Although the common view of the samurai in Western culture is the noble feudal warrior carrying two katana, as popularized in the films of Akira Kurosawa, this perception is a rather skewed, romantic vision of Japan's past. The term samurai generally refers to a class of society made up of families whose role were originally to be vassal warriors under the auspices of aristocratic clans. Both men and women from samurai clans were considered to be samurai, and were held to the same ethical standards.

During the Tokugawa Shogunate (17th c.-19th c.) period of the history of Japan, a reordering of society was undertaken in which a strict class structure was developed to keep order from the top down. In the moral order of society, Samurai were considered second only to those of noble blood. Economic conditions and legal restrictions during the Tokugawa Shogunate would find the samurai in a downwardly mobile position in both politicaland monetary influence. On the eve of the Meiji Restoration, many samurai were starving and in debt.

At the very top of the moral order of society were the nobility, consisting of the Imperial famiy and other clans which were descended from the main branch. Likewise, at the lower end of society were the outcasts, the burakumin. Both of these groups were effectively removed from society during the Tokugawa: the nobility through sanctions against political action and cultural restrictions against associating with commoners, and the outcasts through ostracism and neglect.

The stereotype of the samurai no longer applied during the Tokugawa. By this time in Japanese history, the samurai had become bureaucrats, not warriors: the unification of Japan had left samurai with no wars to fight. In their new role in society, their position to protect the country was to be fulfilled by running the government. Although each family kept their heritage and tradition alive, they were no longer the warriors who ran into battle in the tradition of Musashi Miyamoto. Eventually their influence in society was passed up by wealthy merchants, who inadvertently profitted greatly under the reforms of the Tokugawa government.

With the Meiji Restoration came the abolition of static, formalized classes in Japan. The samurai were divested of their role, lands, and debts. However, many descendents of the old samurai clans, especially those in the wealthier segments of society, still maintain their family history and their old family crests.

Japan developed a society similar to the Feudal system of Medieval Europe, and the equivalent of the knight was the samurai. Like his western equivalent he was a warrior, often fighting on horseback, serving a lord, and served by others in turn. After the Genpei War of 1180-1185 Japan was ruled by an Emperor, but the real power lay with the military leader, or Shogun. However, civil wars had weakened the Shoguns power by 1550 and Japan was split into kingdoms and ruled by daimyo or barons. In 1543 Portuguese merchants bought the first guns to Japan: soon large, professional armies appeared. A strong Shogun was revived after a great victory in 1600, and the last great samurai battle was fought in 1615.

The samurai’s main weapons were their swords, which they prized greatly. The main Samurai sword was the katana, sheathed in a wooden scabbard (saya). The guard for the hilt was formed by a decorated, oval, metal plate (tsuba). The grip (tsuka) was covered in rough sharkskin, to prevent the hand slipping, and was bound with a silk braid. A pommel cap (kashira) fitted over the end. The pair of swords (daisho) was completed by a shorter sword (wakizashi), which was also stuck through the belt. The cutting edge of this was usually placed facing upwards, while stuck in the belt, so that a blow could be delivered straight from the scabbard.

Learning to use the sword took many years of hard work and there were many moves that the samurai had to perfect. The edge of the blade was deadly sharp.

samizdat = S = sandbender

samurai n.

A hacker who hires out for legal cracking jobs, snooping for factions in corporate political fights, lawyers pursuing privacy-rights and First Amendment cases, and other parties with legitimate reasons to need an electronic locksmith. In 1991, mainstream media reported the existence of a loose-knit culture of samurai that meets electronically on BBS systems, mostly bright teenagers with personal micros; they have modeled themselves explicitly on the historical samurai of Japan and on the "net cowboys" of William Gibson's cyberpunk novels. Those interviewed claim to adhere to a rigid ethic of loyalty to their employers and to disdain the vandalism and theft practiced by criminal crackers as beneath them and contrary to the hacker ethic; some quote Miyamoto Musashi's "Book of Five Rings", a classic of historical samurai doctrine, in support of these principles. See also sneaker, Stupids, social engineering, cracker, hacker ethic, and dark-side hacker.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

侍 /士

A more appropriate title for samurai is bushi (武士), literally meaning "war-man", which came into use during the Edo period.

