Every samurai who is in service must have a supply of weapons suitable to his means. Every feudal house has its military regulations, and the proper banners and flags and helmet insignia, spear mounts, sleeve crests, and marks on the baggage animals as ordered by the lord must be carefully provided in a uniform manner. For if they have to be improvised in a hurry it will be an obvious sign of carelessness and will provoke contempt. Men who from neglect of these insignia have been attacked by their own side and killed and suffered loss are not unknown in military history, so there must be no want of precaution in these things. And some may think that their servants are not likely to have to cut anybody down and so may replace the blades of their swords with wood or bamboo, and neglect to provide them with a loincloth because they think they will not need to gird up their clothes, and find themselves in difficulties owing to their want of foresight. And a samurai who is a cavalier and who receives a considerable stipend and who does not know when he may have to take the field, however peaceful the time may appear to be, is a hundred percent more culpable if he does not provide himself with the proper weapons than the young serving man with a wooden sword or no loincloth. So from fear of being put to public shame he ought to equip himself properly. And here is a piece of advice on the subject. When a small retainer wishes to fit himself out with armor and has, let us say, three pieces of gold to get a suit, the best thing he can do will be to spend two-thirds of it on the body armor and helmet, leaving the remainder to provide all the other things he will need such as underclothes, breeches, coat, under-hakama, upper girdle, surcoat, whip, fan, wallet, cloak, water-bottle, cup, etc., so that he will have every accessory he needs as well as his suit of armor. Then, though he may be young and very strong, it is better to avoid heavy suits of thick iron armor and weighty banners and standards, for the very good reason that, though they may be tolerable while he is young and vigorous, as he grows older they will become too much for him. And even a young man may fall ill or be wounded, and then the lightest iron armor will be a heavy burden and a hindrance. And if a young man gets known for the weight of his banners and standards he will find it difficult to give them up when he becomes older and less able to support them.
I find it an interesting parallel to modern soldiers and law enforcement officers who will spend tons of money on the latest flat-screen or video console but will scrimp on buying a quality holster or flashlight.
There are many people who, by being attached to a martial art and taking apprentices, believe that they have arrived at the full stature of a warrior. But it is a regrettable thing to put forth much effort and in the end become an “artist.” In artistic technique it is good to learn to the extent that you will not be lacking.
An interesting passage…the “stature” is not to be found in simply the practice of skills. Do not be found lacking in skill, but don’t lose your way in pursuing them either.
“Use your mind strongly even when you walk down the street, such that you wouldn’t even blink if someone unexpectedly thrust a lance at your nose. All warriors should employ such a state of mind all the time in everyday life.” – Suzuki Shosan (1579-1655)
A Facebook friend of mine mentioned that this month marks the 311th Anniversary of the “Ako Incident”….otherwise known as the night the 47 Ronin carried out their attack on the mansion of Kira Yoshinaka. One noted Japanese scholar has described this tale as being the country’s “national legend.”
What is interesting however…as it always is when separating out historic facts from legend…is that according to the “Bushido Code” of the day the actions of the 47 Ronin were not unanimously viewed as being heroic.
To encapsulate the event. In 1701 two daimyo, Asano and Kamei, were ordered to arrange a fitting reception for the envoys of the Emperor in Edo, during their bi-annualservice to the Shogun. They were to receive instruction in proper etiquette from a powerful court official named Kira. According to the legend, Kira expected a bribe/fee from the diamyo of which Kamei paid and Asano did not. Kira then treated Kamei civilly but continually insulted Asano. Eventually Asano had enough and drew a blade within Edo castle and wounded Kira. This was a grave offense and Asano was ordered to commit seppuku and all of his goods and lands were ordered to be confiscated after his death, his family was to be ruined, and his retainers were to be made ronin (leaderless).
Of Asano’s over three hundred men, forty-seven refused to allow their lord to go unavenged, even though revenge had been prohibited in the case. They banded together, swearing a secret oath to avenge their master by killing Kira, even though they knew they would be severely punished for doing so. Two years latter, the 47 Ronin attacked Kira’s mansion in the early morning hours during a heavy snow killing Kira and most of his retainers. When they had finished, the 47 turned themselves in to the authorities. Eventually all were ordered to commit seppuku.
