By Joshua Archer
New Voices, Vol.2 (2007)
Abstract: Prevailing notions of samurai loyalty remain largely unopposed by Western scholarly literature. This should not be so. Minor efforts in recent scholarship have plainly shown that the stereotypical notion of samurai loyalty is fallacious. However, despite these assertions the myth remains a powerful and popular misconception. Clearly a greater scholarly undertaking is required. Through an in-depth historical analysis of samurai disloyalty, a more realistic conception of samurai behaviour may be achieved.
This article seeks to provide a foundation for further research, arguing that disloyalty was favoured among samurai to further their personal ambitions or interests. Disloyalty between medieval samurai was not always considered morally deplorable, nor was it considered divergent to ‘normal’ samurai behaviour. Moreover, it is erroneous to argue that the majority of samurai were ‘loyal,’ when in fact many were often being coerced or manipulated by those in power. Logic suggests that loyalty must be voluntary, thus the use of coercion undermines assertions of samurai loyalty.
Further scholarship should not merely seek to establish the frequency of samurai disloyalty, nor should it condemn such occurrences. It must endeavour to understand how and why disloyalty occurred.