Thursday, August 28, 2008

Birth of the Samurai

Author: Andrew Thomas

Ancient Yayoi warriors developed weapons, armour and a code during the ensuing centuries that became the centrepiece for the Japanese Samurai. Early weapons included bows, arrows and swords. Armour included a helmet that protected head and neck, a breastplate that protected the chest, arm and shoulder protectors plus a belly wrap. Later armour included protection for the legs and thighs. Armour changed as the type of battles changed. A big change occured in the 5th century when horses were introduced to Japan. Another change occured in the 15th century because of the constancy of war and the introduction of guns into battle. The code developed from the Chinese concept of the virtues of warriors doing battle to the Samurai code of chivalry known as Kyuba no michi ("The Way of Horse and Bow") to the Bushido ("Way of the Warrior") code.

"Bushido" means "Way of the Warrior." It was at the heart of the beliefs and conduct of the Samurai. The philosophy of Bushido is "freedom from fear." It meant that the Samurai transcended his fear of death. That gave him the peace and power to serve his master faithfully and loyally and die well if necessary. "Duty" is a primary philosophy of the Samurai.

The Samurai rose out of the continuing battles for land among three main clans: the Minamoto, the Fujiwara and the Taira. The Samurai eventually became a class unto themselves between the 9th and 12th centuries A.D. They were called by two names: Samurai (knights-retainers) and Bushi (warriors). Some of them were related to the ruling class. Others were hired men. They gave complete loyalty to their Daimyo (feudal landowners) and received land and position in return. Each Daimyo used his Samurai to protect his land and to expand his power and rights to more land.

The Samurai became expert in fighting from horseback and on the ground. They practiced armed and un-armed combat. The early Samurai emphasized fighting with the bow and arrow Japanese samurai warriors were ranked at the top of the Japanese social hierarchy for hundreds of years until 19th century. Shogun were the most powerful samurai who ruled Japan at the time.

Ronin In Japanese history, master less samurai where know as Ronin. These samurai retainers who were deprived of their place in the usual loyalty based hierarchy of Japanese feudalism. Perhaps the daimyo they had served died, became too poor to maintain his samurai or were exiled. The ronin was reduced to existing as farmers, monks, soldiers of fortune, or even bandits. They where in great demand during times of war. But in peace they were often a burden on society. They are presented at there noblest in the story of the 47 Ronin depicted by Chikamatsu in his popular drama. In this drama they are the model of loyalty and self-sacrifice exemplifying bushido. In modern Japan, the term ronin is often given to high-school graduates who, having failed to pass college entrance exams, are preparing for another opportunity

Birth of the Samurai

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