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How did Bushido influence the society of the samurai?

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Peter Douveas

on 12 September 2014

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Transcript of How did Bushido influence the society of the samurai?

Question 1 (Adam)
What are the values that were highly regarded by the samurai?
Question 2 (Adam)
How did Bushido affect modern Japanese culture?
Question 3 (Adam)
Question 2 (Peter)
The samurai were the only people in Japan who could ride horses, carry swords or even have a last name. They had great rights and responsibilities and occupied a high position in feudal society. The samurai were expected to be fearless warriors and loyal servants to the daimyo. The daimyo were the largest and most powerful landholders in Japan from around the 10th century to the 19th century. The daimyo controlled large areas of land and therefore ruled over those who lived and worked there. The power of a daimyo depended on the size of the land he owned and the number of samurai he led. The daimyo often hired samurai to guard their private land and they paid the samurai in land or food. The samurai was the ‘military class’ of Japan and helped to protect the people from enemy clan invasions, such as The Battle of Uji, as mentioned above in the previous question.
Question 3 (Peter)
Bushido is very different to medieval chivalry as it openly embraces death. In the code of Bushido, there is an emphasis on the role of death in pursuit of keeping the honour of being a samurai. Kato Kiyomasa, a Japanese daimyo stated: “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.” In this idea, there is an understanding that death is a logical extension of the Bushido code of conduct. This statement is backed by scholars in the field who argue: “In the world of the warrior, seppuku was a deed of bravery that was admirable in a samurai that knew he had been defeated, disgraced or mortally wounded. It meant that he could end his days with his transgressions wiped away and his reputation not only intact, but enhanced”. Death is the end pursuit of the Bushido code, and a reflection of the warrior haven given anything to its cause. On the other hand, medieval chivalry does not embrace death; but rather the duties a knight must follow.
Question 1 (Peter)
What is Bushido and what does it signify?
How did Bushido influence the society of the samurai?
Question 3 (Peter)
Another way European chivalry compares to Bushido is the role of woman. In medieval Europe, the role of woman occupies a central importance on chivalry. The role of woman was seen as a source of inspiration to medieval knights, but not to the Bushido following samurai. The emphasis on woman is seen in a different light in Bushido. For the Japanese, the focus on ‘masculinity’ is directly opposite to what it is to be a woman. ‘Unmanliness’ is a significant element in the Bushido code, but something not directly articulated to European chivalry.
How did Bushido develop over time?

Bushido is the ‘code of conduct’ that the whole Samurai class in feudal japan stood by. The name ‘Bushido’ itself means ‘Way of the Warrior’ in Japanese. Although the name ‘Bushido’ was not used until the 16th century, the idea behind the code developed during the Kamakura period, most likely because of the uprising of the feudal system which introduced different ‘classes’ in society. ‘Bushido’ dictates the way a Samurai should act. Bushido: The Soul of Japan is a book written by Inazo Nitobe and is a study of the way of the samurai. In the book he explains the main traits of a samurai following the code of Bushido. The main traits are: Justice, Courage, Benevolence, Politeness, Honesty and Sincerity, Honour, Loyalty and Character and self-control.

A samurai about to
perform seppuku.
Question 1 (Peter)
What is Bushido and what does it signify?

One of the acts of following the Bushido code and showing honour to it is ‘Seppuku’, which means ‘stomach cutting’ in Japanese. It is the form of suiciding to avoid capture and torture from the enemy, and to attenuate shame and to continue the honour of following the bushido code. It was mostly used by warriors to avoid getting captured by enemy hands and sometimes to avoid shame and torture. The main point of the act was to restore or to protect ones honour as a Samurai following Bushido. The first recorded act of seppuku was performed by Minomoto no Yorimasa during The Battle of Uji in the year 1180. In the battle the Minomoto clan was helping to defend the temple of Mii-dera from the Taira clan, where Prince Mochihito was chased to. (Mochihito was the Minomoto Clan’s most favoured prince to the throne) After the prince was hit with an arrow, he then committed seppuku to defend his honour as a Samurai and to follow the Bushido code.

