Samurai: The Japanese Warrior
If you've ever watched an anime set in feudal Japan, you've probably seen a Japanese warrior with a unique hairstyle and a katana (Japanese sword). These men are fierce and violent, yet loyal and romantic. There are numerous legends praising their bravery and honor. Samurai are an integral part of Japanese culture and history.
What are Samurai?
Samurai were hereditary military aristocrats. They were warriors who emerged in Japan in the 10th century and served until the 19th century. They gained power through military prowess - they mastered archery, swordsmanship, and horseback riding. They eventually became the highest social caste of the Edo period (1603-1867).
The typical appearance of the samurai was to wear a hakama (a traditional Japanese wear), put their hair up in a head bun, and carry a katana. Bushi is a male warrior whose appearance resembles that of a samurai. Anyone who made living through fighting was a bushi, whether or not they were employed by a nobility. The word "samurai" in Japanese means “one who serves” and is a general term for those who are employed by nobility. Those who didn’t have or lost their master were called ronin, or wanderers.
From the 12th to the 19th century, samurai referred to all members of the warrior class that ruled the Japanese government. During this period, mastery of the art of warfare alone was not enough. Samurai also needed instincts for politics, finance, and culture to acquire wealth and status. Moreover, they should maintain their honor by adhering to the bushido (samurai code of ethics), which emphasized loyalty, self-discipline, and respect toward masters.
History of Samurai
In 792, the conscription system instituted by Emperor Monmu came to an end. During the following Heian period (794-1185), the emperor relied on powerful local clans to conquer and suppress. These clans continued to expand their economic and political power, eventually becoming independent of the central government and employing large numbers of samurai to protect themselves. The two most powerful clans were the Minamoto and Taira, who fought each other for the supremacy of the entire country. The victor, Taira no Kiyomori, eventually took control of the central government and established the first samurai-ruled government. The two clans clashed again in 1180. The victorious Minamoto Yoritomo established a new military government led by the Kamakura shogunate in 1192. The Kamakura period (1185-1333) saw the rise of the samurai under the shogunate.
During the warring States period of the 15th and 16th centuries, Japan was divided into dozens of independent states that constantly fought with each other. As a result, there was a great demand for samurai. The Warring States period finally ended in 1615 with the unification of Japan by the Tokugawa shogunate, which brought peace and prosperity to Japan for the next 250 years. The Tokugawa period (1603-1867), also known as the Edo period, established a strict social caste system, with samurai at the top and followed by peasants, artisans, and merchants. During this period, the samurai gradually lost their military function. The samurai became bureaucrats, and their swords became symbols of power rather than weapons. In 1870, the samurai was abolished with the end of Japan’s feudal era.
Kit of Samurai
The most famous of the weapons used by samurai is the katana. Carrying two swords, a long one and a short one, became the symbol of the samurai. Samurai swords are known for their unique balance of fatality and beauty. In addition to katana, samurai also used weapons, such as longbows, spears, and chain weapons.
The first type of samurai armor was called o-yoroi and do-maru. They could be folded for storage and transport because they were made of small individual scales. They are also considered to be among the most beautiful and colorful armor in the world. Their designs are intricate and decorated with various weaving patterns. In the 16th century, with the advent of firearms, warriors needed extra protection. So, the o-yoroi was replaced by the itazane, which had larger iron plates.