The samurai was a class of society in Japan established in the late 16th Century that lasted up until it was abolished with the Meiji Restoration of the 19th Century, which restored power to the Emperor over the Shogun and introduced Democratic reforms in to the society. Though it was formally and rigidly stratified only in the late 1500s, there did exist proto-Samurai as early as 1185 and the military Bakufu government of Minamoto Yoritomo, first ruling Shogun of Japan. The Japanese name for the military aristocracy was the 'Buke'; a member of the Buke was a Samurai. This is in contrast with the Kuge, or the court Aristocracy.
A majority of the class were warriors, living and dying in combat; however there is a myth that they are an Eastern analogue of the European knight, which is untrue. There were Samurai who never saw a battle field, who were more renowned as painters or philosophers than they were as warriors, or who never even learned to fight.
The major difference between the two is that Knight is not a social class, whereas Samurai is. A Knight's wife, at least in the English system, is referred to as Lady but is not truly a Lady herself, nor is she a Knight. A Knight's children are not automatically members of the Knighthood. A Samurai's wife is a Samurai, and a Samurai's children are Samurai. A Samurai was expected to, as he grew older, take a wife and father children to continue the clan. Contrary to belief, a Samurai was never actively discouraged from marrying, as the large scale warfare of the twelfth through 17th centuries would have depleted the population rather dramatically.
Combat was often conducted from horseback using naginata (glaive), yari (spear) and tachi (a longer version of the katana). The uchigatana or katana was developed and to some extent replaced the tachi. With the end of the Warring States Period the katana became the primary sword of the samurai. Despite popular mythology, the katana was not the primary melee weapon of the samurai during war. That role was taken by naginata and yari. However, the sword was the symbol of the samurai.
Generals daimyo often directed battle from the rear, often seated giving instructions to messengers to relay. At least one general was attacked whilst still seated by mounted samurai. At the end of battle generals would view the heads of slain enemies as they sat on spiked boards.
With the introduction of the tanegashima (matchlock musket) in the 16th century warfare changed removing most archers from the field.
After the Tokugawa Shogunate began wars became less common in Japan and the samurai fought relatively few mass engagements. As a result the tachi became very rare and the katana became most recognizable symbol of the class. During this time, the swords arts underwent a change in focus from war to duelling. It is from this time most samurai drama and popularly mythology has developed.
Samurai wore armour constructed of leather or iron covered with a lacquer. This armour was primarily of lamellar construction but later forms existed with larger riveted plates. Popular myth also erroneously believes samurai wore armour made of wood or bamboo. Foreign forms of armour were prized by some families and schools. Tokugowa Iiejyasu (the Shogun who united all of Japan) wore armour that was originally foreign. Others considered the wearing of such to be an insult.
Oda Nobunaga - A warlord with a well deserved reputation for brutality, he slaughtered 45,000 men women and children over the course of three days during the Ikko-Ikki rebellions. Nonetheless he is still referred to as the first of the Three Unifiers for the strides he took to conquer Japan.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi - Though he became a Samurai and was close to being the Shogun himself and eliminating the need for Ieyasu, Toyotomi was born a peasant and rose from being Nobunaga's sandal carrier to his General, and then his successor. United nearly all of Japan, took the title of Regent and then Taiko (retired Regent) for his son Hideyori, waged two unsuccessful wars on Korea, and was ultimately made in to a Shinto god. He was never made a Shogun because of his birth as a peasant, and could not find a family with a history of Shogun in their past (Hojo or Ashikaga) to adopt him. Because of this, and because his death left his infant son on an untenable throne, he is known as the Second of the Three Unifiers. He is the one who codified the classes as they would be during the high age of the Samurai (1600-1862), ironically making it impossible for a peasant to become a Samurai as he had.
Tokugawa Ieyasu - A warlord who served under Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, he was appointed to the council of regents to protect Hideyori until the boy came of age. Due to ambition and political maneuvering he found himself in Rebellion toward the close of the 16th Century. In 1600 at the Battle of Sekigahara, where two hundred thousand warriors took the field, he finally finished the job started by his predecessors and became Shogun of a unified Japan. He is known as the last of the Three Unifiers. His family would rule Japan as Shoguns for 262 years until the Meiji Restoration restored power to the Emperor.
Mushashi Miyamoto - believed to be the greatest swordsman and developer of the niten (twin sword style) of Japanese swordsmanship, supposedly after viewing two Portugese sailors sparring with rapier and main gauche.
Japanese Knights and Masters of the SCA
- Rakkurai of Kamakura
- Fuyuzuru Tadashi
- Komura Shimitsu
- Sakura Tetsuo
- Ishiyama Namban Tadashi (deceased)
- Kobayashi Yutaka
- Ogami Akira (Ino Ogami)
- Sakura kita Maikaru
- Atai Yoshina
- Tsunetomi-no-Inazuma Tsuneo (Badouin MacKenzie of Balfour)
- Yasugawa Shiotani noh Okami
- Kikuchi no Tsurunaga (Kai de Ravenglas)
- Takechi no Musashi
- Akitsuki Yoshimitsu
- Yumitori no Kiyoshi (Aylwin Graham the Flamehaired)
- Kageyama Yasuo
- Tanaka Raiko
- Koga Yoshitsune
- Takamatsu Sadamitsu no kami Tadayoshi
- Sekimura no Minamoto Akiranaga (Alexandyr MacAndrew)
- Sato Jiro of the House of Kuji
- Oikawa Katsu
- Kamizumi Monenori Jirou
- Magariki Katsuichi no Koredono
- Kitakaze Tatsu Raito