The even greater ambiguity lies in the motivation and action of the ronin. They justified the attack as a vendetta (katakiuchi) on behalf of their lord, but in no way did the case fit either the legal or the customary definition of katakiuchi. Kira, after all, was not their master’s murderer: on the contrary, Asano had tried to murder Kira. Nor was there any justification for avenging the death of one’s lord, only that of a family member: the ronin even had to call on a Confucian scholar to come up with a textual basis for their action. Legalities aside, what was the underlying spirit of their act? Was it indeed personal loyalty to their lord, as the mainstream of the Chûshingura tradition would have it? Or was it a protest against the bakufu’s lenient treatment of Kira for his involvement in the incident? Or was it a simple matter of personal honor to carry out their master’s unfinished task? Or, as one school of interpretation would have it, were they impoverished samurai desperate for a new job and trying to prove their credentials?
The operating principle of revenge was based on an ancient Confucian dictum about not living under the same heaven as the killer of one’s father (or in this case, lord). In this case Kira was not the killer of Asano. Furthermore, some Samurai were conflicted on the entire planning and execution process employed. Plotting and careful planning for success was (oddly enough) not “The Way” of the Samurai when it came to situations like this. The Samurai Dazai Shundai (1680 – 1747) summed up this viewpoint in an essay:
“The guest asked: “In that case, what should the warriors of Ako have done?” Shundai said: “Nothing could have been better for them than to die at Ako Castle…. They should have come out of the castle and engaged in battle with the government emissaries (who were coming to seize the Asano goods and lands). Then, retreating into the castle, they should have set fire to it, and everyone should have killed himself. When their corpses had burned up with the castle, it could have been said that the Ako men had done all they could…. “If for some reason it was not possible for them to die at Ako Castle, they should have gone to Edo at once and, with all the troops available, attacked Kira. If they won the engagement, they thereupon should have killed themselves; if they lost, the same. The unifying element should have been death. Through it they would have discharged their responsibility. “Yet Oishi and his men were unable to do either. Instead, they waited leisurely and, employing idle conspiracies and secrecy, tried to kill Kira. What they had in mind was to achieve their aim, establish their reputation, and thereby seek fame and fortune. How unurbane of them! In the circumstances, it was lucky for the Ako warriors that Kira hadn’t died before their attack.”
Yamamoto Tsunetomo, the Samurai who’s statements are claimed to be reproduced in the Hagakure is reported to have said the following about the situation:
A certain person was brought to shame because he did not take revenge. The way of revenge lies in simply forcing one’s way into a place and being cut down. There is no shame in this. By thinking that you must complete the job you will run out of time. By considering things like how many men the enemy has, time piles up; in the end you will give up. No matter if the enemy has thousands of men, there is fulfillment in simply standing them off and being determined to cut them all down, starting from one end. You will finish the greater part of it.
Concerning the night assault of Lord Asano’s ronin, the fact that they did not commit seppuku at the Sengakuji was an error, for there was a long delay between the time their lord was struck down and the time when they struck down the enemy. If Lord Kira had died of illness within that period, it would have been extremely regrettable. Because the men of the Kamigata area have a very clever sort of wisdom, they do well at praiseworthy acts but cannot do things indiscriminately, as was done in the Nagasaki fight.
The second element in debate was the fact that the 47 Ronin turned themselves in after the incident instead of immediately committing seppuku, which would have been truer to the Bushido ideals of the day. Some critics believe that the Ronin were gambling that perhaps through gaining fame, notoriety and public support that they would be able to escape death. Some critics even going so far as to accuse them of trying to leverage their fame into employment with another daimyo.
