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Samurai

From Academic Kids

For other uses, please see Samurai (disambiguation)
Japanese samurai in armour, 1860 photograph.
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Japanese samurai in armour, 1860 photograph.

Samurai (侍 or sometimes 士) is a common term for a warrior in pre-industrial Japan.

Most samurai were bound by a strict code of honor (bushido 「武士道」) and were expected to set an example for those below them. A disgraced samurai could regain honor and respect by committing suicide by a gruesome and painful means: stabbing himself in the stomach with his own sword, an act called seppuku 「切腹」. When time was available, samurai would have a friend or student, called a kaishaku 「介錯」 (executioner), decapitate them after the initial cut across the abdomen. Even in death, samurai were beholden to honor.

In practice, there were disloyal samurai. Japanese history is filled with examples of samurai that were treacherous (e.g., Akechi Mitsuhide), cowardly, brave, or overly loyal (e.g., Kusunoki Masashige). Samurai were usually loyal to their immediate superiors, who in turn allied themselves with higher lords. These alliances to higher lords often shifted, however. For example, the feudal lords allied under Toyotomi Hideyoshi 「豊臣秀吉」 enjoyed the loyalty of their men; however, the feudal lords themselves might shift their backing to Tokugawa. This did not mean that the lower-ranked samurai were disloyal, though. It was that their allegiance was to their immediate superior.

Contents

Etymology

The character for Samurai.
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The character for Samurai.

The term Samurai is of Chinese origin and translates in both Chinese and Japanese as "those who serve in close attendance to nobility". In Japanese, it was originally pronounced in the pre-Heian period as saburau and later to saburai. In Japanese literature, there is an early reference to samurai in the Kokinshu「古今集」 (early 10th century):

Attendant to your nobility
Ask for your master's umbrella
The dews 'neath the trees of Miyagino
Are thicker than rain
(poem 1091)

The word bushi 「武士」(lit. "warrior or armsman") first appears in a early history of Japan called Shoku Nihongi「続日本記」 (797 A.D.). In a portion of the book covering the year 723 A.D., Shoku Nihongi states: "Literary men and Warriors are they whom the nation values". The term bushi is of Chinese origin and adds to the indigenous Japanese words for warrior: Tsuwamono and Mononofu. The terms bushi and samurai became synonymous near the end of the 12th century, according to William Scott Wilson in his book Ideals of the Samurai--Writings of Japanese Warriors. Wilson's book thoroughly explores the origins of the word warrior in Japanese history as well as the Kanji (Chinese symbols) used to represent the word. Wilson states that Bushi actually translates as "a man who has the ability to keep the peace, either by literary or military means, but predominantly by the latter".

It was not until the early modern period, namely the Azuchi-Momoyama period and early Edo period of the late 16th and early 17th centuries that the word saburai became replaced with samurai. However, the meaning had changed long before.

During the era of the rule of the samurai, the earlier term yumitori 「弓取」(“bowman”) was also used as an honorary title of an accomplished warrior even when swordsmanship had become more important. Japanese archery (kyujutsu), is still strongly associated with the war god Hachiman.

A samurai with no attachment to a clan or daimyo「大名」 was called a ronin. In Japanese, the word ronin means "wave man", a person destined to wander aimlessly forever, like the waves in the sea. The word came to mean a samurai who was no longer in the service of a lord because his lord had died, being banished, or simply choosing to become a ronin. It was considered undesirable to be a ronin, because it meant being without a stipend from a lord, measured in koku of rice (180 liters; enough to feed a man for one year). Samurai in the service of the han are called hanshi.

The following terms are related to samurai or the samurai tradition:

  • Uruwashii - a cultured warrior symbolized by the kanji for "bun" (literary study) and "bu" (military study or arts)
  • Buke (武家) – A martial house or a member of such a house
  • Mononofu (もののふ) - An ancient term meaning a warrior.
  • Musha (武者) – A shortened form of Bugeisha (武芸者), lit. martial art man.
  • Shi (士) – A word roughly meaning "gentleman," it is sometimes used for samurai, in particular in words such as 武士 (bushi, meaning warrior or samurai).
  • Tsuwamono (兵) – An old term for a soldier popularized by Matsuo Basho in his famous haiku. Literally meaning a strong person.
natsukusa ya
tsuwamono domo ga
yume no ato

Matsuo Basho

Summer grasses,
All that remains
Of soldiers’ dreams

(trans. Lucien Stryk)

History

Origin of Samurai

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Samourai_servante_Itcho.jpg
Samurai walking followed by a servant, by Hanabusa Itcho (1652 - 1724)

Before the Heian period, the army in Japan was modeled after the Chinese army and under the direct command of the emperor. Except for slaves, every able-bodied man had the duty of enlisting for the army. These men had to supply themselves, and many gave up returning and settled down on their way home. This was treated as a part of taxation and it could be substituted with other forms of tax such as bolts of cloth. These men were called Sakimori (防人), lit. defenders but they are not related to samurai.

