriors who led a charge at the battle of Shizugatake.
    • Subverted in one anecdote, when one crew of samurai get into a brawl at a teahouse and kill the employees senselessly. They were more like armed thugs than badasses.
  • Badass Preacher: Two prominent standouts:
    • Crosses over with Badass Pacifist. A priest known as Ungo of Matsushima is passing through the mountains at night when he's suddenly surrounded by bandits. Calmly, Ungo says, "I am a man of this area, not a pilgrim. I have no money at all. But I have these clothes, if you want. Please, spare my life." The bandits put their weapons away and say, "Our efforts have been in vain. We have no need for clothes." And as they ride off, Ungo calls out to them, "I have broken the commandment against lying. In my confusion I had forgotten I had one piece of silver in my moneybag. I am truly regretful that I had said nothing at all. I have it here now. Please, take it." The bandits, impressed and shaken by the priest's humility, bow down to him. They shave their heads and join Ungo as his disciples.
    • As noted below, Denko the buddhist monk gets his hands on a sword to avenge his younger brother. Unfortunately, his order banishes him for breaking his oath and he's forced to forsake monkhood... but that doesn't stop his old parishioners from protecting him, travelling with him as he leaves town. They knew that killing two men who were the son of a ronin and had connections with local samurai might have triggered a violent retaliation, but they stuck by the monk regardless. Tsunetomo notes he lived the rest of his life peacefully, warmly received as a hero in every town he visited. The story had circulated everywhere.
  • Badass on Paper: This is what Tsunetomo accuses the vast majority of young samurai from his era to be. He is particularly resentful about the fact that said young samurai are becoming increasingly materialistic, with their thoughts becoming despicable and their sense of duty faltering.
  • Battle Couple: Aside from the aforementioned husband and wife and their little asskicking spree, Tsunetomo believes any samurai should feel this way towards his Heterosexual Life-Partner or lover.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: In one anecdote a samurai offers advice on a Go game, causing the losing player to slash him. He receives a mortal wound to his thigh but manages to make it seem as if he was uninjured, and furthermore says that the incident is no big deal. A bit later when the other samurai who had attacked him approaches him to offer sake, he is promptly beheaded. The injured samurai then reveals his wounds to the others present and tells them that he could save just enough energy to get his revenge, and dies.
  • Best Served Cold: Tsunetomo strongly disagrees with the idea of biding your time for revenge, saying that if you don't take revenge immediately you're more likely to lose your nerve and never go through with it. He actually criticizes The 47 Ronin for taking so long to implement their plan, since it would have been all for nothing if Lord Kira had died of illness during that time. He goes so far as to say it's better to rush in like Leeroy Jenkins even if you get cut down before you reach your target, since that is at least an honorable way to die.
  • Bling of War: Taken to the extreme with a certain Tazaki Geki who wore an overly decorated and pompous armor, which displeased Lord Katsushige and prompted him to compare everything he saw as showy to Geki's armor.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: One of the most famous publications about the fearless mindset of an ideal samurai? It came from a man who (while he was in fact a samurai) never saw combat due to living during a time of peace.
  • Blood Knight: A samurai is a warrior and his main job is to fight. This became problematic both in messagenote  and contextnote .
  • Can't Catch Up: Averted as Tsunetomo says that a talentless servant with will and dedication can catch up to or surpass one with natural talent. One anecdote tells of Yagyu Munenori immediately certifying a complete newcomer without any previous martial arts experience. This was because the newcomer had since long internalized the principles of martial arts but wasn't really aware of it.
  • Career-Building Blunder: Quoted.
    At the time when there was a council of a certain man, the council members were at the point of deciding that promotion was useless because of the fact that the man had previously been involved in a drunken brawl. But someone said, "If we were to cast aside every man who had made a mistake once, useful men could probably not be come by. A man who makes a mistake once will be considerably more prudent and useful because of his repentance. I feel that he should be promoted."
    Someone else then asked, "Will you guarantee him?"
    The man replied, "Of course I will."
    The others asked, "By what will you guarantee him?"
    And he replied, "I can guarantee him by the fact that he is a man who has erred once. A man who has never once erred is dangerous." This said, the man was promoted.
  • The Clan: The Nabeshima clan. Several others are mentioned, like the Tokugawa.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: When a doctor challenges Buddhism by asking a priest called Daiyu to resurrect a newly deceased patient, Daiyu starts meditating and the man comes back to life for half a year. Tsunetomo has no doubts about the event as it was told to him by the priest Tannen.
