Samurai
Overview
is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial
Pre-industrial society
Pre-industrial society refers to specific social attributes and forms of political and cultural organization that were prevalent before the advent of the Industrial Revolution. It is followed by the industrial society....

 Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

. According to translator William Scott Wilson
William Scott Wilson
William Scott Wilson is known for translating several works of Japanese literature, mostly those relating to the martial tradition of that country. He is recognized by as "today’s foremost translator of classic Samurai texts." Mr. Wilson is also described as the world's foremost expert on the...

: "In Chinese, the character 侍 was originally a verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society, and this is also true of the original term in Japanese, saburau. In both countries the terms were nominalized to mean "those who serve in close attendance to the nobility," the pronunciation in Japanese changing to saburai.
Encyclopedia
is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial
Pre-industrial society
Pre-industrial society refers to specific social attributes and forms of political and cultural organization that were prevalent before the advent of the Industrial Revolution. It is followed by the industrial society....

 Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

. According to translator William Scott Wilson
William Scott Wilson
William Scott Wilson is known for translating several works of Japanese literature, mostly those relating to the martial tradition of that country. He is recognized by as "today’s foremost translator of classic Samurai texts." Mr. Wilson is also described as the world's foremost expert on the...

: "In Chinese, the character 侍 was originally a verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society, and this is also true of the original term in Japanese, saburau. In both countries the terms were nominalized to mean "those who serve in close attendance to the nobility," the pronunciation in Japanese changing to saburai. According to Wilson, an early reference to the word "samurai" appears in the Kokin Wakashū (905–914), the first imperial anthology of poems, completed in the first part of the 10th century.

By the end of the 12th century, samurai became almost entirely synonymous with bushi (武士), and the word was closely associated with the middle and upper echelons of the warrior class. The samurai followed a set of rules that came to be known as bushidō
Bushido
, meaning "Way of the Warrior-Knight", is a Japanese word which is used to describe a uniquely Japanese code of conduct and a way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry. It originates from the samurai moral code and stresses frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and...

. While they numbered less than 10% of Japan's population samurai teachings can still be found today in both everyday life and in modern Japanese martial arts
Japanese martial arts
Japanese martial arts refers to the enormous variety of martial arts native to Japan. At least three Japanese terms are often used interchangeably with the English phrase "Japanese martial arts": , literally meaning "martial way", , which has no perfect translation but means something like science,...

.

History

Following the Battle of Hakusukinoe
Battle of Baekgang
The Battle of Baekgang, also known as Battle of Baekgang-gu or by the Japanese name Battle of Hakusukinoe , was a battle between Baekje restoration forces and their ally, Yamato Japan, against the allied forces of Silla and the Tang Dynasty of ancient China...

 against Tang
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 and Silla
Silla
Silla was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, and one of the longest sustained dynasties in...

 in 663 AD that led to a Japanese retreat from Korean affairs, Japan underwent widespread reform. One of the most important was that of the Taika Reform
Taika Reform
The ' were a set of doctrines established by Emperor Kōtoku in the year 645. They were written shortly after the death of Prince Shōtoku, and the defeat of the Soga clan , uniting Japan. Crown Prince Naka no Ōe , Nakatomi no Kamatari, and Emperor Kōtoku jointly embarked on the details of the Reforms...

, issued by Prince Naka no Ōe (Emperor Tenji
Emperor Tenji
, also known as Emperor Tenchi, was the 38th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.Tenji's reign spanned the years from 661 through 671.-Traditional narrative:...

) in 646 AD. This edict allowed the Japanese aristocracy to adopt the Tang Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 political structure, bureaucracy
Bureaucracy
A bureaucracy is an organization of non-elected officials of a governmental or organization who implement the rules, laws, and functions of their institution, and are occasionally characterized by officialism and red tape.-Weberian bureaucracy:...

, culture, religion, and philosophy. As part of the Taihō Code
Taiho Code
The was an administrative reorganization enacted in 701 in Japan, at the end of the Asuka period. It was historically one of the . It was compiled at the direction of Prince Osakabe, Fujiwara no Fuhito and Awata no Mahito...

, of 702 AD, and the later Yōrō Code
Yoro Code
The was one iteration of several codes or governing rules compiled in early Nara period in Classical Japan. Major work on the Yōrō Code was completed in 718....

, the population was required to report regularly for census, which was used as a precursor for national conscription. With an understanding of how the population was distributed, Emperor Mommu
Emperor Mommu
was the 42nd emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.Mommu's reign spanned the years from 697 through 707.-Traditional narrative:Before his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne, his personal name was Karu-shinnō....

 introduced the law whereby 1 in 3–4 adult males was drafted into the national military. 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 Taihō Code classified most of the imperial bureaucrats into 12 ranks, each divided into two sub-ranks, 1st rank being the highest adviser to the emperor. Those of 6th rank and below were referred to as "samurai" and dealt with day-to-day affairs. Although these "samurai" were civilian public servants, the name is believed to have derived from this term. Military men, however, would not be referred to as "samurai" for many more centuries.

In the early Heian period
Heian period
The is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto. It is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height...

, the late 8th and early 9th centuries, Emperor Kammu
Emperor Kammu
was the 50th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. Kammu reigned from 781 to 806.-Traditional narrative:Kammu's personal name was . He was the eldest son of Prince Shirakabe , and was born prior to Shirakabe's ascension to the throne...

 sought to consolidate and expand his rule in northern Honshū
Honshu
is the largest island of Japan. The nation's main island, it is south of Hokkaido across the Tsugaru Strait, north of Shikoku across the Inland Sea, and northeast of Kyushu across the Kanmon Strait...

, but the armies he sent to conquer the rebellious Emishi
Emishi
The constituted a group of people who lived in northeastern Honshū in the Tōhoku region. They are referred to as in contemporary sources. Some Emishi tribes resisted the rule of the Japanese Emperors during the late Nara and early Heian periods...

 people lacked motivation and discipline, and failed in their task. Emperor Kammu introduced the title of Seiitaishogun or shogun
Shogun
A was one of the hereditary military dictators of Japan from 1192 to 1867. In this period, the shoguns, or their shikken regents , were the de facto rulers of Japan though they were nominally appointed by the emperor...

, and began to rely on the powerful regional clans to conquer the Emishi. Skilled in mounted combat and archery
Archery
Archery is the art, practice, or skill of propelling arrows with the use of a bow, from Latin arcus. Archery has historically been used for hunting and combat; in modern times, however, its main use is that of a recreational activity...

 (kyūdō
Kyudo
, literally meaning "way of the bow", is the Japanese art of archery. It is a modern Japanese martial art and practitioners are known as .It is estimated that there are approximately half a million practitioners of kyudo today....

), these clan warriors became the emperor's preferred tool for putting down rebellions. Although this is the first time 'shogun' title is used, it was a temporal title and had not been accompanied with political power until 13th century, and at this time (7th to 9th century) the imperial court officials considered them to be merely military section under control of imperial court.

Ultimately, Emperor Kammu disbanded his army. From this time, the emperor's power gradually declined. While the emperor was still the ruler, powerful clans around Kyoto
Kyoto
is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.-History:...

  assumed positions as ministers, and their relatives bought positions as magistrates. To amass wealth and repay their debts, magistrates often imposed heavy taxes, resulting in many farmers becoming landless.

Through protective agreements and political marriages, they accumulated political power, eventually surpassing the traditional aristocracy.

Some clans were originally formed by farmers who had taken up arms to protect themselves from the imperial magistrates sent to govern their lands and collect taxes. These clans formed alliances to protect themselves against more powerful clans, and by the mid-Heian period they had adopted characteristic Japanese armor and weapons, and laid the foundations of Bushido
Bushido
, meaning "Way of the Warrior-Knight", is a Japanese word which is used to describe a uniquely Japanese code of conduct and a way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry. It originates from the samurai moral code and stresses frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and...

, their ethical code.

After the Genpei war
Genpei War
The was a conflict between the Taira and Minamoto clans during the late-Heian period of Japan. It resulted in the fall of the Taira clan and the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate under Minamoto Yoritomo in 1192....

 of the late 12th century, a clan leader Minamoto no Yoritomo
Minamoto no Yoritomo
was the founder and the first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan. He ruled from 1192 until 1199.-Early life and exile :Yoritomo was the third son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, heir of the Minamoto clan, and his official wife, a daughter of Fujiwara no Suenori, who was a member of the...

 obtained the right to appoint shugo
Shugo
was a title, commonly translated as "Governor," given to certain officials in feudal Japan. They were each appointed by the shogun to oversee one or more of the provinces of Japan...

 and jito
Jito
were medieval land stewards in Japan, especially in the Kamakura and Muromachi Shogunates. Appointed by the shogun, jitō managed manors including national holdings governed by the provincial governor ....

, and was allowed to organize soldiers and police, and to collect certain amount of tax. Initially, their responsibility was restricted to arresting rebels and collecting needed army provisions, and they were forbidden to interfere with kokushi governors, but their responsibility gradually expanded and thus the samurai-class appeared as the political ruling power in Japan. Minamoto no Yoritomo
Minamoto no Yoritomo
was the founder and the first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan. He ruled from 1192 until 1199.-Early life and exile :Yoritomo was the third son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, heir of the Minamoto clan, and his official wife, a daughter of Fujiwara no Suenori, who was a member of the...

 opened the Kamakura Bakufu
Kamakura shogunate
The Kamakura shogunate was a military dictatorship in Japan headed by the shoguns from 1185 to 1333. It was based in Kamakura. The Kamakura period draws its name from the capital of the shogunate...

 shogunate in 1192.

Samurai warriors described themselves as followers of "The Way of the Warrior" or Bushido. Bushidō
Bushido
, meaning "Way of the Warrior-Knight", is a Japanese word which is used to describe a uniquely Japanese code of conduct and a way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry. It originates from the samurai moral code and stresses frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and...

 is defined by the Japanese dictionary Shogakukan Kokugo Daijiten
Nihon Kokugo Daijiten
The , often abbreviated as the and sometimes known in English as Shogakukan's Japanese Dictionary, is the largest Japanese language dictionary published. In the period from 1972 to 1976, Shogakukan published the 20-volume first edition. The 14-volume second edition was published in the period...

 as "a unique philosophy (ronri) that spread through the warrior class from the Muromachi (chusei) period. From the earliest times, the Samurai felt that the path of the warrior was one of honor, emphasizing duty to one's master, and loyalty unto death.

In the 13th century, Hojo Shigetoki
Hojo Shigetoki
Note:There were other Hojo Shigetoki within the ruling family, but with different characters. was a Japanese samurai of the Kamakura period. He was the third Kitakata Rokuhara tandai, serving from 1230 to 1247. He was also known as . His writings influenced later samurai...

 (1198–1261 AD) wrote: "When one is serving officially or in the master's court, he should not think of a hundred or a thousand people, but should consider only the importance of the master."

In his 1979 Dissertation about the Hojo, Carl Steenstrup
Carl Steenstrup
Carl Steenstrup is a Danish translator of Japanese literature.Carl Steenstrup is known for translating several works of Japanese literature, mostly those relating to the historical development of Bushido, Japanese Feudal Law, and the Kakun of famous Samurai Leaders Hōjō Shigetoki and Imagawa...

 noted that 13th and 14th century warrior writings (gunki) "portrayed the bushi in their natural element, war, eulogizing such virtues as reckless bravery, fierce family pride, and selfless, at times senseless devotion of master and man."

Feudal lords such as Shiba Yoshimasa (1350–1410 AD) stated that a warrior looked forward to a glorious death in the service of a military leader or the emperor: "It is a matter of regret to let the moment when one should die pass by....First, a man whose profession is the use of arms should think and then act upon not only his own fame, but also that of his descendants. He should not scandalize his name forever by holding his one and only life too dear....One's main purpose in throwing away his life is to do so either for the sake of the Emperor or in some great undertaking of a military general. It is that exactly that will be the great fame of one's descendants."

In 1412 AD, Imagawa Sadayo
Imagawa Sadayo
, also known as ', was a renowned Japanese poet and military commander who served as tandai of Kyūshū under the Ashikaga Bakufu from 1371 to 1395. His father, Imagawa Norikuni, had been a supporter of the first Ashikaga Shogun, Ashikaga Takauji, and for his services had been granted the position...

 wrote a letter of admonishment to his brother stressing the importance of duty to one's master. Imagawa was admired for his balance of military and administrative skills during his lifetime and his writings became widespread. The letters became central to Tokugawa-era laws and were a required study for traditional Japanese until World War II:

"First of all, a samurai who dislikes battle and has not put his heart in the right place even though he has been born in the house of the warrior, should not be reckoned among one's retainers....It is forbidden to forget the great debt of kindness one owes to his master and ancestors and thereby make light of the virtues of loyalty and filial piety....It is forbidden that one should...attach little importance to his duties to his master...There is a primary need to distinguish loyalty from disloyalty and to establish rewards and punishments."

Similarly. the feudal lord Takeda Nobushige
Takeda Nobushige
was a samurai of Japan's Sengoku period, and younger brother of Takeda Shingen. Takeda Nobushige held the favor of their father, and was meant to inherit the Takeda lands, wealth and power, becoming head of the clan. However, Shingen rebelled against their father and seized the lands and power for...

 (1525–1561 AD) stated: "In matters both great and small, one should not turn his back on his master's commands...One should not ask for gifts or enfiefments from the master...No matter how unreasonably the master may treat a man, he should not feel disgruntled...An underling does not pass judgments on a superior"

Nobushige's brother Takeda Shingen
Takeda Shingen
, of Kai Province, was a preeminent daimyo in feudal Japan with exceptional military prestige in the late stage of the Sengoku period.-Name:Shingen was called "Tarō" or "Katsuchiyo" during his childhood...

 (1521–1573 AD) also made similar observations: "One who was born in the house of a warrior, regardless of his rank or class, first acquaints himself with a man of military feats and achievements in loyalty....Everyone knows that if a man doesn't hold filial piety toward his own parents he would also neglect his duties toward his lord. Such a neglect means a disloyalty toward humanity. Therefore such a man doesn't deserve to be called 'samurai'."

The feudal lord Asakura Yoshikage
Asakura Yoshikage
) was a Japanese daimyo of the Sengoku period, who ruled a part of Echizen Province.Born in Ichijodani Echizen, Yoshikage ascended to the head of the Asakura clan in 1548. He proved to be adept at political and diplomatic management, markedly demonstrated by the Asakura negotiations with the...

 (1428–1481 AD) wrote: "In the fief of the Asakura, one should not determine hereditary chief retainers. A man should be assigned according to his ability and loyalty." Asakura also observed that the successes of his father were obtained by the kind treatment of the warriors and common people living in domain. By his civility, "all were willing to sacrifice their lives for him and become his allies."

Kato Kiyomasa
Kato Kiyomasa
was a Japanese daimyō of the Azuchi-Momoyama and Edo period.-Origins and early career:Kiyomasa was born in Owari Province to Katō Kiyotada. Kiyotada's wife, Ito, was a cousin of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's mother. Kiyotada died while his son was still young...

 was one of the most powerful and well-known lords of the Sengoku Era. He commanded most of Japan's major clans during the invasion of Korea (1592–1598). In a handbook he addressed to "all samurai, regardless of rank" he told his followers that a warrior's only duty in life was to "grasp the long and the short swords and to die". He also ordered his followers to put forth great effort in studying the military classics, especially those related to loyalty and filial piety. He is best known for his quote: "If a man does not investigate into the matter of Bushido daily, it will be difficult for him to die a brave and manly death. Thus it is essential to engrave this business of the warrior into one's mind well."

Nabeshima Naoshige
Nabeshima Naoshige
a retainer of the Ryūzōji clan during the Sengoku period of the 16th century. Naoshige was the son of Nabeshima Kiyosada and was known as Nobumasa throughout half of his career under the Ryūzōji. Naoshige proved himself as being one of the greatest generals under Ryūzōji Takanobu...

 (1538–1618 AD) was another Sengoku Daimyo who fought alongside Kato Kiyomasa in Korea. He stated that it was shameful for any man to have not risked his life at least once in the line of duty, regardless of his rank. Nabeshima's sayings would be passed down to his son and grandson and would become the basis for Tsunetomo Yamamoto's Hagakure
Hagakure
Hagakure , or is a practical and spiritual guide for a warrior, drawn from a collection of commentaries by the samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo, former retainer to Nabeshima Mitsushige, the third ruler of what is now the Saga prefecture in Japan...

. He is best known for his saying "The way of the Samurai is in desperateness. Ten men or more cannot kill such a man."
Torii Mototada
Torii Mototada
was a Japanese samurai of the Sengoku period through late Azuchi-Momoyama Period, who served Tokugawa Ieyasu. Torii died at the siege of Fushimi where his garrison was greatly outnumbered and destroyed by the army of Ishida Mitsunari...

 (1539–1600) was a feudal lord in the service of Tokugawa Ieyasu. On the eve of the battle of Sekigahara, he volunteered to remain behind in the doomed Fushimi Castle
Fushimi Castle
', also known as Momoyama Castle or Fushimi-Momoyama Castle, is a castle in Kyoto's Fushimi Ward. The current structure is a 1964 replica of the original built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.-History:...

 while his lord advanced to the east. Torii and Tokugawa both agreed that the castle was indefensible. In an act of loyalty to his lord, Torii chose to remain behind, pledging that he and his men would fight to the finish. As was custom, Torii vowed that he would not be taken alive. In a dramatic last stand, the garrison of 2,000 men held out against overwhelming odds for ten days against the massive army of Ishida Mitsunari's 40,000 warriors. In a moving last statement to his son Tadamasa, he wrote:

"It is not the Way of the Warrior [i.e., bushido] to be shamed and avoid death even under circumstances that are not particularly important. It goes without saying that to sacrifice one's life for the sake of his master is an unchanging principle. That I should be able to go ahead of all the other warriors of this country and lay down my life for the sake of my master's benevolence is an honor to my family and has been my most fervent desire for many years."

It is said that both men cried when they parted ways, because they knew they would never see each other again. Torii's father and grandfather had served the Tokugawa before him and his own brother had already been killed in battle. Torii's actions changed the course of Japanese history. Ieyasu Tokugawa would successfully raise an army and win at Sekigahara.

The translator of Hagakure, William Scott Wilson
William Scott Wilson
William Scott Wilson is known for translating several works of Japanese literature, mostly those relating to the martial tradition of that country. He is recognized by as "today’s foremost translator of classic Samurai texts." Mr. Wilson is also described as the world's foremost expert on the...

 observed examples of warrior emphasis on death in clans other than Yamamoto's: "he (Takeda Shingen) was a strict disciplinarian as a warrior, and there is an exemplary story in the Hagakure relating his execution of two brawlers, not because they had fought, but because they had not fought to the death."

The rival of Takeda Shingen
Takeda Shingen
, of Kai Province, was a preeminent daimyo in feudal Japan with exceptional military prestige in the late stage of the Sengoku period.-Name:Shingen was called "Tarō" or "Katsuchiyo" during his childhood...

 (1521–1573) was Uesugi Kenshin
Uesugi Kenshin
was a daimyo who ruled Echigo province in the Sengoku period of Japan.He was one of the most powerful lords of the Sengoku period. While chiefly remembered for his prowess on the battlefield, Kenshin is also regarded as an extremely skillful administrator who fostered the growth of local industries...

 (1530–1578), a legendary Sengoku warlord well-versed in the Chinese military classics and who advocated the "way of the warrior as death". Japanese historian Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki describes Uesugi's beliefs as: "Those who are reluctant to give up their lives and embrace death are not true warriors....
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."

Families such as the Imagawa were influential in the development of warrior ethics and were widely quoted by other lords during their lifetime. The writings of Imagawa Sadayo
Imagawa Sadayo
, also known as ', was a renowned Japanese poet and military commander who served as tandai of Kyūshū under the Ashikaga Bakufu from 1371 to 1395. His father, Imagawa Norikuni, had been a supporter of the first Ashikaga Shogun, Ashikaga Takauji, and for his services had been granted the position...

 were highly respected and sought out by Tokugawa Ieyasu as the source of Japanese Feudal Law. These writings were a required study among traditional Japanese until World War II.
Historian H. Paul Varley notes the description of Japan given by Jesuit leader St. Francis Xavier (1506–1552): "There is no nation in the world which fears death less." Xavier further describes the honor and manners of the people: "I fancy that there are no people in the world more punctilious about their honour than the Japanese, for they will not put up with a single insult or even a word spoken in anger." Xavier spent the years 1549–1551 converting Japanese to Christianity. He also observed: "The Japanese are much braver and more warlike than the people of China, Korea, Ternate
Ternate
Ternate is an island in the Maluku Islands of eastern Indonesia. It is located off the west coast of the larger island of Halmahera, the center of the powerful former Sultanate of Ternate....

 and all of the other nations around the Philippines."

In December 1547, Francis was in Malacca (Malaysia) waiting to return to Goa (India) when he met a low-ranked samurai named Anjiro (possibly spelled "Yajiro"). Anjiro was not a nobleman or an intellectual, but he impressed Xavier because he took careful notes of everything he said in church. Xavier made the decision to go to Japan in part because this low-ranking samurai convinced him in Portuguese that the Japanese people were highly educated and eager to learn. They were hard workers and respectful of authority. In their laws and customs they were led by reason, and, should the Christian faith convince them of its truth, they would accept it en masse.
By the 12th century, upper-class samurai were highly literate due to the general introduction of Confucianism from China during the 7th to 9th centuries, and in response to their perceived need to deal with the imperial court, who had a monopoly on culture and literacy for most of the Heian period. As a result they aspired to the more cultured abilities of the nobility.

Examples such as Taira Tadanori (a samurai who appears in the Heike Monogatari) demonstrate that warriors idealized the arts and aspired to become skilled in them.

Tadanori was famous for his skill with the pen and the sword or the "bun and the bu", the harmony of fighting and learning.
Samurai were expected to be cultured and literate, and admired the ancient saying "Bun Bu Ryo Do" (文武両道, lit., literary arts, military arts, both ways) or "The pen and the sword in accord." By the time of the Edo period, Japan had a higher literacy comparable to that in central Europe.

The number of men who actually achieved the ideal and lived their lives by it was high. An early term for warrior, "uruwashii", was written with a kanji that combined the characters for literary study ("bun" 文) and military arts ("bu" 武), and is mentioned in the Heike Monogatari (late 12th century). The Heike Monogatari makes reference to the educated poet-swordsman ideal in its mention of Taira no Tadanori's death:
In his book "Ideals of the Samurai" translator William Scott Wilson
William Scott Wilson
William Scott Wilson is known for translating several works of Japanese literature, mostly those relating to the martial tradition of that country. He is recognized by as "today’s foremost translator of classic Samurai texts." Mr. Wilson is also described as the world's foremost expert on the...

 states: "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.

Plenty of warrior writings document this ideal from the 13th century onward. Most warriors aspired to or followed this ideal otherwise there would have been no cohesion in the samurai armies.

Kamakura Bakufu and the rise of samurai

Originally the emperor and nobility employed these warriors. In time, they amassed enough manpower, resources and political backing in the form of alliances with one another, to establish the first samurai-dominated government.

As the power of these regional clans grew, their chief was typically a distant relative of the emperor, and a lesser member of either the Fujiwara, Minamoto, or Taira clans.

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, and their sons inherited their positions and continued to lead the clans in putting down rebellions throughout Japan during the middle- and later-Heian period.

Samurai fought at the naval battle of Dan-no-Ura
Battle of Dan-no-ura
The ' was a major sea battle of the Genpei War, occurring at Dan-no-ura, in the Shimonoseki Strait off the southern tip of Honshū. On March 24, 1185, the Genji clan fleet, led by Minamoto no Yoshitsune, defeated the Heike clan fleet, during a half-day engagement.The Taira were outnumbered, but...

 in 1185. Because of their rising military and economic power, the warriors ultimately became a new force in the politics of the court. Their involvement in the Hōgen
Hogen (era)
was a after Kyūju and before Heiji. This period spanned the years from April 1156 through April 1159. The reigning emperors were and .-Change of era:* January 24, 1156 : The new era name was created to mark an event or series of events...

 in the late Heian period consolidated their power, and finally pitted the rival Minamoto and Taira clans against each other in the Heiji Rebellion
Heiji Rebellion
The was a short civil war fought in order to resolve a dispute about political power. The Heiji no ran encompassed clashes between rival subjects of the cloistered Emperor Go-Shirakawa of Japan in 1159. It was preceded by the Hōgen Rebellion in 1156...

 of 1160.

The winner, Taira no Kiyomori
Taira no Kiyomori
was a general of the late Heian period of Japan. He established the first samurai-dominated administrative government in the history of Japan.After the death of his father Taira no Tadamori in 1153, Kiyomori assumed control of the Taira clan and ambitiously entered the political realm in which he...

, became an imperial advisor, and was the first warrior to attain such a position. He eventually seized control of the central government, establishing the first samurai-dominated government and relegating the emperor to figurehead status.

However, the Taira clan was still very conservative when compared to its eventual successor, the Minamoto, and instead of expanding or strengthening its military might, the Taira clan had its women marry emperors and exercise control through the emperor.

The Taira and the Minamoto clashed again in 1180, beginning the Gempei War which ended in 1185. The victorious Minamoto no Yoritomo
Minamoto no Yoritomo
was the founder and the first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan. He ruled from 1192 until 1199.-Early life and exile :Yoritomo was the third son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, heir of the Minamoto clan, and his official wife, a daughter of Fujiwara no Suenori, who was a member of the...

 established the superiority of the samurai over the aristocracy. In 1190 he visited Kyoto, and in 1192 became Seii Taishogun
Shogun
A was one of the hereditary military dictators of Japan from 1192 to 1867. In this period, the shoguns, or their shikken regents , were the de facto rulers of Japan though they were nominally appointed by the emperor...

, establishing the Kamakura Shogunate, or Kamakura Bakufu. Instead of ruling from Kyoto, he set up the Shogunate in Kamakura
Kamakura, Kanagawa
is a city located in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, about south-south-west of Tokyo. It used to be also called .Although Kamakura proper is today rather small, it is often described in history books as a former de facto capital of Japan as the seat of the Shogunate and of the Regency during the...

, 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, or "buke", who were only nominally under the court aristocracy. When the samurai began to adopt aristocratic pastimes like calligraphy
Calligraphy
Calligraphy is a type of visual art. It is often called the art of fancy lettering . A contemporary definition of calligraphic practice is "the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious and skillful manner"...

, poetry and music, some court aristocrats in turn began to adopt samurai customs. In spite of various machinations and brief periods of rule by various emperors, real power was now in the hands of the Shogun and the samurai.

Ashikaga Shogunate

Various samurai clans struggled for power during the Kamakura
Kamakura shogunate
The Kamakura shogunate was a military dictatorship in Japan headed by the shoguns from 1185 to 1333. It was based in Kamakura. The Kamakura period draws its name from the capital of the shogunate...

 and Ashikaga Shogunate
Ashikaga shogunate
The , also known as the , was a Japanese feudal military regime, ruled by the shoguns of the Ashikaga clan.This period is also known as the Muromachi period and gets its name from Muromachi Street of Kyoto where the third shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu established his residence...

s.