In the early Heian, the late 8th and early 9th centuries, Emperor Kammu sought to consolidate and expand his rule in northern Honshu. The armies he sent to conquer the rebellious Emishi lacked motivation and discipline and were unable to prevail. He then introduced the title of Seiitaishogun (征夷大将軍) or shogun and began to rely on the powerful regional clans to conquer the Emishi. Skilled in mounted combat and archery, these clan warriors became the emperor's preferred tool for putting down rebellions. Even though they may have been educated, the Imperial court officials considered 7th to 9th century warriors to be crude and barbaric.

During the Heian period, the emperor's army was disbanded and the emperor's power gradually declined. While the emperor was still the ruler, powerful clans around Kyoto assumed positions of ministers and their relatives bought their positions of magistrates to collect taxes. To repay their debts and amass wealth, they often imposed heavy taxes and many farmers were forced to leave their lands. Regional clans grew powerful by offering lower taxes to their subjects as well as freedom from conscription. These clans armed themselves to repel other clans and magistrates from collecting taxes. They would eventually form themselves into armed parties and became samurai.

The samurai came from guards of the imperial palace and private guards clans employed. They also acted as a police force in and around Kyoto. These forerunners of what we now know as samurai had ruler-sponsored equipment and were required to hone their martial skills. They were saburai, servants, yet their advantage of being the sole armed party increasingly became apparent. By promising protection and gaining political clout through political marriages they amassed power, eventually surpassing the ruling aristocrats.

Some clans originally were farmers that had been driven to arms to protect themselves from the imperially appointed magistrates sent to govern their lands and collect taxes. These clans formed alliances to protect themselves against more powerful clans. By the mid-Heian, they had adopted Japanese-style armor and weapons and laid the foundation of bushido, their famous ethical code.

After the 11th century, Samurai were expected to be cultured and literate. Samurai lived up to the ancient saying "Bun Bu Ryo Do" (lit. literary arts, military arts, both ways) or "The pen and the sword in accord". An early term for warrior "Uruwashii" was a combination of the kanji for literary study ("bun") and military arts ("bu") and is mentioned in the Heike Monogatari (late 12th century). The Heike Monogatari makes references to the educated poet-swordsman ideal in mention of Taira no Tadanori's death:

"Friends and foes alike wet their sleeves with tears and said, "What a pity! Tadanori was a great general, pre-eminent in the arts of both sword and poetry."

According to William Scott Wilson in his book "ideals of the Samurai": "The warriors in the Heike Monogatari served as models for the educated warriors of later generations, and the ideals depicted by them were not assumed to be beyond reach. Rather, these ideals were vigorously pursued in the upper echelons of warrior society and recommended as the proper form of the Japanese man of arms. With the Heike Monogatari, the image of the Japanese warrior in literature came to its full maturity." Wilson then translates the writings of several warriors who mention the Heike Monogatari as an example for their men to follow.

Kamakura Bakufu and the Rise of Samurai

Originally these warriors were merely mercenaries in the employ of the emperor and noble clans (kuge). But slowly they gathered enough power to usurp the aristocracy and establish the first samurai-dominated government.

As regional clans gathered manpower and resources and struck alliances with each other, they formed a hierarchy centered around a toryo, or chief. This chief was typically a distant relative of the emperor and a lesser member of one of three noble families (the Fujiwara, Minamoto, or the Taira). Though originally sent to provincial areas for a fixed four year term as a magistrate, the toryo declined to return to the capital when their terms ended. Their sons inherited their positions and continued to lead the clans in putting down rebellions throughout Japan during the middle and later Heian.

Because of their rising military and economic power, the clans ultimately became a new force in the politics of the court. Their involvement in the Hogen Rebellion in the late Heian only consolidated their power and finally pit the rival Minamoto and the Taira against each other in the Heiji Rebellion of 1160. Emerging victorious, Taira no Kiyomori became an imperial advisor, the first warrior to attain such a position, and eventually seized control of the central government to establish the first samurai-dominated government and relegate the emperor to a mere figurehead. However, Taira clan was still very much aristocratic than later Minamoto. Instead of expanding or strengthening its military might, Taira clan had its women marry emperors and attempted to control through the emperor.

