The “Dishonor” of Honor in Taiko and Tree With Deep Roots


A Samurai Kneeling in Reverence- From the DC Comic "Heaven and Earth"

A Samurai Kneeling in Reverence- From the DC Comic “Heaven and Earth”

The concept of “honor” is central to both Taiko and Tree With Deep Roots. However, it is clear in both texts that a strict adherence to honor puts many characters in jeopardy and in some cases, can even be a threat to their lives.

Although both are sources of entertainment, neither Eiji Yoshikawa’s Taiko nor the Korean Drama series Tree With Deep Roots attempt to shy away from tackling greater social and cultural issues. Despite their intentions as fictitious entertainment, both contain characters, settings, and cultural principles that fit historically with the time in which they take place (16th and 18th century Japan and Korea- respectively). This is also true for the importance of “honor” as a principle of tradition in Asian samurai culture, and how its emphatic adherence governed the lives of those that tried desperately to follow it. Japanese scholar Inazo Nitobe, in his historical novel An Exposition of Japanese Thought, makes note of this historical importance, writing- “the sense of honor could not fail to characterize the samurai, born and bred to value the duties and privileges of their profession” (Nitobe, 72). He ties this highlighted existence of honor to the concept of Bushido, or the honor code of the samurai, and how its usage in the upbringing of Japanese children, and more specifically those who were to become samurai, was incredibly important to instill positive values- “a recourse to his honor touched the most sensitive spot in the child’s heart, as though it had been nursed on honor while he was in his mother’s womb; for most truly is honor a pre-natal influence, being closely bound up with strong family consciousness” (73).

As Nitobe’s cultural analyses come from his work at the turn of the 19th century, it seems clear that the centrality of honor to Japanese culture stands unwavering through time; and that its existence in both the present and the past, where it is frequently acknowledged in Taiko and Tree With Deep Roots, is equally important. It should come as no surprise then, that in the grand scheme of both texts, “honor” as a complex concept seems to be encountered on a daily basis; or in the case of our two primary texts- in every subsequent episode or chapter. Of course, the issue is not that characters face “honor” or the inability to ingratiate it into their lives; rather- the issue is that its usage is so apparent and culturally ingrained, that characters often find themselves dealing with jeopardizing and conflicting situations; in which an adherence to “honor” might be dangerous or even life-threatening. In these instances, characters in Taiko and Tree With Deep Roots must often make a difficult choice; that is- to protect oneself and potentially bring shame or dishonor to oneself and the family, or to make an “honorable” choice that might involve humiliation, injury, seppuku (self-sacrifice), or even death. If this is the case, how truly “honorable” can we say that honor even is? The answer might be “not much.”

The Dishonor of Honor in Taiko

These conflicting compensations for honor are primarily addressed in Yoshikawa’s epic military novel Taiko, where we see a lower class man named Hideyoshi eventually rise through the ranks to become a samurai and eventually, the ruler of a united Japan. The novel is rife with references to honor, where many characters, and mostly notably the protagonist Hideyoshi, must learn how to respond to situations where honor is questionable. One instance comes in Book Two, where Nobunaga’s Oda clan must fight the rival Imagawa clan, who outnumber them by the thousands. Although outnumbered and sure about his impending death, Nobunaga nonetheless rallies his troops- “Will you all give your lives to a fool like me?” with the response being a universal reminder of Japanese honor reflected in the troops response- “Should our lord die alone?…To the death! To the death!” (Yoshikawa, 199). As one of Nobunaga’s troops however, Hideyoshi defies these cries, as he personally questions the supposed “honor” of marching to one’s death- “Could people really just toss their lives away like this? (198). This scene is important, as it forces us to question whether the Japanese cultural expectation to sacrifice ones self for “honor” is really necessary. This decision is questionable, as it shows an entire army ready to die at the hands of Nobunaga’s spontaneous actions. The only exception is Hideyoshi, whose refusal to voice his discordant thoughts only further emphasizes how taboo it is to even think about making a “dishonorable” choice by potentially refusing to fight.

A statue of Toyotomi Hideyoshi at Osaka Castle-  Where he is enshrined

A statue of Toyotomi Hideyoshi at Osaka Castle- Where he is enshrined

As Taiko continues, we see slow but obvious changes in the ways that “honor” is justified in the face of questionable and dangerous situations. In his social review of “honor culture” in Japanese society, Eiko Ikegami places a major emphasis on “shame” or kanji and how its influence, both as a representation of the individual and his surrounding family, “can be a powerful public concept” that is “related to concern for one’s social reputation” (Ikegami 1351, 1352). “Shame,” as we will see, is unsurprisingly seen as one of the resulting products of dishonor in Japanese culture, as Ikegami notes its historical importance to the lives of the samurai; just like the ones we see in Taiko– “The Japanese concept of shame was closely connected to the rise and transformation of the samurai elite and their political institutions. Yet, a sense of shame was a criterion of honorific autonomy and trust-worthiness of individual samurai” (1351). This historical understanding of “shame” may serve as a further justification for why a strict adherence to “honor” is so persistent in Asian culture, but it hardly compensates for the still ever-present problems that Taiko presents, where characters find themselves in dangerous situations from the possible threat of acting dishonorably. At this point, “Honor” is now hopelessly paired with the further embarrassment of “shame,” which will likely just worsen the initial problems that force characters (as the subsequent paragraph will show) into jeopardizing situations and the possibility of death.

“Shame” as a product of dishonor becomes central to Taiko as the story progresses. Little by little, we see conflicts and power struggles arise that cause many characters (even samurai) to behave dishonorably if only for the ironic desire to survive. In this sense, we see certain characters begin to override the codes of honor that they have grown up with, choosing instead to protect themselves. These two conflicting sides (remaining honorable in the face of danger versus being dishonorable as a mode of safety) clash in Book Seven, where two cousins, Mitsuhide and Mitsuhara, argue over whether Mitsuhide should murder their lord retainer (Nobunaga). Mitsuhara argues that the act is blasphemous, and although it might end up saving lives, it would still be inherently “dishonorable” and “shameful” not just to Mitsuhide, but to his entire family- “Would you stain the honor of our ancestors? And what of your own children and their descendants? Think of the shame you’ll heap on endless generations” (Yoshikawa, 633). The decision is clearly difficult, particularly with the further bushido-drivenpressure that committing a dishonorable act would negatively affect Mitsuhide’s entire family. Regardless, it becomes clear that while both cousins wish to preserve their honor, there is still the distinct possibility that NOT killing one’s lord (because of Nobunaga’s brash military decisions) could result in their own death. Both options, it seems, place an overwhelming burden on Mitsuhide- “I know I would not be this distraught if I had not been born a samurai.” (633).

