PICA Things We Love Japanese Design Prints

New Prints! Samurai Prints to Celebrate Bushido, the Way of the Warrior

Japanese Culture, PICA WorksAlyonaComment

Today we are revealing our new colourful pair print edition featuring our cute but fearsome samurai warriors in brand new PICA pop art colour scheme. Samurai is perhaps one of the most widely known Japanese cultural icons that has encompassed history spanning the greater portion of the last millenium. The warrior class—easily recognised by their ornate armour that has inspired many creative works of our modern pop culture, including the notorious Darth Vader gear ensemble—has long been the object of fear for their outwardly look and reverence for their historically renowned code of ethics known as Bushido (武士道, bushidou).

Our samurai prints featuring the kabuto (兜) helmet, the iconic part of the peculiar yet very versatile and practical samurai armour, boast the severity and genius behind the design meets function at its core. The entire attire was designed to allow its wearer a full range of mobility while protecting and shielding the body from enemy impact at all angles. The samurai gear has long since then become an inspiration to our modern battlefield wear, where the samurai code of ethics has left a much bigger cultural mark on our understanding of the true meaning behind the word ‘chivalry’.

Japanese traditional full armor

Japanese traditional full armor

But first, what is a samurai?
Samurai (侍), also known as 武士 (bushi, warrior; samurai), were the warrior class of the feudal Japan. Beginning in history as provincial warriors and rising to power in the 12th century as Japan’s first military dictatorship, the shogunate (将軍職, shougun-shoku), samurai dominance continued all throughout the history until the Meiji Restoration (明治維新, meiji ishin) of 1868 due to the abolition of the feudal system.

The samurai character 侍 in Japanese, meaning ‘to serve’ or ‘the one who serves’, referred to the Imperial Court guards at that time that were of noble birth and comprised the highest ranking social caste. They were a military class of well trained and well learned warriors, who believed in chivalry and lived by the guide of the unspoken code of ethics or moral principles, known as Bushido (武士道, bushidou): “the way of the warrior” or “precepts of knighthood”. At its source were the teachings and practices of Buddhism and Shintoism as well as the ethical doctrines of Confucius and Mencius. Loyalty to the sovereign, respect, self-discipline, ethics, and trust in fate are just a handful of dominant traits adhered to by the samurai warriors of the time. The Bushido code set a moral standard for the rest of the living in the feudal Japan era, guiding them by virtue of example of the samurai. This makes Bushido the core source of the moral code in a premodern Japan.

Samurai of the Chosyu clan, during the Boshin War period (1860s)

Samurai of the Chosyu clan, during the Boshin War period (1860s)

So let’s look at the moral teachings of the samurai ethics code to live by today.
The Bushido code is believed to be comprised of the eight virtues that had long become the core of ethics and chivalry in the premodern Japan. Not all samurai of course would live up to follow them, but the true esteemed warrior that was celebrated and revered with utmost respect by the society of that time would become the epitome of what chivalry means to us today.

01 | Rectitude or Justice (義)

義 (gi) or righteousness is perhaps the strongest virtue of the Bushido code. It is the power of being able to resolve to the true course of action based on one’s reason without wavering. It is to understand that the resolved action should only be made with true purpose and at the right time. “To die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.” Rectitude is the foundation or the skeleton of the Bushido structure. Without rectitude the status in becoming of true samurai character can never be obtained, regardless of how much learning or talent one was able to acquire in the process.

02 | Courage (勇)

勇 (yuu) or heroic courage is not simply being fearless, but being fearless in doing what is right. Doing what is right in itself is to have courage. A truly brave man is calm in the midst of calamity. He is never taken by surprise. He is able to distinguish the true course of action through his sound reasoning and true righteousness without hesitation, regardless of the consequences.

03 | Benevolence (仁)

仁 (jin) or benevolence, compassion is one of the Bushido virtues taking its roots from the Confucian teachings. A warrior possessing the power to command or to kill should also exhibit an immense ability for compassion. To be benevolent is to be mindful of others’ suffering, and to show mercy where mercy is needed. It is to bear sympathy, magnanimity, and love for the living; making benevolence the highest attribute of the human soul.