The samurai were the warrior class of feudal Japan. In many ways they were like European knights - they had a specific way of living, were the elite of the warrior world and lived to serve their masters. Indeed the kanji for samurai technically means "to serve". Of course there were many differences too.

Honour is everything

The samurai followed a strict code of honour. This was brought to attention by Nitobe Inazo in 1899 - he called it bushido the way of the warrior. However it is debated as to how much his version of bushido reflected the supposed code samurai lived by.

In any case samurai certainly had a generally agreed upon set of rules that they had to live by. Violating their duties would bring great shame upon a samurai and perhaps even force him to commit seppuku, a form of ritual suicide. They were loyal to a single daimyo, and they belonged to one clan. A samurai who did not belong to a clan or did not have a daimyo master was a ronin (lit. "wave-man"), who was without honour or income. When a samurai's master died, many followed him into the next life by committing suicide themselves. If he had died dishonourably and the clan was dissolved, the loyal retainer was expected to commit seppuku in that case too. Many ronin were too scared to do this. As seppuku was an honourable way of accounting for sin or dishonour, such a failure of duty was regarded as the highest form of shame a samurai could commit. A great deal of them resorted to banditry or offered their swords for hire. A few gave up the path of violence and led more respectable lives by joining temples or monastaries.

Martial prowess

Samurai formed the core of any army of their time, being far better equipped and trained than the ashigaru or peasant troops who fought alongside them. Popular Western images of the samurai are only of the katana-bearing foot-soldiers. Though a great deal preferred the katana and bow, many others also fought with weapons such as the yari (spear) and naginata (polearm), though the latter weapon was primarily used by women. They also formed fearsome cavalry units which could devastate any enemy formation. Practice was very important - a samurai had to hone his skills. Daimyo would employ the best sensei they could to teach their warriors and samurai would always accept a match against a worthy opponent. In battle they were capable warriors but unsurprisingly eager for personal glory. Many was the time that they broke ranks to seek one-on-one combat.

The life of a samurai was not all blood and violence though. In peaceful times, they also practiced the arts of writing poetry, calligraphy and also the tea ceremony. For many, bushido was a state of mind - true mastership could only come through being at peace with one's self and the world. In some cases samurai retired to a life of religion, giving up their swords. Some did this to gain a holy reputation and instill courage in their men, but those who did so were normally daimyo. Ordinary samurai normally only did this to escape a world stained crimson-red.

The landed class

Samurai were the majority of landowners in Japan. Though most of the land was owned by the daimyo, retainer samurai were also small landholders in their own right. They were dependent on their daimyo for promotion and according to their loyalty, skill and success were given a fief of variable size and a stipend which provided their income. They could become daimyo in their own right but that was not a common occurance. In feudal Japan, especially during the Tokugawa period, though it was possible in theory for people of any class to move up in society, it was in the interests of the nobility to stop people rising above their station and maintaining the status-quo. The Tokugawa government banned all non-samurai from carrying swords in public.

The stipends for the samurai (this includes daimyo) were fixed by the Tokugawa Shogunate. This created huge problems as inflation made their incomes worth less and less. Samurai (and daimyo) were thus forced to borrow from merchants. The interest payments could be crippling and though from time to time the government declared an amnesty for loans made by samurai, the warrior class were not spared from economic upheaval in Japan. The merchant class soon came to surpass the samurai in wealth. Many merchant families looked just like samurai families on the surface, though they could not carry swords. The men and women wore sumptious robes, while living in large estates. Their wealth motivated many samurai to marry their younger sons and daughters off to the children of rich merchants. The samurai clans gained the money they needed and the merchant families the status they craved.

Time moves on

Inevitably there came a time when the samurai were no longer relevant to Japanese society. The samurai class was abolished in the late 19th century under the reforms of the Meiji government. The forceful intervention of Western powers into Japan, cajoling her to open up for trade, had started a political revolution. The old Tokugawa regime had tried to isolate the foreigners, stopping their prescence contaminating the rest of the nation - why is why they had isolated themselves in the first place. However new ideas and technology brought about a change in the attitudes of many influential men. The bafuku was overthrown and a new, "forward-thinking" government came forward, backed by a resurgent Imperial Court eager to regain influence.

