Bushido-The Way Of The Samurai Essay, Research Paper
“Bushido – The Way of the Samurai”
For over 1,000 years Japan warrior class, the Samurai, were considered the finest of Japanese. Understanding the values and beliefs of the Bushido warrioirs living in a feudal society can be difficult. Their absolute belief in duty and honor seem mystical and even impossible to modern society. maybe is the mystery of the samurai that makes it so fascinating. The history of the Samurai is important to understand the history of Japan.
For centuries the samurai dominated Japan. Samurai were commonly reffered to as “retainers” (monofu) or “men of war” (bushi). They are now referred to as the Chinese-derived name samurai, which means “to serve” (Ratti & Westbrook, p.83) The samurai was in control of economic, religious, social and artistic aspect of Japan. It was the samurai government fo Tokugawa family thet effectively isolated Japan from foreign influence for two and a half centuries (Cook 6). The feudal system that create the samurai class collapse in the nineteenth century and the need for armoured knights dissapear. Alot of the following changes and modernation came from the young samurai class of people.
Japan has become modern at a very astonish rate. The warrior class became civil service or bussiness men. The values that was special to the samurai were still respect by the Japanese. The Bushido, the warrior code, became an expression of national morality (Cook 9).
The Samurai had strong skills and was willing to die for their lords made the samurai very good warrior. They had a very strong discipline, and dedicated their entire lives to their lord and to martial arts. They were required to have style and finesse in every aspects of life. The samurai was not only trained in fighting, but they were many kinds artist, including painters and woodcarvers.
Samurai history is very complex. There is stories of bravery, cruelty and self sacrifice. The samurai preserved a way of life that vanished in the west. To understand the samurai and the bushido people first need to look at the social and political history of Japan.
Most historians agree that the population of Japan was from waves of immigration at different times after the 6th or 7th cebtury. People migrated from noth and south Asia. Also another group believe to be the ancestors of the Ainu, a caucasian people, was also there from a very early period (Cook 18). Conflict between Ainu and the other people from Japan make up a lot of Japanese history.
Evidence of early culture being disrupted by the Yayoi in western Japan. They were a more advanced people, and had strong ties with China. They probably came from the Korean penninsula. It seem clear that before the time of the earliest written records, the people in Japan were clearly distinct from the neighbors on the continent, and even had cultural traits, such as ritual purification and extreme respect for social superiors, that would become characteristic of later Japanese culture (Cook 22).
Because of not many written records of early Japan it is difficult to give exact dates of the history. There were many myths and legends that can help us to see a growing culture and it seem to be usually at war with others around them. By the 3rd century the center of Japanese people was establish in the Yamato region. That regions people were divide into extended family groups known as uji. The groups were lead be cheifs, but the Yamato state was a group of these extended families under the overall leadership of the Yamato clan (Cook 23).
There was a prince name Yamato who could be consider the role model for the samurai. The samurai did not exist at that time but he exhibit so many features of that the samurai now has. The warriors of that time were from the clans. The early men of the clans were fishermen, farmers and metal workers, but they were also warriors. The weapons and armour of the early warriors is important to understand the evolution of these things into the later period of the samurai. Besides the physical and mental abilities, perhaps armour was one of the most important means of defense for Samurai.
The armour of the early Japanese warriors resembled the Chinese style.
As the Yamato state grew they adopt more Chinese forms of government. The Yamato sovereigns began to use the title of ‘emporor’ (Cook 34). To keep control over the many clans the Yamato court also tried to become more centralized state under the control of the imperial family. The people trying to reform the system learn a lot from the Soga clan. During 6th century the Soga were very powerful and had strong connection to the imperial family. After about 587 the Soga clan was the most powerful in the Yamato court (Cook 40). In 592 the head of the clan put Prince Shotoku in charge of the throne.
Shotoku was made a series of reforms that tried to replace the system of government with more Chinese style of centralised government. As the Yamato state got bigger the local clan leaders set up their own domains, in theory as officials of the court. but if things got weak in the central government they usually looked out for their own interest, and sometimes had to be brought under control by the force of the centralised government. so to enforce the authority of the court the government had to maintain an army. These were the kind of armies that gave the birth to the traditions and customs of the samurai and the Bushido code.
Religion also played a major part in the shaping of the bushido way of life as Buddhism came to Japan in early 6th century (Wilson 17) . The travellers from Korea brought it. The Soga clan was very powerful and they accepted buddhism, therefore it became another way to transfer Chinese influence into Japan. Buddhism influence began to filter into the rest of Japanese society.
