From Academic Kids

Japanese Name
Kanji 武士道
Hiragana ぶしどう

Japanese samurai in armour, 1860 photograph.For other uses of the term bushido see bushido (disambiguation)

Bushido (Template:Ll: 武士道; bushidō, "way of the warrior"), was an ethical code of conduct, developed between the 11th to 14th centuries and was formalized during the opening years of the Tokugawa shogunate for the members of the Samurai class. According to the Japanese Dictionary Shogakkan Kokugo Daijiten: "Bushido is defined as a unique philosophy (ronri) that spread through the warrior class from the Muromachi (chusei) period."

Inazo Nitobe, author of Bushido: The Soul of Japan describes Bushido as an unwritten code: "...Bushido, then, is the code of moral principles which the knights were required or instructed to observe. It is not a written code; at best it consists of a few maxims handed down from mouth to mouth or coming from the pen of some well-known warrior or savant. More frequently it is a code unuttered and unwritten, possessing all the more the powerful sanction of veritable deed, and of a law written on the fleshly tablets of the heart. It was founded not on the creation of one brain, however able, or on the life of a single personage, however renowned. It was an organic growth of decades and centuries of military career."



The famous warlord Imagawa Ryoshun would write in 1412: "In Governing the country, it is dangerous to lack even one of the virtues of humanity, righteousness, etiquette and wisdom. It is forbidden to forget the great debt of kindness one owes to his master and ancestors and thereby make light of the virtues of loyalty and filial piety.....There is a primary need to distinguish loyalty from disloyalty and to establish rewards and punishments.....it is written in the Four Books and Five Classics as well as in the military writings that in protecting the country, if one is ignorant in the study of literature, he will be unable to govern. Just as Buddha preached the various laws in order to save all living beings, one must rack one's brains and never depart from the Ways of both Warrior and Literary Man."

Imagawa Ryoshun was a leading general and strategist of his time. He wrote prolifically despite being posted to military hotspots by the Shogun. His job was to suppress rebellion by rival samurai clans. Famed for his writings "Nan Taiheiki" and "Michiyukiburi", he penned THE REGULATIONS, to his brother Tadaki in traditional Kanbun script. They were a required study for traditional Japanese as a guide to proper moral behavior. Widely respected, THE REGULATIONS remained popular until World War II. Having taken Buddhist vows, Ryoshun is greatly admired as having achieved the warrior ideal—striking a balance between the military and literary arts.

Several famous Sengoku Daimyo mention Bushido in their writings. Lord Kato Kiyomasa (1562-1611) orders his men to follow it: "If a man does not investigate into the matter of Bushido daily, it will be difficult for him to die a brave and manly death. Thus it is essential to engrave this business of the warrior into one's mind well.....One should put forth great effort in matters of learning. One should read books concerning military matters, and direct his attention exclusively to the virtues of loyalty and filial piety.....Having been born into the house of a warrior, one's intentions should be to grasp the long and the short swords and to die."

In August 1600, Lord Torii Mototada cited Bushido as his reason for staying behind in a doomed castle with his 1,800 man garrison, knowing that Ishida Mitsunari's 40,000 soldiers were approaching: "I will stand off the forces of the entire country here....and die a resplendant death....It is not the Way of the Warrior to be shamed and avoid death even under circumstances that are not particularly important.....Even if all the other provinces of Japan were to unite against our lord, our descendants should not set foot inside another fief to the end of time....."

Torii Mototada's 10 day siege likely changed the course of Japanese history, enabling Ieyasu Tokugawa to win the Battle of Sekigahara. Fushimi Castle would fall after its defenders fought heroically to the last man and as was custom, Torii Mototada would kill himself rather than be taken alive.

In 1645 A.D. the swordsman Miyamoto Musashi would write in his famous book Go Rin No Sho (A Book of Five Rings): "It is said the warrior's is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way. Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death."

In the 14th year of Genroku, the 47 Ronin of Ako would cite Confucian edict as the reason for their famous vendetta. (As Translated by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford (1837-1916), Lord Redesdale, British Ambassador to Japan in his book "Tales of Old Japan") http://www.blackmask.com/thatway/books162c/taja.htm

"...still we, who have eaten of your food, could not without blushing repeat the verse, 'Thou shalt not live under the same heaven nor tread the same earth with the enemy of thy father or lord,' nor could we have dared to leave hell and present ourselves before you in paradise, unless we had carried out the vengeance which you began."