From a political/historic aspect it is interesting to read that this story really “got legs” and became the “National Legend” during the Meiji Period of Japanese history. The Meiji Restoration was a period when Japan was undergoing “modernization” while still trying to hold onto some form of historic cultural identity. As Henry Smith said at Columbia University states:
For the first half of the Meiji period, Chûshingura survived with no major change in the two great Edo-period lineages of kabuki stage productions and kôdan story-telling. To be sure, the new regime seems to have appreciated the political uses of the 47 Ronin as early as 1868, when the Meiji emperor, on arriving in his new capital of Tokyo, sent an emissary to Sengakuji to place offerings before the graves of the Akô ronin, together with a proclamation addressed to Ôishi and praising him for upholding the principle of the master-follower bond. Yet this did not lead to any particular official manipulation of the legend to foster imperial loyalty: Chûshingura remained in the possession of the people.
The modern transformation of Chûshingura into what amounted to a piece of propaganda on behalf of martial values and selfless sacrifice to the state came, revealingly, only after the way had been paved by the first modern historical studies of the Akô incident. This process began in 1889 with the appearance of The True Story of the Akô Gishi (Akô gishi jitsuwa), an account by Shigeno Yasutsugu (1827-1910), a pioneer of the modern critical method in history. Shigeno insisted on the need to separate out the many counterfeits among the surviving documents of the incident, in an effort to tell the “true story.” The form of the book (which was related orally to a newspaper reporter) was an act-by-act analysis of Kanadehon Chûshingura, indicating what was “true” and what not. This marks the beginning of a new element in the Chûshingura phenomenon, the perception that the historical event constituted a different kind of story to be told, with different tools and methods. The way to a greater historicity may have been paved by the kôdan tradition and its stronger sense of the actual event―particularly in the use of the historical names of the participants―but the line between history and fiction remained one that was never openly contested.
It is in this historic perspective that you can see the foreshadowing of events that led to the Imperial Japanese militarism of WWII. The 47 Ronin, Bushido: The soul of Japan, and the Hagakure were all used as propaganda to reinforce the Samurai heritage of Japanese soldiers.
Now..this is not to imply that you cannot find “Things Worth Believing In” in these works. I will end by quoting myself from another post on the Hagakure:
The Hagakure was written approximately one hundred years after the start of the Tokugawa era, a time of relative peace when Japan was closed to any foreign influence. With no battles left to fight, the samurai class was being transformed into an administrative arm of the government, training and practicing the martial arts but seldom engaging in combat outside of duels and brawls. After his master died, Tsunetomo was forbidden to perform a ritual suicide by an edict of the Tokugawa Shogunate and it is thought that the Hagakure may have been written as a response to the change in tradition and was an effort to define the role of the samurai in this more peaceful society. Several sections refer to the “old days”, and imply a dangerous weakening of the samurai class since that time.
His work represents one approach to the problem of maintaining military preparedness and a proper military mindset in a time when neither has much practical application. The Hagakure remained a fairly obscure work until 1930′s Japan where it played a role in the resurgent militarism of WWII imperial Japan. Illustrating the danger in trying to resurrect modes of thought from times that were vastly different from our own. The student studying these codes needs to remember that the “trick” lays in finding the similarities and consistency in human thought that may have remained over the ages and see how these ancient codes may or may not apply to our times.
In light of some recent events, this post came to my mind so I decided to re-publish it.
If one would seek good companions, he will find them among those with whom he studies Learning and calligraphy. Harmful companions to avoid will be found among those who play go, chess and shakuhachi. There is no shame in not knowing these later amusements. Indeed, they are matters to be taken up only in the stead of wasting ones time completely.
A person’s good and evil are dependent on his companions. When three people are together there will always be an exemplary person among them, and one should choose the good person and follow his example. Looking at the bad person, one should correct his own mistakes.
-Hojo Nagauji (1432-1519 A.D.)
Hojo Nagauji was a “Fighting Samurai” and general of the late Muromachi Period. Some of his writings, namely The Twenty-One Precepts (of which this is a quote), are amongst the foundations of what we know as Bushido.
I find this passage interesting. In it he is advising his retainers to really consider who it is they associate with. He tells them to associate with people who are studious and avoid those who want to spend their time gambling, gaming and carousing. Furthermore he suggests looking for the “good example” in every crowd and avoid being like the bad example.
