28.7.11

Samurai "the Way of the Warrior"

Samurai  is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. According to translator William Scott Wilson: "In Chinese, the character 侍 was originally a verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society, and this is also true of the original term in Japanese, saburau. According to Wilson, an early reference to the word "samurai" appears in the Kokin Wakashū (905–914), the first imperial anthology of poems, completed in the first part of the 10th century.


As de facto aristocrats for centuries, samurai developed their own cultures that influenced Japanese culture as a whole. The culture associated with the samurai such as the tea ceremony, monochrome ink painting, rock gardens and poetry were adopted by warrior patrons throughout the centuries 1200–1600. These practices were adapted from the Chinese arts. Zen monks introduced them to Japan and they were allowed to flourish due to the interest of powerful warrior elites. Muso Soseki (1275–1351) was a Zen monk who was advisor to both Emperor Go-Daigo and General Ashikaga Takauji (1304–58). Muso as well as other monks acted as political and cultural diplomats between Japan and China. Previously, tea had been used primarily for Buddhist monks to stay awake during meditation.

In general, samurai, aristocrats, and priests had a very high literacy rate in Kanji. For example, court documents, birth and death records and marriage records from the Kamakura period, submitted by farmers, were prepared in Kanji. Both the Kanji literacy rate and skills in math improved toward the end of Kamakura period.


The marriage of samurai was done by having a marriage arranged by someone with the same or higher rank than those being married. Most samurai married women from a samurai family, but for a lower ranked samurai, marriages with commoners were permitted. A samurai could have a mistress but her background was strictly checked by higher ranked samurai. If a samurai's wife gave birth to a son he could be a samurai.

A samurai could divorce his wife for a variety of reasons with approval from a superior, but divorce was, while not entirely nonexistent, a rare event. A samurai could divorce for personal reasons, even if he simply did not like his wife, but this was generally avoided as it would embarrass the samurai who had arranged the marriage. A woman could also arrange a divorce, although it would generally take the form of the samurai divorcing her. After a divorce samurai had to return the betrothal money, which often prevented divorces. 


Some rich merchants had their daughters marry samurai to erase a samurai's debt and advance their positions.
A samurai's wife would be dishonored and allowed to commit jigai (a female's seppuku) if she were cast off.
The philosophies of Buddhism and Zen, and to a lesser extent Confucianism and Shinto, influenced the samurai culture. The Buddhist concept of reincarnation and rebirth led samurai to abandon torture and needless killing, while some samurai even gave up violence altogether and became Buddhist monks after realizing how fruitless their killings
were. Painting of Ōishi Yoshio committing seppuku, 1703.

The philosophies of Buddhism and Zen, and to a lesser extent Confucianism and Shinto, are attributed to the development of the samurai culture.

A notable part of their code is seppuku (切腹 seppuku?) or hara kiri, which allowed a disgraced samurai to regain his honor by passing into death, where samurai were still beholden to social rules. Whilst there are many romanticised characterisations of samurai behaviour such as the writing of Bushido (武士道 Bushidō?) in 1905, studies of Kobudo and traditional Budō indicate that the samurai were as practical on the battlefield as were any other warrior.



Despite the rampant romanticism of the 20th century, samurai could be disloyal and treacherous (e.g., Akechi Mitsuhide), cowardly, brave, or overly loyal (e.g., Kusunoki Masashige). Samurai were usually loyal to their immediate superiors, who in turn allied themselves with higher lords. These loyalties to the higher lords often shifted; for example, the high lords allied under Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉) were served by loyal samurai, but the feudal lords under them could shift their support to Tokugawa, taking their samurai with them.




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