Some samurai banded together under Saigo Takamori, hoping to overthrow the government and convince the Meiji Emperor of his "misjudgement" in modernising Japan. The believed that the foreign devils could be driven out of the country, the new machines destroyed and new ideas drilled out of people's memories. Somehow the peaceful isolation could be won back. However such dreams were merely desperate attempts to preserve their privilged way of life. In the end katana and longbows were no match for modern rifles and at the Battle of Shiroyama, the last samurai battle ever, the rebels were crushed. With their defeat, the samurai class vanished forever.

Samurai women were subservient and strong, not submissive and weak

Though it is often forgotten, women were of samurai rank as well. Though very few ever fought in open battle, they were expected to protect their husband's and family's honour. They were trained in the use of the kaiten or Japanese dagger, which they would use to commit suicide or charge at the enemy, turning themselves into a living spear. Many were trained in the use of the naginata as well. It was important that samurai women could protect their honour, as well as that of their husband's and family. A samurai would not spend all his time at home, so it was important for his wife to be able to deal with any situation that occured.

During castle sieges, it was not unknown for women to sometimes help their husbands on the battlements. In Japan's early history, there were even times when they sallied from besieged castles and charged the besieging forces to try and lift the siege. The most famous female samurai of all is probably Tomoe Gozen.

Please note that Mauler added his kanji first - I was just being thorough by using both.

The samurai were the warriors of medieval and early modern Japanese history. The word "samurai" is associated with a Chinese character which means "to serve," and thus samurai can be translated as "those who serve." Although the term "samurai" is much better known in the west, in Japanese history it was much more infrequently used; the more common word for these men was "bushi" which simply means "warrior." Although many people are fond of comparing the samurai with the knights of medieval Europe, such comparisons should be made with caution, for the samurai had a long history uniquely their own.

The Origins of the Samurai

In its late prehistory, Japanese society was structured around the "uji and be" system, in which powerful local families known as uji oversaw hereditary groups of workers known as be. Military organization, such as it was, was built around a hereditary class of warriors within the be system, but these warriors were nothing at all like the samurai of later epochs - they used spears and short, straight Chinese-style swords, wore metal armor when they wore armor at all, and fought largely on foot, with the occasional mounted officer or scout.

In the wake of the Taika Reform of 645, the uji and be system was dismantled. The final blow came following the Jinshin War, when Emperor Temmu initiated a "great sword hunt" to disarm the uji that had supported his rival, and created a new national army of peasant conscripts, with all weapons owned by the national government. Peasants were supposed to drill in the arts of warfare 10 days out of 100. The weapons they used consisted of short swords, spears, crossbows, and stone slings.

In the 8th and 9th centuries, however, the inadequacy of the conscript army was shockingly exposed when the Japanese began to expand the edges of their power into northern Honshu, where the ill-trained peasant soldiers came face to face with fierce Ezo warriors. Unlike Chinese style of warfare the Japanese were used to fighting, the Ezo fought a guerilla-style of war, which made extensive use of horses, archery, and hit-and-run tactics. The first peasant armies sent against the Ezo were ripped to shreds.

The new breed of Japanese soldier that evolved in response to the Ezo-style of combat was a type of mounted archer recognizable as the prototype of the samurai. Fast, mobile, and deadly, this new warrior traded the unwieldy crossbows for the bow and arrow, ditched metal armor in favor of lighter and more flexible leather armor, and eventually acquired a new type of curved sword, the katana, which was easier to wield on horseback, and may have been modeled after the similarly curved Ezo swords. This image of the samurai as a mounted archer would prove to have a powerful hold on the Japanese imagination, and latter-day samurai would retain the trappings of the archer - such as required archery training, a superfluous archer's armguard, and an unarmored right shoulder - long after the sword became the primary weapon of war.

