The History of Samurai in Japan

The Samurai were the members of the Japanese military class. These ‘Bushi’ were the warriors in the employment of the feudal lords of Japan, known as the ‘Daimyo’. Samurai employed a range of weapons such as bows and arrows, spears and guns; but their most famous weapon and their symbol was the sword. 

Samurai were supposed to lead their lives according to the ethic code of “bushido”.”Bushido” means “Way of the Warrior.” It was at the heart of the beliefs and conduct of the Samurai. The philosophy of Bushido is “freedom from fear.” It meant that the Samurai transcended his fear of death. That gave him the peace and power to serve his master faithfully and loyally and die well if necessary. “Duty” is a primary philosophy of the Samurai.

One of the well known facets of these ethics followed by the Japanese Samurai is the ritual of suicide after a defeat, where they cut their stomach or abdomen with their own sword. This is known as ‘Seppuku’. The well known term ‘Hara-Kiri’, is actually a very vulgar term.

As the Japanese feudal lords grew in power, they continued to fight within themselves for more land and more power. This increased the importance of these Samurai Warriors.

In the time between these wars, the Samurai spent time working on farms. The Samurai Philosophy is very well developed and places a high regard for Learning. They studied several topics such as strategy, planning, war craft and art. Many Samurai warriors were also masters of calligraphy and poetry.

The Samurai became expert in fighting from horseback and on the ground. They practiced armed and un-armed combat. The early Samurai emphasized fighting with the bow and arrow. They used swords for close-in fighting and beheading their enemies. Battles with the Mongols in the late 13th century led to a change in the Samurai’s fighting style. They began to use their sword more and also made more use of spears and naginata. The Samurai slowly changed from fighting on horseback to fighting on foot.

The marriage 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, this was a formality 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 was brought by the woman and was used to start their new lives.A samurai could have a mistress but her background was strictly checked by higher ranked samurai.A samurai could divorce 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 could be arranged as an alternative to divorce.

The Samurai wore two swords.One was long; the other short. The long sword was more than 24 inches.The short sword was between 12 and 24 inches.The Samurai often gave names to their swords and believed it was the “soul” of their warriorship.The Samurai’s desire for tougher, sharper swords for battle gave rise to the curved blade we still have today.The sword had its beginning as iron combined with carbon. The swordsmith used fire, water, anvil and hammer to shape the world’s best swords. After forging the blade, the sword polisher did his work to prepare the blade for the “furniture” that surrounded it. Next, the sword tester took the new blade and cut through the bodies of corpses or condemned criminals. They started by cutting through the small bones of the body and moved up to the large bones. Test results were often recorded on the nakago (the metal piece attaching the sword blade to the handle).

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