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Bushi philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-G104-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 18, 2024, from

Article Summary

Bushi is one of several terms for the warrior of premodern Japan; samurai is another. The ‘way of the warrior’ – that is, the beliefs, attitudes and patterns of behaviour of the premodern Japanese warrior – is commonly called bushidō (literally, the ‘way of the bushi’). However, bushidō is actually a phrase of rather late derivation, and in premodern times was never exclusively used to describe the warrior way.

Two of the earliest and most enduring phrases for the way of the warriors who rose in the provinces of Japan in the late ninth and tenth centuries were the ‘way of the bow and arrow’ and the ‘way of the bow and horse’. These phrases, however, referred to little more than prowess in the military arts, the most important of which, as the second phrase clearly specifies, were horse riding and archery. For many centuries no one in Japan undertook to define systematically what the way of the warrior in a larger sense was or should be. Warrior beliefs, ideals and aspirations – including loyalty, courage, the yearning for battlefield fame, fear of shame and an acute sense of honour and ‘face’ – were widely recognized, but neither warriors nor others apparently felt the need to codify them in writing.

Not until the establishment of the Tokugawa military government (shogunate) in 1600, which brought two and a half centuries of nearly uninterrupted peace to Japan, did philosophers begin to study and write about the warrior way (bushidō). Concerned about the meaning and proper role of a ruling warrior class during an age of peace, philosophers posited that warriors should not only maintain military preparedness to deal with fighting that might occur, but should also develop themselves, through education based primarily on Confucianism, to serve as models and moral exemplars for all classes of Japanese society.

Citing this article:
Varley, Paul. Bushi philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G104-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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