Brief Overview of Samurai
Samurai was a Professional Warrior in Japan
Samurai (侍, bushi, mononofu,) existed from the 10th century to the 19th century in Japan and was a member of a family community whose top was the master of Soke (the head family) and whose profession was a warrior. Samurai who emerged during the late ancient times finished the ancient times by force, played a leading role in medieval society and established the social system in the early-modern times in Japan.
Samurai was a chosen Armed Fighter
The concept of samurai slightly varies depending on the periods and it is difficult to express it in one word, but the common theme through the periods is that they were members of a private army group of armed fighters. However, all the private army groups of armed fighters are not said to have been samurai (or bushi) and it must be emphasized that they were not approved as samurai without the social authorization as the bearer of public military police.
1. Interview about Samurai Armor (3:41)
2. Documentary "The Way of Samurai" (54:29)
3. Documentary of Samurai Armor (27:16)
4. Documentary "The Secret of Samurai Armor" (9:52)
5. "Samurai inBrazil" (1:56)
6. "Samurai in Manchester" (3:03)
Origin of Samurai
Similarity to the Knights of Europe
There are several theories about the origin of samurai and there is no conclusive one yet. The study on the origin of samurai is closely related to 'Discovering the medieval times in Japanese history.' First, the classical theory on the origin of samurai by 'kaihatsu-ryoshu' (local notables who actually developed the land) will be described below, followed by the recently popular theory on the origin of samurai by 'samurai function.'
The Theory of Emergence of Samurai by 'Kaihatsu-Ryoshu'
The study of the origin of samurai is closely related with discovering the medieval times. Historian Hiroyuki MIURA and so on in the Meiji period 'discovered' that medieval times also existed in Japan. In the history study of Europe and America in those days, the medieval times were peculiar to western countries and indispensable in developing into the modern age. Asia and Africa were still in the ancient societies (in those days) and were not able to develop into modern societies like Europe and America. MIURA and so on noted that medieval Europe was supported by the knights who were 'armed suzerain' emerging on the frontier by the Great Barbarian Invasion of Germanic peoples, positioned the samurai, who flourished in the frontier society centering on Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly Kanto region) from the middle of Heian period in Japan, as 'armed suzerain' who were the same as the knights, 'discovered' that there also existed medieval times in Japan, which was the only country in Asia.
The samurai were the kaihatsu-ryoshu of shieiden (private lands directly governed by powerful families) and they originally came from 'armed planters' to counteract subservient serfs and interfering zuryo (the head of the provincial governors). This classical theory was widely accepted and also after the war became mainstream in the academics. Influenced by the materialist concept of history, Tadashi ISHIMODA and others positioned the samurai as the reformer who pushed out the ancient governing class such as the aristocrats and religious power of influence and brought on the medieval times.
The Theory on the Origin of Samurai by 'Samurai Function'
However, all the emergence of samurai could not be explained by the 'kaihatsu-ryoshu' theory. In particular, the high-ranking samurai originating from the members of major samurai groups such as the Minamoto clan, the Taira clan, the Fujiwara clan and so on or the samurai who were closely linked with influential families such as the Imperial Court, the cloister government and so on cannot be explained. And Shinichi SATO, Masataka UWAYOKOTE, Yoshimi TODA, Masaaki TAKAHASHI and others proposed the theory on the origin of samurai by 'samurai function' that the samurai originally came from the samurai staying in Kyoto.
Generally, samurai refers to 'a service member who is a master of military art and battle or a military strategist,' but by this definition, the difference between the 'military officer' under the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code) before the Heian period and the samurai is not clear. For example, the seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") SAKANOUE no Tamuramaro, who was famous as a military officer, was an excellent military officer but is not said to have been a samurai. And the difference between a 'military officer' in China and Korea and samurai is not clear, either. In China and Korea, 'military officer' existed but those who were similar to 'samurai' in Japan did not exist. In terms of the eras, those who are said to have been samurai appeared during the formative period of the Kokufu Bunka (Japan's original national culture) in the middle of the Heian period of the tenth century. That is, those who were involved with military affairs before this period were military officers, but not samurai.
