Samurai - History

History

Following the Battle of Hakusukinoe against Tang China and Silla in 663 AD that led to a Japanese retreat from Korean affairs, Japan underwent widespread reform. One of the most important was that of the Taika Reform, issued by Prince Naka no Ōe (Emperor Tenji) in 646 AD. This edict allowed the Japanese aristocracy to adopt the Tang Dynasty political structure, bureaucracy, culture, religion, and philosophy. As part of the Taihō Code, of 702 AD, and the later Yōrō Code, the population was required to report regularly for census, a precursor for national conscription. With an understanding of how the population was distributed, Emperor Mommu introduced the law whereby 1 in 3–4 adult males was drafted into the national military. These soldiers were required to supply their own weapons, and in return were exempted from duties and taxes. This was one of the first attempts by the Imperial government to form an organized army modeled after the Chinese system. It was called gundan-sei (軍団制) by later historians and is believed to have been short-lived.

The Taihō Code classified most of the imperial bureaucrats into 12 ranks, each divided into two sub-ranks, 1st rank being the highest adviser to the emperor. Those of 6th rank and below were referred to as "samurai" and dealt with day-to-day affairs. Although these "samurai" were civilian public servants, the name is believed to have derived from this term. Military men, however, would not be referred to as "samurai" for many more centuries.

In the early Heian period, the late 8th and early 9th centuries, Emperor Kammu sought to consolidate and expand his rule in northern Honshū, but the armies he sent to conquer the rebellious Emishi people lacked motivation and discipline, and failed in their task. Emperor Kammu introduced the title of sei'i-taishōgun (征夷大将軍) or shogun, and began to rely on the powerful regional clans to conquer the Emishi. Skilled in mounted combat and archery (kyūdō), these clan warriors became the emperor's preferred tool for putting down rebellions. Though this is the first known use of the 'shogun' title, it was a temporal title, and was not imbued with political power until the 13th century. At this time (the 7th to 9th century) the imperial court officials considered them merely a military section under the control of the imperial court.

Ultimately, Emperor Kammu disbanded his army. From this time, the emperor's power gradually declined. While the emperor was still the ruler, powerful clans around Kyoto (京都) assumed positions as ministers, and their relatives bought positions as magistrates. To amass wealth and repay their debts, magistrates often imposed heavy taxes, resulting in many farmers becoming landless.

Through protective agreements and political marriages, they accumulated political power, eventually surpassing the traditional aristocracy.

Some clans were originally formed by farmers who had taken up arms to protect themselves from the imperial magistrates sent to govern their lands and collect taxes. These clans formed alliances to protect themselves against more powerful clans, and by the mid-Heian period they had adopted characteristic Japanese armor and weapons, and laid the foundations of Bushido, their ethical code.

After the Genpei war of the late 12th century, a clan leader Minamoto no Yoritomo obtained the right to appoint shugo and jito, and was allowed to organize soldiers and police, and to collect certain amount of tax. Initially, their responsibility was restricted to arresting rebels and collecting needed army provisions, and they were forbidden to interfere with kokushi governors, but their responsibility gradually expanded and thus the samurai-class appeared as the political ruling power in Japan. Minamoto no Yoritomo opened the Kamakura Bakufu shogunate in 1192.

Samurai warriors described themselves as followers of "The Way of the Warrior" or Bushido. Bushidō is defined by the Japanese dictionary Shogakukan Kokugo Daijiten as "a unique philosophy (ronri) that spread through the warrior class from the Muromachi (chusei) period. From the earliest times, the Samurai felt that the path of the warrior was one of honor, emphasizing duty to one's master, and loyalty unto death.

In the 13th century, Hōjō Shigetoki (1198–1261 AD) wrote: "When one is serving officially or in the master's court, he should not think of a hundred or a thousand people, but should consider only the importance of the master."

In his 1979 Dissertation about the Hojo, Carl Steenstrup noted that 13th and 14th century warrior writings (gunki) "portrayed the bushi in their natural element, war, eulogizing such virtues as reckless bravery, fierce family pride, and selfless, at times senseless devotion of master and man."

