Hagakure means “In the Shadow of Leaves.” It is a foundational text of bushidō, the “way of the warrior.” It was dictated between 1709 and 1716 by a retired samurai, Yamamoto Tsunetomo (1659-1719), to a young retainer, Tashirō Tsuramoto (1678-1748). The Hagakure is not a rigorous philosophical exposition, but contains the reflections of a seasoned warrior. It became well known in the 1930s, when Japanese nationalists embraced the supposed spirit of bushidō.
Here are some excerpts:
I have found that the Way of the samurai is death. This means that when you are compelled to choose between life and death, you must quickly choose death. There is nothing more to it than that. You just make up your mind and go forward. The idea that to die without accomplishing your purpose is undignified and meaningless, just dying like a dog, is the
pretentious bushidō of the city slickers of Kyoto and Osaka. In a situation when you have to choose between life and death, there is no way to make sure that your purpose will be accomplished. All of us prefer life over death, and you can always find more reasons for choosing what you like over what you dislike. If you fail and you survive, you are a coward. This is a perilous situation to be in. If you fail and you die, people may say your death was meaningless or that you were crazy, but there will be no shame. Such is the power of the martial way. When every morning and every evening you die anew, constantly making yourself one with death, you will obtain freedom in the martial way, and you will be able to fulfill your calling throughout your life without falling into error.
A man of service (hōkōnin) is a person who thinks fervently and intently of his lord from the bottom of his heart and regards his lord as more important than anything else. This is to be a retainer of the highest type. You should be grateful to be born in a clan that has established a glorious name for many generations and for the boundless favor received from the ancestors of the clan, [and you should] just throw away your body and mind in a single‑minded devotion to the service of your lord. On top of this, if you also have wisdom, arts, and skills and make yourself useful in such ways as these permit, that is even better. However, even if a humble bloke who cannot make himself useful at all, who is clumsy and unskilled at everything, is determined to cherish his lord fervently and exclusively, he can be a reliable retainer. The retainer who tries to make himself useful only in accordance with his wisdom and skills is of a lower order. [part 1, nos. 2‑3]
Bushidō is nothing but charging forward, without hesitation, unto death (shinigurui). A bushi in this state of mind is difficult to kill even if he is attacked by twenty or thirty people.
This is what Lord Naoshige1 used to say, too. In a normal state of mind, you cannot accomplish a great task. You must become like a person crazed (kichigai) and throw yourself into it as if there were no turning back (shinigurui). Moreover, in the Way of the martial arts, as soon as discriminating thoughts (funbetsu) arise, you will already have fallen behind. There is no need to think of loyalty and filial piety. In bushidō there is nothing but shinigurui. Loyalty and filial piety are already fully present on their own accord in the state of shinigurui. [part 1, no. 113]
There is really nothing other than the thought that is right before you at this very moment. Life is just a concatenation of one thought‑moment after another. If one truly realizes this, then there is nothing else to be in a hurry about, nothing else that one must seek. Living is just a matter of holding on to this thought‑moment right here and now and getting on with it. But everyone seems to forget this, seeking and grasping for this and that as if there were something somewhere else but missing what is right there in front of their eyes. Actually, it takes many years of practice and experience before one becomes able to stay with this present moment without drifting away. However, if you attain that state of mind just once, even if you cannot hold onto it for very long, you will find that you have a different attitude toward life. For once you really understand that everything comes down to this one thought‑moment right here and now. You will know that there are not many things you need to be concerned about. All that we know of as loyalty and integrity are present completely in this one thought‑moment.
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.
It is bad when one thing becomes two.
One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai.
It is the same for anything that is called a Way.
If one understands things in this manner,
he should be able to hear about all ways
and be more and more in accord with his own.
If one were to say in a word what the condition of being a samurai is,
its basis lies first in seriously devoting one’s body and soul to his
It is a good viewpoint to see the world as a dream.
When you have something like a nightmare,
you will wake up and tell yourself that it was only a dream.
It is said that the world we live in is not a bit different from this.
Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige’s wall, there was this one:
“Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.”
Master Ittei commented,
“Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.”
Even if one’s head were to be suddenly cut off,
he should be able to do one more action with certainty.
With martial valor, if one becomes like a revengeful ghost
and shows great determination, though his head is cut off,
he should not die.
In the words of the ancients,
one should make his decision within the space of seven breaths.
It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit
to break through to the other side.
There is something to be learned from a rainstorm.
When meeting with a sudden shower,
you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road.
But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses,
you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning,
you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking.
This understanding extends to everything.
Our bodies are given life from the midst of nothingness.
Existing where there is nothing is the meaning of the phrase,
“form is emptiness.”
That all things are provided for by nothingness is the meaning of the
“Emptiness is form.”
One should not think that these are two separate things.
When one has made a decision to kill a person,
even if it will be very difficult to succeed by advancing straight
it will not do to think about doing it in a long, roundabout way.
One’s heart may slacken, he may miss his chance,
and by and large there will be no success.
The Way of the Samurai is one of immediacy,
and it is best to dash in headlong.
It is said that what is called the Spirit of an Age
is something to which one cannot return.
That this spirit gradually dissipates is due to the world’s coming to an end.
In the same way, a single year does not have just spring or summer.
A single day, too, is the same.
For this reason, although one would like to change today’s world
back to the spirit of one hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done.
Thus it is important to make the best out of every generation.
In the Kamigata area, they have a sort of tiered lunchbox
they use for a single day when flower viewing.
Upon returning, they throw them away, trampling them underfoot.
The end is important in all things.