Nitobe Inazô (1862-1933) was a Japanese educator, cultural interpreter, and civil servant most famous for his creation of the myth of "bushido," as expounded in his famous 1899 tract, Bushido: The Soul of Japan.
Nitobe grew up in the provincial city of Morioka in northeast Japan, the son of a family of samurai heritage. After schooling in Tokyo, he attended Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University), where he majored in agricultural economics and became a Christian. Nitobe's newfound beliefs led him to become increasingly interested in the West and eventually inspired his dream to become a "bridge over the Pacific" between Japanese and Western cultures.
In 1883 he enrolled in Tokyo University where he studied English literature and economics, but left after one year to study in the United States for three years and then in Germany for three more, returning to Japan having written one book in both English and German, and earned the first of his five doctoral degrees (two of them honorary). While in the United States, Nitobe became a Quaker, and on his way back to Japan in 1891 he married Mary Elkinton, the daughter of a leading Philadelphia Quaker businessman.
Nitobe taught for several years at his alma mater in Sapporo, but had to resign in 1897 due to a decline in health. He returned to Philadelphia in 1898 with his wife, and in 1899, he published his most famous work, Bushido: The Soul of Japan.
Written entirely in English, Bushido was an attempt to equate the samurai ethos with the Christian morality of the medieval European code of chivalry. The result was one of the enduring myths about Japanese culture, and the image of the samurai as a warrior-saint, an epitome of loyalty and integrity, who spouted poetry upon the least provocation and never fought for anything but the most righteous of causes. Samurai virtue, such as it was, was based on the Chinese Confucian classics, but of course this didn't go well with Nitobe's Christianizing mission or his conception of Bushido as uniquely Japanese. And of course, the samurai were just as good at raping and pillaging as any other warriors, but this somehow escaped mention.
The term "bushido" hardly existed before Nitobe popularized it, yet even today, Japanese and Westerners alike continue to read the book to learn about Japan's "unique" and "ancient" warrior ways.
After recovering from his illness, Nitobe returned to Japan. He served as head of the first Higher School in Tokyo from 1906 to 1913, when he became a professor of colonial policy at Tokyo University. In 1918 he was part of the Japanese delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference that officially ended World War I, and stayed on in Geneva as under-secretary-general of the newly created League of Nations for seven years, before returning to Japan in 1926 to become chairman of the Japanese branch of the Institute of Pacific Relations, a post he held until his death in 1933.
Nitobe's numerous writings in English made him the most famous Japanese writer in the West in his own lifetime. In commemoration of his numerous public services, Nitobe's image appears today on Japan's 5,000 yen note.