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Samurai - 10 things you didn't know about them

Updated on August 15, 2013

Riding Samurai

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Introduction

Samurai are most likely the best known class from the ancient Japan. Warriors as their primary education, they were fighting against evil (and between them), following a very strict moral code that governed their whole life and activity.

The samurai (or bushi) were the warriors of premodern Japan. They later made up the ruling military class that eventually became the highest ranking social caste of the Edo Period(1603-1867). Samurai employed a range of weapons such as bows and arrows, spears and guns, but their main weapon and symbol was the sword.

Samurai were supposed to lead their lives according to the ethic code of bushido ("the way of the warrior"). Strongly Confucian in nature, bushido stressed concepts such as loyalty to one's master, self discipline and respectful, ethical behavior. Many samurai were also drawn to the teachings and practices of Zen Buddhism.

Samurai Women

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10. Samurai women

Even if the "samurai" is a strict male word, bushi (samurai social class of origin) had no hesitation to give similar education in martial arts and strategy to women. They were called "Onna-Bugeisha" and participated in battles alongside their male counterparts.

The samurai women favorite weapon was the naginata , a spear that had a curved blade at one end, a very versatile weapon, despite its low weight.

Since historical texts provide very little information about samurai women, it can be assumed that they were a small minority. However, research shows that women were attending samurai battles more often than research shows. According to DNA tests, 35 of the 105 warrior remains discovered at the Battle of Senbon Matsubaru were women.

Samurai Armor

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9. The Armor

One of the strangest things was the samurai armor. The strange aspect, richly adorned, the armor was designed for mobility and functionality. A good armor was massive but flexible enough to allow free movement in battle. The armor was made ​​from leather or metal plates assembled with leather laces and silk. The arms were protected by some lightweight armor but very strong. Sometimes, the right arm was not protected, for maximum mobility.

The strangest and most complicated part of the armor was the Kabuko helmet. It was made ​​from riveted pieces of metal, the face and the head were protected by a strong piece of leather tied at the back of the head. The most exciting part was the helmet's neck guard (made ​​famous by the Star Wars series, Darth Vader's helmet design was copied from that of the samurai helmets) which was very well made because it granted protection from arrows or samurai swords coming from any position.

Sometimes, the suit was decorated with demonic symbols to frighten the opponents.

Although it suffered enough changes over time, the samurai armor has always remained a very difficult piece of armor for the untrained viewer.

Oh, and did I mention that the first modern body armor models have been inspired by this armor?

Samurai Men

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8. Homosexuality

Few people know that the samurai were very "open-minded" regarding sex. Like the Spartans, another nation of warriors, the samurai not only were accepting same-sex relationships among them, but even actively encourage them.

Couples were usually made ​​up of an experienced warrior and a young man who was trained by it. The practice was known as "wakashudo" (the younger way) and was practiced by all members of the caste. In fact it was so common that if a samurai was not doing it, samurai would start to ask questions.

Samurai

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7. Foreign Samurai

Those who have seen the movie The Last Samurai know that in certain circumstances, a person outside of Japan could fight with the samurai and even become one of them. That honor (which included a set of arms and a Japanese name) may be given only in special circumstances by the most powerful rulers such as daimyo (territorial lord) or shogun.

We know only four people who received the honor of being made a ​​samurai: the adventurer William Adams, his colleague Jan Joosten van Lodensteijn, the naval officer Collache Eugene and the arms dealer Edward Schnell. From all of them, Adams was the first and the most influential, reaching to be at one point the Shogun adviser.

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6. Their numbers

Many of us believe that the samurai were an rare elite force (such as, nowadays SEAL or Spetnaz) or a small well-defined noble caste. This is a false information. Samurai were a whole social class.

Originally, the "samurai" means "those who serve the interests of the nobility." While the term has evolved and has become associated with the bushi social class. At the highest point of their power, the samurai represented 10% of Japan's population, which means that today, almost the entire population of Japan has a samurai ancestor.

Samurai clothing

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5. Samurai Fashion

The Samurai were the stars of their era and their dressing style influenced the fashion. Excepting some occasions, their dressing style was spectacular. Their clothes were carefully designed, every detail had to correspond to the warrior style, designed for speed, long distance travel and freedom of movement.