The Taira and the Minamoto once again clashed in 1180 beginning the Gempei War which ended in 1185. The victorious Minamoto no Yoritomo established the superiority of the samurai over aristocrats. In 1190 he visited Kyoto and in 1192 became Seii Taishogun, establishing the Kamakura Shogunate. Instead of basing its rule in Kyoto, he set up the Shogunate in the Kamakura, near his base of power. "Bakufu" means tent government, taken from the encampments the soldiers would live in, in accordance with the Bakufu's status as a military government.

Over time, powerful samurai clans became warrior nobility (buke) who were only nominally under court aristocracy. When samurai begun to adopt aristocratic customs like calligraphy, poetry and music, some court aristocrats also began to adopt samurai skills. In spite of various machinations and brief periods of rule by various emperors, the real power was in the hands of the shogun and samurai.

Ashikaga Shogunate and the Feudal Period

Various samurai clans struggled for power over Kamakura and Ashikaga Shogunates.

Zen Buddhism spread among samurai in the 13th century and it helped to shape their standards of conduct, particularly overcoming fear of death and killing. Zen Buddhism in Japan took Sakyamuni as the principal image and taught to be a living Buddha with enlightenment by Zen meditation training. While major schools of Buddhism among populace took Amitabha Tathagata, a buddha is said to be capable of taking believers to paradise after death.

In the 13th century, Yuan, a Chinese state of the Mongolian Empire, invaded Japan twice. Samurai unused to fighting in group barely survived the first brief battle. However, they were prepared for the second invasion by building a defensive stone wall on the Mongols' landing shore, and adopting a night attack tactic. Overall, the Samurai way of warfare was incapable of inflicting significant damage upon the Mongol army, which favored tactics of large encirclement, blitzkrieg, and employed advanced weaponary (Samurais were shocked by the Chinese grenades). In the end, it was the second typhoon that destroyed the Mongol armada, and prevented Yuan Dynasty from annexation of Japan. Japanese deemed the typhoon "the divine wind" or "kamikaze" in Japanese. Two major military elements were acquired from Mongol invasions: 1) the importance of infantry and 2) the weakness of Japanese longbows and of the conventional Samurai cavalry against the invaders. As the result of this, Samurais gradually replaced the way of bow with the way of "blades". At the beginning of 14th century, swords and spears became the mainstream among Japanese samurai warlords. An innovation on Japanese sword was produced by a blacksmith called Masamune in the 14th century; the two-layer structure of soft and hard iron was adopted and the style spread rapidly with its amazing cutting power and endurance in continuous use. Since then, Japanese swords had been recognized as one of the most potent hand weapons during the pre-industrial era of East Asia. It was one of the top exported items, a few even making their way as far as India.

The issues of inheritance caused family infighting, because primogeniture became common, while division of succession was designated by law before the 14th century. To avoid infighting, continuous invasion against neighboring samurai's' territories was rather favored and bickering among samurai was constant problems to Kamakura and Ashikaga Shogunate.

The Sengoku jidai ("warring-states period") was marked by the loosening of samurai culture, in a sense. Those born into other social strata could sometimes make names for themselves as warriors and thus become de facto samurai. In this turbulent period, bushido ethics became important factors to control and maintain public orders.

Japanese war tactics and technologies improved rapidly in 15th and 16th century. Use of large infantry troop called Ashigaru ("light-foot", due to their light armour), which was formed by the humble warriors or populace, with Nagayari (長槍) or long lance was introduced and combined with cavalry in maneuvers. The numbers of people mobilized in warfare were generally in the thousands to the over hundred-thousands.

Harquebus or a matchlock gun was introduced by Lusitanians/Portuguese on a Chinese pirate ship in 1543. Japanese succeeded nationalization of it within a decade. Groups of mercenaries with harquebus and mass produced rifles played a critical role. By the end of feudal periods, several hundred thousands rifles existed in Japan and massive armies over 100,000 clashed in the battles. The largest and most powerful army in Europe, the Spanish armies, had only several thousand rifles and could only assemble an army of 30,000. Ninja also played critical roles engaged in intelligence activity.

The social mobility of human resources was flexible, as the ancient regime collapsed and emerging samurai needed to maintain large military and administrative organizations in their areas of influence. Most of the samurai families that survived to the 19th century originated in this era. They declared themselves to be the blood of one of the four ancient noble clans, Minamoto, Taira, Fujiwara and Tachibana. In most cases, however, it is hard to prove who their ancestors were.

