Warrior and Ruler of Ancient Japan
Few countries have a warrior tradition as long and exciting as Japan. It is a tradition found in the Samurai, the loyal and self-sacrificing knight of ancient Japan. The Samurai is a valiant warrior who can both appreciate the beauty of nature in that of a rose blossom but will also kill or die for his master in an instant. This well-rounded warrior was the ruling class of Japan for almost seven hundred years. He fought for control of his country and to keep Japan free from outside influences. (Turnbull 1)
This aristocratic warrior class arose during the 12th century wars between the Taira and Minamoto clans and was consolidated in the Tokugawa period. Samurai were privileged to wear two swords, and at one time had the right to cut down any commoner who offended them. They cultivated the martial virtues, indifference to pain or death, and unfailing loyalty to their overlords. Samurai were the dominant group in Japan. Under the Tokugawa shogunate, the samurai were removed from direct control of the villages, moved into the domain castle towns, and given government stipends. They were encouraged to take up bureaucratic posts.
The Hagakure, has been dubbed the book of the samurai. It was written after a century of peace around 1716. It came to be the guide of samurai ethics until the end of the feudal period. Its short passages reflect and outline the qualities that make a samurai. Yamamoto Tsunetomo expresses in the hagakure the framework and mindset of being a samurai. “Although it stands to reason that a samurai should be mindful of the Way of the samurai, it would seem that we are all negligent. Consequently, if someone were to ask, ‘what is the true meaning of the Way of the Samurai?’ the person who should be able to answer promptly is rare. This is because it has not been established in one’s mind beforehand. From this, one’s unmindfulness of the Way can be known. Negligence is an extreme thing.” (Wilson, 17)
“The Way of the Samurai is found in death. When it comes to either/or, there is only the quick choice of death. It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance. To say that dying without reaching one’s aim is to die a dog’s death is the frivolous way of sophisticates. When pressed with the choice of life or death, it is not necessary to gain one’s aim. We all want to live. And in large p...
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...scious choice and so fostered individual initiative while yet reasserting the obligations of loyalty and filial piety. Obedience to authority was stressed, but duty came first even if it entailed violation of statue law. In such an instance, the true samurai would prove his sincerity and expiate his crime against the government by subsequently taking his own life.
By mid-19th century, Bushido standards had become the general ideal, and the legal abolition of the samurai class in 1871 made Bushido even more the property of the entire nation. In the public education system, with the emperor replacing the feudal lord as the object of loyalty and sacrifice, Bushido became the foundation of ethical training. As such, it contributed both to the arise of Japanese nationalism and to the strengthening of wartime civilian morale up to 1945.
The term “Samurai” means those who serve. These mystical knights served many functions in Japanese society. During time of war, they were the masters of the battlefield. In peace they were the administrators and the aristocrats. As statesmen, soldiers, and businessmen, former samurai took the lead in building modern Japan.
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