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Bushido For Everyone Part 2

Updated on September 17, 2015
This one with a different samurai on horseback!
This one with a different samurai on horseback!

Part 2 Introduction

Welcome to my long awaited sequel to Part 1.

I am using the book Code of the Samurai: A Modern Translation of the Bushido Shoshinshu of Taira Shigesuke. (Translation by Thomas Cleary, Illustrated by Oscar Ratti, Tutile Publishing, © 1999) I'm exploring this book's main ideas about knightly behavior and interpreting this as a guide for the lives of people in modern times. I think that now more than ever, morality is important, and we have to get in touch with, as humans, what causes us to want to be good people and how we can achieve that.

Bushido, even in in modern times, seems to affect the standards of social conduct in modern-day Japan. Benefits from this include the fact that Japan has a very low crime rate (the murder rate per capita is 0.00499933 per 1,000 people, compared to the USA's 0.042802 per 1,000 people), a very low obesity rate, a high life expectancy, and Japanese people are known throughout the world for their politeness and consideration of others. In part 1, I studied part one of the code of Bushido. This code of Bushido was written by Taira Shigesuke, a millitary scientist who lived from 1639 to 1730. The aim of his book was to educate young members of the hereditary warrior class. It includes lessons about peace and wartime personal conduct that should be expected of warriors. However, I believe that, even though the original aim of this book was to educate a narrow audience, the principles contained in it can be applied to anyone with just a little adaptation.

Managing the Home

This short passage is about how men should treat their wives respectfully. In the time and place when this was written, the normal marriage meant a woman, from the same class as the man she would marry, would be sent to live with her husband and divorce meant the man rejecting her and sending her back to live with her family. A woman was expected at this time to obey her husband, have a pleasant attitude, and had to accept getting hit by her husband. This is the norm we've seen in a majority of human cultures and time periods; the prevailing attitudes of this time were hardly unique. However, the author urges men to consider their wives' feelings and tells them that even yelling at them is a terrible offense to both her honor and his.

The book says, "Anyway, if you don't follow this advice but instead shout at your wife, who is to be honored as the mistress of your house, abusing her with foul language, that may be the way of back-alley coolies of the business district, but it is certainly not appropriate to the behavior of a knightly warrior." (emphasis mine)

It goes on to say, "How much the more objectionable it is to brandish your sword or punch her with your fist - this is unspeakable behavior, characteristic of a cowardly warrior." The reason he said cowardly, he explains, is that in these times, when women had few rights and a low status, punching one's wife was to hit someone the man knew "has no choice but to tearfully endure it". To hit or abuse anything that you know can't fight back is simply cowardly and disgusting.


In this passage a warrior is coached on familial relations as were correct for someone of the samurai class at this time. The oldest son would inherit property from the parents, so if you had an older brother, his son, while he would be called your nephew, held a special status above other nieces and nephews of yours because he would inherit after your older brother. The book says "You do not treat him as a nephew, but as if you were honoring the ancestors of the clan."

Also, it says that when you've allowed a brother, nephew, or son to be adopted by another house, you should treat them like they aren't your relatives any more. To do otherwise would draw criticism from the servants and members of that family, who would say that you're acting like you never wanted to let him become part of another family. However, it says that if their adopted household is not well run or if the adopted son has hardly any prospects of inheritance, if he is your real son or younger brother this can be hard to overlook, and it will be necessary to look after him in that case. Furthermore, it says that if you marry off a daughter, say, and her husband dies after a son is born to them, the son is technically head of the household at that point, and the affairs of the dead husband's family should be "eighty to ninety percent" settled by that family, but if the husband was impoverished and the son will inherit debts, it becomes important for you to help support your daughter. But it was expected that any inheritance he would receive would not be touched by in-laws.

As a final discussion of familial duty is the duty to be a good friend even when times are tough for them and they experience hardships. The book says, "Now suppose a family in the direct line of the head of your clan, or in the direct line of your ancestors, or among your standard bearers, should suffer a decline and fall in the world. Your proper attitude as a knight is not to distance yourself from them, but but to keep up good relations and ask after them from time to time."

And then this part following, I feel is applicable to anyone in any situation: "To be an opportunist and a fair-weather friend, honoring the unworthy when you see them thriving and despising the worthy when you see them in decline, is the mentality of peasants and merchants; it is not right for a warrior." This outlines a basic principle of right and wrong in friendship that everyone should follow.


This part of the book struck me as a very valuable life lesson. It's important to be frugal in that you refrain from spending excessively on things you don't need. If people of lesser means try to copy the luxurious lifestyle of richer people, they will go broke. It's important here to not be envious and to live within your own means.

