Samurai Facts

When you hear about the Samurai many things may come up in your mind. The phenomena of the Samurai is filled with mystery and power. The Samurai date from before Japan became a country.

In short, the Samurai were warriors. These famed fighters were associated with the Edo period of Japanese History. Their reputation, like with the Romans, is of a fearless, bold, and noble fighter. Learn more about the Samurai and their fascinating history.

The Origin and Meaning of the Word Samurai in Japan

Origin and Meaning of Samurai

The origin of Samurai, as a name, is to make a reference to Japanese warriors and aristocracy. Essentially, the word samurai was intended to mean Japan’s aristocratic warriors.

The word Samurai then came to refer to all people of the country’s class of warriors. In its pure literal meaning, Samurai also translates to “a military retainer of a Japanese daimyo.” This Daimyo, was a great lord associated with a Japanese commander called a Shogun.

The birth or first development of the concept of Samurains can be taken back to the early Heian period of the late 8th century.


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Samurai in Japan are Known and Called Bushi

Bushi

Despite the name Samurai being well known all over the world. In Japan, the Samurai are referred to as Bushi.

The Bushi in Japan, or Buke as they were sometimes called arose much earlier. The word Bushi, is of Chinese origin, and was used to name ancient Japanese soldiers from the families of warriors. These pre-Samurai warriors originated in the north of Japan.

The term samurai started to be known in the first part of the 10th century, and  by the 12th century, samurai were associated with bushi. Bushi is meant to symbolize a “warrior”, who could or might not be a samurai.


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Samurai Warriors at its Height were a Big Part of Japan’s Society

Samurai Warriors

Historically, the Samurai were part of the society and as Japanese states grew so did the warrior class. The Daimyos, the great lords of the Shogun, were powerful. This society and organization of lords, shoguns, and warlords grew.

So, at one point it was around 10% of the population that was considered a Samurai. It was that popular and widespread. Moreover, the Samurai culture and concept became part of the social fabric and class of Japanese society at this time.


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The Training and Code of the Samurai was Strict and Severe

Training and Code of the Samurai

Samurai did not take things lightly. Their code of ethics and code of conduct was not simple. In fact, the Samurai had to endure a lot in terms of a moral code called, “Bushido.”

This Bushido code was simply put and translated as the “way of the warrior.” The code of conduct was influenced by Zen style Buddhism. The philosophy called for the concept of utilizing strength to offer and preserve peace.

If it meant death to maintain peace then a Samurai would die by this strict moral code. Therefore, this code was intended to give the Samurai class a special distinction.


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Swords were Very Important to the Samurai Class

chokuto Samurai sword

The range of swords that the Samurai used were celebrated and very important. For example, the samurai utilized a wide variety of weapons, but the chokuto was the most crucial. The Chokuto was a sword for the Samurai.

The Samurai sword is best described as a thinner straighter sword that was even utilized by medieval knights. Eventually, the Samurai sword morphed into the Katana, which is the classic Samurai sword.

The Katana as a sword was characterized by a curved and single  blade, but there is a circular guard. The difference of the Katana was the long grip to hold with two hands while fighting.


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The Samurai were Highly Regarded Because They had to Defend Japan

Samurai with high respect

The Samurai were given the responsibility to defend and fight for their homeland. The fear and threat of rivals and enemies meant that the Samurai also could be expected to live exclusively special and with high respect.

Since the Samurai had to defend Japan against violent and fearful tribes and criminals then they were rewarded. Many samurai were able to live in barracks for defense, or a castle or even as well having their private homes.

Also, the Samurai had to live by the Bushido moral code. This strict ethical code, influenced by Chinese Confucianism, stressed complete self-discipline in all aspects of life.


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The Highly Detailed Armour of the Samurai was Taken Very Seriously

Armour of the Samurai

The armour may have seemed excessive or perhaps uncomfortable but the Samurai did utilize this to their advantage. For example, every part of the Samurai armour was designed with a specific reason.

In terms of material, the armour consisted of plates of either leather or metal. These plates were then bound together by laces of silk or as well leather. Moreover, the arms of the warrior were given a lot of protection with big, rectangular shoulder shields and lighter armoured sleeves.

The Kabuto helmet of the Samurai was truly unique. This helmet was constructed with metal plates then tied around behind the head and under the helmet. At times the helmet could resemble Darth Vader of the Star Wars movies because of the neck guard.

In general, a well designed armour for a warrior needed to be sturdy, yet somehow flexible. The aim was that it needed to be flexible enough to permit its warrior free and unrestricted movement in the battlefield.


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The Samurai Class of Warriors Accepted Women to Join

Samurai Women

Women have had to fight side to side with men in history. Women are not as often shown or discussed. The women of the Samurai were known as “Onna-Bugeisha’’ and they were equal parts bold and disciplined. Not many would make this point or bring this up about the Samurai, but it was more into equality than many would realize.

The ladies would go through the same rituals as the men, but the difference is that the women were trained to protect their families. The household unit was dear to the female Samurai as well their honor like men.

Women were the foundation for their family. Female Samurai would often be the example mothers, entertainers, and warriors of society.


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Samurai Society was Structured in a Hierarchy Like a Company

Samurai Society

Samurai organization and levels were taken very seriously. The society did not allow too much freedom of movement between roles and groups of people.

All in all, the samurai were considered an aristocratic class. For example, Samurai warriors would be of service to the Daimyos, who are feudal lords.

The chain of command did not end there because the Daimyos were to serve the Shoguns. The Shoguns were the rulers and leaders of the military and defense of Japanese society. The Shogun were the top tier that only answered to the emperor, who was on top.


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Samurai Era Japan did Come into Contact with Outsiders in the West

Miura Anjin

Contact with the outside world let alone the Western part of the world was rare. But, around 1600 this contact with the West happened and it was peaceful and positive.

An English and Dutch sailor did survive a long and difficult journey to Japan. The rest of the crew with these sailors did not survive. The surviving sailors became advisors to saurai, but it came with a lot of sacrifice.

The sailors were not allowed to leave Japan and had to take on new names and identities. One of the sailors was renamed “Miura Anjin” and had to renounce his family in Europe. However, the sailors did stay in Japan and remarried to integrate into Samurai society in Japan at the time.


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Suicide in the Samurai Society was a Respectable and Honorable Act

Seppuku Samurai Society

The concept of suicide is a complicated subject but this idea of death was important to the Samurai. The process was called Seppuku, which is defined as the act of ritual suicide.

Seppuku was an elaborate process that included many specific parts that symbolized many things overall. This kind of suicide featured a very specific process of disembowelment, which was viewed as an honorable option or admission of defeat depending on what happened in your life.

All in all, Seppuku could  be punishment or an act of suicide completed by a Samurai warrior. The two forms of seppuku were called the ‘battlefield’ and the formal option. If a warrior did not follow the “Bushido” code he would face this destiny of death as well.


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The Samurai Valued Education and the Arts

samurai Calligraphy and literature

Many of the samurai class were well read and educated. Being well rounded was valued, so the Samurai class participated in cultural and artistic endeavours.

Some of the activities the Samurai engaged in were as varied as Poetry, painting, and the tea ceremony that  represented samurai culture. Calligraphy and literature was highly valued as well. So, being a warrior was not the only thing the Samurai were expected to be overall.

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