Japanese living the ‘Samurai Spirit’

From top left to right: Mori, Nagata, Sanae, and Mizogoshi
From top left to right: Mori, Nagata, Sanae, and Mizogoshi

Japanese living the ‘Samurai Spirit’

by Yashira M. Rodríguez Sierra
Stripes Okinawa

Editor’s Note: For this article, Rodriguez Sierra maintained social distance and masks were removed for photographs only. Interviews were held after working hours and two of the interviews were through the help of an translator.


One of the most beautiful experiences that you can get while traveling or moving to a new country is the opportunity to connect with locals. Speaking with the local residents allows you to know more about the culture, the behaviors, the language, and even how they think!

Around the world, Japanese people are perceived to be “hard workers” but, is it true? And if so, why? 

In Japan, the language barrier is a challenge especially off-base. On base, however, there are many English-speaking locals, so I took advantage to have some short, interesting conversations (after working hours) with them.

“I think Japanese people work too much. We have the ‘sunrise spirit’”, Nagata, a 36-year-old law enforcement guard, said.

Nagata assures that it is good to work hard for the family, but he thinks that Japanese people “need to be smarter than that, and work less. We should change the way we think about work,” he mentioned. His father was the owner of a Daiko driving company and only took one day off a year!

According to Nagata, he saw in his father “the Spirit of the Samurai,” which is the patience, endurance, and characteristics needed to keep working. I was intrigued about these unique values and the philosophy behind it. I looked for more information, and I was amazed of what I found.

Nagata was referring to “Bushido” or the way of the warrior followed by Japanese samurai. The samurai code upheld honor, duty and loyalty throughout their lives until death.

This philosophy includes attributes that are still alive in Japanese modern society, as some are instilled within school curriculum. Bushido is basically living with moral values like  being polite (i.e. bowing, greetings, timeliness), being honest (i.e. you’ll always get your correct change at the store!), being benevolent and making compromises with their family and job.

Ināzo Nitobe (1862-1933), born into a Samurai clan (family) on Honshu Island, wrote the famous book “Bushido: the Soul of Japan / the code of the Samurai” in 1900. This book explained the life of the samurai meant to explain the root of Japan’s moral values to a western audience. To this day, Nitobe’s book is still considered an important cultural document. 

The more locals I conversed with, the more I started to notice how Bushido has an impact on how Japaese view society.

“Don’t tell a lie to others, and don’t be selfish,” were just two of the many bits of advice Takaoki Mizogoshi, 57, said he was given by his parents from a very early age.

Another was respecting others, Mizogoshi said. Though he admits that Japanese people think that “being ‘busy’ is a virtue. We say, ‘I’m doing well’ (at work).” He sees, however, that customs are changing a little bit with a turn towards work-family life balance: “We work hard, but we also have too many holidays,” Mizogoshi added.

For the majority of the Japanese, their life is dedicated to work and not enough of the country’s workers have hobbies, Mizogoshi argues, which, in turn, causes problems when it comes time for retirement. In addition, Mizogoshi said, stress is fueled by the competitive nature of workers and comparing themselves to their peers: “I don’t feel that pressure now, but before I was working at the University (as a professor), I was constantly thinking ‘how can I do it better’. That was a headache.”

Mizogoshi’s solution was to spend more time with his family.

According to International Press Japan News, workers have 10 days of paid vacation, but many don’t take them. On this, Sanae, 66, and Mori, 65, both agree, even if they could retire they prefer to keep working. “Until the body resists”, says Sanae. They are feeling strong, and happy to keep being productive working for a cleaning services company. 

And while many are happy to work longer, there’s an unfortunate, darker side that comes along with it. Nagata said that there is a negative perception when people do not have the endurance or emotional stability to work harder.

The work hard culture has also led to a spike in self-harm and something called “seppuka” in samurai code, which means “self-sacrifice.” Feeling misunderstood, misery drive some Japanese people to end with their life.

The societal norms in regard to this have to change, Nagata said. And for Mori it’s about workers having emotional support and not being overloaded with too many responsibilities.

There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ society and all countries have their upsides and downsides. The work culture in Japan is definitely interesting and it’s worth mentioning that a militarized and disciplined society with an appreciation of the arts including tea ceremony, calligraphy, poetry and music was of the utmost importance to upholding the legacy of warriors’ past.


Read the book

- “Bushido: the Soul of Japan / the code of the Samurai” (1900)- This book is on the public domain and can be found on the internet for free. 

Learn Japanese!

Takaoki Mizogoshi is a professor who teaches Japanese language for English speakers! He imparts classes for organizations and/or individuals. Info: 090-2967-0574

Email: mizogoshi0917@gmail.com 

Check out Hanamaki, the home of Nitobe’s ancestors here.


YN3 Yashira M. Rodríguez Sierra is originally from Caguas, Puerto Rico. She is assigned to Sasebo Naval Base. Rodríguez Sierra enjoys nature and moving to Japan was a dream come true. She volunteers at a local orphanage. Before joining the Navy she was an artist and journalist.

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