Being too tight with money and hating to spend it is wrong too; not only are miserly people despised, then as now, but keeping money in circulation is important for the economy and therefore for the good of all people. The book explains that a knight who hates to spend money was despised in previous times of war and that miserliness reflects cowardly behavior. Because, the author argues, if you hate to spend money, which is abundant in the world, how can the people count on you to spend your one and only life for their sake? It was said that a warrior's hating to spend money as needed indicated that he would be cowardly and dishonorable in times of battle, and unreliable in a time of emergency.

House Building

This part is useful for understanding Japanese samurai-era customs when it came to the construction of houses. The book says that the warrior's house should look nice from the outside, and the rooms on the inside where guests are entertained should be "as nice as is fit for the warrior's status". Because impressing visitors from other places reflects well on the lord the warrior serves under.

However, when it comes to the interior living spaces, the author advises the warrior to put up with whatever keeps out the rain, no matter how ugly it is, so as to spend as little as possible on construction. The reason being that, in the aforementioned times of warfare, warriors living in the outer circle around their lord's citadel would burn their own homes in case of an invasion, to prevent or stall the invaders from accessing the citadel. Thus, in those days it was important for homes to be lightly constructed and built cheaply for warriors, because after burning a house down the warrior would have to quickly and cheaply build another one for his family. And so, even in this time of peace, the author asks warriors to continue the tradition of using lightly constructed, cheaply built homes. "Knights who cultivate the way of the warrior should not construct fancy houses as if they are going to live there forever", he says, because of fires and other emergencies that can still strike even in a time of peace.

To me, this means that we should all try to cultivate less of an attachment to material things, because to become too attached to things in a world where nothing is permanent is foolish. What you should take from this passage is that you never know when and where disaster will happen, so what good is it to put all your faith into a fancy house or impressive possessions? Also, in the time and place in which this was written, for a samurai to own something, such as a house that was too showy, he would be ridiculed. It was important for a samurai to not make his lord look bad, and also for him to show humility in his choices of possessions, the Japanese prefer things to be simplistic and functional, not arrogant or superfluous. And we shouldn't pin all our hopes and dreams on solely material aspirations, because money and material goods come and go.

Military Equipment

This passage instructs a knight on proper preparedness for military action, which was central to the knight's identity as such. It tells knights to make sure the items that mark the house's emblem are always provided to the whole household: helmet crests, spear emblems, sleeve emblems, carrier emblems, etc. It says, "If you try to provide these things suddenly in an emergency, your habitual neglect all along will be revealed, and there is no telling how people will look down on you."

This passage is important because, at the time of writing it, times were peaceful in Japan and the author was urging knights not to abandon their duties as knights because of peace.

"For example, suppose you have your servants' sword blades made of wood or bamboo because you assume they are not going to have to kill anyone; or suppose there are the thoughtless who go around without loincloths because they assume they will not have to gird their loins, and you let them go on that way. This is inexcusable."

"No matter how peaceful times may be", warns Shigesuke, " if one is receiving a salary for military service yet does not consider the possibility of it, and fails to equip himself fully with the necessary military equipment and weaponry, then he is a hundred times more negligent than those who fit swords with wood or bamboo blades or the youths and squires who don't wear loincloths."

It also instructs new knights in how much to spend on what equipment. Shigesuke says you should spend 2/3 of your personal equipment budget on the armor and helmet, and the rest for "underwear, pants, shirt, coat, battle jacket, whip, fan, mess kit, canteen, and so on." To me that echoes everything I know about financial planning for anything; you need to spend the most on the most important necessities, and take care of those first. To a samurai, the best armor and helmet were life and death, everything else he would need came second to that. In the same way, we should always make sure to spend on the most important things first.

It also cautions, however, against the use of heavy armor and big flags or large helmet crests. In this, the book's central message of remembering realities of death comes up again; but this time to remind the samurai that, while they can carry heavy armor when young, they will not be young forever. "Armor made to match the strength of youth becomes useless as one gets older." he says. Thus, for practicality, it's important to strike the right balance between heavy enough to protect and light enough for you to be able to endure while using it, even if you are wounded on the battlefield or simply getting older. The message I get here is clear, it's very important when considering buying anything the long-term use of it, sometimes I feel that a problem in our culture is that we can be so very short-sighted and focused on short-term goals, when we should consider the distant future and plan for it as well.

Equipping Subordinates

This short part is simply, to me, an afterthought to the above passage on Military Equipment, it tells how even a warrior of lesser rank should take it upon himself as his responsibility to equip his subordinates with swords, spears, and light body armor for protection. It also says that you should have spare spears and swords because it is likely that they will be damaged.


