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Shimadzu Iroha-no-uta - Part 3

Life lessons for the samurai of Kagoshima from 500 years ago

shimadzu shimazu clan

The Shimadzu Iroha-no-uta is a collection of short poems written by Shimadzu Tadayoshi in the mid-1500s.

These 47 precepts each beginning with a letter of the traditional Japanese alphabet were used to educate the samurai of Kagoshima in basic morals for over 300 years.

This is the third part of a series of eight articles on the Iroha-no-uta.

Part one can be found here, and part two here.

 私を捨てて君にしむかはねば うらみも起こり 述懐もあり

In serving your lord, cast off your ego and selfishness or you will be consumed by bitterness and regret.

When we work in an organization, there are times that we must forget about our ego and get on with the work we have to do. If we do not do this we will only build up resentment and bitterness about our position and will prevent ourselves from progressing.

 学問はあしたの潮のひるまにも なみのよるこそ なほ静かなれ

Practise learning from morning to afternoon, but especially in the quiet of the evening.

We must set about study diligently from morning through the afternoon, but the best time for learning is at night when there is quiet and there are few distractions. In the modern world it is increasingly difficult to set about self-improvement when surrounded by technology which can easily preoccupy us, but even if we have a little time each evening to dedicate to learning we will surely benefit.

 善きあしき人の上にて身を磨け 友はかがみと なるものぞかし

Know the good and bad of others. Use your friends as a mirror to cultivate yourself.

We must ascertain the good and bad points in other people as it is very difficult to see them in yourself. Then using our closest friends like a mirror examine their behavior to see where we might be at fault. The point here is not to criticize the behavior of other people, simply to use it as a guideline for the improvement of ourselves. This also perhaps hints at the fact that keeping bad company will only lead to the degradation of our own character.

Hiking Trail Entrance mossy steps

 種子となる心の水にまかせずば 道より外に 名も流れまじ

Water the seeds of wickedness that reside in your mind and you will stray from the righteous way, with your reputation in tow.

We must avoid indulging the evil thoughts that we have as they will ultimately lead us away from the true path and spoil our reputation. Instead we must remove these “seeds of wickedness” and cultivate a righteous mind.

 礼するは人にするかは人をまた さぐるは人を 下ぐるものかは

Are manners and etiquette really for the sake of others? Look down on other people, and you will be looked down on yourself.

We must not make the mistake of thinking that correct manners and etiquette are for the sake of other people. Manners and etiquette are for our own development, and treating other people disrespectfully, regardless of their position in society will only lead to others looking down on us as people of inferior character in return.

 そしるにも二つあるべし大方は 主人のために なるものと知れ

There are two ways in which retainers speak ill of their superiors. Know which is self-serving, and which is for the sake of the lord.

Retainers will generally speak ill of their superiors in one of two ways. The first is purely for self-serving means in order to justify their own actions and raise their position. The second is because they genuinely care about the situation at hand and are willing to speak up in order to have it resolved. This teaching warns us to determine which is which and to act accordingly.

Part four of the Iroha-no-uta is here.

Alex Bradshaw

Alex is the Head of Overseas Business for Shimadzu Limited, and has lived in Kagoshima for over 15 years.

He has spent many years studying traditional swordsmanship, and has demonstrated martial arts for the Crown Prince of Japan as well as at many venerable shrines across Japan. He also practices calligraphy, zazen, and many other elements of Japanese culture and has translated several works on the subject.

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