The Warrior’s Story of Honor and Society, Essay Example

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Yamato Period (6th Century) Included the Asuka Periods in Which the Yamato government and the clans had major influence in Japan.  Buddhism was introduced during this Time, and spread after the Battle of Shigisan in 587.

The Nara Period (710-794) Adopted the Chinese ways into the upper class of Japan, fashioned after Buddhism, and other influences.

The Heine Period (794-1185) Buddhism, Taoism and Confucian flourished. This is the period in the class of the samurais rose that would take over the government and began the establishment of the feudal period within Japan.

As noted in the paper, the warrior class of the samurai was developed and made steady gains throughout the period, and made it to the courts with end result of the Hogen Rebellion.  The start of the shogunate, was also established after the Taira clan took over the throne, and Taira no Kiyomor’s grandson began his rule.

Kamakura Period (1185) is also a part of this period which saw Minamoto no Yoritomo take power from the emperors.  The military class (Samurai) rose as the principle system deteriorated in 793, and the Bushi (samurai) offer a difference in the power structures in Japan.  The insei era is also introduced and effectively put an end to in 1156 by the defeat of the Minamoto clan by the Taira Kiyomori.  He is defeated in the Gempei War, and Minamoto Yoritomo becomes the first shogun.

The Tokugawa Period 1600- Sees a jump in history from the Emperor rule to the rule of the Shogun and the introduction of the Bushido Code. This period was strongly influenced by the Samurai caste system, and the social stratification in which the honor code is highly influential throughout society.

The Warrior’s Story Honor and Society

Japan’s history is as rich and filled with many historical events and figures that have been emulated on thousands of movies. The Japanese society has allowed for little diversity as its history predates centuries ago. The Japanese culture today has managed to eliminate aspects in diversity from gender roles, the maltreatment of other minorities, the Japanese corporate world, and the dynamics of family. Only with the event of globalization has the world begun to shrink, and the Japanese society has begun to change. The younger generation has brought fresh blood that drives their interest in technology and has placed pressure on the old standard of the status quo. One of the oldest parts of Japanese culture is their affinity for relying on the complex nature of honor as a way to balance their society. The concept of honor and society was established during their feudal development with the establishment of the caste system. It insured the unity and Japan’s lack of diversity in the society throughout their history.  Honor involves the complex concept of recognizing one’s reputation and their innate desire to maintain social dignity. The Japanese culture can be placed with learning from the way of the Samurai as they used the notion to represent their brute behavior as it evolved throughout Japan’s history.

The value of honor is concluded that it is, “intimately related to power.”[1] Honor while complex to define can be viewed as a system of stratification in which the behavior used in appropriate to each individual status. It changes in the social construct that can transform the complex culture of honor in a society. Ikegami (1997), provided a more in-depth definition of what honor meant to a society in which, “honor is a sentiment and an aspiration that all persons in a given culture may share; at the same time, it represents a privilege conferred on the higher orders that often excludes those of lower status.” [2]  There are numerous differentiation in which honor would mean to different societies, groups, and throughout various historical periods.  The concepts of honor are thought to be an assortment of notions that are related to each other and applied variously by several status-groups that are defined by sex, class, age, occupation, and other characteristics. In pre-modern Japan, the concept of honor within the society was born from the life of the Samurais dwelling within in Japan in ninth and tenth century. Japan has developed a more elaborate and deeply rooted set of honor that is seen throughout its cultural idioms as the dominant symbolic societal complexes.

The Way of the Samurai  

The historical events that happen within Japan has strongly influenced the way in which the society has developed into the present day. The strongest influence comes from disreputable Japanese warriors: the samurai. At the time, these warriors were called by several names which included, tsuwamono, mononofu, bushi, and saburai, a term that meant to serve for the nobility. [3] The era in which the Samurai lived, the Heian period (the mid-eleventh and twelfth centuries) lasted nearly eleven centuries, and yet their impact on the Japanese society that is seen throughout present day Japan in areas of the government left for administration and the government. In The Japanese Samurai Code Mente writes that, samurais were able to established their own traditions and behavior which helped them have the advantage over their opponents, as well as form concepts of eternal honest, respect, honor, devotion, and love to their lord.  [4]

Samurai lived on the principles where they fought to maintain their pride, home, and overall reputation as their priority. As Ikegami explains, “one’s honor is the image of oneself in the social mirror, and that image affects one’s self-esteem and one’s behavior.”[5] As they lived to protect the emperor or the shogun that was in charge, they warriors lived by the honor system that were to avoid shame and seek social recognition and honor. The samurai were nothing short of trained killing machines that used their violent prowess to illicit revenge and brute force onto their victims. The warriors were trained specialists that served the elite ruling class with prestige military skills, where their image of dominance spread throughout Japan. According to Ikegami, “they were the first social group in Japan with a clear self-identity as military specialists.” [6] The social structure of Japan was evident in the houses of the Samurai as their considered a hereditary, formed of a new social status, milbun, with a particular social organizational culture and basis.  The dominance of the Samurai were not only seen throughout their roles as protectors for the ruling class, by a force that spread throughout the agricultural land, into valuing them as an economic resource based on their military superiority in comparison with other social groups.

