Samurai House Codes (kakun)

The word kakun is composed of two Chinese ideographs, the first meaning “house,Eand the second meaning “codeEor “precept.Enbsp; As reflected in the ideographs, the kakun functioned as moral guides, handed down from the head of the house or clan to younger males.  In many cases the kakun were meant to serve as ethical and behavioral guidelines for the sons or heirs of the writers and often reflect concerns regarding the prosperity and the continuity of the clan.  Even though some kakun have been found in connection with regents and other agents of the Imperial family, most of the writers and readers of kakun were members of military households, especially after the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate (1185-1333).  The writing of house codes prior to the Tokugawa period was generally limited to persons of high authority, and it was only during the Tokugawa period that kakun from the houses of merchants and wealthy peasants began to appear.

The kakun are considered important historical documents.  They provide insights into how the warrior saw himself and his function in society.  Scholars have also been interested in the relationship between kakun and the daimyo’s law especially as it pertains to the development of law during the Sengoku period (1460-1560).  A chapter in the book Japan Before Tokugawa explores this relationship and suggests that due to the influence of kakun a tone of morality found its way into the formal law, in respect to both the daimyo’s house and the general population (103).

While many medieval Japanese texts address warriors in the context of historical narratives, the house codes, which were written by the warriors themselves, represent a less explored genre that help illuminate warrior ideals. And although the word bushido may not be mentioned in any of them, they do, in essence, reflect the way of the warrior both concretely and abstractly.

English Translations

There are relatively few English translations of kakun and similar documents. The available translations are listed below along with critiques of the translations, quotes, and information about the authors of the various documents.

Ideals of the Samurai: Writings of Japanese Warriors translated by William Scott Wilson (Santa Clarita: Ohara Publications, 1982)
Unlike many other publications of warrior-related literature, Wilson’s Ideals of the Samurai has received little exposure.  Twelve different samurai who lived between the 12th and 17th centuries wrote the kakun translated in this book.  Many of them have never before been translated.  Wilson’s introduction includes a concise history of the Japanese warrior’s emergence.  Although Wilson does not give adequate information about the kakun as a genre, the care and detail that he put into the introduction make the twelve documents, written over a period spanning more than five hundred years, stand together as a cohesive work.  Wilson’s work is likely to be of the most use for those interested in the samurai’s code of ethics and how the warriors saw themselves.

The book also includes short biographies of each of the writers, some of whom were daimyo, heads of clans, vassals, generals, and members of the shogunate.  All of the twelve documents include moral or ethic codes, which reflect the personal concerns of the individual authors.  Having some background information about each author allows the reader to develop an understanding of how each of the authorsEpolitical positions and aspirations are represented in their writings.  Each of the translated documents represents a slightly different view of the ideals of the warrior.  Despite the fact that these texts were written over a five hundred-year period and vary in style and content, commonalities do exist.  Below are quotes from Wilson’s translations of these kakun with links to information about their authors and a synopsis of the documents.  Where relevant, information about other English translations have been included and designated by an asterisk (*).

Kakun Quotations

“If one will fix his heart in such a way and assist the world and its people, he will have the devotion of the men who see and hear him.Enbsp;The Message of Master GokurakujiEa NAME="r">Hojo Shigetoki (1198-1261)

“In this world of uncertainty, ours should be a path of discipline.Enbsp; The Chikubasho—Shiba Yoshimasa (1350-1410)

“Just as water will conform to the shape of the vessel that contains it, so will a man follow the good and evil of his companions.Enbsp; The Regulations of Imagawa Ryoshun—Imagawa Sadayo (1325-1420)

“Even if one has learned all the sayings of the sages and saints, he should not insist on them obstinately.E The Recorded Words of Asakura Soteki—Asakura Norikage (1474-1555)

“One should always be genteel in his speaking.  A man shows his inmost self by a single word.EThe Twenty-One Precepts of Hojo Soun—Hojo Nagauji (1432-1519)

“A general of great merit should be said to be a man who has met with at least one great defeat.EThe Recorded Words of Asakura Soteki—Asakura Norikage (1474-1555)

“Learning is to a man as the leaves and branches are for a tree, and can be said that he should simply not be without it.Enbsp; The Iwamizudera Monogatari—Takeda Shingen (1521-1573)

“One’s soldiers should not yell abuse at the enemy.  An old saying goes ‘Arouse a bee and it will come at you with the force of a dragon.’”  Opinions in Ninety-Nine Articles—Takeda Nobushige (1525-1561)

