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A samurai rulebook offers guidance on how to kill enemies and refrain from gossip

From the 10th century till their abolition in the 1870s, samurai were a class of Japanese military nobility who inherited lives as warrior protectorates (bushi) for feudal lords, and had a notoriously strict and intricate honour code. This video from the YouTube channel Voices of the Past explores two scrolls from the famed samurai school Natori-Ryu’s 17th-century rulebook. The first scroll has codes of conduct for peacetime, with guidance ranging from the universal, such as the pitfalls of talking behind someone’s back, to the extremely samurai-specific, such as keeping a home garden that doesn’t leave you vulnerable to enemy attack. The second scroll lays out the rules of engagement in wartime and paints a much more violent portrait of samurai life, built around intricate rules for killing and being killed. These primary sources offer an intriguing window into the samurai value system, in which loss of reputation was considered a fate far worse than death.

4 May 2021

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