This page was interesting to me because it gives a picture of the role of the warrior class in this society in relation to the rest of society. It also gets to the heart of the overall message of the book, that warriors are defined by a noble character and guided by proper and right action. Since this is addressed to the samurai class who were in power at the time, I could see this simple but powerful passage as being instructions for any government or ruling class, from any time period or place. It's simply the right way to use power, and when power is abused and the people in power become abusive, the people take action and instability in the social structure results, which ultimately hurts everyone. I chose to share the entire page:

" Warriors are functionaries who are supposed to punish criminals disrupting society, and bring security to the other three classes (which were merchants, farmers, and artisans). Therefore, even if you are of a low rank, as a warrior you should not abuse or mistreat the other three classes.

To tax the farmers unreasonably and wear them out with all sorts of corvée labor, or to have artisans make things but not pay them for it, or to buy from merchants on credit and fail to settle accounts, or to borrow money and default on the loan - those are great injustices."

(could our U.S. government learn something here? Hm...)

"Understanding this, you should treat the farmers in your domain with compassion; see to it that the artisans are not ruined; and pay off loans to merchants, in small installments if lump-sum payment is impossible, so as not to cause them to suffer loss.

For a warrior whose duty is to restrain brigandry, it will not do to act like a brigand yourself."

To me, this passage lays the foundation for the idea of the economy, at least the "why?" of it all. We enter contracts and agreements, pay for things, and buy and sell, all because it's what's best for society. We should realize that selfish and greedy actions cause society to crumble, and that ultimately hurts our own self-interest, so in a way other people's interest and society's interest is our own. This passage also seems important to me in outlining the principle, revolutionary for it's time, that the government that makes and enforces the laws is not themselves above them. That idea is one of many that is central to not only a good democracy but also a harmonious, fair, and structurally sound society.


This short part, referring to money modesty, tells warriors to emulate warriors of the past, in that the past warriors were too modest to talk about money directly or demand a specific salary by number. In place of asking for a specific price, a warrior in the past would use subtle euphemisms like "requiring at least a spare horse", "requiring at least an emaciated horse" and hoping for enough "to allow for wielding a rusty spear" as terms for varying salaries a warrior was asking for. I think it's an important forgotten rule of politeness in Western culture as well that you do not talk about money. You really have no business discussing your finances with friends and relatives who are not part of your household, because if things are going great you're gloating, which might be insensitive to someone who's having financial problems, and if things are going terribly for you, the last thing you want to do is to worry your friends and family over problems that are your responsibility, or look like you're using them or begging for money by complaining about your situation.

Part of this page that I like is a simple saying that illustrates the value of showing pride in yourself and not wallowing in self-pity when times are tough: " A hawk, even if hungry, does not eat grain; a warrior, even if he hasn't eaten, sports a toothpick."

Choosing Friends

This passage says that a warrior will have many colleagues but it is natural that they will also become friends with warriors who are brave, just, intelligent, and influential. However, the author realizes that people matching that description are also rare, but says if there is even one person like that who also associates with your other friends, they can be of great help.

The author goes on to warn warriors away from being too social, telling them they must be selective about who they are friends with and how they conduct themselves socially. Probably because warriors held military and leadership secrets, and they also had responsibility for upholding the dignity of their house and family.

It says "Warriors can be good friends only when they see into each other's hearts. Warriors are not to associate casually just for a good time or congenial conversation." The author warns that a warrior must never loose their sense of decorum when socializing.

Friendly Relations

This passage deals with how a warrior should understand and deal with a few issues to do with friends and colleagues. This includes advice about whether you should accept a friend's request for help, advice on expressing your opinions to others and what to do if someone comes to you asking for advice.

With friends asking for help with something, the author notes first that it is important that a warrior gains a reputation for dependability. That is, if you agree to help your friend or a colleague, you "have to take it upon yourself to do it, no matter how difficult it may be." Twice he warns against "making a show of dependability", which I think to him means meddling in the affairs of others without being asked just to show off how good you are at fixing things. This can easily backfire so it's best avoided. The author continues to idolize the manners of ancient warriors, who when asked to do something, simply considered it's feasibility and only agreed to anything after careful consideration. That way, he says, anything they finally did agree to was almost guaranteed to be "taken care of without fail". It's wrong he says to "assent to anything people ask" and "think nothing of it when it doesn't work out". Because in the life of a warrior, reputation and honor were so important, one could not afford to fail to help someone they said they would help or fail to back up a promise of any sort too often or they would be thought of as worthless.

