Bushido: Definition, Code & Virtues Video

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  • 0:01 Warrior's Code
  • 0:49 Bushi = Samurai
  • 1:37 Samurai in Peacetime
  • 2:16 The 47 Ronin
  • 2:57 Bushido Code & Virtues
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Explore the ancient Japanese code of chivalry used by the famous samurai warriors and test your understanding of feudal Japan, samurai culture and Asian philosophy.

Warrior's Code

Of the various warrior cultures around the world, the samurai are amongst the most famous. And it's not just because they're awesome. The samurai are known for their quality steel swords, their mastery of fighting, and their devotion to the Bushido code.

Bushido code literally means 'the samurai's way' and refers to the warriors' philosophic code of behavior. A samurai was an educated warrior of the nobility class in medieval Japan who served military lords, sort of like the knights who served the English royalty during about the same time period. Bushido is roughly the Japanese equivalent of the chivalry of medieval knights. The basic tenets of Bushido include mastery of martial arts, loyalty, honor, and frugality.

Bushi = Samurai

In 721, Japan's oldest book, the Kojiki, described warrior heroes who were greatly skilled with the sword and reflected an early view of Japanese virtues. An early history of Japan, written in 797, built upon this by idealizing a warrior who was also an educated poet, called by the Chinese term Bushi, also known as a samurai.

By the 13th century, the Bushi figure appeared throughout Japanese literature as an educated, brave, and reckless warrior, capable of selfless sacrifice and devotion to his master. This character was portrayed as an ideal in these eras of warlords and violence. The samurai became more than warriors and were political advisors, leaders, bureaucrats, and philosophers in Japanese society.

Samurai in Peacetime

From 1600 to the mid-1800s, Japan entered an era of peace under the Tokugawa shogunate, also called the Edo period. A shogun was a military leader who controlled Japanese politics, despite the presence of a ruling emperor. Samurai were central parts of the administration and had to find new uses for their training and education in this time of peace. The Bushido code was formalized under the Tokugawa and it added Confucian values that honored tradition and the unique, divine nature of Japan. The result was a code of wisdom, serenity, devotion, honor, and skill.

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