Origin EditThe Samurai were originally 1 out of every 3-4 men of Japan drafted in the Taihō Code as part of the population that was required to report regularly for census, which was used as a precursor for national conscription .These soldiers were required to supply their own weapons, and in return were exempted from duties and taxes. This was one of the first attempts by the Imperial government to form an organized army modeled after the Chinese system. It was called gundan-sei (軍団制) by later historians and is believed to have been short-lived. The military men drafted by Emperor Mommu were not refered to as samurai for centuries.
Heian Period (794 - 1185 AD) Edit
In the 8th and 9th centuries Emperor Kammu sent an army to expand his rule in northern Honshū, but the armies sent to conquer the rebelious Emishi people lacked discipline and motivation.Emperor Kammu introduced the title Seitaishogun or Shogun and relied on powerful clans to conquer the Emishi. The clansmen were skilled in mounted combat and archery and later became the emperor's perfered weapon to quell rebelions.
Through marriage and powerful positions in Japan many powerful clans around Kyoto gained political power, weakening the emperor's political power.The power allowed the clans to surpass Japan's traditional aristocracy.
Some clans were originally formed by farmers who've taken arms to protect themselves from the imperial magistrates sent to govern their land and collect taxes.These clans formed alliances to protect themselves against more powerful clans.In time they used characteristic japanese armour and weapons such as : the katana, the wakizashi, the yumi, and samurai armor.
Around the same time as the katana became widely used by samurai the ethic code of Bushidō was founded.The samurai then were those who followed bushidō or "The Way of the Warrior".After the mid-Heian period the samurai followed the many feudal lords of Japan.
Kamakura Period (1186 - 1333 AD) EditOriginally the emperor and Japanese nobility employed the samurai, though many alliances and debt lead to a samurai-based government by the
The founder and first of the Kamakura shogunate was Minamoto no Yoritomo who was the first to use the samurai against other samurai in the Genpei War against Taira no Kiyomori of the Taira clan. This first major battle was in 1180 when Yoritomo was defeated at Ishibashiyama, during his early years as chief where he spent his time dealing with the warrior aristocrats of the Kantō area.
From 1181 to 1184 a de facto truce with the court whom were largely in favor of the Taira clan, gave Yoritomo the time to build an administration of his own centered in his military headquaters of Kamakura.In 1185 Yoritomo defeated the Taira clan at the Battle of Dan-no-ura.This victory created a feudal age of Japan that lasted until the 1800s.
The samurai began commonly using the yari ,a type of spear, by the end of this period. By the Muromachi period the popularity of the yari overtook that of the yumi.
Muromachi Period (1336 - 1573 AD) Edit
This period was influenced by the Ashikaga shogunate, Ashikaga Takauji that was established in 1336 marking the beginning of the Muromachi Period.The Ashikaga bakufu took over the remnants of the imperial government, whereas Kamakura coexisted with the Kyōto court.The Ashikaga was not as powerful as the Kamakura and was greatly preoccupied with the civil war.This civil war was the result of a shifting power between the shogun and the regional daimyo.
Gekokujō(下克上), translated as "the underling conquers the overlord".Many clans were subjugated in the period of Japan's history.Most notable examples are: the Hōjō subjugated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the Hosokawa clan by the Miyoshi, the Shiba clan by the Oda Clan, and the Toki by the Saito.Oda Nobunaga is one of the best examples of a samurai during the Muromachi period.He was the well-known lord of the Nagoya area(once called Owari Province). He came close to the unification of Japan, setting a path for his successors to follow.The end of the Muromachi Period was with Nobunaga defeating the Ashikaga shogunate.Nobunaga was killed by Akechi Mitsuhide, one of his generals.
Hideyoshi passed a law where only samurai could possess weapons as well as heralding samurai.Ieyasu Unified Japan making Nobunaga's dream become true.
The Shizoku Edit
In 1853 a United States fleet under the command of Matthew Perry entered Japan's harbors. The samurai were unable to act on the "attack all foreign ships". This unability led to Emperor Meiji to abolish the samurai's right to be the only armed force in Japan in favor of a more modernized western-style, conscripted army in 1873.Samurai became Shizoku, who retained some of their salaries but lost the right to wield a katana and execute any commoner who paid them disrespect.
The abolishment of the samurai class with the Meishi Reforms led to many samurai to volunteer to be western'style soldiers.
The last samurai-conflict was in 1877 during the Satsuma Rebelion in the Battle of Shiroyama.This battle was provoked by the uprising to defeat the Tokugawa shogunate.This led to the Meiji Restoration.
The newly formed government aimed at weakening the feudal domains and the dissolution of the samurai.
The samurai became known as Shizoku (priviledged classes) until World War Two.
"The Way of the Warrior", or Bushidō has zen, buddhist, and shintoist influences.