The author continues to stress the importance of being careful and thoughtful when expressing your opinion, although he says that everyone else has a right to express themselves freely, "anything a warrior says must be tactful and considerate". I think it really could do a lot of good if Americans and everyone else were taught to try to always speak in a tactful and considerate way. I think one of the main problems of our current era is that truthful speech is valued above speech that is right, good, and considerate to the feelings of others. In a bygone era, etiquette demanded that people speak to each other with tact, and truth at one time had no legal bearing in a libel or slander suit because if speech had significantly damaged the life of another, it was considered unlawful whether the libelous statements made were true or false. Today, everyone seems so obsessed with telling the truth and their right to express their opinion that we're forgetting what tact feels like, what tactful and considerate speech and writing even is. People hide behind the anonymity of the internet and scream cuss words at unsuspecting artists and writers who put their work out there for the public to view. In the hissing and roaring, what is lost here is meaningful criticism that is subtly and tactfully worded enough that said writer or artist will take the criticism to heart. I mean, all I'm going to do is dismiss as stupid someone who comments on my page with a string of obscenities or just insults my intelligence and worth as a person, but if someone points out flaws in my work in a more graceful manner, I might be open to listening and improving my work.

Severing Relations

This passage prescribes not the reason you should sever social ties to a colleague, but what to do if, after doing so, you find yourself in a situation where the two of you have to work together. It then becomes your responsibility to bridge the gap, and tell the other person that you chosen to accept a job working with them and that while working together, there should be open and honest communication (which is needed to perform the job) but after, the other person should understand that you no longer wish to have social interactions with them. The author stresses the importance of making things clear and being cooperative with the other person. Also, he mentions the importance of seeing to it that inexperienced newcomers learn their job. It is a knightly duty to help said newcomers, according to the author. He says it is nasty, vile, nay, unspeakable should someone fail to do so and instead delight in seeing the new person make mistakes. I think this was important because people need to have patience with new people who are in training on the job when they themselves are experienced. This could be seen as a kind of golden rule thing, you wouldn't want someone to laugh at your failures without helping you when you're new and training to do a job. However, in this book's context it was also a sign of a bad warrior if they did not take this responsibility, and a good warrior would hope to attain a rank of command some day. Not being able to perform duties having to do with training new recruits and working with new people in a constructive way for the benefit of the common goal meant one could never attain such a rank, and should never be promoted. This can carry over into modern business. If you can't help a person being trained at the same entry-level job you're doing, how else will you show anyone that you can be an effective manager, team leader, or eventually an executive?


This part isn't talking about what we think of as fame, with bling, paparazzi, cars, swimming pools, and Red Carpet gowns. This kind of fame is about knowing the warriors of the past who were the most noble, studying the names of those who went down in history and died gloriously in combat. The author suggests to warriors that they consider that they will die, either as famous heroes who's names will be remembered for centuries, or not, so they may as well try to go for the former with all they've got. Shigesuke says, "Contemplate this point well, and strive to ponder it and practice it day and night."

Big Talk and Criticism

The author says among warriors, there are those who are known as big talkers and those who are known to criticize, and that they seem similar, but he explains their differences. He says the "big talkers" were some of the knights of older times, who said whatever they felt like because they had adopted a devil-may-care-attitude, after they served heroically in war and yet their payment and positions had not been enough compensation for their distinguished military service. Thus, the author suggests that as heroes, these men had a reason to speak freely and criticize. Warriors of his time, however, lived in a time of peace, when many had never had seen a real need for armor or weapons in their life. These people, to the author, have no real right to criticize their employer's management of the establishment or to gossip about their peers and colleagues. He says these people are "morons who think they are the smart ones", but are just bad-mouthing or talking trash. I guess since in the last passage, he said it's important to emulate the heroic way some distinguished warriors of honor fought in the past, he chose to balance that out with a warning against emulating some of their less fine qualities, such as gossip and criticism.


This part offers practical travel information unique to the experience of warriors of this era traveling by horseback, including advice on properly securing swords to a packhorse, changing horses via a hostler, and crossing rivers. It gives an interesting picture of what life for these samurai would have involved. This part talks about how sometimes taking a shortcut can result in a blunder and that even in a hurry, it's important to consider safety and protect the goods you're carrying and any underlings you're responsible for above speed. It includes a poem, that I think would make more sense in context, but I found it interesting to contemplate:

Even if crossing Arrow Bridge

Is a shortcut for a warrior,

If you're in a hurry take the roundabout way -

The long bridge of Seta

The book's author tells warriors that "This instruction does not apply only to a journey; one should have this attitude in regard to all things." I think that it means, essentially, haste makes waste and we need to consider safety and sensibility before focusing on speed and distance. However, if we take that idea and apply it more broadly to all of life, I think it means that one should consider all possible options in depth because, at first glance, one option might seem the most attractive, but with deeper analysis of the situation and possible options, a better choice might be brought to light.

