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Old April 12th, 2010, 08:43 PM   #1

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The Myth of Bushido and the "Code of The Samurai"


OK. I finally finished my perusal of this sub-forum and I have some random thoughts formulating. The first of which involves Bushido. I noticed that in most of the threads that dealt with Samurai, the notion of Bushido is always being brought up. There is a common misconception in the West (not just here at Historum) that the warriors of pre-modern Japan lived and died by this code.

The truth is this "code" is a formulation of the Edo period. Hagakure was written by Yamamoto Tsunetomo during this period. As most of you know, this is basically the "bible" of bushido, for lack of a better term. The Daimyo of the Edo period saw this as a way of keeping their respective Samurai totally subservient to them. (It was also used to great effect during WWII, but that's for a later thread.)

Hagakure and bushido came about nearly a century and a half after the fighting had ended in Japan. The fact is, there are countless documented acts of treachery, betrayal and what can be called "cowardice" during the Sengoku period that would not have been allowed under bushido.

In fact, Japanese history would be incredibly different if Bushido was in fact practiced during the Sengoku Period. At the Battle of Sekigahara (1600) Tokugawa Ieyasu won a decisive victory over Ishida Mitsunari. However, his victory was only assured when Kobayakawa Hideaki switched sides and attacked his former allies.

One of the most-quoted lines of the Hagakure is "The way of the samurai is found in death." This is all well and good in a period of peace. There's not too much fear of death. It also gave Samurai of the Edo period a reason to protect their superiority over their countrymen.

However, in the times of constant warfare with death always surrounding them, a great Samurai was often judged by his ability to survive.

In Weapons and Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior: 1200-1877 A.D., Thomas Conlan does a great job of juxtaposing the above quote by Tsunetomo with a quote from a daimyo named Tsuchimochi Nobuhide made in 1336, "We suffered casualties, our forces withered to nothing, and we fled."

Nobuhide knew that it was necessary for him to live and protect his lands as a daimyo. As Conlan puts it, his survival mattered more than his reputation.

Well, that's all I have for now. Any thoughts?

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Old April 12th, 2010, 09:05 PM   #2

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Re: The Myth of Bushido and the "Code of The Samurai"


As I have stated in other threads, Kusunoki Masishige is one of my personal favorites. He was not adverse to using deceit and guile to outwit his enemies, nor was he unwilling to forgo a traditional battle in favor of harrassing the enemy. These "techniques" would be considered different to that, preached by Bushido. However, in the end, it would be" Bushido-like" loyalty to a fool's errand that cost Kusunoki his life at Minatogawa.

Bushido is a peacetime philosophy, the majority of which, is incompatible for wartime thinking, much like chivalry.
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Old April 12th, 2010, 09:40 PM   #3

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Re: The Myth of Bushido and the "Code of The Samurai"


It is rather ironic that Masashige was one of the more prominent figures used by the Japanese government to promote the concept of Bushido during WWII.
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Old April 12th, 2010, 09:51 PM   #4

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Re: The Myth of Bushido and the "Code of The Samurai"


Quote:
Originally Posted by leakbrewergator View Post
It is rather ironic that Masashige was one of the more prominent figures used by the Japanese government to promote the concept of Bushido during WWII.
It is the way he ended, loyal in spite of common sense. Had he followed Sun-Tzu, he might have disobeyed in favor of the better strategy...might have.
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Old April 13th, 2010, 09:07 AM   #5

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Re: The Myth of Bushido and the "Code of The Samurai"


Quote:
Originally Posted by leakbrewergator View Post
OK. I finally finished my perusal of this sub-forum and I have some random thoughts formulating. The first of which involves Bushido. I noticed that in most of the threads that dealt with Samurai, the notion of Bushido is always being brought up. There is a common misconception in the West (not just here at Historum) that the warriors of pre-modern Japan lived and died by this code.