From Buddhism, bushidō gets its relationship to danger and death. The samurai do not fear death because they believe as Buddhism teaches, after death one will be reincarnated and may live another life here on earth. The samurai are warriors from the time they become samurai until their death; they have no fear of danger. Through Zen, a school of Buddhism one can reach the ultimate "Absolute." Zen meditation teaches one to focus and reach a level of thought words cannot describe. Zen teaches one to "know thyself" and do not to limit yourself. Samurai used this as a tool to drive out fear, unsteadiness and ultimately mistakes. These things could get him killed.
Shintoism, another Japanese doctrine, gives bushidō its loyalty and patriotism. Shintoism includes ancestor-worship which makes the Imperial family the fountain-head of the whole nation. It awards the emperor a god-like reverence. He is the embodiment of Heaven on earth. With such loyalty, the samurai pledge themselves to the emperor and their daimyo or feudal landlords, higher ranking samurai. Shintoism also provides the backbone for patriotism to their country, Japan. They believe the land is not merely there for their needs, "it is the sacred abode to the gods, the spirits of their forefathers . . ." (Nitobe, 14). The land is cared for, protected and nurtured through an intense patriotism.
Along with these virtues, Bushidō also holds justice, benevolence, love, sincerity, honesty, and self-control in utmost respect. Justice is one of the main factors in the code of the samurai. Crooked ways and unjust actions are thought to be lowly and inhumane. Love and benevolence were supreme virtues and princely acts. Samurai followed a specific etiquette in every day life as well as in war. Sincerity and honesty were as valued as their lives. Bushi no ichi-gon, or "the word of a samurai," transcends a pact of complete faithfulness and trust. With such pacts there was no need for a written pledge; it was thought beneath one's dignity. The samurai also needed self-control and stoicism to be fully honored. He showed no sign of pain or joy. He endured all within--no groans, no crying. He held a calmness of behavior and composure of the mind neither of which should be bothered by passion of any kind. He was a true and complete warrior.
The Virtues of Bushidō Edit
The samurai have many virtues associated with Bushidō. Seven of the virtues that are most common to a samurai are:
- 義 – Gi – Rectitude
- 勇 – Yū – Courage
- 仁 – Jin – Benevolence
- 礼 – Rei – Respect
- 誠 – Makoto – Honesty
- 名誉 – Meiyo – Honor/Glory
- 忠義 – Chūgi – Loyalty
This list sometimes includes wisdom, the preservations of ethics, and care for the aged. Not all samurai had set virtues.
The Samurai Creed Edit
To become samurai you had to make this creed.
"I have no divine power; I make honesty my Divine Power.
I have no means; I make Docility my means.
I have no magic power; I make personality my Magic Power.
I have neither life nor death; I make A Um my Life and Death.
I have no body; I make Stoicism my Body.
I have no eyes; I make The Flash of Lightning my eyes.
I have no ears; I make Sensibility my Ears.
I have no limbs; I make Promptitude my Limbs.
I have no laws; I make Self-Protection my Laws.
I have no strategy; I make the Right to Kill and the Right to Restore Life my Strategy.
I have no designs; I make Seizing the Opportunity by the Forelock my Designs.
I have no miracles; I make Righteous Laws my Miracle.
I have no principles; I make Adaptability to all circumstances my Principle.
I have no tactics; I make Emptiness and Fullness my Tactics.
I have no talent; I make Ready Wit my Talent.
I have no friends; I make my Mind my Friend.
I have no enemy; I make Incautiousness my Enemy.
I have no armour; I make Benevolence my Armour.
I have no castle; I make Immovable Mind my Castle.
I have no sword; I make No Mind my Sword. "
"Fate is in Heaven, the armor is on the breast, success is with the legs. Go to the battlefield firmly confident of victory, and you will come home with no wounds whatever. Engage in combat fully determined to die and you will be alive; wish to survive in the battle and you will surely meet death. When you leave the house determined not to see it again you will come home safely; when you have any thought of returning you will not return. You may not be in the wrong to think that the world is always subject to change, but the warrior must not entertain this way of thinking, for his fate is always determined." - Uesugi Kenshin.
The samurai were respected members of japanese society, giving them rights that many other classes didn't have.
"Marriage is the union symbolizing the yin and yang, and it cannot be entered into lightly. The thirty-eighth hexagram k'uei [in the I ching (Book of Changes)], says "Marriage is not be contracted to create disturbance. Let the longing of male and female for each other be satisfied. If disturbance is to take hold, then the proper time will slip by." The "Peach young" poem of the Book of Odes says "When men and women observe what is correct, and marry at the proper time, there will be no unattached women in the land."