Why were the Samurai such a big part of feudal Japan?
How does Bushido compare to medieval chivalry?
How does Bushido compare to medieval chivalry?
Religion also played a significant role in the lives of the samurai. The three religions practiced by these warriors were Shintoism, Confucianism, and a form of Buddhism called Zen.
Samurai also had their own equivalent code of chivalry like European knights called bushido.
Shinto is based on indigenous beliefs of Japan. Shinto literally means way of the gods. Japanese people believe that there is a basic life force that excites in all living things. This is called Kami and it also means gods such as the ones who created Japan. Shrines are placed near locations of natural beauty like water falls as they also have kami. Follower pray there for good fortune. Samurai would got to shrines to pray for victory and to give thanks before and after battle.
Zen Buddhism played a vital role for the samurai. The main objective of Zen Buddhism was to achieve Satori which is the flash of truth when all is understood. You can only achieve this though physical discipline and meditation. Samurais felt that doing this gave them more focus and improve their minds to become better warriors. The other main aim of Zen Buddhism is to achieve no-mindlessness or Mushin. Samurai who attained Mushin acted spontaneously and without thinking. He had not need think about his fighting nor wear to thrust his sword at vital organs. He could anticipate the moves of his opponent allowing him to become a much better warrior (sounds like star wars to me).
Bushido was the equivalent to the code of chivalry that the European knights used. Bushido means way of the warrior samurai would be honourable and courageous all the time but most importantly in battle. He would expect many hardships such as fasting and walking bare foot through the snow. The strictness of how samurai acted depended on each individual, but normally it was quite strict indeed. Failure to meet requirements, if one was shamed, or if they committed a crime against someone of import, they would be ordered to commit ritual suicide, known in Japanese as seppuku. He was also expected to have:
…and above all: Honour

The same code of ethics and discipline is used today in Japan in business and politics. Bushido has also been incorporated into the martial arts programs.

After World War Two, a new warrior rose from the ashes of the Japanese Soldier. Business families called Zaibatsu’s were the new keepers of the Bushido Code. Loyalty to the company became a new value in the modern world. A more popular Zaibatsu that you may know is Mitsubishi. Also, after being caught in the act of corruption, several Japanese officials have been reported to resign their positions in government. Another example of Bushido today is how many Japanese martial arts still name their schools after the Bushido code. This can be seen as values of the warrior.

The Kojiki is Japan's oldest surviving book written in 712 contains an indication of the values of the bushido ideal including references to the use and the admiration of the samurai sword. Many other books contain the values that warrior should have but the term Bushido did not appear till the start of the sengoku period (1467-1568). The term bushi did appear though referencing to the ideal educated warrior poet.
In the 13th – 16th centuries there was a great abundance of refernces to the ideals of bushido. In 13th-14th century writings portrayed the bushi in their natural element, war, eulogizing such virtues as reckless bravery, fierce family pride, and selfless, at times senseless devotion of master and man.
In the Sakoku period (1600- 1850) Japan enjoyed a rather peaceful. During
this period, the samurai class played a central role in the policing and administration of the country under the Tokugawa shogunate.
“This supposedly ancient "samurai code," exemplified by the heroes of
countless popular legends and myths, comprised an ethos of self-discipline, self-sacrifice, single-mindedness, unhesitating obedience to
one's lord, and utter fearlessness in the face of death.’ Not only shows what was required of a samurai but questions how old Bushido actually is.

More recently however historians have been focusing on the differences of the samurai classes and the bushido theories. Bushido before the war was usually centred on the emperor. During this time more emphasis was placed on the values of loyalty and self-sacrifice unlike in the Tokugawa-era. However even more recently it has been thought that it had originated in the 1880’s as a response to western “gentlemen ship”.
Bushido was widely practiced, varying little over time, and across the geographic, social variants
of the samurai, who at one time represented up to 10% of the Japanese population.

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