Zen Buddhism spread among the samurai in the 13th century and helped to shape their standards of conduct, particularly overcoming fear of death and killing, but among the general populace, Pure Land Buddhism
Pure Land Buddhism
Pure Land Buddhism , also referred to as Amidism in English, is a broad branch of Mahāyāna Buddhism and currently one of the most popular traditions of Buddhism in East Asia. Pure Land is a branch of Buddhism focused on Amitābha Buddha...

 was favored.

In 1274, the Mongol-founded Yuan Dynasty
Yuan Dynasty
The Yuan Dynasty , or Great Yuan Empire was a ruling dynasty founded by the Mongol leader Kublai Khan, who ruled most of present-day China, all of modern Mongolia and its surrounding areas, lasting officially from 1271 to 1368. It is considered both as a division of the Mongol Empire and as an...

 in China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 sent a force of some 40,000 men and 900 ships to invade Japan in northern Kyūshū
Kyushu
is the third largest island of Japan and most southwesterly of its four main islands. Its alternate ancient names include , , and . The historical regional name is referred to Kyushu and its surrounding islands....

. Japan mustered a mere 10,000 samurai to meet this threat. The invading army was harassed by major thunderstorms throughout the invasion
Invasion
An invasion is a military offensive consisting of all, or large parts of the armed forces of one geopolitical entity aggressively entering territory controlled by another such entity, generally with the objective of either conquering, liberating or re-establishing control or authority over a...

, which aided the defenders by inflicting heavy casualties. The Yuan army was eventually recalled and the invasion was called off. The Mongol invaders used small bomb
Bomb
A bomb is any of a range of explosive weapons that only rely on the exothermic reaction of an explosive material to provide an extremely sudden and violent release of energy...

s, which was likely the first appearance of bombs and gunpowder
Gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

 in Japan.

The Japanese defenders recognized the possibility of a renewed invasion, and began construction of a great, stone barrier around Hakata Bay
Hakata Bay
Hakata Bay is a bay in the northwestern part of Fukuoka city, on the Japanese island of Kyūshū. It faces the Tsushima Strait, and features beaches and a port, though parts of the bay have been reclaimed in the expansion of the city of Fukuoka...

 in 1276. Completed in 1277, this wall stretched for 20 kilometers around the border of the bay. This would later serve as a strong defensive point against the Mongols. The Mongols attempted to settle matters in a diplomatic way from 1275 to 1279, but every envoy sent to Japan was executed. This set the stage for one of the most famous engagements in Japanese history.

In 1281, a Yuan army of 140,000 men with 5,000 ships was mustered for another invasion of Japan. Northern Kyūshū was defended by a Japanese army of 40,000 men. The Mongol army was still on its ships preparing for the landing operation when a typhoon hit north Kyūshū island. The casualties and damage inflicted by the typhoon, followed by the Japanese defense of the Hakata Bay barrier, resulted in the Mongols again recalling their armies.
The thunderstorms of 1274 and the typhoon of 1281 helped the samurai defenders of Japan repel the Mongol invaders despite being vastly outnumbered. These winds became known as kami-no-kaze, which literally translates as "wind of the gods." This is often given a simplified translation as "divine wind." The kami-no-kaze lent credence to the Japanese belief that their lands were indeed divine and under supernatural protection.

In the 14th century, a blacksmith called Masamune
Masamune
, also known as , is widely recognized as Japan's greatest swordsmith. As no exact dates are known for Masamune's life, he has reached an almost legendary status. It is generally agreed that he made most of his swords in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, 1288–1328. He created swords, known as...

 developed a two-layer structure of soft and hard steel for use in swords. This structure gave much improved cutting power and endurance, and the production technique led to Japanese swords (katana
Katana
A Japanese sword, or , is one of the traditional bladed weapons of Japan. There are several types of Japanese swords, according to size, field of application and method of manufacture.-Description:...

) being recognized as some of the most potent hand weapons of pre-industrial East Asia
East Asia
East Asia or Eastern Asia is a subregion of Asia that can be defined in either geographical or cultural terms...

. Many swords made using this technique were exported across the East China Sea
East China Sea
The East China Sea is a marginal sea east of China. It is a part of the Pacific Ocean and covers an area of 1,249,000 km² or 750,000 square miles.-Geography:...

, a few making their way as far as India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

.

Issues of inheritance caused family strife as primogeniture
Primogeniture
Primogeniture is the right, by law or custom, of the firstborn to inherit the entire estate, to the exclusion of younger siblings . Historically, the term implied male primogeniture, to the exclusion of females...

 became common, in contrast to the division of succession designated by law before the 14th century. To avoid infighting, invasions of neighboring samurai territories became common and bickering among samurai was a constant problem for the Kamakura
Kamakura shogunate
The Kamakura shogunate was a military dictatorship in Japan headed by the shoguns from 1185 to 1333. It was based in Kamakura. The Kamakura period draws its name from the capital of the shogunate...

 and Ashikaga Shogunate
Ashikaga shogunate
The , also known as the , was a Japanese feudal military regime, ruled by the shoguns of the Ashikaga clan.This period is also known as the Muromachi period and gets its name from Muromachi Street of Kyoto where the third shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu established his residence...

s.

The Sengoku jidai
Sengoku period
The or Warring States period in Japanese history was a time of social upheaval, political intrigue, and nearly constant military conflict that lasted roughly from the middle of the 15th century to the beginning of the 17th century. The name "Sengoku" was adopted by Japanese historians in reference...

 ("warring-states period") was marked by the loosening of samurai culture with people born into other social strata sometimes making names for themselves as warriors and thus becoming de facto
De facto
De facto is a Latin expression that means "concerning fact." In law, it often means "in practice but not necessarily ordained by law" or "in practice or actuality, but not officially established." It is commonly used in contrast to de jure when referring to matters of law, governance, or...

 samurai. In this turbulent period, bushido
Bushido
, meaning "Way of the Warrior-Knight", is a Japanese word which is used to describe a uniquely Japanese code of conduct and a way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry. It originates from the samurai moral code and stresses frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and...

 ethics became important factors in controlling and maintaining public order.

Japanese war tactics and technologies improved rapidly in the 15th and 16th century. Use of large numbers of infantry called ashigaru
Ashigaru
The Japanese ashigaru were foot-soldiers of medieval Japan. The first known reference to ashigaru was in the 1300s, but it was during the Ashikaga Shogunate-Muromachi period that the use of ashigaru became prevalent by various warring factions.-Origins:Attempts were made in Japan by the Emperor...

 ("light-foot," due to their light armor), formed of humble warriors or ordinary people with nagayari (a long lance
Lance
A Lance is a pole weapon or spear designed to be used by a mounted warrior. The lance is longer, stout and heavier than an infantry spear, and unsuited for throwing, or for rapid thrusting. Lances did not have tips designed to intentionally break off or bend, unlike many throwing weapons of the...

) or (naginata
Naginata
The naginata is one of several varieties of traditionally made Japanese blades in the form of a pole weapon. Naginata were originally used by the samurai class in feudal Japan, and naginata were also used by ashigaru and sōhei .-Description:A naginata consists of a wooden shaft with a curved...

), was introduced and combined with cavalry in maneuvers. The number of people mobilized in warfare ranged from thousands to hundreds of thousands.

The arquebus
Arquebus
The arquebus , or "hook tube", is an early muzzle-loaded firearm used in the 15th to 17th centuries. The word was originally modeled on the German hakenbüchse; this produced haquebute...

, a matchlock
Matchlock
The matchlock was the first mechanism, or "lock" invented to facilitate the firing of a hand-held firearm. This design removed the need to lower by hand a lit match into the weapon's flash pan and made it possible to have both hands free to keep a firm grip on the weapon at the moment of firing,...

 gun, was introduced by the Portuguese
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 via a Chinese pirate ship in 1543 and the Japanese succeeded in assimilating it within a decade. Groups of mercenaries with mass-produced arquebus
Arquebus
The arquebus , or "hook tube", is an early muzzle-loaded firearm used in the 15th to 17th centuries. The word was originally modeled on the German hakenbüchse; this produced haquebute...

es began playing a critical role.

By the end of the Sengoku Period, several hundred thousand firearms existed in Japan and massive armies numbering over 100,000 clashed in battles.

In 1592, and again in 1597, Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
was a daimyo warrior, general and politician of the Sengoku period. He unified the political factions of Japan. He succeeded his former liege lord, Oda Nobunaga, and brought an end to the Sengoku period. The period of his rule is often called the Momoyama period, named after Hideyoshi's castle...

 decided to invade China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

  through Korea
Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

 and mobilized an army of 160,000 peasants and samurai.(See Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea, .) Taking advantage of its mastery of the arquebus, Japanese samurai made major gains in most of Korea (Kato Kiyomasa did in fact enter Manchuria, but withdrew when it was clear he had outpaced the rest of the Japanese invasion force), but were unable to advance all the way through Korea into China due to the Japanese navy's defeats at sea at the hands of the Korean navy (resulting in the Japanese supply lines being severed) and the entry of Ming Chinese
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 troops into Korea. A few of the more famous samurai generals of this war were Katō Kiyomasa
Kato Kiyomasa
was a Japanese daimyō of the Azuchi-Momoyama and Edo period.-Origins and early career:Kiyomasa was born in Owari Province to Katō Kiyotada. Kiyotada's wife, Ito, was a cousin of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's mother. Kiyotada died while his son was still young...

, Konishi Yukinaga
Konishi Yukinaga
Konishi Yukinaga was a Kirishitan daimyō under Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He was the son of a wealthy Sakai merchant, Konishi Ryūsa...

, and Shimazu Yoshihiro
Shimazu Yoshihiro
was the second son of Shimazu Takahisa and younger brother of Shimazu Yoshihisa. It had traditionally been believed that he became the seventeenth head of the Shimazu clan after Yoshihisa, but it is currently believed that he let Yoshihisa keep his position....

.

Social mobility was high, 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, declaring 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 these claims.

Oda, Toyotomi and Tokugawa

Oda Nobunaga
Oda Nobunaga
was the initiator of the unification of Japan under the shogunate in the late 16th century, which ruled Japan until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. He was also a major daimyo during the Sengoku period of Japanese history. His opus was continued, completed and finalized by his successors Toyotomi...

 was the well-known lord of the Nagoya
Nagoya, Aichi
is the third-largest incorporated city and the fourth most populous urban area in Japan.Located on the Pacific coast in the Chūbu region on central Honshu, it is the capital of Aichi Prefecture and is one of Japan's major ports along with those of Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Yokohama, Chiba, and Moji...

 area (once called Owari Province
Owari Province
was an old province of Japan that is now the western half of present day Aichi Prefecture, including much of modern Nagoya. Its abbreviation is Bishū .-History:The province was created in 646....

) and an exceptional example of a samurai of the Sengoku Period
Sengoku period
The or Warring States period in Japanese history was a time of social upheaval, political intrigue, and nearly constant military conflict that lasted roughly from the middle of the 15th century to the beginning of the 17th century. The name "Sengoku" was adopted by Japanese historians in reference...

. He came within a few years of, and laid down the path for his successors to follow, the reunification of Japan under a new Bakufu (Shogunate).

Oda Nobunaga made innovations in the fields of organization and war tactics, heavily used arquebuses, developed commerce and industry and treasured innovation. Consecutive victories enabled him to realize the termination of the Ashikaga Bakufu and the disarmament of the military powers of the Buddhist monks, which had inflamed futile struggles among the populace for centuries. Attacking from the "sanctuary" of Buddhist temples, they were constant headaches to any warlord and even the emperor who tried to control their actions. He died in 1582 when one of his generals, Akechi Mitsuhide
Akechi Mitsuhide
, nicknamed Jūbei or called from his clan name and title, was a samurai who lived during the Sengoku period of Feudal Japan.Mitsuhide was a general under daimyo Oda Nobunaga, although he became infamous for his betrayal in 1582, which led to Nobunaga's death at Honno-ji...

, turned upon him with his army.

Importantly, Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
was a daimyo warrior, general and politician of the Sengoku period. He unified the political factions of Japan. He succeeded his former liege lord, Oda Nobunaga, and brought an end to the Sengoku period. The period of his rule is often called the Momoyama period, named after Hideyoshi's castle...

 (see below) and Tokugawa Ieyasu
Tokugawa Ieyasu
 was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan , which ruled from the Battle of Sekigahara  in 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Ieyasu seized power in 1600, received appointment as shogun in 1603, abdicated from office in 1605, but...

, who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate, were loyal followers of Nobunaga. Hideyoshi was brought up from a nameless peasant to be one of Nobunaga's top generals and Ieyasu had shared his 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 on which build a unified Japan and 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
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
was a daimyo warrior, general and politician of the Sengoku period. He unified the political factions of Japan. He succeeded his former liege lord, Oda Nobunaga, and brought an end to the Sengoku period. The period of his rule is often called the Momoyama period, named after Hideyoshi's castle...

, 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 hereditary, and that non-samurai were forbidden to carry weapons, thereby ending the social mobility of Japan up until that point, which lasted until the dissolution of the Edo Shogunate by the Meiji revolutionaries.

It is important to note that the 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 those that chose to follow Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu. Large battles occurred during the change between regimes, and a number of defeated samurai were destroyed, went ronin
Ronin
A or rounin was a Bushi with no lord or master during the feudal period of Japan. A samurai became masterless from the death or fall of his master, or after the loss of his master's favor or privilege....

 or were absorbed into the general populace.

Tokugawa Shogunate

During the Tokugawa shogunate
Tokugawa shogunate
The Tokugawa shogunate, also known as the and the , was a feudal regime of Japan established by Tokugawa Ieyasu and ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family. This period is known as the Edo period and gets its name from the capital city, Edo, which is now called Tokyo, after the name was...