“No matter whether person belongs to the upper or lower ranks, if he has not put his life on the line at least at least once he has cause for shame.Enbsp; Lord Nabeshima’s Wall Inscriptions—Nabeshima Naoshige (1538-1618)

“I will stand off the forces of the entire country hereEnd die a resplendent death.Enbsp;  The Last Statement of Torii Mototada—Torii Mototada (1539-1600)

“Having been born into the house of the warrior, one’s intentions should be to grasp the long and short swords and die.Enbsp; The Precepts of Kato Kiyomasa—Kato Kiyomasa (1562-1611)

“The arts of peace and the arts of war are like to wheels of a cart which, lacking one, will have difficulty in standing.Enbsp; Notes on Regulations—Kuroda Nagamasa (1568-1623)

About the Authors and Texts

The Message of Master Gokurakuji—Hojo Shigetoki (1198-1261)

Shigetoki, a warrior and a member of the shogunate aristocracy, wrote this text for his son sometime after becoming a monk in the year 1256.  The text is heavily influenced by Buddhism, reflecting the transience of living things and the ephemeral nature of life.  The author offers advice on how to deal with various responsibilities, focusing particularly on those which relate to gods, Buddhas, shogunate and kin.
* “The Gokurakuji LetterEtranslated by Carl Steenstrup in Monumenta Nipponica 32:1 (Spring 1977)
Steenstrup’s translation is preceded by an explanation of kakun and their history and function in the Hojo clan.  Steenstrup states that Hojo Shigetoki wrote the very first kakun written for a military house.  The Gokurakuji Letter is the second kakun he wrote.  In terms of content Steenstrup and Wilson’s translations vary on several points.  Overall, Steenstrup’s grammar and expression are superior, giving his translation a poetic quality.  Also, Steenstrup’s translation includes the complete work separated into ninety-eight sections, while Wilson’s translation contains a smaller section. [List]
The Chikubasho—Shiba Yoshimasa (1350-1410)
Shiba held a position under three shogun and was known as an administrator and a poet.  The text was written to serve as a house-code for the members of his clan.  Shiba’s document displays a balance of warrior virility and aristocratic sophistication.  It also shows the influences of Confucian concepts of loyalty and Buddhist concepts of mercy. [List]
The Regulations of Imagawa Ryoshun—Imagawa Sadayo (1325-1420)
Also known as the Imagawa Wall Inscriptions, this text was studied as a guide on proper morality until World War II.  Imagawa, a renowned general and scholar, wrote this document as a list of moral regulations for his younger brother Takaaki.
* “The Imagawa LetterEtranslated by Carl Steenstrup in Monumenta Nipponica 28:3 (Autumn 1973)
This translation of the Imagawa letter is preceded by a long, detailed explanation of the history of the letter and its function as a widely studied textbook throughout the Edo period.  Steenstrup’s foreword also includes facts concerning Imagawa’s military and political careers and his relationship to his younger brother.  There is some ambiguity regarding when Imagawa wrote the letter and whether he was the sole author.  Overall, Steenstrup’s translation is less direct than that of Wilson, leaving more room for interpretation.  Nevertheless, Steenstrup gives lengthy commentary and footnotes on how the text relates to other known historical facts.  This translation is superior to that of Wilson in that it is accompanied by much supplementary material. [List]

The Seventeen Articles of Asakura Toshikage—Asakura Toshikage (1428-1481)