To apply this to our times does not take much re-contexing, as a matter of fact there are numerous sayings from various cultures that state the same:
Be honorable yourself if you wish to associate with honorable people.
Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation. It is better be alone than in bad company.
We (including myself) have all been in those situations where we have been out on the town with our friends and gotten a little too drunk, done something too stupid or just made too much of a spectacle of ourselves in public. I do not want to come off as a prude, but too much of that sort of thing leads to nothing but trouble and does nothing but lead one from “the way”. If you associate with people who lead you into those types of situations it is time to consider the value of those people and its time to consider your own reasons for associating with them. I’m not suggesting that one needs to swear off alcohol or “going out” entirely. Even Hojo Nagauji did not say that. But he did say that “playing” was only to be considered over completely wasting ones time. If one desires to be considered a “professional” or a “warrior” then there are numerous things you could be doing to improve your skills and your survivability (“screw golf”) other than idle drinking. If drinking and partying is occupying more of your heart and mind then “the way” is, then I believe that you are living in a fantasy world where you want to “say you are… rather than BE.”
In the end, what I am suggesting is being “mindful” in everything you do. If you want to go out and enjoy yourself every now and then by all means do so. But do so “intentionally”. Likewise consider the people you associate with; are they examples you wish to emulate? Do you want other people to think of you the way they think of them? Are they worthy of respect? Are you?
In my opinion, if you find yourself getting “wasted” as routine entertainment, if you like to associate with criminals and “loser’s”, or if you are consistently acting in an undignified manner in public, you are debasing yourself, asking for trouble, and are far from the path of a “warrior”.
Written by Taira Shigesuke around 1700 AD. The Bushido Shoshinshu was intended to instruct the novice Samurai of the peaceful Edo Era, who had not known the rigors of battle, with the practical philosophies of previous eras.
Bushido Shoshinshu is roughly translated as “Bushido for Beginners.”
My favorite part is from a section called “Officials,” which centers on one bit of imagery: a white jacket.
A white jacket, it says, can come clean with detergent and a good wash. Likewise:
“…there are various practices that are like detergents for cleaning the heart of warriors. What are these practices? These are loyalty, duty, and courage. There is dirt that is removed by the detergent of loyalty and fidelity, and there is dirt that is removed by the detergent of faithfulness to duty. When the stain remains stubborn even after washing with loyalty and rinsing with duty, then use the detergent of courage, and make a determined effort to scrub it clean. This is the warrior’s ultimate secret of cleaning the heart.”
It’s a beautiful message, full of hope.
Which brings up an interesting point about the reading of ancient Warrior codes. That passage IS an inspiring concept, however if one reads the final passage of this book…
Now were he to grab the aforementioned evil man and finish the matter by carving out his entrails and cutting off his head just as he pleased, and then quickly committing seppuku, the affair would be ended with him seeming to have lost his wits. Thus, there would be no problems or public hearings at the time, the lord’s position would not be threatened, the retainers would all feel at ease, and the domain would be at peace. This would be an act one hundred times greater than junshi, would combine the three virtues of loyalty, righteousness and courage, and would be a model of great loyalty to the warriors of this corrupt age.
…we see that you cant take everything you read in these warrior codes “at face value”.
This passage, on it’s face, is saying that a loyal Samurai would kill one his lords political enemies then kill himself and make it look like he did it while appearing out of his mind. This would be done as a selfless action done out of loyalty to, and for the good of, his lord and his clan; eliminating his lord’s enemy and giving his lord “plausible deniability”.
Thus, from the Bushido Shoshinshu you CAN distill the concept of “loyalty and selfless service” as an inspirational one but you cannot go around cutting the guts out of your bosses enemies. The Samurai lived in a different age, in a different culture and under a vastly different set of rules than our own. I think this illustrates the differences between the wise person who looks for the message behind the words as compared to the “wanna be” Ghost Dog Samurai who believes that these codes can be lived verbatim in our modern times.
