As per the records in history, the Taika reforms in Japan marked the development of the samurai. Explore this article and get interesting information on the background & origin of samurai.

History Of The Samurai

The term 'samurai' is used to refer to a class of highly skilled warriors of Japan, who fought fearlessly for their masters. They believed in dying honorably, rather than surrendering to defeat. If a samurai disgraced himself and his master, he was bound to commit 'seppuku', the ritual suicide. Initially, the samurais fought on foot or horseback, with long bows. As time passed, they started fighting with weapons, like a sword. Samurais were well known for using two swords - one 'long' and one 'short', for slashing and stabbing the opponent. In this article, we have provided interesting information on the history and origin of the samurai.

Interesting Information On Background & Origin Of Samurai

The introduction of samurai, a class of proficient warriors, dates back to the period after the Taika reforms (646 AD) in Japan. During the reforms, lands were redistributed and heavy new taxes were formulated, in order to support the lavish Chinese-style Empire in the country. As a consequence of these reforms, the peasants had to sell their land and work as tenant farmers. In the meantime, a handful of landlords accumulated wealth and power. They established a feudal system, similar to what was seen in the medieval Europe. However, this cumbersome system faced a fall-down within a few centuries.

On the other side, in Europe, the new feudal lords found it essential to have warriors to guard their wealth. This marked the birth of the samurai warrior, known as 'Bushi'. While some of the samurai warriors were acquaintances of the landlords, others were simply 'hired swords'. The warriors were bound to be loyal to their master. Many historical records show that the most loyal warriors were either financial dependent on their lord or were his family members.
In the 900s, the Hein Dynasty (794-1185) in Japan began losing it control over the rural areas of the country, because its emperor proved to be very weak. As a result, the emperor exercised his power and control only within the capital. It was around this time that the warrior class of samurai moved in to fill the 'power vacuum'. By the beginning of 1100 AD, the samurai acquired both military and political power over many areas of Japan.
The Rise Of Samurai Rule
The end of Hein Era marked the rise of the samurai rule. In 1156 AD, after the death of Emperor Toba - 74th Emperor of Japan, a civil war called the Hogen Rebellion commenced, which saw Toba's sons, Sutoku & Go-Shirakawa, fighting for control. After the defeat of both the future emperors, the imperial office lost all its power. Eventually, the samurai clans - Minamoto and Taira - gained prominence. They fought against each other in the Heiji Rebellion of 1160. The first samurai-led government was established by the Taira, soon after their victory in the civil war. The government came to be known as 'shogunate'.
Rise & Fall Of Kamukara Shogunate
After the victory of Taira, the defeated Minamato clan was banished from the capital, at Kyoto. The two samurai clans fought with each other once again, in the Genpei War, which started in 1180 and lasted until 1185. During this war, the Minamoto emerged victorious. They soon established the Kamukara Shogunate, which gained control over many parts of Japan, until 1333. Although the Kamukara emerged powerful, they never gained control over the northern and western parts of the country. Moreover, other samurai clans showed periodic resistance to these shoguns.
In 1268, the Mongol ruler of Yuan China - Kublai Khan - posed an external threat to Japan and even demanded tribute from the country. On being refused by Kyoto, Mongols invaded the country, in 1274. Although they came with 600 ships, their armada was destroyed by a typhoon. They invaded Japan once again in 1281, but this time as well, their fleet was destroyed by a typhoon. Although Kamukara was favored by Mother Nature, the Mongol attacks cost it heavily.
Mongol attacks had a deteriorating effect on Kamukara and marked the fall of the reign. The weakened shogun, Kamukara, became unable to offer land or wealth to the samurai leaders. In addition, the shogun faced a challenge from Emperor Go-Daigo, in 1318. Although the emperor was deported in 1331, he came back and overthrew the Shogunate, in 1333. Eventually, the imperial power was restored, which lasted for the next three years.
Rise Of Ashikaga Shogunate
The samurai rule made a comeback, when Ashikaga Shogunate assumed power, under the guidance of Ashikaga Takauji, in 1336. However, it was not as strong as Kamukara Shogunate. Shogunate's succession was intruded by the regional constables called 'daimyo', who developed considerable power. Ignoring the orders from the shogun, the daimyo backed different successors to the imperial throne, after the advent of 1460. Consequently, the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa submitted his resignation in 1464.
Soon after Yoshimasa resigned, a fresh dispute began to take shape, between the supporters of his younger brother and his son. It ignited intense internal strife among the daimyo. The squabbling of daimyo gave rise to the Onin War, in 1467, which lasted for a decade. Kyoto was destroyed and thousands perished in the war. 'Sengoku', the 'Warring States Period' of Japan, was the result of the Onin War. The period between 1467 and 1573 saw the destruction of nearly all the provinces, because the daimyo led their clans in a fight for national dominance.
Japanese Reunification
After the warlord Oda Nobunaga defeated three powerful daimyo, he marched into Kyoto. This marked the culmination of 'Warring States Period' of Japan, in 1568. Then, Nobunaga appointed his favorite Yoshiaki as the shogun. Nobunga spent the next 14 years of his life in subduing the rest of the daimyo and suppressing the rebellions by the Buddhist monks. To symbolize the Japanese reunification, the Azuchi Castle was constructed extravagantly, between 1576 and 1579. In 1582, Akechi Mitsuhide assassinated Nobunaga. The Japanese reunification was carried forward by Hideyoshi, one of the generals of Nobunaga.
Tokugawa Shogunate
Tokugawa Shogunate was a large clan, which was exiled by Hideyoshi. The clan shifted from Kyoto to the Kanto region, located in western Japan. The Taiko died in 1598. By the advent of 1600, Tokugawa leyasu conquered the other western daimyo, from his castle stronghold at Edo, the present day Tokyo. By the time the country was unified, Leyasu's son, Hidetada, served as the shogun. Hidetade maintained peace and stability in Japan.
Decline Of The Samurai
Samurai warriors were domesticated by the strong Tokugawa shoguns. The warriors were forced to serve their lords in the cities or give up their swords and farm. This resulted in the transformation of the samurai warriors into a hereditary class of cultured bureaucrats. The samurai started fading away after the Meiji Restoration, in 1868. Meiji Emperor gained the support of the public. He became successful in reducing the power of the daimyo and the samurai. He also shifted the capital of Japan from Kyoto to Tokyo.
The newly formed government in Japan created an army in 1873. Consequently, a number of officers were drawn from the ranks of former samurai. Frustrated with the decision, an angry ex-samurai decided to hit back and commenced a revolt against the Meiji in 1877. This was followed by the Battle of Shiroyama, which marked the end of the era of the samurai clan. Today, although the samurai clan doesn’t exist anymore, the warriors are remembered for their bravery and loyalty to their masters.

How to Cite

More from