As Taiko comes to a close, we finally see characters begin to fully question the role that “honor” plays in their life as a samurai. Some characters override the dangerous risks that being too honorable can bring while others remain steadfast in its adherence. In both cases however, risk does not elude our characters, and while “honor” remains central to the lives of the characters in Taiko, it consistently carries with it a looming possibility of danger. One thing that runs parallel to the dangers of adhering to honor is seppuku. This concept, which involves a samurai committing self-disembowelment and suicide, is often seen as a last-ditch effort for a samurai who has been dishonorable to die honorably and without shame. This is an obvious concern, as it further justifies reasons as to why an individual would not wish to be forced into following a strict bushido honor code and thus, not wish to become a samurai. After all, who wants to be forced into committing seppuku? This issue is seen constantly throughout Taiko, where committing the “honorable” seppuku comes into direct conflict with not committing it, and therefore bringing shame and dishonor on oneself and one’s ancestors.

A clip from The Last Samurai (2003) demonstrating Seppuku

Book Eight challenges this concept, as Hideyoshi, in a rash attempt at forming a peace treaty with the threatening Mori clan, calls for their military leader Muneharu to commit seppuku or otherwise face an Oda invasion. The two clans disagree on this bargain, but nonetheless act the same as they both attempt to fit the samurai code of honor to justify their respective viewpoints. The Mori clan fights for Muneharu’s life, claiming, “if we allow Muneharu to die, we are not living up to the Way of the Samurai” (676) while Hideyoshi feels the opposite- “Muneharu should gladly give his life. His death, after all, will save the lives of the men in the castle and save the Mori from destruction” (676). Although the Mori’s opinion may seem selfish and Hideyoshi’s opinion may seem cruel, it becomes clear that both sides, essentially, are in the wrong. While attempting to use the samurai honor code in the dispute, both sides knowingly jeopardize the lives of others, which only forces us to wonder why, if anyone, must be put at risk in order to reach a peace while simultaneously being sure that the honor code is not broken. If anything, this notion seems un-peaceful, as Hideyoshi’s plan would cause Muneharu to die and the Mori’s plan would cause many of their own troops to die. These concerns then, run full circle, as they show that by trying too hard to appear honorable, both sides inevitably end up putting individuals at risk.

The Dishonor of Honor in Tree With Deep Roots

 The Korean television drama Tree With Deep Roots also contains, to a lesser extent, situations where honor comes into conflict with the jeopardizing of an individual and occasionally with their life. “Honor” in the series is reflective of “honor” as a concept in Taiko, where losing ones life to a cause is often considered more honorable than saving yourself with the risk of being “dishonorable.” One example of this concept is in Episode 15, where Ddol-Bok tries to uncover the secrets of Lee-Do’s new alphabet from the scholar Seong Sam-Mun. In this scene, Ddol-Bok is threatening Sam-Mun’s life if he does not offer the whereabouts of the king’s alphabet. He points his sword at Sam-Mun, warning him- “Your life is at stake here!” Sam-Mun however, is willing to risk his life for his king, as he responds with a refusal- “No, I have King Take Jong’s blood inside me.” In this sense, Sam-Mun’s refusal to give up the secrets of his King seem incredibly honorable, particularly when his words are put up against the dangerous threats of the skilled and serious warrior Ddol-Bok. But again, this scene simply highlights the inherent flaw with “honor” as viewed by characters in both of our texts. By remaining “honorable” from not betraying his king, Sam-Mun is potentially (and unnecessarily) throwing away his life.

What may be most shocking about many of these scenes is how relaxed the characters facing the “honor” dilemma seem to be. After all, it would take a great deal of patience for somebody to risk his or her life calmly for a king’s alphabet for example, or for a warrior to commit seppuku while remaining meditative and fearless. Inazo Nitobe references this cultural ideal in his Exposition of Japanese Thought, as he writes that the traditional Bushido honorcode of the samurai “was strongly counterbalanced by preaching magnanimity and patience.” He then references the great samurai Iyeyasu (who is also found in Taiko)- “ Haste not…Reproach none…forbearance is the basis of length of days” (Nitobe, 76). So as the pairing of “patience” with Bushido “honor” seems historically relevant, it would be safe to assume that Tree With Deep Roots, as a dramatized reflection of Korean history, would present characters who reflect this notion, and who are just as patient as they are honorable.

One example of the pairing nature of “honor” and “patience” is seen in episode 16 of the series. In one scene, we see a hidden root assassin, Yoon Pyeong; turn himself in to King Lee-Do. During the interrogation, Lee-Do is relentless in his threats to execute and torture Pyeong for his dishonorable deeds, yelling, “I will extinguish even the cousins of your cousins!” Meanwhile, Lee-Do appears patient (as Nitobe previously noted) and calm, as he remains quiet during the entire ordeal while kneeling in a self-sacrificial stance. The threats do not shock Pyeong, who likely feels that his execution is warranted for his “dishonorable” acts, and must act accordingly. Furthermore, we once again see characters faced with the additional dilemma that honor extends past the individual and can affect relatives as well. Fortunately, Lee-Do does not murder Pyeong in this scene. However, it still serves as a stark reminder that by following strict codes of honor, as Pyeong feels he has violated through his job as an assassination, can put characters in situations where their lives are in danger. After all, Pyeong seems to have few concerns for dying at the feet of Lee-Do. He feels, in a sense, that his execution might somehow justify the crimes that he has committed.

The masked assassin Yoon Pyung

The masked assassin Yoon Pyung


 It seems natural for us to question why, exactly, is unnecessary killing in the face of honor adherence actually necessary to the individuals that perpetuate it. Although both Taiko and Tree With Deep Roots are meant, first and foremost, as sources of entertainment, they none the less can provide us with important perspectives on Korean and Japanese culture that allow us to question, in more ways than one, what “honor” really means. And although it would be unfair for us to criticize a culture that has traditionally been seen as honorable and good, it might be wise for us to think critically about what concepts of “honor” really mean, and understand that if the jeopardizing of people’s lives come with them, that they might not really be that “honorable” at all.

Works Cited

 Tree with Deep Roots. SBS. South Korea. 5 Oct. 2011. Television.


Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko. New York, NY: Kodansha USA, 2012. Print.


Nitobe, Inazo. Bushido, the Soul of Japan: An Exposition of Japanese Thought. New York, NY: The Knickerbocker Press, 1905. 72-. Print.


Ikegami, Eiko. “Shame and the Samurai: Institutions, Trustworthiness, and Autonomy in the Elite Honor Culture .” Social Research. 70.4 (2003): n. page. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/40971973&gt;.

Marz, Ron, and Luke Ross . Samurai: Heaven and Earth. 2006. Photograph. diamondrock.blogspot.comWeb. <http://static.flickr.com/39/81823242_71d3b3cf33_o.jpg>.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi. 2009. Photograph. flickriverWeb. <http://www.flickriver.com/photos/rekishinotabi/4157118315/://static.flickr.com/39/81823242_71d3b3cf33_o.jpg&gt;.

TWDR12. 2011. Photograph. photobucket.comWeb. <http://s630.photobucket.com/user/dramabeans/media/drama/2011/TWDR12/TWDR12-00361.jpg.html&gt;.

