Samurai is a Japanese word that is used to mean “to serve or to accompany those in a higher rank”. In the Japanese context it was used to refer to those in the middle and upper elite of the warrior class. To plainly speak, these groups of individuals were members of the military class that led a life guided by the ethic code of the “bushido” meaning warrior: – The regulations of the code highlighted the concepts of leading a disciplined life and maximum loyalty to their masters. The Samurai Class had great skills in martial arts. They existed in different units headed by lords/masters in Japanese Clans.
Their superb training in martial arts made them good guards, a fact that contributed to the Samurai becoming a force to recon with in the battle, especially in the ancient times when modernization had not taken root (Issai Chozanshi, 92). Before it was made an organized group that had political recognition, they served as security guards who were very loyal to their masters. The reports of rising robberies made it necessary to call for their services especially by the wealthy individuals. They would accompany the tax collectors and keep away the robbers and bandits.
With time they became so famous that they surpassed the traditional aristocracy and since the political situation worked on their favor, the system was adopted for security reasons. They would defend their masters to death and acted loyally to the ethics that govern their operations. The Samurai class kept their fighting techniques a big secret-passing the forms of their techniques from one lifeline to the next without disclosing the secret behind every move. By the 12th Century they had united and amassed enough manpower and were employed by powerful famous emperors, thus getting a good political backing.
Need of superiority took a centre stage in the fight for fertile land and desire to expand the boundaries of ones territory, so the Samurai were a great help. Apart from “Karate” they also fought using an assortment of a wide range of crude weapons like bowls, spears, guns and arrows. But their most known identity was the sword (Takuan Soho, 27). Their first major fight was that between two powerful clans of “Taira” and “Minamoto” in the 12th century. This was followed by wars as every emperor tried to over through the other in the struggle of succession.
From emperor to emperor, they survived till their eventual demise in the 19th Century (Yamamoto Tsunetomo, 160). The Activities of the Samurai Class The Samurai constituted only 10% of the whole population in Japan, but were the major course of instability in the once peaceful society. The war lord’s ego and lust grew, leading to the emergence of inter clan wars between various kingdoms. The Wars which were won depending on how strong and tactful any Samurai clan were. Several wars were fought as one emperor succeeded the other for over 700 years.
That is, between the 12th and the 19th Century. With assured political backing and a good economic base, they fought for their lords and served them selflessly with unmatched loyalty, winning most wars and losing some. They were involved in numerous wars, some of which include the ones given below. The first major war was the “Heiji Rebellion” in 1160 which was between the Minamoto and Taira Clans. The Minamoto won and the then emperor established a solid based kingdom. Fifteen years later, in 1185 two major wars broke, that is, the “Dan-no-Ura Rebellion” and the “Gempei Wart Rebellion”.
After several successions it was a big relief when the whole of Japan was united under one ruler secured by a common unit of Samurai. The army became stronger and a disaster to those perceived as enemies. In 1274 using the united front of the Samurai warriors, Japanese showed their dominance in war by using only 10,000 Samurai to bring down 40,000 men of the “Yuan Dynasty of the Mongol Emperor” who had come to attack them. Though the story was not the same in 1592 when the “Toyotumi Hideyoshi” invaded China with 160,000 Samurais.
They lost that battle as well as the one in 1598 when they repeated the attack on China (Varley, Paul, 244). Numerous Emperors have been reported to have used the Samurai for security reasons, but just a few are on record and can be traced. Shogunate, Daimyo, Ronin and Toyotomi Hideyoshi are just but a few. The time of the Samurai rule could also be broken dawn into five major periods in relevance to some events that occurred that can sparks ones memory. These periods are as listed:- • Heian Period (794-1185) • Kamakura Period (1192-1333) • Muromachi Period (1333 – 1573) • Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573 – 1603) Edo Period (1603 – 1868) The list of some of the famous Samurais Generals that served during the above periods in higher ranks is as shown. Though many men served as Samurais in the ancient Japan, just a few of them made major impacts that could be remembered up to date. • Kato Kiyomasa, • Konishi Yukinaga • Shimazu Yoshihiro • Famous Samura • Minamoto Yoshiie • Minamoto no Yoshitsune • Kusunoki Masashige • Sanada Yukimura • Uesugi Kenshin • Yamamoto Tsunetomo • Hojo Ujimasa • Takeda Shingen • Shimazu Yoshihiro • Date Masamune • Oda Nobunaga • Toyotomi Hideyoshi • Tokugawa Ieyasu Yagyu Jubei Mitsuyoshi • Akechi Mitsuhide • Kikkawa Motoharu • Miyamoto Musashi • Yamaoka Tesshu • Yagyu Munenori • Sasaki Kojiro • Sakamoto Ryoma • Saigo Takamori The Life of Samurai in the History of Japan By the then standards, to be a Samurai, one was elite in the community and enjoyed a lot more than just a commoner. Samurais were on payment in terms of rice, free land and the superior ones had their lands tilled for them. They enjoyed so much favor and accorded so much respect that they were even allowed to execute-behead on the sport anyone who they believed had shown disrespect to them.
