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The Samurai, Bushido, and Other Things

Mandylion

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So just what is this "Bushido"(way of the warrior) thing we hear about from time to time? The term gets thrown around by historians, martial artists, and samurai-buffs fairly often. But where does it come from and how accurate is it in painting a picture of who and what the samurai are? Can, or does, it impact how some foreigners view what it means to be Japanese?ツ・I hope this thread can become a good discussion on all things samurai, and I would like to start with this bushido thing.

The spark to write this came from a brief discussion on this thread about the warrior sprit of Japan. Many people may have come across one treatise or another on what it means to be a samurai. As forum-ite 窶廴as Oyama, Rikidozanツ・pointed out correctly one of the earliest of these works, Budo Shoshinshu (often translated as "Code of the Warrior," it might also be called "A Primer on [the] Japanese Martial Arts") is a book written by Daidoji Yuzan Taira no Shigesuke was written and discussed during the middle to late Edo period (1603 - 1867).ツ・The closest date I could find for this book was 1720 (this is important later on).

Before we get much farther, samurai, or "bushi" were a class of people in historical Japan whose main role for much of history, up until the early 1600's, was one of fighting. However, battles were not fought only by samurai. Being higher on the social ladder, people from this mainly hereditary class often led divisions of conscripted peasant soldiers.

Daidoji and others wrote for the literate samurai class, and not your average Japanese person. This needs to be kept in mind when trying to gauge just how deeply into society concepts of bushidoツ・spread and were adopted.

First, how accurately does Daidoji's book describe what it means to be a samurai? The samurai class didn't just spring into being with the production of his book. However, I don't think Daidoji just got bored one day and wrote for kicks. Many historians see the Tokugawa era as a time of philosophical upheaval for the samurai. Now at the top of the social pyramid and in a time of great stability (no real combat), samurai were firstly politicians and bureaucrats, and secondly fighting men. The concepts and ideals found in Daidoji窶冱 work were intended for a large part to find a new philosophical direction for the samurai of a peaceful pax-Tokugawaツ・era. They seem to draw little from the actual behaviors and norms of earlier samurai.

Additionally, many of the ideas in Daidoji's work (which can be found online in three parts here ) serve to incorporate the fighting sprit of the samurai into the world for political administration and service to the public. While they stand alongside passages on ways to die well, how to buy a horse, and concepts of warfare, in almost every section we can find lines that are vague enough to apply to any type of employment, martial or administrative.

This is a good one; there are three kinds of warriors serving as retainers to a lord. The first are samurai of devotion, the second are samurai of faithful service, and the third are samurai of both devotion and faithful service.ツ・

Pretty open for interpretation isn't it? By 1720 most warriors would be administrators, magistrates, tax collectors, civil servants and the like. Clothe these tasks in the higher cloaks of devotionツ・and serviceツ・and you have a text that satisfies both retainer and liege-lord alike for any role you choose to name.

I don't mean to imply that Daidoji was a political hack, but he cannot be considered as removed from the environment in which he found himself. It is quite obvious that Daidoji was trying to inspire an elite class of society to maintain their pride in their historical role while also strengthen them to function as effectively as they could in the new social environment.

Other authors have added to the conception of bushido.ツ・Most of them are considered rants and romantic visions of the past. The 窶廩akagureツ・was a similar text also written in the mid 1700's by a man who dreamed about the good olツ・days, or rather what they should have been like, similar to historical fiction or the archetypical western novel of today.

Bushido: The Soul of Japan was written in 1905 by Inazo Nitobe and produced for an English-reading audience by a Japanese scholar of all things western (and who knew very little about the history of Japan). It is widely dismissed as nostalgic propaganda.

All of these texts taken together, with their emphasis on loyalty, self-sacrifice, and other virtues were taken up and modified by the Meiji revolutionaries, themselves samurai, and the nationalist propaganda machines right up until the end World War Two. To modernize and expand Japan, all levels of society had to work towards a common goal and with a single mindset. The concepts written about by Daidoji were applied not just to samurai, but all levels of society. The concept of kokutai(lit. national body) took the samurai-liege lord relations and turned them into subject-emperor perspectives.

