Samurai Warrior


Aristocratic warrior class, retainer of the daimyo. They started to play an important role in Japanese society from the 12th-century wars between the Taira and Minamoto clans.

Under the Tokugawa regime (1600-1867), the samurai were the highest of the four social classes. They were the only people allowed to carry swords, although the long Tokugawa peace and their erudition meant that they mostly worked as bureaucrats in the administration, to a point where their military skills came to be doubted.

Samurai have been the objects of much admiration and idealization. Since the early 20th century, they have been seen as the incarnation of the values of the bushido of unfailing loyalty to their overlords and indifference to pain or death, but in fact rarely lived up to their romanticized image.

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

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

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