Importance of the Samurai in Ancient Japan

The Samurai were influential people known as the cultural and historical figures of Japan. They were the warrior caste that existed throughout the 11th to the 19th centuries. Later on, they comprise of the ruling military class and soon became the highest ranked social caste during the Edo period.

The Samurai used a variety of weapons like bows & arrows, guns, and spears. Yet their main weapon was the sword, which was also the symbol of the warriors.

The impact of these warriors in Japanese culture was great. In fact, the cultural element of what they offer is more notable than their achievements in war. The Samurai were strong and skilled fighters who knew how to use a wide array of weapons. Plus, they were also responsible for the rituals and promoted the country’s isolation.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

What was their Role in the Government?

In ancient Japan, it’s vital to note that the Samurai controlled the local government. This was when they replaced the court government. And since the court had no police forces, groups of Samurai were able to gain power in the Heian period.

This specific period’s government neglected the province’s administration. With that, these influential people’s strength relied on discipline and loyalty. The Samurai then began controlling big areas of rice in the east which was along modern-day Tokyo.

These Samurai ruled in 1185, until this time, the government was bureaucratic. Despite this, it was really aristocratic. This is because people acquired positions due to being born in entitled families.

Even after the year 1185, the civil government commenced and both the law & state remained the same. Yet even if this was the case, a new Samurai class began to emerge. Soon enough, they came to power and became the real rulers & most influential people in Japan.

A kind of military rule remained in the Japanese government until the year 1868. It was when a unified bureaucratic government appeared with the Meiji Restoration.

Influence of the Samurai Bushido

As influential people, the Samurai had to lead their lives based on the Bushido or the Way of the Warrior. It was heavily based on Confucianism so the Bushido focused on concepts like loyalty. Other ideas it stressed on was respect, self-discipline, and ethical behavior. A lot of them were also drawn to the practices and teachings of Zen Buddhism.

It was the Code of the Bushido that set these warriors apart from other groups, and it gave them reasons to fight. Without the Bushido, these Samurai would just be like one of the many warriors in history.

Based on the Bushido, the Samurai had to be loyal, self-sacrificing, and courageous. They claim it was better to commit Seppuku (ritualistic suicide) than to live a life of dishonor. So in time, Zen Buddhism formed the Samurai code which had two vital virtues that the Samurai had to master. This was self-restraint and self-discipline.

These influential people embraced mindfulness, self-discipline, intelligence, and ethics. They were also known for using the Katana which symbolized the warrior’s brave soul. This attitude helped them in battle. As for the Bushido, it helped the Samurai into political power to help protect the land.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Influence in Various Forms of Art

Despite political unrest, the Muromachi period saw ample economic growth in Japan. It was also the golden age for Japanese art. Here, the Samurai culture developed from the influence of Zen Buddhism. Other famous art forms that grew in this period was the tea ceremony, rock gardens, and Ikebana.

A lot of painters during the Edo period were Samurai. Aside from their skills, art was also taught and instilled in the warrior. It was vital since both skills required swiftness.

For the master of both the brush and blade, perfect strokes expressed a Japanese’s ideal. The beauty-driven of assured, unhurried speed and classic tradition, utter self-assurance. It also exhibits the Zen purity of the mind.

When it comes to the paintings of the Edo period, these were rich in symbols and drama. One was a painting of a carp swimming towards the waterfalls. Its actions was something unlikely, but was a manifestation of the fish turning into a dragon. The art was viewed as a clear form of social climbing.

Another form of art was the image of a monkey attempting to catch a wasp. It was a form of warning to never cross a feudal lord. This was due to the words Hachi (wasp) and Hochi (fiefdom) rhyming with each other. It was also applicable to the ideograms lord and monkey.

Did they also Influence Education and Literature?

As influential people, the Samurai promoted literacy in the country. Before the medieval period, education was exclusive for Buddhist monastics and aristocrats. Things changed at the beginning of the Kamakura era, which was the rise of the military class. During this time, even the Samurai had the privilege to experience education. The Samurai also started educating their children. They taught them practical matters of military life. These included proper lord-retainer relations, as well as rules of property inheritance.

Unlike in the medieval period, education became widespread over the course of Japan’s pre-modern period. The Tokugawa Shogunate gave high importance to learning to promote Neo-Confucian philosophy. The government conforms to the ideologies of these teachings.

Formal schooling was reserved for those from the Samurai class in the 18th century. Edo period education for the Samurai class mostly included reading and writing in Japanese and Chinese. For teachings, these included Chinese and Neo Confucian philosophy. The Neo Confucian teachings that the Samurai learned included various notions such as loyalty to one’s lord and devotion to one’s parents. Aside from literature and teachings, they also underwent military training.

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What was the Secret Behind the Success of the Samurai?

A lot of military historians consider the Samurai as the most elite warriors in history. While it is a fact that the Samurai were excellent warriors on the battlefield, some were great tacticians. Whether they excelled in combat or in strategy, they all shared one secret to success. This was their unique beliefs which are  the Bushido or the Way of the Warrior.

The Bushido was the core of the belief of the Samurai.  However, the code was simply a result of the three most significant religions and philosophies that they followed. These were Shintoism, Zen Buddhism, and Confucianism.

The Shinto beliefs allowed the Samurai to link to their people. Zen Buddhism formed the morals of the Samurai, which allowed them to be efficient warriors without cruelty. This also taught the Samurai to focus on combat and believe in “mind over matter”. Finally, Confucianism taught respecting the authority and it formed political and social hierarchy in the country. Each of these were important to these influential people of ancient Japan.

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