There are misunderstandings of Bushido in the western world. Many people think bushido, The Way of the samurai, was the invention of martial arts. The samurai were not the first ones to use martial arts in Japan, but they was very significant. If people look at the hiustory of bushido a better understanding of the Japanese people can be reached. Furthermore, if we learn more about the development of Bushido a better understanding on the nature of Japanese in war can be learned.
Japanese martial arts has changed a lot. During the Tokugawa, Meiji, and Modern times. Many wsterners have become interest in martial arts so now bushido can no longer be considered only for the Japanese. Bushido, the way of the samurai, was not a universal code passed down as law. It was more a way of life and a way to do things on a daily basis.
Many historians believe the Tokugawa period as the birth of bushido, but this can be misleading. Bushido did first appeared in writings from the Tokugawa period (1685). During the Tokugawa period many laws and codes were passed, a lot of them related to the samurai class. That was influence by politics of the Tokugawa rulers. Although bushido is not just limit to these laws of Tokugawa. Samurai codes were different at different times, and in different places.
Bushido can be translated as “The Way of the Samurai.” Someone who practice martial arts can be considered a samurai only in the figurative sense. Bushido was a combination of samurai lifestyle, a special code of conduct that was specific to military leaders, armies, and elite soldiers. On the other hand, Budo is a samurai way to improve your life. Therefore, if bushido is the “Way” of the samurai, then budo is the “Way” of the modern Japanese martial arts. Bushido includes psychological benefits like well-being, physical health, and self-improvement. It also help the intellectual and spiritual life of the person. Exactly when Bushido was develop is a complicate subject that has to do research on Japanese conflicts to understand.
Until the 2nd century the Japanese were primarily hunter-gatherers (Yamaguchi, 1987.) When Japanese started growing rice organisation of labor was more necessary. Since rice can be stored for a long time any large storage could be consider as wealth. Therefore, class distinctions began to appear. Rice farming require a lot of labor and organization. Therefore, Japanese ideas of hierarchy and the importance of the group started to emerge.
Japan was divided into many states without a centralized power until the Yamatai state began to control its neighbors. During this period Chinese culture began influence Japan. It brought art, technology, architecture, writing and Buddhism. Confucianist filial piety and loyalty were adapted so that society became a reflection of the family (Pieter, p.21). The emperor was the supreme power until the end of the 10th century when rivals began to fight each other to gain power. The Fujiwara clan got power by providing the emperor with a supply of wifes and they influence their royal sons (Yamaguchi, p. S6). That marks the beginning of the Heian Period (794-1156). This was a long period of conflicts called “The Golden Age of the Samurai.”
The Fujiwara clan started to get into high military and government positions. That caused a lot of political tension. The Minamoto clan take advantage of that and took control of government. Suddenly the emperor had became a powerless figurehead. That period is known as the Golden Age for the life and the arts the samurai of later periods also thought of the Heian Age as their Golden Age. They thought it was an age when they advanced to the top of the hierarchy. They devoted their lives to the battle. They mostly fought mounted on horseback during this period. The sword was an auxiliary weapon, much like an officer’s pistol today (Friday, p. 4-5).
The heian military groups was like a family. They embraced the samurai traditions that bound groups and families together. Sometimes many of the small groups were put together to form armies but they were still seperate groups after the battles. The samurai fought in small units, and the ideas of personal honor was strong. The central issue to a samurai’s personal honor was his martial abilities(Friday, p. 15).
The Heian Period ended when the Minamotos were defeated by the Taira clan in 1156. Then the Tairas was defeated ba clans lead by a Minamoto. Minamoto Yoritomo got the title of Shogun, or “supreme general”. The shogun was the commander of the emperor armies. After Yoritomo’s death in 1205, succeeding shoguns came from his allies in the Hojo Clan (1185-1336), then from the Ashikaga clan (1336-1568), and after civil war in the Momoyama period the Tokugawa clan (1600-1867).
Since the fall of the Emperor in the 10th century until the beginning of the Tokugawa the samurai fought in many small battles and wars and controlled politics and war. During the Tokugawa period there was not many war and samurai were mostly the privileged class. They were different from earlier samurai. The early samurai fought in larger armies. Instead of the bow and arrow early samurai mostly used swords and spears (Friday, p.15). The Japanese also changed their armor so that they could fight better on the ground. Fighting become more technical and more strategic.
