Bushid? (, "the way of warriors") is a Japanese collective term for the many codes of honour and ideals that dictated the samurai way of life, loosely analogous to the European concept of chivalry.
The "way" originates from the samurai moral values, most commonly stressing some combination of sincerity, frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and honour until death. Born from Neo-Confucianism during times of peace in the Edo period (1600-1878) and following Confucian texts, while also being influenced by Shinto and Zen Buddhism, allowing the violent existence of the samurai to be tempered by wisdom, patience and serenity. Bushid? developed between the 16th and 20th centuries, debated by pundits who believed they were building on a legacy dating back to the 10th century, although some scholars have noted that the term bushid? itself is "rarely attested in pre-modern literature".
The word bushid? was first used in Japan during the 17th century in K?y? Gunkan, but did not come into common usage until after the 1899 publication of Nitobe Inaz?'s Bushido: The Soul of Japan. In Bushido (1899), Nitobe wrote:
Bushid?, then, is the code of moral principles which the samurai were required or instructed to observe ... More frequently it is a code unuttered and unwritten ... It was an organic growth of decades and centuries of military career. In order to become a samurai this code has to be mastered.
Nitobe was the first to document Japanese chivalry in this way. In Feudal and Modern Japan (1896), historian Arthur May Knapp wrote:
The samurai of thirty years ago had behind him a thousand years of training in the law of honor, obedience, duty, and self-sacrifice ... It was not needed to create or establish them. As a child he had but to be instructed, as indeed he was from his earliest years, in the etiquette of self-immolation.
Many early literary works of Japan talk of warriors, but the term bushid? does not appear in text until the Edo period.
From the literature of the 13th to 16th centuries, there exists an abundance of references to military ideals, although none of these should be viewed as early versions of bushid? per se.Carl Steenstrup noted that 13th- and 14th-century writings (gunki monogatari) "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".
Compiled over the course of three centuries, beginning in the 1180s, the Heike Monogatari depicts a highly fictionalized and idealized story of a struggle between two warrior clans, the Minamoto and the Taira, at the end of the 12th century--a conflict known as the Genpei War. Clearly depicted throughout the epic is the ideal of the cultivated warrior. The warriors in the Heike Monogatari served as role models for the educated warriors of later generations, although the ideals depicted by them were assumed to be beyond reach. Nevertheless, during the early modern era, these ideals were vigorously pursued in the upper echelons of warrior society and recommended as the proper form of the Japanese man of arms. The influence of Shinto, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism in the Bushido's early development instilled among those who live by the code a religious respect for it. Yamaga-Soko, the Japanese philosopher given credit for establishing Bushido, said that "the first and surest means to enter into communion with the Divine is by sincerity."
The sayings of Sengoku-period retainers and warlords such as Kat? Kiyomasa and Nabeshima Naoshige were generally recorded or passed down to posterity around the turn of the 16th century when Japan had entered a period of relative peace. In a handbook addressed to "all samurai, regardless of rank", Kat? states:
Kat? was a ferocious warrior who banned even recitation of poetry, stating:
Naoshige says similarly, that it is shameful for any man to die without having risked his life in battle, regardless of rank, and that "bushid? is in being crazy to die. Fifty or more could not kill one such a man". However, Naoshige also suggests that "everyone should personally know exertion as it is known in the lower classes".
Japan enjoyed a period of relative peace from 1600 to the mid-19th century. During this period, the samurai class played a central role in the policing and administration of the country. The bushid? literature of this time contains much thought relevant to a warrior class seeking more general application of martial principles and experience in peacetime, as well as reflection on the land's long history of war. The literature of this time includes:
The Hagakure contains many sayings attributed to Sengoku-period retainer Nabeshima Naoshige (1537-1619) regarding bushid? related philosophy early in the 18th century by Yamamoto Tsunetomo (1659-1719), a former retainer to Naoshige's grandson, Nabeshima Mitsushige. The Hagakure was compiled in the early 18th century, but was kept as a kind of "secret teaching" of the Nabeshima clan until the end of the Tokugawa bakufu (1867). His saying, "I have found the way of the warrior is death", was a summation of the focus on honour and reputation over all else that bushid? codified.