Oda, Toyotomi and Tokugawa

Oda Nobunaga was the well-known lord of the Nagoya area (once called Owari Province) and an exceptional example of samurai of the Sengoku Period. He came within few years of, and laid down the path for his successors to achieve, the reunification of Japan under a new Bakufu (Shogunate).

He made innovations on organizations and war tactics, heavily used harquebus, developed commerce and industry and treasured innovations ; the consecutive victories enabled him to realize the termination of the Ashikaga Bakufu and disarmament of the military powers of the Buddhist monks, which had inflamed futile struggles among the populace for centuries. Attacking from a "sanctuary" of Buddhist temples, they were constant headaches to any warlords and even the emperor who tried to control their actions. He died in 1582 when one of his Generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, fell down upon him with his army.

Importantly, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (see below) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (http://www.samurai-source.com/samurai-warriors/togukawa-ieyasu.htm), who made Tokugawa Shogunate, were Nobunaga's (http://www.samurai-source.com/samurai-warriors/oda-nobunaga.htm) loyal followers. Hideyoshi was brought up from a nameless peasant to one of top generals under Nobunaga and Ieyasu had shared childhood with Nobunaga. Hideyoshi defeated Mitsuhide within a month and was regarded as the rightful successor of Nobunaga by avenging the treachery of Mitsuhide.

These two were gifted with Nobunaga's previous achievements to build the unified Japan. So there was a saying: "The reunification is a rice cake; Oda made it. Hashiba shaped it. At last, only Ieyasu tastes it." (Hashiba is the family name that Toyotomi Hideyoshi used while he was a follower of Nobunaga.)

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who became a grand minister in 1586, himself the son of a poor peasant family, created a law that the samurai caste became codified as permanent and heritable, and that non-samurai were forbidden to carry weapons ending the social mobility of Japan up until that point and the dissolution of the Edo Shogunate by the Meiji revolutionaries.

It is important to note that distinction between samurai and non-samurai was so obscure that during the 16th century, most male adults in any social class (even small farmers) belonged to at least one military organization of their own and served in wars before and during Hideyoshi's rule. It can be said that an "all against all" situation continued for a century.

The authorized samurai families after the 17th century were the winners that chose to follow Nobunaga (http://www.samurai-source.com/samurai-warriors/oda-nobunaga.htm), Hideyoshi and Ieyasu (http://www.samurai-source.com/samurai-warriors/samurai-warriors.htm). Large battles occurred during the times of change between regimes, and a number of defeated samurai were destroyed, went Ronin (Wave-Men; or masterless Samurai) or were absorbed into the general populace.

Tokugawa Shogunate

During the Tokugawa era, samurai increasingly became courtiers, bureaucrats, and administrators rather than warriors. With no warfare after the early 17th century, over time, samurai during the Tokugawa era (also called the Edo period) gradually lost their military function. By the end of the Tokugawa era, samurai were aristocratic bureaucrats for the daimyo, with their daisho, the paired long and short swords of the samurai (http://www.samurai-source.com/samurai-swords/samurai-swords.htm) (cf. 'katana' and wakizashi) becoming more of a symbolic emblem of power rather than a weapon used in daily life. They still had the legal right to cut down any commoner who did not show proper respect; in what extent this right was used, however, is unknown. When the central government forced daimyos to cut the size of their armies, unemployed ronin actually became a social problem.

Theoretical obligations between a samurai and his lord (usually a daimyo) increased from the Genpei era to the Edo era. They were strongly emphasized by the teachings of Confucius and Mencius (ca 550 B.C.)which were required reading for the educated samurai class. During the Edo period, after the general end of hostilities, the code of Bushido was formalized. It is important to note that bushido was an ideal, but it is surprising how uniform the code remained over time from the 13th century to the 19th century. The ideals of Bushido transcended social class, time and geographic location of the warrior class.

Bushido was formalized by many samurai in this time of peace much like how Chivalry was formalized after knight as a warrior became obsolete in Europe. The conduct of samurai became a favorable model of a citizen in Edo with the emphasis on formalities. With time on their hands, samurai spent more time on the pursuit of other interests becoming scholars. Bushido still survives in present-day Japanese society, as do many other aspects of their way of life.

Samurai decline during the Meiji restoration

The last hurrah of original samurai was in 1867 when samurai from Choshu and Satsuma provinces defeated the shogunate forces in favor of the rule of the emperor. The two provinces were the lands of the daimyos that submitted to Ieyasu after the war of Sekigahara (1600).

Other sources claim that the last samurai were in 1877, during the Satsuma Rebellion in the Battle of Shiroyama.

