Opinions are divided when it comes to Japan's current Constitution, issued during the U.S. Occupation of 1945 -52: Is it an American imposition that unfairly refuses to recognize the nation as a "normal country" or a precious war-renouncing document that reflects Japan's unique status as the only country to have experienced the horrors of a nuclear bomb?

The crisis over the Constitution is the latest manifestation of a debate about the true nature of the "soul of Japan" that has been running continuously from the early 1890s. It was in 1889 that Japan promulgated its first modern Constitution, one that consciously imitated the constitutions of 19th-century European states. Around this time the word "Bushido," a little-known name given to the samurai code, was first used in scholarly essays as a key to understanding the Japanese character. As the Constitution declared Japan's modernity, theories about Bushido pushed the idea that Japan could also match the "civilized" West. Bushido was presented as the equivalent of European "chivalry" and the code of the British "gentleman."

Critics have pointed out that no such word as Bushido existed before the Edo Period (1603-1868). Confucianism predominated at that time, and there was no uniform moral code among the samurai class.