Bushido: The Way of the Warrior
By Kitsuki Yamada, Translated by Andrew L
Any man can be prepared to kill, A samurai is prepared to
- Eriotto Rongu
Foreward by Kitsuki Yamada
As samurai, we accept our place in the celestial hierarchy without question. We are born to certain responsibilities and obligations and that is all we have to know. One has to drink the tea in one's cup, goes an ancient saying. But how does one explain our way of life to someone totally alien to our culture and customs?
Today, the Unicorn ambassador introduced a stranger from the lands beyond the mountains, a gaijin unfamiliar with our Empire. It is Dragon Clan daimyo Togashi-sama's wish that this stranger be taught our customs and language. As desired by Togashi-sama, I have compiled this document as objectively and impartially as my Kitsuki training allows. My training also warns me that as a samurai myself complete objectivity is impossible though I have assured Togashi-sama that I will try. It is my belief that this is the first time that the role of the bushi in Rokugan society has been documented on paper. While I cannot hope to explain the entirety of our customs and culture, I would like to think I have suceeded in capturing the essence of what it means to be samurai.
26th day of the reign of the 29th Hantei
Samurai in Society
In the rigidly defined social heirarchy of the Emerald Empire, the samurai is the ruling-class, ranking above the heimin (commoners) and eta (outcasts). Class was determined by birth and individual ability or accomplishment was generally irrelevant. Movement from one class to another is so rare as to be unheard of, although in the early days of the Empire, many capable commoners were made samurai by the founders of the Great Clans. Many of the great samurai families are also the oldest; the Matsu, Kakita, Shosuro, Kaiu, Ide, and my own Kitsuki to name a few were all founded during this time.
With their place at the top of the pyramid rigidly enforced and unquestioned, some samurai tend to be dismissive or even arrogant and abusive toward the lower classes. Such contempt reached its most guesome form in the practice of tsuji-giri, cutting down the first passerby of lower class to test the blade of a new sword. While such wasteful practice was not rampant and was generally frowned upon by all the Great Clans, a samurai was well within his rights to kill commoners with only the slightest pretext.
Even within the heimin ranks, not all were treated or perceived equally. The samurai who depend on farmers for their livelihood, recognize them as the most important class of commoners. When crops fail, everyone in the province goes hungry, commoner and samurai alike. Artisans and merchants followed with the latter being held in considerable contempt since they were viewed as parasites who produced nothing while making money from the labour of others. With some irony, it is prudent to point out here that this description could be equally applied to samurai has well, though this insight is often lost to my fellow samurai.
The lowest class in the social hierarchy were the eta, outcasts who because of certain professions were prevented from being accepted into society. Beggars, torturers, handlers of dung or corpses all fell into this category. The last a result of religious strictures concerning contact with death and blood. Touching a dead body and spilt blood were considered unclean. A few professions seemed not to fit into the otherwise rigidly defined social structure. Priests and physicians, for example had no clearly defined class and were generally respected by all.
Samurai: One Who Serves
Perhaps the keenest insight into the way of the samurai can be gained not from his position in society but from his title itself, for Samurai means 'one who serves'. Indeed the entire ethos of the samurai was structured around unquestioning and unwavering loyalty to his daimyo. While samurai are expected to advise their lords, once the order was given, it was to be carried out. The only honourable alternative to fulfilling a command, no matter how impossible, was seppukku, a form of ritual suicide, which was considered an appropriate form of protest.
The stress upon unthinking obedience by no means should imply that the samurai was an ignorant automaton. While it is true that illiteracy among the lower-ranked samurai exists, most samurai of the Great Clans received a fine education, in addition to the traditional military and martial disciplines. This education included Rokugani literature and religion, calligraphy, etiquette, classical music, matemathics, medicine, astronomy, poetry, hunting and tea ceremony. It should be noted that the study of religion also included that of the Kami, a practice known as 'Walking the Way'. Samurai who dedicate themselves to the study of the Kami are called shugenja. Regardless of speciality (martial or magical) etiquette is an especially important skill for all samurai, since a failure of manners could result in having to undergo seppuku.
Scholarly subjects aside, bujustsu (martial disciplines) constituted the bulk of the samurai's education. Even shugenja were expected to at least know the basics of the various martial discplines. Kyujutsu (archery), bajutsu and suibajutsu (military horsemanship), yarijustsu (spear combat) and naginatajutsu (polearm combat), kenjutsu and iaijutsu (swordsmanship) occupied the positions of highest importance. A bushi (warrior) samurai was always expected to be an unsurpassed practitioner of bujustsu, even if one was obviously unfit for it. As a result, most of the less martially inclined samurai tend to become shugenja.
Samurai Income &
Samurai received incomes directly related to their station among the ranks of the warrior class. This income is calculated in rice, which for much of Rokuga's history was the economic core of society. Rice is measured in koku, which was roughly 5 bushels, the amount of rice sufficient to feed a single person for a year. Land is generally measured in terms of koku rather than area. High-ranking samurai retainers received control over rice-producing land, making these vassals into a landed gentry. Samurai of lower rank who make up the bulk of the fighting men, were alloted their stipends directly in rice, without land.