Claiming descent from several emperors, in 1471 Asakura was awarded the governorship of Echizen.  Asakura was known as a ruthless warrior and was a gekokujo daimyo, a warrior from the lower class who overthrew local nobility and seized control.  This document shows Asakura’s rationality and straightforwardness. [List]
The Twenty-One Precepts of Hojo Soun—Hojo Nagauji (1432-1519)
Through political maneuvers and marriage Hojo became master of Suruga, Izu, and Sagami provinces.  Although he was a good general and administrator, Hojo has not been admired by historians due to his use of crude methods in extending his domains.  This document was written sometime after he became a monk and it reflects practical thinking for daily life and self-reliance. [List]
The Recorded Words of Asakura Soteki—Asakura Norikage (1474-1555)
Although Asakura was never a daimyo, he was an advisor to three generations of chieftains.  Spending most of his time in military campaigns, Asakura continued his life on the battlefield even after becoming a monk.  This document is a collection of his sayings written down by a close retainer several years before his death.  The contents are mostly related to military strategy. [List]
The Iwamizudera Monogatari—Takeda Shingen (1521-1573)
Takeda Shingen was one of the most famous generals of the Warring States Period.  In 1571 Takeda was summoned by the Ashikaga shogun, Yoshiakira, to join the alliance against Oda Nobunaga.  This document, written by one of Takeda’s close retainers, is largely concerned with warrior discipline and contains parables and lessons from discussions with Takeda. [List]
Opinions in Ninety-Nine Articles—Takeda Nobushige (1525-1561)
The brother of Takeda Shingen, Nobushige died on the battlefield at the age of thirty-seven.  Three years before Nobushige’s death, he wrote this document for his son.  It is clear from this text that Nobushige was well versed in the Chinese classics, as every precept is followed by a relevant quote.  This translation does not contain the entire original document, but rather a selection. [List]
Lord Nabeshima’s Wall Inscriptions—Nabeshima Naoshige (1538-1618)
Nabeshima participated in Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Korea campaigns and was friendly with Kato Kiyomasa and Tokugawa Ieyasu.  His legacy and sayings are also recorded in the third chapter of the bushido classic Hagakure, which was written by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a grandson of Nabeshima’s retainer.  These Wall Inscriptions reflect practical wisdom and are largely open to interpretation. [List]
The Last Statement of Torii Mototada—Torii Mototada (1539-1600)
Mototada was a faithful vassal of Tokugawa Ieyasu, and died honorably for the sake of his master while defending Fushimi Castle.  This document was written for his son, Tadamasa, and suggests that Mototada knew his end was near.  The document, much like Mototada’s life story, is a testimony to the honor of the warrior, to the loyalty of a father to his son, and to the loyalty of a vassal to his master. [List]
The Precepts of Kato Kiyomasa—Kato Kiyomasa (1562-1611)
Kiyomasa was the son of a blacksmith who joined the rising military warlord, Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  Both men were natives of Owari.  Kato became legendary for his courage and ferocity during the Korea campaign.  Kato was a strict military man and did not allow the recitation of poetry.  This document was written as a guide for all samurai. [List]
Notes on Regulations—Kuroda Nagamasa (1568-1623)
Kuroda was born a Christian and served under Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  After supporting Tokugawa Ieyasu at the battle of Sekigahara he became the Lord of Fukuoka Castle.  These regulations were written down a year before his death and handed down to the clan elders and his son, Tadayuki.  Kuroda’s writings, like many others in this collection, encourage the samurai to balance his military skills with civil skills and scholarly knowledge. [List]
The Hundred Article Code byChosokabe Motochika translated by Marius B. Jansen in Studies in The Institutional History of Early Modern Japan(Princeton: Princeton University Press,1968)
Preceding his translation of the code, Jansen gives a comprehensive description of Chosokabe Motochika’s (1539-1599) conquests and personal history.  He also gives a thorough description of the conditions in Chosokabe’s Tosa region and how these conditions corresponded to the larger political structures emerging in medieval Japan.  The following paragraphs contain a basic history of Chosokabe’s life and a brief description of the topics covered in the Hundred Article Code.

In 1560, Chosokabe succeeded to the family leadership and immediately began a series of military campaigns.  By 1585, he had brought the entire island of Shikoku under his power.  As the hegemon of Shikoku, Chosokabe was confronted with the increasing strength of the warlords from the main island of Honshu, especially Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  Although Nobunaga was a serious threat, his death came before he was able to act on his plan to attack Chosokabe.  Hideyoshi’s forces were too great for Chosokabe to overcome, and in 1583 he pledged allegiance to Hideyoshi, who restricted him to his home domain of Tosa.  Chosokabe spent the rest of his years fighting Hideyoshi’s wars.  He led his forces into Kyushu in the name of Hideyoshi where, in the battle against Shimizu, he lost his favorite son.  Again, he led his forces behind Hideyoshi in the battle of Odawara (1590) and in the Korea campaigns of 1592 and 1597.

Chosokabe’s Hundred Article Code reflects his concern with Buddhist concepts.  Like his father, Chosokabe took Buddhist vows in his old age.  The code also reflects his concern with Confucian values, which represented the moral ideal in feudal Japanese society.  The document was intended for Chosokabe’s retainers and was not meant for the general public.  It contained guidelines for proper behavior while in office and also prescribed detailed regulations regarding officials, priests, and samurai.  Twenty-nine articles dealt with legalities, fifteen were concerned with taxes, another fifteen dealt with official procedures, and six were devoted to Buddhist priests.  Chosokabe’s code survived well into the Tokugawa period.  His cause survived as a symbol of anti-shogun resistance, which later motivated many samurai involved in the Meiji Restoration.