The Last Samurai: Seppuku. Youtube.com, 2011. Film. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5xKq2vPUew>

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Honor As A Driving Force

The cover image of the book Taiko depicting samurai in feudal Japan.

The cover image of the book Taiko depicting samurai in feudal Japan.

The concept of honor has been weaved through the lifestyles of both Korea and Japan for centuries. In the popular Korean drama Tree With Deep Roots two of the leading characters, Ddol Bok and King Sejong battle the concept of honor in very personal ways. King Sejong wants to be remembered as a leader of his people, for his people and wishes to give back to the lower class and grant them more power and education. While Ddol Bok’s main concern is avenging the wrongful death of his father; however he learns that the best way to honor and avenge his father may not be to end a life, but instead to honor his father’s last wish that Ddol Bok would become literate. Throughout Eiji Yoshikawa’s Taiko you see the importance of Hideyoshi redeeming the honor lost by his father to his family. There are several characters in Taiko that are clear representatives of how much weight the concept of honor held over them in the decisions they made as men. Honor ruled the lives of many in feudal Japan and Korea, and it proved to be both detrimental and beneficial.

A young Samurai in his prime.

A young Samurai in his prime.

When I think of Samurai I always think about the bushido code or “the way of the samurai” and how honor is the driving force behind almost every decision a samurai and his clan make. In Eiji Yoshikawa’s Taiko there are a few scenarios in which honor is called into question. One that stuck out to me the most is in the chapter “Three Princesses” when Nobunaga kills his brother in law, Nagamasa. Nobunaga is power hungry and anyone that gets in his way in his pursuit of it is his enemy, family or not. While in retrospect one can say that Nobunaga’s decision to attack Odani castle and kill Nagamasa was not a matter of honor but a matter of necessity. But, considering Nobunaga’s affiliation with samurai I cannot help but wonder what he was thinking in killing a member of his family, an act that is considered to be one of the most dishonorable of all. Alas, Nobunaga does reserve some sense of honor in sparing the lives of his sister and her children; he is relieved to see that they are safe and unscathed. However, he can sense the anger coming from his sister Oichi but is still personally offended that she feels such disdain for him, “he felt an uncontrollable revulsion for the foolish woman who could not understand her brother’s great love” (Taiko 421). I don’t really know how Nobunaga expected his sister to react, obviously if you kill her husband and put his head on a platter to be presented to her and her children her reaction was not going to be a positive one. While yes he may have seen this as a necessary course of action here is still no honor in killing a member of ones family, on any level. It seems as if honor and the way of the samurai is a concept that can become jaded when the possibility of gaining power comes into play.

If we look at the opposite side of the spectrum the affiliation with samurai has its positive aspects. . 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. What wrong is there in searching for a purpose in your life, and understanding the importance of honor to you and your family? The character development of Hideyoshi exemplifies the importance of restoring his family name and honor after his father fails to do so. Even Yaemon, Hideyoshi’s father recognizes that Hideyoshi is the only hope the family has in restoring honor to their family name, “A father was supposed to be the best judge of his son, but even at his most optimistic, Yaemon could not see how this strange looking, snotty nosed little brat was going to rise above his parents and wash away the disgrace from their name. Still, Hiyoshi was his only son, and Yaemon rested impossible hopes in him” (Taiko 10). Holding a low position in society and making one single mistake that could ruin your career brings dishonor to not only the individual themselves, but their entire family name.

When we take a look at how honor is weaved into the lives of the character in the Korean drama Tree With Deep Roots we see how honor has a very personal impact on each person. The story’s main character, Ddol Bok, has lived his entire life in the hopes that he would be able to honor his father’s death and take down the person who he thought was responsible for his death, King Sejong. The main premise of the show is King Sejong’s hope that he would do something for his people that will be beneficial to them in the present and future, Ddol Bok must make the decision to join King Sejong or kill him. Ddol Bok doesn’t know that King Sejong actually saved his life and the life of his childhood Dam. He soon becomes a member of the king’s guard under the alias Chae-yoon and discovers that King Sejong is working on a secret project with the help of several people. The project is the creation of a Korean alphabet, which is supposed to help the common people and give them the power to fight against those who abuse their power. When Ddol Bok finds the long awaited opportunity to kill King Sejong he can’t do it, even as King Sejong steps into Ddol Bok’s sword.

King Sejong in K-drama series Tree With Deep Roots

King Sejong in K-drama series Tree With Deep Roots

In a sudden revelation, both men realize who each other are. Ddol Bok realizes that King Sejong saved his life so many years ago. Sejong realizes that the words that came from Ddol Bok’s wailing mouth that night stayed with him and that Ddol Bok is the reason for all that he is doing now. Sejong attempts to persuade Ddol Bok to understand that the alphabet is for the good of the people and tells him that he wants Ddol Bok to come to his side because Ddol Bok was at one point a part of the people he is now trying to save. Ddol Bok however still argues with King Sejong and says that writing will do no good for the common people, it cannot make them nobles and it cannot make rice. Sejong fights back and says that it “may not make rice, but it will teach the people more ways to make it and that it may not make them nobles but it will help them to fight back”.

When King Sejong asks why Ddol Bok is so negative about it, Ddol Bok breaks down and tells him that it’s because of his father’s will. It is his father’s words that brought him to tears since his last wish was Ddol Bok learn to read and write. His father felt that because he did not learn to read and write he was a halfwit, so it is Ddol Bok duty to become literate and live well. Thus presenting Ddol Bok with the realization that perhaps killing King Sejong is not the way to avenge his father’s death, but instead for him to join the king’s cause and educate himself and his people. King Sejong is also working to restore the honor that he felt his had tainted during his oppressive rule. As a young prince King Sejong hid from his father and was too much of a coward to confront him on his wrong doings. He knew that what his father was doing to the people was not for the good of the people but a cruel example of the abuse of his power as their leader. Now that Sejong is the single ruler of Joseon he has chosen to devote his life to bettering the lives of the people his father worked so hard to destroy. He was very influenced personally by Ddol Bok when he was a young boy, and from that night until his death he will work to give the people what they need to sustain themselves.


Mulan cuts her hair after her decision to take her father’s place in battle.

I wanted to use a classic example that we are all probably very familiar with. In Disney’s animated film Mulan the title character makes the decision to replace her father in battle because she feels he is not fit for battle anymore, which he is not. As a woman the only thing Mulan has to do is find a fit husband to love and support in whatever way she can, so naturally her decision to do the exact opposite brings great “dishonor” to her family name. When the men of each family are called to battle Mulan’s father steps forward, even though he still suffers from an injured leg from his previous ventures in battle. Because of the importance of value in Chinese culture he would rather step forward and fight with an injury that stay at home and neglect his duty as a husband, a father and as a man. Mulan takes matters into her own hand and doesn’t care about the honor her father is so keen on keeping and leaves their home to fight in his place, because she knows if he left he would not make it. Anyways, we all know the story and how her ancestors are very concerned in preserving honor in their family and when Mulan comes home she apologizes for disappointing and dishonoring her father, and her father says, “the greatest honor is having you for a daughter”. In the end Mulan recognizes that the most honorable acts are the ones done out of love and devotion to one’s family.