The main players of the revolt came from lower class samurai in every province. Their ultimate political goal was the same: to maintain the independence of Japan against Western powers. But the two daimyo clashed first and these bloody conflicts lasted for years. At last, they realized that a large serious civil war must be avoided because that was just what the foreign powers waited for. So the last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu returned the governing to the emperor to avoid the war. Some resisted, believing this was a coup d'etat by Choshu and Satsuma and that the government was in their hands. Groups of Tohoku samurai organized an armed resistance but they were eventually defeated.

Emperor Meiji abolished the samurai's right to be the only armed force in favor of a more modern, western-style conscripted army. Samurai became Shizoku (士族) who retained some of their salaries, but the right to wear a katana in public was eventually abolished along with the right to cut down commoners who paid them disrespect. The samurai finally came to an end after hundreds of years of enjoyment of their status, their powers, and their ability to shape the government of Japan. However, the rule of the state by the military class was not yet over.

Post Meiji Restoration

In defining how a modern Japanese should be, members of the Meiji government decided to follow the footsteps of United Kingdom and Germany. It would be based on the concept of "noblesse oblige" and samurai would not be a political force much like that of Prussia.

With the Meiji reforms in the late 19th century, the samurai class was abolished, and a western-style national army was established. The Imperial Japanese Armies were conscripted, but many samurai volunteered to be soldiers and many advanced to be trained as an officer. In fact much of the Imperial Army officer class was of samurai origin. These volunteers were highly motivated, disciplined and well trained. As such the Imperial Army defeated a rebellion of samurai in the Satsuma Rebellion.

The Japanese Empire fought and won the Sino-Japanese War (1894) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904) and it could be reasoned that these volunteers and officers were behind these victories. Most soldiers of both Chinese and Russian armies could neither read nor write and after their officers were killed, these armies quickly disintegrated.

Many early exchange students were samurai, not because they were samurai, but many were literate and well-educated scholars. Some of these exchange students started private schools for higher educations. Some samurai took pens instead of guns and became reporters and writers to set up newspaper companies. Other samurai entered governmental services as they were literate and well educated.

Culture

As de facto aristocrats for centuries, samurai developed their own cultures that changed the way Japanese acted.

Education

A samurai was expected to read and write, as well as to know some mathematics. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a great samurai yet a peasant at the start, could only read and write in hiragana and this was his biggest drawback. Some hint that this was what prevented him from becoming a shogun. Samurai were expected, though not required, to have interests in other arts such as dancing, Go, literature, poetry, and tea. Ota Dokan who first ruled Edo wrote how he was shamed to realize that even a commoner had more knowledge of poetry than him and this made him study harder.

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A shūdō-type relationship between a samurai and a kabuki actor; Painted hand-scroll (kakemono-e); Miyagawa Isshō, ca. 1750; Private collection.

Shūdō (衆道), the tradition of love bonds between a seasoned and a novice samurai, which functioned much along the same lines as educational Greek pederasty, was an honored and important practice in samurai society. It was one of the main ways in which the ethos and the skills of the samurai tradition were passed down from one generation to another. Another name for it was bidō, (the beautiful way). The devotion that the two samurai would have for each other would be almost as great as that they had for their daimyo. Indeed, according to contemporary accounts, that became a philosophical problem at times. Hagakure and other samurai manuals gave specific instructions in the way that this tradition was to be carried out and respected. After the Meiji Restoration and the introduction of a more western lifestyle the tradition fell out of favor and died out.

Lifestyles

Samurai culture ranged from a spartan Zen Buddhism influenced culture to an extravaganza Kano-style culture. Most samurai lived simply not due to preference, but necessity. As commerce developed in Edo period, samurai who were supplied with rice as income were faced with inflating prices of common goods. Some samurai did crafts and others farmed to make ends meet. These poor samurai still found money and time to teach their children to value education. By the middle of Edo period, samurai had to be ordered to practice their martial art skills. There were stories of samurai being threatened and forced to run away against well muscled workers, some were even beaten in a fight. As samurai were specialists in fighting, these troubles were never reported out of shame but were still documented.

Samurai Names

A samurai usually was named by combining one kanji from his father or grandfather and one new kanji. Many samurai had intentionally phonetically same names as a great ancestors to honor their greatness and hope this samurai would be as good. This name was applied after genpuku. He also had a childhood name. Most samurai had a second name and also used his title as a part of his name. Oda Nobunaga would be officially called "Oda Kouzukenosuke Owarinokami Nobunaga" (織田上総介尾張守信長) and he would be referred as "Oda Kouzukenosuke" or "Oda Owarinokami".