The Rise of the Samurai

With the early failures of the national army, the Court increasingly relied on local families to deal with the Ezo threat. This made sense in many ways - as locals had the most to lose from Ezo incursions, and thus the most to gain by defeating them, and also had the most experience dealing with the Ezo. To maintain the fiction that the Court was battling the Ezo, the Emperor officially authorized well-connected families to battle the enemy on his behalf, and usually chose members of two distant branches of the Imperial Family - the Taira and the Minamoto - to lead major expeditions. In the fires of war, warriors became increasingly loyal to the leaders that personally led them into battle, rather than the far-off Court they were theoretically fighting for, and Clans such as the Minamoto and Taira became increasingly powerful, maintaining personal bands of loyal warriors, while the national army atrophied into non-existence.

In the 12th century a series of messy Imperial succession disputes wracked the country. With no other substantive source of military power to back up their claims, various candidates for Emperor increasingly fell into the bad habit of calling upon the great Eastern warrior houses to support their bids for the throne with steel. It was only a matter of time before one of the warrior families seized power for itself, and that was exactly what Taira Kiyomori did following the Heiji Incident of 1159.

Kiyomori declared himself a sort of prime minister and dominated Kyoto politics for the next decade, but he went too far when, in 1180, he tried to have his infant grandson installed as Emperor Antoku. Warrior clans rallied to the banner of Kiyomori's old rival, the Minamoto, and his Taira family was defeated by the Minamoto in the Gempei War of 1180-1185. The Minamoto leader, Yoritomo, emerged as the master of Japan, and set about installing Japan's first warrior government, the Kamakura bakufu.

The Golden Age of the Samurai

In 1191, Yoritomo had himself named Seiitaishogun, meaning "great barbarian-subduing general" - a title which in name seemed to relegate the samurai to their old role as court-appointed Ezo-fighters, but in actuality, handed rule of the country over to Yoritomo's fledgling government in his eastern stronghold of Kamakura, and initiated nearly 700 years of warrior rule over Japan. Yoritomo immediately set about grafting a warrior hierarchy onto the shiki system of land control that had been the basis of Court power for centuries. From among the warrior families that had supported the Minamoto in the Gempei war, each province was assigned a shugo or "constable," and each "shoen" agricultural estate was assigned a jito or "steward." These warriors were responsible for regional and local government, respectively, but were also given a relatively free to hand extract great personal wealth from the lands they oversaw. Thus the new system was a way for Yoritomo to put warrior power on the ground in the provinces, and retain the loyalty of his followers by either rewarding them with jito and shugo posts or punishing them by their removal.

Samurai were now a part of daily life throughout Japan, and their culture, their ethos, and their internecine struggles came to replace courtier traditions at the core of Japanese culture. The samurai had perhaps their most selfless hour when they banded together under the leadership of the Hojo Bakufu to successfully repel the Mongol Invasions of 1274 and 1281, but this triumph sowed the seeds of the Bakufu's destruction, as the Bakufu proved unable to find enough land grants to award the victorious samurai as a victory of that size would traditionally demand. Disaffection with Hojo rule grew, leading to a series of plots against the shogunate that culminated in the re-institution of direct imperial rule under Emperor Go-Daigo during a period known as the Kemmu Restoration.

Although the Kemmu Restoration seemed on the surface to be a blow to warrior power and a return to Court dominance of political affairs, it in fact confirmed samurai authority, as it was samurai who put Go-Daigo in power, samurai who sustained his position, and samurai who overthrew him when (you guessed it) he wouldn't give them the land grants they felt they deserved.

The scarcity of new land grants increasingly became a problem for Japanese political stability, as samurai had long since become accustomed to receiving land as a reward for loyal service, dating back to the Ezo wars when they would be granted titles to the newly captured territory. But now there was less and less wild land to open up to cultivation, and there were only so many punitive expeditions that could be mounted against various insubordinate families that would result in confiscations to be re-allotted. Meanwhile, the shoguns increasingly became fat and indolent. It had happened to the Hojo in Kamakura, and it happened to an even greater extent to the Ashikaga shoguns in Kyoto, who, taken in by Kyoto courtier culture, took to building ostentatious golden and silver pavilions, throwing lavish banquets, and composing flowery poetry.

