Post Bushi Bushidō and Beyond
Although the bushi class was abolished during the Meiji period (1868-1912), it did not mean the end of bushidō as a gripping emotive force, especially from the mid 1880's, as the cultural pendulum began to swing in a more blatantly nationalist direction in which Western technology was complimented by the indomitable "Japanese spirit" (wakon-yōsai).
Prominent scholars such as Inoue Tetsujirō sought to bind bushidō to the service of the state by associating it with patriotism and devotion to the emperor. However, perhaps the most influential commentator on bushidō of all time was undoubtedly Nitobe Inazō. In 1899, he published "Bushido: The Soul of Japan" in English in which he portrayed bushidō to the Western world as anagolous to Christian ideals. He stressed such virtues as, honesty, justice, polite courtesy, courage, compassion, sincerity, honour, duty and loyalty, and self-control. He argued that bushidō had spread from the bushi class and permeated the moral outlook of all echelons of Japanese society, being discernible in the physical endurance, fortitude, and bravery of the Japanese people.
A more martial interpretation of bushidō came into vogue in the militarist 1930's, and many Japanese soldiers reputedly read copies of the aforementioned “Hagakure”, or “Bushido” to find solace and strength as they faced their own mortality as warriors of the "empire of the rising sun". In the aftermath of WWII, bushidō fell into disfavour. Foreign and Japanese critics alike lambasted militaristic ideals bushidō as representing all that was most loathsome in Japanese wartime behaviour. Many Japanese renounced bushidō as part of the misguided militaristic ideology resulting in Japan's defeat, and as unsuited to a new post-war democratic society.
Nevertheless, the ever-increasing popularity of samurai films and books suggests that however old-fashioned or unrational the bushidō tradition seems at the conscious level, it still wields considerable appeal. A quick perusal of bookshops throughout Japan will reveal a plethora of recent literature urging a reassement of traditional Japanese values and moral codes such as bushidō to alleviate the ethical woes of today. Indeed, the bushi warrior is possibly more revered today than he has ever been before. In many ways this is nonsense based on romatically charged historical fiction. Even so, the ideal bushi did face his mortality with unyielding resolve; and it stands to reason that the wisdom he discovered in the precarious game of life and death served to illuminate the very essence of humanity. In this way, the vestiges of bushi culture can surely offer we moderns clues into the meaning of our own existence as we try to navigate our lives thought the tumult of the 21st century.
Bushido a la 'The Last Samurai'
|Gi (Honesty and Justice) Be acutely honest throughout your dealings with all people. Believe in justice, not from other people, but from yourself. To the true Samurai, there are no shades of gray in the question of honesty and justice. There is only right and wrong.|
|Rei (Polite Courtesy) Samurai have no reason to be cruel. They do not need to prove their strength. A Samurai is courteous even to his enemies. Without this outward show of respect, we are nothing more than animals. A Samurai is not only respected for his strength in battle, but also by his dealings with other men. The true inner-strength of a Samurai becomes apparent during difficult times.|
|Yū (Heroic Courage) Rise up above the masses of people that are afraid to act. Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all. A Samurai must have heroic courage. It is absolutely risky. It is dangerous. It is living life completely, fully, wonderfully. Heroic courage is not blind. It is intelligent and strong. Replace fear with respect and caution.|
|Meiyo (Honour) A true Samurai has only one judge of his honour, and that is himself. Decisions you make and how these decisions are carried out are a reflection of who you truly are. You cannot hide from yourself.|
|Jin (Compassion) Through intense training the Samurai becomes quick and strong. He is not as other men. He develops a power that must be used for the good of all. He has compassion. He helps his fellow man at every opportunity. If an opportunity does not arise, he goes out of his way to find one.|
|Makoto (Complete Sincerity) When a Samurai has said he will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing will stop him from completing what he has said he will do. He does not have to give his word. He does not have to promise. The action of speaking alone has set the act of doing in motion. Speaking and doing are the same action.|
|Chū (Duty and Loyalty) For the Samurai, having done some thing, or said some thing, he knows he owns that thing. He is responsible for it and all the consequences that follow. A Samurai is immensely loyal to those in his care. To those he is responsible for, he remains fiercely true.|
1 Bushidō - Literally 'the Way of the warrior'. 'bushi' is the common Japanese word denoting warrior, although 'samurai' is more well-known in the West. Nowadays both terms are used interchangeably, however, in this article I refer to the Japanese warriors mainly using the word 'bushi'.
2 The social strata enforced by the warrior government placing bushi at the top of the pyramid followed by farmers, artisans, and merchants respectively.