A Comparison of Bushido & Chivalry

Bushido of the Samurai, Chivalry of the Knights of old… how do they compare?

Both codes of conduct come from the days before guns had been invented. Fighting was face to face, even at some distance. So warriors couldn’t hide behind cover and ambush their foe.

And both the Samurai of Japan and the Medieval Knights of Europe were people of high status in a Feudal system where the king was the head, up there with God. Ordinary people, the peasants, were at the bottom of the ladder and were treated little differently from animals by those further up the power scale.

The King or Emperor was at the top. He had absolute power. One word from him and people died… sometimes tens of thousands of people. His word was the law.

European kings believed they had a “Divine Right” to rule, that they were chosen by God. In Japan, the people believed their Emperor was god.

Below this absolute ruler were his Lords. These men were rich beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. They owned land estates as big as whole counties, and they owned everyone who lived and worked on those lands.

The peasants or serfs were absolute slaves. They were their Lord’s property. The peasants did not own the land they slaved upon, and then they were taxed heavily on the food and animals they produced.

In Europe, some lords and their knights even demanded the right of first sex with a bride on her wedding day, before she got to sleep with her bridegroom. (You see this happen in the movie, Brave Heart, where an English knight takes the woman of a Scottish peasant.)

And in Japan, a Samurai who wanted to test out a new sword had the right to stand at a crossroads and kill the first innocent peasant who walked by. Not that they all did that, but they had the “right” do do so. It was more common to test out the sword on a convicted criminal instead.

In Europe, a Knight was only chivalrous towards females of his own class. The peasants meant nothing to them, remember… And in Japan women have always been treated differently than the men.

Traditionally the Japanese (and other Asian peoples) have never taken prisoners unless they wanted them for slave labor. It’s a practical viewpoint, because prisoners are mouths to feed and they have to be guarded. They can be troublesome.

The Europeans have a tradition of taking prisoners only because they used to hold them to ransom.

Prisoners of War were sold back to their families, who had to sell everything they owned and come up with one quarter of the value of the prisoner’s estate. That’s the only reason European soldiers took prisoners… It was for the ransom they could extract.

If you couldn’t convince your captors you were rich and worth keeping, they’d just slit your throat.

There were no P.O.W. camps in those days, a prisoner would be another mouth to feed and they would have to be guarded as well… A lot of trouble for anyone, and they wouldn’t do it out of charity.

The phrase “Give No Quarter!” meant the soldiers were too busy at that time to think about ransom and taking prisoners… Pillaging, looting and raping were perks that came with the job of being a soldier back then. Often that was the only way they got paid.

The idea of a Geneva Convention is only very recent and, to my knowledge, no Asian country ever signed a part of it.

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