The Immense Role and Importance of Japan's Great Samurai Warriors

Japan and the Samurai Warrior
Japan, being an island with a treacherous, highly defensible coastline and an uncertain weather inclined to typhoons, has had an extraordinary pattern of seclusion and exemption from foreign incursions during the whole course of her history. With the onus of keeping the kingdom and its people safe, it was the warriors who led from the front.
All the troubles of Japan, until modernization, were largely internal ones involving the power struggles between various Great Families. The Japanese Emperor, the Mikado, who, as the Descendant of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, was considered to be a supreme divine autocrat, was very often in reality a powerless albeit respected puppet in the hands of these Families. There was no Central Government until about 593-622 when Shotuku Taishi of the Soga Family, the first Great Family recorded in Japanese History, became the Regent of his aunt, the Empress Suiko, and brought the various Clans together under the Imperial banner. Some measure of stability was achieved by his efforts, particularly by the announcement in 604 of his Constitution of Seventeen Articles, which were influenced by Confucian principles of rational governance. The first official Japanese Embassy to China too was dispatched during the Shotuku Regency, but the Soga Family fell from favor after his death.
In 645, the Imperial Prince Naka-no-Oe, who became the Emperor Tenchi, and Nakatomi Kamatari, the founder of the next powerful Family, the Fujiwaras, seized control from the Soga Family, and introduced the Taika (Great) Reform that improved the governing body further by strengthening the Central Government and establishing the Imperial Capital at Otsu. It remained here until 672 when the outcome of the war of succession between Emperor Tenchi's two sons Prince Oama and Prince Otama was decided in favor of the former, who, ascending the throne as Emperor Temmu and ruling until his death in 686, moved the capital back to the Asuka Region. The newly established town of Fujiwara became the Imperial Capital from 694 to 710, during which time, together with the issuing of the first Japanese copper coins, further governmental reforms in the shape of the Taiho administrative and penal code were also introduced. In 710, the Imperial court moved from Fujiwara to the first permanent Japanese capital in Nara (Heijo), a city modeled after the Chinese capital, and the Nara Period began. One of the chief characteristics of this period is the watering down of the Chinese influence and the growing popularity instead of native Japanese movements in Art, Literature and Religion. The large Buddhist monasteries that were built in Nara during this time soon became politically very powerful, and in fact there was an attempted uprising against the Emperor in 766 by the Buddhist monk Dokyo. Although this was foiled by 770 and the Emperor Kammu able to ascend the Imperial throne in 781, the capital was moved to Nagaoka in 784 to reduce the influence of the monks, and finally to Heian (Kyoto) in 794 where it would remain for over one thousand years. Throughout the 700s, the northern parts of the country were occupied at the expense of the original barbarian inhabitants, the Emishi, and, for his efforts in this regard, Otomo Yakamochi was the first to be given the rank Sei to Shôgun.
Over the next 200 years, the Emperor's influence became nominal while the Fujiwaras grew in power through calculated matrimonial alliances with the Imperial Family and by acquiring important political positions in the government. The First Fujiwara Regent was Fujiwara Yoshifusa, who took over the management of affairs for the child-emperor Seiwa in 858. He was followed in 884 by Fujiwara Motosune who was Regent to the Emperor Koko, and in 996 by the most important of them all, Fujiwara Michinaga. During this period two other Great Families, the Minamotos and the Tairas, also made their presence felt, and there was much mutual strife between them. In 1068, with the ascension of the strong-minded Emperor Go-Sanjo and the retirement of the important minister, Fujiwara Yorimichi, the absolute authority of the Fujiwaras came to be challenged. The new Emperor, although he was made to abdicate in favor of his son Sadahito (the Emperor Shirakawa) within four years, continued to scheme to gain power over the Fujiwaras from behind the scenes. Thus began the practice of the Insei, in which the succeeding Emperors abdicated in turn in order to regain their lost glory and by their continued interference in the governance led to the waning in influence of the Fujiwaras. Soon it was the Cloistered Emperors, as they came to be known, that wielded the real clout in Japan. Alongside these recalcitrant Emperors, the Fujiwaras also had to face the rising power of the 'Daimyos' or 'Great Names' that they themselves had created to collect government taxes. The Daimyos, who were large landholders with their own personal armies, often engaged in mutual warfare with one another and, as each grew in strength and territories, the need or desire to kowtow to the weak Central Government declined. The Chief Daimyo Families, the Tairas and the Minamotos, joined forces with the Emperor Go-Shirakawa in overthrowing the Fujiwaras in 1156. Soon afterwards, however, a bitter power struggle broke out between the two of them culminating in the Heiji Disturbance of 1159 in Kyoto, in which the Minamotos captured the Sanjo Palace and the Emperor Go-Shirakawa. The Tairas, under Taira Kiyomori, counterattacked and defeated the Minamotos, slaughtering them all except for four children that were spared as inconsequential, amongst them the future Yoritomo and Yoshitsune. As it turned out, it were these very two and Yoritomo in particular that were to later seek a bloody vengeance against their family's murderers and knell the end for the Tairas. The Gempei War between these two families which lasted from 1180 to 1185 ended with the complete destruction of the Taira Clan at the Battle of Dan no Ura and the resurgence in power of the Minamotos. Minamoto Yoritomo, who emerged as the leader, received from the Emperor the hereditary title of Shogun and he became the real ruler of Japan. One of his first acts as Shogun, since he was averse to the soft luxurious living of the capital, was to establish his military capital at Kamakura. In this way began the First Shogunate known as the Kamakura Shogunate in Japan. It lasted from 1185 to 1333 and during this period, despite several political and civil upheavals, the office of the Shogun remained constant and the feudal system developed. Then, along with the typical dwindling in power of the ruling family, there were conflicts with the Emperor still struggling to reassert himself. The Emperor failed, but so eventually did the Kamakura Shogunate. The Hojo Regents rose to power in Kamakura and there was peace for several decades until the Mongols attempted to invade in 1274.
The Mongols, who had conquered China by 1259, attempted to conquer Japan next by sending a large invading naval fleet to the island of Kyushu, but had to return following bad weather conditions. The latter took advantage of the fiasco to make better preparations and were able to put up a strong defense until the next invasion attempt in 1281. This instance too, however, it was the weather that ultimately forced the Mongols to retreat. There were no more Mongol attacks, but the costly war preparations and moreover the inability to pay the military proved the Kamakura government's undoing and facilitated the rise of the Imperial power under Emperor Go-Daigo. However, ineptitude, obsolete policies and the lack of support of the Daimyos led to the downfall in turn of the Kemmu Restoration of 1334. The Emperor was forced to flee and another was appointed in his stead, and, for the next 50 years until 1392 when one of them finally tired of it, there were two, mutually antagonistic Imperial Courts in Japan.
In 1336, the Ashikaga Shogunate, under the leadership of Takauji, who proclaimed himself Shogun in 1338, rose to power and remained for 238 years, that is until 1574. They moved the capital to Kyoto, established contacts with the contemporaneous Ming Dynasty in China, and encouraged Chinese-influenced cultural development in Japan. One of the Ashikaga Shoguns in fact attempted to curry favor with the Mings by proclaiming himself a liegeman of the Ming Emperor. The art forms of Ikebana and Bonsai became popular, so also the famous Japanese Tea Ceremony. Poetry, Painting, Architecture also flourished. The two well-known Japanese monuments the Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion) and the Ginkakuji (The Silver Pavilion) were constructed during this period. However, from 1467 to 1568, this was also a period of constant civil conflict and there was a resultant decline in the authority of both the Shogun and the Emperor. The state of affairs deteriorated until the Central Government was left with hardly any kind of authority outside the capital. Amongst the general populace, the peasants suffered the worst since they were heavily taxed and had to bear the brunt of the civil wars as well. The Portuguese arrived in 1542 during the course of these wars, and brought with them the first fire-arms ever seen in Japan. Although their efforts at spreading Christianity were resented, they were courted for military reasons. The Hundred year old civil strife was eventually ended by the separate efforts of three of the most charismatic and colorful men in Japanese history - Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Iyeyasu.
Oda Nobunaga
Nobunaga began life in 1534 as Oda Kipposhi, the second born son of the noble Oda Nobuhide. By 1558, after his father's death, he had squashed rebellion from his own family members, united the various feuding branches and assumed the leadership of the Oda, and gained control of the family stronghold Kiyosu Castle. Then he turned his attention to his principal enemies, the Matsudaira Clan under Matsudaira Motoyasu (the future Tokugawa Ieyasu) and the Imagawa Clan under Imagawa Yoshimoto. In 1560, he won a stunning victory against the Imagawa at Dengakuhazama (Okehazama) in which Imagawa Yoshimoto was killed and Matsudaira Motoyasu made to retreat. This changed the course of Japanese history, bringing national prestige and a taste for further expansion for Oda Nobunaga and freeing Matsudaira Motoyasu from the authority of the Imagawa. In 1567 Nobunaga captured Inabayama, the headquarters of the Saitô clan in Mino, and turned this into his own capital, renaming the castle Gifu. Alliances with Matsudaira Motoyasu of the newly independent Mikawa Province and with Takeda Shingen of Kai and Shinano were also simultaneously formed during this time. With the Imperial seal of approval for these achievements, Nobunaga first proclaimed his ultimate decision of bringing the nation under one rule. Soon afterwards, after avoiding war with the Asai in Mino by marrying off his beautiful sister O-ichi to Asai Nagamasa, Nobunaga took up next the cause of the Shogun heir Ashikaga Yoshiaki and, in 1568, he marched on Kyoto, brushing aside all enemies, and, within three weeks and with the approval of Emperor Ogimachi, had installed Yoshiaki as the fifteenth Ashikaga Shogun. However, since Nobunaga was not about to relinquish the real power, the relations between him and the new Shogun soon soured. By taking Kyoto Nobunaga had put himself in a favorable position for achieving his aim of Japanese Unification. By 1573 he had built himself a considerable power-base by undermining his various foes - the Asai, Asakura, and Miyoshi clans, supported by Ikko and warrior monks from the Honganji, Enryakuji (of Mt. Hiei), Negoroji, and Nagashima - by long, hard-fought military campaigns rather than by any diplomatic niceties. While he was ruthlessly dispatching his opponents, Nobunaga also suppressed the troublesome Shogun by imposing a large number of administrative rules and limitations that all but reduced the Shogun to a pawn. When Yoshiaki continued to make trouble and seek help from Nobunaga's enemies, Nobunaga finally had him exiled and the Ashikaga Shogunate came to an end. Henceforth, until his death, it was Nobunaga who would handle the offices of Shogun without assuming the actual title. With the reins of power, many other titles came from the Imperial Court, but Nobunaga resigned in favor of his son in 1574 and, by behind-the-scenes politicking, made vain attempts to dislodge the Emperor. In 1575, Nobunaga famously broke the power of the Takeda Clan, under Takeda Katsuyori, in the Battle at Nagashino, and, although the Takeda continued to trouble him until their final destruction in 1582, the Nagashino victory, every bit as strategically crucial as Okehazama, strengthened Nobunaga's political position. He next dealt with the Honganji, the Uesugi, and the Mori, and after a decade of bloodshed finally achieved national unification.
Advertisement
Nobunaga, who was a handsome man about 5'6'' tall, proved to be an able ruler despite his brash and cruel personality. He abolished the unpopular toll-booths, organized public land registers showing the details of ownership and value of land for taxation purposes, assumed charge of the minting of coins, and took control of the important merchant city of Sakai. He modernized his military by first buying rifles and later, after capturing the Kunimoto Arms Factory, by manufacturing his own. Also culturally sensitive, Nobunaga patronized learned men and encouraged the tea ceremony and poetry. He was curious about the newly arrived Westerners and, to the extent that they were amusing and useful to him, they were tolerated. He was far more interested however in his own retainers to whom he delegated power without withdrawing his own tight control. They were often shifted around, sometimes abruptly dismissed, and not favored with any undue personal warmth. In fact, there are records of insulting personal comments - the loyal Hideyoshi was referred to as 'Saru' or Monkey for his wizened features and another general Akechi Mitsuhide was mocked for having a receding hairline and for being a better poet than Nobunaga himself. In 1578, Nobunaga moved into the brand-new Azuchi Castle in Omi Province, one of the most impressive Castles to be built in Japan and therefore a great prestige point for Nobunaga. He was now offered the title of Shogun by the Emperor, but died before he was able to avail himself of this honor. His downfall was brought about in June 1582 through the agency of the previously maligned Akechi Mitsuhide.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Toyotomi Hideyoshi was the son of a peasant-turned-foot-soldier from Nakamura in Owari province. Not an attractive-looking man, he was however wily and manipulative and extremely astute, and, despite his peasant ancestry, rose to prominence first under Oda Nobunaga and then on his own. He is said to have caught Nobunaga's eye by his bravery during the capture of Inabayama in 1567, but there is no actual evidence to substantiate this. He played an active role however against the Asai at Anegawa in 1570 and after their defeat in 1573 was awarded three districts in Omi Province. After numerous other military campaigns for Nobunaga, he commanded the victorious Oda troops at Nagashima and Nagashino. In 1576, he led the six-year campaign against the Mori. Hideyoshi, advancing along the western provinces bordering the Inland Sea, captured without much fierce fighting the Castles of Himeji, Kozuki, and Sayo. However the next target, the vitally important Castle Miki under Bessho Nagaharu, required a long siege and could not be had until 1580. At the same time, Hideyoshi also had to ward off attacks from Ukita Naoie and Mori Terumoto. He managed to make an alliance with the former, which enabled him to secure further Mori territory, including Tottori Castle later in the year. By April 1582, Hideyoshi was knocking on the gates of Takamatsu Castle in Bitchu province, the last important fortress in the defense of the Mori homeland. Takamatsu held out under the tough and committed Shimizu Muneharu, so Hideyoshi came up with the unusual plan of first isolating the Castle by creating a lake around it by damning and diverting the waters of the nearby Ashimorigawa, and then shelling it with gunfire. Worried about the arrival of Mori reinforcements, he requested assistance from Nobunaga and a number of Oda troops were sent forth. One of these armies however, under Akechi Mitushide, attacked Nobunaga himself and he was killed on 20 June 1582 at the Honno Temple in Kyoto. Receiving news of this, Hideyoshi quickly made peace with the Mori and marched back to defeat Akechi Mitsuhide at the Battle of Yamazaki.
Hideyoshi's noteworthy avenging of the Honnoji assassination allowed him to play a major role a few months later in the hotly contested 'Kiyosu Conference', where, rather than resolving the issue of Nobunaga's successor, the Oda domain was parceled up among its chief retainers. Hideyoshi, who received a large portion as his share, managed to subdue his chief rival Shibata Katsuie, make peace with the other important General, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and purge all the remaining others. After quelling rebellions in the Northern provinces and Shikoku in 1583 and Kyushu in 1587, he now became established to all intents and purposes as the ruler of the Oda lands and proved himself one of the ablest statesmen of Japan. Unlike Nobunaga, he viewed the Westerners as a perfidious, subversive influence and caused the Christian Missionaries to be banned from Japan. In 1588, to bring the country under further governmental control, he forbade ordinary citizens to carry weapons and imposed a clear, non-fordable division between the social classes. Land surveys and population census were carried out. In 1590, Hideyoshi's large castle, the Osaka Castle, was completed and the Hojo family in Odawara was defeated, and Japan was finally reunited. The ambitious Hideyoshi then dreamt of conquering China and with this aim turned his attention first on Korea, but these campaigns failed and rather undermined his prestige. He fell ill during these campaigns and finally succumbed to his illness on 18 September 1598. His plan of furthering his dynasty through his young son Hideyori failed with the break-up of his appointed Council of Regents within two years of his death. Hideyori and his mother Lady Yodo were forced to commit suicide, eliminating the Totoyomi name, and Tokugawa Ieyasu rose to power next.
Tokugawa Ieyasu
Tokugawa Ieyasu was born in 1542 to the noble Matsudaira Hirotada, who kept his position in Mikawa by adroit maneuvering between the Oda and the Imagawa Clans. As a result of his father's politics, Ieyasu had to spent his youth as a political prisoner of the Imagawa and was able to return to Mikawa, albeit as an Imagawa vassal, only in 1556. The Battle of Okehazama in 1560, in which the Imagawa leader Yoshitomo was killed, freed Ieyasu from Imagawa influence and he threw in his lot with the Oda next. He had consolidated his domain in 1564 and three years later began foraying into Imagawa territory, capturing Totomi Castle. His eagerness to expand eastwards brought him the enmity of the Takeda who also had a covetous eye on the Imagawa lands. Briefly diverted to assist Oda Nobunaga in winning the Battle of Anegawa against the Asai and Asakura in 1570, Ieyasu once more had to turn his attention to the growing threat of the Takeda. He lost both Futamata Castle and the Battle of Mikatagahara, and perhaps would have suffered further defeat except for the timely death in 1573 of the Takeda leader, Takeda Shingen. There was only a brief respite however as Shingen's successor Takeda Katsuyori proved to be an equally salty opponent. He captured in 1574 the strategic Tokugawa Fort, Taketenjin, and the following year surrounded Nagashino Castle in Mikawa. Ieyasu's appeal for help had to be reworded as a threat to switch sides before he received assistance from Oda Nobunaga. The combined Oda-Tokugawa army managed to defeat the Takeda, but they escaped to fight another day and continued to bother the Tokugawa until their final destruction in 1582. In 1579, suspecting his eldest son Hideyasu of collaborating with the Takeda, Ieyasu ruthlessly forced him to commit suicide, and later, having given up his second son to be adopted by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, named his third son Hidetada as his heir. Having gained the ownership of Suruga Province after the defeat of the Takeda, Ieyasu next turned his attention on the Hojo border lands. Following Nobunaga's murder at the hands of Akechi Mitushide in June 1582, Ieyasu, who narrowly escaped sharing the same fate, retreated to Mikawa and later availed of Mitushide's defeat in the Battle of Yamazaki to grab the provinces of Kai and Shinano. This brought him in confrontation with the Hojo, but the matter was resolved without any bloodshed. As long as possible, Ieyasu also kept out of the power struggle between the two Oda retainers Shibata Katsuie and Toyotomi Hideyoshi that the latter won in the 1583 Battle of Shizugatake. In 1584, however, taking sides against Toyotomi Hideyoshi on behalf of the rightful Oda heir, Nobukatsu, Ieyasu became embroiled in the Komaki Campaign. Although he managed to win a decisive battle, the separate peace that Nobukatsu himself concluded with Hideyoshi left him without any reason for fighting and a truce was signed by the year-end. Although there was no further fighting between Hideyoshi and Ieyasu after this, it was an uneasy alliance fraught with mutual suspicion. Ieyasu assisted Hideyoshi in his campaign against the Hojo, gaining the provinces of Kanto and a total income of more than 1,000,000 koku as a result. He established his headquarters at Edo and began reorganizing his new possessions. During the two Korean Missions of 1592-93 and 1597-98, Ieyasu was kept busy in Hideyoshi's Kyushu headquarters and had to leave the management of his property in the hands of his capable retainers. On his death-bed, Hideyoshi named Ieyasu as one of the five Regents to his heir Toyotomi Hideyori, most probably in order to curtail any personal ambitions on his part. The scheme however didn't work. Upon Hideyoshi's death, Ieyasu, the most powerful of the chosen five, immediately began to undermine any possibility of Hideyori taking over in the future. He made alliances with the Date and, on 21 October 1600, with a force of more than 160,000 fought the greatest battle in Japanese history against the other Regents and the Uesugi, the Battle of Sekigahara. Ieyasu's decisive victory at Sekigahara made him the next definite lord of Japan, and brought nearly one-seventh of its land under his personal ownership.
Ieyasu was proclaimed Shogun in 1603, but stepped down within two years in favor of his son Hidetada. He maintained his power though, building the city of Edo and signing treaties with the Dutch and the Spanish. From 1611 he took steps to secure the future propagation of the Tokugawa Dynasty. Tightening his grip over the Imperial Dynasty, he also demanded an oath of allegiance from the Western Daimyos, issued an Official Edict limiting the power of the Nobility, and later, in 1614, brought out the final and most sweeping Christian Expulsion Edict. Now he decided to remove the possible threat of Totoyomi Hideyori, and achieved this with the Battle of Tennoji in June 1615. Osaka Castle fell to the Tokugawa and Hideyori committed suicide. The following year, after a brief illness, Ieyasu passed away peacefully. The dynasty that he had established lasted until 1868.
In this period the Daimyos were brought back firmly in line, their powers reduced to such an extent that they were required to obtain the Shogun's permission for every undertaking, from repairing their fortresses to arranging marriages for their children; it also became compulsory for them to leave their families in the new capital Edo and reside there themselves for a major part of the year. As a result of this there was relatively little civil strife. The Tokugawa Shoguns established a very practical regime that totally controlled every aspect of Japanese society. There was emphasis on education and cultural advancements like Kabuki, Haiku and Woodblock Printing took place. The Christian Missionaries, who had been trying to entrench themselves in Japanese Society, were perceived once again as an imperialistic threat and effectively uprooted and driven out, and Christianity was formally banned. And shortly thereafter all Foreign Traders were expelled and permission was denied to Japanese citizens to have any further contact with them or to leave the island for foreign shores. Japan closed herself from all interaction with the outside world, and for over 200 years remained in a strictly supervised isolation. During this period the country and her people began to recover from the depredations of the civil wars. Industry developed alongside Art and Literature. Buddhism and the ancient Shinto religion revived. This latter, which was the worship of ancestors, brought back the focus on the Japanese Emperor. The Shogunate became increasingly less popular and lost its prestige entirely after making Treaties with the bullying Foreign Powers and reopening Japan to them in 1853. The last Tokugawa Shogun was forced to resign from his office in 1867 and there were no more Shoguns after him. The whole 700 year old system of the Shogunate thus came to an ignominious end.
The downfall of the Shogun was followed by the ascension to the Imperial Throne of the fourteen year old Emperor Mutsihito. His reign from 1868 to 1912 came to be known as the Meiji (Enlightened) Rule, and during this period the entire fabric of Japanese Society underwent an unprecedented change. Edo was renamed Tokyo and made the Imperial Capital. The old feudal system was abolished and a new constitution was established, keeping however the Emperor as the absolute ruler of Japan. The esteem in which he was held was the reason the Feudal Lords ultimately accepted the loss of their privileges, and it also prevented the ultra-modern radicals from abolishing the old ways entirely. It was a strange medieval-modern combination, but it worked exceedingly well. There were far-fetching improvements in the systems of Education, Industry, Law, Army, Navy and so on. Foreign experts were brought in to advise on the developments and Japanese students too were sent abroad to learn the new technologies. In less than 60 years after reopening her doors to the Western powers, Japan made the fast-paced, remarkable transformation from a feudal society to a modern, industrialized nation.
The Samurai
The Samurai or the Japanese Warriors held an elite, very distinguished position in the medieval Japanese society. They were an Intellectual Fighting Force - not just expert Swordsmen, Archers, Equestrians and Martial Artists, but also well-versed in things like Philosophy, Poetry, and Fine Art. Known either as Samurai or Bushi, they rose into prominence during the power-struggles between the Taira-Minamoto-Fujiwara factions. Many of these Warriors were members of the Great Families and thereby had a personal stake in the power struggle. Others were hired mercenaries. Both however were emphatically loyal to their Daimyo and adhered to a strict code of moral conduct called 'Bushido', according to which valor, honor and personal integrity were upheld before even life itself. This has been detailed in the book 'The Book of Five Rings' by Miyamoto Musashi. 'Bushido' was the very soul of the Samurai Caste and was influenced by the philosophies of Zen, Confucius and Hagakure. The Samurais that transgressed or dishonored its principles usually committed suicide by Seppuku or Hara-Kiri, a practice of disemboweling oneself with one's own sword, often in the presence of an aide known as 'Kaishaku' who eased the performer's torment by beheading him immediately on completion of the act. Seppuku could be performed only by a person of exceptional courage and this was the hallmark of the Samurai.
In return for their unflinching loyalty, the Samurais received land, status, money, and the most privileged positions in the Administration and the Military. Only the Samurais were permitted to wear two swords, a long one that was worn outside, and a short one that was worn constantly. They also carried other weapons like Spears and 'Naginata'. At one time they were also free from any legal accountability and could put to death at will any plebeian that had knowingly or unwittingly offended their sense of propriety. During the Tokugawa Period the Samurais became an even more distinct class. They were now no longer permitted to intermarry with the other sections of Japanese Society like the peasants, artisans, merchants. They were also moved into the castle towns and began receiving a government stipend. However, since this period was that of relative peace, many Samurais found themselves out of employment and some were forced to opt out and take up other less honorable professions. Those that didn't become traders or farmers roamed the country offering their services wherever needed. These came to be called 'Ronin'. The government tried to help the Samurais by engaging them as teachers for the country's youth. However, with the coming urban development, there were major changes in the Japanese social structure, and the importance of the Samurais, including their own observance of the 'Bushido', began to decline.
The Downfall of the Samurai
The downfall came in 1868 after the end of the Shogunate and upon the beginning of the Meiji Era. The new Emperor Mutsihito, as part of his Reformation Policy, issued the famous 'Five Articles Oath' that took away in 1871 all the former privileges accorded to the Samurais as an Elite Class, starting with the abolishment of their historical right of wearing swords. By ordaining that only the newly established Police Force and National Army could henceforth carry weapons, the Samurais were not only divested of the basis of their distinctiveness and importance but also left without a source of revenue. This together with the treaties that were being made with the Imperialistic-minded Western Powers enraged the Samurais and there were many revolts, including the 1877 Satsuma Revolt under Takamori Saigo. However, the day of the chivalrous Samurai was now past and, however brave, their medieval weapons were no match for the new fire-arms of the National Army, and they were quickly suppressed. Eventually, after several such failed insurrections, the Samurai realized the futility of attempting to turn the clock back and became reconciled with the changes in their situation. They accepted the abolishment of their Class and adopted alternative careers in the Military, in Business and in the new Administration that allowed them to play principal roles in the building of a progressive Japan.
Advertisement