In the 1860's, Lord Redesdale lived in a house within sight of Sengaku-ji where the 47 Ronin were buried. Impressed by the loyalty displayed by the ronin, he toured Sengaku-ji and finding tattered and yellowed letters amongst the relics, he translated them for his book "Tales of Old Japan." Each of the ronin carried letters spelling out their intentions in case they were captured or killed. Also translated were the receipt provided by the relatives of Lord Kira for the return of his head and the final statement placed by the men on Lord Asano's tomb before surrendering for court martial.

Each of the men were aware of the seriousness of their actions. Onodera Junai would state in a letter to his wife in Kyoto:

"..Even if my dead body is shown, I think my duty will be fulfilled because my dead body will demonstrate Samurai loyalty to the entire country and it will strengthen their resolve."

In John Allyn's book, "The 47 Ronin Story", the leader of the 47 Ronin Oishi Kuranosuke is quoted as saying:

"Some people live all their lives without knowing which path is right. They're buffeted by this wind or that and never really know where they're going. That's largely the fate of the commoners--those who have no choice over their destiny. For those of us born as samurai, life is something else. We know the path of duty and we follow it without question."

In describing the 47 Ronin's sense of duty, Author Inazo Nitobe would make a comparison to western history in "Bushido: The Soul of Japan":

"What is the most beautiful thing on earth?" said Osiris to Horus. The reply was, "To avenge a parent's wrongs," -- to which a Japanese would have added, "and a master's." (Nitobe, 1899, p. 128)

Today, Sengakuji is a national shrine. Visitors to the temple at first notice what appears to be fog, but is actually the smoke from incense which has not gone out in hundreds of years the men have been buried there. Each year, thousands of people from around the world come to pay respects before the headstones of the faithful men. The 47 ronin are considered national heroes, forever guarding the honor of their beloved Lord Asano.


Bushido ethics

Bushido expanded and formalized the earlier code of the samurai, and stressed frugality, loyalty, mastery of martial arts, and honor to the death. Under the Bushido ideal, if a samurai failed to uphold his honor he could regain it by performing seppuku (ritual suicide). In an excerpt from the chapter "AN ACCOUNT OF THE HARA-KIRI" in Mitford's "Tales of Old Japan", the author describes a friend witnessing an act of Seppuku:

"There are many stories on record of extraordinary heroism being displayed in the hara-kiri. The case of a young fellow, only twenty years old, of the Choshiu clan, which was told me the other day by an eye-witness, deserves mention as a marvellous instance of determination. Not content with giving himself the one necessary cut, he slashed himself thrice horizontally and twice vertically. Then he stabbed himself in the throat until the dirk protruded on the other side, with its sharp edge to the front; setting his teeth in one supreme effort, he drove the knife forward with both hands through his throat, and fell dead."

According to Inazo Nitobe, Author of "Bushido: The Soul of Japan", "As to strictly ethical doctrines, the teachings of Confucius were the most prolific source of Bushido.....Next to Confucius, Mencius exercised an immense authority over Bushido. His forcible and often quite democratic theories were exceedingly taking to sympathetic natures, and they were even thought dangerous to, and subversive of, the existing social order, hence his works were for a long time under censure. Still, the words of this master mind found permanent lodgment in the heart of the samurai."

Bushido ethics were also influenced by Shintoism, the Chinese Classics, and the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, which promoted austerity, detachment and "no-mind" concentration as an ultimate approach to combat situations as well as daily life, and considered martial arts as a way to self-realization and to the expression of one's Buddha-nature.

Bushido was widely practiced and it is surprising how uniform the samurai code remained over time, crossing over all geographic and socio-economic backgrounds of the samurai. The samurai represented a wide populace numbering between 7 to 10% of the Japanese population, and the first Meiji era census at the end of the 19th century counted 1,282,000 members of the "high samurais", allowed to ride a horse, and 492,000 members of the "low samurai", allowed to wear two swords but not to ride a horse, in a country of about 25 million. ("Japan. A historical survey" Mikiso Hane). Although Japan enjoyed a period of peace during the Sakoku ("Closed country") period from the 17th to the mid-19th century, the samurai class remained and continued to play a center role in the policing of the country. The status of the samurai was abolished after the Meiji restoration, but the former samurai continued to play a key role in the industrialization of Japan.