When people get generally depressed, it’s a common convention to say “it’s all up to divine decree”, but that is wrong. Divine decree is in oneself, not outside. Only after you’ve exhausted human effort should you leave things to the divine. Consider the ancient saying “Where human effort comes to an end, there lies fate.” -Izawa Nagahide
There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everyhting
One who is a warrior should have a thorough understanding of these two qualities. If he knows how to do one and avoid the other then he will have attained to Bushido And right and wrong are nothing but good and evil, for though I would not deny that there is a slight difference between the terms, yet to act rightly and do good is difficult and is regarded as tiresome, whereas to act wrongly and do evil is easy and amusing, so that most naturally incline to the wrong or evil and tend to dislike the right and good. But to be thus unstable and make no distinction between right and wrong is contrary to reason, so that anyone who understands this distinction and yet does what is wrong is no proper samurai, but a raw and untaught person. And the cause of it is small capacity for self-control. Though this may not sound so bad, if we examine into its origin we find it arises from cowardice. That is why I maintain that it is essential for a samurai to refrain from wrong and cleave to what is right.
Now in the matter of doing right there are three degrees. For instance, if a man goes on a journey with a neighbor and his companion has a hundred ryo of gold which, in order to avoid the trouble of carrying it with him, he deposits with this man till he comes back. And he does so without telling anyone about it. Then on the journey this neighbor is taken with a sudden illness from over- eating, or apoplexy, or something of the sort, and dies of it, so that there is nobody at all who knows anything about the money. But the other out of pure sympathy and compassion and nothing else, and without a single evil thought, immediately informs the relatives and returns all the money to them. This is a man who does what is right. In the second case, suppose the man who had the money to have been one who had only a few acquaintances and was not intimate with anybody, so that no one would know about the money he had deposited and there would be none likely therefore to make inquires. And if the other was not very well off he might regard it as a lucky windfall and think it no harm to say nothing and keep it for himself. But then a sudden shame would come over him for having harbored such a polluting idea and he would put it from him at once and return the money. This is doing right on account of shame that proceeds from one’s mind. Then there is the case where somebody in his house, either one of his family or of his servants, knows about this money, and he is ashamed of what that person may think or what may be said of him in the future and so returns it. This is one who does right from shame connected with other people. But here we may wonder what he would do if nobody knew anything about it. Still, we can hardly pronounce him to be a person who, though he does not know what is right, does it.
However, generally speaking, the rule for the practice of right conduct is that first of all we should feel shame at the contempt of our family and servants, and then at the scorn of the wider circle of our acquaintances and of outsiders, and thus eschew the wrong and do right. This will then naturally become a habit and in time we shall acquire the disposition to prefer the right and dislike the wrong.
Again in the way of valor, he who is born brave will think it nothing to go into battle and come under a hot fire of arrows and bullets. Devoted to loyalty and duty he will make his body a target and press on, presenting by his splendid valor an indescribably fine example to all beholders. But on the the other hand, there may one whose knees tremble and whose heart palpitates as he wonders how he is going to manage to acquit himself decently in all this danger, but he goes on because he is ashamed to be the only one to falter under the eyes of his comrades as they advance, and because he fears loss of reputation in the future. So he hardens his resolution and presses on in no way behind the naturally valiant one. Thus, though he may be vastly inferior to the born brave, after several of these experiences he becomes used to it and finds his feet, and so eventually his courage is confirmed and he grows into a warrior by no mean inferior to the born fearless. So both in doing right and in producing valor there is no other way but a sense of shame. For if people say of wrong that it does not matter and do it, and merely laugh if they see a coward and say that it does not matter either, what means will there be of disciplining this kind of person?
One of my interests is Bushido and the Samurai. I found this passage in the Bushidoshoshinshu, a book written by Daidoji Yuzan Taira no Shigesuke. This work was widely read and discussed by warriors of the middle and late Edo period and became one of the sources for bushi thought and behavior throughout the country, along with such books as Hagakure and Tengu Geijutsuron.