The samurai usual outfit consists of trousers (hakama) and a kimono or hitatare (a vest of two parts, which were caught on the shoulders). The costume let the weapons to be seen and the kimono could be quickly stripped out in case of an attack. The kimono was made​​, usually of silk, because it was light, was keeping the coolness and also it was looking good. For shoes, samurai opted for wooden clogs or sandals.

The samurai haircut was the most distinctive part of their appearance: all wore a hair topknot, which was copied by the rest of the social classes and spread across Japan.

Samurai Swords.Katana

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4. Their weapons

Being soldiers, the samurai were using certain weapons. At first chokuto was used, a sword thinner and smaller than the medieval knights's weapon. As the handling sword technology progressed, samurai swords passed to the curved katana, which subsequently evolved into the most famous sword in the world and the symbol of the samurai. Samurai Code says that the samurai soul is in the katana. Katana's pair was Daisho, a short sword (or dagger), which was the symbol of the samurai class.

While some samurai fought exclusively with the katana, most had a more practical approach, using every weapon they had at hand, the bow and the spear being among them. In the 16th century, when firearms appeared, samurai abandoned the bows in favor of firearms, and later they did not hesitate to use even guns.

3. Samurai Education

Like all the nobles of their period, samurai were more than warriors. The majority was well educated, so that while only a few Europeans could read, all the samurai had high knowledge, including literature and mathematics.

The Bushido Samurai code says that the samurai must be good in all the domains, not only in battle. The poetry contests (haiku), monochrome painting, garden landscaping and the tea ceremony were common aspects of the samurai culture. They also studied calligraphy, literature and flower arranging (ikebana).

Samurai warriors appearance

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2. Samurai physical appearance

The armor and the arsenal worn by the samurai was making them look gigantic, and they were often described as giants. In reality, most samurai were tiny - a 18th century samurai was thin and had 1.60 to 1.65 meters in height. For comparison, a European knight measured 1.80 to 1.95 meters.

Compared with ordinary Japanese, the samurai were "hairy", had a light complexion and their nose was more "European".

Samurai suicide ritual

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1. Suicide ritual

One of the most terrifying action was the samurai's seppuku ( harakiri ). This is a suicide ritual practiced when the samurai failed to follow the Bushido code or was about to fall / fell into enemy hands, and this ritual may be voluntary or as a punishment. Whatever the reason, in general, seppuku was seen as an honorable death.

Foreigners know more about the seppuku done on the battlefield, when the one who wants to die stabs themselves in the stomach with their knife, then they started to pull the knife sideways left and right. Then, another samurai, usually a friend, beheads him (to shorten the agony).

A formal seppuku ritual is much longer. It begins with a ceremonial bath, after that the samurai dresses with white clothes. After this he eats his favourite food (like the last meal for a convict), and after they finish eating, they put the knife on the empty plate. The samurai writes his death poem, which usually expresses last wishes. Only after the poem, the samurai grabbs the knife and stabs himself through the white cloth. After this, as I said before, a friend beheads the samurai, but this time it is done in bit different way : the friend has to put a small strip of leather on the place of the the right carotid, so that the head will fall into the arms of the dead samurai. If the strike is too strong, the head will fly towards the friend, and he will be disgraced forever.

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    • Anate profile image

      Joseph Ray 3 years ago

      This was a very good article though I did feel that some of your statements on the education section were a bit wrong. I do not know much about the samurais or Japanese culture, but even with them being a whole social class, it still seems likely that most of the Japanese could not read. Many nobles, which is an entire social class, could read in their native language at least in the Middle Ages in Europe.

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      Sanjay Singh 3 years ago

      Very informative. Samurais were best warriors of their time.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      Fascinating hub. I never knew about the Samurai women. Up until my chief source of information about the Samurai was James Clavell's novel Shogun, a fascinating read. Great hub!

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      Kommadant 4 years ago

      Nice article! I remember reading a book about Samurais a long time ago, but never ran across any of the material in this hub. Very informative.

    • klaus-gaming profile image
      Author

      klaus-gaming 4 years ago from Iasi, Romania

      I ll think about it :) glad you like it

    • AMAZING THINKER profile image

      AMAZING THINKER 4 years ago from Home

      Nice Hub! May be you should write about Ninjas.