Bushido: A Universal Code for the 21st Century

Recently I began writing another book about the Shinsengumi. Their symbol (shown here) was the character makoto, which means “sincerity,” one of the three cardinal virtues of bushidō, along with loyalty and courage. Bushidō of course means “the way of the samurai.” And while men such as Kondo Isami, commander of the Shinsengumi, lived by the code of bushidō, these three virtues are by no means exclusive to the samurai.
Consider the meaning of the symbols used to express two of these concepts in the Japanese language:
sincerity (誠), pronounced makoto
loyalty(忠), pronounced chū

Makoto is a combination of the characters for “to say” and “to do” (or “to accomplish”). “To do what one says” is to be sincere. Chū is a combination of the characters for “inside” and “heart” (or “mind”): A loyal samurai keeps his heart and mind within the fold of his feudal lord, or daimyo. This may be directed at one’s country, or even family or friends.

But even the most loyal person of the best intentions might lack the guts do what he says. It might be too dangerous. Or perhaps the sacrifice would be too great. Which is one of the reasons why courage, both physical and moral, is so important.

So if you think about it, these basic bushidō virtues are not exclusively “of the samurai” or even Japanese. Rather, it seems, “the way of the samurai” is to a certain extent universal.