There are three kanji used to write bushido.
  • Bu - Martial arts
  • Shi - Gentleman/Nobleman
  • Do - The way or path

Bushido is then the path that is followed by a gentleman or nobleman practitioner of martial arts. Often simply described as "The way of the warrior" or "The way of the samurai".

There are seven virtues of bushido:

  1. Gi: rectitude
  2. Rei: courtesy, respect
  3. Yu: valor
  4. Chugi: Devotion, loyalty
  5. Makato: honesty
  6. Meiyo: honor and glory
  7. Jin: benevolence

I've also had it (or one facet of it) explained to me by a friend who knows such things as "a life system of interlinking obligations". Yes, that confused me, too, so I asked for clarification. The basic premise is that everything in life is dependant on everything else, people included. So therefore we have to show respect for everything else, for respecting others is respecting yourself. And the only true way to ever contravine this edict is to break this circle of obligations (taking without giving, etc) -- whereupon you will incur and deserve the wrath of all the others in the chain.

Bushido - a problematic concept

This term was hardly used until Nitobe Inazo wrote "Bushido, The Soul of Japan" in 1899. He was a young scholar who had studied in USA and Germany, spending much of his life outside Japan. Although from a samurai family, he actually knew little of Japanese history, and today the book is criticised for being a romantic projection of Christian values onto Japanese culture. Nitobe had a clear view of what he wanted bushido to be. He thought himself that he had invented the term.

The word is used today to mean "the way of the samurai/warrior" (see writeups above), but a good portion of misunderstanding and myth is associated with it. It is not clearly defined, and as previously mentioned, it was not used in the time it is meant to originate from. It is to great extent a word used in Western countries.

Sources/furhter reading:
Kobukai Oslo, the dojo I am a member in
"The Historical Foundations of Bushido", http://www.koryubooks.com/library/kfriday2.html
"Nitobe Inazo and Bushido", http://www.jef.or.jp/en/jti/200201_022.html
"A look at the life of Inazo Nitobe", http://members.tripod.com/~choisai/writings/inazo.html

Bu"shi`do` (boo"shee`doh`), n. [Jap. bu military + shi knight + do way, doctrine, principle.]

The unwritten code of moral principles regulating the actions of the Japanese knighthood, or Samurai; the chivalry of Japan.

Unformulated, Bushido was and still is the animating spirit, the motor force of our country. Inazo Nitobé.

 

© Webster 1913.

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