One had to go down on his knees, with head down whenever they encounter a Samurai. The Samurais on their part too had great respect, honesty and upright morals. They loyalty were unmatched. The high levels of discipline that they showed during their time made them to be remembered up to date. Those that are suspected to be of their descendants are not just treated as any other commoner, but are held in high esteem. The Samurai serve as role models for the future and the later generations. The Samurai Class gives Japan a very rich history and one that is worth remembering.
That is why books have been written, movies made, comics produced and computer games made to honor these great heroes of Japan’s ancient times (Thomas Cleary et al, 46). The fall of the Samurais There were constant bickering, inversions and attacks among the Samurai neighborhoods, an act that called to be put to rest. To help solve this, there was a proposal to loosen the Samurai culture, by letting other people born in other social strata make names for themselves as worriers, thus becoming “de-facto” Samurais. This was the onset of bad times to come. Things had just started unfolding for the Samurais on the wrong side.
Now any commoner who just happen to be a one time achiever could call himself a Samurai [what a let down]. To make matters worse for the Samurais, there was complete peace in Japan in almost the whole of the 17th Century (During the Tokagwa Era) no major war came up for the Samurais. This led the Samurai to become more bureaucratic, courtiers and administrative (Yagyu Minenori, 62-63). They eventually started losing their military function. With years advancing and no major war available to be fought, the excess number of warriors was therefore a burden to the central government and the extras baggage had to be cut down.
The people that were laid off become a social burden to the society. They returned the land that they were given for free to the Emperor. They did not know how to make a living to support their families-some reports show that the Samurai’s wives resorted to prostitution in brothels to at least support their families (William Scott Wilson, 17-31). Modernization of the Samurai in the years1854-1868 was the main contributor of the fall of the Samurai. Under the then Emperor, Admiral Enomoto, they decided to take part in the Western Trade which saw the modernization of the training styles and acquisition of war vessels.
After just a bit of exposure to the outside world they realized that their style was inferior to the more confiscated Western technology and saw the need for change. This is what led to their eventual destruction. This modernization reversed the role of the Samurai in the society. Their traditional role was no longer needed. The last time that the original Samurai war style displayed was in 1867 in the “Boshin War” against the Shongunite Forces. More of the signs to Samurai fall were mainly evident during the reign of Emperor Meiji in 1868 when he abolished the right of the Samurai to carry weapons.
He instead was in favor of more modern Western styles. The Samurais right to put on their war costumes in public was also taken away. Emperor Meiji went further to prohibit punishment by the Samurais on people that show them disrespect. This became one of the last blows that the Samurais got. They lost respect in the eyes of the commoners and some even tried to get back at them in order to revenge the inhuman acts done against them by these Samurais. No healthy status was there to be enjoyed by being a Samurai; it was never idolized at all.
The effect was tantamount on the Samurais of that time and they never fought with zeal and gist as before. The results! They lost Satsuma Rebellion, which also marked the end of the Samurai power. In 1872, the Japanese, still under Meiji Government abolished the Ryukyu Kingdom and created the Ryukyu Han or Feudal clan which lasted for Seven years until 1879, when it was changed to create the Okinawa Prefecture. In 1903 under this new system of governance the Samurai lost almost everything. No more taxes for the Samurai class, the land gone, thanks to the revised land reforms by the new government and what next?
The Samurais were forced to share their secrets of war with the commoners in exchange of some income. The 19th century also saw the abolishment of the Samurai class and adoption of the UK and German system of governance. With time, especially in the reign of “Bushido” Samurai decided to shift their priorities, pursuing to be scholars rather than becoming warriors. Most of them took to books and shunned guns; most of the supposed Samurai worriers became exchange students. They took pens instead of guns thus becoming reporters and writers instead of warriors (Hugh Cortazzi & Gordon Daniels, 98). Conclusion
The emergence, activities and entirely their mode of operation was so rich that a lot has been done to preserve it. Some of the practices during their time are still being witnessed even in the modern Japan. For instance, the high rate of suicide cases in Japan is being reported to be due to the ancient practice of the “Seppuku” a ritual suicide. Seppuku was where one slices his stomach and had his head cut off by an assistant. The reason for carrying out a Seppuku was a sign of an honorable death in case of varied reasons, among which are: – The death of ones Lord/Master or when in disagreement with ones master.
Also a Samurai would kill himself through committing suicide as a sign of loyalty to the master or to avoid falling in the hands of an enemy-in a lost battle. Reports show that the cases of suicide is highest in the modern Japan in the whole world- Japanese can kill themselves because of simple reasons like not making it in business or for failing in an exam (Carl Steenstrup & Hojo Shigetoki, 1200). The current Japanese government is defined by what it was in the past during the Samurai time. It has never entirely change, the ideas are the same; policies are not altered, only the way of execution differs, as well as some priorities.
The only themes that have since changed are: – state building, beliefs, social stratification, military formats and time. Even though these five factors have changed, their description still falls under the foundation of the ancient system. Japanese have learnt to adopt the foreign technology selectively. After the fall of the Samurais, thanks to Westernization, the Japanese government opts to develop their own original ideas or assimilate the foreign ones to fit their needs as opposed to just adopting them blindly they now treat the foreign technology with caution (Carl Steenstrup, 199).