If geisha (please see post from May 2016) are the most widely recognized female icons from Japan, then samurai are the male equivalent.

The samurai were the elite warriors who essentially ran Japan from the tenth century until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. As anyone who has seen a Japanese samurai movie knows, these warriors lived by a moral code that stressed courage, simple living, and unquestioned loyalty to their lord, whether it be the daimyo or military lord who controlled their province, or the shogun who was the supreme leader. The word samurai is derived from a word meaning “one who serves.”

When going into battle a samurai wore armor made from leather, lacquer, and eventually metal. On his head he wore a kabuto, or helmet, made from the same materials.

Kabuto were usually decorated with horns or antlers in the front, and often had wings to protect the warrior’s head from blows from his opponent’s sword.

Swords were “the soul of the samurai.” Samurai often wore two swords as a sign of theirIMG_2241 special status. This hashioki shows a katana, or long sword; it was the samurai’s skill at wielding the katana’s curved tempered-steel blade with its razor-sharp edge that made him such formidable opponent. The other sword, known as a wakizashi, was short, and most famously used to commit seppaku, suicide by cutting open the stomach, to avoid being captured alive by your opponents or to atone for some moral code lapse.

By the sixteenth century Japan was a country of peace, and the need for samurai and their swords declined. The introduction of firearms from the West also made swords obsolete. Many samurai ended up becoming rōnin, or wandering “wave men.” The samurai were ultimately stripped of their privileges and status in the late 1800s during Japan’s rapid Westernization.

Note:  you may also want to investigate the “yakko” kite hashioki included in my post about Omocha (toys) in May 2016.  Yakko were a samurai’s manservant.


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