The truth is this "code" is a formulation of the Edo period. Hagakure was written by Yamamoto Tsunetomo during this period. As most of you know, this is basically the "bible" of bushido, for lack of a better term. The Daimyo of the Edo period saw this as a way of keeping their respective Samurai totally subservient to them. (It was also used to great effect during WWII, but that's for a later thread.)

Hagakure and bushido came about nearly a century and a half after the fighting had ended in Japan. The fact is, there are countless documented acts of treachery, betrayal and what can be called "cowardice" during the Sengoku period that would not have been allowed under bushido.

In fact, Japanese history would be incredibly different if Bushido was in fact practiced during the Sengoku Period. At the Battle of Sekigahara (1600) Tokugawa Ieyasu won a decisive victory over Ishida Mitsunari. However, his victory was only assured when Kobayakawa Hideaki switched sides and attacked his former allies.

One of the most-quoted lines of the Hagakure is "The way of the samurai is found in death." This is all well and good in a period of peace. There's not too much fear of death. It also gave Samurai of the Edo period a reason to protect their superiority over their countrymen.

However, in the times of constant warfare with death always surrounding them, a great Samurai was often judged by his ability to survive.

In Weapons and Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior: 1200-1877 A.D., Thomas Conlan does a great job of juxtaposing the above quote by Tsunetomo with a quote from a daimyo named Tsuchimochi Nobuhide made in 1336, "We suffered casualties, our forces withered to nothing, and we fled."

Nobuhide knew that it was necessary for him to live and protect his lands as a daimyo. As Conlan puts it, his survival mattered more than his reputation.

Well, that's all I have for now. Any thoughts?
Good, informative post. Thanks!
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Old April 13th, 2010, 12:20 PM   #6

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Re: The Myth of Bushido and the "Code of The Samurai"


Leakbrewergator,

I brought this up to my History professor in college. He side stepped the question and continued on with the lecture.

As Okamido implied, the idea of Chivalry is hardly ever approached from a realistic point of view either. Men fighting for thier lives might live up to a "code" before and after the fight but not necesarily during. Their are examples of Knights who were chivalrous and those who were not. Reallity was somewhere in the middle.

Nice post!
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Old April 13th, 2010, 01:24 PM   #7

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Re: The Myth of Bushido and the "Code of The Samurai"


This almost seems a foregone conclusion to me. Of course samurai were real people, not anime characters. You don't keep political power by being honest.
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Old April 13th, 2010, 01:26 PM   #8

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Re: The Myth of Bushido and the "Code of The Samurai"


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Originally Posted by Kampfringen View Post
Leakbrewergator,

I brought this up to my History professor in college. He side stepped the question and continued on with the lecture.

As Okamido implied, the idea of Chivalry is hardly ever approached from a realistic point of view either. Men fighting for thier lives might live up to a "code" before and after the fight but not necesarily during. Their are examples of Knights who were chivalrous and those who were not. Reallity was somewhere in the middle.

Nice post!
I'm curious, what was that professor's field of expertise? I'll take a guess and say it wasn't East Asian. Usually they won't shy away from that discussion!
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Old April 14th, 2010, 05:05 PM   #9

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Re: The Myth of Bushido and the "Code of The Samurai"


Quote:
Originally Posted by leakbrewergator View Post
I'm curious, what was that professor's field of expertise? I'll take a guess and say it wasn't East Asian. Usually they won't shy away from that discussion!
I'm not sure what his specialty was. He had been there the longest and was very, very arrogant to start off with. He actually wanted to spend more time on non-western history(it was a World history class) since by his reasoning, plenty of western history was taught in high school. Most folks don't know what Western Civilization actually is. Ask anyone on the street. They will tell you it has something to do with Geograghy.

He spent alot of time on Japan. But why not, He already knew it all. You just had to shut up and listen to him speak.
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Old April 14th, 2010, 05:10 PM   #10

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Re: The Myth of Bushido and the "Code of The Samurai"


Quote:
He spent alot of time on Japan. But why not, He already knew it all. You just had to shut up and listen to him speak.
Haha! Probably why he shied away from your question. That's priceless...
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