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What is The Samurai's Bushido?

July 25, 2017

What is The Samurai's Bushido?

Samurai warriors were instrumental in shaping Japan's history. With origins dating back to the Heian period, they were renowned for their exceptional swordsmanship, combat abilities and self-discipline. In fact, samurai warriors were so influential in feudal Japan that they later became leaders of the country's shogunate dictatorship of the Edo period (1603-1867).

Enter Bushido

In addition to following Confucian beliefs and values, samurai warriors also embraced a set of philosophies known as bushido. Translated to "the way of the warrior," bushido is essentially the code of life by which samurai warriors in feudal Japan live.

Origins of Bushido

While the term "bushido" has been around since the 17th century, it didn't become popular until 1899, during which it was emphasized in a book titled Bushido: The Soul of Japan. In this book, author Nitobe Inazō described it as " ... the code of moral principles which the samurai were required or instructed to observe... It was an organic growth of decades and centuries of military career. In order to become a samurai this code has to be mastered."

Of course, the actual philosophies on which bushido is based dates back to before the 17th century. Historians believe that some of the earliest uses of bushido date back to 1st and 2nd century Japan. At this time, however, there wasn't a specific term used to describe these collective philosophies. Instead, the beliefs were merely shared by samurai warriors.

The Eight Virtues

At its core, bushido focuses on eight specific virtues.

  1. Righteousness -- samurai warriors must be honest and straightforward in their dealings with other people. They should also believe in justice while honoring those who've been wronged.
  2. Heroic courage -- in following bushido, samurai warriors should be courageous and willing to take risks. Bushido states that heroic courage such as this is intelligent and strong, while hiding is cowardly.
  3. Compassion -- samurai warriors must show compassion to others, helping their fellow men in need. If there's no an opportunity to show compassion, samurai warriors go out of their way to find an opportunity.
  4. Respect -- there's no reason for samurai warriors to be cruel or prove their strength. They must show respect, both in battle and in times of peace.
  5. Integrity -- this virtue specifically states that samurai warriors should live up to their word. If a samurai warrior says he will do something, he must do something. No person or thing will stop the samurai warrior from completing this task.
  6. Honor -- samurai warriors have a single judge of honor: themselves. Therefore, their actions represent their true beliefs and values.
  7. Loyalty -- following these beliefs, samurai warriors must be loyal to those for whom they care.
  8. Self-control -- samurai warriors must practice self-control.

Photo credit: madmrmox

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