Discover the Samurai
The Samurai is a hereditary military class of
Japan. From circa 1000 AD the Samurai dominated Japan, though
after circa 1600 their activities were less military than cultural.
Comprising 5% of Japanese, they exerted influence through Bushido,
a code which demanded feudal loyalty and placed honour above
life. The Samurai class lost its power in the reforms of 1868.
samurai were bound by a strict code of honour and were expected
to set an example for those below them. A disgraced samurai
could regain honour and respect by committing suicide by a
and painful means: stabbing himself in the stomach with his
own sword, an act called seppuku. When time was available,
would have a friend or student, called a kaishaku, decapitate
them after the initial cut across the abdomen. Even in death,
samurai were beholden to honour.
In practice, there were disloyal
samurai. Japanese history is filled with examples of samurai
that were treacherous (e.g.,
Akechi Mitsuhide), cowardly, brave, or overly loyal (e.g.,
Masashige). Samurai were usually loyal to their immediate
superiors, who in turn allied themselves with higher lords.
to higher lords often shifted, however. For example, the
feudal lords allied under Toyotomi Hideyoshi enjoyed the loyalty
their men; however, the feudal lords themselves might shift
their backing to Tokugawa. This did not mean that the lower-ranked
samurai were disloyal, though. It was that their allegiance
to their immediate superior.