Bushido, a code of moral principles that dictate the samurai way of life, first came to the fore during the Edo period. Its origins were largely influenced by Shinto and Zen Buddhism, with many of its tenets being drawn from Neo-Confucian texts. Bushido was originally an informal code of conduct for samurai, encompassing a wide range of virtues and guides to behavior that were meant to temper the harsh lifestyle of the samurai. It acted as a training of the mind that complemented the training of the body that all warriors experienced.
Some of the moral values that Bushido encompassed include sincerity, frugality, honor, physical prowess, and loyalty until death. These virtues were intended to instill patience, serenity, and wisdom within the often volatile samurai.
Bushido was developed during a period of relative peace and more widely adopted following the compilation of the Heiki Monogatari, a three-century epic in which a battle between two powerful family clans clearly champions the image of the virtuous, educated, sophisticated warrior. Following the completion of the epic, generations of samurai held the warriors of Heiki Monogatari to be ideals, and the popularity and influence of Bushido spread.
Throughout the 17th and 19th centuries, Japan experienced a period of relative peace and prosperity. During this period of time, the shogunate was increasingly controlled by members of the warrior class. In order to exert their influence over the administration and policy of the governmental era, those warriors in control began to formalize concepts of Bushido by writing them into Japanese feudal law.
One notable example of a warrior who embodied the values of Bushido was Oishi Yoshio. Oishi was a member of the Forty-seven Ronin, a group of masterless samurai who planned and executed a revenge assassination of their master’s adversary, Kira Yoshinaka. The plan was created over the course of two years, with each member of the Forty-seven Ronin committing seppuku following the success of their assassination plot. Seppuku was seen as an honorable death as opposed to mere execution. Because of Oishi’s willingness to prove his loyalty to his master even beyond death, he was revered as a warrior who made the ultimate sacrifice and one who was highly honorable. Oishi’s example was used as a role model for behaving in the way of the Bushido for generations of warriors to come.
- Benesch, Oleg. “Bushido: The Creation of a Martial Ethic in Late Meiji Japan.” The University of British Columbia, 2011
Bushido: The Creation of a Martial Ethic in Late Meiji Japan is an extensive research paper written by Dr. Oleg Benesch, a Senior Lecturer at the University of York who specializes in the global histories of both China and Japan. The paper goes into great detail about the historical usage of Bushido as a term, its origins from a warrior culture, and the code’s development and impact from medieval Japan through the end of the Meiji restoration, but focuses on the period from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. The paper caters to a scholarly audience and gives plenty of evidence to support the author’s claims and cites a variety of other scholarly sources. The paper is thorough, extremely well organized chronologically, and detailed throughout. Dr. Benesch’s analysis of bushido in modern Japan does not seem to be affected by any clear biases.
- Benesch, Oleg. “Inventing the Way of the Samurai.” Oxford University Press, 2014.
Inventing the Way of the Samurai is a book written by Dr. Oleg Benesch, a Senior Lecturer at the University of York who specializes in the global histories of both China and Japan. Inventing the Way of the Samurai covers much of the same topics as his research paper, Bushido: The Creation of a Martial Ethic in Late Meiji Japan, but in a much more concise manner making it seem less imposing. The book is an academic study of the bushido code and takes a historical approach towards its growth and impact on Japanese tradition and nationalism. Inventing the Way of the Samurai is a great source of the specific topic of bushido due to its great detail and historical accuracy. As with Bushido: The Creation of a Martial Ethic in Late Meiji Japan, there is no evident bias and the works cited leave opportunity for further reader research into the topics of samurai and the bushido code.
- Hannon, Sean. Inner Bushido: Strength without Conflict. Parker, CO: Bookcrafters, 2014.
- History.com Editors, ed. “Samurai and Bushido.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, October 28, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/japan/samurai-and-bushido.
This web article by History.com follows the link between samurai and bushido from the Heian period to modern Japan and is directed at a general audience. The article also goes into some detail of the development of the term ‘bushido meaning, from a pure warrior code to a looser moral code, influenced by Buddhist and Confucian thought. Although none of the information provided in the article seems problematic per-se, it is somewhat concerning that the names of the specific editors involved in writing the article and/or their academic qualifications are lacking.?corporate agenda
- HistoryNet Staff. “Satsuma Rebellion: Satsuma Clan Samurai Against the Imperial Japanese Army.” HistoryNet. HistoryNet, August 9, 2016. https://www.historynet.com/satsuma-rebellion-satsuma-clan-samurai-against-the-imperial-japanese-army.htm.
- Imai, John Toshimichi. Bushido in the Past and Present. Tokyo, Japan: Kanazashi, Kanda, 1906.
- Nitobé Inazō. Code of the Samurai: Bushido: The Soul of Japan. New York, NY: Chartwell Books, Inc., 2013.
- Pletcher, Kenneth. “Bushidō.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., September 9, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bushido.
This online article was written by a former senior editor of Encyclopædia Britannica, Kenneth Pletcher, who holds both an M.A. in Japanese studies and a minor in Asian studies, both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The article gives details of the Bushido code itself such as seppuku/harakiri and religious influence, along with its development beginning in the Kamakura period, and its residual impact following the Edo period. The article is intended for a general audience and has little to no evident bias due to the fact that the article is made up almost entirely of factual information rather than Pletcher’s personal views on the topic. Although the information in the article is high in quality and validity, due to the nature of the article being part of a greater encyclopedia, the length and volume of information obtainable from the article are both relatively low.
- Tsunetomo, Yamamoto. Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai. Tustin, CA: Xist Publishing, 2015.
The Hagakure Kikigaki is a practical and spiritual manual for the samurai class written by the samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo in Edo Japan (1716), a period when the importance of the samurai warrior class was beginning to diminish. The Hagakure is composed of a series of short stories which give insight into the samurai’s Bushido code and reflect Tsunetomo’s views on the warrior code. The Hagakure gives us important insight into an Edo samurai’s view on Bushido, their very own way of life. Although the Hagakure was first published over 300 years ago, it still gives us an authentic view on Bushido during the Edo period.
It should be noted that Tsunetomo did not commit seppuku following the death of his lord, Nabeshima, sixteen years before writing the Hagakure, as disagreement with samurai tradition may have influenced the work.
- Turnbull, Stephen R. Samurai: The World of the Warrior. New York, NY: Osprey, 2006.