  • Cultured Badass: See Warrior Poet. There is a strong clash in the writing between the "ideal samurai of the past" (a warrior who acts) and "ideal samurai of contemporary times" (a warrior who is well-versed). While the whole treatise tries to sell the first, it does so through a lot of philosophical musing.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Denko's tale is full of the stuff. His family's young child and grandmother are killed, Denko's younger brother avenge them and is killed in turn by the killer's younger brother, Denko then seeks to avenge him but hears that the younger brother will be surrounded with other people and instead enacts vengeance on the younger brother's father. The cycle only ever ended because Denko is both exiled from the area and protected by his parishioners on his journey out.
  • Death Seeker: The book famously portrays samurai as someone who should fully and totally embrace the notion of one's mortality and inevitable death and then pursue it.
  • Determinator: "Even if one’s head were to be suddenly cut off, he should be able to do one more action with certainty."
  • Face Death with Dignity: According to Tsunetomo, whether you succeed or fail is not as important as whether you meet your death honorably.
  • Fate Worse than Death: To shame one's family house and soil one's honour? If not rectified, it will haunt the family for future generations.
  • A Father to His Men: This attitude is encouraged. According to Tsunetomo, a leader should treat his men with respect and compassion, fostering morale and a powerful connection amongst all comrades.
  • The Fettered: The ideal samurai according to this book, devoted in body and soul to his tenets such that the face of death itself has no power over him in the pursuit of duty.
  • Fright Deathtrap: One anecdote tells of a man in China who really loved dragons. To make him happy, the Dragon god sent an underling to the man, giving him the chance to see a real dragon. His plan backfired when the man instantly died of fright.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Somewhat suggested lifestyle for the samurai. But rather than being simply a hot-head, one should instead make all the decision in an instant, without wasting more than "five breaths" to elaborate on them, but just act.
  • Handicapped Badass: A thief tries to steal from a sick samurai suffering a hard fever. Do the math.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: One anecdote tells of a retainer who dives inside a burning mansion to recover his lord's genealogy. Unable to escape the flames, he cuts his stomach open and places it inside to shield it. He dies, but the genealogy is recovered intact.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Another attitude encouraged. It makes sense, given the author's take on gay relationships and male bonding.
  • Honor Before Reason: A major theme, obviously.
  • How Unscientific!: Tsunetomo mentions that it is absurd to claim that rare or unexpected events (like solar eclipses, comets, strangely shaped clouds, etc.) are portents of future events.
  • Important Haircut: Or, rather, Important Mustache Cut. While the samurai valued their hair as a symbol of their status as warriors, it's recounted that many would cultivate mustaches so their decapitated heads would be identified after the battle. Although it's pointed out the enemy would often shave the mustaches, just to pour salt in the wound.
    • It was more of a matter of having the guarantee that your head would be preserved by the enemy and not thrown away, as only the heads of males were kept as kill trophies. The nose and ears were cut off, but the head would be definitely kept if a mustache was present.
  • Karmic Death: Gorouemon (an abhorrent thug who murdered a child boy and his grandmother for the child accidentally stepping on his foot) is rightfully slain for his crimes by Denko's younger brother.
  • Kid Samurai: One anecdote tells of a 13-year old youngster who, after hearing Takeda Shingen's proclamation of a big reward for any man who could kill Lord Ieyasu, becomes Ieyasu's servant and then attempts to kill him, but fails and gets caught. Ieyasu is greatly impressed by his motives and sends him back to Takeda.
  • Made of Iron: Some accounts have a few samurai surviving mortal wounds. In particular, one low-ranking samurai— formerly a cook— ran straight into enemy lines to kill as many enemies for his lord as possible. When the fight was over and he was pulled out of the fray, he suffered numerous lacerations. He lived.
    • Another example is about a man named Horie San'emon, who was sentenced to death by torture. All the hairs on his body were burnt off, his fingernails pulled out, his tendons cut and his body bored with drills. He reportedly didn't even flinch. So he was subjected to a number of other tortures, and in the end he was boiled in soy sauce and his back was bent into two, at which point he probably died.
  • Manly Gay: You're a samurai, you're contractually obligated to kick some ass, and chances are you have a male lover (a very popular trend among the samurai). You're this by default.
  • Manly Tears: Lord Naoshige says that it is normal and understandable for one to shed tears out of a sense of giri.
  • Master Swordsman: A few are seen here and there.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: A major theme of the Hagakure.
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be: The book is product of nostalgic stories told by an old samurai to younger one, with both of them longing for a past that never really was there, since they were samurai during a time entirely of peace. The result is highly idealized vision of what a samurai was and what he should be. A few decades later, what was composed as personal notes and musings turned into a semi-official handbook on how to be a samurai, dialing up the Nostalgia Filter into absurdity.
  • Off with His Head!: Averted by a certain Nitta Yoshisada, who after realizing that he and his forces were surrounded by the enemy, beheaded himself and buried his head before dying.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: An entire book about how to properly live as one.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Even though it's a book on the philosophy of the samurai... it's also a book on proper etiquette. Hey, they're samurai, they're noblemen.