Feudal lords such as Shiba Yoshimasa (1350–1410 AD) stated that a warrior looked forward to a glorious death in the service of a military leader or the emperor: "It is a matter of regret to let the moment when one should die pass by....First, a man whose profession is the use of arms should think and then act upon not only his own fame, but also that of his descendants. He should not scandalize his name forever by holding his one and only life too dear....One's main purpose in throwing away his life is to do so either for the sake of the Emperor or in some great undertaking of a military general. It is that exactly that will be the great fame of one's descendants."

In 1412 AD, Imagawa Sadayo wrote a letter of admonishment to his brother stressing the importance of duty to one's master. Imagawa was admired for his balance of military and administrative skills during his lifetime and his writings became widespread. The letters became central to Tokugawa-era laws and were a required study for traditional Japanese until World War II:

"First of all, a samurai who dislikes battle and has not put his heart in the right place even though he has been born in the house of the warrior, should not be reckoned among one's retainers....It is forbidden to forget the great debt of kindness one owes to his master and ancestors and thereby make light of the virtues of loyalty and filial piety....It is forbidden that one should...attach little importance to his duties to his master...There is a primary need to distinguish loyalty from disloyalty and to establish rewards and punishments."

Similarly, the feudal lord Takeda Nobushige (1525–1561 AD) stated: "In matters both great and small, one should not turn his back on his master's commands...One should not ask for gifts or enfiefments from the master...No matter how unreasonably the master may treat a man, he should not feel disgruntled...An underling does not pass judgments on a superior"

Nobushige's brother Takeda Shingen (1521–1573 AD) also made similar observations: "One who was born in the house of a warrior, regardless of his rank or class, first acquaints himself with a man of military feats and achievements in loyalty....Everyone knows that if a man doesn't hold filial piety toward his own parents he would also neglect his duties toward his lord. Such a neglect means a disloyalty toward humanity. Therefore such a man doesn't deserve to be called 'samurai'."

The feudal lord Asakura Yoshikage (1428–1481 AD) wrote: "In the fief of the Asakura, one should not determine hereditary chief retainers. A man should be assigned according to his ability and loyalty." Asakura also observed that the successes of his father were obtained by the kind treatment of the warriors and common people living in domain. By his civility, "all were willing to sacrifice their lives for him and become his allies."

Katō Kiyomasa was one of the most powerful and well-known lords of the Sengoku Era. He commanded most of Japan's major clans during the invasion of Korea (1592–1598). In a handbook he addressed to "all samurai, regardless of rank" he told his followers that a warrior's only duty in life was to "...grasp the long and the short swords and to die." He also ordered his followers to put forth great effort in studying the military classics, especially those related to loyalty and filial piety. He is best known for his quote: "If a man does not investigate into the matter of Bushido daily, it will be difficult for him to die a brave and manly death. Thus it is essential to engrave this business of the warrior into one's mind well."

Nabeshima Naoshige (1538–1618 AD) was another Sengoku Daimyo who fought alongside Kato Kiyomasa in Korea. He stated that it was shameful for any man to have not risked his life at least once in the line of duty, regardless of his rank. Nabeshima's sayings would be passed down to his son and grandson and would become the basis for Tsunetomo Yamamoto's Hagakure. He is best known for his saying "The way of the Samurai is in desperateness. Ten men or more cannot kill such a man."

Torii Mototada (1539–1600) was a feudal lord in the service of Tokugawa Ieyasu. On the eve of the battle of Sekigahara, he volunteered to remain behind in the doomed Fushimi Castle while his lord advanced to the east. Torii and Tokugawa both agreed that the castle was indefensible. In an act of loyalty to his lord, Torii chose to remain behind, pledging that he and his men would fight to the finish. As was custom, Torii vowed that he would not be taken alive. In a dramatic last stand, the garrison of 2,000 men held out against overwhelming odds for ten days against the massive army of Ishida Mitsunari's 40,000 warriors. In a moving last statement to his son Tadamasa, he wrote:

"It is not the Way of the Warrior to be shamed and avoid death even under circumstances that are not particularly important. It goes without saying that to sacrifice one's life for the sake of his master is an unchanging principle. That I should be able to go ahead of all the other warriors of this country and lay down my life for the sake of my master's benevolence is an honor to my family and has been my most fervent desire for many years."

It is said that both men cried when they parted ways, because they knew they would never see each other again. Torii's father and grandfather had served the Tokugawa before him and his own brother had already been killed in battle. Torii's actions changed the course of Japanese history. Ieyasu Tokugawa would successfully raise an army and win at Sekigahara.