Each of these examples are clear cut representations of the power honor has over the decisions a person makes and how a family is viewed even after they are gone. Hideyoshi’s determination to restore the family names and his father’s desperation to see him do it show why it is so important that the people of each family understand that everything they do reflects on their family for generations. Ddol Bok at first feels the only way to honor his father’s memory is to kill King Sejong, but he then realizes the the best way to honor him is to help King Sejong and become literate and become the man his father never could be. King Sejong is making up for his lack of sticking up to his father and never stopping the cruel and unusual punishments he carried out against those who were less powerful than him. He recognizes that everyone should be given the opportunity and the tools that will help them to not fall behind and be able to fight for their rights, which is why his secret project is so important to him, he knows that education is how he can give back to his people. Mulan may be a woman but she still carries the weight and pressure of preserving her family’s honor. But, she recognizes that in order to save her father she has to do the unthinkable and stand in as his fictional son, in doing so she brings the greatest honor to her family and the greatest pride to her father.

The concept of honor can become one that is jaded to men on a very personal level. 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.


Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1992. Print.

Tree with Deep Roots. SBS. South Korea. 5 Oct. 2011. Television.

Mulan. Dir. Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook. Disney, 1998. Film

1999 Bushido: Warrior Code of Conduct The Samurai. Akido World Web Journal.


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Honor As A Driving Force by Autumn Vaughn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work athttps://polygrafi.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/honor-as-a-driving-force/.

The Art of Death and Violence


Contemplating the various forms of violence in Japanese and Korean cultures

Contemplating the various forms of violence in Japanese and Korean cultures

Suicide is not an act generally encouraged or praised in modern society. Taiko explores the nuances of this act in feudal Japan and distinguishes between genuine acts and polite gestures. On the other hand, the kdrama Tree with Deep Roots rejects suicide in favor of violent revenge and martial arts.

Seppuku is essential to the cultural and Confucian code of honor in feudal Japan. This code defines many ruler/ruled and friend/friend relationships as a way of showing respect and more importantly, loyalty and self-respect. Vowing to commit Seppuku is the most effective way of proving loyalty to a cause or person in a way that gains honor after death. However, Seppuku may not be as genuine as it seems. Many times Seppuku is promised without the true intention of following through, but rather as a gesture of loyalty and commitment. Suicide is very unique to Japan because, as we see in Korea as portrayed in Tree with Deep Roots, revenge against our enemies and mastery of martial arts is favored over self-harm. It is clear that samurais in Fuedal Japan value tradition and ideals more than warriors or guards in Korea who see mastery of skills and revenge as more effective and rewarding. Exploring the favorable ways of showing loyalty and honor in these different cultures illuminates the role of death and its perception among samurais in Fuedal Japan and government in Korea. I argue that the presence of Confucianism in Japan and Korea has evolved in different ways, therefore resulting in different methods of dying, and different portrayals of death in their societies.

I. Taiko

As a modern American reader, getting a grasp of the Seppuku portrayed in Taiko took some time and an open mind. Hideyoshi, future Taiko, is one of the most frequent promisers of Seppuku in a way that most likely demonstrates a gesture, not sincerity. In the same way that someone might offer his or her last piece of gum to a friend knowing that the friend will (and should) politely decline, Hideyoshi offers his life in order to demonstrate his loyalty with the confidence that the receiver of this vow will prohibit him from doing so. The first time that Hideyoshi vows Seppuku is, essentially, over a bet to finish the Kiyosu castle wall in three days. However, it is made clear that Nobunaga does not readily accept this gesture; “Even Lord Nobunaga acted as if he didn’t want [Hideyoshi] to commit Seppuku over this” (157). Later, Hideyoshi yet again promises Seppuku if he is unable to coax Hanbei down from Mount Kurihara. Although he doesn’t claim to be disgenuine with his offer, Hideyoshi acknowledges that “it had slipped out almost unconsciously, from his own zeal” (285). Suicide is a common form of showing loyalty and dedication to a cause or person, but in certain contexts, is not considered to be a binding agreement. In these cases, Seppuku is serving as a polite gesture without the necessary commitment to follow through.

Taiko does not only offer examples of Seppuku as a gesture. In other situations, Seppuku is given as a punishment or is genuinely offered in dire circumstances, particularly in war, as a way of preserving honor and dignity. For example, the Oda Clan is waging war on Odani Castle, which has increasingly become hopeless for Nagamasa and his family. Instead of agreeing to surrender, Nagamasa arranges and hosts his own funeral while he is alive, and then proceeds to commit Seppuku. In this instance, the promise to die by one’s own hand is seen as more honorable and loyal than giving in to the enemy. Even though Seppuku is perceived, especially during war, as being violent and dramatic, it is held to the highest degree of respect and only the worthy should be allowed such a death. An example of this is when Nobunaga is discussing Yoshiaki’s exile, he exclaims, “Excuse my rudeness, but I suspect you don’t even know the proper way of cutting open your own stomach” (391). In this sense, keeping someone alive to live in shame is a harsher punishment than allowing someone to commit suicide. Suicide is not seen as an escape from life, but as an opportunity to prove one’s worth.

II. Tree with Deep Roots

In Tree with Deep Roots, Ddol Bok, (later Kang Chae Yun), is part of the impoverished slave class in Korea during King Taejong‘s rule. This is a very violent time for the low-class people and mass killings are used as a way for royalty and the government to assert dominance over the helpless slaves. Ddol Bok’s father is mentally handicapped, and therefore is incapable of fully comprehending the severity of social oppression. Although he is sent to deliver an important message that ultimately gets him killed by the government, his mental disability earns him no special treatment during a time of senseless violence. This injustice does not go unnoticed in Ddol Bok’s childhood memories, and eventually, seeking revenge becomes the only motivation for staying alive. Rather than feeling shame for allowing his father to die and wanting to commit suicide like characters in Taiko would prefer, the violent thoughts are pushed outward onto other characters in order to show loyalty to the innocent deceased father. However, it is neither easy nor likely that he will be in a position in which killing King Sejong is probable. Because of this, Kang Chae Yun dedicates his life to learning martial arts (being trained by a notorious and well-respected martial artist) and gaining power within his soldier ranks. Below is a clip from Episode 7 of the kdrama series that depicts a fight between Kang Chae Yun and Yoon Pil (1:04:32). Both have learned “the leap” and other advanced martial arts practices with the ultimate goal of being able to assassinate enemies effectively and without equal.

Tree with Deep Roots Episode 7

A preference for projecting violence on others does not mean that the characters in Tree with Deep Roots do not make personal physical sacrifices in order to show loyalty or gain honor. In Episode 15 of the kdrama series, King Sejong’s son is taken as a hostage with the ultimatum of stopping the development of a new Korean alphabet. Kang Chae Yun uses the son’s life as collateral to see how much the King values an individual’s life when placed against the greater good of the impoverished learning how to read. His son is aware of this ultimatum and is more than willing to sacrifice his life in a grand motion of loyalty to his father and his father’s project. Similarly, King Sejong is willing to sacrifice his son’s life to the kidnappers because he knows that creating the alphabet will do greater good than keeping his son alive. Although an individual’s life is still sacred, it is clear that it would be honorable to die for a worthy cause and shameful to preserve one’s life at all costs when there are greater gains to be made. Sacrifices from both parties (the King and his son) show a willingness to remain loyal to a society and leader rather than being selfish and valuing one’s life above all else.

III. Synthesis

Part of the reasoning behind the prevalence of Seppuku in feudal Japan is the attitude towards death. Japanese culture embraces death as a part of life, and more specifically as a part of samurai culture. The Shogun in Taiko states, “That is the duty of a samurai, after all. It’s really nothing more than arranging flowers at a funeral” (389). Similarly, this belief that “your body is not just your own”, aids an individual’s willingness to commit their life to honor or to the preservation of their people. This attitude towards death is deeply embedded in Asian culture. For example, Neuberger writes for the British Medical Journal that Asian societies embrace death as a part of life in a way that makes them unafraid of the afterlife, and therefore better able to care for the old and sick. However, we see this idea challenged in Tree with Deep Roots where others are forced to die, but never ourselves. Similarly, in Taiko it is the way of the samurai to embrace death and Seppuku but there are different paths of life in feudal Japan with different values, such as the ninja. Ninja’s portrayed in the book, and in Tree with Deep Roots live with the intention of being hidden and preserving their lives at all costs in order to continue serving their master.

Ninja versus Samurai

Ninja versus Samurai

Killing oneself or another is also a method of garnering attention from those around or invested. Dunn studied how Hirade Kiyohide, a retainer of Nobunaga, committed Seppuku as political defiance, stating “suicide is a noble gesture to escape a life that has become burdensome” (84). Hirade was not agreeing with the way that Nobunaga was leading the Oda Clan and because a life is so cherished in this time period, sacrificing a life in order to gain something means that it automatically deserves consideration of the deceased’s desires. Hirade was so passionate about how he believed governmental policies should exist that he sacrificed his life to show loyalty to the old ways of functioning and hopefully to incite change in Nobunaga. In this instance, the sacrifice of one’s life is a tool used for the progression of another cause. In Taiko, leaders of castles being taken over will commit suicide, like Nagamasa mentioned earlier, in an act of defiance of a new leader, like Hideyoshi, coming in with an army. Accepting Hideyoshi’s terms and conditions would lower Nagamasa’s status and be shameful compared with his previous power and control. Seppuku preserves his dignity and honor.

Although Seppuku can be used for a variety of functions in Japanese society, there is not blind moral and ethical acceptance of the act. McMullen questions the role of Seppuku as to whether it truly does align with Confucian values or not. His research suggests that Seppuku in Japan actually points to an underlying value of Confucianism that favors political values over filial ones. Traditionally, Chinese Confucianism rejected violence so an evolution of violence to oneself (like in Taiko) versus violence against others (like in Tree with Deep Roots) seems to be the evolutionary result of abiding by Confucianism but  fulfilling all relationship loyalty. Ddol Bok on the other hand, is originally favoring filial values until he becomes willing to sacrifice everything for the political well-being of Joseon. Ultimately, violence and dying has evolved in two separate paths in the two countries, resulting in an interesting juxtaposition of death, Confucianism and loyalty.

Death is an integral part of life in feudal Japan, whether one is a samurai or not. Embracing death through samurai loyalty and cultural honor creates a society that used Seppuku not only as a gesture, but also with genuine intentions. In the Korean drama Tree with Deep Roots, a varied way of showing loyalty through death and violence of other people is portrayed. Ultimately, the end goal makes a grand gesture that can leave a person honored in life and death.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Works Cited


Dunn, Adam. “Suicide for Political Ends: When Killing Oneself Becomes A Form of

Action”. Plurality and Political Freedom 2.19 (2008): 83-87. Web. 8 Mar. 2014.


McMullen, James. “Confucian Perspectives On The Ako Revenge: Law And Moral

Agency.” Monumenta Nipponica 58.3 (2003): 293-315. Historical Abstracts. Web. 6 Mar. 2014.


Neuberger, Julia. “A Healthy View of Dying”. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 327. 7408

(2003): 207-208. Web. 6 Mar. 2014.


Tree with Deep Roots. Writ. Kim Young Hyun. Dir. Jang Tae Yoo. 2011. Online.


Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko. Trans. William Scott Wilson. New York: Kodansha USA, 2012.

No Honor Among Ninja?

Ninja versus Samurai

Ninja versus Samurai

No Honor Among Thieves Ninja?

The role of a ninja is in flux in the cultures depicted in Taiko and “Tree with Deep Roots.”  This digital essay will argue that, within these texts, characters acting in the role of a ninja are viewed as dishonorable warriors.

The role of ninja: an explication

The role of the ninja inhabits an ambiguous moral space in Taiko and “Tree with Deep Roots,” but remains vital part of both texts because ninja (and ninja-like) behavior is unique in the way that it deviates or conforms to traditional cultural ideals of honor. Characters and culture in both Taiko and “Tree with Deep Roots” place great value on honorable behavior, honorable living, and honorable relationships. For both Japanese samurai and Korean warriors in these texts, what is or is not honorable dictates daily life. Those who are—or who act as—ninja, however, seem to occupy an ambiguous space as both scapegoat and deviant within these cultures. Japanese and Korean cultures differ some in how they view these ninja and ninja-like characters, but overall these characters are still seen as less honorable. Whether an individual is simply dressed as a ninja or ninja by occupation, the system of ethics, morality, and responsibility is slightly different from the norm for these characters.

Taiko explains this differing system of ethics by showing the reader that, while the highest honor for a regular samurai is to die for his lord, a Japanese ninja cannot function within this line of thought (Yoshikawa 356). According to Taiko, ninja must stay alive regardless of the metaphorical cost to their honor, as they are of no service to their masters if they are killed before completing their missions (Yoshikawa 356). Though staying alive is an integral part of a ninja’s mission, ninja in Taiko are not viewed as honorably as regular samurai because of this particular tick. Ninja also reflects a social occupation in Japanese culture; it is a role passed from father to son, and individuals are trained as ninja because of their family ties (Bertrand 12). This facet of Japanese ninja culture relegates the dishonor to certain families, certain groups of people—though in many cases ninja would work anonymously—but this makes sense for a culture in which a single person’s “dishonorable” behavior could disseminate dishonor through his/her entire family.

