What was the Samurai Code and how did the principles of respect and honor evolve?

Much like a western European chivalrous code of ethics, the Japanese samurai had a code of their own, which was orally transmitted from generation to generation.

It was a code that evolved from a combination of strict military code, Zen Buddhism, Shintoism, and Confucianism. It was written down in the 17th century as Way of the Warrior (which is the translation of the Japanese word Bushido) by Yamaga Soko, a master of military and religion.

The principles defined a way of living for the ruling class samurai and included instruction on being loyal, courageous, compassionate, honorable, respectful of life, and a sharp warrior. Most of the principles were about maintaining right-mindedness and upholding civic duty; however, some ideals had a darker side.

Take ritualistic suicide—loyalty and honor sometimes drove samurai to this end. You can see remnants of the Samurai Code even in modern Japanese history, long after the last samurai lived.

For instance, the over-loyal acts of World War II kamikaze pilots were using the same honor and loyalty logic as their samurai predecessors. Some parts of the code are ingrained in the Japanese collective thought even today.

A popular slogan for Japanese corporate cogs is “Business is war!” On the flip side, however, the Japanese tea ceremony is also a by-product of the Samurai Code.

It embodies the principles of respect and honor of life.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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