MILITARISM BEFORE 1945
Japanese marines and armored cars, Shanghai, 1937
Courtesy Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
The Bushido Code
Japanese aversion for things military is of recent
centuries before 1945, military men and a strong martial
exerted a powerful and, at times, dominant influence on
life. Although the development of a modern army and navy
during the Meiji period (1868-1912), reverence for the art
and its practitioners had long been characteristic of
In the middle of the seventh century, under the Taika
the Yamato court used military forces, conscripted from
peasants and led by court-appointed aristocrats, to extend
realm and maintain order
(see Early Developments
, ch. 1).
leaders initially were loyal to the emperors, but with the
the great private estates, or shoen, in the
century, imperial control waned
(see Nara and Heian Periods, A.D. 710-1185
, ch. 1).
National conscription was abandoned in
Decreased imperial authority gave rise to chaotic
lawlessness in the countryside. Provincial officials and
shoen holders used local militias, civil officials
arms, and soldiers of the shoen holders to secure
and compete for power.
By the mid-twelfth century, these local armed forces
developed into a distinct warrior class (bushi, or
completely overshadowing the military strength of the
government. Empowered by a nationwide, feudal, military
dictatorship, the chief national figure, the shogun, ruled
name of a figurehead emperor. By the end of the sixteenth
samurai dominated the social and political hierarchy that
under the shogun and developed into a hereditary elite.
they alone were granted the right to bear the sword, which
subsequently became the symbol of their superior status.
sixteenth century, a wide variety of firearms also was
from Europe and was used quite effectively, particularly
some of the outer daimyo, or feudal lords.
In time, a customary ethical code,
bushido (see Glossary),
was developed. According to this doctrine, the
was bound to accept death in battle rather than flee or
and, if he saw corruption or disloyalty in another, was
slay the guilty party and then commit
seppuku (see Glossary),
lest his honorable intentions be questioned. As
of conduct, the code emphasized personal honesty,
respect for parents, willingness to sacrifice oneself for
honor, consideration for the feelings of others,
pain, loyalty to one's superiors, and unquestioning
duty in the face of any hardship or danger.
reality that often fell short of the ideal, bushido
profound and lasting impact on the nation. Its effects
seen in the conduct of battle in World War II.
rallying cry meaning ten thousand years) charges against
enemy forces and the tenacity of resistance under severe
testified to the strength and persistence of the samurai
Data as of January 1994