Finally in the 1470s, fed up provincial samurai took matters into their own hands, launching the devastating Onin War in which great alliances of shugo turned Kyoto into a smoldering battleground for control of infant shoguns. The period that followed became known as the Sengoku Era, or "Era of the Country at War." All pretense of a national government backed by legitimacy flowing from the emperor via the title of "shogun" disappeared, as powerful samurai - the daimyo - directly ruled over personal fiefdoms, known as han, and battled each other to extend their landholdings. Finally in 1573, Oda Nobunaga abolished the Ashikaga shogunate, and for thirty years Japan did not even have a nominal national government. Instead, all power flowed forth from the blades of samurai, ensconced behind the walls of the mighty citadels they constructed on every mountain and hill across Japan.

The Bureaucratization of the Samurai

In the mid 1500s, minor warlord Oda Nobunaga had risen from obscurity through guile, tactical brilliance, and utter ruthlessness to become master of a vast portion of central Japan. Nobunaga was assassinated in 1582, but two of his generals, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, continued his efforts, working together to bring most of Japan under their control. Following Hideyoshi's death in 1598, it was the crafty Ieyasu who defeated the last of his rivals in the great battle of Sekigahara in 1600, at last bringing the bloody Sengoku period to a close, and initiating a Pax Tokugawa under which his descendents would peacefully rule Japan for more than 250 years.

But the enduring peace of the new Edo period obviated the raison d'etre of the samurai, which was to make war. Military innovation stagnated and armor and weapons became elaborately ceremonial as the erstwhile warriors evolved into an overclass of bureaucrats, ensconced in the castle towns and paid stipends out of domainal treasuries, who involved themselves in such mundane endeavors as tax collection and land surveys.

The solidification of a Confucian class system cemented the place of the samurai at the top of the social hierarchy, but elaborate sumptuary laws designed to perpetuate this status quo eventually led to the povertization of large numbers of samurai who were required to maintain certain standards of living despite declining real income. Although the sumptuary regulations were eventually relaxed, inflation and cyclical recurrences of famines and other natural disasters continued to eat into the wealth of the samurai, and by the end of the Edo period many samurai, especially those in the lower tiers and in rural areas, had been reduced to virtual peasantry, often forced to take up farming or a craft to supplement their meager stipends.

Nevertheless, the general flowering of culture witnessed by the Edo period also touched the samurai as well. Those who could afford it took up refined pastimes such as the tea ceremony, dancing, and music, striving for the perfect balance of bu (war) and bun (culture). Samurai, even poorer ones, continued to have access to the best educations around, becoming well versed in the Chinese classics. Samurai philosophers refined and syncretized Chinese Confuncism into a uniquely Japanese social system, samurai doctors crafted detailed anatomical textbooks, samurai existentialists meditated on the nature of bushido, and samurai poets refined Japanese poetry to its most soaring heights of aesthetic sensibility. It was the age of Basho, of Hayashi Razan, and the Hagakure.

And thus, despite their transformation from proud warriors to ceremonial paper pushers, the samurai retained much of their ancient authority, and therefore it was the old samurai classes who were in position to seize control and direct Japan's modernization in the aftermath of Perry's 1853 "Opening of Japan." During the Meiji Era and continuing well into the 20th Century, the vast preponderance of Japan's political and industrial leaders were drawn from the old samurai classes, which at best constituted only about 10 to 15 percent of the total population, and thus it was samurai traditions, ways of thought, and customs of bureaucratic rule that shaped the direction of national policy and identity, contoured the turbulent events of the century to come, and continue to resonate through Japanese society unto this day.

Famous Samurai

The 47 Ronin - Forty-six samurai (one chickened out) go on a vendetta to avenge their dishonored lord in 1702.


