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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The swords were named Knee cutter and Beard cutter



The earliest type of the Yamato race having thus been military, it becomes important to inquire what tenets constituted the soldier's code in old Japan. Our first guide is the celebrated anthology, Manyo-shu, compiled in the ninth century and containing some poems that date from the sixth. From this we learn that the Yamato monono-fu believed himself to have inherited the duty of dying for his sovereign if occasion required. In that cause he must be prepared at all times to find a grave, whether upon the desolate moor or in the stormy sea. The dictates of filial piety ranked next in the ethical scale. The soldier was required to remember that his body had been given to him by his parents, and that he must never bring disgrace upon his family name or ever disregard the dictates of honour. Loyalty to the Throne, however, took precedence among moral obligations. Parent, wife, and child must all be abandoned at the call of patriotism. Such, as revealed in the pages of the Myriad Leaves, were the simple ethics of the early Japanese soldier. And it was largely from the Mononobe and Otomo families that high officials and responsible administrators were chosen at the outset.

When Buddhism arrived in the sixth century, we have seen that it encountered resolute opposition at the hands of Moriya, the o-muraji of the Mononobe family. That was natural. The elevation of an alien deity to a pedestal above the head of

the ancestral Kami seemed specially shocking to the soldier class. But the tendency of the time was against conservatism. The Mononobe and the Otomo forfeited their position, and the Soga stepped into their place, only to be succeeded in turn by the Fujiwara. These last, earnest disciples of Chinese civilization, looked down on the soldier, and delegated to him alone the use of brute force and control of the criminal classes, reserving for themselves the management of civil government and the pursuit of literature, and even leaving politics and law in the hands of the schoolmen.

In these circumstances the military families of Minamoto (Gen) and Taira (Hei), performing the duties of guards and of police, gradually acquired influence; were trusted by the Court on all occasions demanding an appeal to force, and spared no pains to develop the qualities that distinguished them--the qualities of the bushi. Thus, as we turn the pages of history, we find the ethics of the soldier developing into a recognized code. His sword becomes an object of profound veneration from the days of Minamoto Mitsunaka, who summons a skilled swordsmith to the capital and entrusts to him the task of forging two blades, which, after seven days of fasting and prayer and sixty days of tempering, emerge so trenchant that they are thereafter handed down from generation to generation of the Minamoto as treasured heirlooms.*

*The swords were named "Knee-cutter" and "Beard-cutter," because when tested for decapitating criminals, they severed not only the necks but also the beard and the knees.

That the bushi's word must be sacred and irrevocable is established by the conduct of Minamoto Yorinobu who, having promised to save the life of a bandit if the latter restore a child taken as a hostage, refuses subsequently to inflict any punishment whatever on the robber. That a bushi must prefer death to surrender is a principle observed in thousands of cases, and that his family name must be carefully guarded against every shadow of reproach is proved by his habit of prefacing a duel on the battle-field with a recitation of the titles and deeds of his ancestors. To hold to his purpose in spite of evil report; to rise superior to poverty and hardship; not to rest until vengeance is exacted for wrong done to a benefactor or a relation; never to draw his sword except in deadly earnest--these are all familiar features of the bushi's practice, though the order and times of their evolution cannot be precisely traced.

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