    • Not to mention the blatant adoration of gay love.
  • Redemption Equals Death: The logic behind seppuku. Also counts as Forgiveness Requires Death in samurai culture.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Both this and the trope right below are often subverted by Tsunemoto. The act of revenge is an ugly thing, and may tarnish one's honor. Played straight with the Denko the monk's story.
    • Tsunetomo definitely supports taking more or less justified revenge, and he stresses that in revenge speed is essential above all, which is why he isn't too enthusiastic about the Forty-seven Ronin.
  • Rōnin: Especially interesting is Tsunetomo's mention about how a samurai could be made ronin more than once if the master wanted to. Tsunetomo stresses that roninhood is also an opportunity to serve the master. There also seems to be a line dividing "temporary" ronins and those who have been banished permanently.
  • Samurai: The book eventually became the basis for the whole archetype and a sort-of-handbook how to be one. Never mind it was idealised image created by someone writing down his own nostalgic musings about past that never was and then further re-written and re-contextualised after Meiji Restoration.
  • Saved From Their Own Honor: To maintain a harmonious society, subordinates must act with utter selflessness for their superior, but the superior must also be benevolent enough to know when following the rules too strictly is bad.
  • Seppuku: Many instances throughout the book, but curiously averted with the author. Around his time, the practice of tsuifuku— the servant committing seppuku at the death of his lord— was prohibited by the Tokugawa Shogunate and by Lord Mitsushige himself. It was thus illegal to commit seppuku for that reason, thereby he couldn't die with his lord. If he did, we never would have had the Hagakure. Therefore, Author Existence Failure averted!
    • Still, he renounced the samurai life after Mitsushige's death and became a monk, so in a way committed a symbolic seppuku.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: And you thought it was just a cliché in film and anime, huh?
  • The Stoic: One samurai comes back home to catch a strange man in bed with his wife. He promptly kills the man, then damages a wall in his house and so makes the incident pass as though he had killed a robber. After some time, he divorces his wife.
  • Taking You with Me: There is a lot of focus on fulfilling your mission, regardless of the costs. Which in many situations means sacrificing one's life - and cherishing it - to kill the target.
  • True Companions: According to Tsunetomo, a samurai should always make more friends than enemies. Examples of samurai being asked to be kaishakus (meaning that they will take on the act of beheading their comrade after he cuts his belly open) by their friends who have been ordered to commit seppuku also pertain to this.
  • Truth in Television: The Hagakure is definitive proof that such a thing called "bushido" actually existed. Downplayed in that it's not really what it is represented as in media. Tsunetomo mentions that most clans have a code for their warriors to adhere to, and the actual intricacy, length and contents of these codes will vary. He gives the example of the "Four Vows of the Nabeshima samurai", the bushido code of the clan he belongs to. And of course, the actual adherence to these values by individual samurai will also vary.
  • Victorious Loser: Even if slain in battle, face the opponent. Never falter. Never close your eyes. Even if your head is cut off, it is certain the body can be capable of one last action.
  • Warrior Poet: A strange Zig-Zagging Trope. Tsunetomo speaks out against the arts as being the samurai's primary concern or interest, yet he's very philosophical about the nature of death and loyalty. Other passages speak how a samurai should refine his mind through poetry, yet— as said— "artistry" is reserved for "other classes."
    • This might have to do with the fact that at the time of Hagakure's writing, Tsunetomo is technically no longer a samurai, having become a monk after Lord Mitsushige's death.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Two samurai have a conversation about one's character "in the darkness of battle."
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: An anecdote tells of a small story of Lord Nabeshima travelling with his men across the country. Stopping by an old house, one of his men proceeds to suggest the lord should meet the oldest man in the region. His age? Ninety-eight years old. The advisor claims it's a wonderful thing for a man to have lived so long (especially given this is seventeenth century Japan). Nabeshima, however, is skeptical that longevity is a gift. He's quick to point out that the old man must be old enough to have outgrown most— if not all— his friends and family, arguing prolonged life is tragic, worthless and isolating. This ties in with the book's overall theme of embracing death. To run away, an act of cowardice according to Tsunetomo, is to not fulfill life itself.
  • Womanliness as Pathos: The book goes at length about the unreliability of women in general. For example, it is emphasized that a samurai has to avoid allowing a son to grow too close to his mother (such as by being too strict... as a woman will "naturally" side with her son) or by allowing too much contact between the two after a certain age. The book goes on to say that the concepts of "reason" and "women" are mutually exclusive, that women should not have contact with any man closer than a distance of six feet, and that it is good to be strict with daughters and let them endure suffering under the assumption that Misery Builds Character and their strife will end once properly married.

Alternative Title(s): Hagakure