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The Seven Virtues of Bushido (Samurai Code)

16 February 2010 11 Comments

Harmonics: “Liberation” (that old Outkast joint on Aquemini)

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As a samurai, I must strengthen my character;
As a human being, I must perfect my spirit.

~ The Sword of No-Sword, Life of the Master Warrior Tesshu
by John Stevens

Inazo Nitobe, author of the book Bushido: The Soul of Japan, defines these samurai ethics as “military knight-ways: the ways which fighting nobles should observe in their daily life as well as in their vocation…in a word, the precepts of knighthood.”

Let’s build on them (click the images to zoom in):

I: GI (Right Action, Duty)
It’s a little hard to tell, but this symbol has two parts: the upper half representing a sheep (a symbol of beauty in Ancient China) and the lower half a halberd (axe)…and so it’s taken as a symbol of understanding after conflict.

Gi means to do the right thing

II: YUUKI (Courage)
The upper symbol here is yuu, which means courageousness, and the bottom symbol is ki (chi), meaning energy. Together they represent the fundamental force of strength.

Yuuki means brave, courageous energy.

III: JIN (Benevolence)
Like the last two virtues, jin is also represented with two parts. The one on the left is a character meaning human, and the two strokes on the right is a character meaning two. Together this represents treating others with love, a basic tenet of Confucianism.

Jin is the unity and benevolence that unites one human being to another.

IV: REI (Politeness, Morality)
“…(this) is a modern abbreviated form that doesn’t reveal much of the ancient character: it’s a sacrificing vessel used for worship and religious offerings. The character actually means rite or ceremony but in a broader sense, respect.

Rei too is essential in Confucianism: In society rei governs your actions towards others – a fundamental politeness very much related to jin.

Rei is often translated with morality, but since morality has other connotations it suggest politeness.

V: MAKOTO (Truthfulness)
The character on the left represents speech (it’s actually a mouth that’s producing words); the character on the right (the Kanji sei) represents accomplishment and success.

So makoto means truth in word and action, and in a deeper sense it means to truly follow the laws of the Universe.

VI: MEIYO (Honor)
The upper symbol here is the kanji mei (Kanji is a modern part of Japanese writing that originated from trade with the Chinese, by the way) meaning reputation. The lower symbol is again a mouth, but this time the kanji yo, meaning praise or admiration.

Meiyo means to enjoy a good reputation (establish honor).

VII: CHUUGI (Loyalty)
“Chuugi has two characters: the first is ‘chuu’ which means to be sincere and loyal: it’s meant to express the true meaning of loyalty. We see a heart and on top of it the symbol for middle. Chuu could be understood as no conflict in the heart – faithfulness and alignment within.

The second kanji is gi, which again means right action or duty.”


>> Calligrapher Nadja Van Ghelue breaks down the 7 principles
(this is where the breakdowns are from…there’s also some cool t-shirts there).
>> Support Nadja by checking out some of her artwork here.
>> Download “Bushido: The Soul of Japan” by Inazo Nitobe for free.


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