Outline of Exhibition

Bushi: The Myths and Realities of Japanese Warriors
Period Oct 26 (Tue),2010 - Dec 26 (Sun), 2010
Venue Special Exhibition Galleries, National Museum of Japanese History
Admissions Adults: ¥830 (¥560)
Senior high school & college students: ¥450 (¥250)
* Fees in parentheses apply to groups of 20 or more
* Admission to permanent collection included
* Free admission for elementary & junior high school students
* Free admission for senior high school students every Saturday
Hours 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. (no entrance after 4:00 p.m.)
Closed Nov 1 (Mon), 8 (Mon), 15 (Mon),29 (Mon), Dec. 6(Mon), 13 (Mon) , 20 (Mon)
Sponsor National Museum of Japanese History


Japanese warriors have existed throughout the times. In the Japanese archipelago in the Middle Ages and the early modern period from the 10th century to the 19th century, there was a hierarchical structure of warriors, called bushi or samurai today with a fixed image of appearance and lifestyle, and their families. While a government of literary nobles (Imperial Court) generally continued to exist in East Asia, three governments of warriors (shogunates) in Kamakura, Muromachi, and Edo were consecutively established, gradually seizing the real control of national politics. In this process, the social status of bushi was established, and the governments of warriors had a decisive impact even on the modern period when the status of bushi had disappeared. To understand Japanese history in relation to modern society, and also to characterize it from the viewpoint of comparative history, it is impossible to avoid the subjects of bushi, buke (samurai family), and the governments of warriors.

However, what distinguishes bushi from others is unexpectedly unclear. In the first place, those called bushi and their groups are indicated by various terms in historical materials. Terms in historical materials such as "hei," "yushi," "musha," "bushi," "samurai," etc. do not always indicate the bushi understood by people of today, and the use of these terms differs according to the times. In other words, people categorized as bushi with a fixed image have a more complicated existence in history than we think, and it is not easy to understand even just their reality.

This special exhibition based on collaborative research is an attempt to understand bushi and buke in a relative way with the use of concrete materials. The historical phenomenon of bushi warriors who became administrative officials and the governments of warriors that existed consecutively is not self-evident. After envisioning a connection between the Middle Ages and the early modern period, we would like to investigate materials on bushi that represent recognition of the self and the other and the mode of representing them, and to consider their functions in a social context. Here, the formation and the transformation of the image of bushi through history will also be analyzed according to various materials.

Asking the question, "What is bushi?" now is our message to modern society where bushi or samurai is given a romanticized image coupled with Japanese "tradition."

Exhibition Lineup

Prologue --- Description of Bushi and Writing by Bushi

Here, descriptions of bushi during the long period from the Heian period to the late Edo period and materials written by bushi are overviewed from the viewpoint of relativizing our image of bushi.

Form of Battle

Here, the real image of bushi as a warrior is described through the form of battle and historical changes of tools. In addition, the Japanese characteristics of bushi required to have writing and administrative skills for war as well as for other matters since the ancient period are clarified according to concrete documents to certify military merit.

Expansion of Buke

Through the formation of families that produced bushi and their competitive relationship, and the continuation or ruin of buke due to changes of shogunate governments and foreign wars, the status of bushi as ruler was established. This section follows the various histories told by buke and their function.

Military Writers and Image of Bushi

Based on various books on ancient customs of buke society from the military arts to the performing arts, which were inherited from the Sengoku period, this section introduces various materials (media) to explain how the image of bushi was created and expressed in the Edo period with no battles and with vestiges of the Middle Ages while focusing on the military writers of these materials.

Sword and Pen

This section investigates the construction of an ideal image of bushi and their reeducation as a ruling class in times of "peace" without large-scale wars, as well as the system of knowledge and artistic accomplishments that were produced as a continuation of the military arts. It also explains the twisted social situation where the image of bushi created and expanded throughout the Edo period was interpreted differently and became a reality when the status of bushi was expanded by remilitarization in the late Tokugawa period.

Epilogue --- Disappearance of Bushi and Creation of Bushi

This section overviews the activities of former bushi, their social impact, and the process of the formation of Bushido as a Japanese "tradition" during the Meiji Restoration when the status of bushi disappeared and their privileges were abolished.

Collaboration with Permanent Exhibits

Gallery 2:

Exhibit of medieval buke documents throughout history (a letter of Taira no Munemori and others), and time-limited exhibit of Scenes In and Around Kyoto Version A

Gallery 3:

Feature exhibit "World of Documents of the Hatamoto Honda Family" with documents of the Honda family, clothing of kuge and buke, etc.

Portrait of Ashikaga Yoshiteru   Oil-painted Portrait of Tokugawa Yoshinobu
Portrait of Ashikaga Yoshiteru (Important cultural property)
This portrait showing the costume of bushi was painted on the occasion of the 13th memorial service for the 13th shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru of the Muromachi government.
(Museum Collection)
Oil-painted Portrait of Tokugawa Yoshinobu
This is an oil painting of Tokugawa Yoshinobu in his last years painted by the Western-style painter Ito Kanrei. Yoshinobu is in court dress for the nobility, which suggests that it was made to commemorate Yoshinobu’s being given the title of duke in 1902 (Meiji 35).
(Painted by Ito Kanrei, Museum Collection)
Iroiro Odoshi Haramaki Osodetsuki   Tose Gusoku, Tetsusabiji Yokohagi Nimaido Gusoku
Iroiro Odoshi Haramaki Osodetsuki (Important cultural property)
A stomach band was a light piece of armor weighing around 10 kilos for infantry in the first half of the Middle Ages. In the last half of the Middle Ages, large armor was no longer in use on the battlefields because of the reduction in the number of bow-shooting cavalry. Instead, the stomach band and domaru (body wrap) mainly came into use.
(Museum Collection)
Tose Gusoku, Tetsusabiji Yokohagi Nimaido Gusoku
This is one of the pieces of armor made using a simpler method for mass production in the Edo period. It was inherited by the Hatamoto Honda family. It was allegedly worn in the Battle of Sekigahara, functioning as armor boasting the history of buke.
(Museum Collection)
Yuki Kassen Ekotoba   Zenkunen Kassen Ekotoba
Yuki Kassen Ekotoba (Important cultural property)
This is a picture scroll depicting a battle that took place in the Kanto area in the middle of the 15th century. It is thought to have been made at the end of the 15th century. The existing portion is very small, and does not depict the Battle of Yuki itself but the climactic scene of the Revolt of Eikyo, which was a precondition for the Battle of Yuki. It was confirmed that the picture on the left shows Ashikaga Mochiuji committing harakiri at a temple in Kamakura. The depiction of the battle represents well battles in the last half of the Middle Ages.
(Museum Collection)
Zenkunen Kassen Ekotoba (Important cultural property)
This is a picture scroll depicting a battle that took place in Mutsu Province in the middle of the 11th century. Only a part of the duplicate copy exists, and the Rekihaku version was made in the last half of the 13th century. The depiction of the battle corresponds with that of the Heike Monogatari, serving as a first-class historical material to study the form of battle (shape of arms and armory, figure of bushi as bow-shooting cavalry, etc.) in the first half of the Middle Ages.
(Museum Collection)

Note: Please note that items in the exhibition are subject to change.