I'm searching for the source of the Japanese story of a samurai spat upon which Joseph Campbell relates in The Power of Myth. (Oddly, the book has no citation on this).

. . . there is a story . . . of the samurai, the Japanese warrior, who had the duty to avenge the murder of his overlord. When he cornered the man who had murdered his overlord, and he was about to deal with him with his samurai sword, the man in the corner, in the passion of terror, spat in the warrior’s face. And the warrior sheathed the sword and walked away. [he did this] because he was made angry, and if he had killed that man in anger, then it would have been a personal act. And he had come to do another kind of act, an impersonal act of vengeance . . .
The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, page 75.

Does anyone know of a primary source or reference to the original source to this Japanese story or legend?

I am aware of Islamic/ Sufi stories with similar plot elements, but I'm interested in the Japanese story Campbell mentions.

I have asked a well-read friend in Japan but he is unaware of this legend. I have also searched in The Revenge of the Forty-seven Samurai - Haugaard, Erik Christian.

  • 1
    I don't think 忠臣蔵/47 ronin has anything to do with it. It sounds like a tale from folklore that didn't reach the level of national popularity.
    – Eddie Kal
    Oct 22, 2020 at 17:37
  • 2
    Just a thought: Might Campbell have misremembered the Sufi story as a Samurai story? Nov 9, 2022 at 16:56

1 Answer 1


I too have been looking for the source of this story in Japanese literature and have not had any success. However this story is mentioned in Rumi’s Mathnawi, last story of book one (please refer to Nicholson’s translation, which is most respected among scholars). In Mathnawi the warrior is Imam Ali. The story is mentioned in other Islamic literature as well. I wonder if Joseph Campbell mixed up the origin of the story.

  • Yes, as I said above: "I am aware of Islamic/ Sufi stories with similar plot elements, but I'm interested in the Japanese story Campbell mentions." I use both the Ali story (in Rumi and elsewhere) and Campbell's Samurai story as an examples, but I wanted to cite Campbell's source directly. I'm currently looking into translations of Chūshingura for rōnin stories (spitting going on for certain) --but no luck yet. I'm working on the assumption that Campbell published and spoke accurately--he wrote/said it more than once. Jan 20 at 21:05

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