Akechi Mitsuhide - assassinated Nobunaga and briefly ruled Japan as the "13-day Shogun"
Ashikaga Takauji - victor at Minatogawa, founder of the Ashikaga Shogunate


Date Masamune - crafty Sengoku lord


Hojo Soun - rose from obscurity to become the first true daimyo
Hojo Tokimasa - lord of Izu, founder of the Hojo Shogunate


Imagawa Yoshimoto - mighty Sengoku Era daimyo of Suruga and Totomi provinces
Ishida Mitsunari - Lord of the West after Hideyoshi's death, rival of Ieyasu


Kato Kiyomasa - Hideyoshi's "Demon General"
Kitabatake Chikafusa - one of Emperor Go-Daigo's chief generals
Kusunoki Masashige - tireless supporter of Go-Daigo, epitome of samurai loyalty


Minamoto Yoritomo - leader of the victorious Minamoto clan in the Gempei War, founder of the Kamakura shogunate
Minamoto Yoshitsune - Yoritomo's virtuous younger brother, the greatest hero of the Gempei War
Miyamoto Musashi - wandering swordsman of legendary prowess


Nitta Yoshisada - Emperor Go-Daigo's leading general during the Kemmu Restoration


Oda Nobunaga - first of the three great unifiers, he ruled with an iron hand


Saigo Takamori - leader of the failed Satsuma Rebellion, now remembered as the "last of the samurai"
Sakamoto Ryoma - Tosa samurai who helped forge the alliance between Choshu and Satsuma that led to the downfall of the Tokugawa shogunate and the Meiji Restoration
Shibata Katsuie - general of Nobunaga, rival of Hideyoshi


Taira Kiyomori - leader of the Taira clan during the Gempei War
Takeda Shingen - wily lord of Kai during the Sengoku Era
Tokugawa Ieyasu - cunning Sengoku warlord, third of three great unifiers, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate
Toyotomi Hideyoshi - second of three great unifiers, rose from peasant status to become ruler of Japan


Uesugi Kenshin - powerful Sengoku warlord, archnemesis of Shingen


Yamamoto Kansuke - one of Takeda Shingen's best generals, remembered for his spectacular suicide

Famous Samurai Battles

Battle of Dannoura (1185) - In a great naval battle, the Minamoto destroy the Taira clan and end the Gempei War.
Battle of Minatogawa (1336) - Ashikaga Takauji crushes Nitta Yoshisada and Kusunoki Masashige, ending Go-Daigo's Kemmu Restoration.
Battle of Kawanakajima (1553-1564) - Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin fight five bloody battles in 12 years without a conclusive victory for either side.
Battle of Okehazama (1560) - Oda Nobunaga begins his rise to power by crushing the army of Imagawa Yoshimoto.
Battle of Nagashino (1575) - Oda Nobunaga destroys the mighty Takeda clan.
Battle of Shizugatake (1583) - Toyotomi Hideyoshi assures his control of Japan by defeating Shibata Katsuie.
Battle of Sekigahara (1600) - Tokugawa Ieyasu defeats Ishida Mitsunari to secure his dominance over Japan.
Siege of Osaka Castle (1614-1615) - In the last great samurai battle, Tokugawa Ieyasu defeats Hideyoshi's heir Hideyori and the last remnants of the Oda clan to secure rule over Japan for his descendants.

The age of the samurai is generally considered to have begun with the start of the Heian Period in 794 AD, and was pretty well winding down by the late 17th century towards the twilight of the Edo Period. During the early years of the samurai age, bandits were a very real danger to owners of small farms. Large landowners would grant physical protection as well as tax exemption to the smaller farmers in exchange for a large percentage of their crop yield. The landowners would then hire bands of fighting men to protect their land. This spurred the growth of a class of expert fighters known as samurai. These warriors worked for the proprietor, but also fought for their own honor, and to gain power for their families . The leaders of these mercenaries were often either officials from the then capital of Kyoto, or the younger sons of noble families. By 1185, Japan had two rulers: the emperor in Kyoto who was a mere figurehead, and a military dictator known as a Shogun who held most of the real power.

During the many wars fought the victorious samurai were often granted land or titles by the emperor, or their lord to honor them for their service. But after the repulsion of the Mongol invasions, the victorious rulers had little land to give away, because there had been no conquest, and therefore no new additional land was gained. What little land remained to be distributed was often given to nobles who had done little or no fighting, as opposed to the actual soldiers themselves. As this trend continued past the wars with the Mongols, soldiers started becoming very dissatisfied, and civil war soon broke out. These civil wars resulted in almost constant warfare between various daimyo (local rulers) that ripped the country apart, and destroyed the power of both the Shogun and the emperor.