Difference between Military Officer in Other Asian Countries and Samurai
Simply speaking, military officers were 'government officials (espcially one of low to medium rank) who were armed and a full-time government [public] employee-like officials trained under the Ritsuryo-system,' while the samurai were 'the people who consisted of a 'lower ranking nobles,' 'lower ranking government officials' and 'people from powerful or medieval families' who regarded the new military art established during the 10th century as their iegei and were officially authorized to be armed by the Imperial Court or kokufu (provincial office)' and they did not acquire the military art of the Ritsuryo-system style in the training institution of the organization of the government according to the Ritsuryo codes. However, the samurai were in the armed groups which were professionally involved with military affairs as government officials. And those who were privately armed were not recognized as samurai.
The system of the dynasty state during the Heian period outsourced the Imperial Court's administrative organizations such as military affair (military art), accounting (calculation) and legal work (Myobo [law]) to the 'ie' (family) of the official for practical works who had succeeded various iegei (family's specialty) from a government official who was trained in the Ritsuryo-system organization. And those who handled military affairs and were in the 'ie' authorized by the nation were samurai. The real image of samurai was, so to speak, a military affiliated entrepreneur licensed by the nation. And the Imperial Court or kokuga called up the people who belonged to a samurai family and made them cope with disputes and so on, if necessary.
Bushido, the Spirit of Samurai
Germination of Bushido
Bushido refers to systemized thought that generally forms the basis of value and ethical standards in samurai hierarchy during feudal Japan. The first book including the word 'Bushido' in Japan was 'Koyo Gunkan (record of the military exploits of the Takeda family)' which is considered to have been written by Masanobu KOSAKA. Much of Bushido stated in modern times aims to maintain a bureaucratic system of bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) in the peaceful Edo period. It is not a way of thought or philosophy which is useful in actual battle, but is necessary in all ages, due to its morality in respecting those of noble character. Bushido is a way of survival as an individual fighter, which focuses on developing oneself and the family, bringing them an advantage by achieving military renown. Expressed in a family precept of Takatora TODO those who haven't changed their lords seven times yet are not really samurai', it acknowledges a masterless samurai finding a lord who would highly value him. This is the way of life as a samurai and also the family precept of each family as well as how to get along with life as a vassal. It is different from the so called 'Bushido' as a universal moral system.
Development and Deepening of Bushido
Bushido as a moral system is 'being loyal to one's lord, being dutiful to one's parents, controlling oneself strictly, being merciful to those of lower rank, having sympathy to the enemy, abstaining from selfish desire, respecting justice and respecting honor more than wealth.' Many of those who followed the Bushido code also possessed a Confucian attitude of 'continuance of family name,' which prospered during the Edo period and was formulated as Bushido. However, it is not just an adoption of Confucian thought and many of the thinkers evaluated "Moshi (Mencius)" which was emphasized as one of the "The Four Books of Confucianism" that were unsuitable for national policy. The above are reasons for Bushido given by Tesshu YAMAOKA. Also the major characteristics of Bushido are that the way of thought manifested itself in actual behaviours.
"Bushudo" as a Text
Agriculturist and thinker Inazo NITOBE explained the nature of the island country and how Japanese who lived in society were affected by the four seasons, using philosophy and scientific thinking of the late 19th century in "Bushido" (1900). He explained then the process in which Japanese spiritual base was fermented using model cases of samurai behaviours and principles in simple construction and words. Nitobe pointed out that while people could easily become individualistic which underlied mammonism and materialism in modern times, samurais in the feudal period recognized themselves as an existence that was responsible to the whole (feudal) society. Also it is generally considered today that in international society the samurai was the best model for Nitobe to explain the high ethics view of Japanese and that every Japanese was educated to be responsible to the whole of society. In this way, "Bushido" is reviewed from various aspects today and considered generally as a book about the relationship between society and people as well as about morals.
Germination of Bushido
Seppuku is a method of suicide that involves cutting the abdomen with a sword. It is a uniquely Japanese custom that was mainly practiced by samurai. In the early modern period it came to be used as a method of capital punishment in addition to a form of ritual suicide. It is believed that the late Heian period samurai MINAMOTO no Tametomo (1139 - 1177) was the first to commit seppuku. The practice became established as samurai customs and bushido (the code of the samurai) disseminated throughout Japanese culture during the Kamakura period and is believed to have been practiced from the middle ages until the early modern period.