To form a factional alliance [of houses] through marriage is the root of treason. "
The samurai believed marriage to be the symbol of yin and yang uniting a man and a women. The marriage of a samurai was viewed as an important decision - there was no divorce.
Childhood and Naming Edit
Parenting was also taken seriously. The samurai told no false stories to the children to scare them into behaving, viewing this as creating a coward.Children were given names with one kanji letter of their parent(whom shared the same gender), and one of their own.At birth, a samurai was given a name by which he would be known until his coming of age ceremony. These were occasionally chosen to sound fortuitous or simply by fancy.
A samurai typically received his 'first' adult name upon the event of his Coming of Age Ceremony (normally conducted in his 14 year). This almost always consisted of two characters, one of which was hereditary to his family and another that might have been given him as a gift from an exalted personage (including the shôgun), or simply by whim. The hereditary character was often but not necessarily to be found in his own father's name.
Some samurai, especially lords, might opt to change the characters in their name at some future date, often as a result of the sort of reward.
At childhood the bushi children would practice with wooden swords in the shape of katana's. Upon his coming of age ceremony, he received a wakizashi and a katana. After the Coming of Age Ceremony he would train in the dojo, see below for details.
A samurai with no lord was known as a ronin. Many ronin had deceased lords and were dishonored by failing to protect their lord.Ronin whose lord died often used a form of ritual suicide, seppuku to die with honor rather then be cought by their enimies.
Those samurai who hadn't committed seppuku were often met with hostility by the traditional japanese.
Martial Arts Edit
The samurai trained non-stop in the arts of warfare. Almost all samurai knew the following martial arts like the back of their hand.
Kenjutsu, meaning "the art of the sword" is a term for classical Japanese sword arts (or koryū), in particular those which predate the Meiji Restoration. The practice of kenjutsu varies from school to school, undertaking different methods. The most common of which is sparring, under a variety of conditions, from using solid wooden bokutō to use of bamboo sword (shinai) and armor (bogu).
Iaijutsu, often translated roughly as the "art of mental presence and immediate reaction", is the japanese martial art of drawing the sword. Technically, Iaijutsu belongs to Kenjutsu, but the samurai spent years of training to draw the katana as perfectly as possible focusing on speed.
Kyūdō, meaning "The Way of the Bow" is the japanese art of archery which samurai were skilled in.The technique of archery in Japan is, as elsewhere, pre-historical. Kyūdō is practice with the yumi.
Sōjutsu, meaning "art of the spear" is the japanese art of fighting with the yari (spear). Sōjutsu originated with the invention of the yari (spear), deriving from the ji (a chinese spear). Sōjutsu is very similar to how the chinese fight with the ji.
A dōjō is a building the samurai train in. The word dōjō itself means "place of the way". The dōjō used by the samurai are well cared for. The building most commonly has a wooden floor and a high roof. The equipment within are:
- Bokutō: wooden swords most commonly in the shape of katanas and wakizashi.Used for training in kenjutsu.
- Makiwara: the straw practice targets for training in kyūdō.This is for refining the samurai technique rather than his arrows arc.
- Mato: the normal target for most kyūdō practicioners. The distant varies by dōjō, though most commonly 38 to 60 meters.
The Term samurai originally meant "those who serve in close attendance to nobility". In Japanese, it was originally pronounced in the pre-Heian period as saburau and later as saburai, then samurai in the Edo period.
The word bushi (, lit. "warrior" or armsman") first appears in an early history of Japan called Shoku Nihongi (, 797 A.D.). In a portion of the book covering the year 721 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.
Wilson states that the shi, as the highest of the four classes, brandished the weapons as well as the books. bushi therefore 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 was replaced with samurai. However, the meaning had changed long before that.
During the era of the rule of the samurai, the term yumitori (, "bowman") was also used as an honorary title of an accomplished warrior even though swordsmanship had become more important.
See also Edit
- Bushido Website: a good definition of bushido, including The Samurai Creed
- A History of Law in Japan Until 1868 by Carl Steenstrup; Brill Academic Publishers;second edition (1996) ISBN 9004104534
- Bushido--the Soul of Japan by Inazo Nitobe (1905) (ISBN 080483413X) — Complete text online:
- Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford reprinted 1910 -- Complete text online
- William Wayne Farris, Heavenly Warriors — The Evolution of Japan's Military, 500–1300, Harvard University Press, 1995.
- A History of Japan, Vol. 3 and 4, George Samson, Tuttle Publishing, 2000.
- Cleary, Thomas Training the Samurai Mind: A Bushido Sourcebook Shambhala (May, 2008) ISBN 1590305728
- Suzuki,Daisetz Teitaro Zen and Japanese Culture (New York: Pantheon Books)
- Varley, H. Paul Japanese culture (University of Hawaii Press, 2000) ISBN 0824821521, 9780824821524