Marriage

A marriage of samurai was done by having a marriage arranged by someone with same or higher rank than those marrying. While for those samurai in upper ranks were a necessity as most had few opportunities to meet a female, this was still done as a formality for lower ranked samurai. Most samurai married women from a samurai family but for a lower ranked samurai, a marriage with commoner were permitted. In these marriages, a dowry was brought by women and this was used to start their new lives.

A samurai can have a mistress but she was strictly checked by higher ranked samurai on her background. In many cases, it was treated like a marriage and a kidnapping, common in many fictions, would have been a shame if not a crime. When she was a commoner, a messenger would be sent, with a betrothal money or a note for exemption of tax, and ask for her acceptance to her parents. Many parents gladly accepted, and if she gave a birth to a son, he could be a samurai.

A samurai can divorce his wife for a variety of reasons with an approval from a superior. A divorce was, while not nonexistent, a rare occasion. An important reason would be if she could not produce a son but an adoption could be arranged. A samurai can divorce for a personal reason, even that he simply did not like his wife, but this was generally avoided as this would embarrass the samurai who arranged this marriage. Women could also arrange a divorce, although it would generally take the form of samurai divorcing her. In a divorce, samurai had to return the betrothal money and this often prevented a divorce. Some rich merchants had their daughters marry samurai to erase a samurai's debt and advance their positions.

A samurai's wife would be dishonored and allowed to committ suicide if she were cast off.

Succession

The eldest son of the previous leader became the next leader of the clan. If the eldest son had passed away before the succession, the eldest son of the eldest son became the next leader of the clan. If the eldest son did not have children, the second son became the next leader. These rules were sometimes bent with the wish of the former leader. When the next leader was too young or inexperienced, brothers and retainers of a previous leader acted as leader until the clan could be handed over. Dividing a domain had been popular in Kamakura and Ashikaga period but declined later as it often made the clan weaker.

Many samurai changed their name not because they did not like it, but because they were adopted into other clans. This was done for many reasons. The first and foremost reason is that many clans wanted a successor with high abilities and skills even if it meant throwing out sons of the previous leader. If that successor happened to be from a higher clan, so much better. While this had to be approved by shogunate or daimyo in Edo period, there were many instances. When the previous leader died without a son but with a daughter, it was common to adopt samurai from other clans into a clan and have him marry the daughter.

Samurai had a lot of children and faced with disease and wars, this often caused succession problems. These sometime led to a decline or even a disintegration and eventual destruction of the entire clan. Several steps were taken to avoid this problem. The adoption was one step and other was called Koukaku lit. decline in rank, where a son was given a new clan name and became a retainer and a vassal of their elder brother. Some samurai even became a merchants or farmers because of Koukaku.

Philosophy

Philosophies of Buddhism and Zen, to the lesser extent Confucianism influenced the samurai culture as well as Shinto. Zen meditation became an important teaching by offering a process to calm one's mind. Buddhism concept of reincarnation and rebirth led samurai to abandon torture and needless killing. Some samurai even gave up violence altogether and became Buddhist monks after realizing how fruitless their killings were. Some were killed as they came to terms with the relizations in the battle field.

Bushido, codified during Edo period, was the way of the samurai, yet its deceptive simplicity led to countless arguments over its interpretation. Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo is a manual of instruction into the way of the samurai. Even as it was published, it received a number of reviews that criticized strict and impersonal interpretations. If the lord is wrong, for example if he ordered a massacre of civilians, should he observe Loyalty to massacre as ordered or should he observe Rectitude to let civilians escape unharmed? If a man had sick parents but committed an unforgivable mistake, should he protect his Honor by committing Seppuku or should he show Courage by living with dishonor and care for his parents?

The incident of 47 Ronin caused debates about the righteousness of their actions and how bushido should be applied. They had defied shogun in ways by taking matters into their own hands but it was an act of Loyalty and Rectitude as well. Finally, their acts were agreed to be Rectitude but not Loyalty to the shogun. This made them criminals with conscience and eligible for seppuku.

The most famous book of kenjutsu, or sword fighting, dates from this period (Miyamoto Musashi's The Book of Five Rings, 1643). However, the larger part of the book is focused on the mentality of fighting. In an attempt to help develop the character needed to cope with moral demands that the practice of kenjutsu required, many kenjutsu books from the Edo period also focused on spiritual issues.