By the beginning of the 17th century Japan had once again been united under a single ruler, and gunpowder began to dominate the battlefield. At this time the samurai were the highest class made up of government officials, daimyo, and local administrators of the daimyo, and made up roughly five percent of the population. The new lasting peace left as many as half a million samurai out of work, and unlike the ones who came before them, were forbidden to farm the land. Many served in the government bureaucracy or set up military schools within cities to train future samurai. Others became teachers, and some even renounced their class and learned a trade. This still left a large population of roaming, unemployed, master-less samurai known as ronin, who often caused trouble. As time continued to pass, and European influence over the area increased, the samurai became more of just a title, and by the beginning of the 19th century, the samurai name, if not the ideals they lived by, was pretty well extinguished.

The staple food of a samurai would have been rice. In fact the daily ration for a soldier at war was 900 grams of rice. This food was so important, that it was considered a sign of wealth, and was often the form of tax paid to an overlord. This rice-based diet could be supplemented by potatoes, radishes, beans, cucumbers, chestnuts, apricots, apples, peaches, or oranges. Meat, when eaten at all, would be provided by fish, clams, or whale, wild geese, quail, deer, or even boar in a pinch. The most popular drink among samurai (aside from tea) was known as sake, a type of light alcohol made from rice. When sake was served, drunkenness was not considered rude, and sometimes sobriety was.

Before heading off to war, the typical samurai would eat a meal consisting of dried chestnuts, kelp, and albalone. Sake would complement the meal, and be served in three cups, because three was considered a lucky number. Although not included in this meal, one of the favorite foods of a soldier was the sour plum.

During his life, a samurai would hold many different names, the first of which was his childhood name, granted to him at birth. Within the household these names would be replaced by a nickname. The eldest son of the house would be known as Taro, the second as Jiro, and the third son would be referred to as Saburo. He would hold this birth name until his coming of age ceremony (which in general occured around the fourteenth year) where he received his adult name. His adult name would hold two characters, one that was hereditary to his family, and another, which could be given to him as a gift from some person of dignified position. Later in his life a samurai would often adopt a Buddhist name, and "at least nominally take up a monk's habit and shave his head." Towards the 16th century, some samurai even took on western, Christian names. Other samurai had their names preceded by their title or position if it was lofty enough. When a samurai died, a final name would be granted to him and used by his descendents for ancestral worship.

*The information in this writeup was found at:
"What Life Was Like Among Samurai and Shoguns" by the Editors of Time-Life

Everything Japanese Encyclopedia::Samurai

After 1662 entries, the Everything Japanese Encyclopedia became too big to fit in a single volume. After much deliberation, it was decided that the EJE would be broken up into separate tomes; this is one of those.

This portion of the EJE is devoted to samurai, the Japanese equivalent of the European knight. Weapons, tactics, and notable samurai are to be found here. If, during your wanderings through the nodegel, you spot a node that has been overlooked by the watchful eyes of the Encyclopedists, drop me a /msg.


Samurai/Martial Arts

  • ashigaru
  • Bushi
  • Bushido
  • Bushido Shoshinshu
  • Daimyo
  • hagakure
  • hakama
  • hasabe
  • Kensei
  • Koryu
  • Ni Ten Ichi Ryu
  • Ni To Ichi Ryu
  • oyoroi
  • People
  • ronin
  • sakki
  • Samurai
  • samurai clothing and hair
  • Samurai in battle
  • samurai women
  • seppuku
  • tabi
  • Techniques
  • A Book of Five Rings (Go Rin no Sho)
  • Weapons
  • Sa"mu*rai` (?), n. pl. & sing. [Jap.]

    In the former feudal system of Japan, the class or a member of the class, of military retainers of the daimios, constituting the gentry or lesser nobility. They possessed power of life and death over the commoners, and wore two swords as their distinguishing mark. Their special rights and privileges were abolished with the fall of feudalism in 1871.


    © Webster 1913

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