Samurai are the military nobles of Japan especially during the medieval and early modern-Japan. They serve the daimyos, the Japanese nobles. Existing since the 12th century, the Samurai met its end in 1876. Samurai are well known for being skillful warriors. They are basically a social class of themselves and a very well respected member of the society. Starting from serving nobles to serving the shogun or the emperor, the Samurai became the example for good warriors and citizens. However, their golden era came to an end when the Japanese feudal days were over. Ever since, the importance of martial arts is also declining which forced these samurai to change careers into teachers, artists etc.
There are many interesting things to know about the life of these samurai. Not all parts of their life are full of honor, some are actually terrifying to see. We are going to unravel some of the most unique things about the samurai.
1. Raising Up From The Bottom
Many believe that the Samurai are not native Japanese people. They are widely believed as the descendants of the Ainu. Ainu are the nearly extinct aborigines of Japan that are highly discriminated against in Japan. Researchers found that the Samurai have physical features that are very similar to the Ainu.
They also find these similar features in the facial features of the Japanese ruling class. This is possible because as the Samurai raise to power, they often intermarried with the nobles and rulling class which explains the resemblance. Even though this study has not been confirmed to be 100% true, we can see that the Samurai are a group of aspiring people. They have successfully managed to go from the lowest level of society to be one of the most respected social classes in Japan.
2. The Other Side Of Samurai
Despite being known for their fighting skills using different methods of martial arts, Samurai are also educated. The Samurai school curriculum includes both physical training as well as Chinese studies, poetry, and spiritual discipline. The Samurai, just like other high rank clas, receive the most through education in addition to their rigorous physical training.
They are also known to put attention to the arts and have contributed to the Japanese art scene. You will be surprised to know that the Samurai influence the culture of tea ceremony, rock garden, flower arranging, ink painting, and poetry. The gentler side of the Samurai that are not very well known to us.
3. Right To Kill
There is this idea of Kiri-sute gomen. It is the idea that Samurai have the right to strike any people below their rank who insulted them. There is a certain extent to how severe the insult they receive that grants them the permission to do so. They are allowed to do this under two conditions: they need to do it right at the moment and you need to have a witness.
The Samurai are allowed to do so without the need to worry about being punished. Even though the idea seems to be reasonable, the reality does not seem to match this ideal. Many times, the Samurai misuse this right to basically kill anyone they want.
4. Samurai Way Of Life
Being a Samurai is no simple task. The high rank and respect comes with a big price to pay. Samurai live by their strict code of honor which is widely called Bushido. Bushido has all the guidance on how a Samurai should live, fight, and die. It centers around having self–control in living and in using their swords. Bushido also talks about loyalty, keeping honor, and about compassion toward others. This is what Samurai considered as a great and fulfilled life.
While this seems to be a very remarkable and honorable way of life, the bushido has its own dark side. There are many occasions when Samurai needed to undergo some gruesome experience in order to keep their loyalty and honor. It goes down to either they lose their life or take away others’ life.
Years later, the government also use this idea during WW2 to promote the idea that taking your own life is cool. This irresponsible and out-of-context action has led to thousands of people getting killed.
5. Samurai Marriage
Most Samurai will marry women from the same Samurai class. Higher rank Samurai will marry women of the same class or higher. However, lower rank Samurai could marry commoners. The dark side of Samurai marriage starts with the fact that most Samurai marriages are forced. Most marriages involve some kind of transactional exchange.
Life after marriage does not get any better. As a Samurai wife, she needs to be obedient and fulfill all the needs of her Samurai husband. This includes the desire of her husband to have a mistress. As the wife, she has no say in all this. This also applies to divorce. Basically, women have no say in any decision regarding the marriage. This includes their need to do jigai when they are cars off.
6. Responsibility of Women Samurai
You might see pictures in history books that Samurai are mostly men. However, women Samurai also existed. They are called Onna Musha or Onna Bugeisha and they took part in fighting alongside Samurai. Wives of Samurai were known to have good education and fighting abilities. They use them to protect their own household when their husband is away fighting in wars which are usually called Onna Bugeisha. However, some women also took part in these wars and were called as Onna Musha.
However, being a woman Samurai is not always a cool and awesome thing to be, especially when your husband is a Samurai. You need to bear the shame and also the pain of seppuku when their husband messes up. Female seppuku is called jigai. Instead of slicing their stomach, they need to slice their neck while they have their feet tied to keep the :dignified pose”. Wife of Samurai are expected to be obedient even if they were asked to kill themselves because their husbands messed up.
