Bushido (the way of the samurai) (武士道)

Bushido refers to systemized thought that generally forms the basis of value and ethical standards in samurai hierarchy during feudal Japan.

Another Bushido appeared as a combination of different cultures by Christians who left a major mark on literature and a way of thought including an educator and thinker Inazo NITOBE, Kanzo UCHIMURA and Masahisa UEMURA (refer to 'Ningenkan no Sokoku [Rivalry of human view]' written by Kiyoko TAKEDA for details).


Ethics is an obligation as a member of community and way of thought is an act to develop manas for proposition. In samurai society, the propositions of manas were contradictions in feudal society, while for modern thinkers, they are contradictions in modern times. In more concrete terms, it is 'a conflict between the ethics in the feudal system and in samurai hierarchy' which are present simultaneously in feudal society and it is 'a loss of identity as a Japanese person' in modern Japan. In other words, the following two aspects are covered.

The Bushido as an ethical code of conduct and way of thought in modern times. The Bushido as a way of thought in modern times.

As for Bushido in modern times, "Bushido" of Inazo NITOBE released in English in 1900 is considered to be the defacto text on the matter. While the subject matter of this book is Bushido in feudal society, it is not a direct interpretation of Bushido, but a guideline for a universal truth for finding out the basis of Bushido as a phenomenon which appeared as a spiritual base in Japan. In other words, it is not a class system of thought from feudal society to be applied to the Japanese people as a whole.

Germination of Bushido

The first book including the word 'Bushido' in Japan was 'Koyo Gunkan (record of the military exploits of the Takeda family)' which is considered to have been written by Masanobu KOSAKA.

Much of Bushido stated in modern times aims to maintain a bureaucratic system of bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) in the peaceful Edo period. It is not a way of thought or philosophy which is useful in actual battle, but is necessary in all ages, due to its morality in respecting those of noble character.

Bushido is a way of survival as an individual fighter, which focuses on developing oneself and the family, bringing them an advantage by achieving military renown. Expressed in a family precept of Takatora TODO 'those who haven't changed their lords seven times yet are not really samurai', it acknowledges a masterless samurai finding a lord who would highly value him. As symbolized by the words of Soteki ASAKURA 'winning is everything for a warrior, even though he may be called a dog or beast', it involves a harsh philosophy where winning a battle is important, even if one might be criticized for being a coward. This is the way of life as a samurai and also the family precept of each family as well as how to get along with life as a vassal. It is different from the so called 'Bushido' as a universal moral system.

Development and deepening of Bushido

Bushido as a moral system is 'being loyal to one's lord, being dutiful to one's parents, controlling oneself strictly, being merciful to those of lower rank, having sympathy to the enemy, abstaining from selfish desire, respecting justice and respecting honor more than wealth.' Many of those who followed the Bushido code also possessed a Confucian attitude of 'continuance of family name,' which prospered during the Edo period and was formulated as Bushido. However, it is not just an adoption of Confucian thought and many of the thinkers evaluated "Moshi (Mencius)" which was emphasized as one of the "The Four Books of Confucianism" that were unsuitable for national policy. The above are reasons for Bushido given by Tesshu YAMAOKA. Also the major characteristics of Bushido is that the way of thought manifested itself in actual behaviours.

Change and renewal of Bushido

In the stabilized period of the Edo period, Soko YAMAGA gravitated toward the thought of 'Shokubunron (theory of duty)'. Yamaga deeply as to why samurai existed and came to the conclusion that it was not just a social status, but a responsible position to the whole (feudal) of society and to the ethics of the entire (feudal) society. Of course this is a thought of Yamaga.

For example, human beings are responsible to the communities to which each person belongs in Shushigaku (Neo-Confucianism). The top of these communities is a state. The system steering the state was the feudal system of the shogunate, which were just the ethics of the samurai society. Yamaga also thought that people certainly belonged to a state, but at the same time there was an existence that chose samurais to let them have a duty to whole (feudal) society.

It was neither people nor society. He thought that people were responsible for their ethics and society was a place for people to practice their ethics. Yamaga considered the invisible existence like a system of state which moved samurais, as Heaven. He thought then that if there was a conflict between the ethics of a community to which oneself belonged and the ethics from Heaven, samurai would chose the latter. Yabaga was punished by bakufu.

Though Yamaga criticized Shushigaku, the thought that people were responsible to the ethics of a community made by a system to which they belonged, remains in the current school system, while the thought propogated by Yamaga is in the minority.

"Bushudo" as a text

Agriculturist and thinker Inazo NITOBE explained the nature of the island country and how Japanese who lived in society were affected by the four seasons, using philosophy and scientific thinking of the late 19th century in "Bushido" (1900). He explained then the process in which Japanese spiritual base was fermented using model cases of samurai behaviours and principles in simple construction and words.