It is often through these lenses (nostalgia, nationalism, propaganda, and popular fiction) that some foreigners and some Japanese view bushido. The samurai as a class and real social force have been dead for over 130 years while the essence of the samurai has been milled and altered through the machines of public policy, fiction, and western interpretations for the same length of time. How clear an understanding can we (and even me) say we have for what bushido really means?

The bushido we so often throw around is not something that was passed down through and ageless warrior tradition intact to the present day. Bushido is not something we can universally attach or ascribe to all things Japanese. Its concepts cannot be said to penetrate to all levels of society. Rather bushido acts like the word patriot. It means some kind of general concept, generally agreed to be positive, but which will not mean the same thing to the same people. Is a soldier patriotic? What about the protestor who loves his/her country but doesn't like where it is going? How about the union workers or the big industrialists?

What does bushido mean to the average Japanese person today? You will get as many answers as there are individuals. Some may recognize it as being part of their heritage but have no bearing on their life. Others will find it integral to the perception of self, similar to the way a modern American might view the concept of pioneer spirit.ツ・

That the samurai of old woke up everyday looking forward to death, standing sword in hand bravely against overwhelming numbers simply to die with honor is a misconception perpetuated by romanticists, the movies, and propaganda. Did such acts happen? Sure, but the simple lack of their presence in the historical record is enough to raise serious questions about this stalwart image. Indeed one does not have to look far to find examples of samurai killed while running away, or cunning traps sprung on defenseless adversaries (Musashi Miyamoto, a famous samurai and one popularly associated with bushido, employed such tactics, and had such devices sprung against him). At the end of the day samurai too were only human.

I welcome your comments and ideas. I left many things out and glossed over a bunch of interesting supporting items which were counterproductive to flow. If you are interested in reading further, you can find some more information through the links below. Also, if you want to discuss anything else about the samurai or historical Japan, you can start on this thread, or make your own! Thanks for reading.

The Historical Foundations of Bushido The Historical Foundations of Bushido
http://www.geocities.com/lowly_swordsman/classics.html Code of the Warrior
Koryu.com Site Guide good outline of texts
Samurai-archives.com nice little samurai site.
 
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senseiman

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Hey, that was an interesting read! I'll check out some of those sites.

I read that 'Bushido, soul of Japan', by Inazo Nitobe and it is really nothing but a romantacized piece of propoganda that seems laughably out of touch. Chapter one starts: "Chivalry is a flower no less indigenous to Japan than its emblem, the cherry blossom..."

Hard not to roll your eyes...
 

Haivart

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I'll second senseiman's opinion about it being interesting. Now I have another thing on my list of reading topics.
 

Dr_Inferno

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please excuse my vast ignorance :

i wish to apologize beforehand for any misconceptions i may have or erroneous statements i may make while i speak. Certainly, an interesting bit of information, but your key point focuses on how these, relatively, old texts apply to a very modern, a very different Japan. Of course, many of these traditions and beliefs have transcended the years to become part of the Japanese way of life -- please note: i know that 'bushido' is basically the samurai code of honor etc -- such as their great competitive nature (as far as i understand, their education and work ethics are both strong and greatly competitive), but the actual bushido most likely has little to no effect on modern Japanese culture.

Just my thoughts, i'm no history major but i've found that when discussing older texts one must look to see how the texts have affected the modern culture OR one must research how said texts would have affected the people of that time: NOT looking for how the texts affect the people of the modern time.
 

Mandylion

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Well said and I couldn't agree more Dr_Inferno! :)

Originally posted by Dr_Inferno
Certainly, an interesting bit of information, but your key point focuses on how these, relatively, old texts apply to a very modern, a very different Japan...but the actual bushido most likely has little to no effect on modern Japanese culture.

I must say that I thought one of my points was just that; these old texts really don't apply to modern Japan in a clear-cut way. Parts of bushido may indeed apply, but it is hard to pull something out, like the Japanese work culture, hold it up and say "this is bushido" with impunity. Too much has happened since 1720 for the word to have bushido mean what Daidoji perhaps intended it to. That was a general theme I was trying to get home, sorry if it wasn't clear.

