Samurai

samurai (sä´mōōrī´), knights of feudal Japan, retainers of the daimyo. This aristocratic warrior class arose during the 12th-century wars between the Taira and Minamoto clans and was consolidated in the Tokugawa period. Samurai were privileged to wear two swords, and at one time had the right to cut down any commoner who offended them. They cultivated the martial virtues, indifference to pain or death, and unfailing loyalty to their overlords (see bushido). Samurai were the dominant group in Japan, and the masterless samurai, the ronin, were a serious social problem. Under the Tokugawa shogunate (1603–1867), the samurai were removed from direct control of the villages, moved into the domain castle towns, and given government stipends. They were encouraged to take up bureaucratic posts. As a result, they lost a measure of their earlier martial skill. Dissatisfied samurai from the Choshu and Satsuma domains of W Japan were largely responsible for overthrowing the shogun in 1867. When feudalism was abolished after the Meiji restoration, some former samurai also took part in the Satsuma revolt under Takamori Saigo in 1877. As statesmen, soldiers, and businessmen, former samurai took the lead in building modern Japan.

See H. P. Varley, The Samurai (1970).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Heart of the Warrior: Origins and Religious Background of the Samurai System in Feudal Japan
Catharina Blomberg.
Japan Library, 1994
Hired Swords: The Rise of Private Warrior Power in Early Japan
Karl F. Friday.
Stanford University, 1992
Legacies of the Sword: The Kashima-Shinryu and Samurai Martial Culture
Karl F. Friday; Seki Humitake.
University of Hawaii Press, 1997
Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan
Karl F. Friday.
Routledge, 2004
Pagoda; Skull; and Samurai: 3 Stories by Rohan Koda
Rohan Koda; Chieko Irie Mulhern.
Tuttle Publishing, 1985
Six Lives, Six Deaths: Portraits from Modern Japan
Robert Jay Lifton; Michael R. Reich; Suichi Kato.
Yale University Press, 1979
The Maker of Modern Japan: The Life of Tokugawa Ieyasu
A. L. Sadler.
George Allen & Unwin, 1937
Idealism, Protest, and the Tale of Genji: The Confucianism of Kumazawa Banzan (1619-91)
James Welsh McMullen.
Oxford University, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Part II "A Warrior's Life"
Japan's Emergence as a Modern State: Political and Economic Problems of the Meiji Period
E. Herbert Norman.
International Secretariat, Institute of Pacific Relations, 1940
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of samurai in multiple chapters
The Modern History of Japan
W. G. Beasley.
Frederick A. Praeger, 1963
Librarian’s tip: Chap. I "Japan in the Early Nineteenth Century," Chap. V "The Fall of the Tokugawa, 1860-1868," and Chap. VI "New Men and New Methods, 1868-1873"
The History of Japan
Louis G. Perez.
Greenwood Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Feudal Japan"
The Great Battles of Antiquity: A Strategic and Tactical Guide to Great Battles That Shaped the Development of War
Richard A. Gabriel; Donald W. Boose Jr.
Greenwood Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 16 "The Japanese Way of War: Ichinotani, Kyushu"
A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present
Andrew Gordon.
Oxford University Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of samurai in multiple chapters
Servants, Shophands, and Laborers in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan
Gary P. Leupp.
Princeton University Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of samurai in multiple chapters
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