The translator of Hagakure, William Scott Wilson observed examples of warrior emphasis on death in clans other than Yamamoto's: "he (Takeda Shingen) was a strict disciplinarian as a warrior, and there is an exemplary story in the Hagakure relating his execution of two brawlers, not because they had fought, but because they had not fought to the death."

The rival of Takeda Shingen (1521–1573) was Uesugi Kenshin (1530–1578), a legendary Sengoku warlord well-versed in the Chinese military classics and who advocated the "way of the warrior as death". Japanese historian Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki describes Uesugi's beliefs as: "Those who are reluctant to give up their lives and embrace death are not true warriors.... Go to the battlefield firmly confident of victory, and you will come home with no wounds whatever. Engage in combat fully determined to die and you will be alive; wish to survive in the battle and you will surely meet death. When you leave the house determined not to see it again you will come home safely; when you have any thought of returning you will not return. You may not be in the wrong to think that the world is always subject to change, but the warrior must not entertain this way of thinking, for his fate is always determined."

Families such as the Imagawa were influential in the development of warrior ethics and were widely quoted by other lords during their lifetime. The writings of Imagawa Sadayo were highly respected and sought out by Tokugawa Ieyasu as the source of Japanese Feudal Law. These writings were a required study among traditional Japanese until World War II.

Historian H. Paul Varley notes the description of Japan given by Jesuit leader St. Francis Xavier (1506–1552): "There is no nation in the world which fears death less." Xavier further describes the honor and manners of the people: "I fancy that there are no people in the world more punctilious about their honour than the Japanese, for they will not put up with a single insult or even a word spoken in anger." Xavier spent the years 1549–1551 converting Japanese to Christianity. He also observed: "The Japanese are much braver and more warlike than the people of China, Korea, Ternate and all of the other nations around the Philippines."

In December 1547, Francis was in Malacca (Malaysia) waiting to return to Goa (India) when he met a low-ranked samurai named Anjiro (possibly spelled "Yajiro"). Anjiro was not a nobleman or an intellectual, but he impressed Xavier because he took careful notes of everything he said in church. Xavier made the decision to go to Japan in part because this low-ranking samurai convinced him in Portuguese that the Japanese people were highly educated and eager to learn. They were hard workers and respectful of authority. In their laws and customs they were led by reason, and, should the Christian faith convince them of its truth, they would accept it en masse.

By the 12th century, upper-class samurai were highly literate due to the general introduction of Confucianism from China during the 7th to 9th centuries, and in response to their perceived need to deal with the imperial court, who had a monopoly on culture and literacy for most of the Heian period. As a result they aspired to the more cultured abilities of the nobility.

Examples such as Taira Tadanori (a samurai who appears in the Heike Monogatari) demonstrate that warriors idealized the arts and aspired to become skilled in them.

Tadanori was famous for his skill with the pen and the sword or the "bun and the bu", the harmony of fighting and learning. Samurai were expected to be cultured and literate, and admired the ancient saying "bunbu-ryōdō" (文武両道, lit., literary arts, military arts, both ways) or "The pen and the sword in accord." By the time of the Edo period, Japan had a higher literacy comparable to that in central Europe.

The number of men who actually achieved the ideal and lived their lives by it was high. An early term for warrior, "uruwashii", was written with a kanji that combined the characters for literary study ("bun" 文) and military arts ("bu" 武), and is mentioned in the Heike Monogatari (late 12th century). The Heike Monogatari makes reference to the educated poet-swordsman ideal in its mention of Taira no Tadanori's death:

Friends and foes alike wet their sleeves with tears and said,

What a pity! Tadanori was a great general,

pre-eminent in the arts of both sword and poetry.

In his book "Ideals of the Samurai" translator William Scott Wilson states: "The warriors in the Heike Monogatari served as models for the educated warriors of later generations, and the ideals depicted by them were not assumed to be beyond reach. Rather, these ideals were vigorously pursued in the upper echelons of warrior society and recommended as the proper form of the Japanese man of arms. With the Heike Monogatari, the image of the Japanese warrior in literature came to its full maturity." Wilson then translates the writings of several warriors who mention the Heike Monogatari as an example for their men to follow.

Plenty of warrior writings document this ideal from the 13th century onward. Most warriors aspired to or followed this ideal otherwise there would have been no cohesion in the samurai armies.

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