What Is the Samurai Code of Conduct?

The Samurai code of conduct, known as the Bushido Code, is a series of guidelines that emphasizes compassion, benevolence and other non-martial virtues. The eight virtues are: rectitude or justice, courage, benevolence or mercy, politeness, honesty and sincerity, honor, loyalty, character and self-control.

Samurai were originally men of noble birth who guarded members of the Imperial Court. The term originally meant "one who serves." In 1185, the first Japanese military government was established, but it collapsed in 1467, and Japan fell into turmoil as the Age of Wars began. By this time the term "samurai" referred to almost anyone who carried a sword who could exercise deadly force, including armed government officials, peacekeeping officers and professional soldiers. Some of these medieval Japanese warriors were much like street thugs, but the best of them were loyal to their masters and the unwritten Bushido Code.

When Japan entered a period of civility and peace, the role of the samurai changed dramatically from that of professional fighters to those more concerned with spiritual development, teaching and the arts. In 1867, the public wearing of swords was outlawed in Japan and the warrior class was abolished, leaving the samurai swordless. Japanese author Nitobe Inazo interpreted the samurai code of behavior and released an international best-seller entitled "Bushido: The Soul of Japan."