Originally posted by Dr_Inferno
...i've found that when discussing older texts one must look to see how the texts have affected the modern culture OR one must research how said texts would have affected the people of that time: NOT looking for how the texts affect the people of the modern time.

A good note of caution for all of us. My post was going after the danger of taking old texts and ideals and make the assumption that these migrate unchanged through the ages. I was going after how Daidoji's conception of the samurai was written in a time of samurai social reorientation, these themes were picked up by others, shaped again by the Meiji government and then run through the popular imagination to the present. All of these color and change what the word "samurai" has come to encompass. In that sense, we can look at how old texts impact modern people when said texts are viewed and internalized through the various layers of truth, fiction, and expectation which have been built up around them over the years.

(Fun to working the ol' brain eh? Good to get away from all the J-Pop and anime once and awhile.)
 

Martialartsnovice

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Well here's a good find then

I am reading a book called "HIROHITO & AND THE MAKING OF MODERN JAPAN" by Herbert Bix. Its quite good so far, It talkis about Hito's childhood, atill I believe hsi death. And here's another one " Armed Martial Arts of Japan, (Swordsmanship and Archery)" this was written by Cameron Hurst III. It is an excellent book if you want to challenge yourself. Check it out, maybe you'll like it.
 

Martialartsnovice

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Do people, around the world still, practice the samurai arts, I heard from some people that the sword arts of the Samurai class, have evolved into such arts as Iaito, Kedo, and other things. Is this true, or am I misinformed.
 

Index

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I'd never really thought that Bushido was a unified concept. In other words my impression is that it changed according to the role that Samurai played in the various periods of Japanese history. Is it possible to compare bushi to Knights in ancient Europe? I guess this is a problem too since Knighthood is also a romanticized idea full of innacuracies. I would have thought bushido was a school of thought that accompanied the bushi's role in society, much like today's officers in the armed forces have a military education which leads to a certain way of approaching problems, thinking, and carrying out duties. I'll read your links now before I put my foot in my mouth...
 

Uncle Frank

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Mandylion !!!!!!!

PLEASE COME BACK !!!! JREF needs you and your interesting posts!

Frank

PS - And I miss ya!

😊
 

Shooter452

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Martialartsnovice said:
Do people, around the world still, practice the samurai arts

SURE they do. Flower arranging, haiku, and the social graces are all samurai arts, although not the kind that the dojo theater clowns have in mind when they bespeak of "being samurai."

To be samurai was first and foremost to serve. It was also an obligation to be civilized in a violent culture where the veneer of civilization could, at times, be the thickness of a couple of microns.
 

Martialartsnovice

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I guess Im sort of training myself in the nature of the samurai. Im trying to learn the subtle graces of Japanese culture, and the art forms. Im having a hard time with the origami part of the culture.
 

Loyalist

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The way of the samurai lies within devoting ones body and soul to his master, Treating every day life and battle the same, and considering your life no longer your own. These ideas are expressed in the Hagakure, written by Yamamoto Tsunemoto. Note that this book was written after "The age of the county at war." and the author never participated in a battle. Even so, this seems to be the most simple and best way to relate how serious Bushido is. The knights of europe (to me) seem to have been more focused on personal glory, than the honor of any one master or group. This is what seperates the two in my mind.
 

Martialartsnovice

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Yeah, I see the proof of your words, in history. Come to think of it.

Look back at the Medieval Crusades, in which one example I know of is that Venetian Merchants agreed to haul the knights to the Middle East, in exchange for attacking a particular town there. Well to say the least, the Knights nevered fought the Saracens, or anybody but the enemies of the Venetian Merchants. So there is proof in that post.
 

