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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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The Samurai: The call for a certain culture

After first delving into the history of the samurai, it’s interesting to explore the culture of this pre-modern Japanese warrior. From the weapons they used to how they were addressed, there is a lot to take in when exploring the nature and evolution of this Japanese warrior. Let’s delve into the world of the samurai even deeper to understand how they fought, rose and became a cultural icon of Japan.

Warrior Weapons

Traditional Japanese weapons are highly associated with that of the samurai. There are many varieties and styles of samurai weapons, providing a unique and interesting range of Japanese weaponry to look into. The most popular choice of weapon of the samurai was the sword, a now synonymous icon of this historical Japanese warrior. Ancient Japanese swords from the Nara period featured a straight blade, though by the late 900s, different types of blades began to emerge. These included the curved tachi appeared, followed by the uchigatana and ultimately the katana. The Katana is one of Japans most famous weapons with its unique sharpness and strength. The Katana was strong enough to be used in defence and sharp enough to damage the enemy, earning its reputation as ‘the soul of the samurai’.
The yumi is a form of Japanese long-range bow. Crafted from bamboo, wood, rattan and leather, this weapon was favoured by samurai skilled in archery. The use of pole weapons was also highly popular, with the most popular types being the yari and the naginata. Whilst resembling a spear, the pole weapon’s curved blade was what made them so effective. The samurai also often chose to use the tanegashima, a type of Japanese matchlock. Tanegashima were produced on a large scale by Japanese gunsmiths, these then new weapons were highly effective, seeing them become the weapon of choice over the traditional yumi.

Artisinal Armour

As far back as the seventh century, Japanese warriors wore a form of lamellar armour, a type of armour made from small rectangular plates of iron and leather. This armour eventually evolved into the armour worn by that of the samurai. The first types of armour were known as yoroi and consisted of small individual scales known as kozane which were crafted using either iron or leather that was bound in small strips and coated with waterproof lacquer to protect the samurai armour from water. The strips were then laced together with silk or leather lace to form a complete chest armour, these parts were then combined to create the whole suit of armour. Alongside carrying their weapons and adornments, the samurai had to endure the weight of the intricately crafted armour that when completed weighed an astounding 66 lbs.
As time evolved, so did the nature of the samurai armour to accommodate the use of firearms, new fighting tactics and the need for more protection. As samurai armour changed over the coming years it developed drastically and so did the methods of warfare. The kozane armour was retired and replaced by a new iron-plated armour with added new features that protected the face, thigh and back as well as features such as the helmet and loincloth.

Noble Names

The samurai name is an intrinsic part of samurai culture, that has long been influenced by heritage. Each samurai would be named by combining the kanji, the Chinese characters that are used within the Japanese writing system, from their grandfather and one new kanji. It was also traditional to use only a small part of their total name when addressing each other which is why samurai have official nicknames. Unlike the nobles, this Japanese warrior tended to use their shorter names rather than their formal names. Because of this, samurai had four parts to their name: a true family name (their clan root), one that links to their family lineage, an official nickname for their first name, and a formal first name.
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. Visit Atelier Japan to explore our range of history and heritage-filled collections of tea, fans, silverware, pottery and jewellery.

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The Samurai: The warriors of pre-modern Japan

The samurai is a greatly respected military figure of Japan. From all eras and periods of Japanese history, the samurai evolved and adapted with the changing times to become what we know it as today. Samurai were usually associated with a clan and were trained as officers in military tactics and grand strategy. Let’s take a look at their history and how far this ancient military honour has come.

Asuka and Nara periods

The Asuka and Nara period is where the first depictions of the samurai began to emerge. The then ruler, Emperor Monmu introduced a new law whereby 1 in 3 Japanese adult males were to be drafted into the national military. This was one of the first attempts by the imperial government to form an organised army modelled after the Chinese system, however, it was believed to be short-lived. This new structure was divided into an array of ranks and sub-ranks with the 1st being the highest adviser to the emperor of the time. Those who belonged to the 6th rank and below were referred to as ‘samurai’ and were left to deal with the day-to-day affairs. Even though these ‘samurai’ were civilian public servants, the modern use of the word ‘samurai’ is said to derive from this movement.

Heian period

As Japan entered into the early Heian period, Emperor Kanmu sought to expand his rule, sending military campaigns against the Emishi. As time went on, the Emperor ultimately disbanded his army and his power gradually declined. Through his reign, many clans formed to protect themselves from the imperial magistrates. By the mid-Heian period, they had adopted characteristic Japanese armour and weapons which were thought to be the first steps in the establishment and evolution of this Japanese warrior.

Late Heian Period and Kamakura Bakufu

Originally, the Emperor and non-warrior nobility employed these newly allied warrior nobles. In time, the clans amassed plenty of manpower, resources and political backing. After the Genpei war, Yoritomo, the founder and the first shōgun, was allowed to organize soldiers and police, seeing the samurai-class begin to appear as the political ruling power in Japan.

Ashikaga shogunate and the Mongol invasions

Various samurai clans struggled for power during the Kamakura and Ashikaga Shogunates. Zen Buddhism spread among the samurai in the 13th century and helped to shape their standards of conduct, particularly overcoming the fear of death and killing. During this time, the samurai fought in the Mongolian invasions with the thunderstorms of 1274 and the typhoon of 1281 helping the warrior defenders of Japan repel the Mongol invaders. Invasions of neighbouring territories became common to avoid infighting, and bickering among samurai was a constant problem.

Sengoku period

The Sengoku period was marked by the loosening of samurai culture, with people born into other social statuses sometimes making a name for themselves as warriors. Japanese war tactics and technologies improved rapidly during this time and introduced a more mobilized infantry, providing the this Japanese warrior with the opportunity to evolve and improve their weapons and fighting skills. By the end of the Sengoku period, several hundred thousand firearms existed in Japan and massive armies numbering over 100,000 clashed in battles.

Azuchi–Momoyama period

During the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who became a grand minister, created a law codifying the samurai caste as permanent and hereditary, and forbidding non-samurai to carry weapons. It is important to note that the distinction between the samurai and non-samurai was so obscure that during the 16th century, most male adults in any social class belonged to at least one military organization. Large battles occurred during the change between regimes, and a number of defeated warriors were retired of their duties, destroyed or became without a lord or master.

Tokugawa shogunate

During the Tokugawa shogunate, samurai increasingly became courtiers, bureaucrats, and administrators rather than warriors. With no warfare since the early 17th century, samurai gradually lost their military function. Here, samurai served as role model behaviour for the other social classes. With time on their hands, they pursued other interests such as becoming renowned scholars.


The last real evidence of the original Japanese warrior was in 1867 when the warriors from Chōshū and Satsuma provinces defeated the Shogunate forces in favour of the rule of the Emperor. Emperor Meiji abolished the samurai’s right to be the only armed force in favour of a more modern, Western-style army in 1873. The samurai finally came to an end after hundreds of years of enjoyment of their status, their powers, and their ability to shape the government of Japan. The future of these Japanese warriors was to be determined by the fact that many of them were exchange students. Because so many of them were literate and well-educated scholars, some of these exchange students started private schools for higher education, while many decided to take on new careers, becoming reporters and writers and introduced new governmental services.
There are many areas of Japanese culture that have come and gone, but some 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.