Bushido in its Formative Period

Bushido in its Formative Period

By Takuke Kawakami

The Annals of the Hitotsubashi Academy, Vol.3:1 (1952)

Introduction: In ancient Japan, where the clan system had been in force for many centuries, it had been customary for the chieftain of each clan, when he received Imperial orders for mobilization, to master the able-bodied members of his clan and lead them to war. By the Revolution of Taikwa in 646 A. D., however, the clan systern was abolished, and the clansmen were scattered. The Imperial Court, thereupon, adopted a system of conscription and drew soldiers in this way from the former clans, though it was not till sixty years later when the Taiho Code was enacted in 701 A. D. that detailed regulations regarding conscription were definitely laid down. The Code of Taiho was modelled after the Chinese legislation of T’ang dynasty, and naturally the new conscription system also followed more or less closely that of T’ang dynasty. It provided, as did the T’ang system, that a garrison be stationed in every two or three countries, that soldiers be called out by turns so that they might be given military drill, and at the same time be placed on duty to guard the district. Also following the T’ang model, liability to military service extended to men from twenty to sixty years of age. When entering the barracks, newly enrolled soldiers had to bring with them their food, their arms, and even miscellaneous articles that were necessary during marches. But exemptions from military service were of such wide range that not only those who had court rank or official duties were wholly exempted, but those who were in any degree well off had some means or other to escape military service, which was thus in reality a duty exclusively of the poorer class of people. The consequence was that the soldiers . were of such poor quality as to prove themselves quite unequal to their duties, and efforts on the part of the Imperial Court to remedy this defect were vain, until, in 792 A. D., conscription was finally done away with, except where guarding was an imperative necessity, and in its stead able-bodied young men numbering from 20 to 30 at the least to 200 at the most were stationed in each province to guard the armoury and the local government office. This innovation also proved unsuccessful and was soon abandoned.

Click here to read this article from Hitotsubashi University

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter!