Samurais are highly significant figures in Japanese history. During the feudal era in Japanese history, samurais were well respected for their actions as warriors as well as their behavior outside of combat. The word “samurai” literally means “one who serves,” (Glossary of Terms). This is exactly what samurai’s did…
This is exactly what samurai’s did. These men were confident warriors who served their country during a tumultuous time in it’s history. Samurais came to be during the Heian period. The Japanese army, which was under the control of the emperor, disbanded as the emperor began to lose power. As the emperor lost power, clans formed to collect taxes. In their own interest, however, they heavily taxed the citizens, driving many away from their homes. “Regional clans grew powerful by offering lower taxes to their subjects as well as freedom from conscription. These clans armed themselves to repel other clans and magistrates from collecting taxes. They would eventually form themselves into armed parties and became samurai,” (Samurai History) The samurai went on to protect the citizens, primarily farmers, as well as their fellow clans from the corrupt tax collectors. They eventually began to wear armor that was typical of Japanese warriors of that era. The ethical code which they set up for themselves, known as bushido, set them aside, making them a class of their own. When Emperor Toba died in 1156, chaos ensued. No one knew which of his sons would take over. A civil war between the two sons was the result, with neither of which gaining control. Rather, the two prominent samurai clans, the Minamoto and Taira, fought over power, with the Taira establishing the first shogunate (Szczepnski). These two clans would clash again, however, with the Minamoto coming out on top. This led to the transition to the Kamakura Shogunate. Samurai rule was interrupted when imperial rule tried to re-implement itself. This unsuccessful run lasted only 3 years, however, leading to the weak rule of the Ashikaga Shogunate. There was daimyo interference during the Ashikage Shogunate, which led to the 10 year long Onin War, and eventually to the Sengoku. During the Sengoku, various daimyo clans battled to overthrow samurai rule and establish themselves as rulers. It wasn’t until 1868 that the samurai were overthrown during Meiji Restoration. “Emperor Meiji abolished the samurai's right to be the only armed force in favor of a more modern, western-style conscripted army. Samurai became Shizoku (??) who retained some of their salaries, but the right to wear a katana in public was eventually abolished along with the right to cut down commoners who paid them disrespect,” (Samurai History). Perhaps the most lasting legacy of the samurai was the bushido code. Samurai were known for their impeccable conduct and followed eight virtues to continue to behave accordingly. (Clark) The first of these virtues was Rectitude or Justice. In other words, samurai were to use reason in their actions, not acting out irrationally and bringing shame upon themselves. The second, courage, was emphasized to only be truly courageous if it was acted upon with rectitude in mind. The third, benevolence or mercy, was highly emphasized because of how important it was in the writings of Confucius. Confucius believed that “…the highest requirement of a ruler of men is Benevolence,” (Clark). The fourth, politeness, emphasized civialrous actions, rooted in benevolence. The fifth, honesty and sincerity, meant denouncing financial importance and recognizing luxury as “the greatest menace to manhood,” (Clark). The sixth, honor, was what the life of the samurai was about. It was about living with fear of bringing shame upon themselves and their clan. The seventh, loyalty, was important to relations between clan members. There were no excuses for betraying a fellow samurai. The last, character and self-control, best summarizes the meaning of the bushido code. Clark puts it best, describing it as teaching “ ...
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