Insei System and the Kamakura Period

The power and the prevalence of Samurai began to impact the political system established throughout Japan. In pre-modern time’s particularly during the medieval period under the insei system, that brought the emergence of the estate system, the imperial power held in Japan began to decline, and the power structure began to shift to the samurais obtaining the positions of lords, and throughout the eleventh century began to develop their own hierarchical political system. [7]During the turbulent period, Japan was marred with two power structures, the old emperor’s court, and the new samurai power. The samurai ruled with the beginning of the Kamakura shogunate in the 12th century until the 16th century as the aristocratic power continued to decline. [8] Throughout the nineteenth century the aristocratic class and the samurai class existed side by side until eventually the courts developed a nominal structure in which the military continued to serve a respectable title by the ruling class.

At the time in Japan, the samurais were mostly isolated from the rest of the world, however, they had many wars with different armies and warriors that came from throughout Japan.  Some of the numerous disagreements during the early years of samurais established came from warring princes that fought over the limited land. Prince Yamato described in, Samurai: the Story of a Warrior Tradition, points out, “In many ways Prince Yamato could be considered a role model for the samurai, although at this time, the samurai as such did not exist. While exhibiting a total fearlessness when facing enemies, Yamato lacked any form of compassion.” [9] This brutality is what being a samurai warrior was based on, no compassion, no fear, and no weakness.  The author points out further that the samurais were vast in numbers, but it was their tenacity to defend their honor at any cost with the qualities of fearlessness and cunning nature was evident.[10]  Their violent behavior was defended as an aspect of following the honor code in which demand willingness to use violence as a show of strength. In reality, a willingness to self-sacrifice their lives was a pursuit of restoring the honor of self or of their family.  Without such devotion to one’s warrior-like mental attitude and strength, the samurai would have crumbled under the attacks of invaders in the later years, causing their heritage to deteriorate with them.

Tokugawa Era

The honor of a samurai played a crucial role in their social status. The social status lined up with the will of the samurai losing his honor, was a tie to being an outcast. Being an outcast to the samurai was a feat lower than being considered a beggar. The samurais would be up against others ruining their Bushido all together or fail at the task they had. Suicide or seppuku, was the only way in which the samurai warrior was able to recover from their dishonor, and to not shame their family. The ritualized suicide, was to free the samurai and their family from shame, and restore their nobility on their headstone. This sense of the importance of honor kept the samurai warriors from ever giving up. The Bushido Code that translates into “the way of the warrior” was a code that was taken from the behaviors of the Samurai and transformed throughout Japanese society. Due to the common acceptance of this “Samurai Code”, much of its teachings are deep-seated into Japanese culture. One of the essential teachings of the Bushido Code is the acceptance of one’s giri. Mente describes giri as “obligation, duty, or justice”.[11] When one was able to accept their giri, the samurais where able to cope with various obstacles, which were thrown their way which included, suicide. The values of Bushido were to constantly strive to reach an optimum state of mind, and to be fearless. This single minded focus is part of what placed the samurai, and place Japan, as a leading influence among their rivals.

The Bushido Code was enduringly established in the Japanese culture during to Tokugawa Era. Within the era, the Bushido code spread throughout Japan and held the concepts of loyalty, frugality, the mastery of martial arts, and honor until death. They spread from the samurai into the focus of Japan’s national identity. The mentality for these individualistic perspectives runs contradictory to the ideal of the traditional family structure that was held in Japan. The new Japanese Constitution of 1947 helped to offer Japanese women power for the first time in the county’s history.  The Tokugawa Era added to the xenophobic of Japanese individuality.  The Bushido code that was established, dictated the sense of loyalty and honor that was aligned with the warrior class. The act of seeming different was seen to be disrespectful to the ruling class. [12]Minorities were persecuted throughout Japan’s history. During these times, minorities were hunted down and killed, those that survived moved up north. At the end of the Tokugawa era, the Shogunate tried to remove all of the diversity within society. At the time the only ideologies that dominated the society were Buddhism, Shinto, and Confucianism.  The honor society that was attached to Japan at the time supported the slaughter of Christian that did not conform to the ideas of the ruling class. This belief halted the innovations of technology and foreign influence within the culture for over 200 years. This period of no diversity within the culture combined with the notions of Bushido prevented them from embracing much of the diversity within the society.

Modern Times

Although thousands of years have passed since the time of the samurai their influence can still be seen in modern-day Japan. The people of Japan still thrive in Japan. The cultures and traditions have large been unchanged, except with the emergence of the new generation that depends on technology and western influence in their society. Authors that study the culture of Jap8an, connect that the heart of the culture is rooted in their traditional standards, and principles of self-sacrifice.[13]  The Japanese students have sacrificed their time spent in training for education for superiority in athletics.  Students will then learn to give up their schooling for their families, and focus on providing for their ailing family members. The life of Japanese is about giving up everything for one’s superior. The act of being disloyal in Japan is considered inactive and selfish. In the Japanese culture these traits are highly undesirable and looked down upon, as the notion of honor in the society is strongly related to their personality and attitude than compared to looks and other aspects found in the Western culture.