Group of ninja training

Group of ninja training

Discussing ninja and honor in reference to “Tree with Deep Roots” is interesting because, as a K-drama, the text is Korean and thus does not explicitly name people as “ninja.” Though this digital essay recognizes that the term “ninja” is not used in Korean culture, for its purposes and ease of understanding, those in the K-drama who dress in nondescript, black or darkly colored monochromatic garb will be referred to as “acting-ninja” “or ninja-like,” as they are occupying a role that is in some ways synonymous with that of the Japanese ninja in Taiko. In “Tree with Deep Roots,” men who are dressed as ninja, functioning as such, do so because they are engaging in dishonorable actions; the garb dissociates blame for misconduct from different leaders, such as King Sae Jong or the Root. Dressing as a ninja in the K-drama is used a disguise that masks responsibility for an individual’s actions and makes it all the more difficult to situate said individual into the normative social hierarchy of Joseon. The concealing of a person’s social role through ninja-like clothing is an interesting facet of the K-drama, as characters who are not ninja by occupation (because “ninja” by name are a role unique to Japan) don ninja-like disguises and function as acting-ninja over the course of the television series.

The black sheep of the ninja in Taiko

Ninja are essentially the black sheep of the samurai in Taiko. They may be retainers in a lord’s house and even hold places of favor but, because of the samurai code of honor, ninja are not regarded by their peers are truly honorable samurai. This is due to the fact that one of the main tenets of the samurai code, as explained in Taiko, is that there is nothing more honorable for a samurai than dying in the service of his lord (Yoshikawa 356). For ninja, the code of honor in regards to death differs from that of regular samurai because ninja must stay alive regardless of the metaphorical cost to their honor. Because of the samurai way of life, ninja are perceived as less honorable members of society.

Illustration of Nobunaga

Illustration of Nobunaga

The text demonstrates this on multiple occasions: before the battle against Yoshimoto, Nobunaga’s generals declare that he does not even have to ask them to give their lives for him (Yoshikawa 199). During this battle and others like it, samurai often yell out their names and their loyalties during a charge so that they are known even in death for their honorable connections to their lords (Yoshikawa 210). These examples demonstrate the degree to which death for one’s lord is ingrained into the samurai culture in Taiko, as well as the ease with which samurai are willing to sacrifice themselves for the interlocked combination of their lord and honor (both personal and clan honor). Additionally, the practice of seppuku—or declaring that one will commit seppuku— is frequently as a common show of repentance for an error that goes against the wishes or honor of a samurai’s lord. On several occasions, Hideyoshi offers his suicide to Nobunaga or claims that he will commit seppuku when enemies/potential allies refuse to see him, saying that he will do so because he has failed Nobunaga (Yoshikawa 280). In all of these ways, it becomes obvious that a samurai’s death in the service of his lord is seen as the ultimate act of devotion and servitude. This idea is confirmed by Cameron Hurst in his essay on the bushido ideal, in which he writes that samurai found value in “a reckless death offered up in the lord’s name” (Hurst 515).

Illustration of Hideyoshi

Illustration of Hideyoshi

The ninja stands contrary to all of these ideas surrounding honorable samurai death and, in many ways, the ninja is seen as a set apart sub-category of samurai (Howland 361). Rather than their purpose being in death for their lord, a ninja would operate under the assumption that he is no good to his lord dead; death means that he has not obtained and relayed the information for which he was sent, or that his mission is otherwise incomplete (Yoshikawa 357). Though one could say that this behavior and outlook is the ninja’s honorable service to his lord, other samurai view this clinging to life as a less honorable way to live; Taiko references ninja as being called “depraved samurai,” which points towards the idea that, at least from the view of other samurai, ninja are seen as less-honorable, less-notable social positions (Yoshikawa 357).

It is worth noting that, since the ninja in Taiko try to remain anonymous, there is little direct interaction between a ninja and a regular samurai in which both parties are aware of the status of the other. The exception to this, of course, is when Hideyoshi (then called Tokichiro) correctly deduces that Ganmaku is a ninja for Nobunaga, but our protagonist is not prone to condescension and, at the time, inhabits a lower social class, which means that the reader does not truly see how samurai and ninja interact (Yoshikawa 120).

A ninja’s role in “Tree with Deep Roots”

The word “ninja” is never explicitly used in “Tree with Deep Roots.” As stated at the beginning of this essay, hereafter characters discussed as “acting-ninja” are referenced as such because of their outer appearance and the social roles they play. Although the term “ninja” is not used in “Tree with Deep Roots,” several characters temporarily (or consistently) serve in the role of the ninja. They do this by dressing in black—or similarly dark, monochromatic garb—and use this disguise when they participate in covert operations over the course of the K-drama. When characters want to act anonymously, unaffiliated with organizations, leaders, or social groups, they utilize ninja-like clothing and function as acting-ninja.

Sung Sam Moon and Park in ninja-like garb

Sung Sam-moon and Park Paeng-nyeon in ninja-like garb

Characters wear ninja garb in an effort for secrecy and anonymity, or to demonstrate a lack of social ties. The clearest reason for wearing ninja garb in “Tree with Deep Roots” is anonymity. By wearing black, characters in the show hide their true colors—their place within society, their allegiance to a group or leader, and their motivations. This can be seen in Episode Six, when Sung Sam-moon and Park Paeng-nyeon forsake their scholars’ garb and dress in black when they steal the corpses from the butcher’s shop. Though they are merely trying to satisfy their own curiosity about the murders, dressing in black as opposed to their typical scholars’ clothing denotes secrecy to the viewer and helps to disguise them from other characters in the event that they are caught.

Assassin Pyung in Ninja-like Clothing

Assassin Pyung in Ninja-like Clothing

This is not to say that the clothing obscures the wearer’s identity through obstructing the faces, fingerprints, or other stereotypical markers of identification on characters. In “Tree with Deep Roots,” the anonymity of ninja garb is used to obscure characters’ social identity. Only one man, Yoon Pyung, wears a mask in addition to his ninja-like clothing; the rest of the characters who dress as ninjas do not obstruct their faces. The disguise here is social; dressing in unmarked, dark clothing eliminates the social markers that typify some of the other clothing choices in the K-drama. The bright red uniforms of Kyum Sa and the bureaucrats’ headgear—any color-coded or occupation-specific garments of the scholars, bureaucrats, and servants—are replaced with clothes in ninja-like muted colors when characters engage in illicit, illegal, and/or potentially violent activities. Ninja garb could be seen as the social equalizer; everyone wearing it has (relatively) equal potential for action, though clearly some are more talented at fighting than others.

