Bushido Code: the principles of the Samurai

In this blog article we will see:

  • What is the bushido code
  • What are the principles
  • The history of bushido
  • The modern bushido

You are everywhere to discover all this with us? Then let’s go there without further ado!

Bushido has been the code of conduct for the warrior classes of Japan since perhaps the eighth century until modern times. The word “bushido” comes from the Japanese roots “bushi” meaning “warrior” and “do” meaning “way” or “path”. It literally translates as “the way of the warrior”.

Bushido was followed by Japanese samurai warriors and their precursors in feudal Japan, as well as in much of Central and East Asia. The principles of bushido emphasized honor, courage, skill in the martial arts and loyalty to the warrior’s master (daimyo) above all else.

It is somewhat similar to the ideas of chivalry that knights followed in feudal Europe. There is as much folklore that illustrates bushido-like the 47 Ronin of Japanese legend-as there is European folklore about knights.

What is bushido?

Bushido was an ethical system, rather than a religious belief system. In fact, many samurai believed that they were excluded from any reward in the afterlife or in their next life, according to the rules of Buddhism, because they were trained to fight and kill in this life.

Nevertheless, their honor and loyalty had to sustain them, knowing that they would probably end up in the Buddhist version of hell after their death.

The ideal samurai warrior was supposed to be immune to the fear of death. Only the fear of dishonor and loyalty to his daimyo motivated the true samurai.

If a samurai felt that he had lost his honor (or was about to lose it) according to the rules of bushido, he could regain it by committing a rather painful form of ritual suicide, called “seppuku.

While European feudal religious codes of conduct prohibited suicide, in feudal Japan it was the ultimate act of bravery. A samurai who committed seppuku not only regained his honor, but actually gained prestige for his courage in facing death with calm.

This became a cultural touchstone in Japan, so much so that women and children of the samurai class were also expected to face death calmly if they were caught in a battle or siege.

Quick History of Bushido

How did this rather extraordinary system come into being?

As early as the 8th century, the military wrote books on the use and perfection of the sword. They also created the ideal of the warrior-poet, who was brave, well educated and loyal.

In the mid-thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, Japanese literature celebrated reckless courage, extreme devotion to one’s family and lord, and the cultivation of intellect for warriors.

Most of the works that deal with what would later be called bushido concern the great civil war known as the Genpei War, from 1180 to 1185, which pitted the Minamoto and Taira clans against each other and led to the founding of the Kamakura period of the shogunate.

The final phase of bushido development was the Tokugawa era, from 1600 to 1868. This was a period of introspection and theoretical development for the samurai warrior class, as the country had been basically peaceful for centuries.

The samurai practiced martial arts and studied the great war literature of earlier periods, but they had little opportunity to put theory into practice until the Boshin War of 1868-1869 and the subsequent Meiji Restoration.

As with the previous periods, the Tokugawa samurai drew on an earlier, bloodier era of Japanese history, in this case more than a century of constant warfare between the daimyo clans.

Code of bushido

8 virtues of the Bushido code :

I. Justice

Bushido refers not only to martial rectitude, but also to personal rectitude: Rectitude or justice, is the strongest virtue of Bushido.

A well-known samurai defines it as follows: “Rectitude is the power to decide on a course of action in accordance with reason, without hesitation; to die when dying is right, to strike when striking is right.”

Another speaks of it in these terms: “Righteousness is the bone that gives firmness and stature. Without bone, the head cannot rest on the spine, nor the hands move, nor the feet stand. Without uprightness, neither talent nor learning can make a man a samurai.


Bushido distinguishes between bravery and courage: Courage deserves to be counted among the virtues only if it is exercised for the cause of justice and righteousness.

In his Analects, Confucius says: “To perceive what is right and to do it does not reveal a lack of courage. In short, “Courage is doing what is right”.

III. benevolence

A man invested with the power to command and the power to kill had to display equally extraordinary powers of benevolence and mercy: Love, magnanimity, affection for others, sympathy and pity, are traits of Benevolence, the highest attribute of the human soul.

Confucius and Mencius have often said that the highest requirement of a ruler of men is benevolence. After all, this is what differentiates man from a monster.


It may be difficult to distinguish between obsequiousness and politeness for a casual visitor to Japan, but for a real man, courtesy is rooted in benevolence: Courtesy and good manners have been noticed by all foreign tourists as distinctive features of Japan.

But politeness must be an expression of benevolent consideration for the feelings of others; it is a bad virtue if it is motivated only by the fear of offending good taste. In its highest form, politeness approaches love.

V.Honesty and sincerity

The true samurai, according to the author Nitobe, disdained money, believing that “men should resent money, for wealth hinders wisdom. Thus, the children of high-ranking samurai were raised to believe that talking about money showed bad taste, and that ignorance of the value of different coins showed good breeding: Bushido encouraged thrift, not so much for economic reasons as for the exercise of abstinence.

Luxury was considered the greatest threat to man, and great simplicity was demanded of the warrior class… the counting machine and the abacus were abhorred.


Although Bushido is concerned with the profession of soldiering, it is also concerned with non-martial behavior: A sense of honor, a keen awareness of the dignity and worth of the individual, characterizes the samurai. He was born and raised to value the duties and privileges of his profession.

The fear of disgrace hung like a sword over the head of every samurai… To take offense at a slight provocation was ridiculed as “angry”. As the popular saying goes: “True patience consists in bearing the unbearable”.

VII. loyalty

Economic reality has dealt a blow to organizational loyalty around the world. Nevertheless, real men remain loyal to those to whom they are indebted: Loyalty to a superior was the most distinctive virtue of the feudal era.

Personal loyalty exists in all kinds of men: a band of pickpockets swears allegiance to its leader. But it is only in the code of chivalric honor that loyalty is of primary importance.

VIII. character and self-control

Bushido teaches that men must behave according to an absolute moral standard, which transcends logic. What is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong. The difference between right and wrong and between good and evil are facts, not arguments subject to discussion or justification, and a man should know the difference.

Finally, it is a man’s duty to teach his children moral standards based on his own behavior: The primary purpose of samurai education was to build character. The more subtle faculties of prudence, intelligence and dialectic were less important.

Intellectual superiority was valued, but a samurai was essentially a man of action. No historian could claim that Hideyoshi personified the eight virtues of Bushido throughout his life. Like many great men, deep faults paralleled his great gifts.

Yet in choosing compassion over confrontation, and benevolence over belligerence, he demonstrated ageless qualities of manhood. Today, his lessons could not be more timely.

Bushido in Modern Society

In the early 1900s, Shintoism became the state religion of Japan and the code of Bushido became its moral rule. The sense of honor, discipline, loyalty and devotion is still present in Japanese culture today.

These principles made the country one of the “big five” powers along with the United States, Britain, France and Italy during World War I. After World War II, the country was able to rebuild itself in part on the principles of Bushido, emerging as a major economic and industrial power.

While the Samurai have evolved from warriors to esteemed gentlemen, sometimes residing on both plains, the lessons are still applied in today’s society and are supported by many leaders around the world.

Moreover, these warriors are reminiscent of the Viking warriors who also had great values and were very strong. Some people honor them with a Viking jewel.

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