Weapons

The samurai used various weapons. Bushido taught that a samurai's soul is in the katana that they carried. Sometimes a samurai is pictured as entirely dependent on the katana for fighting. This is much different than the role of a crossbow in medieval Europe and the role of sword to a knight, here the weapon serves as a symbol of being samurai, which is of greater importance than the katana qua weapon. Upon reaching the age of thirteen, in a ceremony called Genpuku (元服), a male child was given a wakizashi and an adult name and became a samurai. This also gave him the right to wear katana though it was usually sealed with strings to prevent accidental drawing of a katana. A katana and a wakizashi together are called a daisho, lit. big and small.

The samurai's weapon of choice was yumi (bow) and it was unchanged for centuries until the introduction of gunpowder and rifle in the 16th century. A Japanese style compound bow was not a very powerful weapon in comparison with the Eurasia reflex composite bow. Its size made it possible to shoot various projectiles like fire arrows and signal arrows at an effective range of 50 meters or less, over 100 meters when accuracy was not an issue. It was usually used on foot behind a tedate (手盾), a large and mobile bamboo wall, but it could be used even from horseback. The practice of shooting from horseback became a Shinto ceremony of Yabusame (流鏑馬).

In the 15th century, the yari (spear) also became a popular weapon. It displaced the naginata from the battlefield as personal bravery became less of a factor and battles became organized. It was simpler and more deadly than a katana. A charge, mounted or dismounted, was more effective when using a spear and it offered better than even odds against a samurai using a tachi, a katana adapted to mounted combat. In the Battle of Shizugatake where Shibata Katsuie was defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, then known as Hashiba Hideyoshi, the Seven Spearmen of Shizugatake (賤ヶ岳七本槍) played a crucial role in the victory.

One of the biggest controversies surrounding the weapons of the samurai is whether samurai ever charged on horseback. Horses of that time were smaller yet durable but it was questionable how well they would perform carrying heavily armored samurai. A traditional belief held that samurai mainly fought on horseback acting as heavy cavalry and charged through hapless foot soldiers. It is currently believed that samurai mainly fought on foot and used horses for transportation and only occasionally charged on disarrayed and retreating enemies. The Battle of Nagashino was one of such battle where samurai supposedly charged on horseback.

After the matchlock rifle was introduced from Europe, samurai started practicing this weapon. It became the favorite weapon of some samurai for sniping on the battle field as samurai were awarded for every enemy he took down himself, though commanding was an important aspect of samurai. Conscripted soldiers also used matchlock rifles but instead fired in volleys to break up enemy ranks. Toward the end of the feudal period, some samurai organized dragoons as part of their troops and some were reportedly used in the Battle of Sekigahara and later battles.

Some samurai were unarmed on the battle fields except for katana. Takeda Shingen was one such samurai. This did not mean that they fought using katana. Instead, they focused on commanding and were confident that they could trust those they commanded for protection. In the Battle of Kawanakajima, Shingen was almost killed. A plan went wrong and troops of Uesugi Kenshin charged Shingen's lines, who were unaware that his entrapment plan had been detected. With only half of his troops and completely surprised, Shingen himself had to defend his life with the wooden stick that he used to order attacks. The rest of his soldiers barely returned in time to save Shingen and the rest of his force from being completely wiped out.

Other weapons used by samurai were jo, bo, grenade, catapult and cannon. However, specific samurai sometimes favored others. In battles around Meiji restoration, more modern weapons like the Gatling gun and rifles were used.

Samurai in Fiction

Actor Kotaro Satomi on the set of Mito Komon
Enlarge
Actor Kotaro Satomi on the set of Mito Komon

Jidaigeki lit. historical drama had been a staple on movies and TV from the beginning. It usually features a samurai with a kenjutsu who stood up against evil samurai and merchants. Mito Komon (水戸黄門), a fictitious stories of Tokugawa Mitsukuni's travel, is a popular TV drama where Mitsukuni travels disguised as a retired rich merchant with two unarmed samurai also disguised as his companions. He finds trouble where ever he goes, and after gathering evidences, he has his samurai knock around unrepentantly evil samurai and merchants. He then reveals his identity which, if he wished to, can destroy the entire clan and evils has no option but surrender and hope that his punishments would not extend to their families.

The samurai-themed works of film director Akira Kurosawa are among the most praised of the genre, influencing many filmmakers across the world with his techniques and storytelling. Notable works of his include The Seven Samurai, in which a besieged farming village hires a collection of wandering samurai to defend them from bandits; Yojimbo, where a former samurai involves himself in a town's gang war by working for both sides; and The Hidden Fortress, in which two foolish peasants find themselves helping a legendary general escort a princess to safety. The latter was one of the primary inspirations for George Lucas's Star Wars, which also borrows a number of aspects from the samurai, such as in the Jedi Knights of the series.

