Sunday, June 30, 2013


                 Do you like Samurai movies? I know most of you like it. I can remember the first samurai movie I watched on TV was 'The sensitive Samurai' . The series make me curious about the life of Samurai. Today I am going to give you a snapshot of their life. 

        The Samurai were the warriors of premodern Japan . They were originally formed by farmers who had taken up arms to protect themselves from the imperial magistrates sent to govern their lands and collect taxes. They were strong and brave, were excellent fighters and strongly Confucian in nature. This aristocratic warrior class arose during the 12th-century wars between the Taira and Minamoto clans and was consolidate in the Tokugawa period. These clans formed alliances to protect themselves against more powerful clans, and by the mid-Heian period they had adopted characteristic Japanese armour and weapons, and laid the foundations of Bushido or a set of rule which philosophy was "freedom from fear." 

         Over time, powerful samurai clans became warrior nobility, or "buke", who were only nominally under the court aristocracy. When the samurai began to adopt aristocratic pastimes like calligraphy, poetry and music, some court aristocrats in turn began to adopt samurai customs. From the earliest times, they felt that the path of the warrior was one of honor, emphasizing duty to one's master, and loyalty unto death.That gave him the peace and power to serve his master faithfully and loyally and die well if necessary. Samurai were privileged to cut down any commoner who offended them. With no warfare since the early 17th century, samurai gradually lost their military functions.

At last Emperor Meiji abolished the samurai's right to be the only armed force in favor of a more modern, western-style, conscripted army in 1873. Samurai became (Shizoku) who retained some of their salaries, but the right to wear a katana in public was eventually abolished along with the right to execute commoners who paid them disrespect. The samurai finally came to an end after hundreds of years of enjoyment of their status, their powers, and their ability to shape the government of Japan.

            Two most recognizing issues related with Samurais are their sword and Seppuku. 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 privileged to wear two swords. One was long; the other short. The long sword (daito - katana) and the short sword (shoto - wakizashi) was together are called a daisho. The Samurai often gave names to their swords and believed it was the "soul" of their warrior ship.The Samurai's desire for tougher, sharper swords for battle gave rise to the curved blade we still have today. After forge the blade, the sword tester took the new blade and cut through the bodies of corpses or condemned criminals. They started by cutting through the small bones of the body and moved up to the large bones. Test results were often recorded on the nakago (the metal piece attaching the sword blade to the handle).

     Seppuku or Hara-kiri the Japanese formal language term for ritual suicide was an intregal part of the code of bushido and the discipline of the samurai warrior class. Hara-kiri, which literally means "stomach cutting" is a particularly painful method of self-destruction. To the samurai, seppuku--whether ordered as punishment or chosen in preference to a dishonorable death at the hands of an enemy--was unquestionable demonstration of their honor, courage, loyalty, and moral character. 

     The seppuku candidate was supposed to take a short dagger and cut his abdomen by slicing it from the left lower part of his upper body upwards in right direction. This must have been extremely painful. Then the candidate was supposed to lower his neck. This was the sign for the assistant, the kaishakunin, who stood behind him, to proceed to the last step - to blow off the seppuku candidate's head - possibly with one blow of his sword. The kaishakunin could be a person close to him, sometimes his best friend. The kaishakunin had it in his hands to shorten the suffering of the suicider by executing a strong and swift blow. 

When samurai were on the battlefield, they often carried out acts of hara-kiri rapidly and with very little formal preparation. But on the, seppuku or hara-kiri was a very formal ceremony, requiring certain etiquette, witnesses and considerable preparation. Suicide was not unique for men. For women existed the practice of stabbing into the heart with a knife or a long and sharp hair-pin. 

The great Ieyasu Tokugawa, who founded Japan's last great Shogunate dynasty in 1603, eventually issued an edict forbidding hara-kiri to both secondary and primary retainers. 

Some famous seppuku in Japan's History includes the history of Yoshitsune who was surrounded in his last castle resort by hostile troops sent by his own brother, he killed first his wife and his own children. Then he committed seppuku. This happened in 1189. In 1582, the reckless tyrant Oda Nobunaga was forced to commit suicide after one of his generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, had successfully revolted against him. 

          The most spectacular case were the 47 ronin - masterless samurai. The real events happened in 1701 and 1702. Their lord, Asano, had been forced by the Shogun to commit an unjustified suicide for the sole reason of a heated sword duel, that resulted in some minor bruises. The opponent, Kira, had provoked the duel by his rude behavior, but got away without any punishment. The 47 vassals of the dead Asano vowed revenge. In the end, they raided Kira's mansion during a night assault and decapitated Kira with the very same sword used for Asano's suicide. The 46 ronin (one had died before) were arrested and forced to commit seppuku themselves in spite of an outcry of the public. 

     In 1877 Saigo Takamori, the leader of a rebellion against the imperial Japanese government, was defeated in the battle of Satsuma in Southern Japan. He was wounded and committed seppuku in samurai manner on the battlefield. He became a folk hero for the Japanese people. The story of Saigo Takamori later became the not historically correct background story for the film The Last Samurai. 

In 1895, fourty men of the Japanese military protested against the return of the Liaotung peninsula to China by committing seppuku.

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  1. You know personally I would mention Yukio Mishima in the list of famous Samurai seppuku