I came across an academic analysis of Hagakure. "Embracing Death: Pure will in Hagakure" by Olivier Ansart, University of Sydney.
It's extremely well-researched, but the author can't wrap his mind around the concepts because they're so alien to him.
Here's a footnote, for instance - emphasis added:
There would indeed be some conceptual contradiction, or at least tension, in the notion of a blind obedience that would depend on reward. The ideal of unconditional, or gratuitous, service was of course frequently encountered in the moral discourses of the period – and was later often singled out as one striking difference between the feudal relationships in Japan and in Europe. However in practice, cases where harshness, ingratitude and shabby treatment of the retainers by their master all but dissolved the obligations they felt to his person or family were even more common. After all, absent a favor to be returned could there be an intelligible reason for good and loyal service?
It's funny, because Ansart is staring at the whole picture. He has thoroughly digested the words of Hagakure, but can't think like its meaning.
He writes, "After all, absent a favor to be returned could there be an intelligible reason for good and loyal service?"
This would be the same if a military chemist couldn't grasp someone who liked learning just to learn. Couldn't you imagine such a man writing, "After all, absent a productive use to be found could there be an intelligible reason for reading and scholarship?"
The answer comes down to ethics. Service as an ethic is alien to so many academics. "I serve." They don't get it. Some do. A few. But a number of my friends have gone into the academy for longer or shorter periods of time, and the observations have always been similar - it's not a place of scholarship and diligent service, but rather of all sorts of politics and backbiting where you desperately try to carve out your own private sphere in a confusing bureaucratic jungle.
Which is a shame, because it shouldn't be that way.
Regardless. Many academics can't conceive of warrior's ethics, of which "service as an ethic" is sometimes one of them. Service is its own reward. You should choose what you serve very carefully, but then follow that cause fanatically as long as the underlying chosen reason remains there and cohesive. (Abandoning, for instance, a religion that revealed itself to be an insane cult on further scrutiny, or an economic system that results in pure destruction would be no breach of service, if you entered in that service to elevate humanity.)
But the good doctor Ansart has a hard time conceptualizing service as its own ethic with its own reward for its adherence, just like the military chemist can't imagine scholarship as its own ethic with ots own reward for faithful adherence.
I love academia in theory. I like a lot of academia in practice. But much of it can't imagine life outside of the towers. Choose your causes carefully and devote yourself fully. Service is its own reward.
(This isn't a sleight against the good doctor, though. There are some interesting insights in there, and it's worth a read if you're interested in the topic. The language is unnecessarily verbose, but that just comes with the territory. The analysis is worth reading.)