In the west, it’s known as chivalry, a moral or social code of honor. In Japan, its name is Bushido, the way of the Samurai.
Japan Photography Tours off the beaten path into the countryside locations such as Kanazawa, Fukushima, or Niigata mean having access to certain festivals and experiences that echo into the rich history of Samurai Japan. Bushido as a codified order of samurai conduct was more available in written texts during the 17th century in the Edo Period right after the Sengoku period (or age of waring states) which was a century-long period of political upheaval and warlordism in Japan, lasting from the Onin War of 1467–77 through the reunification of the country around 1598. It was an era of civil war, in which the Samurai of Japan fought one another in endless battles for honor, land, and power.
The grail book of the Samurai is the Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunatomo, born in 1659, who devoted his adult life to the service of his shogun master, Lord Mitsushige Nabeshima, and his clan, rising to become a highly respected Samurai warrior. Upon his master’s death in 1700, Yamamoto denounced the world and retired to a hermitage. He then collected his thoughts and wrote the Hagakure. This text is credited with solidifying several of the widely held beliefs that form the backbone of samurai conduct. Beyond the text, however, Bushido is the manifestation of decades of expectations that grew from observing samurai behavior such as Japanese Feudal Justice administered via katana.
Being a samurai meant that your honor and standing in the community and in society were always under close scrutiny. Every stride that a samurai took carried the weight of a thousand eyes. Looking at this photograph, you can see during a Niigata Photo Workshop/Tour, some of that gravity pulling on the warrior. The responsibility weighs equally on both genders. Honor and Bushido expect the same of everyone.
In a more contemporary setting, the Japanese Warrior Spirits still shines through. One need look no further than the recent Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. On March 11, 2011, an enormous earthquake with an epicenter near the coast of Eastern Japan shook the island nation to its core. Once the shaking stopped, the residents knew their samurai mettle would be tested yet again, as the roar of the tsunami peaking above 40 meters made landfall, laying waste to acres of land across the Eastern Seaboard.
After the wrath of the tsunami ebbed, and the measure of the destruction had been taken, the samurai spirit burst forth from each resident of the Fukushima and Miyagi Prefecture. Part of being a samurai warrior means being dedicated to your community and investing yourself in its growth and prosperity, and that is precisely what happened. Residents of the communities returned as soon as they could and picked up their spiritual katana and fought hard to bring life back to their communities. Their devotion was unrelenting, and just seven years later, you can see the results of their unceasing labor. This effort and mindfulness are also part of what being a samurai and Bushido means.
Returning to marital combat, the swords you see being carried are not simple wooden practice swords, they are handed down from generation to generation. These swords are honed to the sharpest edge, ready to be brandished when needed for whatever purpose deemed necessary by the warrior holding them. Your photography workshop leaders know of forests and bamboo areas nearby that are referred to as ‘neck washing forests’ where those who dared to challenge the samurai’s honor or other warriors with lesser skills meet their ultimate fate. If you are curious to photograph these locations during your Japan Photography Workshop, then your workshop leader will happily lead you down those paths. You will definitely feel the warrior spirit and the energy that still resides in this storied woods and battle fields.
It is often said that eyes are the window the soul, and when you gaze into the eyes of a samurai, you can feel the years of experience with the Japanese Katana sword and other weapons of combat. Photos that you take on the Japan Photo Workshop provide insights into the life that samurais led. Samurais are famous for their sword-handling, but archery, and forms of unarmed combat were also in their repertoire. An unarmed samurai was still a formidable opponent yet in an entirely different realm of combat. Yet, there is a common misconception in the west that the battlefields were littered with samurai engaged in mortal combat. During the warring states period, samurai were uncommon. Perhaps only 20 - 30% of an entire regimen were samurai. Many more were farmers, artisans, and craftsmen who had done training and understood the strictures of Bushido but would hesitate to label themselves a true warrior.
Of the different types of samurai warriors that one could encounter while exploring the age contemporary of Yamamoto and his future vision. He had this to say in the Hagakure, There are four kinds of samurai, naming examples of each among his samurai brethren: “the alert-alert, the dull-alert, the alert-dull, and the dull-dull. Alert-Alert are those who are very quick on the up target when they are told to do something. They arrange affairs and carry out duties in a fine manner. They are so good that they are few in numbers. Kichizaemon Fukuchi is nearly on this level. “Dull-Alert are those people who fail to clearly understand at first what their duty is. But, in finally putting their duty into practice, they perform splendidly and with no delay. Kamiuma Nakano is this kind. Alert-dull are those people who, when told to do something, accept very graciously and willingly, but they take a long time to fulfill the task. There are many such samurai. The rest are dull-dull. They are the majority.”
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