7. Most Famous Female Samurai
Tomoe Gozen is the most famous female Samurai ever lived. She was known for both her beauty and her impressive skills on the battlefield. She is a great archer and swordsman, making her the best out there. Stories told of how bold she was on the battlefield and how she managed to defeat enemies and secure herself some honor and respect.
However, there are more women in the Japanese warrior class than we expected. The stories that we know about Tomoe Gozen are basically from legends, meaning we are still not sure about her existence. However, her story has inspired many women to be bold and courageous and to live a life of warrior wherever they are.
8. Life Price For Dignity
For Samurai, it is not only important to live an honorable life, but also to die with honor. This is why the practice called seppuku exists in Japan. It is the act of cutting one’s stomach along with the rituals that come with it. When Samurail fails to fulfill their duty or lose to their enemies, they will prefer to do seppuku so they can die with honor.
They will use a sword called tantō or a short sword called wakizashi to do this. Often times, Samurai also committed a mass suicide. It happened so many times that they need to outlaw it to prevent more mass suicides take place. One mass suicide happen in Kyoto on August 1, 1600 where 380 Samurai did the seppuru together after failing to keep their fort leading to the start of the Tokugawa shogunate.
9. Samurai Use Guns
The most famous weapon used by the Samurai is the Katana sword. Samurai of higher rank carry two swords, the Katana and the shorter wakizashi. Samurai do put a lot of value to their Katana and consider it as their identity. However, as more developed weapons exist, the Samurai decided to adapt and use the more advanced weapons instead.
On the battlefield, they also use yumi or longbows and spears. During the 16th century when gunpowder was first introduced, they started to pick up guns and cannons. They also use tanegashima or flintlock rifles as their long-distance weapon.
The Samurai also switch their fighting methods from relying solely on personal bravery to using well planned tactics and strategy. The Samurai were open minded enough to be able to keep upgrading their weapons with more advanced ones rather than relying solely on their Katana.
10. Most Rebellious Samurai
Before Samurai got banned, there was a struggle to keep their power. Some Samurai turned rebellious and decided to be ronin, or masterless samurai. Having no master is considered a disgrace for the Samurai. However, some Samurai lost their master due to a gruesome fight for power.
The famous ronin 47 is based on a story of 47 ronin who decided to take revenge on their master’s enemies. Even though ronin sounds very rebellious, some Samurai choose to be ronin because they are loyal to their old master who can no longer be their master. They actually show the true meaning of loyalty.
11. Weapon Testing
Everyone knows how Samurai value their Kitana swords. In order to get their best sword, they will do Tameshigiri. Tameshigiri is the art form of doing cutting tests. Their target, tatami, is used to imitate the human torso. It is definitely a great way to prepare their best weapon.
However, the horrifying fact behind it is that there are times where they use real life human tatami. If the Samurai is rich enough, they can have the test on live, screaming, condemned criminals. The gruesome part that not many people talk about.
12. Samurai Gang
Some Samurai who are masterless are called ronin and some are called kabukimono. These kabukimono celebrate their freedom by wearing the most wildly flamboyant kimono. They will go around looking ridiculous yet super confident.
Their goal would make the world a worse place starting from attacking random people on streets and eating at restaurants without paying. Some also go to the extent of killing people for fun and fighting other kabukimono. They are basically the Samurai gang, more particularly the crazy Samurai gang.
13. Crossroad Killing
There are many informal practices between the Samurai. One of the most gruesome ones is called Tsujigiri which roughly translates to crossroads killing. It is the practice where they are trying to be “an unthinkable monster”. Usually, they consider this as a practice every time they receive a new katana. They will go around killing innocent civilians or they will attack fellow samurai to test their skill.
14. Spare Time Activities
Well the Samurai are not at war 24/7 all year round. If they have some spare time, they will do Takagari. It is an elite Samurai sport where they do falconry with specially trained and bred prey. This sport requires a lot of money especially to maintain the bird, thus this sport is also some kind of status symbol.
They also do what we call Inuoumono. It is a dog chasing on horseback, an archery event that Samurai do for fun. It is such a depressing scene to see how Samurai still do activities involving killing even during their spare time.
15. “Brotherhood Contract”
The Samurai start their journey to become one since they are 13 years old. The younger Samurai will usually be the apprentice of an older Samurai. They will learn about martial arts, way of life, and other life skills. They are also bound with “brotherhood contract”. It is a contract that they agree to be their teacher’s lover. They were asked to have intimate relationships with their teachers.
Being the strongest does not always make you the most powerful. Being the strongest does not always guarantee you a good life and status. After knowing all these facts, what are your thoughts on Samurai?