, samurai increasingly became courtiers, bureaucrats, and administrators rather than warriors. With no warfare since the early 17th century, samurai gradually lost their military function during the Tokugawa era (also called the Edo period
Edo period
The , or , is a division of Japanese history which was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family, running from 1603 to 1868. The political entity of this period was the Tokugawa shogunate....

).

By the end of the Tokugawa era, samurai were aristocratic bureaucrats for the daimyo
Daimyo
is a generic term referring to the powerful territorial lords in pre-modern Japan who ruled most of the country from their vast, hereditary land holdings...

, with their daisho
Daisho
The is a Japanese term for a matched pair of traditionally made Japanese swords worn by the samurai class in feudal Japan.-Description:...

, the paired long and short swords of the samurai (cf. katana
Katana
A Japanese sword, or , is one of the traditional bladed weapons of Japan. There are several types of Japanese swords, according to size, field of application and method of manufacture.-Description:...

 and wakizashi
Wakizashi
The is one of the traditional Japanese swords worn by the samurai class in feudal Japan.-Description:...

) 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
Commoner
In British law, a commoner is someone who is neither the Sovereign nor a peer. Therefore, any member of the Royal Family who is not a peer, such as Prince Harry of Wales or Anne, Princess Royal, is a commoner, as is any member of a peer's family, including someone who holds only a courtesy title,...

 who did not show proper respect (kiri sute gomen
Kiri sute gomen
Kiri sute gomen Kiri sute gomen Kiri sute gomen (斬り捨て御免 or 切り捨て御免: literally, "authorization to cut and leave" (the body of the victim) is an old Japanese expression dating back to the feudal era right to strike. Samurai had the right to strike with sword at anyone of a lower class who was...

 ), but to what extent this right was used is unknown. When the central government forced daimyos to cut the size of their armies, unemployed ronin
Ronin
A or rounin was a Bushi with no lord or master during the feudal period of Japan. A samurai became masterless from the death or fall of his master, or after the loss of his master's favor or privilege....

 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
Confucius
Confucius , literally "Master Kong", was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period....

 and Mencius
Mencius
Mencius was a Chinese philosopher who was arguably the most famous Confucian after Confucius himself.-Life:Mencius, also known by his birth name Meng Ke or Ko, was born in the State of Zou, now forming the territory of the county-level city of Zoucheng , Shandong province, only thirty kilometres ...

 (ca 550 BC) which were required reading for the educated samurai class. Bushido was formalized by several influential leaders and families before the Edo Period. Bushido was an ideal, and it remained fairly uniform from the 13th century to the 19th century — the ideals of Bushido transcended social class, time and geographic location of the warrior class.

Bushido
Bushido
, meaning "Way of the Warrior-Knight", is a Japanese word which is used to describe a uniquely Japanese code of conduct and a way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry. It originates from the samurai moral code and stresses frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and...

 was formalized by samurai such as Imagawa Ryoshun as early as the 13th century. The conduct of samurai served as role model behavior for the other social classes. With time on their hands, samurai spent more time in pursuit of other interests such as becoming scholars.

Bushido itself is no longer particularly prominent in modern Japan, though some of its ideals and precepts live on.

Modernization

The relative peace of the Tokugawa era was shattered with the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry's
Matthew Perry (naval officer)
Matthew Calbraith Perry was the Commodore of the U.S. Navy and served commanding a number of US naval ships. He served several wars, most notably in the Mexican-American War and the War of 1812. He played a leading role in the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854...

 massive U.S. Navy steamships in 1853. Perry used his superior firepower to force Japan to open its borders to trade. Prior to that only a few harbor towns, under strict control from the Shogunate, were allowed to participate in Western trade, and even then, it was based largely on the idea of playing the Franciscan
Franciscan
Most Franciscans are members of Roman Catholic religious orders founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. Besides Roman Catholic communities, there are also Old Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, ecumenical and Non-denominational Franciscan communities....

s and Dominicans
Dominican Order
The Order of Preachers , after the 15th century more commonly known as the Dominican Order or Dominicans, is a Catholic religious order founded by Saint Dominic and approved by Pope Honorius III on 22 December 1216 in France...

 off against one another (in exchange for the crucial arquebus
Arquebus
The arquebus , or "hook tube", is an early muzzle-loaded firearm used in the 15th to 17th centuries. The word was originally modeled on the German hakenbüchse; this produced haquebute...

 technology, which in turn was a major contributor to the downfall of the classical samurai).

From 1854, the samurai army and the navy were modernized. A Naval training school
Nagasaki Naval Training Center
The was a naval training institute, between 1855 when it was established by the government of the Tokugawa shogunate, until 1859, when it was transferred to Tsukiji in Edo....

 was established in Nagasaki in 1855. Naval students were sent to study in Western naval schools for several years, starting a tradition of foreign-educated future leaders, such as Admiral Enomoto
Enomoto Takeaki
Viscount was a samurai and admiral of the Tokugawa navy of Bakumatsu period Japan, who remained faithful to the Tokugawa shogunate who fought against the new Meiji government until the end of the Boshin War...

.

French naval engineers were hired to build naval arsenals, such as Yokosuka and Nagasaki. By the end of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1867, the Japanese navy of the shogun
Shogun
A was one of the hereditary military dictators of Japan from 1192 to 1867. In this period, the shoguns, or their shikken regents , were the de facto rulers of Japan though they were nominally appointed by the emperor...

 already possessed eight western-style steam warships around the flagship Kaiyō Maru
Japanese battleship Kaiyo Maru
Kaiyō Maru was one of Japan's first modern warships, powered by both sails and steam.-Construction:She was ordered in the Netherlands in 1863 by the Bakufu, the government of the Shogun, the Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij acting as agents. The ship was built at the yard of Cornelis Gips and...

, which were used against pro-imperial forces during the Boshin war
Boshin War
The was a civil war in Japan, fought from 1868 to 1869 between forces of the ruling Tokugawa shogunate and those seeking to return political power to the imperial court....

, under the command of Admiral Enomoto
Enomoto Takeaki
Viscount was a samurai and admiral of the Tokugawa navy of Bakumatsu period Japan, who remained faithful to the Tokugawa shogunate who fought against the new Meiji government until the end of the Boshin War...

. A French Military Mission to Japan (1867)
French Military Mission to Japan (1867)
The French Military Mission to Japan of 1867-68 was the first foreign military training mission to Japan. The mission was formed by Napoléon III, following a request of the Japanese Shogunate in the person of its emissary to Europe, Shibata Takenaka .Shibata was already negotiating the final...

 was established to help modernize the armies of the Bakufu.

The last showing of the original samurai was in 1867 when samurai from Chōshū
Nagato Province
, often called , was a province of Japan. It was at the extreme western end of Honshū, in the area that is today Yamaguchi Prefecture. Nagato bordered on Iwami and Suō Provinces....

 and Satsuma
Satsuma Province
was an old province of Japan that is now the western half of Kagoshima Prefecture on the island of Kyūshū. Its abbreviation is Sasshū .During the Sengoku Period, Satsuma was a fief of the Shimazu daimyo, who ruled much of southern Kyūshū from their castle at Kagoshima city.In 1871, with the...

 provinces defeated the Shogunate forces in favor of the rule of the emperor in the Boshin War
Boshin War
The was a civil war in Japan, fought from 1868 to 1869 between forces of the ruling Tokugawa shogunate and those seeking to return political power to the imperial court....

 (1868–1869). The two provinces were the lands of the daimyo that submitted to Ieyasu after the Battle of Sekigahara
Battle of Sekigahara
The , popularly known as the , was a decisive battle on October 21, 1600 which cleared the path to the Shogunate for Tokugawa Ieyasu...

 (1600).

The Tokugawa Shogunate also isolated Japan until 1868 of when the Meiji restoration shifted power from the shogunate to the Imperial family.

Decline

Emperor Meiji
Emperor Meiji
The or was the 122nd emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession, reigning from 3 February 1867 until his death...

 abolished the samurai's right to be the only armed force in favor of a more modern, western-style, conscripted army in 1873. Samurai became Shizoku who retained some of their salaries, but the right to wear a katana in public was eventually abolished along with the right to execute 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.

In defining how a modern Japan should be, members of the Meiji government decided to follow the footsteps of the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, basing the country on the concept of "noblesse oblige
Noblesse oblige
Noblesse oblige is a French phrase literally meaning "nobility obliges".The Dictionnaire de l’Académie française defines it thus:# Whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly....

". Samurai were not to be a political force under the new order.

With the Meiji
Meiji Restoration
The , also known as the Meiji Ishin, Revolution, Reform or Renewal, was a chain of events that restored imperial rule to Japan in 1868...

 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 officers. Much of the Imperial Army officer class was of samurai origin and they were highly motivated, disciplined and exceptionally trained.

The last samurai conflict was arguably in 1877, during the Satsuma Rebellion
Satsuma Rebellion
The was a revolt of Satsuma ex-samurai against the Meiji government from January 29 to September 24, 1877, 9 years into the Meiji Era. It was the last, and the most serious, of a series of armed uprisings against the new government.-Background:...

 in the Battle of Shiroyama
Battle of Shiroyama
-External links:* *...

. This conflict had its genesis in the previous uprising to defeat the Tokugawa Shogunate, leading to the Meiji Restoration.

The newly formed government instituted radical changes, aimed at reducing the power of the feudal domains, including Satsuma, and the dissolution of samurai status. This led to the ultimately premature uprising, led by Saigō Takamori
Saigo Takamori
was one of the most influential samurai in Japanese history, living during the late Edo Period and early Meiji Era. He has been dubbed the last true samurai.-Early life:...

.

Samurai were many of the early exchange students, not directly because they were samurai, but because many samurai were literate and well-educated scholars. Some of these exchange students started private schools for higher educations, while many samurai took pens instead of guns and became reporters and writers, setting up newspaper companies, and others entered governmental service.

Only the name Shizoku existed after that. After Japan lost World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the name Shizoku disappeared under the law on January 1, 1947.

Western samurai

The English sailor and adventurer William Adams
William Adams (sailor)
William Adams , also known in Japanese as Anjin-sama and Miura Anjin , was an English navigator who travelled to Japan and is believed to be the first Englishman ever to reach that country...

 (1564–1620) seems to have been the first Caucasian to receive the dignity of samurai. The Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu
Tokugawa Ieyasu
 was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan , which ruled from the Battle of Sekigahara  in 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Ieyasu seized power in 1600, received appointment as shogun in 1603, abdicated from office in 1605, but...

 presented him with two swords representing the authority of a samurai, and decreed that William Adams the sailor was dead and that Miura Anjin , a samurai, was born. Adams also received the title of hatamoto
Hatamoto
A was a samurai in the direct service of the Tokugawa shogunate of feudal Japan. While all three of the shogunates in Japanese history had official retainers, in the two preceding ones, they were referred to as gokenin. However, in the Edo period, hatamoto were the upper vassals of the Tokugawa...

 (bannerman), a high-prestige position as a direct retainer in the Shogun's court. He was provided with generous revenues: "For the services that I have done and do daily, being employed in the Emperor's service, the emperor has given me a living" (Letters). He was granted a fief in Hemi within the boundaries of present-day Yokosuka City, "with eighty or ninety husbandmen, that be my slaves or servants" (Letters). His estate was valued at 250 koku
Koku
The is a Japanese unit of volume, equal to ten cubic shaku. In this definition, 3.5937 koku equal one cubic metre, i.e. 1 koku is approximately 278.3 litres. The koku was originally defined as a quantity of rice, historically defined as enough rice to feed one person for one year...

 (measure of the income of the land in rice equal to about five bushel
Bushel
A bushel is an imperial and U.S. customary unit of dry volume, equivalent in each of these systems to 4 pecks or 8 gallons. It is used for volumes of dry commodities , most often in agriculture...

s). He finally wrote "God hath provided for me after my great misery" (Letters) by which he meant the disaster-ridden voyage that had initially brought him to Japan.

Jan Joosten van Lodensteijn
Jan Joosten van Lodensteijn
Jan Joosten van Lodensteijn , or simply Jan Joosten, was a native of Delft and one of the first Dutchmen in Japan, arriving as one of William Adams's shipmates on the De Liefde, which was disabled on the coast of Kyūshū in 1600.-Early life in Japan:The De Liefde departed Rotterdam in 1598, on a...

 (1556?–1623?), a Dutch colleague of Adams' on their ill-fated voyage to Japan in the ship De Liefde, was also given similar privileges by Tokugawa Ieyasu. It appears Joosten became a samurai and was given a residence within Ieyasu's castle at Edo. Today, this area at the east exit of Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station
is a train station located in the Marunouchi business district of Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan, near the Imperial Palace grounds and the Ginza commercial district....

 is known as Yaesu
Yaesu
is a neighborhood in Chūō, Tokyo, Japan, located north of Ginza, west of Nihonbashi and Kyōbashi, and adjacent to the east side of Tokyo Station. The Yaesu exit, which faces Nihonbashi, is recent and primarily provides access to the Shinkansen platforms.-History:...

 (八重洲). Yaesu is a corruption of the Dutchman's Japanese name, Yayousu (耶楊子). Also in common with Adam's, Joostens was given a Red Seal Ship (朱印船) allowing him to trade between Japan and Indo-China. On a return journey from Batavia
Jakarta
Jakarta is the capital and largest city of Indonesia. Officially known as the Special Capital Territory of Jakarta, it is located on the northwest coast of Java, has an area of , and a population of 9,580,000. Jakarta is the country's economic, cultural and political centre...

 Joosten drowned after his ship ran aground.