caster51

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Unknown Miracle: Bushido
I think there is no war criminal in Japanese imperial navy:eek:
Japanese destroyer Ikazuchi
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_destroyer_Ikazuchi
there is no story about Kudo and Ikazuchi:(
422 UK soldiers were lescued by Kudo of Ikazuchi
before that about 180 Japanese navy's salvages were attcked and killd by US navy.
however kudo dicided to lescue them by bushido.
I like that Kudo said " they fought bravely Now they are our Guests"
so is spirits of knight ?
I think many of the Japanese respect it even though they are enemy..
I think I found many ppl from ohter country can not Understand?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8CFBB8uL-Y
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmEQHQviEJM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgbmAcvQf3M
479421499509MZZZZZZZ-1.jpg


forukyou181120JPG-1.jpg
 

caster51

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Unknown Miracle: Bushido
I think there is no war criminal in Japanese imperial navy:eek:
Japanese destroyer Ikazuchi
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_destroyer_Ikazuchi
there is no story about Kudo and Ikazuchi:(
422 UK soldiers were lescued by Kudo of Ikazuchi
before that about 180 Japanese navy's salvages were attcked and killd by US navy.
however kudo dicided to lescue them by bushido.
I like that Kudo said " they fought bravely Now they are our Guests"
so is spirits of knight ?
I think many of the Japanese respect it even though they are enemy..
I think I found many ppl from ohter country can not Understand?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8CFBB8uL-Y
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmEQHQviEJM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgbmAcvQf3M
479421499509MZZZZZZZ-1.jpg

forukyou181120JPG-1.jpg



English sub
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQC5Plz1s3c
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMo-Mwz-pxM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6lJpJ2POpI
 

jurek1810

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I think Bushido is the soul of real samurai (and ronin's too). It was perfectly showed in film by Akira Kurosawa: "Shichinin no Samurai". And I think, like in Europe was an officer's kode (even during WW II) such Bushido's kode was obey only by real samurai (officer).

P.S. Sorry for my english
 

Ewok85

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It annoys me no end how far the Japanese, and willing foreigners, will go to ignore the nasties and romanticise their own history.

I read a few books about William Adams and it had extracts from the diaries of the men who lived in Japan. The basic thing that comes through is that the ruling class was ruthless, treated their 'people' as little more than animals that could be used or killed on a whim. The most interesting was when I was talking about this with my wife and mentioned that a repeated theme was that the samurai would often "test" their blades on people, hacking them up until there was nothing left to cut.

Of course they'd never do that...
 

caster51

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The basic thing that comes through is that the ruling class was ruthless, treated their 'people' as little more than animals that could be used or killed on a whim. The most interesting was when I was talking about this with my wife and mentioned that a repeated theme was that the samurai would often "test" their blades on people, hacking them up until there was nothing left to cut.

there were some at that time.
they surely had this privilege

killing a passerby in order to test a new sword was death penalty though
marder for impolite is accepted..
The procedure afterwards is severe and the examination of the validity is very severe .

there was a possibility that this sumurai's family was smashed

but it was rarely. no sumrais actuary did that
 
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Yeah, but Ewok, Western European knighthood is very romanticized as well. Peasants and farmers had virtually no rights unless they owned their own land or lived in the cities. Local landlords could get away with downright murder if they wanted to, so long as the victim wasn't a peer. The image of the chivalric knight is mostly an early Renaissance creation,
You hear of occasional acts of bravery comparable to Japanese bushido during the European medieval period, such as the Combat of the Thirty during the War of Bretagne Succession (a subset of the Hundred Years War). But they are eclipsed by the general overall lack of regard for the value of human life of peasants, such as the sack of Caen by Edward the Black Prince.

The romanticism comes during the Renaissance, with such works as Amadis of Gaul and Orlando Furioso, culminating with Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur.

I'm not necessarily defending caster, here, but I have no doubt that true chivalry (in the romantic sense) occurred at isolated instances throughout the Second World War. By uplifting the positive stories and by focusing on the bravery, you condemn the negative actions more strongly by creating an immediate and definite contrast.

Anyway, personally, I think that a 13th century English knight would have felt more at home in feudal Japan than Adams did. Especially if he had his armor, retainers, and all the proof of his nobility. But, well, unfortunately, the only place that sort of interaction can ever take place is in a Forgotten Realms campaign.

caster51 said:
but it was rarely. no sumrais actuary did that
Uh, yeah, dude, they did. Especially during ツ静ュツ坂?佛スナセ窶佚」 (Sengoku Jidai). The lawlessness and rampant warfare of the era was totally devastating, especially when compared during the Edo period. Daimyo generally had the ultimate authority in their lands, and could exercise their control with unquestionable aplomb. The chivalric samurai were often the exception during this age. And, if I am correct, that's when Adams landed in Japan.

