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History of the Samurai in Japan

by Jack Guy

Jan 25, 2020

© Syvwlch | Flickr

Destinations / Asia

Sword-wielding soldiers known as samurai are one of the most emblematic images of Japan, and they have a fascinating history.


Samurai started as warriors in pre-modern Japan, rising in status to become the highest social caste in the Edo Period (1603–1867). The famed samurai sword was the main weapon, although they did also use spears and guns.


Some of the mysticism behind samurai stems from their ethic code, known as bushido, or way of the warrior. Samurai were also known for their affinity with Zen Buddhism. Under the Edo caste system, all samurai had to live in castle towns, where they were the only people allowed to own swords, and received payment in rice from their lord. Those without a master were known as ronin, and became known for robberies and assaults during the 1600s.


By 1868 the caste system ended and the samurai abolished shortly after, but you can still visit some of the castles dotted around Japan. Other ways to learn more about the samurai include a visit to the Sword Museum in Tokyo, the Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya, with loads of samurai artifacts, and the Maeda and Honda Museums in Kanazawa, dedicated to two famous samurai families.


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