What is BUSHIDO? Loyalty, Honor, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Righteousness

What is the Code of Bushido?

Bushido is the way of warrior, the codex of Samurai during feudal Japan which promoted the importance of loyalty, honor and martial arts. The Bushido philosophy refers to not fearing death and dying for valor. It is sometimes criticized for disrespecting human life.

This post about the BUSHIDO code is brought to you by Samurai Ninja Museum Tokyo With Experience
Bushido samurai Rules of Bushido displayed at Samurai Ninja Museum in Kyoto

According to Inazo Nitobe's book Bushido, the lives of the samurai warriors were ruled by 7 principles called Bushido.  These 7 rules were Righteousness, Loyalty, Honor, Respect, Honesty, Courage and Consistency.

  1. Righteousness (義 gi). Justice is the most important virtue for the samurai. A true samurai does not attack the enemy without an important reason.
  2. Loyalty (忠義 chūgi). Loyalty is the 2nd most important thing in life. The samurai should always be loyal to his master. The samurai should also believe his duty to protect his master is the meaning of life.
  3. Honor (名誉 meiyo). A life without honor is not a life. If a samurai makes a mistake, he should honor his name by committing suicide. (Example: The story of 47 samurai (the Ako Incident).
  4. Respect (礼 rei). A samurai should always respect his enemy. A samurai respects his opponent before and after the fight. Even if a samurai kills his opponent, he is very respectful to the corpse.
  5. Honesty ( 誠 sei). A samurai never lies. “Deception” does not exists in the book of a samurai.
  6. Courage  (勇 yū). A samurai fights until the end. A samurai is never afraid of anything. He is not afraid of death. A samurai is always brave because he fights for something he believes in.
  7. Consistency (誠 makoto ). A samurai never changes the path. He is like a dragonfly, he always moves forward, he never moves back.
Bushido Meaning 7 rules of Bushido: Honor, Respect, Loyalty, Justice, Courage, Consistency, Honesty, Mercy at the Samurai & Ninja Museum Kyoto

The Book of Bushido

Bushido always existed and reflected on the harakiri and seppuku of samurai for centuries. However, the term was put together in the early 1900's by a Harvard Scholar Inazo Nitobe who was coming from a samurai family. Some criticized this book as a propaganda tool for the suicide attacks during the WW2. Some of Nitobe said were
  • “Bushido. The sense of honor which cannot bear being looked down upon as an inferior power,—that was the strongest of motives.”
  • “Human life has sorrow;" "They who meet must part;" "He that is born must die;”
  • “Dishonor is like a scar on a tree, which time, instead of effacing, only helps to enlarge." Mencius”
  • “Tranquillity is courage in repose. It is a statical manifestation of valor, as daring deeds are a dynamical. A truly brave man is ever serene; he is never taken by surprise; nothing ruffles the equanimity of his spirit.”
  • “A truly brave man is ever serene; he is never taken by surprise; nothing ruffles the equanimity of his spirit. In the heat of battle he remains cool; in the midst of catastrophes he keeps level his mind. Earthquakes do not shake him, he laughs at storms.
  • “Beneath the instinct to fight there lurks a diviner instinct to love.”
  • “Filial Piety, which is considered one of the two wheels of the chariot of Japanese ethics—Loyalty being the other.”

Bushido and not fearing death

One of the most important aspects of Bushido is accepting the fact that samurai will die in a battle field and the day of death may come very soon. The life of the samurai resembles the life of a sakura tree: it is beautiful, glorious but short lived. The book of Hagakure is the earliest record about Bushido that talked bout the triviality of death as follow
  • “Bushido is realized in the presence of death. This means choosing death whenever there is a choice between life and death. There is no other reasoning.”
  • “If a warrior is not unattached to life and death, he will be of no use whatsoever. The saying that All abilities come from one mind” sounds as though it has to do with sentient matters, but it is in fact a matter of being unattached to life and death. With such non-attachment, one can accomplish any feat.”
  • “Human life is truly a short affair. It is better to live doing the things that you like. It is foolish to live within this dream of a world seeing unpleasantness and doing only things that you do not like.”
  • "The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears, and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the way of the samurai." (From the movie Ghost Dog referring to the book Hagakure)
  • "It is a good viewpoint to see the world as a dream. When you have something like a nightmare, you will wake up and tell yourself that it was only a dream. It is said that the world we live in is not a bit different from this." (From the movie Ghost Dog referring to the book Hagakure)
  • "There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do and nothing else to pursue." (From the movie Ghost Dog referring to the book Hagakure)

Traces of Bushido: 400-Year-Old Samurai Blood Stains in Kyoto

In the year 1600, the largest army in Western Japan left Osaka and started moving north to fight against Tokugawa. The Fushimi Castle of Kyoto, which was controlled by a Tokugawa ally Mototada, was on the way. Mototada’s castle was surrounded by this army who is the enemy of Tokugawa but put still up a big fight. They resisted for days with no help from outside. However, the castle eventually fell and Mototada was killed. His men, around 380 samurai, did not want to surrender. So they ended their lives in a Bushido way. So many samurais committed seppuku (harakiri) in the same room.

