Bushido: The Way of Samurai
From the 12th to the 19th centuries, the military nobility, known as samurai, dominated Japanese politics, economics, and society. The samurai were not ruthless. Rather, the brutal battlefield made them more aware of the importance of virtue and the fragility of life. They formalized their belief into a code of conduct that focused on loyalty to their masters and honor. This code, known as “bushido,” is broadly similar to the code of chivalry.
What is Bushido?
In Japanese, bushido means “The way of the samurai.” It is often regarded as a uniform moral code to which all the samurai must adhere. However, the content of bushido has varied from clan to clan, individual to individual, and era to era. Generally, the virtues followed by the samurai had a high degree of similarity to the knightly virtues. However, it is Christianity that influenced the code of chivalry, while bushido was influenced by Zen Buddhism, Shintoism, and Confucianism.
Its constant ideals were the spirit of martial arts, including athletic and military skills and fearlessness in the battle against the enemy. Frugality, kindness, honesty, and personal honor were also highly valued. Filial piety is also an important part, however, the highest obligation of a samurai was to his master, even if this might cause pain to his parents.
Bushido also has its cruel parts. Part of the bushido spirit advocates dying decisively, without remorse or hesitation. Bushido holds a negative attitude to life that ordinary people treasure. The contempt for life was reflected in not only the way the samurai treated their enemies but also the way they treated themselves. For example, the dark custom of seppuku (aka. harakiri, cutting one's stomach) is a ritual suicide practiced voluntarily by samurai to restore honor. In addition, there are stories of samurai killing their parents, brothers, and children to practice the spirit of bushido.
History of Bushido
The name "bushido" was not used until the 16th century. In the 10th century, a set of unwritten rules and customs of the ideal samurai emerged, based on daily training and experience in warfare. The Kamakura period (1192-1333) saw the first military government in Japan. Moral discipline became a part of bushido and its content was conceptualized. In the Muromachi period (1336-1573), samurai added martial arts training, meditation, painting, flower arranging, tea ceremony, poetry, and other activities to their daily activities. Bushido increasingly emphasized the quality of self-cultivation.
During the Edo period (1603-1868), Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China, providing the ideal philosophical background for bushido. Bushido was incorporated into Confucian ethics to form an integrated system that emphasized duty or obligation. Ieyasu Tokugawa required the study of "manners" according to the beliefs of the samurai during the Tokugawa period. It was during this period that the principles of bushido became a universal code of conduct for samurai.
Content of Bushido
Righteousness: The samurai is required to strictly observe righteousness and morality.
Courage: The samurai must be courageous, resilient, and highly skilled in the martial arts.
Benevolence: The samurai should be a warrior with the virtues of tolerance, love, compassion, and mercy.
Etiquette: The samurai should show good manners to others.
Honesty: The samurai should be honest and free from temptation.
Honor: Honor includes human dignity and clear values. It requires that the samurai be willing to give everything for the sake of honor, have the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and maintain patience and perseverance.
Loyalty: This is a code of supreme importance. Loyalty to one's master under all circumstances is a creed to which the samurai must adhere.
Self-restraint: The samurai must restrain his selfish desires and not be swayed by them in order to serve his master and fulfill his duty.