Along with the development of feudalism in Japan and the advent of the samurai, the doctrine of "Zen" was born and developed. "Zen" or "Zenshu" is one of the directions in Buddhism. Subsequently, Zen would become the most popular and influential teaching among the samurai.

The Buddhist monk Bodhidharma is considered the founder of Zen. He began preaching in India and China. At the end of the eleventh and beginning of the twelfth century, the teaching penetrated into Japan. It happened thanks to two Buddhist monks Eisai and Dogen. The word "Zen" in Japanese means: silent contemplation, mastery of spiritual and external forces to achieve enlightenment.

The teachings of Zen became popular among the samurai because its foundations taught everything that a good warrior needs. The teaching said that work on oneself is constantly needed, it develops the ability to find the essence of any problem, focus on it and go towards your goal, no matter what.

The prostate also contributed to the spread of the teachings among the samurai. Zen denied any written language and the samurai did not have to read various religious books. But for propaganda, supporters of the teaching used Buddhist books and texts. Samurai had to delve into the teachings of Samumu or with the help of a mentor.

Zen helped develop the samurai's will, composure, and self-control, which were necessary skills for a good warrior. A very important skill for a samurai was not to flinch in the face of unexpected danger and to be able to maintain clarity of mind and be aware of his actions and actions. According to the teachings, the samurai had to have iron willpower, go straight to the enemy and kill him, without looking back or to the side. At the same time, Zen taught to be restrained and imperturbable in all situations, and a professing Zen Buddhist should not even pay attention to insults. In addition to self-control, the teachings of Zen instilled in the samurai unquestioning obedience to their commander and master.

An attractive factor for the samurai in the teaching was that Zen Buddhism recognized life in the existing world not as a reality, but as just an appearance. Life for Zen is only an ephemeral and illusory representation of "Nothing". Life is given to people for a while. And as the main religion of the samurai, Zen Buddhism taught not to cling to life and not be afraid of death. A true warrior had to despise death.

The religion of the samurai, which considered life to be illusory and impermanent, connected everything transient with the concept of beauty. A short-term, short-lived, short period of time was clothed in a special aesthetic form. From here comes the love of the samurai to watch the cherry blossoms and how the petals of this tree fall. This also includes the evaporation of the race in the morning after sunrise and other similar things. In fact, it follows from this that the shorter the life of a samurai, the more beautiful it is. A short but bright life was considered especially beautiful. This concept formed the Japanese warriors' lack of fear of death and the ability to die.


The concept of easy death was also influenced by Confucianism. A sense of duty, moral purity and self-sacrifice were raised to an unattainable height. Samurai were taught from childhood to sacrifice everything for the sake of their master or commander. Therefore, death in the name of fulfillment of duty was considered real life.

The dogmas of Buddhism and Confucianism were well adapted to the professional interests of the samurai. And the psychology and ethics of the samurai further strengthened the glorification of death, self-sacrifice and gave death a halo of glory. All this was closely connected with the cult of death and the rite of hara-kiri.

Buddhist dogmas about life also left their imprint on the attitude towards death. According to them, life is endless, and death is only a link in the constant rebirth into a new life. The death of a samurai, according to Buddhism, did not mean the end of his existence in future lives. Therefore, many samurai, dying on the battlefield, read Buddhist prayers with a smile on their faces. These dogmas also influenced the formation of the etiquette of death, which every samurai had to know and observe.

The religious trend of Zen spread very widely to the life of the samurai, it shaped not only their religious beliefs, but also their behavior. The foundations of Zen teachings were laid down in Bushido, the code of morality of the samurai.

Along with the teachings of Zen, samurai also believed in some Buddhist gods. The goddess of mercy and compassion Kannon (Avalokiteshvara) and the deity Marisiten (Marichi) patronizing warriors were very popular with them.


Among the samurai, before the start of the war, it was common to put a small image of the goddess Kannon into their helmet. And before the start of a battle or duel, the samurai asked the deity Marishiten for help and patronage.

In parallel with Zen Buddhism, samurai believed in the ancient Japanese cult of Shinto. According to this religion, samurai honored their ancestors, nature, local deities and worshiped the souls of warriors killed in battle. One of the main Shinto shrines was the holy sword. The sword was considered a symbol of the samurai and the soul of a warrior.

Along with the Buddhist deities, the samurai also revered the Shintai god of war, Hachiman, whose prototype was the deified emperor of Japan, Ojin. Like the Buddhist goddess Kannon, the samurai also, before the start of the war, turned to the god Hachiman, asked him for support in the upcoming war and took oaths.


The third major religion of the samurai was Confucianism. It was more ideological than religious in nature, in addition to religious moments included ethical ones. Confucianism in Japan adapted to local Buddhism and Shintoism and confirmed such views as: obedience, fidelity to duty, obedience to one's master, moral perfection, strict observance of the laws of the family, society and state.