Also, during the Boshin War
Boshin War
The was a civil war in Japan, fought from 1868 to 1869 between forces of the ruling Tokugawa shogunate and those seeking to return political power to the imperial court....

 (1868–1869), French soldiers joined the forces of the Shogun against the Southern Daimyos favorable to the restoration of the Meiji emperor. It is recorded that the French Navy officer Eugène Collache
Eugène Collache
Eugène Collache was an officer of the French Navy in the 19th century. Based on the ship Minerva of the French Oriental Fleet, he deserted when the ship was anchored at Yokohama harbour, with his friend Henri Nicol to rally other French officers, led by Jules Brunet, who had embraced the cause of...

 fought in samurai attire with his Japanese brothers-in-arms. At the same time, the Prussian Edward Schnell served the Aizu
Aizu
is an area comprising the westernmost third of Fukushima Prefecture in Japan. The principal city of the area is Aizuwakamatsu.During the Edo period, Aizu was a feudal domain known as and part of Mutsu Province.-History:...

 domain as a military instructor and procurer of weapons. He was granted the Japanese name Hiramatsu Buhei (平松武兵衛), which inverted the characters of the daimyo's name Matsudaira
Matsudaira Katamori
was a samurai who lived in the last days of the Edo period and the early to mid Meiji period. He was the 9th daimyo of the Aizu han and the Military Commissioner of Kyoto during the Bakumatsu period. During the Boshin War, Katamori and the Aizu han fought against the Meiji Government armies, but...

. Hiramatsu (Schnell) was given the right to wear swords, as well as a residence in the castle town of Wakamatsu, a Japanese wife, and retainers. In many contemporary references, he is portrayed as wearing a Japanese kimono, overcoat, and swords, with Western riding trousers and boots.

Culture

As de facto aristocrats for centuries, samurai developed their own cultures that influenced Japanese culture as a whole. The culture associated with the samurai such as the tea ceremony
Japanese tea ceremony
The Japanese tea ceremony, also called the Way of Tea, is a Japanese cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha, powdered green tea. In Japanese, it is called . The manner in which it is performed, or the art of its performance, is called...

, monochrome ink painting, rock gardens and poetry were adopted by warrior patrons throughout the centuries 1200–1600. These practices were adapted from the Chinese arts. Zen monks introduced them to Japan and they were allowed to flourish due to the interest of powerful warrior elites. Muso Soseki (1275–1351) was a Zen monk who was advisor to both Emperor Go-Daigo and General Ashikaga Takauji (1304–58). Muso as well as other monks acted as political and cultural diplomats between Japan and China. Muso was particularly well known for his garden design. Another Ashikaga patron of the arts was Yoshimasa. His cultural advisor, the Zen monk Zeami, introduced tea ceremony to him. Previously, tea had been used primarily for Buddhist monks to stay awake during meditation.

Education

In general, samurai, aristocrats, and priests had a very high literacy rate in Kanji. Recent studies have shown that literacy in Kanji among other groups in society was somewhat higher than previously understood. For example, court documents, birth and death records and marriage records from the Kamakura period, submitted by farmers, were prepared in Kanji. Both the Kanji literacy rate and skills in math improved toward the end of Kamakura period.

Literacy was generally high among the warriors and the common classes as well. The feudal lord Asakura Norikage
Asakura Norikage
, also known as Asakura Sōteki , was the eighth son of Asakura Toshikage and one of the prime entities of power, under headship, during the early Sengoku Period of Feudal Japan....

 (1474–1555 AD) noted the great loyalty given to his father, due to his polite letters, not just to fellow samurai, but also to the farmers and townspeople:

There were to Lord Eirin's character many high points difficult to measure, but according to the elders the foremost of these was the way he governed the province by his civility. It goes without saying that he acted this way toward those in the samurai class, but he was also polite in writing letters to the farmers and townspeople, and even in addressing these letters he was gracious beyond normal practice. In this way, all were willing to sacrifice their lives for him and become his allies.


In a letter dated January 29, 1552, St Francis Xavier observed the ease of which the Japanese understood prayers due to the high level of literacy in Japan at that time:

There are two kinds of writing in Japan, one used by men and the other by women; and for the most part both men and women, especially of the nobility and the commercial class, have a literary education. The bonzes, or bonzesses, in their monasteries teach letters to the girls and boys, though rich and noble persons entrust the education of their children to private tutors.

Most of them can read, and this is a great help to them for the easy understanding of our usual prayers and the chief points of our holy religion.


In a letter to Father Ignatius Loyola
Ignatius of Loyola
Ignatius of Loyola was a Spanish knight from a Basque noble family, hermit, priest since 1537, and theologian, who founded the Society of Jesus and was its first Superior General. Ignatius emerged as a religious leader during the Counter-Reformation...

 at Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, Xavier further noted the education of the upper classes:

The Nobles send their sons to monasteries to be educated as soon as they are 8 years old, and they remain there until they are 19 or 20, learning reading, writing and religion; as soon as they come out, they marry and apply themselves to politics.

They are discreet, magnanimous and lovers of virtue and letters, honouring learned men very much.


In a letter dated November 11, 1549, Xavier described a multi-tiered educational system in Japan consisting of "universities", "colleges", "academies" and hundreds of monasteries which served as a principle center for learning by the populace:

But now we must give you an account of our stay at Cagoxima. We put into that port because the wind was adverse to our sailing to Meaco, which is the largest city in Japan, and most famous as the residence of the King and the Princes. It is said that after four months are passed the favourable season for a voyage to Meaco will return, and then with the good help of God we shall sail thither. The distance from Cagoxima is three hundred leagues. We hear wonderful stories about the size of Meaco : they say that it consists of more than ninety thousand dwellings. There is a very famous University there, as well as five chief colleges of students, and more than two hundred monasteries of bonzes, and of others who are like coenobites, called Legioxi, as well as of women of the same kind, who are called Hamacutis. Besides this of Meaco, there are in Japan five other principal academies, at Coya, at Negu, at Fisso, and at Homia. These are situated round Meaco, with short distances between them, and each is frequented by about three thousand five hundred scholars. Besides these there is the Academy at Bandou, much the largest and most famous in all Japan, and at a great distance from Meaco. Bandou is a large territory, ruled by six minor princes, one of whom is more powerful than the others and is obeyed by them, being himself subject to the King of Japan, who is called the Great King of Meaco. The things that are given out as to the greatness and celebrity of these universities and cities are so wonderful as to make us think of seeing them first with our own eyes and ascertaining the truth, and then when we have discovered and know how things really are, of writing an account of them to you. 10 They say that there are several lesser academies besides those which we have mentioned.

Names

A samurai was usually named by combining one kanji
Kanji
Kanji are the adopted logographic Chinese characters hanzi that are used in the modern Japanese writing system along with hiragana , katakana , Indo Arabic numerals, and the occasional use of the Latin alphabet...

 from his father or grandfather and one new kanji. Samurai normally used only a small part of their total name.

For example, the full name of Oda Nobunaga
Oda Nobunaga
was the initiator of the unification of Japan under the shogunate in the late 16th century, which ruled Japan until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. He was also a major daimyo during the Sengoku period of Japanese history. His opus was continued, completed and finalized by his successors Toyotomi...

 would be "Oda Kazusanosuke Saburo Nobunaga" , in which "Oda" is a clan or family name, "Kazusanosuke" is a title of vice-governor of Kazusa province, "Saburo" is a name before genpuku
Genpuku
or genbuku was an historical Japanese coming-of-age ceremony. The etymology is atypical; in this case means "head" and means "wearing". The ceremony is also known as , , , , and ....

, a coming of age ceremony, and "Nobunaga" is an adult name. Samurai were able to choose their own first names.

Marriage

The marriage
Marriage
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...

 of samurai was done by having a marriage arranged by someone with the same or higher rank than those being married. While for those samurai in the upper ranks this was a necessity (as most had few opportunities to meet a female), this was a formality
Formality
A formality is an established procedure or set of specific behaviors and utterances, conceptually similar to a ritual although typically secular and less involved...

 for lower ranked samurai. Most samurai married women from a samurai family, but for a lower ranked samurai, marriages with commoners were permitted. In these marriages a dowry
Dowry
A dowry is the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings forth to the marriage. It contrasts with bride price, which is paid to the bride's parents, and dower, which is property settled on the bride herself by the groom at the time of marriage. The same culture may simultaneously practice both...

 was brought by the woman and was used to start their new lives.

A samurai could have a mistress
Mistress (lover)
A mistress is a long-term female lover and companion who is not married to her partner; the term is used especially when her partner is married. The relationship generally is stable and at least semi-permanent; however, the couple does not live together openly. Also the relationship is usually,...

 but her background was strictly checked by higher ranked samurai. In many cases, this was treated like a marriage. "Kidnapping" a mistress, although common in fiction, would have been shameful, if not a crime. When she was a commoner, a messenger would be sent with betrothal money or a note for exemption of tax to ask for her parent's acceptance and many parents gladly accepted. If a samurai's wife gave birth to a son he could be a samurai.

A samurai could divorce
Divorce
Divorce is the final termination of a marital union, canceling the legal duties and responsibilities of marriage and dissolving the bonds of matrimony between the parties...

 his wife for a variety of reasons with approval from a superior, but divorce was, while not entirely nonexistent, a rare event. A reason for divorce would be if she could not produce a son, but then adoption
Adoption
Adoption is a process whereby a person assumes the parenting for another and, in so doing, permanently transfers all rights and responsibilities from the original parent or parents...

 could be arranged as an alternative to divorce. A samurai could divorce for personal reasons, even if he simply did not like his wife, but this was generally avoided as it would embarrass the samurai who had arranged the marriage. A woman could also arrange a divorce, although it would generally take the form of the samurai divorcing her. After a divorce samurai had to return the betrothal money, which often prevented divorces. 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 commit jigai
Jigai
The word means "suicide" in Japanese. The usual modern word for suicide is . Related words include , and . Jigai refers to suicide by both females and males....

 (a female's seppuku
Seppuku
is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. Seppuku was originally reserved only for samurai. Part of the samurai bushido honor code, seppuku was either used voluntarily by samurai to die with honor rather than fall into the hands of their enemies , or as a form of capital punishment...

) if she were cast off.

Philosophy

The philosophies of Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 and Zen
Zen
Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism founded by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma. The word Zen is from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chán , which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as "meditation" or "meditative state."Zen...

, and to a lesser extent Confucianism
Confucianism
Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius . Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han...

 and Shinto
Shinto
or Shintoism, also kami-no-michi, is the indigenous spirituality of Japan and the Japanese people. It is a set of practices, to be carried out diligently, to establish a connection between present day Japan and its ancient past. Shinto practices were first recorded and codified in the written...

, influenced the samurai culture. Zen meditation became an important teaching due to it offering a process to calm one's mind. The Buddhist concept of reincarnation
Reincarnation
Reincarnation best describes the concept where the soul or spirit, after the death of the body, is believed to return to live in a new human body, or, in some traditions, either as a human being, animal or plant...

 and rebirth
Reincarnation
Reincarnation best describes the concept where the soul or spirit, after the death of the body, is believed to return to live in a new human body, or, in some traditions, either as a human being, animal or plant...

 led samurai to abandon torture and needless killing, while 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 these realizations in the battlefield. The most defining role that Confucianism
Confucianism
Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius . Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han...

 played in samurai philosophy was to stress the importance of the lord-retainer relationship; this is, the loyalty that a samurai was required to show his lord.

Bushidō
Bushido
, meaning "Way of the Warrior-Knight", is a Japanese word which is used to describe a uniquely Japanese code of conduct and a way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry. It originates from the samurai moral code and stresses frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and...

 ("way of the warrior") was a term that began to appear in intellectual and nationalist discourse after the Japanese defeat of China in 1885 and of Russia in 1905. Hagakure
Hagakure
Hagakure , or is a practical and spiritual guide for a warrior, drawn from a collection of commentaries by the samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo, former retainer to Nabeshima Mitsushige, the third ruler of what is now the Saga prefecture in Japan...

 or "Hidden in Leaves" by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
Yamamoto Tsunetomo
, also read Yamamoto Jōchō was a samurai of the Saga Domain in Hizen Province under his lord Nabeshima Mitsushige. For thirty years Yamamoto devoted his life to the service of his lord and clan...

 and Gorin no Sho or "Book of the Five Rings" by Miyamoto Musashi both written in the Tokugawa period (1603–1868) are theories often associated with Bushido and Zen philosophy.

The philosophies of Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 and Zen
Zen
Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism founded by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma. The word Zen is from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chán , which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as "meditation" or "meditative state."Zen...

, and to a lesser extent Confucianism
Confucianism
Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius . Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han...

 and Shinto
Shinto
or Shintoism, also kami-no-michi, is the indigenous spirituality of Japan and the Japanese people. It is a set of practices, to be carried out diligently, to establish a connection between present day Japan and its ancient past. Shinto practices were first recorded and codified in the written...

, are attributed to the development of the samurai culture. "The notion that Zen is somehow related to Japanese culture in general, and bushido in particular, is familiar to Western students of Zen through the writings of D. T. Suzuki, no doubt the single most important figure in the spread of Zen in the West."

In an account of Japan sent to Father Ignatius Loyola at Rome, drawn from the statements of Anger (Han-Siro's western name), Xavier describes the importance of honor to the Japanese (Letter preserved at College of Coimbra.):

In the first place, the nation with which we have had to do here surpasses in goodness any of the nations lately discovered. I really think that among barbarous nations there can be none that has more natural goodness than the Japanese. They are of a kindly disposition, not at all given to cheating, wonderfully desirous of honour and rank. Honour with them is placed above everything else. There are a great many poor among them, but poverty is not a disgrace to any one. There is one thing among them of which I hardly know whether it is practised anywhere among Christians. The nobles, however poor they may be, receive the same honour from the rest as if they were rich.

