SAMURAI (The Warrior)
THE SAMURAI AND THEIR USE OF BUSHIDO
In Japan the warrior class was known as samurai, also called bushi (hence
bushido). They formed a class in and of themselves during the 9th and 12th
centuries. They emerged from the provinces of Japan to become the ruling class
until their decline and later total abolition in 1876 during the Meiji Era.
The samurai were fighting men, skilled in the martial arts. Samurai had
extensive skills in the use of the bow and arrow and the sword. They could just
as likely have killed you with their bare hands. Samurai were also great
These warriors were men who lived by Bushido; it was their way of life. The
samurai's loyalty to the emperor and his overlord, or daimyo, was unsurpassed.
They were trustworthy and honest. They lived frugal lives with no interest in
riches and material things, but rather they were interested in honor and pride.
They were men of true valor. Samurai had no fear of death. They would enter any
battle no matter the odds. To die in battle would only bring honor to one's
family and one's lord.
Samurai usually would rather fight alone, one on one. In battle a samurai
would call out his family name, rank and accomplishments. Then he would seek out
an opponent with similar rank and do battle. When the samurai has killed his
opponent he severs his head. After battle he takes the heads of his enemies back
to show proof of his victory. Heads of generals and those of high ranks were
transported back to the capital and displayed for the officials and others. The
only way out for a defeated samurai was death or ritual suicide: seppuku.
Seppuku--or disembowelment or hara-kiri (belly slicing)--is when a samurai
stabs a knife into his abdomen and literally disembowels himself by cutting out
his guts. After the
samurai disembowels himself another samurai, usually a kinsman or friend, slices
his head off. This form of suicide was "performed under various circumstances:
to avoid capture in battle, which the samurai did not believe to be dishonorable
and degrading, but generally bad policy; to atone for a misdeed or unworthy act;
and perhaps most interestingly, to admonish one's lord" (Varley, 32). A samurai
would rather kill himself than bring shame and disgrace to his family name and
his lord. This was considered an act of true honor.
The samurai became the ruling class during the 1400s and the 1500s. In the
1600s there was a time of unification; warring in Japan had ceased. Then toward
the end of the Tokugawa Era (the late 1700s), Japan began to move towards a more
modernized and Western way of life. There was no need for fighting men, for
warriors, for samurai. The samurai and their way of life was officially
abolished in the early 1870s, but it was not forgotten.
Return to SAMURAI