The action-adventure stealth game by Sucker Punch Productions, Ghost of Tsushima, garnered a lot of attention for its portrayal of the Mongol invasion of Japan in 1274. In particular, a lot of discussion centered on how its main character, Jin Sakai, broke the samurai code – Bushido – to protect the island from invaders throughout the game.
Rather than his defiance of the code, however, this article attempts to argue the contrary and is thus dedicated to how Jin re-defined Bushido (武士道 or the “way of warriors”) as the Ghost of Tsushima. We will do this by exploring his actions in comparison to the virtues of Bushido throughout the game.
[SPOILER Warning] The following article reveals important events in the game.
In brief, Bushido is an unwritten code of ethics that the samurai class must uphold. An attempt to codify this set of virtues was undertaken by Nitobe Inazo in the early 20th century. While he was renowned for his work on Bushido: The Soul of Japan, Nitobe Inazo was a Japanese cosmopolitan who excelled in agricultural economy, education, politics, and diplomacy.
Given this, we will be basing our discussion on Nitobe Inazo’s work. That being said, the eight virtues of Bushido included justice, courage, benevolence, politeness, veracity, honor, loyalty, and self-control. We thus examine Jin Sakai’s actions parallel to the tenets of Bushido:
Honor (名誉 or Meiyo) is consciousness of one’s actions or being self-aware. This virtue further entails that a warrior must learn to endure suffering.
To illustrate, Jin defined honor as “protecting people” as a young ward of Lord Shimura. Fifteen years later, we saw him fight beside his uncle, Lord Shimura, and the rest of the eighty samurais in a desperate suicidal charge against the Mongols at Komoda beach. As the sole survivor of the attack after being knocked out and saved by the thief, Yuna, Jin endeavoured to save Lord Shimura and the people of Tsushima from invaders amid several trials – trials that would shake his view towards Bushido.
Throughout the game, Jin underwent a significant change in his journey to protect their island, but it cannot be denied that he did so with extreme self-awareness, as we will further explore in this discussion.
Justice (義 or Gi) entails that a warrior’s commitment for a situation must be firm. Under this virtue, warriors must have resolve and willpower.
We saw this occur when Jin listened to Yuna’s request to have him “bend” the samurai code for them to save her brother, Taka, and eventually his uncle, Lord Shimura – the jito or appointed steward of Tsushima by the shogun or Japan’s commander-in-chief at the time. Another instance of this is when he defended the people of Yarikawa with ingenious tactics against the Mongols attacking the town, thus becoming the “Ghost” despite his earlier misgivings on straying from the principles of Bushido.
Certainly, Bushido requires that a warrior must be honorable in their battles, but as the atrocities committed by the Mongol invaders towards the people of Tsushima increased, Jin became firm in his decision to become the Ghost – not out of malice, but a desire to see the island free from the terrors of war.
Courage (勇 or Yu) is doing what is right despite the risks. Under this virtue, warriors must not be blind to the status of a situation.
Meanwhile, veracity (誠 or Makoto) requires a samurai to be honest and sincere in all their dealings with people. Basically, under this virtue, one must honor their word with actions.
The most notable example of the virtue yu was when Jin realised that Lord Shimura’s plan to continue constructing the bridge despite the Mongols’ attacks at Castle Shimura would just risk the lives of more people. Given this, Jin infiltrated the castle and poisoned the invaders’ drinks before defeating Ryuzo later, much to Lord Shimura’s dismay.
Lord Shimura, fearing that the shogun will have his nephew executed, asked Jin to scapegoat Yuna for his actions. Jin embodied the virtue of Makoto when he refused the lie and instead chose to undergo trial for being the “Ghost.” In consequence, Lord Shimura’s offer to have him become his son and heir to become the next jito of Tsushima fell apart.
It is not far off to assume that Jin’s actions will undeniably paint him a traitor in the eyes of authorities. However, it must be recognised that sacrificing innocent lives – the soldiers fighting for his uncle and Yuna – just to save himself would not be something Jin would ever consider doing. That in itself is a betrayal to the principles he has been molded to uphold.