Samurai films and westerns share a number of similarities, and the two have influenced each other over the years. Kurosawa was inspired by the works of director John Ford, and in turn Kurosawa's works have been remade into westerns, such as The Seven Samurai into The Magnificent Seven and Yojimbo into A Fistful of Dollars.

Another fictitious television series, Abarembo Shogun, featured Yoshimune, the eighth Tokugawa shogun. Samurai at all levels from the shogun down to the lowest rank, as well as ronin, featured prominently in this show.

Shōgun is the first novel in James Clavell's Asian Saga. It is set in feudal Japan somewhere around the year 1600 and gives a highly fictionalized account of the rise of Tokugawa Ieyasu to the Shogunate, seen through the eyes of an English sailor whose fictional heroics are loosely based on William Adams' exploits.

A Hollywood movie, The Last Samurai, containing a mixture of fact and fiction, was released in 2003 to generally good reviews in North America. The film's plot is loosely based on the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion led by Saigo Takamori, and also on the story of Jules Brunet, a French army captain who fought alongside Enomoto Takeaki in the Boshin War. The life style and the war tactics shown in the movie The Last Samurai are those of out-country samurai of the Sengoku jidai, precisely of the era before 1543; not those in the 19th century. An actual battle of that period was only a little different from that of American or European army, the only difference being a katana to be waved for soldiers to charge instead of a saber.

The movie Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai takes as its central character a black assassin in contemporary America, who takes inspiration from the Hagakure. The soundtrack album positions hip hop against readings of the Hagakure by Forest Whitaker.

Kill Bill by Quentin Tarantino can be described as a glorification of the samurai sword, katana.

The samurai have also appeared frequently in Japanese comics (manga) and animation (anime). Most common are historical works where the protagonist is either a samurai or former samurai (or another rank/position) who possesses considerable martial skill. Two of the most famous examples are Lone Wolf and Cub, where the former proxy executioner for the Shogun and his toddler son become hired killers after being betrayed by other samurai and nobles; and Rurouni Kenshin, where a former assassin, after helping end the Bakumatsu era and bringing about the Meiji era, finds himself protecting newfound friends and fighting off old enemies while upholding his oath to never kill again through the use of a reversed-bladed sword. Samurai-like characters are not just restricted to historical settings, a number of works set in the modern age and even the future include characters who live, train, and fight like samurai. Notable examples include Goemon Ishikawa XIII from the Lupin III series of comics, television series, and movies; and Motoko Aoyama from the romantic comedy Love Hina. Small relevance to samurais can even be seen in the show Beyblade, which is set in the present. One character, Jin of the Gale, seems to be a mix of samurai and ninja.

Missing image
Uybook11.jpg
Usagi Yojimbo, the longest running American samurai comic book to date.

American comic books have adopted the character type for stories of their own. For instance, the Marvel Universe superhero Wolverine during the 1980s attempted to use the ideals and concept of the samurai as a means to control his violent urges in a constructive manner. The character has also been a feature in popular series itself such as Ronin by Frank Miller and Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai

Samurai are also heroes and enemies in many games where they would either be greatest friends or worst nightmares. These samurai would use mostly katana and are devastating foot soldiers. An example is Age of Empires series. It also seems that many new games springing about have something to do with Samurai, in part or in whole related to the topic. The main reason for this is the import of games from Japan, influenced by the styles of Japanese Anime and manga. Some popular titles include Dynasty Warriors, Seven Samurai, and there is even a lead character portraying a samurai in the Sci-Fi thriller game, Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bse. Jin Uzuki, Shion Uzuki's brother, is a Samurai wannabe who fights only with a sword, trying to force his Kimono styles onto his sister.

The concept of a samurai, as opposed to that of a knight, has lead to a major gap in how a warrior or a hero is characterised in Japan and the rest of the world. A samurai does not have to be tall and heavily muscled to be strong. He can be barely five feet tall, seemingly weak and even handicapped. He can even be "she". Equating size with power and strength does not readily appeal to the Japanese aesthetic. Perfect examples of this can be found in the Blind Swordsman Zatoichi movie series or Lady Toda Mariko from James Clavell's Shogun. Ancient Japanese heroes are often flawed individuals, who gain strength from what other cultures would only see as a form of weakness.

External links

See also

Template:Wikisourcepar

da:Samurai de:Samurai es:Samuri et:Samurai fi:Samurai fr:Samoura he:סמוראי id:Samurai io:Samurai it:Samurai ja:武士 ms:Samurai nl:Samoerai pl:Samuraj sv:Samuraj zh:武士

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