This Online Lesson explores the “way of the warrior,” a defining theme in the idea of the samurai. Bushidô (bushi meaning “warrior” and dô meaning “way”), was an honor code based on seven essential virtues: honesty, courage, respect, benevolence, rectitude, honor, and loyalty.
The “way of the warrior” has become a defining theme in the idea of the samurai, who were meant to follow a code known as bushidô (bushi meaning “warrior” and dô meaning “way”). This honor code was based on seven essential virtues: honesty, courage, respect, benevolence, rectitude, honor, and loyalty. Bushidô also prescribed the acceptance of death and, if necessary, the willingness to commit seppuku, ritual suicide by disembowelment.
Through wars and conflicts, bushidô became an ideal but was not always followed. Loyalty, for example, was relative when certain daimyo (samurai lords) switched allegiance on the battlefield. Influenced by Confucianism and Zen Buddhism, the originally informal code was eventually formalized as written rules. Bushidô encompassed the martial and moral traditions of Japanese warriors, who strove to work towards the opposing yet balanced ideals of bu (the arts of war) and bun (the arts of peace).
This Online Lesson is designed as a partner to the “Heroes & Legends: Samurai in Japanese Prints” Online Lesson in order to correspond with the special exhibition “Samurai!: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection,” April 14 – August 4, 2013.
Grade Level: Can be adapted for various subjects in grades 9-12 Aligns with MA State Curriculum Standards for World History I
In exploring this lesson, students will:
-Learn about the philosophy of Bushidô
-Discover the relationship between the arts of war and the arts of peace
-Explore the ways in which samurai participated in the arts
This discovery will require students to:
-Look closely at objects and observe details
-Use prior knowledge in conjunction with observation
-Generate hypotheses based on observation and prior knowledge
Using this Resource:
-Social Studies teachers and students will be interested in what this lesson reveals about the role of samurai in Japanese history.
-Visual Arts teachers and students will be interested in the techniques and design of various traditional Japanese media, including arms and armor.
-Language Arts teachers and students will be interested in the connections between how samurai are represented in visual arts and in literary sagas and dramas.
-World Language teachers and students will be interested in the culture that produced the Japanese language.
For sample related classroom activities, download the PDFs available under Related Resources.
The objects in this lesson are just a beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum’s online collection through this web resource—or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries—to look for other objects that will provide further insights into how Bushidô was visualized in Japanese arts.