Yogen In Temple
This temple is right across from the Kyoto Station and near Sanju San Gen Do.
The wooden pieces
The blood was all over the floor and the castle was destroyed. Tokugawa Ieyasu asked locals to pick up the wooden pieces soaked by the samurai blood and distribute them to 7 temples in the vicinity so that people can pray for those who de-ceased. Yogen In, which is not far from Kyoto Station has blood ceilings similar to what is shown in this picture. Yogen In also has many pillars and wooden structures that were originally used in the Fushimi Castle.

Traces of Bushido: 47 Samurai

The true story of 47 samurai perfectly summarizes the bushido values of loyalty, honor, and persistence. This is the incidence where 47 samurai were charged with seppuku for avenging their master. In 1701, Asano, a daimyo representing the Ako region, was insulted by a powerful official from the Tokugawa shogunate while visiting the Edo castle. The official, Kira, insulted him because Asano had not bribed him. Facing a series of insults, Asano could not hold his temper and assaulted Kira wounding him in the face. In just a few hours Asano was judged and sentenced to seppuku because he attacked a government official in the shogunate. His execution was held on the same day.

The “oniga-wara” on the roof tiles of the Sengakuji temple. The temple is near the Shinagawa bullet train station.


The cemetery of the 47 ronin who were forced to commit seppuku. The cemetery is in the Sen-gokuji Temple.

The semetery of the 47 ro-nin

Asano’s 47 men sworn an oath to avenge their master knowing that all of them would be executed if they touched Kira. At the same time, they were suspect-ed to do something for revenge and they were followed by the spies of Kira. The leader of the 47 samurai spent some time in Kyoto and reportedly visited the Ichiriki Chaya Geisha House on Hanamikoji Street. After waiting a year and a half, the 47 samurai finally attacked Kira’s residence in Edo. They captured Kira and killed him with the same word used for their master’s seppuku. They returned themselves in and the government decided all of them must end their own lives by committing seppuku (harakiri).

The youngest ronin was let go to maintain the samurai blood and to tell what happened in Edo to the people of Ako. The graves of the ronins are located in the Sengakuji temple near the Shinagawa station of Tokyo. Every year in mid-December there is a special commemoration event held at the temple.

In his book of BUSHIDO, Alex Bennett emphasize the 3 distinct time periods in the history of Samurai where the meaning of Bushido Changed

“Generally speaking, warrior ideals in Japan developed in three distinct phases:

  • The warrior ethos before the Edo period (pre-1600), an ideology forged in an environment of constant warfare. (The reader should note, however, that the term “Bushido” did not as yet exist!)
  • The intellectual Bushido developed mainly by Confucian and military scholars during the Edo period (1603–1868), an extended time of relative peace when the warrior spirit was refocused on self-cultivation to maintain social order.
  • The modern repackaging of Bushido in the Meiji period (1868–1912) and beyond. This phase represents a dramatic reinterpretation of Samurai culture in the formulation of a new Japanese national identity. To this day, many Japanese people associate Bushido with Japanese-ness and as the source of their most noble national traits.”

Many scholars proposed that the book of Nitobe was used as a handbook for the Imperial Army soldiers to increase their nationalistic views and eliminate their fears of death so that they can easily perform the kamikaze attacks. Even nowadays karo-ishi (death from over work) is tied to the Bushido spirit where one must obey his/her superiors without judgment and put the company honor above everything. The following excerpts are from O. Yukie's thesis

  • "Raised by their parents who were people of the Meiji period in Japan, both Kamikazes and Nisei soldiers upheld Japanese moral discipline whether they were in Japan or in the United States. First, they shared similar educational background. Through the Shushin (moral education) courses, they learned Japanese virtues based on the Kyoiku Chokugo (Imperial Rescript on Education)."
  • "Second, they shared similar cultural values--filial piety and loyalty to the nation--that they inherited from their parents. Third, they culturally adopted Bushido as a code of conduct and a way of life for self-enlightenment."
  • "Lastly, they followed Confucianism that taught respect for parents and superiors, duty to family, and loyalty to friends. The concept of filial piety, loyalty, and patriotism played a crucial role in preparing not only the young Japanese soldiers but also the Nisei soldiers for sacrificing their lives for their countries, to which they were indebted. On these grounds I have come to the conclusion that the distinctive Japanese culture significantly influenced the creation of both unforgettable volunteer units that exposed their soldiers to exceptional dangers."