The Japanese Ethos: A Study of National Character
248pp. November 2012
The Japanese Ethos: A Study of National Character
Author: Yasuoka Masahiro;
The Japanese Ethos: A Study of National Character is a seminal work of Yasuoka Masahiro (1898-1983). Published in 1924 despite Yasuoka’s dissatisfaction with its shortcomings, the book was kept out of print by Yasuoka until popularity prompted reissuance in 1934 and 1937.

In 1924, some 50 years after opening to the world in the Meiji Restoration, Japan was drowning in a flood of Western ideas, and all of Asia was in turmoil. The British-Afghan War had erupted just 5 years before, followed by Gandhi’s nationwide “non-cooperation” campaign in India one year later. Yasuoka, still in his 20s, and deeply troubled by Western decadence infecting Japan in this time of crisis, urged development of an independent national character. “Now, before our eyes in Japan, citizens, one and all, are unequivocally conscious of being confronted with a terrible crisis. The time is now for Japan, as a nation, to realize a remarkable development of character.”

The Japanese Ethos was written to guide Japan to a promising future through the wisdom of ancient teachings. In it, Yasuoka describes a history and tradition nurtured for more than 2000 years. The moral examples depicted are primarily samurai and he discusses in detail the character traits a samurai must cultivate. In later chapters he gives examples of men of great character. Two chapters address kendo (sword fighting), whose spirit “became the foundation of all the arts and letters, and of Eastern thought.” The samurai spirit was the leading force for the Meiji Restoration and is the essence of this book. For Japan, which lost much of its culture after World War II, The Japanese Ethos has awakened a nation from slumber. Though written nearly a century ago, it is surprisingly current and makes us ponder what it truly means to be Japanese.


Distributed for Honolulu Foundation
“More than 20 years after Yasuoka’s death, legions of Japanese still adore him as “the Master of the Well-Lived Life,” and look to him for words to live by. Major book stores devote specific shelves to his more than 70 books, lecture tapes and CD’s, as well as books written about Yasuoka. This first English translation of his work will introduce his wisdom to a new universe of followers. I trust they will find in Yasuoka’s words the same inspiration and encouragement as has supported me in the most trying times of my life.” —Ryohei Kamiwatari, bestselling Japanese author
Author: Yasuoka Masahiro;
Yasuoka Masahiro, born in Osaka in 1898 to a samurai family, graduated from Tokyo Imperial University in 1922, where he studied Western philosophy and politics. Though never occupying a public office himself, he was an influential educator and advisor to numerous leaders in Japan. He established several educational institutes while still in his 20s, and, after World War II, he founded Shiyu Society to educate the general public, young and old. Concurrently, he taught business and political leaders the “Great Leader’s Way”: lessons on cultivating moral character and becoming a “great man.” At the time of his funeral in 1984, Emperor Hirohito expressed his condolences, and every living Japanese Prime Minister attended, as well as top business and political leaders from Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.