Samurai & Bushido

Essential Question

What are the roles of Samurai and their impact on Japan?


The samurai (or bushi) were the warriors of Medieval Japan. They made up the ruling military class and highest ranking social caste of the Edo Period (1603-1867). Samurai used many weapons such as bows and arrows, spears, guns, naginata (blade on the end of a pole) but their main weapon and symbol was the katana (sword). They were known to fight on both horses and the ground. They were trained as professional soldiers and artists.


Bushido is the strict code of honor and morals developed by the Japanese samurai. It is often called the way of the warrior or the way of the Samurai.

Activity 1: Primary Source-Hagakure (In the Shadow of Leaves) by Yamamoto Tsunetomo

Define the vocabulary words, read the primary source excerpts, and answer the text-dependent questions.

Primary Source-Hakagure (In the Shadow of Leaves) by Tashirō Tsuramoto

The principles of bushido emphasized honor, courage, skill in the martial arts, and loyalty to a warrior's master (daimyo) above all else. A more elaborate list of the virtues encoded in bushido includes frugality, righteousness, courage, benevolence, respect, sincerity, honor, loyalty, and self-control. The specific strictures of bushido varied, however, over time and from place to place within Japan.

Bushido was an ethical system, rather than a religious belief system. In fact, many samurais 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 honor 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. Only the fear of dishonor and loyalty to his daimyo motivated the true samurai. If a samurai felt that he had lost his honor (or was about to lose it) according to the rules of bushido, he could reggain his standing by committing a rather painful form of ritual suicide, called "seppuku. A samurai who committed seppuku would not only regain his honor, he would actually gain prestige for his courage in facing death calmly. This became a cultural touchstone in Japan, so much so that women and children of the samurai class were also expected to face death calmly if they were caught up in a battle or siege.

Discussion Questions

  • What is a Samurai? What was their purpose in Feudal Japan?

  • What is Bushido? How did a Samurai follow Bushido?

Activity 2: What were Samurais like?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.


Today, nevertheless, the ideas of Bushido-bravery and loyalty-continue to influence Japanese culture. Movies and television dramas in Japan often feature Samurai as heroes. Japanese comic books, cartoons, and video games celebrate ‘the way of the warrior.’ The warrior code also lives on in Kendo, a Japanese school of martial arts Kendo which means ‘the way of the sword’ is based on Bushido ideas.

Japanese nationalists and war leaders continued to appeal to this cultural ideal throughout the early 20th century and World War II. Echoes of seppuku were strong in the suicide charges that Japanese troops made on various Pacific Islands, as well as in the kamikaze pilots who drove their aircraft into Allied battleships and bombed Hawaii to start off America's involvement in the war.

Today, bushido continues to resonate in modern Japanese culture. Its stress on courage, self-denial, and loyalty has proved particularly useful for corporations seeking to get the maximum amount of work out of their "salarymen."

Some studies suggest that traditional cultural attitudes in Japan still cause some Japanese people to view suicide as an honorable or noble act, especially when done in traditional ways, such as seppuku. Suicide is the leading cause of death among Japanese men aged 20–44. Is is a major social issue the government is working hard to end and it has been on the decline, but Japan still has one of the highest sucide rates in the world.


U.S. Pop Culture

Samurai Movies


Japanses Pop Culture & Anime

Discussion Questions

  • What is the legacy of Samurai today?

Activity 2: What legacy did Samurais leave on Modern Day Japan?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities