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Samurai and Ninja- A Few Less Known Facts


Probably the two most famous warrior classes to come out of the Far East are the samurai and the ninja. Both were highly influential for centuries, and both remain extremely popular in modern culture. Samurai were a class of warrior-nobility that were present in some capacity until as recently as the late 1800s. Ninja, also called shinobi, were spies, mercenaries, and trained assassins during the feudal era of Japan. They were widely used during the turmoil of the Sengoku (warring states) period, and their tasks included stealing information, causing chaos in armies and fortresses, and compromising security.


The Samurai Culture


Samurai followed a strict code of laws which encouraged a lifestyle of duty, obedience, frugality, and honor until death. Samurai encompassed a range of social hierarchies, with lower samurai functioning as knights and warriors, and higher classes serving as retainers, strategists, and diplomats. Women who were born or married into the class also held the title of samurai, and typically served as household managers, financial experts, and even defenders when necessary.


Samurai were required to master a variety of weaponry, with men typically training in swords of the East such as katana (long sword) and wakizashi (short sword), as well as the longbow, polearm, and staff. Female samurai were often trained in the naginata (a spear with a longer, one-edged blade) and the dagger. Samurai were also proficient in hand-to-hand combat.


Samurai are still revered in Japanese culture today, with a few famous samurai even having festivals and holidays in their honor. The Takeda Shingen festival in April includes parades with actors portraying the samurai, depicting the famous warlord's exploits. Miyamoto Musashi was a renowned swordsman who had truly mastered the sword. Perhaps his most famous duel was against Sasaki Kojiro, also known as The Demon of the Western Provinces. Musashi arrived late to the duel and realized he had forgotten to bring his sword, and ultimately defeated Kojiro using only the paddle from a boat. He was also an artist and writer - The Book of the Five Rings, a treatise on strategy and tactics, is his most famous work.



Some samurai were so skilled in combat that their weapons themselves became legends. Probably the most famous sword of Japan is the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, which means “Grass-cutting sword,” though it was originally called “Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven.” This sword is one of the three imperial regalia of Japan, and though it was a real weapon, exists extensively in Japanese mythology. The weapon was wielded by a number of famous figures, including Yamato Takeru, a prince of the Yamato dynasty.


Way of the Ninja


Ninja became so feared throughout the history of Japan that they were eventually credited with having superhuman or even supernatural abilities. Myths surrounding ninja include tales of the ability to fly, become invisible, change shape and appearance, and split into multiple copies of themselves. Some legendary ninja could also control wildlife or even the elements themselves. Perhaps the most famous ninja in history is Hattori Hanzo, who was also a member of the samurai class. Since his first battle at age sixteen, he survived many dangerous encounters and eventually went on to save the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who later reunified Japan. Hattori Hanzo remains popular in media today, being depicted in film, video games, and other works of history and fiction.

Mochizuki Chiyome was an infamous female ninja who created a school for women, which operated under the guise of training miko (shrine maiden), but in reality created a deadly class of female assassins, spies, and seductresses. These female agents, known as kunoichi, eventually numbered in the hundreds, and were responsible in part for the success of the warlord and daimyo Takeda Shingen during the Sengoku period. We carry replicas of his famous Japanese armor.


Ninja were trained to use very different weaponry than samurai, most of which were designed to kill silently and quickly. While most ninja are depicted in modern culture as using the wakizashi (short sword), the most common weapon was likely the katana, which would be carried on the back (rather than at the hip) so as not to hinder movement. They also used various ranged weapons that could kill silently, such as throwing knives, shuriken, darts, and bows. Some equipment was designed to hinder chasing enemies, such as caltrops, which are pointed spikes that could be scattered on the ground to disrupt pursuers. More exotic weapons include kusarigama, which are long chained weapons with a sickle at one end and a sturdy handle at the other.