Nitobe pointed out that while people could easily become individualistic which underlied mammonism and materialism in modern times, samurais in the feudal period recognized themselves as an existence that was responsible to the whole (feudal) society. Of course this thought is attributed to Nitobe. Also it is generally considered today that in international society the samurai was the best model for Nitobe to explain the high ethics view of Japanese and that every Japanese was educated to be responsible to the whole of society.

For Christians including Nitobe, it was a major theme on how to think about the Japanese spiritual base and Bushido was simply a verification.
A novelist Shusaku ENDO have the priest as a character of his novel "Chinmoku (silence)" said that Japan was a marsh where everything not based on God or absolute existences spoiled in the Japanese spiritual base

Disciples who inherited a view of the world of Nitobe and Kanzo UCHIMURA who are collectively called 'old liberalists' built the basis of democracy after the war, while they 'betrayed' their masters (according to Tetsuo YAMAORI). In this way, "Bushido" is reviewed from various aspects today and considered generally as a book about the relationship between society and people as well as about morals.

Concept of Bushido in modern times

When samurais appeared, they were not conscious of 'ethical royalty to their lords' as the core of Bushido. This is because the relationship between lord and vassal in the medieval period was a contractual relationship having a conception of 'favour and service'. This concept continued until at least the late Muromachi period and the ideas that a 'betrayer is a coward' 'samurais should die with their lords' were not mainstream at the time. It was not organized as Bushido yet and still premature. When people speak of Bushido, they often quote the words 'If a lord is not enough as a lord, his vassals should be loyal', but this idea did not come to fruition until the Edo period, when the idea of Bushido matured. In the Meiji period, the age of samurai ended in effect, but the Bushido way of thought was used unnecessarily during its mature period, therefore mainly ex-samurais carried out subject education policy and the catch-phrase was made when the historical view was changed.

After the Genna era (1615 – 1624) in the Edo period, Soko YAMAGA and others who tried to explain this sense of value by the morals of Shushigaku of Confucianism established the morality of samurai anew. This made Confucian ethics like 'humanity and justice' and 'loyalty to one's master and filial piety' as a model for samurai for the first time. The theory of shido (morality of samurai) introduced by Soko YAMAGA affected a lot of thinkers later.

In 1716 "Hagakure" which is famous for the passage 'I found that Bushido means dying' was written by Jocho YAMAMOTO from Saga Domain (dictated by Tsuramoto TASHIRO). In this book it was written serving 'nothing else' but a lord and criticized ideological 'loyalty' and 'justice' and encouraged 'being ready to die any time' and 'learning death', but was banned probably due to its criticizing the administration of the domain and was not read widely.

In 1860 at the end of the Edo period, Tesshu YAMAOKA wrote "Bushido".
It was written 'It is neither Shinto nor Confucianism and Buddhism. It is a concept harmonizing those three ways of thoughts. Since the Middle Ages it has flourished among samurai families. I, Tetsutaro (Tesshu) name it as Bushido.'
Tesshu YAMAOKA recognized that it existed since the Middle Ages, but it was not called 'Bushido' until he named it so.

Interpretation of Bushido after the Meiji period

After the Meiji Restoration due to the proclamation of equality of all people, family system as a social system was dismantled and the age of samurai ended in effect. In fact, 'the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors' in 1882 says to serve Emperor with 'loyalty', not with Bushido. However, after the Sino-Japanese War, 'Bushido' was re-evaluated. For example, nationalists as typified by Tetsujido INOUE tried to identify Bushido as the national morality of Japanese.

Kanzo UCHIMURA and Inazo NITOBE were Christians, educators and thinkers. Especially Nidobe was struck by the realty of America where many Christians lived, such as mammonism and racism and were also impressed by the ethics of the Christians. Nitobe had meetings with educators there and found the loss of religious education in Japan and as a result he published "Bushido" in English in 1900. The book was read by a lot of people abroad including American politicians such as Theodore Roosevelt, presiding John F. Kennedy and a founder of Boy Scout Robert Baden-Powell and the Japanese version translated by Tadao YANAIHARA who was a disciple of Nitobe that was published by reimport and created a boom in 'Bushido'.

Of course, before "Bushido" Uchimura and Nitobe observed carefully the advantages and disadvantages of Japanese culture and also seeing that the disciples of Nitobe participated in the council of the Fundamental Law of Education, obviously Bushido became a major basis of democracy after the war. However as Kiyoko TAKEDA advocated, Nitobe's comparison of different culture as a tolerant educator was not strict enough when compared to Kanzo UCHIMURA and Masahisa UEMURA. Also Nitobe pointed out that Bushido was not based on Japanese tradition because it became outdated soon and was an ideology of governing class that consisted only a small percent of the population, but "Bushido" of Nitobe which reinterpreted the inheritance of Japanese tradition built an image of Japanese samurai in abroad with 'Hagakure' of Jocho YAMAMOTO. Because of the Nitobe's book, Bushido is a common word in the world.