Similarly, the assassin, first seen by viewers in Episode Five, always wears nondescript black or un-dyed clothing much like the garb used by Sung Sam-moon and Park Paeng-nyeon previously mentioned above. Yoon Pyung, as we find out the assassin is called in Episode Seven, is perhaps the only person in “Tree with Deep Roots” who truly functions as an acting-ninja for the show’s entirety. (I say “perhaps” because it never becomes clear how he is affiliated with Hidden Root, whether he is a member or actually a kind of hired killer.) This character provides the clearest example of how ninja-like clothing can obscure someone’s societal identity; because Yoon Pyung wears the nondescript black or un-dyed clothing we typically associate with ninjas, viewers and other characters are unable to situate him within the cultural hierarchy of Joseon. Whereas, when they are normally clothed, it is possible to distinguish scholars like Park Paung-nyeon and Sung Sam-moon from officials like Jo Mal Saeng and Lee Shin Juk based on their typical attire, it is impossible to know where Yoon Pyung belongs because his clothes do not give this away. His social anonymity further impedes the investigation into the mysterious murders seen earlier and the violence he commits against the roving band of beggars in Episode Twenty-Two, and the nondescript clothing helps Yoon Pyung remain anonymous while he carries out his violent missions for the duration of the show.

Chae-Yoon in ninja-like garb

Chae-Yoon in ninja-like garb

When Chae Yoon is the member of Kyum Sa investigating the murders carried out by Yoon Pyung, he wears the traditional garb of those soldiers. After Sae Jong essentially gives So-Yi to Chae Yoon and set them both free in Episode Thirteen, Chae Yoon leaves his soldier’s garb and dresses all in black, ninja-like clothing in order to temporarily. In Chae Yoon’s case, the ninja garb first indicates a freedom from attachment, or a lack of loyalty to any entity. Even after the pair returns and Chae Yoon is reemployed with Kyum-Sa, he repeatedly dons the ninja garb and functions as an acting-ninja for the duration of his work helping Sae Jong distribute and publish his letters. There is a shift here, once Chae Yoon begins working in conjunction with/for Sae Jong; his new reason for wearing ninja garb is not freedom from attachment, but anonymity. It would not do for a Kyum Sa soldier to be running around questioning people, getting in fights, or attracting attention to the servant women while they secretly try to distribute the language (Episodes 20-22). A young man in black clothing, however, attracts much less attention than a palace soldier. Through this line of reasoning, it becomes clear that Chae Yoon—as well as Choo Tak and Park Po, when they accompany him or the servant girls—dress in ninja garb in order to avoid identification or profuse attention (Episode 21).

By nature of the secretive, conscious anonymity employed by characters who wear ninja-like clothing, these characters’ actions are viewed as suspicious and dishonorable. Characters in ninja-like clothing are questioned or derided by those whose clothing clearly denotes their rank, as when Chae Yoon is detained by soldiers before brandishing the king’s seal (Episode 22). The dishonor here lies not in the type of actions characters in ninja-like clothing are likely to commit, but in their disassociation from the socio-cultural hierarchy of Joseon. This Confucius-revering culture whose rigid structure provides much of the tension within the text is not forgiving of those who do not clearly denote where they are situated within the country’s class system. People in ninja-like clothing are able to move about relatively unnoticed but, as in the case of Chae Yoon and the soldiers in Episode 22, interactions with anyone of social standing are difficult because those wearing ninja-like clothing have obscured their social rank and are thus treated as lower-class citizens. Such is the culture as depicted by this text: one may easily shed one’s signifiers of rank and dress anonymously, but in doing so one temporarily sheds one’s social class and the honor, duty, and/or education with which it is associated.

The role of the ninja and dishonor: a conclusion

Both the Japanese culture depicted in Taiko and the Korean culture depicted in “Tree with Deep Roots” revere honor as an important character trait. Ninja in Taiko are vilified as dishonorable, the proverbial scapegoats for immoral behavior because their ultimate goal is not the death and honor for which other samurai risk themselves (Ikegami 1352). The vilification of ninja-like characters in the K-drama is much more subtle, but these characters are nonetheless viewed as less honorable, and less important, when their identities are disguised by ninja-like clothing. Because ninja and ninja-like characters cannot exist completely outside of these cultures and thus exist within them, their honor is dictated by what is seen as honorable by the cultures. As such, the role of the ninja inhabits a dishonorable space.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Works Cited:

Bertrand, John. “Techniques That Made Ninjas Feared in 15th-Century Japan Still Set Standard for Covert Ops.” Military History 23.1 (n.d.): 12, 19. Science Reference Center. Web 11 Mar. 2014.

Howland, Douglas R. “Samurai Status, Class, and Bureaucracy: A Historiographical Essay.” The Journal of Asian Studies 60.2 (2001): 353-380. JSTOR. Web. 1 Apr. 2014.

Hurst, G. Cameron, III. “Death, Honor, and Loyality [sic]: The Bushido Ideal.” Philosophy East and West 40.4 (1990): 511-527. JSTOR. Web. 1 Apr. 2014.

Ikegami, Eiko. “Shame and the Samurai: Institutions, Trustworthiness, and Autonomy in the Elite Honor Culture.” Social Research 70.4, Shame (2003): 1351-1378. JSTOR. Web. 02 Apr. 2014.

Tuell, Todd. “Fear the Ninjas.” Faces (07491387) 28.9 (2012): 10. Middle Search Plus. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.

Tree with Deep Roots. Writ. Lee Jung Myung. Dir. Jang Tao Yoo and Shin Kyung Soo. SBS, 2011. DramaFever.

Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan. 1st ed. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1992. Print.

The Character of a Man in Accordance with Loyalty and Honor

Bushido, the Honor Code of Samurai, which talks about the importance of Honor and Loyalty in Asian culture

Bushido, the Honor Code of Samurai, which talks about the importance of Honor and Loyalty in Asian culture

Loyalty and Honor are important traits valued high in Asian Culture. Loyalty is observed by a man’s sacrifice for the people he loves. Honor is defined by a man’s actions and how he treats others. Together honor and loyalty are what a man’s character is defined by.

Loyalty can be shown by the wiliness to take care of one’s kin, to remember to keep them in mind, and to make sure they are safe. In the novel Taiko, the main character Hideyoshi holds true to this aspect of loyalty and does his best to live up to its meaning. One of his most admirable traits, one that gets him so much attention as the book goes on, is his loyalty to his mother, sister, and lord. Upon leaving his house with the intent of serving a samurai, he vows to his sister, Otsumi, that “when [he] become[s] a great man, [he]’ll clothe [their] mother in silk, and buy [Otsumi] a sash of patterned satin for [her] wedding.” (Taiko, 37) From then on he continues to work hard with the sake of his family in mind. Once he is accepted into service by Nobunaga and becomes of his samurai later on, he still is loyal to his family, sending them food and good clothing like he promised.

Loyalty to one’s family is important but so is loyalty to one’s lord and country. After being accepted in Nobunaga’s servitude Hideyoshi was nothing but loyal to his lord. He took whatever job Nobunaga granted him and did all of his chores and more without hesitation or complaint. When Hideyoshi was put in charge of the firewood and charcoal, despite lowering the total consumption during the winter, it was said that “[he] was not satisfied that had carried out his duties to the fullest.” This attitude is something that stems from Hideyoshi’s total devotion and loyalty to his lord and job. Not only that but when some of Nobunaga’s family and retainers start to talk about turning on him, Hideyoshi was willing to put his own life on the line for his master. When Nobunaga went to castle of his revolting retainers Hideyoshi followed with his fellow sandal bearer and “if something had happened, they had agreed to Kiyosu Castle by sending a smoke signal from the fire tower, and kill the local guards if they had to.” (Taiko, 123) Hideyoshi once refused to even learn martial arts before this but when it came to protecting his lord, Hideyoshi was willing to go as far as killing for him, a sure sign of loyalty.