The type of residence a samurai was allowed to have was related to his lands and income, and therefore, his status. The plots of land allowed to samurai ranged from two acres for a samurai earning in the 8000 koku range to a more or less communal existance for samurai of the lower grades. These longhouses were divided into apartments and a typical arrangement was to have a gateway with a row of rooms as its upper story. At the other end of the scale, the daimyos of the Clans maintain large mansions and castles on their lands.
These mansions generally consisted of a long building enclosing a garden and the central house of the lord. The long building (called nagaya) faced the street with fortified walls and windows, and contained the daimyo's retainers and their armouries. A retainer leaving the compound for any reason hung a wooden ticket inscribed with his name in the guard room so that it was always possible to keep track of which and how many retainers were out of the building at any given time. The nagaya surrounded an inner barracks that was housed additional troops and also contained storehouses and buildings assigned to higher ranking clan officials. These officials included the councillors, the commercial agent, the financial officer, the doctor, and the daimyo's personal advisor who commanded in his absence. The castles of the Great Clans are imposing structures, massive in scale and construction, usually located on the most commanding or strategic point of ground. These rare buildings are unique and so varied as to deny a general description of their layout.
The samurai's life was not all fighting, training, or administering the bureaucracy and there were leisure pursuits as well. As a member of the ruling class, samurai were expected to refrain from indulging in the recreations of commoners, such as theater-going or visiting brothels. While this does not mean that samurai did not engage in such activity on a regular basis, they were obligated to excercise some discretion in the matter. This discretion often amounted to little more than the wearing of a large basket-hat that hid the samurai's features during his town excursions.
More acceptable entertainments for samurai are the various high-arts including the tea ceremony, flower arranging, haiku (poetry), brush and ink painting, calligraphy, hunting, and other refined pursuits. Although freqenting theaters were discouraged, daimyo would often invite performers to their mansions to perform noh dramas or puppet shows. On a philosophical level, the proper samurai recreations were intended for more than mere relaxation. The precision of the tea ceremony, the aesthetics of flower arranging, and the expression of brush and ink painting all conributed to an overall balanced character and harmony of spirit. A samurai was expected to be much more than a mere fighter who cuts down foes in the name of his lord.
The restrictions and severe demands placed upon samurai can result in men who through the unfortunate vagarities of fate and the fortunes end up as outcasts beholden to no lord. These masterless samurai are called ronin (wave-men), referring to the idea that having been cut loose from the stability of his Clan, the masterless samurai drifted through life as if borne upon the ocean waves. While some ronin did indeed find acceptance into other clans as a result of some meritorous deed, many were doomed to roam the land as itinerant instructors, swords for hire, or simply brigands.
While some element of romance is present in the wild, free life of a ronin, he or she was at best a social outcast, mistrusted by commoners and despised by other samurai. Ronin should expect frequent challenges from other samurai who find their very existence distasteful and insulting. Such characters will also find themselves under intense scrutiny by authorities, for ronin frequently were a constant source of trouble. In addition, it should not be surprising that many of these dispossed warriors bore considrable enmity toward the faction that caused their loss of status. Vengeful men and women are perhaps the most dangerous, especially since they now had nothing left to lose apart frm their lives.
Such an environment of confrontation and suspician naturally forced many ronin to become extremely competent and deadly fighters, with nothing to lose and everything to gain from challenging individual samurai, sensei or even an entire ryu (school). What ronin lack in the finer points of kenjustsu and iaijtsu, they often make up for it by sheer experience of many fierce challenges and it is a foolish samurai who underestimates them. Several of the more noted characters like Dairya and Ginawa have become infamous among the samurai for their duelling skills.
Much of the basic samurai behaviour was codified by the Akodo One-Eye's work: Bushido, the demanding way of the warrior. Bushido as a way, was designed to cultivate and mold an appropriate samurai outlook. However, what consitutes an "appropriate outlook" varies in interpretation from clan to clan. Some of the rules from the essay of Akodo One-Eye, founder of the Lion Clan are presented below:
In Rokugan, there are rules and points of etiquette concerning almost any conceivable aspect of behavior. Of particular interest to samurai were those dealing with the sword, 'the soul of the samurai'. For instance, touching a samurai's weapon without permission or bumping the scabbard was a serious breach of etiquette that could result in death to the offending party. Entering the house of a friend without leaving the sword outside insulted the friendship (this applied to the katana, not the wakizashi which seldm left the samurai's sash). If the guest had an attendant, the attendant took care of the sword for the duration of the visit. If the host allowed the visitor to enter the residence with the sword, it was placed in a sword rack on the right hand side of the guests so that it could not be drawn without difficulty. It was never placed on the left unless there was an immediate danger of attack. Also brandishing a naked blade without reason branded a samurai as rude and impulsive, unless it was in the context of showing off a prized possession. In these cases, the guest being handed the sword would slowly withdraw the weapon with much apology.
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