History Of Samurai Essay

2837 words - 11 pages

History of Samurai

The Japanese warrior, known as the samurai, has played a significant role in Japan's history and culture throughout the centuries. Their ancestors can be traced back to as far as can be remembered. Some stories have become mysterious legends handed down over the centuries. In this report you will learn who the samurai were, their origins as we know them, how they lived and fought and their evolution to today. It will be clear why the samurai stand out as one of the most famous group of warriors of all times.

Looking back in time, the first Japanese battles recorded are in the first few centuries AD. At this time Japanese warriors went across the sea to Korea to help one kingdom battling two rival kingdoms. Four hundred men set out and fought on foot carrying their bows, spears and swords. They were quickly beaten by warriors attacking on horseback. They probably had never seen an attack like that before, with horses being ridden. Even though there were horses in Japan they had not been used for riding or fighting, but to help in carrying and pulling goods. In the next century, however, there is evidence that horses were being ridden and used in warfare by warriors who would later be called samurai (History Channel).

The term samurai was first used in the 10th century and means “those who serve”. In the beginning it stood for men who guarded the capital for the Emperor, some where used as tax collectors. Later the word grew to include any military man who served a powerful landlord, almost like a police force for that time. They would go around the countryside on horseback collecting taxes from the peasants, often this was in the form of rice. This money helped the Emperor pay for his lavish life style. The word, samurai, quickly spread and was respected (and maybe feared a little) for the men it represented.

The noblemen depended on the strength of the samurai. Since their power and wealth was directly related to how much land they owned, the noblemen kept small armies of samurai to protect their property from thieves and invaders. Eventually many noble families joined together to form clans that became more powerful than the emperor, who was the traditional head of the Japanese government (How Samurai Work 11). In the 12th century the two most powerful clans were the Minomoto and the Taira. The two came to battle in 1160 with the Taira winning. Twenty years later in 1180 those Minomotos who had escaped death (they were children during the first attack) led a new attack that turned into a war that lasted five years and was called the Gempei War. The Minamotos won, and the emperor made Minamoto Yoritomo shogun, the head of the military. Yoritomo however wanted more and took all power away from the emperor and made himself dictator. At this time the samurai gained power, through land given to them by the new shogun. Their rise in status was beginning.

The battles that were fought during The Gempei War were...

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