Women

Maintaining the household was the main duty of samurai women. This was especially crucial during early feudal Japan, when warrior husbands were often traveling abroad or engaged in clan battles. The wife, or okugatasama (meaning: one who remains in the home), was left to manage all household affairs, care for the children, and perhaps even defend the home forcibly. For this reason, many women of the samurai class were trained in wielding a polearm called a naginata
Naginata
The naginata is one of several varieties of traditionally made Japanese blades in the form of a pole weapon. Naginata were originally used by the samurai class in feudal Japan, and naginata were also used by ashigaru and sōhei .-Description:A naginata consists of a wooden shaft with a curved...

 or a special knife called the kaiken
Kaiken (dagger)
A is a dagger formerly carried by men and women of the samurai class in Japan. It was useful for self-defense indoors where the long katana and intermediate wakizashi were inconvenient. Women carried them in the obi for self-defense and rarely for jigai . A woman received a kaiken as part of her...

 in an art called tantojutsu
Tantojutsu
Tantōjutsu is a Japanese term for a variety of knife fighting systems....

 (lit. the skill of the knife), which they could use to protect their household, family, and honor if the need arose.

Traits valued in women of the samurai class were humility, obedience, self-control, strength, and loyalty. Ideally, a samurai wife would be skilled at managing property, keeping records, dealing with financial matters, educating the children (and perhaps servants, too), and caring for elderly parents or in-laws that may be living under her roof. Confucian law, which helped define personal relationships and the code of ethics of the warrior class required that a woman show subservience to her husband, filial piety to her parents, and care to the children. Too much love and affection was also said to indulge and spoil the youngsters. Thus, a woman was also to exercise discipline.
Though women of wealthier samurai families enjoyed perks of their elevated position in society, such as avoiding the physical labor that those of lower classes often engaged in, they were still viewed as far beneath men. Women were prohibited from engaging in any political affairs and were usually not the heads of their household.

This does not mean that samurai women were always powerless. Powerful women both wisely and unwisely wielded power at various occasions. After Ashikaga Yoshimasa
Ashikaga Yoshimasa
was the 8th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate who reigned from 1449 to 1473 during the Muromachi period of Japan. Yoshimasa was the son of the sixth shogun Ashikaga Yoshinori....

, 8th shogun of the Muromachi shogunate lost interest in politics, his wife Hino Tomiko largely ruled in his place. Nene, wife of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was known to overrule her husband's decisions at times and Yodo, his mistress, became the de facto master of Osaka castle and the Toyotomi clan after Hideyoshi's death. Chiyo, wife of Yamauchi Kazutoyo, has long been considered the ideal samurai wife. According to legend, she made her kimono out of a quilted patchwork of bits of old cloth and saved pennies to buy her husband a magnificent horse on which he rode to many victories. The fact that Chiyo (though she is better known as "Wife of Yamauchi Kazutoyo") is held to such high esteem for her economic sense is illuminating in the light of the fact that she never produced an heir and the Yamauchi clan was succeeded by Kazutoyo's younger brother. The source of power for women may have been that samurai looked down upon matters concerning money and left their finances to their wives.

As the Tokugawa period progressed more value became placed on education, and the education of females beginning at a young age became important to families and society as a whole. Marriage criteria began to weigh intelligence and education as desirable attributes in a wife, right along with physical attractiveness. Though many of the texts written for women during the Tokugawa period only pertained to how a woman could become a successful wife and household manager, there were those that undertook the challenge of learning to read, and also tackled philosophical and literary classics. Nearly all women of the samurai class were literate by the end of the Tokugawa period.

Weapons

Swords are the weapons that have come to be synonymous with the samurai.
Japanese swords from the Nara period
Nara period
The of the history of Japan covers the years from AD 710 to 794. Empress Gemmei established the capital of Heijō-kyō . Except for 5 years , when the capital was briefly moved again, it remained the capital of Japanese civilization until Emperor Kammu established a new capital, Nagaoka-kyō, in 784...

 swords are called Chokutō
Chokuto
The is a type of Japanese sword that dates back to pre-Heian times. Chokutō were made in later periods, but usually as temple offering swords. Chokutō were straight and single-edged hacking swords. That chokutō's design was originally imported to Japan from China, though seemingly most often...

 and featured a straight blade, by the late 900s curved tachi
Tachi
The is one type of traditional Japanese sword worn by the samurai class of feudal Japan.-History and description:With a few exceptions katana and tachi can be distinguished from each other if signed, by the location of the signature on the tang...

 appeared, followed by the uchigatana
Uchigatana
The is one type type of traditional Japanese sword worn by the samurai class of feudal Japan. The uchigatana was the descendant of the tachi.-History:...

 and ultimately the katana
Katana
A Japanese sword, or , is one of the traditional bladed weapons of Japan. There are several types of Japanese swords, according to size, field of application and method of manufacture.-Description:...

. Smaller commonly known companion swords are the wakizashi
Wakizashi
The is one of the traditional Japanese swords worn by the samurai class in feudal Japan.-Description:...

 and the tanto
Tanto
A is one of the traditional Japanese swords that were worn by the samurai class of feudal Japan. The tantō dates to the Heian period, when it was mainly used as a weapon but evolved in design over the years to become more ornate...

.
A katana
Katana
A Japanese sword, or , is one of the traditional bladed weapons of Japan. There are several types of Japanese swords, according to size, field of application and method of manufacture.-Description:...

 and a Wakizashi
Wakizashi
The is one of the traditional Japanese swords worn by the samurai class in feudal Japan.-Description:...

 or tantō
Tanto
A is one of the traditional Japanese swords that were worn by the samurai class of feudal Japan. The tantō dates to the Heian period, when it was mainly used as a weapon but evolved in design over the years to become more ornate...

 together are called a daishō
Daisho
The is a Japanese term for a matched pair of traditionally made Japanese swords worn by the samurai class in feudal Japan.-Description:...

 (literally "big and small"), the wearing of a daisho became the symbol of the samurai as only a samurai was allowed to wear the daisho.

The yumi
Yumi
is the Japanese term for bows, and includes the longer and the shorter used in the practice of kyūdō, or Japanese archery. The yumi was an important weapon of the samurai warrior during the feudal period of Japan.-History of the yumi:...

(longbow), reflected in the art of kyūjutsu
Kyujutsu
is the traditional Japanese martial art of wielding a bow. Although the samurai of feudal Japan are perhaps best known for their swordsmanship with a katana , kyūjutsu was actually considered a more vital skill for a significant portion of Japanese history...

 (lit. the skill of the bow) was a major weapon of the Japanese military. Its usage declined with the introduction of firearms during the Sengoku period
Sengoku period
The or Warring States period in Japanese history was a time of social upheaval, political intrigue, and nearly constant military conflict that lasted roughly from the middle of the 15th century to the beginning of the 17th century. The name "Sengoku" was adopted by Japanese historians in reference...

, but the skill was still practiced at least for sport. The yumi
Yumi
is the Japanese term for bows, and includes the longer and the shorter used in the practice of kyūdō, or Japanese archery. The yumi was an important weapon of the samurai warrior during the feudal period of Japan.-History of the yumi:...

, an asymmetric composite bow
Composite bow
A composite bow is a bow made from horn, wood, and sinew laminated together. The horn is on the belly, facing the archer, and sinew on the back of a wooden core. Sinew and horn will store more energy than wood for the same length of bow...

 made from bamboo
Bamboo
Bamboo is a group of perennial evergreens in the true grass family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe Bambuseae. Giant bamboos are the largest members of the grass family....

, wood
Wood
Wood is a hard, fibrous tissue found in many trees. It has been used for hundreds of thousands of years for both fuel and as a construction material. It is an organic material, a natural composite of cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin which resists compression...

, rattan
Rattan
Rattan is the name for the roughly 600 species of palms in the tribe Calameae, native to tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Australasia.- Structure :...

 and leather
Leather
Leather is a durable and flexible material created via the tanning of putrescible animal rawhide and skin, primarily cattlehide. It can be produced through different manufacturing processes, ranging from cottage industry to heavy industry.-Forms:...

, was not as powerful as the Eurasian reflex composite bow
Composite bow
A composite bow is a bow made from horn, wood, and sinew laminated together. The horn is on the belly, facing the archer, and sinew on the back of a wooden core. Sinew and horn will store more energy than wood for the same length of bow...

, having an effective range of 50 meters (about 164 feet) or 100 meters (328 feet) if accuracy was not an issue. On foot, it was usually used behind a tedate , a large and mobile bamboo wall, but could also be used from horseback because of its asymmetric shape. The practice of shooting from horseback became a Shinto ceremony known as yabusame
Yabusame
is a type of mounted archery in traditional Japanese archery. An archer on a running horse shoots three special "turnip-headed" arrows successively at three wooden targets....

 .

Pole weapons including the yari
Yari
is the term for one of the traditionally made Japanese blades in the form of a spear, or more specifically, the straight-headed spear...

 and naginata
Naginata
The naginata is one of several varieties of traditionally made Japanese blades in the form of a pole weapon. Naginata were originally used by the samurai class in feudal Japan, and naginata were also used by ashigaru and sōhei .-Description:A naginata consists of a wooden shaft with a curved...

 also became a popular weapon. The yari
Yari
is the term for one of the traditionally made Japanese blades in the form of a spear, or more specifically, the straight-headed spear...

 displaced the naginata
Naginata
The naginata is one of several varieties of traditionally made Japanese blades in the form of a pole weapon. Naginata were originally used by the samurai class in feudal Japan, and naginata were also used by ashigaru and sōhei .-Description:A naginata consists of a wooden shaft with a curved...

 from the battlefield as personal bravery became less of a factor and battles became more organized around massed, inexpensive foot troops (ashigaru
Ashigaru
The Japanese ashigaru were foot-soldiers of medieval Japan. The first known reference to ashigaru was in the 1300s, but it was during the Ashikaga Shogunate-Muromachi period that the use of ashigaru became prevalent by various warring factions.-Origins:Attempts were made in Japan by the Emperor...

). A charge, mounted or dismounted, was also more effective when using a spear rather than a sword, as it offered better than even odds against a samurai using a sword. In the Battle of Shizugatake where Shibata Katsuie
Shibata Katsuie
or was a Japanese military commander during the Sengoku Period who served Oda Nobunaga.-Biography:Katsuie was born in the Shibata family, a branch of the Shiba clan . Note the differences between , , and the .Katsuie was the retainer of Oda Nobukatsu...

 was defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
was a daimyo warrior, general and politician of the Sengoku period. He unified the political factions of Japan. He succeeded his former liege lord, Oda Nobunaga, and brought an end to the Sengoku period. The period of his rule is often called the Momoyama period, named after Hideyoshi's castle...

, then known as Hashiba Hideyoshi, seven samurai who came to be known as the "Seven Spears of Shizugatake
Seven Spears of Shizugatake
The ' were mounted bodyguards for Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the battle of Shizugatake in 1583. At the decisive moment in the battle, Hideyoshi ordered them to leave the position and charge at the opposing army of Katsuie Shibata...

" played a crucial role in the victory.

Tanegashima a form of matchlock
Matchlock
The matchlock was the first mechanism, or "lock" invented to facilitate the firing of a hand-held firearm. This design removed the need to lower by hand a lit match into the weapon's flash pan and made it possible to have both hands free to keep a firm grip on the weapon at the moment of firing,...

 which was introduced to Japan in the 1540s through Portuguese
Portuguese Empire
The Portuguese Empire , also known as the Portuguese Overseas Empire or the Portuguese Colonial Empire , was the first global empire in history...

 trade, enabling warlords to raise effective armies from masses of peasants. The new weapons were highly controversial. Their ease of use and deadly effectiveness was perceived by many samurai as a dishonorable affront to tradition. Oda Nobunaga
Oda Nobunaga
was the initiator of the unification of Japan under the shogunate in the late 16th century, which ruled Japan until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. He was also a major daimyo during the Sengoku period of Japanese history. His opus was continued, completed and finalized by his successors Toyotomi...

 made deadly use of the tanegashima at the Battle of Nagashino
Battle of Nagashino
The ' took place in 1575 near Nagashino Castle on the plain of Shitaragahara in the Mikawa province of Japan. Forces under Takeda Katsuyori had besieged the castle since the 17th of June; Okudaira Sadamasa , a Tokugawa vassal, commanded the defending force...

 in 1575, leading to the end of the Takeda clan. Tanegashima were produced on a large scale by Japanese gunsmiths. By the end of the 16th century, there were more firearms in Japan than in any European nation. Tanegashima, employed en masse, largely by ashigaru
Ashigaru
The Japanese ashigaru were foot-soldiers of medieval Japan. The first known reference to ashigaru was in the 1300s, but it was during the Ashikaga Shogunate-Muromachi period that the use of ashigaru became prevalent by various warring factions.-Origins:Attempts were made in Japan by the Emperor...

 peasant foot troops, were in many ways the antithesis of samurai valor. With the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate and an end to civil war, production of tanegashima declined sharply with prohibitions on ownership. By the Tokugawa period most spear-based weapons had been phased out partly because they were suboptimal for the close-quarter combat common at the time; this combined with the aforementioned restrictions on firearms resulted in the daishō
Daisho
The is a Japanese term for a matched pair of traditionally made Japanese swords worn by the samurai class in feudal Japan.-Description:...

 being the only weapons typically carried by samurai.
Cannon
Cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...

s
became a common part of the samurai's armory in the 1570s. They often were mounted in castles or on ships, being used more as anti-personnel weapons than against castle walls or the like, though in the siege of Nagashino castle (1575) a cannon was used to good effect against an enemy siegetower. The first popular cannon in Japan were swivel-breech loaders nicknamed kunikuzushi or "province destroyers". Kunikuzushi weighed 264 lb (119.7 kg). and used 40 lb (18.1 kg). chambers, firing a small shot of 10 oz (283.5 g). The Arima clan
Arima clan
The was a Japanese feudal daimyo family dating to the Sengoku period. Its name "Arima," transliterates as "has horses," reflecting the samurai/cavalry origins of the family. Famous members include Arima Harunobu and Arima Naozumi....

 of Kyushu used guns like this at the Battle of Okinawate against the Ryūzōji clan
Ryuzoji clan
The was a Japanese clan which claimed descent from Fujiwara Hidesato. It came to prominence in the Sengoku period, in the fighting in northern Kyūshū. Their descendants became retainers of the Matsudaira clan of Aizu, and remained there until the Meiji Restoration...