Bushido ethics enjoyed a revival during World War II as a way to build up Japanese fighting spirit. It was particularly reinforced among the fighting forces as a means of portraying the value of self-sacrifice and loyalty, and culminated with the self-sacrifice of the kamikaze pilots.

Seven virtues associated with bushido

Major figures associated with bushido

See also


Further reading

"Translator William Scott Wilson offers us something unique with this book, first published in 1982 by Ohara. I can't recall any other source which includes this many specific writings on bushido (the warrior-gentleman's path)--there are 12 documents in this book, all written by different members of the warrior classes, dating from the 13th century (Hojo Shigetoki's "Message of Master Gokurakuji") to the 17th century (Kuroda Nagamasa's "Notes on Regulations")....Throughout the course of Wilson's translation, it is clear to see that the Samurai (serving warriors) were a people to whom consideration of others, polite manners and conduct were important.... In "Ideals of the Samurai", not only are many of the writings centuries apart, but they are from different families and different geographical areas of Japan. If you're curious about how the "old heads" ~really~ lived and what they thought about, this work is a must..."


"The story of the 47 ronin is THE national story of Japan.....As a Japanese citizen and modern day kendoist I find this story, regardless of the version, to be very stimulating, inspiring, and thought provoking.....The popularity of the story comes from the fact that the heroes had become an ideal. They embody all that a Nihonjin, a Japanese person strives to be...it is one of the most impressive examples of men who refuse to compromise their honor or integrity at any cost....This is a very moving book, and is much better than I had expected. The author does an excellent job of painting Japan as it then existed, and really brings the characters to life. I really enjoyed this great book, this stirring tale of honor, and highly recommend it to you...." http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0804801967/102-3900873-8147345?v=glance

"Just as water will conform to the shape of the vessel that contains it, so will a man follow the good and evil of his companions...This is simply saying that one should not love those who are evil. This is not limited to the man who governs the country, for without the love and respect of the masses, all matters are difficult to achieve."

"For myself, I am resolved to make a stand within the castle and to die a quick death. It would not take much trouble to break through a part of their numbers and escape, no matter how many tens of thousands of horsemen approached for the attack or by how many columns we were surrounded. But that is not the true meaning of being a warrior, and it would be difficult to account as loyalty....."

"Every day that we waited seemed as three autumns to us....Asano Takumi no Kami died without having avenged himself, and this was more than his retainers could endure. It is impossible to remain under the same heaven with the enemy of lord or father; for this reason we have dared to declare enmity against a personage of so exalted rank. This day we shall attack Kira Kotsuke no Suke, in order to finish the deed of vengeance which was begun by our dead lord. If any honourable person should find our bodies after death, he is respectfully requested to open and read this document."

  • Onoda, Hiroo. No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War. Trans. Charles S. Terry. New York: Kodansha International Ltd., 1974

No surrender! These words were drilled into young Hiroo Onoda's head by parents, peers, and superior officer. Onoda learned his lesson well. As a Japanese army lieutenant, he continued to fight W.W. II until 1974. Like a samurai of old, Onoda suffered through 30 grueling years carrying out his final orders--to gather intelligence and direct guerrilla warfare on the tiny Philippine island of Lubang. "My orders were to fight to the finish...." With this attitude and the government's ideals before them, many young soldiers ended their lives to preserve their honor. Onoda's own mother gave him an ancestor's dagger, before he left for Lubang Island, in case he had to commit suicide to avoid surrender." Onoda ignored the pleas of search parties and members of his own family to give up. Finally, his former commanding officer, Major Taniguchi was summoned from Japan and gave Onoda his formal orders to stand down. On March 10, 1974, he formally surrendered at the Lubang Radar Base to Maj. Gen. J. L. Rancudo of the Philippine Air Force. He ceremoniously presented his sword to the major general. As a mark of respect, it was immediately returned to the surprised Onoda. The following day the ceremony was repeated for the world's press when Pres. Ferdinand Marcos again returned Onoda's sword to him. He also pardoned Onoda for his crimes on Lubang, much to the disgust of the islanders Onoda had raided and shot at for the last 30 years.

