The Honor of A Samurai

Samurai performing seppuku

Samurai performing seppuku

The concept of honor has been weaved through the lifestyles of the Japanese for centuries. Throughout Eiji Yoshikawa’s Taiko you see the importance of Hideyoshi redeeming the honor lost by his father to his family. Being a Samurai was one of the most honorable positions a man could hold in feudal Japan. Samurai served under a code of honor called bushido, “the way of the warrior”, which dictated how they were to act. It is often compared to the code of chivalry used by medieval knights. It included practices such as seppuku, which is a ritualized form of suicide, which was used after a samurai lost his honor, such as failing to protect his daimyo. Characters in Taiko are clear representatives of how much weight the concept of honor held over them. Honor ruled the lives of the Samurai, and it proved to be both detrimental and beneficial.

In the chapter “Three Princesses” in book four of Taiko, Nobunaga is forced to kill the husband of his sister when Nagamasa refuses to step down. Nobunaga is relived to see that his sister and her children are safe and have not met the same fate as her husband. However, he can sense the anger Oichi has on the inside towards Nobunaga for the death of her husband. Nobunaga is frustrated with her anger; “he felt an uncontrollable revulsion for the foolish woman who could not understand her brother’s great love” (Taiko 421). The heads of Nagamasa (Oichi’s husband) and his retainers are then presented to Nobunaga and Oichi and her children scream and cry. Nobunaga dismisses her cries and tells her to get the children out. Killing a member of ones own family is one of the most dishonorable acts one could commit. By killing Nagamasa, Nobunaga has lost the love and respect of his sister. There is no way this could be seen as an honorable act, and as mentioned before honor is one of the main driving forces behind the way of the samurai. In retrospect the attack on Odani Castle was not honorable but instead necessary in order to pave Nobunaga’s path to prosperity. He has broken the bond between brother and sister, husband and wife, and father and child; where is the honor in any of this? While he does believe that as a samurai, it was his duty to carry out the attack on the castle he has still killed a member of his own family, something that will probably haunt him in his future. However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, being a samurai does have its benefits. The Bushido code, or way of the samurai, is the main guideline to how a samurai should act as an individual and as a warrior. The “way” teaches the value of devotion and responsibility and the importance of honoring ones family. In the beginning of Taiko, Hideyoshi makes it clear that he wishes to restore honor to his family’s name and he knows the way to go about it is working for a samurai and then to eventually become one. Samurai understood the importance of respecting not only yourself but also your enemy; I personally think Bushido should not be solely the way of the samurai but the way of mankind. What wrong is there in searching for a purpose in your life, and understanding the importance of honor to you and your family?

The concept of honor can become one that is jaded to samurai. Nobunaga’s decision to kill his brother in law is a good example of this. It’s interesting how an intangible idea such as honor, can drive a man to make the decision to hurt his own sister, but at the same time live his entire life to maintain the honor that comes with his name.

Creative Commons License
The Honor of A Samurai by Autumn Vaughn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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