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Bushido: The way of warriors

From as early as the eighth century through to modern times, bushido was the code of conduct for Japan’s warrior classes. The word “bushido” comes from the Japanese roots “bushi” meaning “warrior,” and “do” meaning “path” or “way, when translated bushido means “way of the warrior.” Bushido was followed by Japan’s samurai warriors and their precursors in feudal Japan, as well as much of central and east Asia. Let’s take a look at what bushido is, and how it came to be.

What is bushido?

Bushidō is a Japanese collective term for the many codes of honour and ideals that dictated the samurai way of life. Those who follow bushido believe in an elaborate list of virtues including frugality, righteousness, courage, benevolence, respect, sincerity, honour, loyalty, and self-control. 
Bushido focuses on ethics, rather than a religious belief system. In fact, many samurai soldiers believed that they were excluded from any reward in the afterlife or in their next lives, according to the rules of Buddhism, because they were trained to fight and kill in this life. Nevertheless, their honour and loyalty had to sustain them, in the face of the knowledge that they would likely end up in the Buddhist version of hell after they died.
The ideal Samurai warrior was supposed to be immune from the fear of death. With the only fear they had being the fear of dishonour and loyalty to his daimyo, a feudal lord in shogunal Japan, motivated the true samurai. If a samurai felt that he had lost his honour, or was about to lose it, according to the rules of bushido, he could regain his standing by committing a rather painful form of ritual suicide, which was called “seppuku.”

The honourable history of bushido

Many early literary works of Japan talk of warriors, but the term bushido didn’t appear in any text until the Edo period. From the literature of the 13th to 16th centuries, there exists an abundance of references to military ideals, although none of these were viewed as early versions of bushido. During the early modern era, these ideals were vigorously pursued in the upper levels of warrior society, and recommended as the proper form of the Japanese man of arms. The sayings of Sengoku-period retainers and warlords were generally recorded or passed down to posterity around the turn of the 16th century. In a handbook addressed to “all samurai, regardless of rank”, Katō states:
“If a man does not investigate into the matter of bushido daily, it will be difficult for him to die a brave and manly death.”
Between the 16th and 19th century, the samurai class played a central role in the policing and administration of the country. At this time there was bushido literature that contained much thought relevant to a warrior class seeking more general application of martial principles and experience in peacetime, as well as a reflection on the land’s long history of war.

Bushido in modern times

After the samurai ruling class was abolished in the wake of the Meiji Restoration, Japan created a modern conscript army. Although you might think that bushido would fade away, Japanese nationalists and war leaders continued to appeal to this cultural ideal throughout the early 20th century and World War II. Even today the morals of bushido continue to resonate in modern Japanese culture. 

An insight into bushido

  • Righteousness (義 gi)

Be acutely honest throughout your dealings with all people. 

  • Heroic Courage (勇 yū)

Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all. 

  • Benevolence, Compassion (仁 jin)

Through intense training and hard work the true warrior becomes quick and strong.

  • Respect (礼 rei)

True warriors have no reason to be cruel. 

  • Honesty (誠 makoto)

When warriors say that they will perform an action, it is as good as done.

  • Honour (名誉 meiyo)

Warriors have only one judge of honor and character, and this is themselves.

  • Duty and Loyalty (忠義 chūgi)

Warriors are responsible for everything that they have done and everything that they have said and all of the consequences that follow.

  • Self-Control (自制 jisei)

There are many areas of Japanese culture that have come and gone, but some, like bushido, have stayed for generations. Atelier Japan aims to keep traditional Japanese craft alive for as long as possible. Visit our website to browse our collection of handcrafted tea, silverware, pottery, jewellery and fans, and add a piece of Japanese history to your home.

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Karate: An ancient art

Karate is a martial art that was developed in the Ryukyu Kingdom, in what is now known as the Okinawa Prefecture. Developed from the indigenous Ryukyuan martial arts under the influence of Kung Fu, karate has an incredible history and has come far over the last few years. Let’s take a look at this ancient martial art practice and how it has come to be so popular all over the globe.

What is Karate?

Karate is now predominantly a striking art, using punching, kicking, knee strikes, elbow strikes and open-hand techniques such as knife-hands, spear-hands and palm-heel strikes. Historically, and in some modern styles, grappling, throws, joint locks, restraints and vital-point strikes are also taught. Karate is a form of self-defence and was created at a time when weapons were banned by invading Japanese forces.
Karate has three main sections to be mastered when training, these are:

  • Kihon, learning the basic techniques or fundamentals;
  • Kata, the training of form and the specific order and way of using techniques;
  • And Kumite, which is to learn how to fight using those techniques.