. By the time of the Osaka campaign
Siege of Osaka
The was a series of battles undertaken by the Tokugawa shogunate against the Toyotomi clan, and ending in that clan's destruction. Divided into two stages , and lasting from 1614 to 1615, the siege put an end to the last major armed opposition to the shogunate's establishment...

 (1614–1615), cannon technology had improved in Japan to the point where at Osaka, Ii Naotaka
Ii Naotaka
was a Japanese daimyo of the early Edo period who served under the Tokugawa shogunate. He was the son of the famous Tokugawa general Ii Naomasa.Naotaka served in the Siege of Osaka in his brother Naokatsu's stead, where he would gain tremendous favor for his exploits at Tennoji. After the battle,...

 managed to fire an 18 lb (8.2 kg). shot into the castle's keep.

Staff weapons of many shapes and sizes made from oak and other hard woods were also used by the samurai, commonly known ones include the
Bo
-People:*Bo , name origin, plus people with the name*Bo , name origin, plus people with the surname**Bo , Chinese family names*Bo people , extinct minority population in Southern China famous for hanging coffins...

, the
Jo
JO, Jo or jo may refer to:*Jō, a ~4-foot-long wooden staff used in some Japanese martial arts*Cho , , also spelled Jo, a common Korean family name*Jo , a 1971 French comedy...

, the hanbo
Hanbo
The hanbō is a staff used in martial arts. Traditionally, the hanbō was approximately three shaku or about long, half the length of the usual staff, the rokushakubō . Diameter was...

, and the tanbo
Tambo (weapon)
The tambo, in Japanese , is a short staff weapon used in Okinawa and feudal Japan. Today the tambo is used by various martial arts schools.-Description:...

.

Clubs and truncheons
Club (weapon)
A club is among the simplest of all weapons. A club is essentially a short staff, or stick, usually made of wood, and wielded as a weapon since prehistoric times....

made of iron and/or wood, of all shapes and sizes were used by the samurai. Some like the jutte were one-handed weapons and others like the kanabo were large two-handed weapons.

Chain weapon
Chain weapon
A chain weapon is a weapon made of one or more heavy objects attached to a chain, sometimes with a handle. The flail was one of the more common types of chain weapons associated with medieval Europe, although some flails used hinges instead of chains....

s
, various weapons using chains kusari were used during the samurai era, the kusarigama
Kusarigama
The is a traditional Japanese weapon that consists of a kama on a metal chain with a heavy iron weight at the end. The kusarigama is said to have developed during the Muromachi period...

 and Kusari-fundo
Kusari-fundo
Kusari-fundo is a hand held weapon used in feudal Japan consisting of a length of chain with a weight connected to each end of the chain. Various sizes and shapes of chain and weight were used as there was no set rule on the construction of these weapons...

 are examples.

Armor

As far back as the seventh century Japanese warriors wore a form of lamellar armor, this armor eventually evolved into the armor worn by the samurai. The first types of Japanese armors identified as samurai armor
Japanese armour
Armour in Japan has a history that goes back as far as the 4th century. Japanese armour developed enormously over the centuries since its introduction to the battlefield. It was worn to varying degrees by numerous classes; most notably by the Samurai , and was seen on the battlefield both on...

 were known as yoroi. These early samurai armors were made from small individual scales known as kozane. The kozane were made from either iron or leather and were bound together into small strips, the strips were coated with lacquer to protect the kozane from water. A series of strips of kozane were then laced together with silk or leather lace and formed into a complete chest armor (dou or dō).

In the 1500s a new type of armor started to become popular due to the advent of firearms, new fighting tactics and the need for additional protection. The kozane dou made from individual scales was replaced by plate armor. This new armor which utilized iron plated dou (dō) was referred to as Tosei-gusoku or modern armor. Various other components of armor protected the samurai's body. The helmet kabuto
Kabuto
A kabuto is a helmet used with traditional Japanese armour as worn by the samurai class and their retainers in feudal Japan....

 was an important part of the samurai's armor. Samurai armor changed and developed as the methods of samurai warfare changed over the centuries. The known last use of samurai armor occurring in 1877 during the satsuma rebellion
Satsuma Rebellion
The was a revolt of Satsuma ex-samurai against the Meiji government from January 29 to September 24, 1877, 9 years into the Meiji Era. It was the last, and the most serious, of a series of armed uprisings against the new government.-Background:...

. As the last samurai rebellion was crushed Japan modernized its defenses and turned to a national conscription army which used uniforms.

Etymology of samurai and related words

The Term samurai originally meant "those who serve in close attendance to nobility", and was written in the Chinese character
Chinese character
Chinese characters are logograms used in the writing of Chinese and Japanese , less frequently Korean , formerly Vietnamese , or other languages...

 (or kanji
Kanji
Kanji are the adopted logographic Chinese characters hanzi that are used in the modern Japanese writing system along with hiragana , katakana , Indo Arabic numerals, and the occasional use of the Latin alphabet...

) that had the same meaning. In Japanese, it was originally pronounced in the pre-Heian period
Heian period
The is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto. It is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height...

 as saburau and later as saburai, then samurai in the Edo period. In Japanese literature, there is an early reference to samurai in the Kokinshū :
The word bushi first appears in an early history of Japan called Shoku Nihongi
Shoku Nihongi
The is an imperially commissioned Japanese history text. Completed in 797, it is the second of the Six National Histories, coming directly after the Nihon Shoki and followed by Nihon Kōki. Fujiwara no Tsugutada and Sugano no Mamichi served as the primary editors...

 . In a portion of the book covering the year AD 721, Shoku Nihongi states: "Literary men and Warriors are they whom the nation values". The term bushi is of Chinese
Chinese language
The Chinese language is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages...

 origin and adds to the indigenous Japanese words for warrior: tsuwamono and mononofu.

Bushi was the name given to the ancient Japanese soldiers from traditional warrior families. The bushi class was developed mainly in the north of Japan. They formed powerful clans, which in the 12th Century were against the noble families who were grouping themselves to support the imperial family who lived in Kyoto. Samurai was a word used by the Kuge
Kuge
The was a Japanese aristocratic class that dominated the Japanese imperial court in Kyoto until the rise of the Shogunate in the 12th century at which point it was eclipsed by the daimyo...

 aristocratic class with warriors themselves preferring the word bushi. The term Bushidō
Bushido
, meaning "Way of the Warrior-Knight", is a Japanese word which is used to describe a uniquely Japanese code of conduct and a way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry. It originates from the samurai moral code and stresses frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and...

, the "way of the warrior," is derived from this term and the mansion of a warrior was called bukeyashiki.

The terms bushi and samurai became synonymous near the end of the 12th century, according to William Scott Wilson
William Scott Wilson
William Scott Wilson is known for translating several works of Japanese literature, mostly those relating to the martial tradition of that country. He is recognized by as "today’s foremost translator of classic Samurai texts." Mr. Wilson is also described as the world's foremost expert on the...

 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 used to represent the word.

"Breaking down the character bu (武) reveals the radical (止), meaning "to stop," and an abbreviation of the radical (戈 ) "spear." The Shuo Wen, an early Chinese dictionary, gives this definition: "Bu consists of subduing the weapon and therefore stopping the spear." The Tso Chuan, another early Chinese source, goes further:

Bu consists of bun (文), literature or letters (and generally the arts of peace), stopping the spear. Bu prohibits violence and subdues weapons ... it puts the people at peace, and harmonizes the masses.


The radical shi (士) on the other hand seems to have originally meant a person who performs some function or who has the ability in some field. Early in Chinese history it came to define the upper class of society, and in the Book of Han this definition is given :

The shi, the farmer, the craftsman, and the tradesman are the four professions of the people. He who occupies his rank by means of learning is called a shi.


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
Azuchi-Momoyama period
The came at the end of the Warring States Period in Japan, when the political unification that preceded the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate took place. It spans the years from approximately 1573 to 1603, during which time Oda Nobunaga and his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, imposed order...

 and early Edo period
Edo period
The , or , is a division of Japanese history which was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family, running from 1603 to 1868. The political entity of this period was the Tokugawa shogunate....

 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 was also used as an honorary title of an accomplished warrior even though swordsmanship had become more important. (Japanese archery (kyujutsu
Kyujutsu
is the traditional Japanese martial art of wielding a bow. Although the samurai of feudal Japan are perhaps best known for their swordsmanship with a katana , kyūjutsu was actually considered a more vital skill for a significant portion of Japanese history...

) is still strongly associated with the war god Hachiman
Hachiman
In Japanese mythology, is the Japanese syncretic god of archery and war, incorporating elements from both Shinto and Buddhism. Although often called the god of war, he is more correctly defined as the tutelary god of warriors. He is also divine protector of Japan and the Japanese people...

.)

A samurai with no attachment to a clan or daimyo
Daimyo
is a generic term referring to the powerful territorial lords in pre-modern Japan who ruled most of the country from their vast, hereditary land holdings...

  was called a ronin
Ronin
A or rounin was a Bushi with no lord or master during the feudal period of Japan. A samurai became masterless from the death or fall of his master, or after the loss of his master's favor or privilege....

 . 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, because the samurai had been banished or simply because the samurai chose to become a ronin.

The pay of samurai was 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
    A martial house or a member of such a house
  • Mononofu (もののふ)
    An ancient term meaning a warrior.
  • Musha
    A shortened form of bugeisha , lit. martial art man.
  • Shi
    A word roughly meaning "gentleman," it is sometimes used for samurai, in particular in words such as bushi .
  • Tsuwamono
    An old term for a soldier popularized by Matsuo Bashō
    Matsuo Basho
    , born , then , was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan. During his lifetime, Bashō was recognized for his works in the collaborative haikai no renga form; today, after centuries of commentary, he is recognized as a master of brief and clear haiku...

     in his famous haiku
    Haiku
    ' , plural haiku, is a very short form of Japanese poetry typically characterised by three qualities:* The essence of haiku is "cutting"...

    . Literally meaning a strong person.

Myth and reality

Most samurai were bound by a code of honor and were expected to set an example for those below them. A notable part of their code is or hara kiri, which allowed a disgraced samurai to regain his honor by passing into death, where samurai were still beholden to social rules. Whilst there are many romanticized characterizations of samurai behavior such as the writing of in 1905, studies of Kobudo
Okinawan kobudo
Okinawan kobudō is a Japanese term that can be translated as "old martial way of Okinawa"...

 and traditional Budō
Budo
is a Japanese term describing martial arts. In English, it is used almost exclusively in reference to Japanese martial arts.-Etymology:Budō is a compound of the root bu , meaning war or martial; and dō , meaning path or way. Specifically, dō is derived from the Buddhist Sanskrit mārga...

 indicate that the samurai were as practical on the battlefield as were any other warrior.

Despite the rampant romanticism of the 20th century, samurai could be disloyal and treacherous (e.g., Akechi Mitsuhide
Akechi Mitsuhide
, nicknamed Jūbei or called from his clan name and title, was a samurai who lived during the Sengoku period of Feudal Japan.Mitsuhide was a general under daimyo Oda Nobunaga, although he became infamous for his betrayal in 1582, which led to Nobunaga's death at Honno-ji...

), cowardly, brave, or overly loyal (e.g., Kusunoki Masashige
Kusunoki Masashige
was a 14th century samurai who fought for Emperor Go-Daigo in his attempt to wrest rulership of Japan away from the Kamakura shogunate and is remembered as the ideal of samurai loyalty.-Tactician:...

). Samurai were usually loyal to their immediate superiors, who in turn allied themselves with higher lords. These loyalties to the higher lords often shifted; for example, the high lords allied under Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
was a daimyo warrior, general and politician of the Sengoku period. He unified the political factions of Japan. He succeeded his former liege lord, Oda Nobunaga, and brought an end to the Sengoku period. The period of his rule is often called the Momoyama period, named after Hideyoshi's castle...

  were served by loyal samurai, but the feudal lords under them could shift their support to Tokugawa
Tokugawa clan
The was a powerful daimyo family of Japan. They nominally descended from Emperor Seiwa and were a branch of the Minamoto clan by the Nitta clan. However, the early history of this clan remains a mystery.-History:...

, taking their samurai with them. There were, however, also notable instances where samurai would be disloyal to their lord or daimyo
Daimyo
is a generic term referring to the powerful territorial lords in pre-modern Japan who ruled most of the country from their vast, hereditary land holdings...

, when loyalty to the emperor was seen to have supremacy.

In popular culture

Jidaigeki
Jidaigeki
is a genre of film, television, and theatre in Japan. The name means "period drama" and is usually the Edo period of Japanese history, from 1603 to 1868. Some, however, are set much earlier—Portrait of Hell, for example, is set during the late Heian period—and the early Meiji era is also a popular...

 (lit. historical drama
Drama
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word meaning "action" , which is derived from "to do","to act" . The enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience, presupposes collaborative modes of production and a...

