Table Speech

“How Samurai lived in Japan and its relationship with Hagakure”


May 30, 2007

Mr. Takashi Kamura,
Urbantory Law Office,
Meiji University

The word Bushido (Japanese Chivalry) started to be used in early 1600. Until then, this concept was more known as “customs of warriors” or “rules of warriors”.

In the book Hagakure published in 1716, it is stated that “Bushido is knowing how to die”. Jocho (Tsunetomo) Yamamoto, whose speech was edited to be Hagakure criticized Bushido of another group, in the western part of Japan. There were two Bushidos, one like Hagakure and another Bushido which Yamamoto criticized.  I would like to discuss today which Bushido we should take in Japan hereafter.

In Japanese history, in the year 604, Prince Shotoku stated in the Third Article of the [Constitution of 17 Articles]  “All the emperor’s orders must be obeyed”. This rule has been followed throughout Japanese history. For example, at the end of the Edo period, Naosuke Ii was murdered at Sakuradamon by samurais of Mito because he signed treaties with foreign countries without receiving the emperor’s order. Similarly, Japanese soldiers stopped fighting in China at the end or World War II because that was the emperor’s orders.

But there were times when this rule was more freely interpreted. In the middle ages of Japan, from the end of Heian to early Edo period, the key word among warriors was “Practicality”. An example is a warrior of Hagakure, Naoshige Nabeshima is said to have asked his son “What did you prey to god?” when visiting a shrine. When the son replied, “Military luck, prosperity of family, and safety of nation”, Naoshige said you should instead prey for “The protection from god to carry out things practically”.

Another example of substance would be the realism that 100 blunt spears are more useful than one great sword. Seppuku (killing one self with the sword) was also used in a way of substance in the end of the Kamakura period when Yoshimitsu Murakami deceived his enemies by stating to them that he was Prince Morinaga Shinno, and then committing seppuku and throwing his intestines to his enemies. While the enemies were surprised, in the meantime the real Prince Morinaga Shinno escaped. This is another example of seppuku used as a strategy. Harakiri also occurred in the Edo period when after a warlord died, his servants followed him to die by harakiri.

After 1644, when the Ming dynasty ended in China, many Chinese came to Japan. They brought with them Chinese culture such as hierarchy and Confucianism. The hierarchy consisted of the social classes of Bushi (warrior), farmer, craftsman and merchant. The samurai spirit was to act within each social class and seppuku became to be regarded as one of the important elements of Bushido, as a way of taking responsibility. This idea was carried out by Mitsukuni Mito. His philosophy of Bushido separated the feudal lord and his servants and was more nationalistic. The society was strictly separated as classes, namely as Bushi(warriors), farmers, craftsman and merchants. Bushido, then, was based upon this kind of class society. There was no sympathy between the classes, only control from the Bushi class.

During the five hundred years in the Middle Age Period, the key word of the other Bushido was equality between group members and the emphasis was on practicality.
This Bushido is different from the Bushido of Mitsukuni Mito.

Thus, Bushido of early period, which was control by emperor and dogmatic political system, Bushido of middle period, which was based upon practicality and rational judgement and Bushido of absolute legal control and formality of Mitsukuni Mito. These three stages of Bushido should be properly evaluated and we should take into our life.

I think, in present Japan, we should think more about Bushido with the equality between group members, instead of the Bushido of formality and just obeying the orders from superiors.

In the publication of City of Tokyo compiled in 1928, it is stated “To our regret, Japanese people do not have individual independence nor co-existence in the society compared to Anglo-Saxons.” But it also stated “This is not the nature of the Japanese people but it was due to the fact that spirit of independence was depressed in the Edo period. Let’s become responsible and independent people.”

Therefore, in modern Japan, when you learn about Bushido, we should learn from Bushido of middle age, not from Bushido of Edo period which only follow as you are told to do.

In any case, I would like to emphasize today that there are more than one type of Bushido.