Time for Bushido!

The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise stirs a new debate of what Helen Dewitt wrote. The code of ethics of the Samurai, Bushido, has been under attack since 1868 when the Shoguns left the scene; fact is that Japanese stay same the more they change. Tom Cruise and his band chose death over surrender and shame in the end, which made the Japanese army bow in reverence to them—that is where the movie ends. I real life, Japanese continue to play the hard-wired ethics inculcated by the Shoguns over a quarter century of rule. “Hierarchy is still part of everyday life in Japan,” says Sheldon M. Garon of Princeton in his book, “Molding Japanese Minds.” The Bushido means “to do something bad in Japan does not only mean breaking the rules but also doing something that society does not permit.” The revival of the code in the early 20th century became eminent with the kamikaze pilots defending the honor of Japan and the emperor. The sentimental attachment to the samurai code runs deep. Japanese form hundreds of relationships based on deep and often subtle obligations to one’s company, school or sports teams. And with those obligations comes the shame in not meeting them. The last decade of downturn in the Japanese economy brought many CEO’s to committing suicide for failing to deliver a promise made to their compatriots—nowhere in the history of mankind, one would find such examples of total dedication to what remains the deep ingrained samurai code in the Japanese. What motivates people are code of ethics and life; Al-Qaeda was able to deliver an irreparable damage to the world economy, not with its financial or military might but with a code inculcated in their warriors—a Bushido gone wrong. Nevertheless, the message remains strong. It is time to do Bushido.

Bushido, "The Way of the Warrior", has come to be known as the samurai code, but it is more than that. The name given is not "the code" or "the law" of the warrior, but rather, "the Way." It is not merely a list of rules to which a warrior must subscribe in exchange for his title, but a set of principles that prepare a man or woman to fight without losing his humanity, and to lead and command without losing touch with basic values. It is a description of a way of life, and a prescription to make a warrior-nobleman.

At the heart of bushido is the samurai's acceptance of death. "The way of the samurai is found in death," says the Hagakure, a 1716 explanation of bushido whose title means literally "Hidden in the Leaves". Once he is steeled to the fact of dying, he may then live his life without worrying about dying, and choose his actions based on principle, not fear. "If by setting one's heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in The Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling."

The samurai's position of high rank and enormous respect within the society was not a license to behave any way he chose. Rather, it was the result of the extreme discipline and the high standard by which he lived. Disciplining his entire life makes him capable of decisive action in battle, and surely, that was the original goal of "the way." His Zen practice freed his mind from distraction and enabled him to pursue perfection in all things from haiku to seppuku. By reaching perfection in all he endeavored, including kendo— "the way of the sword" - he became an unbeatable warrior and an unstoppable force in society.

Inazo Nitobe, one of the first Japanese Quakers, wrote eloquently in English about bushido (and to his 1905 book BUSHIDO, THE SOUL OF JAPAN we are deeply indebted for much of the content of this section) referred to samurai as "knights" and likened bushido in some ways to the code of chivalry. In the same way that a few chivalric ideals have persisted as behavioral norms in Western society, he suggests that the principles that formed the samurai permeated all facets of Japanese civilization. This is hardly surprising, since the samurai controlled the government for at least 676 years, arguably longer. Japan's transformation from a country in complete isolation in the Mid-19th century to a world power in the mid-20th century may owe something to the samurai-bred abilities of discipline and focus. If bushido was the source of the samurai's approach to life, its ongoing influence is hard to deny.