Self-control (自制 or Jisei) explores an individual’s temperance or self-restraint towards a goal. Further, the virtue jisei asks warriors to practise the code with everyone, and even when they are alone.
This was exhibited when Jin Sakai questioned Yuna if he was crossing the line as the Ghost following a citizen’s apprehension towards him after he fought off the Straw Hat ronin under Ryuzo in Fort Koyasan.
While the citizen’s concern was rooted in the ambiguity of the Ghost’s schemes, Jin did his best not to jeopardize the safety of innocent people – a statement made difficult by Khotun Khan’s maneuvers to manipulate his friend Ryuzo into betraying him, resulting in the deaths of many, among them Yuna’s brother Taka.
Throughout the game, Jin Sakai has been known for his calm and stoic demeanour in his group’s aim to free Tsushima from the Mongols. Certainly, there were instances when Jin lost himself in anger, but it must be recognised that keeping constant composure amid the hostilities they faced under the hands of invaders is impossible, even fatal, and breaching dishonesty – which is contrary to the tenets of Bushido.
Benevolence/Compassion (仁 or Jin) is exercising patience and understanding for others, especially when one is bestowed with authority.
On the other hand, politeness (礼 or Rei) is showing regard for the feelings of other people. However, the virtue rei also asks the samurai to avoid unnecessary cruelty.
Both of these virtues were seen when Jin did away with his misgivings after learning that Yuna and her brother Taka had to resort to other means – working as thieves or with bandits – to secure their safety against the invaders. Given this, he heeded Yuna’s advice to use stealthier tactics for them to overcome the Mongols. Meanwhile, he encouraged Taka to be stronger when he was shaken from being captured by the Mongols in Azamo Bay.
In another instance, we saw Jin comforting Norio, a warrior monk, after the monk regretted his guilt over enacting revenge alone towards the Mongol Kharchu, who brutally killed his brother, Enjo.
As Jin understood the weight of Norio’s sentiment following his fight with the Straw Hat Ronin, Jin encouraged Norio to honor his brother by leading the monks of Cedar Temple to drive off the invaders. In summary, both instances testified to Jin’s wisdom and empathy towards the people of Tsushima.
Duty and Loyalty (忠義 or Chuu Gi) is being responsible for one’s actions and being true to those they are caring for. It is not simply being “in debt” of someone but valuing the relationship one has with each other.
A notable example of this is when Jin vowed that he will do his best for the people of Tsushima and Yuna, even if it means giving up his life. It is a remarkable statement from Jin to Yuna, given everything they have gone through over the course of the story.
We see the virtue of chuu gi again at a vital moment in the game – which is when a player decides to either spare or kill Lord Shimura after the shogun has officially declared Jin a traitor. Note the following words Jin utters towards his uncle in both instances:
If kill choice: “I will make sure you are remembered… as a great warrior, a wise leader, and a father.”
If spare choice: “I have no honor, but I will not kill my family.”
While both decisions leave Jin branded as a traitor to the shogunate either way, it cannot be denied that he deeply cared about his uncle, despite their irreconcilable differences regarding the conduct of Bushido. That being said, both instances indicated how much Jin values the presence of those he is committed to in his life.
In summary, Bushido required that the samurai must evince moral (credibility and sincerity) and executive (determination and ingenuity) command over themselves and those they are responsible for.
Certainly, the Shogun and the society of their time would have decried Jin Sakai’s actions for shaming the warrior class, but given the priority of Jin to protect the people of Tsushima against the Mongols, we argue that instead of breaking the code, Jin did his best to be true to his code in spite of the consequences.
Further, rather than his oath, what Jin broke was the rigid conduct of Bushido that mostly served the elites of their society. There is a time when preserving tradition is important to maintain the cornerstones of society, but when it becomes detrimental at the cost of people’s lives, that is when tradition becomes corruption – a means for slavery, rather than liberty.
Jin, as the Ghost of Tsushima, re-defined the samurai code by adapting his strategies to defeat the Mongols who were using the strictness of their code against them. Fortifying his will by taking on the mantle of the Ghost is how he became the unbreakable sword and shield of Tsushima.