The fusion of Buddhism, Shinto and Confucianism had a strong impact on the spiritual life of the samurai. It has become commonplace for samurai to simultaneously pray and ask for help from Buddhist and Shinto gods and at the same time observe the moral and ethical standards of Confucianism. Over time, these three currents were closely intertwined in the religious life of the samurai and began to be perceived as one.

See also

  • Ueda Castle


    Ueda Castle in Nagano Prefecture once stood prominently on a cliff overlooking the Saigawa River. Also known as Amagafuchi-Jo, Isesaki-Jo, Matsuo-Jo, and Sanada-Jo, it was built around 1583 by its first master, Sanada Masayuki. This sturdy yet small fortress cleverly utilized the surrounding natural defenses, including the river, steep rocky cliffs, the layout of the town below, and the strategically designed waterways to hinder attackers. Ueda Castle was fortified with seven defensive yagura (watchtowers) atop robust stone walls and had two large gates with watchtowers above them.

    Read more …

  • Tsuyama Castle


    Tsuyama Castle, located in Tsuyama City, Okayama Prefecture, is celebrated as one of Japan's top three major hilltop (Hirayama) castles, alongside Himeji and Matsuyama Castles. Originally, Tsuyama Castle comprised 77 structures, including the main keep, various yagura (watchtowers), gates, palaces, and living quarters. For comparison, Hiroshima Castle had 76 structures, and Himeji had 61. The first castle on this site was built in 1441 but was soon abandoned. The large-scale construction that we recognize today began in 1603 under the orders of Mori Tadamasa. The castle served as the administrative base for the Tsuyama Han daimyo, the Mori clan from 1603 to 1697, and the Matsudaira clan from 1698 to 1871.

    Read more …

  • Tsu Castle


    Tsu Castle, located in Tsu City, Mie Prefecture, was originally built by Hosono Fujiatsu in 1558 and was known as Anotsu Castle, named after the old region. The site was strategically chosen at the confluence of the Ano and Iwata Rivers, which naturally formed a moat around the castle, while the nearby port served as a vital trade route.

    Read more …

  • Sasayama Castle


    Tamba Sasayama Castle, also known as Sasayama or Kirigajo (Mist Castle), is a flatland castle (hira-jiro) situated on a gentle rise in the Tamba region of Hyogo Prefecture. It was constructed in 1608 as part of Tokugawa Ieyasu's strategy to prepare for an attack on Osaka, aiming to bring an end to the Toyotomi clan. Ieyasu ordered the castle's construction using the Tenka Bushin system, engaging 20 former enemy daimyo and their forces to complete the complex within six months. This system kept the former enemies close and preoccupied, financially straining them and limiting their capacity for further conflict. The stones used in Sasayama Castle feature engravings called kokumon, indicating who made each part of the walls and preventing theft by other lords' men.

    Read more …

  • Sadowara Castle


    Sadowara Castle in Miyazaki Prefecture was a mountaintop yamajiro castle, initially built by the Tajima clan during the Nanboku-Cho period (1334-1394). As was typical of castles from that era, Mt. Kakusho, the chosen mountain, was terraced to create various baileys, or kuruwa. While defensive structures were constructed at the top and around the mountain, the lord's main living quarters and administrative offices were situated at the mountain's base.

    Read more …

  • Osaka Castle


    Osaka Castle is a prominent symbol of Osaka City, originally constructed in 1583 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi on the site of the Ishiyama Hongan-ji temple-fortress, which had been the scene of a violent uprising by warrior monks and peasants in the late 16th century. Modeled on Oda Nobunaga’s Azuchi Castle, the original Osaka Castle tenshu (tower keep) featured five visible floors, six interior floors, and two underground basements. The exterior was lacquered black and adorned with gold decorations, including large peony flowers, tigers, birds, and various crests.

    Read more …

  • Okazaki Castle


    The Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was born in Okazaki Castle in 1542 during a period of significant civil unrest. At that time, the Tokugawa, then known as the Matsudaira, controlled the rice-rich Mikawa plains of what is now eastern Aichi Prefecture. This fertile region was highly coveted by surrounding warlords. Ieyasu, a shrewd leader and brilliant tactician, managed to maintain and expand his territories. Following in the footsteps of other national unifiers, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Ieyasu emerged victorious at the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. In 1603, he was invested as Shogun, a title he made hereditary, enabling the Tokugawa family to rule Japan for the next 250 years.

    Read more …

  • Ogaki Castle


    Ogaki Castle, located in Ogaki City, Gifu Prefecture, was originally built around 1500 by Miyakawa Yasusada and named Ushiya Castle due to the Ushiya River serving as a natural moat. The castle was also known as Bi Castle and Kyoroku Castle. The Ogaki region held strategic importance as a transit point between Mino and Omi Provinces, a fact recognized by Saito Dosan, the Viper of Mino. When Oda Nobunaga captured Gifu Castle in 1567, Ogaki Castle came under Oda rule. Both Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi understood the strategic significance of the castle. In 1595, Hideyoshi ordered Ito Sukemori to expand the castle and construct the Tenshu keep.

    Read more …