BUSHIDO AND CENTRALIZED FEUDALISM
AN EXAMPLE OF A BRIEF ANALYTICAL ESSAY
In the Tokugawa era, the values and principals of bushido (the way of the warrior) contributed to the maintenance of the class-based, hierarchically-arranged system of ‘centralized feudalism’. Bushido was the foundation upon which this system rested.
First, and most importantly, for a class or hierarchical system to succeed there must be a sharp differentiation between the classes. Bushido provided the rationale for the separation of the warrior class out from among the people in the mind of the samurai. The samurai, Taro, shows this when it is mentioned that, "there were many things that Taro was not allowed to do simply because he was a samurai...at home he never saw a samisen...because the music of the samisen was unworthy for a samurai to hear." (A Closed Society - pg. 45) For the same reasons, he never saw a kabuki play (though he certainly desired to), and conducted himself as one who is above matters of money and commerce. The engrained mental discipline of the samurai led to the action of physical separation from the other classes and their activities.
Secondly, as alluded to above, there was the mental attitude instilled in the samurai that they were not only to be separate, but better. This attitude reinforced the traditional class stratification of society that put the ‘warriors’ at the top and everyone else beneath. "(Farmers)...obeyed the directions of their natural superiors. Samurai were samurai. Samurai ruled." (A Closed Society - pg. 48). The samurai also held for themselves a role that transcended the mundane ‘work’ of the farmers, artisans and merchants. They believed that their only vocation was to pursue righteousness. "People of other classes deal with visible things, while the samurai deal with the invisible, colorless and intangible things." (The Old Values - pg. 49)
Lastly, bushido and the separation that it provided maintained the system of ‘centralized feudalism’ by protecting the minority class - the samurai. A vast majority of the people were NOT samurai. Over 80% were farmers. Any coordinated attack en masse by the common people would overwhelm the forces of the samurai by sheer numbers - after all the samurai only comprised about 6% of the population. Bushido in the Tokugawa period, not only provided a place of honor to this minority class, but established its continuance through hereditary succession. "Taro was born a samurai, a warrior. His father had been a samurai. His sons would be samurai." (A Closed Society - pg. 42) This is quite different from the Kamakura period where warriors were forged in battle and rank was earned by deeds and competence. In the spirit of the aristocrat minority that preceded them in power, the samurai were assured that heredity would replenish their noble ranks forever.
As seen by the brief examples above, the bushido code of the samurai did much to maintain the system of ‘centralized feudalism’ that was the societal norm for over 200 years in Japan.
Minear, Richard H. "A Closed Society: 1600 - 1853", "The Old Values" and "Fuji-ichi the Tycoon" in Through Japanese Eyes, Volume 1, New York: The Center for International and Education, 1987, pages 41 - 59.
Tucker, Mary Ellen. "Kaibara Ekken's Precepts on the Family", Reading 2 in Tanabe, Jr., (ed), Religions of Japan in Practice, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999, pages 38 - 52.