Another aspect of honor being seen in the present Japanese society is throughout the serious business world. The fashion in which businesses are operated reveals a superb deal about the people operating them and customs that inspire them. It is not about the fame or success of the businessperson, but rather the first impression. In the business world in Japan, the one priority that businessmen follow is the attitude that is not to convey that with someone that is caught up in their own glory or too proud. Not only do the Japanese judge business leaders by different methods than those in the West, but also their employees.  The traits of loyalty are more valued in the Japanese culture than the competence or level or skill when those seek to promotion. The promotion of a long standing employee that conveys a good attitude in the Japanese culture than those that may be newer or better skilled for the job.  Even though some of these approaches may seem outlandish, they begin to make more sense when the notion of honor is recognized in the Japanese society. The concepts of honor brings a tremendous benefits and overall character to the Japanese society.  Reflecting on the Bushido code and the concepts of honor, it is largely shown through its respect for their elder members in their family. The reverence paid for the authority of those that are older, places pressure on the children to maintain their family honor.  The focus of the families is placed on the continuous search for humility in the Japanese society.

Throughout Japan’s history, it has relied on the prevalence of the honor concepts developed from the time period of the Samurais in the Heine Period. It gradually grew into be incorporated into the political and legal systems, as well as cultural prevalence as a way to keep the social status in check. The Tokugawa Era brought the Bushido Code, a natural development of notions of honor copulated in society by the samurai. Seen in moderns’ times as a way in which the older generation abides by it continues to play an essential part in the culture. Japan has an extensive history, yet the most important of all influences in its history is that of the samurai. They have defined the culture in the past, and they still do today. Without the samurai, none of their teachings and philosophies would exist, and without those philosophies, Japan would not be what it is today.

Works Cited

Cook, Harry. (1993). “Samurai, the Story of a Warrior Tradition. “New York: Sterling Pub., Print.

Ikegami, Eiko. (1997). The Taming of the Samurai: Honorific Individualism and the Making of Modern Japan. 8 Halftones World.
Mente, Boye Lafayette De. (2004). The Japanese Samurai Code: Classic Strategies for Success: Positive Factors in the Samurai Code That Enhance Skills & Performance. Boston, MA: Tuttle.

Toda, Yoshimi and J. R Goodwin. (2006). ‘Kyoto and the estate system in the Heian period’, in J. R. Piggott (ed.), Capital and countryside in Japan, 300-1180: Japanese historians interpreted in English

Takahashi Tomio, with Karl Friday. (2006). “The Classical Polity and Its Frontier,” in Piggott, ed., Capital and Countryside in Japan, 300-1180: Japanese Historians Interpreted in English. (Cornell East Asia Series, 2006), pp. 128-145

Wells, Ruth, and Yoshi. A to Zen: a Book of Japanese Culture. Saxonville, MA: Picture Studio, 1992.

Varley, H. Paul. (N.d). “Cultural Life of the Warrior Elite in the Fourteenth Century”, in J. P. Mass (ed.), The Origins of Japan’s Medieval World, pp.192-208 ;

[1] Ikegami, Eiko. (1997). The Taming of the Samurai: Honorific Individualism and the Making of Modern Japan. 8 Halftones World.

[2] Ibid. pg. 23.

[3] Ibid. pg. 47.

[4] Mente, Boye (2004). Lafayette De. The Japanese Samurai Code: Classic Strategies for Success: Positive Factors in the Samurai Code That Enhance Skills & Performance. Boston, MA: Tuttle. Pg. 45.

[5] Ikegami, Eiko. (1997). The Taming of the Samurai: Honorific Individualism and the Making of Modern Japan. 8 Halftones World.

[6] Ibid. pg. 47.

[7] Toda, Yoshimi and J. R Goodwin. (2006). ‘Kyoto and the estate system in the Heian period’, in J. R. Piggott (ed.), Capital and countryside in Japan, 300-1180: Japanese historians interpreted in English

[8] Takahashi Tomio, with Karl Friday. “The Classical Polity and Its Frontier,” in Piggott, ed., Capital and Countryside in Japan, 300-1180: Japanese Historians Interpreted in English. (Cornell East Asia Series, 2006), pp. 128-145

[9] Cook, Harry. (1993). Samurai, the Story of a Warrior Tradition. New York: Sterling Pub.t

[10] Ibid. pg. 12.

[11] Mente, Boye (2004). Lafayette De. The Japanese Samurai Code: Classic Strategies for Success: Positive Factors in the Samurai Code That Enhance Skills & Performance. Boston, MA: Tuttle pg. 13

[12] Mente, Boye (2004). Lafayette De. The Japanese Samurai Code: Classic Strategies for Success: Positive Factors in the Samurai Code That Enhance Skills & Performance. Boston, MA: Tuttle

[13] Mente, Boye (2004). Lafayette De. The Japanese Samurai Code: Classic Strategies for Success: Positive Factors in the Samurai Code That Enhance Skills & Performance. Boston, MA: Tuttle pg. 15

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