These books and others were discussions of what a warrior ought to do and how he should behave in the fulfillment of his duties, a combination of military thought and social etiquette. The core of this passage is the idea that “the worth of a man” is to be found in his day to day behavior, not in the extreme and relatively rare occurrence (even for the Samurai) of actual battle. As in my previous post, the idea is to perform small acts of courage as often as possible to be familiar with the feeling when the “big one” arrives.
When speaking of Bushido, the three qualities considered essential are loyalty, integrity and courage. When these three virtues are perfectly combined in one man, he is called a samurai of the highest quality. It is easy to link these three in one breath, but a weighty matter to understand them in one’s heart and then put them into practice. Thus, it has been said since ancient times that it is rare to find a samurai of the highest quality even among a hundred or a thousand warriors. In this connection it is an easy thing to discern a warrior of loyalty or a man of integrity, as these qualities appear in one’s everyday behavior. But there is some doubt if a man of courage can be distinguished in this uneventful period of peace. Such a doubt, however, is not justified. The reason is that the courage of a warrior is not exhibited for the first time when he dons his armor, takes up spear and halberd, faces the field, and is locked in battle. A man’s ordinary life at peace reflects his courage or cowardice just like a mirror.
Why is this so? A man born with a sense of courage will advance in high spirits all that is good, and avoid in the same way all that is bad. In his dealings with his lord and parents he will make his endeavors with unparalleled loyalty and filial piety. Having the least bit of spare time, he will put his mind to Learning, and not be negligent in his practice of the martial arts. Being careful to avoid extravagance, he will dislike wasting even a penny. One should not think, however, that this is due to a mean or shabby spirit, because for necessary things he will spend without regret sums with which others would not part. As for places or activities forbidden by his lord’s house laws or disliked by his parents, he will not go to them no matter how much he may want to, and will desist in such activities no matter how difficult they may be to stop. In all events he will not turn his back on the desires of his lord or parents. He will protect his health fully and will keep in mind the desire to perform at least once in his life a great meritorious deed. Having such a disposition, he will be deeply mindful of his own constitution and be moderate in his desires for food and drink. He will give wide berth to and be very prudent in matters of sex, that primary deluder of men, and, other than that, will endure anything. All these evidence a man’s courage.
A coward, on the other hand, will respect his lord and parents only on the surface, and in reality will not value them at all. He will give no thought to the house laws of his lord or to the aversions of his parents, but rather will walk about the places he shouldn’t and do things he ought not, putting his self- indulgence before anything else. This man will enjoy sleeping in the morning and sleeping at noon, and will greatly dislike anything connected with Learning. Even in his performance of the martial arts, which are the calling of a warrior, he will be completely lacking in discipline. Practicing a little of this and a little of that, he will speak knowingly of his pride in the arts, regardless of his lack in them. He will waste, without a thought of the future or the past, the little bit of stipend he may receive, spending any amount of money on sumptuous meals or useless and idiotic things. With anything else he will be stingy and tight-fisted. He will not even consider repairing the enameled lattice cords of the old armor he had received from his parents, much less wanting to update or repair the deficiencies in his absolutely necessary armory and saddlery. Such a man gives no consideration to the fact that when becoming ill he would not be able to serve his lord and would cause his parents anxiety and hardships. Thus, he indulges in gluttony and overdrinking, giving himself up to lasciviousness, and chipping away at the fiber of his existence. These all arise from a weak and irresolute mind, a mind unable to endure things for long. One would not be far off the track in judging them to be symptoms of a cowardly, weak-hearted warrior. Thus, one can distinguish with no confusion the brave man from the coward, even in times of peace and tranquility.
What I find interesting in this passage is the idea that a persons character can be seen best in his/her day-to-day living and that a person of “everyday character” will most likely “stand fast” and fulfill his/her duty when the time comes.
A man’s ordinary life at peace reflects his courage or cowardice just like a mirror.
Our thoughts and actions are inexorably intertwined. Cultivate “courage” in your everyday life and chances are you will act accordingly during crisis as well.