Warrior Cultures: The Samurai
Through the ages every culture has had their warriors. These warriors have defended and fought for their land, homes, countries, and deeply held beliefs (either political or spiritual). The samurai were self-proclaimed warriors. “The members achieve their reputations by fighting, even killing”(Bohannan 1992). Perhaps the most interesting warrior cultures in the world is that of the Japanese Samurai.
Japan has a history that dates back thousands of years. Scientists believe the Japanese people descended from many groups that migrated to the islands from other parts of Asia, including China and Korea. Fishermen, hunters and farmers inhabited the Japanese islands. Scientists believe a Caucasian race called the Ainu were the first inhabitants of what is now Japan. The Ainu still exist today, mostly in the northernmost islands of Japan called Hokkaido. Japanese cultural changed involving the people known as Yayoi. The Yayoi were mostly farmers. Scientists believe the present-day Japanese closely resemble the Yayoi in appearance and language.
War played a central part in the history of Japan. Warring clans controlled much of the country. A chief headed each clan made up of related families. The chiefs were the ancestors of Japan’s imperial family. The wars were usually about land. Only 20% of the land were fit for farming (Cook 1994). The struggle for control of that land eventually gave rise to the Samurai. The samurai rose out of the continuing battles for land. “Ancient Yayoi warriors developed weapons, armour and a code during the ensuing centuries that became the center piece for the Japanese Samurai”(Blomberg 1994). 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, and a belly wrap. Later armour included protection for the legs and thighs. Armour changed as the type of battles changed. A big change that occurred was when horses were introduced to Japan. Another change that occurred because of the constancy of war was the introduction of guns into battle.
Bravery is a primary philosophy of the samurai. “The most noble acts of warriors are marked by winning conflicts and by physical bravery” (Bohannan P.139). The philosophy of samurai is freedom from fear. That gave them the peace and power to serve there masters faithfully and loyally and die if necessary. 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 landowners and received land in return. Each landowner used the 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 practised armed and unarmed combat. The early Samurai emphasized fighting with the bow and arrow. They used swords for close in fighting and beheading their enemies. The Samurai slowly changed from fighting on horseback to fighting on foot. The Samurai wore two swords. One was long, the other short. The Samurai often gave names to their swords and believed it was their soul (www).
Growing unrest with the samurai and outer influences led to the final fall of the samurai class. It is still thought that many people in authority in Japan today are descendants of the samurai class. The Japanese culture still holds the ideas of the samurai in high regard. The religious dedication to a certain cause and determination to perform the required duty with honour are still virtues the Japanese want to instil in their youth. Among the Japanese culture the samurai will always have a place of great respect. The samurai survived all the conflict and order and still thrives today.