Nisshinkan Doji Kun: The Rules for the Samurai children  日新館童子訓 Part 1

Part 1 

Ju no okite 「什の掟」: Kun for six to nine year old sons of samurai


As many of the readers already know that the samurai had a very strong mindset and spirit. There are many reasons why but it is true that they could be very brave because they were not afraid of dying. At the same time, they followed a high standard of discipline similar to that of modern day soldiers.


However, it was more comprehensive, meaning it dictated their on and off duty conduct or way of life. The modern day Japanese are also known for their discipline and a high standard of conduct, but these modern day Japanese claim the discipline that the samurai had is almost impossible to duplicate. How did the samurai acquire such a high degree of discipline? Of course, their parents and senior family members taught them the rules but what we must remember is that their schooling was well organized in the feudal period of Japan.


Today I am sharing a well-known (in Japan) example of a teaching at one samurai clan.

The following kun (oath or rules) are for the male children (younger than ten years old) of Aizu-han (会津藩) or samurai clan families. Aizu han was located over the area that covers the western region of what is now the current Fukushima Prefecture (福島県), a part of the Niigata Prefecture (新潟県) and a part of the Tochigi Prefecture (栃木県). Aizu-han samurai were known to be very stubborn or strong minded.

First, we must look at the history of Japan in the last half of the 19th century to appreciate the mentality or the attitude of the Aizu bushi or samurai. That particular period is called Bakumatsu (幕末) and was an extremely turbulent and exciting (for the history buffs like myself) period with many battles and wars between the shogun (将軍) and the imperial (官軍) forces. Bakumatsu refers to the final years of the Edo period when the Tokugawa Shogunate ended. Between 1853 and 1867 Japan ended sakoku (鎖国), its isolationist policy. This changed from a fuedal shogunate system to the pre-modern empire of the Meiji government. The major ideological-political divide during this period was between the pro-imperial nationalists (維新志士) and the Shogunate forces.

Although these two groups were the most visible powers, many other factions attempted to use the chaos of Bakumatsu to seize personal power.  Furthermore, there were two other main driving forces for dissent: first, growing resentment on the part of the tozama daimyo (外様大名 outside lords), and second, growing anti-western sentiment following the arrival of Commodore Perry. The first related to those lords who had fought against Tokugawa forces at the Battle of Sekigahara (関ケ原合戦) in 1600 and had from that point on been permanently excluded from all powerful positions within the shogunate. The second was to be expressed in the phrase sonno joi (尊王攘夷), or “revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians”. The turning point of the Bakumatsu was during the Boshin War (戊辰戦争) and the Battle of Toba-Fushimi (鳥羽伏見の戦い) when the pro-shogunate forces were defeated


The Battle of Aizu (会津戦争) was fought in northern Japan in the autumn of 1868, and was a part of the Boshin War. Aizu bushi or samurai were known for their martial skills. The clan maintained, at any given time, a standing army of over 5000. It was often deployed to security operations on the northern fringes of the country, as far north as southern Sakhalin.  Also, in the period immediately before, during, and after Commodoare Perry’s arrival, Aizu had a presence in security operations around Edo Bay (江戸湾). During the tenure of the 9th generation lord Matsudaira Katamori  (松平容保 photo right), the clan deployed massive amounts of their troops to Kyoto, where Katamori served as Kyoto Shugoshoku (京都守護職), Kyoto Guarding Marshall. Earning the hatred of the Choshu clan (長州藩), and alienating his ally, the Satsuma clan (薩摩藩), Katamori retreated with the shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu (徳川慶喜) in 1868.

Though the Satsuma-Choshu controlled Imperial Court, following Yoshinobu’s resignation, called for the punishment of Katamori and Aizu as “enemies of the Court,” he took great pains to beg for forgiveness, finally acquiescing to calls for war later in 1868, during the Boshin War. Though the Aizu forces fought as part of the greater efforts of the Ouetsu Reppan Domei (欧越列藩同盟 European Column Alliance), they were eventually abandoned (after the loss at the Battle of Bonari Toge, 母成峠の戦い) by the forces of the former Bakufu under Otori Keisuke (大鳥圭介). Aizu, now fighting alone, had its forces besieged at Tsuruga Castle (鶴ヶ城), the seat of the Aizu clan, in October 1868. This was the start of a month-long siege.

A detached unit from the Byakkotai (白虎隊), a teenage samurai team, is famous for having committed seppuku (切腹 hara kiri) on Mount Iimori (飯盛山), overlooking the castle. Because of the smoke from the burning castle town, which was in between them and the castle itself, they mistakenly assumed that the castle had fallen. Their story is known because of the only one among them whose suicide was unsuccessful: Iinuma Sadakichi (飯沼定吉). A remnant of Shinsengumi (新選組), a unit which Aizu had supervised while in Kyoto, was present at the battle, under the command of Saito Hajime (斎藤一). After a month of siege, Aizu officials agreed to surrender, through the mediation of their neighbor, the Yonezawa Clan (米沢藩). Soon after, Matsuraida Katamori, his son Nobunori (松平伸典), and the senior retainers came before the imperial commanders in person, and offered their unconditional surrender. The samurai group was sent away as the prisoners of war, and the Aizu clan ceased to exist.


In order to create the stubborn samurai like Aizu bushi, they established a schooling system for their sons. What did they teach?

All the male children from the ages of six to nine from the officer level samurai families were required to form a group of approximately ten children. Thus, these groups are called Ju no kumi (什の組, groups of ten children). Each group will meet daily and the oldest child became the leader. Even though they were not supervised by any adults, they met every day and recited these rules. After that, each student would report to the class if his life style on the day before was lived according to the rules. If he admitted that he violated any of the rules, the senior student would give him a penalty. The severity of the penalty depended on the degree of the violation. This program was informally initiated in 1664. The idea of the formal school, Nisshinkan was conceived in 1798 and was formally established in 1803.


The building was 109 meters wide and 218 meters long(photo right). It also had a swimming pool and an observatory. It contained between 1,000 and 1,300 students. The education started at eight o’clock and they learned 11 different volumes of Chinese classical books including Confucian Analects (論語), the Great Learning (大学), Kokyo (孝経) and the Small Learning (小学). In addition, they learned the samurai etiquette, Chinese writing and various martial arts. These male students studied there daily starting at the age of ten years old until fifteen or sixteen years old, prior to their genpuku (becoming adult) ceremony.




Ju no Okite (The rules for the children up to nine years old)



There are seven basic rules the children must follow:


*Must not disobey the elders (someone who is older than the person)

* Must bow to the elders.

* Do not lie.

* Do not be a coward.

* Do not bully the weak persons.

* Do not eat things outside the house.

* Do not speak to women outside the house.


These are the seven rules, but there is an ending sentence that is very interesting.

“These rules say no, thus you must follow without fail.”



The older children had a longer list of the samurai rules they needed to learn. The longer list will be introduced in the Part 2 of Nisshinkan Doji Kun.














I will cover the longer list in the future.

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