Home » 文武両道 » 15: Bushido Is the Spirit of the Japanese People【Kusahara Katsuhide, Chairman of JKA 】

15: Bushido Is the Spirit of the Japanese People【Kusahara Katsuhide, Chairman of JKA 】

15: Bushido Is the Spirit of the Japanese People【Kusahara Katsuhide, Chairman of JKA 】

15: Bushido Is the Spirit of the Japanese People【Kusahara Katsuhide, Chairman of JKA 】

Bushido was originally a code of ethics and morality shared among bushi (i.e., samurai or warriors), but over time, it widely shaped the psyche of the Japanese people. Why did bushido, the “code of the samurai,” become the standard ethical and moral code for the Japanese people? According to Nitobe Inazo, it was because the samurai enjoyed the admiration and respect of the general public.

The samurai class in Japan ranked at the top of the social order known as the shi-no-ko-sho (i.e., the hierarchy of samurai, farmers, artisans, and merchants) system. However, samurai did not accumulate wealth like the aristocrats in the West. Although the samurai were powerful, they were economically poor, unlike the merchants. As such, wealth and power were separated in Japan. The term shi (warrior), (farmer), (artisan), and shō (merchant) refers to different social roles and was not a strict class system with a ruler and ruled relationship as seen in the West. The samurai, farmers, artisans, and merchants were mutually dependent on each other.

The Samurai class emerged in the mid-Heian period. Since then, a sense of ethics specific to warriors developed among them. This ethical view includes respect for valor and honor and a close relationship between master and follower, which was passed down to future generations through various war chronicles and historical writings.

Among them, their courage and composure on the battlefield and their compassion for their enemies have been highly praised as virtues befitting warriors.

In the Edo period, however, the samurai were no longer warriors who fought but a class of rulers who governed through virtue. During this time of peace, entertainment culture flourished, including plays, yose (vaudeville), kōshaku (storytelling), jōruri (narrative music), and novels, most of which featured stories of warriors depicted in war chronicles and historical writings.

As a result, the general public also came to enjoy them. The stories of Minamoto no Yoshitsune and his loyal retainer Benkei, the Soga brothers, Oda Nobunaga, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi thrilled the public’s hearts. The audience applauded their bravery and admired their noble, honor-bearing ways. Furthermore, during the Edo period, there was the extraordinary incident of the 47 Ronin of Ako, fulfilling their vengeance at the residence of Kira. The story became popular among the masses regarding loyalty, a Confucian value of the period, and was incorporated into plays and storytelling.

The samurai way of life gradually became the ideal for all Japanese, and it came to be referred to as “Among flowers the cherry is queen, among men the samurai  is lord” Incidentally, Nitobe’s “Bushido” is subtitled “The soul of Japan”. This can be called  “the spirit of Japan” or “the yamato-damashii“.

The spirit of bushido, which spread from the samurai to the ordinary people, has not disappeared even in today’s Japan, where samurai are no longer around. It is still alive and well in the consciousness and behavior of the Japanese people, as seen in their work ethics, public morality, and respect for the gods and Buddha.

Therefore, Nitobe’s “Bushido” is not a theory of bushido in the narrow sense but rather a view of Japanese culture written for Westerners in the broader sense of how Japanese people think and act. The author aimed to appeal to the world that “the Japanese are not Christians like Westerners, but they are by no means savages as some Westerners think, but they possess an admirable ethical and moral character that is as good as theirs.” “Bushido” has more than fulfilled that mission.

As a result, some point out that the book lacks accuracy as a work on bushido per se. However, despite these problems, Nitobe’s “Bushido” remains the only book that provides a rational and systematic explanation of Japanese ethical and moral thought, and it has not lost its value. Through exposure to “Bushido”, those familiar with the budo (martial arts) will find that they, too, have acquired these traditional Japanese values without being aware of it.

The Japan Karate Association is a Public Interest Incorporated Association certified by the Cabinet Office and is committed to cultivate youth with quality.
The Prime Minister Cup and the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports Cup are awarded to the national convention hosted by the Society.