With certain exceptions, the examination of early modern period examples shows that seppuku was limited to serving as a means of committing suicide in order to avoid being beheaded after being captured by one's enemy. It was not the case that one would immediately commit seppuku upon being defeated in battle, as there were many samurai who would go underground (escape and live under a false identity) and plan a comeback. A heroic act of seppuku is associated with a certain reverence but seppuku itself was nothing more than an act of suicide and was not considered to be particularly honorable.
All samurai who faced execution were beheaded and even those of high status would be beheaded or killed following incarceration if captured by an enemy. However, it is thought that the significance of seppuku gradually changed after Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI united the nation, with individuals such as Hidetsugu TOYOTOMI and SEN no Rikyu being ordered to commit seppuku as a form of punishment. On the other hand, commanders of the armies defeated at the Battle of Sekigahara and the Siege of Osaka were all beheaded, whereas those deemed to be yoriki (police sergeants) of the Toyotomi faction including Shigenari FURUTA and Okiaki HOSOKAWA were forced to commit seppuku.
Subsequent extremely rare examples, such as those of daimyo including Naganori ASANO, who committed seppuku after having their domains confiscated are particularly worthy of attention. A widely repeated theory for the reason why seppuku became an established custom is that it is based on the "ancient anatomical belief that a person's soul and love resides within the abdomen" as stated by Inazo NITOBE in "Bushido: The Soul of Japan" (1900), which claims that the heroic act of disembowelment was a fitting method of suicide for the code of bushido.
Motives for committing seppuku included oibara (following one's master into death), tsumebara (being forced to commit seppuku as a result of one's professional responsibility or duty) and munenbara (suicide in mortification), as well as being committed by commanders of defeated armies in order to avoid the disgrace of capture by one's enemies, and by commanders of besieged armies in order to have the lives of family members and castle garrison soldiers spared. There were also cases in which individuals who acted dishonorably during battle (attacking preemptively) were ordered to commit seppuku as punishment.
Ieyasu TOKUGAWA imposed particularly strict military law which stated that the entire family and all retainers of anyone attacking preemptively would be forced to commit suicide. After Mishima Geki Nyudo followed Muromachi period kanrei (Shogun's deputy) Yoriyuki HOSOKAWA into death, the custom of committing seppuku during peacetime following the death of one's master due to natural causes began. At the beginning of Edo period, the practice became popular due to the increased reputations of those retainers who followed Tadayoshi MATSUDAIRA and Hideyasu YUKI. This custom continued until it was banned in June 1665.
The Meiryo-kohan historical records established in 1684 categorize such acts of seppuku into three categories; gibara (arising from true devotion to one's master), ronbara (in order to conform to the actions of one's peers) and akinaibara (in order to achieve the proliferation and advancement of one's descendants).
The best ways in which to commit seppuku are considered to be ichimonji-bara (single-line disembowelment) in which a single cut is made across the abdomen and jumonji-bara (crosswise disembowelment) in which a single cut is made across the abdomen followed by a second vertical cut from the pit of the stomach to below the navel. Although there are many physically difficult aspects to this and it is thought that the throat was often cut in order to bring a swift death. It later became established that the role of kaishaku (suicide assistant) would serve to behead one who has committed seppuku.
Since the early modern period, seppuku has been used as a method for not only suicide but also capital punishment, and in such cases permission to die was granted by one's master so that one could atone for misconduct, leading seppuku to become viewed as an honorable way to die (in contrast to beheading and crucifixion which were considered dishonorable punishments not befitting members of the samurai class). Seppuku as a method of punishment was abolished in 1873, since which time capital punishment in Japan has been by hanging.
Examples of seppuku as a method of suicide following the Meiji period can be seen among soldiers and members of the right wing. Well known examples include the group seppuku of Daitojuku juyonshi (14 members of Great Eastern School) committed in accordance with tradition in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo on August 25, 1945 and the seppuku of author Yukio MISHIMA on November 25, 1970 committed following a speech given at the Ichigaya Camp of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.