The samurai had to learn more weapons. Since the enemy wore armor, punching and striking the armor did not make much sense. One exception is a system develop by Okinawans called Karate. They developed that because when the Samurai invaded the island the poor peasants had to defend themselves, so the used a highly skilled karate kick that could shatter the armour of the samurai. The Samurai learned a lesson from them and began to practice karate methods also (Adele & Westbrook, p.37)
Unarmed combat was also something they had to learn. One style of that is aiki-jujutsu. New methods of grappling, locking, and throwing armored opponents evolved. Therefore many weapons and techniques were develop that the samurai had to be familiar with all of them. Although firearms were introduced to Japan in 1543, most samurai felt the weapon was too impersonal, and with their elegance and pride still intact, charged into battle wearing their two swords.” (Saotome, p. 124.)
In 1191, Rinzai Zen came from China, and Soto Zen followed in 1227 (Pieter, 1993, p. 16). Zen was the favorite religion of the samurai. Samurai asked Zen priests for advice and counseling. Sometimes the Samurai even retired as Zen monks. Zen Buddhism appealed to the samurai because it dealt with death and the relationship of all things, including the mind and body. Mind and body unification was crucial to Samurai. Zen became a important part in all aspect of Japanese life.
When the Tokugawa gained power in 1600, it was the beginning of 250 years of peace. The military develop different systems of martial art called budo, bujutsu, or kobudo. Laws made by the Tokugawa shogun formed a code which is known as bushido. Although this transformation of the martial arts and the formulation of bushido ideals are regarded as creative adaptations since Meiji times, Tokugawa contemporaries perceived this as a decline in martial skills. (Hurst, 1993, p.44)
To keep control of Japan the Tokugawa ruler made Confucianism the state religion. This was Chu Hsi’s interpretation of Confucianism which “stressed the unquestioning and loyal attitude of inferior toward superiors” (Adele and Westbrook, 1973, p. 73). Tokugawa also develop a system for indoctrination. The Tokugawans indoctrinated their top samurai by educating them in Neo-Confucian daigaku (universities). With so much emphasis on culture, literature and art, and with rigid customs, codes of conduct, and various duties to fulfill at the shogun’s court, the Tokugawa shogunate kept its samurai too occupied to prepare for rebellions or wars. (Saotome, p.115) This period the government had very strong rule but it keep peace and the arts.
In Japan the Confucianism began to influence bushido more Zen. Although Zen was already embedded in culture of Japan, “few warriors were firm believers or advocates of Zen Buddhism.” (Hurst, p. 46.) There was a decline of Zen in that period because of the confucian movement. The influence of Zen on the samurai had an important part.
Bushido can be interpret in many ways then. There was a Meiji interpretation of Tokugawan bushido. Tokugawan bushido can be considered a confucian interpretation of samurai ethics. The warriors of Japan used samurai ideals and interperet them according to their needs. Even modern man can use it, for instance a Japanese business man who is compete with the western bussiness man can use some of the Bushido way of life to be more competetive.
The overthrow of the Tokugawa shogun marked the beginning of modern budo. The Meiji government redirected classical budo to develop a “new sense of personal pride and national spirit” (Maliszewski, p.23). But bushido became used dor other purpose too. The Meiji restoration again made the Emporor as the ruler of Japan the emporor was transformed once again to just a figurehead of power.
Japan started to grow military strength. It began to use bushido for training soldiers. In 1872 western style sports and physical education was part of the school. And schools also started to use martial arts training. Secondary schools also use judo, kendo, and sumo. In 1941, Japan’s war time National School Reform act replaced physical education teachers with military instructors and made intense training in judo and kendo mandatory, as well as “squad drills, military maneuvers, and the use of hand grenades.” Martial arts “provided the training for a psychologically efficient soldier” and was a way for future soldiers to learn “strategy, self-control, and above all, allegiance to authority.” (Neide, p. 38.)
The benefits of martial arts to the modern world can be traced back to the mideival Samurai and the Bushido code. One study of some martial arts students found a relationship between skill level and aggressiveness, which supports the view that training in the martial arts reduces aggressiveness.
Martial arts has something called ki. Ki is like somebodys inside spirit or energy. The interpretation of ki is usually left up to the student. Ki is a simple concept that can be interpret many ways. A traditional Taoist-educated Chinese physician would probably say that chi (ki) is a microbiomaterial which circulates through the body, maintaining life itself (Ho, 1995.).
The misunderstanding of Bushido and the Way of the Samurai can be clear if we try to understan the way of life. The samurai lived life of self-sacrifice that sometimes even mean taking his own life. The way of Bshido can be a way to self improvement and a more quality of life. Just like in ancient Japan practice in bushido takes a lot of patience, if you try long enough the wisdom of the samurai can help people be stronger and more in touch with their inner spirit.