04 | Politeness (礼)

礼 (rei) or politeness, respect, etiquette is at the core of the social ethics in premodern Japan, also known as courtesy that is prevalent in its society to this day. Politeness through Bushido, though, is not just an empty shell of actions that are meant to make one seem respectful or courteous. Rooted in benevolence, it should only come of the regard for the feelings of others. Thus, in Bushido politeness in itself is nurtured in compassion and is a graceful expression of sympathy.

05 | Sincerity and Honesty (誠)

誠 (makoto) or sincerity, honesty, integrity, without which politeness, the fourth virtue, would only be an empty shell of socially acceptable actions. The word of the samurai—武士の一言 (bushi no ichi-gon)—had so much weight at that time that it was deemed beneath one’s dignity for it to be voweded upon or put down in writing. The true samurai of the Bushido ways failing to follow up on their word would view it as derogatory to their honour. Lying in itself was not regarded as a sin, but instead as a weakness, and thus highly dishonourable.

Bushido ethics of honesty and sincerity, however, had failed in attempts to be applied in business matters. Wealth itself could not be associated in the ways of honour. Subsequently money was seen as an object of menace to manhood, and even children of high-ranking samurai were raised to show ignorance of the value of coin. Money was thus to be ignored, making the warrior free of the evils where money was root.

Kabuki actors dressed like samurai. Hand-coloured photograph around 1880.

Kabuki actors dressed like samurai. Hand-coloured photograph around 1880.

06 | Honour (名誉)

名誉 (meiyo) or honour was in a way a cornerstone of the warrior’s reputation. It was believed that a true samurai would strive to attain a good name for himself by closely following the Bushido ways of the warrior. Life itself was considered worthless if honour and good name were not bestowed upon the samurai in its course. The fear of disgrace kept the samurai in check. Often the only way one could regain one’s lost honour is by the means of self-destruction that had to be carried out with utmost composure and coolness of temper.

07 | The Duty of Loyalty (忠義)

忠義 (chuugi) or loyalty, instilled by the Shinto doctrines, governed the principle function of the samurai; that is namely their duty to the sovereign. The duty of the samurai was to serve the Imperial Court, and put their loyalty towards their master even above that of their family. The duty of loyalty, however, is only a virtue in correlation with honour, the sixth precept. As a samurai, one just does not blindly follow one’s master. If the path before the warrior is righteously wrong, true samurai is willing to convince his master in his wrongdoing, even at the cost of his own life.

08 | Self-Control (克己)

克己 (kokki) or self-control would become the main building block in the character-building of the samurai. Bushido instills the moral teachings of ethics and chivalry as the core of the samurai behavior. With having the ability to yield power and pass judgement, one must also have had to learn to keep oneself in check. A true samurai would never show his emotions on his face. The most natural affections were kept under control. Thus, for the samurai to have self-control is to be level-headed at all times, never having one’s emotion affect his judgement.

These are the eight virtues of the samurai as originally interpreted in the book entitled Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Nitobe Inazo, first published at the dawn of the 20th century. Aside from the eight virtues as inscribed above, others less dominant yet equally influential were wisdom (智, chi), filial piety (孝, kou), and fraternity (悌, tei). Wisdom in particular was important as it was believed that a true warrior had to be well-versed in teachings of diverse facets of moral knowledge.

Bushido was a creation of the premodern Japan. But is it still present in the context of its modern society? Some might say that some of the values have long been forgotten and moved aside for the modernization of Japan towards industrialization and capitalism. Despite all that perhaps all of us can find something endearing within these virtues, and perhaps reintroduce them into our own moral code of ethics. Samurai were the epitome of chivalry in Japan at that time. Maybe it is time to bring the way of the samurai back, as I think we could all agree that we all could use a little bit more chivalry in our daily lives today.

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