Tokugawa-era r?nin, scholar and strategist Yamaga Sok? (1622-1685) wrote extensively on matters relating to bushid?, buky? (a "warrior's creed"), and a more general shid?, a "way of gentlemen" intended for application to all stations of society. Sok? attempts to codify a kind of "universal bushid?" with a special emphasis on "pure" Confucian values, (rejecting the mystical influences of Tao and Buddhism in Neo-Confucian orthodoxy), while at the same time calling for recognition of the singular and divine nature of Japan and Japanese culture. These radical concepts--including ultimate devotion to the Emperor, regardless of rank or clan--put him at odds with the reigning shogunate. He was exiled to the Ak? domain, (the future setting of the 47 R?nin incident), and his works were not widely read until the rise of nationalism in the early 20th century.
The aging Yamamoto Tsunetomo's interpretation of bushid? is perhaps more illustrative of the philosophy refined by his unique station and experience, at once dutiful and defiant, ultimately incompatible with the laws of an emerging civil society. Of the 47 r?nin--to this day, generally regarded as exemplars of bushid?--Tsunetomo felt they were remiss in hatching such a wily, delayed plot for revenge, and had been over-concerned with the success of their undertaking. Instead, Tsunetomo felt true samurai should act without hesitation to fulfill their duties, without regard for success or failure.
This romantic sentiment is of course expressed by warriors throughout history, though it may run counter to the art of war itself. This ambivalence is found in the heart of bushid?, and perhaps all such "warrior codes". Some combination of traditional bushid?'s organic contradictions and more "universal" or "progressive" formulations (like those of Yamaga Sok?) would inform Japan's disastrous military ambitions in the 20th century.
Recent scholarship in both Japan and abroad has focused on differences between the samurai caste and the bushid? theories that developed in modern Japan. Bushid? in the prewar period was often emperor-centered and placed much greater value on the virtues of loyalty and self-sacrifice than did many Tokugawa-era interpretations.Bushid? was used as a propaganda tool by the government and military, who doctored it to suit their needs. Scholars of Japanese history agree that the bushid? that spread throughout modern Japan was not simply a continuation of earlier traditions.
More recently, it has been argued that modern bushid? discourse originated in the 1880s as a response to foreign stimuli, such as the English concept of "gentlemanship", by Japanese with considerable exposure to Western culture. Nitobe Inazo's bushid? interpretations followed a similar trajectory, although he was following earlier trends. This relatively pacifistic bushid? was then hijacked and adapted by militarists and the government from the early 1900s onward as nationalism increased around the time of the Russo-Japanese War.
The junshi suicide of General Nogi Maresuke and his wife on the death of Emperor Meiji occasioned both praise, as an example to the decaying morals of Japan, and criticism, explicitly declaring that the spirit of bushid? thus exemplified should not be revived.
During pre-World War II and World War II Sh?wa Japan, bushido was pressed into use for militarism,to present war as purifying, and death a duty. This was presented as revitalizing traditional values and "transcending the modern".Bushid? would provide a spiritual shield to let soldiers fight to the end. As the war turned, the spirit of bushid? was invoked to urge that all depended on the firm and united soul of the nation. When the Battle of Attu was lost, attempts were made to make the more than two thousand Japanese deaths an inspirational epic for the fighting spirit of the nation. Arguments that the plans for the Battle of Leyte Gulf, involving all Japanese ships, would expose Japan to serious danger if they failed, were countered with the plea that the Navy be permitted to "bloom as flowers of death". The first proposals of organized suicide attacks met resistance because although bushid? called for a warrior to be always aware of death, they were not to view it as the sole end. Nonetheless, the desperate straits brought about acceptance and such attacks were acclaimed as the true spirit of bushid?.
As Japan continued its modernization in the early 20th century, her armed forces became convinced that success in battle would be assured if Japanese soldiers, sailors, and airmen had the "spirit" of Bushido. ... The result was that the Bushido code of behavior "was inculcated into the Japanese soldier as part of his basic training." Each soldier was indoctrinated to accept that it was the greatest honor to die for the Emperor and it was cowardly to surrender to the enemy. ... Bushido therefore explains why the Japanese in the NEI so mistreated POWs in their custody. Those who had surrendered to the Japanese--regardless of how courageously or honorably they had fought--merited nothing but contempt; they had forfeited all honor and literally deserved nothing. Consequently, when the Japanese murdered POWs by shooting, beheading, and drowning, these acts were excused since they involved the killing of men who had forfeited all rights to be treated with dignity or respect. While civilian internees were certainly in a different category from POWs, it is reasonable to think that there was a "spill-over" effect from the tenets of Bushido.
Japanese propaganda during World War II claimed that prisoners of war denied being mistreated, and declared that they were being well-treated by virtue of bushid? generosity. Broadcast interviews with prisoners were also described as being not propaganda but out of sympathy with the enemy, such sympathy as only bushid? could inspire.