Granted, it was more common to test swords on convicted criminals, but nevertheless, a samurai was well within his rights to strike the head off of a peasant who "looked at him funny."

Honestly, both medieval Japan and Europe are generally equally lawless (in a modern sense) with little or no rights guaranteed to peasants, and the "nobility" using their military authority to do whatever it was they wanted.
 
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perhaps you cant understand what it means to be warrior because your nation never had any. you call it romantic and vague... i call it words of wisdom, i read the book of five rings and many more about Bushido. unlike you i found many great meanings in them...i don't say that the samurai are extraterrestrial beings who are flawless in fighting...i am just saying that their warrior code is that of pride and honor and is truly magnificent. the words you might find worthless i could make sense out of.
just as the kamikaze were brave and courages to sacrifice them selves for the glory of their country ....i as an Arabian now how it feels, because we have a warrior code of our own. a code that gives us great power when we fight...and people from your nation call our resistance against invaders terrorism.
so i wouldn't be surprised if you also call warriors of japan romantic fake ideas. maybe you just like to constantly under mean warriors.
 

Calchas

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There is much to learn from Japanese warrior ethics Scorpion, but don't forget that in the end the ridge code of the samurai lead to their downfall and the kamikaze , regardless of how brave they may have been, where nothing more then a last ditch attemp that did not slow down the defeat of Imperial Japan.
 

tokapi

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There is much to learn from Japanese warrior ethics Scorpion, but don't forget that in the end the ridge code of the samurai lead to their downfall and the kamikaze

Nope ... it was otherwise according to the author ( 藤原正彦 ) Masahiko Fujiwara of " The Nation's Dignity " ( 国家の品格 ),he believed that Japan Imperial Army lost the true spirits of Samurai Code led to what happened in China.

http://translate.google.com/transla...%E6%A0%BC&hl=en&rlz=1T4SKPB_enUS232US233&sa=G
 

Calchas

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Nope ... it was otherwise according to the author ( 藤原正彦 ) Masahiko Fujiwara of " The Nation's Dignity " ( 国家の品格 ),he believed that Japan Imperial Army lost the true spirits of Samurai Code led to what happened in China.

??

What does the downfall of the samarai in the late part of the 19th century have to do with Imperial Japan in the 20th?

The Samarai never "lost their code" . I think you are not reading my post correctly. Let me clear it up for you....

There is much to learn from Japanese warrior ethics Scorpion, but don't forget that in the end the ridge code of the samurai lead to their downfall.


The kamikaze , regardless of how brave they may have been, where nothing more then a last ditch attemp that did not slow down the defeat of Imperial Japan.



Not sure what China or the Imperial Army (Kamikaze where part of special attack groups that had army and navy personel in them) has to do with my post..but whatever......

And it can be argued that the Japanese Imperial Army never had the true "samurai code", but only a corrupted version of it which I think is what you are refering to.
 

MadamePapillon

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Scorpion da black....

There is a vast difference between what is written and books and what's real. It's easy to imbellish and romaticize any sort of warrior, especially the Samurai who seems to be viewed with a percieved mysticism and awe by many.

All warriors have their 'code of honor', that doesn't mean that they were actually all good and honorable. Just look at the european Knights, all sorts of stories are told about them but you know that the majority of it is crap. 'Code of Honor' is just one way warriors set themselves apart from the ordinary people, it serves as a pedestal and is often nothing more than lies. It sounds good but is rarely put into practice.

I wouldn't be so quick to put the Samurai and their warriors code on any sort of pedestal. They aren't any more mystical or fantastic than any other warrior group, just another bunch of men with swords killing people and going on about 'honor this' and 'glory that'. Look at any history book, you find them all over the place. For as long as there has been a mankind there have been men with swords killing people and proclaiming themselves to be holier than thou.
 
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