Samurai - "The One Who Serves"

Categories: Samurai

One may have heard the word samurai, one thinks of a skilful warrior dressed in heavy armour and fighting their battles with the famous Katana or possibly the ultimate battle of skill between the samurai and his brother-in-arms the ninja or simply the warrior one meets in mass-media. The above-mentioned associations may be true, but one rarely thinks of how this honoured expert of warfare originated and how his legacy has impacted not only Japan but continue to intrigue the West do to his code of conduct called Bushido.

This are the points of issue this piece of writing sets out to investigate.

The honourable warrior one encounters in mass-media, both written and visual, is not actually the truth. Prior to the Heian period (794-1185), Japan's military model, like many other aspects of Japanese society and policy, was heavily inspired by the Chinese which meant that able-bodied men were required to enlist in the army. The forced enlistment meant that these men had to fight with whatever weapon they could come across.

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At this point in time they have yet to be called samurai, but rather a term which is more akin to that of defender. Back then, servicemen did not always wish to return home but rather choose to settle in an environment which may have offered them a bit more substance. Their settlements were often placed strategically between the battlefront and their place of residence. In the early Heian period, the Emperor had a hunger for expanding his rule into the Honshu province, but this proved difficult because his soldier's skill and loyalty were slowly dwindling.

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To combat this issue, the Emperor instead enlisted the help of reginal clans. Later, one saw the Emperor's army being dismantled and the powerful clans gained more political influence. The increase of the clan's political influence came about because of the raising taxes imposed on farmers which forced said farmers to leave their land and search for new land to cultivate. The farmers search for new land to cultivate was answered by the reginal clans and they even offered lower taxes and the perk of not being forced to join the army. This reality certainly did not appease the magistrate in Kyoto and it also led to a growing need for the clans to hire able-bodied men to protect themselves and their land. And, thus the samurai was born. But before he could be conceived, the regional clans needed to realise that they needed to perfect their martial arts skills.

These men were called the saburau which means 'to serve.' This term, over time, evolved into the term we today know as samurai which means 'the one who serves.' Originally, the term samurai was used as a derogatory term within the imperial court to mock and point out that these men are mere servants. They may have come from humble backgrounds, but they have honed their skills and dedicated their lives to fighting and dying on the battlefield. In the mid to late Heian period, the regional clans were ruled by chiefs, these chiefs were often a distant relative of the Emperor. These 'rulers' were supposed to return when their term ended but many decided to stay and pass on their role to their sons. This was the trial version of what would later become known as daimyo. Slowly, the samurais began brushing shoulders with the gentry though arrange marriage and brutal intimidation tactics. Soon, they amassed so much power that they usurped the aristocrats and established their own form of government, bakufu, which basically made the Emperor no more than a puppet. In 1192, after the bloody GIMP war, Minamoto no Yoritomo was appointed by the Emperor as the first shogun. From the onset of the Kamakura period (1185-1333) to the late Takugawa (Edo) period (1600-1867). In short, from the Kamakura period onwards the samurai had evolved from a group of hired outlaws who protected the daimyo to highly skilled warriors who controlled the Emperor and thus Japan through a military dictatorship. On another note, their code of conduct, Bushido, which was strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism and its emphasis on self-discipline and meditation. Zen Buddhism emphasis on these two concepts influenced the samurai in his preparation for battle by helping them overcome their fear of death.

During the Ashikaga period (1336-1568), the skills, the tactics and some say even the spirit of the samurai took a turn because the Portuguese introduced the gun and thus western warfare. On top of this, the samurai was challenges by the warrior of the shadow and his fellow serviceman the ninja. In the onset of the Edo period one saw huge numbers of samurai were left without a Han and thus no daimyo. Samurais without a daimyo to were known as Ronin. During this era, the samurai role changes from warrior to hat of a government administrator or an aristocrat. This shift from warrior to aristocrats means that they end up becoming those who in their early days mocked them. By the late Edo period, the indecisiveness and unlike samurai behaviour displayed by the shogun and the bakufu led to a school of thought known as Sun no joi which recognised the emperor as the true ruler of Japan and desired his reinstatement. The crucial year of 1854 saw the samurai regain their lost belief in the power of the sword which lead to sword production flourishing, and martial arts saw a renaissance.

Updated: Sep 11, 2020
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Samurai - "The One Who Serves". (2019, Dec 13). Retrieved from

Samurai - "The One Who Serves" essay
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