As a student of both Chinese culture and martial arts, I am often bewildered by the stereotypes and misconceptions that people have about both of these subjects. OF course, Chinese and Japanese cultures are not the same thing, but in people's minds they sometimes become so. I have wondered where stereotypes about Asian culture, such as that it is stoic, unfeeling and encourages a blind obedience to authority, or that the truest way to live is in nilhistic self-abnegation, have come from.
After reading the Hagakure of Tsunetomo Yamamoto, translated by Minoru Tanaka and edited by Justin F. Stone, I have some idea where these ideas might come from. In this case it is not just confused Westerners seeking enlightenment who are confusing two different traditions. Bushido, the core of values that Yamamoto espouses, is taken from the Chinese words wu shi dao, Martial Official Way. The concept of the shi, the educated person who serves others, goes far back in Chinese history and is a very important concept in confucianism. And although Yamamoto uses the term, and places a great emphasis on government service, this book has nothing to do with Confucian ethics.
Although this book is not a work of philosophy, and mostly consists of small sayings on practical matters (such as how to stop yourself from yawning and carry on a homosexual dalliance) when it does have a philosophy, it seems to be the idea of blind unwavering service to the clan, unemcumbered by ideas of life and death. To do this, the major thing that must be accomplished is control, over oneself and others. This control must be strict and applied from outside, lest a person become weak. The justification of this is somehow related to the Heart Sutra.
This book is a hodge podge of mystical beliefs and rigidly applied social structures, all in the service of a military aristocracy and its constant warfare. If this were "Asian Culture" or even Japanese culture, I would be the first to condemn Asian culture. This way of thinking isn't just immoral, it is also childish. As much as ninja spies , sword fights and Machivellian schemes may be cool in Lone Wolf and Cub, or on realultimatepower.net, nations don't become powerful because they are led by self-driven overmen with big swords and unblinking resolves. If anyone wants to know what makes a nation powerful, both in Asian thought and in reality, go read the Mencius.