A long history

In its current form, karate is less than 200 years old, however it has roots that date back thousands of years. The art originated on the island of Okinawa and in its early form was heavily influenced by ancient Chinese martial arts, collectively known as Kung Fu. 
Very little is known of where the exact origins of karate came from before it appeared, but one popular theory states that it came from India over a thousand years ago and was brought to China by a Buddhist monk called Bodhidarma (“daruma” in Japanese). This ancient legend suggests that Bodhidarma arrived in Shaolinsi and began teaching Zen Buddhism, a style of temple boxing based on exercises designed to strengthen the mind and body. 
During the early 1900s, Gichin Funakoshi, a school teacher from the island of Okinawa, introduced karate to mainland Japan where it started to become more popular year after year. Karate became especially popular in the 1960s and 1970s because of westernised karate movies and by the late 1970s, martial arts films had formed a mainstream genre. Karate schools then began appearing all over the world, catering to those with casual interest as well as those seeking a deeper study of the art. By 2015, karate was featured on a shortlist along with baseball, softball, skateboarding, surfing, and sport climbing to be considered for inclusion in the 2020 Summer Olympics. In 2016, the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board announced they were supporting the inclusion of all five sports 

Culture in combat

Karate is a non-contact and unarmed martial arts discipline, employing kicking, striking, and defensive blocking with arms and legs. People who engage in karate often practice their techniques by executing blows against padded surfaces or wood. Pine boards up to several inches in thickness can even be broken by the bare hand or foot of a karate expert. Timing, tactics, and spirit, however, are also considered just as important as physical strength.

All about the outfit

One thing that most people think of when they hear karate is the outfit. When individuals practise karate, they wear special clothes called a karategi. The karategi is made up of a white jacket, white trousers and often a coloured belt with the purpose of displaying the student’s rank. In karate, the belt symbolises how long you have trained rather than how good you are. It’s interesting to note that different schools of Karate have different colours of belts for their ranks, but typically black belts are of the highest rank.
At Atelier Japan, we believe in preserving Japanese culture. Our brand is home to the finest traditional Japnese products that have been handcrafted by artisanal makers all across Japan to share with those interested in the culture and process of each collection. Explore Atelier Japan to discover our range of history and heritage-filled collections of tea, fans, silverware, pottery and jewellery.

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Unique Traditions: Celebrating a Japanese birthday

When it comes to celebrating a Japanese birthday, age makes all the difference. In Western culture, your birthday is the one day of the year where everything is about you, but celebrating a Japanese birthday is influenced by how old you are. 

A joyful history

Birthdays are acknowledged and celebrated in Japan, however, at first they weren’t celebrated until after the Second World War. After the 1950s there was a great influx of American and Western cultures such as fashion, food and celebrations such as Christmas, meaning that birthday celebrations soon became the norm. Celebrating a Japanese birthday didn’t occur as Japan generally focuses on the group rather than the individual and birthdays were seen as a more personal and private affair.
The concept of celebrating the day you were born was initially a foreign concept to the Japanese. Before, the Japanese had only one ‘birthday’, which was the New Year’s Day, since everyone believed that they got older on that day and celebrated together. New Year remains a very special day in Japan and the old custom of giving children and teenagers money as a congratulatory gift still remains, however, a Japanese birthday is now a popular occasion.

Children’s Japanese birthday

When it comes to celebrating a Japanese birthday, it’s children who steal the limelight. Parents organise a small gathering, a cake – usually, a white Victoria sponge with cream is customary – and the number of candles depends on how old the birthday boy or girl is turning. There is no birthday song, so the traditional English version is sung, in English, when the candles are blown out, similar to Western traditions.

Adult birthdays

When it comes to celebrating a Japanese birthday, celebrations don’t stop completely when turning 18. When arranging a birthday, often individuals don’t organise or pay for them. It is customary for friends to organise a party for the one who has a birthday, and all bills are covered by the guests, in order to let the person whose birthday it is enjoy the day without worrying about money. Here, paying for the event counts as a form of group gift.
Many Japanese couples tend to reserve their actual birthday day for their partners. Generally, they go on a date and spend the day or evening together to celebrate. When it comes to buying gifts for a birthday, accessories are favoured gifts and are popular as they can be worn practically every day and can remind the recipient of their significant other.

Japanese birthday festivals

Aside from normal birthdays and New Year, there are several special days throughout the year that celebrate getting older. 7-5-3 day is where girls aged seven and three and boys aged five and three are dressed in kimonos and taken to shrines to pray for health and a long, happy life. When celebrating this birthday, the children are also given a chitose ame, or thousand-year candy, to wish for a thousand years of health. 
Another birthday that is celebrated is the Coming of Age Day which focuses on Japanese youths reaching adulthood at the age of 20. This Japanese birthday is held on the second Monday of January and you will find young people dressing in suits or kimonos when they go to the office to be officially recognised as adults. On this Japanese birthday, young people will usually celebrate by going out drinking with friends, as 20 is the age that you can legally drink in Japan, as well as vote.
Japan has been influenced by Western culture for many decades but a lot of its tradition and culture still remains. Whether it’s celebrating a birthday or enjoying their culture, there are lots of ways Japan has changed due to Western influences. From sake to silverware, fans to fashion, Japan is driven by influence, culture and its artistic nature. At Atelier Japan, our collection of traditional Japanese products is just waiting to be discovered, browse our makers to explore our range of luxury handcrafted Japanese goods that would make the perfect gift for any Japanese birthday.
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