Onoda was mobbed when he returned to Japan; 4,000 people swarmed into the airport to welcome him home. Onoda struck a responsive chord in his countrymen. They had watched the proceedings in the Philippines on TV and were impressed by the dignified old warrior. He had done his duty with true samurai spirit, fighting against hopeless odds until relieved by a superior. To modern, materialistic Japan, Onoda embodied the old, prewar ideals of duty and tradition. http://www.trivia-library.com/b/history-of-survivor-hiroo-onoda-the-last-samurai-part-1.htm http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1557506639/ref=ase_pacificwreckdata/104-0654020-8095936?v=glance&s=books

External links

  • BUSHIDO--THE SOUL OF JAPAN by Inazo Nitobe (1905) --Complete text online:

"...Bushido, then, is the code of moral principles which the knights were required or instructed to observe. It is not a written code; at best it consists of a few maxims handed down from mouth to mouth or coming from the pen of some well-known warrior or savant. More frequently it is a code unuttered and unwritten, possessing all the more the powerful sanction of veritable deed, and of a law written on the fleshly tablets of the heart. It was founded not on the creation of one brain, however able, or on the life of a single personage, however renowned. It was an organic growth of decades and centuries of military career." http://www.blackmask.com/thatway/books154c/bushidodex.htm

  • BUDOSHOSHINSHU - The Code of The Warrior By Daidoji Yuzan --Complete text online:

"The man who would be a warrior considers it essential to keep in mind the spirit of battle 24 hours a day. Our country is different from others, for here, even the lowliest merchant, farmer, or artisan is attentive enough to carry with him a rusty old sword. This is the custom of the people of the warrior nation of Japan, and is the Way of the gods, unchanged for ten thousand generations." http://fowler.winterstorm.org/texts/Budoshoshinshu/

  • Hagakure-The Book of the Samurai By Tsunetomo Yamamoto --Complete text online:

"...if you are slain in battle, you should be resolved to have your corpse facing the enemy." http://www.blackmask.com/olbooks/hagakuredex.htm

  • Go Rin No Sho - Miyamoto Musashi (1645 A.D.) --Complete text online

"I have climbed mountain Iwato of Higo in Kyushu to pay homage to heaven, pray to Kwannon, and kneel before Buddha. I am a warrior of Harima province, Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Genshin, age sixty years." http://www.samurai.com/5rings/

  • The Unfettered Mind - Writngs of the Zen Master to the Sword master by Takuan Soho (Musashi's mentor) --Complete text online:

"Bury my body in the mountain behind the temple, cover it with dirt and go home. Read no sutras, hold no ceremony. Receive no gifts from either monk or laity. Let the monks wear their robes, eat their meals, and carry on as on normal days." -Takuan Soho --At his final moment, he wrote the Chinese character for "yume" (dream), put down the brush, and died. http://www.american-buddha.com/unfettered.mind.htm


BY KAITEN NUKARIYA, PROFESSOR OF KEI-O-GI-JIKU UNIVERSITY AND OF SO-TO-SHU BUDDHIST COLLEGE, TOKYO [1913] --Complete text online: http://www.blackmask.com/books12c/rosa.htm#aintro

  • Tales of Old Japan by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford (1871) reprinted 1910 --complete text online

The author, Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford (1837-1916), Lord Redesdale, was in the British Foreign Service as a young man. He was assigned to the legation in Japan for several years and acquired a life-long fascination with Japanese culture. This book has been a standard source of information about Japanese folklore and customs since its original publication in 1871 and has been in print ever since. http://www.blackmask.com/thatway/books162c/taja.htm

  • Sakujiro Yokoyama's Account of a Samurai Sword Duel--This anecdote was recorded by western judo pioneer E. J. Harrison in his book The Fighting Spirit of Japan, published in 1913. The speaker is Sakujiro Yokoyama, one of the greatest judoka from the founding days of Kodokan Judo. This is a fascinating eye witness account to an actual duel of samurai.

http://home.att.net/~hofhine/Samurai.htmlde:Bushidō es:Bushidō fr:Bushido is:Bushido he:בושידו nl:Bushido ja:武士道 pl:Bushidō sv:Bushido zh:武士道


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