The term Bushido has long represented a broad spectrum of Japanese samurai values which carried different implications during various eras. Regardless of its iterations, “the way of the warrior” was a critical philosophy and code of conduct to guide martial rulers who held military and political power during feudal Japan.
It was during the Edo period that the word Bushido was first used to define the values and ideals of the ruling military class. The Tokugawa regime sought to promote uniformity of warrior values even though there was no official samurai code. The samurai were expected to have military acumen and a martial spirit as well as an undying devotion to a lord, a staunch commitment to duty, and the courage to sacrifice his own life either in battle or through ritual suicide for the sake of honor.
It was during the 17th and 18th centuries that a formal ethical code was established by the scholar Yamaga Soko (1622-1685) who is recognized for defining the samurai ideal. He described The Way of The Warrior as duty and loyalty above all practiced by a military figure who is a moral exemplar. He noted that it functioned effectively as an ethos perpetuated by the warrior’s lord and rewarded his service with favor. This mutual dependence between the samurai and the lord he serves are what scholars after Yamaga called the Bushido ethic.
When Emperor Meiji was restored as Japan’s ruler in 1868, the samurai class was abolished along with the feudal system. Regardless, the warrior archetype continued to perpetuate through literatures on Edo-period Bushido and served as a potent ideal in Japan. In 1899, Nitobe Inazo published Bushido: The Soul of Japan which characterized the warrior ethos as an embodiment of everything that was most admired in traditional Japanese culture and society.