Warning Against Backbiting

This part talks about gossip, warning knights not to speak ill of someone behind their back, even if they see them doing something wrong. The reason for this is that you never know where you might be messing up or forgetting something yourself. It's wrong to pick out the mistakes of others cruelly when you wouldn't want them to do the same to you. Also, he adds that since your fellow workers will be employed by the same overlord or employer as you, if you criticize or gossip about bad things other workers are doing, it makes it seem like you're questioning the judgement of your employer who chose them, which is bad and reflects badly on you because it means the person who's judgement is in question also hired and chose you. He also gives the reason that you may find yourself in a position where you have to ask them for a favor, which would mean you would have to humiliate yourself with begging shortly after you were criticizing and complaining about them, which is beneath the dignity of a warrior.


This passage offers another fascinating look at the life of a samurai. In guardianship, the author is referring to an ancient code that said that a man would, if his older brother dies in combat and leaves behind a son, take care of his nephew as if it were his own son. However, since the older brother was the heir and head of the household, the nephew legally became the head of the house when his father died. It was the uncle's duty to raise the child until he became sixteen, the age at which he would be considered ready to enter military duty, at which point the uncle was advised by this bushido code to cede all possessions and the house to the boy, who is the rightful heir. The author maintains a strong stance against greed throughout the book. He considers it most unprincipled for a man to be in this position of guardianship and refuse to cede headship of the family to the nephew, to lose family heirlooms that he had responsibility for during his time as the boy's guardian, to leave the house in shambles without making repairs, to pass on debts your brother had not left, or to even ask your nephew for food or money.

Facing Death

"The foremost concern of a warrior, no matter what his rank, is how he will behave at the moment of his death. No matter how eloquent or intelligent you may normally seem to be, if you lose composure on the brink of death and die in an unseemly manner, your previous good conduct will be in vain, and you will be looked down on by serious people. This is a very disgraceful thing."

The opening paragraph of this passage, quoted above, is a kind of culture shock. Americans try to pretend like death doesn't happen, and we don't have any sort of formality surrounding how one is supposed to die or act while dying in our culture. It's interesting to me that some other cultures are quite aware of death as a natural part of life, and they celebrate it, embrace it, and live in harmony with it instead of being blind to it like we try to be. I think it would be kind of comforting to have a kind of formal convention that dictated the honorable way to die when wounded or sick. That way, you would know how to face death but maintain honor and dignity, and from there you could maintain the same dignity throughout any of life's other challenges.

This book even gives you a dying words script, which is a great way to remember what's important to be said when dying to one's children one is leaving behind. I guess it was if you couldn't think of your own dying words, much like how some couples prefer to write their own wedding vows while others use traditional vows that script the whole thing. The book says,

"... he should bid a final farewell to his family and friends, calling his children to him and telling them, "To die of illness even though long patronized by an overlord is not the real aim of a warrior, but it cannot be helped. While you are young, carry out my will; and if there is a natural reason, by all means be prepared to serve the overlord, always being loyal and dutiful, working hard in public service. If you violate this covenant and act disloyally or unjustly, I will disown you, even though I am under the shadows of leaves of grass." To make a definitive final statement is the duty of a true warrior."

He says to fight death, fussing with doctors and making light of the seriousness of your sickness, or to pretend your fine even as it gets worse, and to fail to make a final statement, is like the "death of a dog or cat" and a "slovenly way to die, resulting from the failure to keep death in mind at all times". The idea of keeping death in mind at all times is the main idea behind all of the moral guidelines outlined in this book, as discussed in chapter one of the book, and this concept is discussed more in my hub about part 1. He says you should not hate to hear when someone dies, or feel like you are going to be in this world forever, being greedy and desirous for life. This might be a tough attitude to understand but it seems more healthy to me to accept reality than to live in denial of it.


Even though this samurai code was written for social, political, and cultural conditions that no longer exist, I like to study bushido as a way of understanding contemporary Japanese culture. It also answers the question often posed to atheists, "How can you be moral without religion?". But, bushido is an entirely rationally based set of moral principles. Coming out of the chaos of the Warring States period, the Tokugawa regime had to use extreme measures to ensure national stability in Japan. This very much made society dependent on Confucian values, which are mainly concerned with people acting correctly according to their place in society. Thus, the samurai's morality did not come from any God, but for his desire to contribute personally to the safety and well-being of his family, town, lord's castle, and country as a whole.


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