King Sejong, a man who shows great loyalty to his people

King Sejong, a man who shows great loyalty to his people

The value of loyalty does not simply define a common man but also is representative of someone as powerful as an Emperor or King. In the Korean Drama, Tree with Deep Roots, King Sejong is shown to be a great man thanks to his impressive value of loyalty. As a king, loyalty means being fair and just while keeping the wellbeing of the people who the king governs in mind. As king of his own Joseon, Sejong proves that he is an honorable king as he works to benefit his people. When his father, Taejong, tries to kill Ddol-bok, Sejong gets in the way, protecting the lives of his people with his own despite being a direct disorder to his father. Sejong shows that he cares for his people deeply, willing to put his life on the line for any one of them. Not only that but Sejong defends the right of his people to speak freely and voice their opinions. During a meeting with his scholars and officials, Sejong makes a point that, as king of the people, he has the need to hear all of his people’s voices on the government. Sejong realizes that it’s his job as king to act on the people’s demands and must be able to hear what they have to ask of him. Sejong also realizes that his people need to communicate in order to maintain their own independence, that’s why he creates the Korean written language that is so simple to learn.

One of the most influential players in promoting the importance of the values loyalty and honor is the samurai. Samurai, while native and most commonly related to Japan, can be good examples of the attitude of the Asian culture as a whole. The samurai took many values that were cherished in Asian society and made them part of their everyday lives. Loyalty and Honor are both key virtues in the samurai code of conduct, Bushido. In Inazo Nitobe’s book Bushido: The Soul of Japan, Nitobe talks about Bushido as “a flower no less indigenous to the soil of Japan as its emblem, the cherry blossom…” (Nitobe, 33) Bushido is something native to Japan but has ideals that can be spread through the entire Asian culture. In the video, the narrator talks about some of the rules that Samurai were expected to follow. Some rules were “Observe proper etiquette” and “do the right thing without hesitation.” These rules could be applied to anyone’s life. For those who followed rules like this could certainly be considered an honorable and just man with good character.

Loyalty has a large part in the Bushido code, being one of the eight virtues that the code exemplifies. Bushido expects true followers to place loyalty to one’s worldly neighbors but, more importantly, those they care for. According to Tim Clark’s Bushido Code: Eight Virtues of the Samurai¸ “real men remain loyal to those to whom they are indebted to.” Bushido reminds men that they would not be where they were today without the help of others, no matter how small or large the contributions. To be truly a man of character, one must be aware of those they owe great thanks to and must be ready to do what they must for them.

Bushido also holds Honor in a high regard, often pairing it with loyalty as one of the most essential virtues. Honor in Bushido refers to a samurai’s duty to themselves and the people around them. It requires keeping true to one’s goals and promises. Samurai and followers of the Bushido code must “show compassion for others” as the video says. They must treat others as equals and not as lesser beings, even those less fortunate than them. In his novel, Nitobe writes “The sense of honor, implying a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, could not fail to characterize the samurai, born and bred to value the duties and privileges of their profession.” (Nitobe, 79) Honor is obviously closely tied with the effort and work one puts into their job. A truly honorable man puts all he has into what he does and doesn’t settle for less than the best he can do.

Honor is one of the toughest values to stay true to, because it requires a high moral fiber. In the novel Taiko Hideyoshi is extremely loyal to kin and lord but even when trying his best to stay honorable, it is a difficult task for him to accomplish. In the beginning of the novel he was far from honorable, he used to always get into trouble and become a nuisance for his family. Hideyoshi would frequently be dismissed from his jobs until he went on the path of the samurai. Before even finding a master, Hideyoshi knew that honor was important and made it the number one priority for a good master. He even left his first samurai master because he didn’t think of him as honorable for fueling a war between father and son.

Ddol bok, someone who keeps true to his goals for the sake of his honor

Ddol bok, someone who keeps true to his goals for the sake of his honor

A large part of honor is keeping true to one’s goals and putting everything one has into completing that goal. In Tree with Deep Roots, Chae-yoon, originally known Ddol-bok, is a great example of striving to complete one’s goal, no matter what the consequences are. Chae-yoon vowed to avenge his father and Dam after believing that both of them were killed because of the King. As a kid, Chae-yoon vowed to kill the King and as he grew up, all that he did was to achieve that goal. He joined the army and used it to learn how to fight and to get closer to the king. Along the way Chae-yoon met a master that he avidly sought out to teach him martial arts and assassination techniques so that one day he could employ them to fulfill his goal. Every time Chae-yoon comes in close proximity of Sejong, he calculates the chances of him successfully killing Sejong. Chae-yoon is fully committed to his goal and will stop at nothing to achieve it, no matter how terrible it is in actuality. This admirable trait defines him as a man and showcases his honor as a faithful son and loving friend.

A man’s honor partially comes from the way he interacts with others. Those who find ways to take cares of others, usually complete strangers, without seeking personal gain. In Tim Clark’s Bushido Code: Eight Virtues of the Samurai, Clark mentions that samurai originally meant “one who serves.” Samurai carry out their honor by serving the people in their nation and protecting them from harm. In Taiko, Hideyoshi acted honorably when it came to the protection of his lord and his province. When the men in charge of rebuilding the castle wall in book two were taking over twenty days to finish the job, Hideyoshi stepped in and tackled the problem head on, finishing the project in three days. He received a higher position and an increase in his pay for his efforts but Hideyoshi did it, not for the stature or money, for safety of his people. Hideyoshi said to his subordinates that “it’s not so much this particular construction project or even my own life that concerns me. I worry about the fate of this province in which you all live. But taking over twenty days to do just this little bit of construction – with that kind of spirit, this province is going to perish.” (Yoshikawa, 163) Times like this shows honorable samurai like Hideyoshi are by putting other’s lives and wellbeing before their own safety.

Loyalty and Honor, two of the most important values in Asian culture, helped show the moral fiber of a man’s character. Loyalty can be expressed in many different ways. For all people, caring and looking after one’s kind is one of the base roots of loyalty. When it comes to the relationship between commoners and kings, those who show loyalty to one another regardless of class differences are truly valuable men. In terms of Honor, following it can prove it be difficult at times because it requires the ability to choose what is right rather than what is easy. Honor is personally defined by one’s goals and how attentively they follow those goals. But most importantly, a man’s honor can be observed by watching how he interacts and cares for the people around him, even those he doesn’t know. Without honor and loyalty, a man can’t be considered one of reputable character and thus not worth being called a man at all.

Work Cited:
Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko. New York, NY: Kodansha USA, Inc.,
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The Character of a Man in Accordance with Loyalty and Honor by Conor McKoy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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