The Japanese warrior, known as the samurai, has played a significant role in Japan's history and culture throughout the centuries. Their ancestors can be traced back to as far as can be remembered. Some stories have become mysterious legends handed down over the centuries. In this report you will learn who the samurai were, their origins as we know them, how they lived and fought and their evolution to today. It will be clear why the samurai stand out as one of the most famous group of warriors of all times. Looking back in time, the first Japanese battles recorded are in the first few centuries AD. At this time Japanese warriors went across the sea to Korea to help one kingdom battling two rival kingdoms. Four hundred men set out and fought on foot carrying their bows, spears and swords. They were quickly beaten by warriors attacking on horseback. They probably had never seen an attack like that before, with horses being ridden. Even though there were horses in Japan they had not been used for riding or fighting, but to help in carrying and pulling goods. In the next century, however, there is evidence that horses were being ridden and used in warfare by warriors who would later be called samurai (History Channel). The term samurai was first used in the 10th century and means "those who serve". In the beginning it stood for men who guarded the capital for the Emperor, some where used as tax collectors. Later the word grew to include any military man who served a powerful landlord, almost like a police force for that time. They would go around the countryside on horseback collecting taxes from the peasants, often this was in the form of rice. This money helped the Emperor pay for his lavish life style. The word, samurai, quickly spread and was respected (and maybe feared a little) for the men it represented. The noblemen depended on the strength of the samurai. Since their power and wealth was directly related to how much land they owned, the noblemen kept small armies of samurai to protect their property from thieves and invaders. Eventually many noble families joined together to form clans that became more powerful than the emperor, who was the traditional head of the Japanese government (How Samurai Work 11). In the 12th century the two most powerful clans were the Minomoto and the Taira. The two came to battle in 1160 with the Taira winning. Twenty years later in 1180 those Minomotos who had escaped death (they were children during the first attack) led a new attack that turned into a war that lasted five years and was called the Gempei War. The Minamotos won, and the emperor made Minamoto Yoritomo shogun, the head of the military. Yoritomo however wanted more and took all power away from the emperor and made himself dictator. At this time the samurai gained power, through land given to them by the new shogun. Their rise in status was beginning. The battles that were fought during The Gempei War were very important in the history of the samurai. They set a new and honorable standard for all samurai to live by. These standards would last throughout the existence of the samurai warrior. The Gempei War provided a role model for Japanese samurai's courageous and noble behavior (Turnbull 14). Almost all the important characteristics attributed the samurai culture came out of the Gempei war; "Archery, hand-to-hand fighting, undying loyalty to one's lord and the tremendous tradition of ritual suicide all have key passages and proof texts in the tales of the Gempi War"(Turnbull 15). The samurai had an unwritten code of honor called the bushido. Bushido means "way of the warrior" (History of the Samurai 3). This provided them with a code to help show them how to live and conduct themselves at home and in battle. One of the most important duties of the samurai was their loyalty to their lord. The samurai would defend their lord until the death. Revenge was also central in the samurai's life and if...
Cited: Gaskin, Carol. and Hawkins, Vince. The Ways of the Samurai. New York: Byron Preiss Visual
"History of the Samurai." http://home.online.no/~p-loeand/samurai/hist-eng.htm
"How Samurai Work." http://science.howstuffworks.com/samurai.htm
The History Channel: The Samurai. Videocassette. A&E Television Networks, 2003. 100 min.
Turnbull, Stephen. Samurai, The World of the Warrior. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2003
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