In the early modern period, seppuku became established as a method of capital punishment for those of the samurai class, and certain rituals came to surround the practice. The individual committing seppuku is called 'seppukunin.' The individual who serves to behead the seppukunin and present the severed head to the coroner is called 'kaishakunin.' Death from cutting the abdomen alone requires a long duration of time, during which the seppukunin would have to endure terrible agony, so it was usual practice that the kaishakunin would carry out his duty as soon as seppuku had been committed.
During the Edo period, seppuku became established as a complicated and refined ritual in which kaishaku assistants were present. Various theories exist regarding when the procedures of seppuku became established but the most prominent among these state that it was at the beginning of the 18th century. There were usually two or three individuals who served as kaishakunin. In the event that three kaishakunin were present, the 'kaishaku' (also called 'daikaishakunin') would be responsible for severing the head, the 'tenkaishaku' (also called 'jokaishaku' would serve to bring the shiho (a sanbo Shinto offering stand with four holes) on which the tanto (knife) is placed, and the 'shokaishaku' would present the severed head for inspection.
During the mid-Edo period, seppuku itself became a formality in which it was not a short sword but rather a fan that was placed on the shiho, and it became standard practice that the kaishakunin would behead the seppukunin the instant the seppukunin reached for the fan (ogi-bara, sensu-bara). With the exception of several individuals with a relatively high status such as Kuranosuke OISHI, the famous Forty-seven Ronin used a fan or wooden sword. However, although not true in all cases, it is recorded that the original form of seppuku was revived at the end of the Edo period.
Seppuku by high-ranking samurai including daimyo was committed on the property of the azukarinin (guarantor), whereas the act would be performed in the garden of the azukarinin for lower ranking samurai, and in jail for those of even lower status. Foot soldiers (who were not considered to be warriors) and commoners were not permitted to commit seppuku. According to ancient tradition, seppuku was committed at a Buddhist temple and later came to be performed at the home or garden of the azukarinin.
Samurai Horseback Archery "Yabusame"
Yabusame is a type of mounted archery in traditional Japanese samurai archery. An archer on a running horse shoots three special "turnip-headed" arrows successively at three wooden targets. This style of archery has its origins at the beginning of the Kamakura period. Minamoto no Yoritomo, one of the first samurai shogun became alarmed at the lack of archery skills his samurai had. He organized yabusame as a form of practice. Nowadays, the best places to see yabusame performed are at the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu in Kamakura and Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto (during Aoi Matsuri in early May). It is also performed in Samukawa and on the beach at Zushi, as well as other locations.
Japanese Samurai Castles (城)
Japanese castle (城 shiro) is a fortress and samurai lord’s resident constructed with wood and stone. The first form of Japanese castle was the wooden stockade in early centuries, then evolved into their best-known form of powerful and beautiful structure in the 16th century. The structure of Japanese castle is very different not only from Western countries, but also from other Asian countries such as China. Japanese castle was uniquely developed by Samurai and it has reached the only one design in the world. According to the research, there are about 25,000 castles all around Japan including ruins and reconstructions.
Samurai Family Crest "Kamon" (家紋)
Kamon is the emblems used to identify a family. The roots of Kamon is a noble class in Heian period. They put a mark on their oxcart to distinguish between own family and others. When Samurai appeared in Japanese history, then Kamon were used as a mark to distinguish between own troops and others. At the same time, Kamon emblems were used for showing the dignity of the samurai by putting them on the samurai armors and samurai katana swords. Kamon became the essential part of samurai culture.
Japanese Samurai Sword "Katana"
Katana (Samurai Sword) is a generic term for swords forged in the originally developed way in Japan. Its beautiful shape has symbolic meaning as well as its use as a weapon since ancient times, and many are highly appraised as art objects. Old and unbroken lines, including the Imperial family and shrines, value treasure swords (such as Amenomurakumono tsurugi) as a proof of power. They also functioned as a support pillar of spiritual culture, 'the very soul of the samurai' against the backdrop of the military government.