SOAS University of London

Japan Research Centre

Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan

Oleg Benesch: Book Cover: Inventing the Way of the Samurai
Dr Oleg Benesch (University of York)

Date: 26 November 2014Time: 5:05 PM

Finishes: 26 November 2014Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Seminar


This talk discusses the development of bushidō (the 'way of the samurai'), which is popularly viewed as a defining element of the Japanese national character and even the 'soul of Japan'. Rather than a continuation of ancient traditions, however, bushidō developed from a search for identity during Japan's modernization in the late nineteenth century. By the 1880s, the samurai were widely viewed as a relic of a bygone age, and the first significant discussions of bushidō around 1890 were strongly influenced by contemporary European ideals of gentlemen and chivalry. At the same time, Japanese thinkers increasingly looked to their own traditions in search of sources of national identity, and this process accelerated as national confidence grew with military victories over China and Russia. In the early twentieth century, bushidō became a core subject in civilian and military education, and was a key ideological pillar supporting the imperial state until its collapse in 1945. The close identification of bushidō with Japanese militarism meant that it was rejected immediately after the war, but different interpretations of bushidō were soon revived by both Japanese and foreign commentators, and this talk explores the resurgence of bushidō in the twenty-first century.

Speaker Biography

Dr Oleg Benesch is Anniversary Research Lecturer in History at the University of York, specializing in the history of early modern and modern Japan. Dr. Benesch obtained his PhD from the University of British Columbia, and was Past & Present Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London. His publications and teaching interests cover a variety of fields, including Japanese intellectual, religious, and social history, Chinese intellectual history, as well as the transnational history of modern East Asia. Dr. Benesch's book Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan (Oxford University Press, Sept. 2014) examines the historical development of the ostensibly traditional Japanese ethic of bushido—the “way of the samurai”—from the nineteenth century onward.

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