) has always been a staple program on Japanese movies and TV. The programs typically feature a samurai. 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
John Ford
John Ford was an American film director. He was famous for both his westerns such as Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and adaptations of such classic 20th-century American novels as The Grapes of Wrath...

 and in turn Kurosawa's works have been remade into westerns such as The Seven Samurai
The Seven Samurai
is a 1954 Japanese adventure drama film co-written, edited, and directed by Akira Kurosawa. The film takes place in 1587 during the Warring States Period of Japan...

 into The Magnificent Seven
The Magnificent Seven
The Magnificent Seven is an American Western film directed by John Sturges, and released in 1960. It is a fictional tale of a group of seven American gunmen who are hired to protect a small agricultural village in Mexico from a group of marauding Mexican bandits...

 and Yojimbo into A Fistful of Dollars
A Fistful of Dollars
A Fistful of Dollars is a 1964 Italian Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood alongside Gian Maria Volonté, Marianne Koch, Wolfgang Lukschy, Sieghardt Rupp, José Calvo, Antonio Prieto, and Joseph Egger. Released in Italy in 1964 then in the United States in...

. There is also an anime adaptation (Samurai 7
Samurai 7
is a 2004 anime TV series, produced by Gonzo and based on Akira Kurosawa's highly regarded 1954 movie Seven Samurai. The series was directed by Toshifumi Takizawa and its music was composed by Kaoru Wada and Eitetsu Hayashi...

) of "The Seven Samurai" which spans 26 episodes. Eiji Yoshikawa
Eiji Yoshikawa
was a Japanese historical novelist, probably one of the best and most famous authors in the genre. Among his most well-known novels, most are revisions of past works. He was mainly influenced by classics such as The Tale of the Heike, Tale of Genji, Outlaws of the Marsh, and Romance of the Three...

 is one of the most famous Japanese historical novel
Historical novel
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, a historical novel is-Development:An early example of historical prose fiction is Luó Guànzhōng's 14th century Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which covers one of the most important periods of Chinese history and left a lasting impact on Chinese culture.The...

ists. His retellings of popular works, including Taiko, Musashi
Musashi (novel)
is a Japanese novel written by Eiji Yoshikawa and serialized in 1935 in Asahi Shimbun.-Introduction:It is a fictionalized account of the life of Miyamoto Musashi, author of The Book of Five Rings and arguably the most renowned Japanese swordsman who ever lived.The novel has been translated into...

 and Heike Tale
The Tale of the Heike
is an epic account of the struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clans for control of Japan at the end of the 12th century in the Genpei War...

 are popular among readers for their epic narratives and rich realism in depicting samurai and warrior culture.

The samurai have also appeared frequently in Japanese comics (manga
Manga
Manga is the Japanese word for "comics" and consists of comics and print cartoons . In the West, the term "manga" has been appropriated to refer specifically to comics created in Japan, or by Japanese authors, in the Japanese language and conforming to the style developed in Japan in the late 19th...

) and animation (anime
Anime
is the Japanese abbreviated pronunciation of "animation". The definition sometimes changes depending on the context. In English-speaking countries, the term most commonly refers to Japanese animated cartoons....

). Most common are historical works where the protagonist is either a samurai or former samurai (or another rank/position) who possesses considerable martial skill. Samurai-like characters are not just restricted to historical settings and a number of works set in the modern age, and even the future, include characters who live, train and fight like samurai. American comic books have adopted the character type for stories of their own.

Hollywood released in 2003 a movie titled, "The Last Samurai
The Last Samurai
The Last Samurai is a 2003 American epic drama film directed and co-produced by Edward Zwick, who also co-wrote the screenplay based on a story by John Logan. The film was inspired by a project developed by writer and director Vincent Ward, who had previously filmed the movie in 1990, starring...

", starring Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise
Thomas Cruise Mapother IV , better known as Tom Cruise, is an American film actor and producer. He has been nominated for three Academy Awards and he has won three Golden Globe Awards....

, inspired by the Samurai way of life.

Famous samurai

  • Akechi Mitsuhide
    Akechi Mitsuhide
    , nicknamed Jūbei or called from his clan name and title, was a samurai who lived during the Sengoku period of Feudal Japan.Mitsuhide was a general under daimyo Oda Nobunaga, although he became infamous for his betrayal in 1582, which led to Nobunaga's death at Honno-ji...

  • Date Masamune
    Date Masamune
    was a regional strongman of Japan's Azuchi-Momoyama period through early Edo period. Heir to a long line of powerful daimyo in the Tōhoku region, he went on to found the modern-day city of Sendai...

  • Hattori Hanzō
    Hattori Hanzo
    , also known as , was a famous samurai and ninja master of the Sengoku era, credited with saving the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu and then helping him to become the ruler of united Japan. Today, he is often a subject of modern popular culture.-Biography:...

  • Hōjō Ujimasa
    Hojo Ujimasa
    was the fourth head of the late Hōjō clan, and daimyo of Odawara.Ujimasa commanded in many battles, consolidating his clan's position, and retired in 1590. His son Hōjō Ujinao became head of the clan and lord of Odawara, but later that year they failed to hold Odawara against the forces of Toyotomi...

  • Honda Tadakatsu
    Honda Tadakatsu
    , also called Honda Heihachirō , was a Japanese general of the late Sengoku through early Edo period, who served Tokugawa Ieyasu. Honda Tadakatsu was one of the Tokugawa Four Heavenly Kings along with Ii Naomasa, Sakakibara Yasumasa and Sakai Tadatsugu. - Biography :A native of Mikawa Province in...

  • Kusunoki Masashige
    Kusunoki Masashige
    was a 14th century samurai who fought for Emperor Go-Daigo in his attempt to wrest rulership of Japan away from the Kamakura shogunate and is remembered as the ideal of samurai loyalty.-Tactician:...

  • Minamoto no Yoshitsune
    Minamoto no Yoshitsune
    was a general of the Minamoto clan of Japan in the late Heian and early Kamakura period. Yoshitsune was the ninth son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, and the third and final son and child that Yoshitomo would father with Tokiwa Gozen. Yoshitsune's older brother Minamoto no Yoritomo founded the Kamakura...

  • Minamoto no Yoshiie
    Minamoto no Yoshiie
    Minamoto no Yoshiie , also known as Hachimantarō, was a Minamoto clan samurai of the late Heian period, and Chinjufu shogun...

  • Miyamoto Musashi
    Miyamoto Musashi
    , also known as Shinmen Takezō, Miyamoto Bennosuke or, by his Buddhist name, Niten Dōraku, was a Japanese swordsman and rōnin. Musashi, as he was often simply known, became renowned through stories of his excellent swordsmanship in numerous duels, even from a very young age...

 
  • Oda Nobunaga
    Oda Nobunaga
    was the initiator of the unification of Japan under the shogunate in the late 16th century, which ruled Japan until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. He was also a major daimyo during the Sengoku period of Japanese history. His opus was continued, completed and finalized by his successors Toyotomi...

  • Saigō Takamori
    Saigo Takamori
    was one of the most influential samurai in Japanese history, living during the late Edo Period and early Meiji Era. He has been dubbed the last true samurai.-Early life:...

  • Saitō Hajime
    Saito Hajime
    was a Japanese samurai of the late Edo period, who most famously served as the captain of the third unit of the Shinsengumi. He was one of the few core members who survived the numerous wars of the Bakumatsu period.-Early years:...

  • Sakamoto Ryōma
    Sakamoto Ryoma
    was a leader of the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate during the Bakumatsu period in Japan. Ryōma used the alias .- Early life :Ryōma was born in Kōchi, of Tosa han . By the Japanese calendar, this was the sixth year of Tenpō...

  • Sanada Yukimura
    Sanada Yukimura
    was a Japanese samurai, second son of the Sengoku period daimyo Sanada Masayuki . His proper name was Sanada Nobushige , named after Takeda Shingen's younger brother Takeda Nobushige, who was a brave and respected warrior. He and his father were known as being excellent military tacticians...

  • Sasaki Kojirō
    Sasaki Kojiro
    was a prominent Japanese swordsman widely considered as a Kensei, born in Fukui Prefecture. He lived during the Sengoku and early Edo periods and is most remembered for his death while battling Miyamoto Musashi in 1612.-History:...

  • Shimazu Takahisa
    Shimazu Takahisa
    , the son of Shimazu Tadayoshi, was a daimyo during Japan's Sengoku period. He was the fifteenth head of the Shimazu clan.On 1526, Takahisa was adopted as the successor to Shimazu Katsuhisa and became head of the clan. He launched a series of campaigns to reclaim three provinces: Satsuma, Osumi,...

  • Shimazu Yoshihiro
    Shimazu Yoshihiro
    was the second son of Shimazu Takahisa and younger brother of Shimazu Yoshihisa. It had traditionally been believed that he became the seventeenth head of the Shimazu clan after Yoshihisa, but it is currently believed that he let Yoshihisa keep his position....

  •  
  • Takeda Shingen
    Takeda Shingen
    , of Kai Province, was a preeminent daimyo in feudal Japan with exceptional military prestige in the late stage of the Sengoku period.-Name:Shingen was called "Tarō" or "Katsuchiyo" during his childhood...

  • Tokugawa Ieyasu
    Tokugawa Ieyasu
     was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan , which ruled from the Battle of Sekigahara  in 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Ieyasu seized power in 1600, received appointment as shogun in 1603, abdicated from office in 1605, but...

  • Toyotomi Hideyoshi
    Toyotomi Hideyoshi
    was a daimyo warrior, general and politician of the Sengoku period. He unified the political factions of Japan. He succeeded his former liege lord, Oda Nobunaga, and brought an end to the Sengoku period. The period of his rule is often called the Momoyama period, named after Hideyoshi's castle...

  • Uesugi Kenshin
    Uesugi Kenshin
    was a daimyo who ruled Echigo province in the Sengoku period of Japan.He was one of the most powerful lords of the Sengoku period. While chiefly remembered for his prowess on the battlefield, Kenshin is also regarded as an extremely skillful administrator who fostered the growth of local industries...

  • Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi
    Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi
    Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi is one of the most famous and romanticized of the samurai in Japan's feudal era.Very little is known about the actual life of Yagyū Mitsuyoshi as the official records of his life are very sparse. Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi grew up in his family's ancestral lands, Yagyū no Sato,...

  • Yagyū Munenori
    Yagyu Munenori
    was a Japanese swordsman, founder of the Edo branch of Yagyū Shinkage-ryū, which he learned from his father Yagyū "Sekishusai" Muneyoshi. This was one of two official sword styles patronized by the Tokugawa Shogunate...

  • Yamamoto Tsunetomo
    Yamamoto Tsunetomo
    , also read Yamamoto Jōchō was a samurai of the Saga Domain in Hizen Province under his lord Nabeshima Mitsushige. For thirty years Yamamoto devoted his life to the service of his lord and clan...

  • Yamaoka Tesshū
    Yamaoka Tesshu
    also known as Ono Tetsutarō, or Yamaoka Tetsutarō, was a famous samurai of the Bakumatsu period, who played an important role in the Meiji Restoration...

  • Eugène Collache
    Eugène Collache
    Eugène Collache was an officer of the French Navy in the 19th century. Based on the ship Minerva of the French Oriental Fleet, he deserted when the ship was anchored at Yokohama harbour, with his friend Henri Nicol to rally other French officers, led by Jules Brunet, who had embraced the cause of...


  • See also

    • Bushido
      Bushido
      , meaning "Way of the Warrior-Knight", is a Japanese word which is used to describe a uniquely Japanese code of conduct and a way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry. It originates from the samurai moral code and stresses frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and...

    • Japanese clans
      Japanese clans
      This is a list of Japanese clans. The ancient clans mentioned in the Nihonshoki and Kojiki lost their political power before the Heian period. Instead of gozoku, new aristocracies, Kuge families emerged in the period...

    • Kendo
      Kendo
      , meaning "Way of The Sword", is a modern Japanese martial art of sword-fighting based on traditional Japanese swordsmanship, or kenjutsu.Kendo is a physically and mentally challenging activity that combines strong martial arts values with sport-like physical elements.-Practitioners:Practitioners...

    • Kiri sute gomen
      Kiri sute gomen
      Kiri sute gomen Kiri sute gomen Kiri sute gomen (斬り捨て御免 or 切り捨て御免: literally, "authorization to cut and leave" (the body of the victim) is an old Japanese expression dating back to the feudal era right to strike. Samurai had the right to strike with sword at anyone of a lower class who was...

    • List of Japanese battles
    • List of samurai
    • Lone Wolf and Cub
      Lone Wolf and Cub
      is a manga created by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima. First published in 1970, the story was adapted into six films starring Tomisaburo Wakayama, four plays, a television series starring Yorozuya Kinnosuke, and is widely recognized as an important and influential work.Lone Wolf and Cub...

    • Ninja
      Ninja
      A or was a covert agent or mercenary of feudal Japan specializing in unorthodox arts of war. The functions of the ninja included espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and assassination, as well as open combat in certain situations...

    • Onna bugei-sha
    • Pechin
      Pechin
      The is an Okinawan term for the warrior class of the former Ryūkyū Kingdom , the class equivalent of the Japanese Samurai...

    • Samurai cinema
      Samurai cinema
      While earlier samurai period pieces were more dramatic rather than action-based, samurai movies post World War II have become more action-based, with darker and more violent characters. Post-war samurai epics tended to portray psychologically or physically scarred warriors. Akira Kurosawa stylized...

    • Seiwa Genji
      Seiwa Genji
      The ' were the most successful and powerful of the many branch families of the Japanese Minamoto clan. Many of the most famous Minamoto warriors, including Minamoto Yoshiie, also known as "Hachimantaro", or God of War, and Minamoto no Yoritomo, the founder of the Kamakura shogunate, were descended...



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