Bushid? expanded and formalized the earlier code of the samurai, and stressed sincerity, frugality, loyalty, mastery of martial arts, and honour to the death. Under the bushid? ideal, if a samurai failed to uphold his honor he could only regain it by performing seppuku (ritual suicide).
In the world of the warrior, seppuku was a deed of bravery that was admirable in a samurai who knew he was defeated, disgraced, or mortally wounded. It meant that he could end his days with his transgressions wiped away and with his reputation not merely intact but actually enhanced. The cutting of the abdomen released the samurai's spirit in the most dramatic fashion, but it was an extremely painful and unpleasant way to die, and sometimes the samurai who was performing the act asked a loyal comrade to cut off his head at the moment of agony.
Bushid? varied dramatically over time, and across the geographic and socio-economic backgrounds of the samurai, who represented somewhere between 5% and 10% of the Japanese population. The first Meiji-era census at the end of the 19th century counted 1,282,000 members of the "high samurai", 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.
Some versions of bushid? include compassion for those of lower station, and for the preservation of one's name. Early bushid? literature further enforces the requirement to conduct oneself with calmness, fairness, justice, and propriety. The relationship between learning and the way of the warrior is clearly articulated, one being a natural partner to the other.
Other pundits pontificating on the warrior philosophy covered methods of raising children, appearance, and grooming, but all of this may be seen as part of one's constant preparation for death--to die a good death with one's honor intact, the ultimate aim in a life lived according to bushid?. Indeed, a "good death" is its own reward, and by no means assurance of "future rewards" in the afterlife. Some samurai, though certainly not all (e.g., Amakusa Shir?), have throughout history held such aims or beliefs in disdain, or expressed the awareness that their station--as it involves killing--precludes such reward, especially in Buddhism. Japanese beliefs surrounding the samurai and the afterlife are complex and often contradictory, while the soul of a noble warrior suffering in hell or as a lingering spirit occasionally appears in Japanese art and literature, so does the idea of a warrior being reborn upon a lotus throne in paradise
Be acutely honest throughout your dealings with all people. Believe in justice, not from other people, but from yourself. To the true warrior, all points of view are deeply considered regarding honesty, justice and integrity. Warriors make a full commitment to their decisions.
Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all. A true warrior must have heroic courage. It is absolutely risky. It is living life completely, fully and wonderfully. Heroic courage is not blind. It is intelligent and strong.
Through intense training and hard work the true warrior becomes quick and strong. They are not as most people. They develop a power that must be used for good. They have compassion. They help their fellow men at every opportunity. If an opportunity does not arise, they go out of their way to find one.
True warriors have no reason to be cruel. They do not need to prove their strength. Warriors are not only respected for their strength in battle, but also by their dealings with others. The true strength of a warrior becomes apparent during difficult times.
When warriors say that they will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing will stop them from completing what they say they will do. They do not have to 'give their word'. They do not have to 'promise'. Speaking and doing are the same action.
Warriors have only one judge of honor and character, and this is themselves. Decisions they make and how these decisions are carried out are a reflection of who they truly are. You cannot hide from yourself.
Warriors are responsible for everything that they have done and everything that they have said and all of the consequences that follow. They are immensely loyal to all of those in their care. To everyone that they are responsible for, they remain fiercely true.
Modern Western translation of documents related to bushid? began in the 1970s with Carl Steenstrup, who performed research into the ethical codes of famous samurai including H?j? S?un and Imagawa Sadayo.
Primary research into bushid? was later conducted by William Scott Wilson in his 1982 text Ideals of the Samurai: Writings of Japanese Warriors. The writings span hundreds of years, family lineage, geography, social class and writing style--yet share a common set of values. Wilson's work also examined older Japanese writings unrelated to the warrior class: the Kojiki, Shoku Nihongi, the Kokin Wakash? and the Konjaku Monogatari, as well as the Chinese Classics (the Analects, the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, and the Mencius).
In May 2008, Thomas Cleary translated a collection of 22 writings on bushid? by warriors, scholars, political advisers, and educators, spanning 500 years from the 14th to the 19th centuries. Titled Training the Samurai Mind: A Bushido Sourcebook, it gave an insider's view of the samurai world: "the moral and psychological development of the warrior, the ethical standards they were meant to uphold, their training in both martial arts and strategy, and the enormous role that the traditions of Shintoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism had in influencing samurai ideals".
Koyo gunkan is the earliest comprehensive extant work that provides a notion of Bushido as a samurai ethos and the value system of the samurai tradition.