Browse Categories

Japanese Swords

Shop By Forge

The Samurai Culture: A Short Overview


While many view the samurai of Japan as a sort of analogue to Europe's knights, there are a number of surprising differences that distinguish samurai culture. While samurai were a class of knights, they were also military nobles. The origins of samurai are in the bushi noble class, which later came to mean essentially the same thing. The code of honor that samurai follow is known as bushido, in keeping with their warrior-noble status. Samurai comprised roughly one tenth of Japan's total population, and existed in some capacity up until as recently as the early 1900s.


Samurai Equipment


Perhaps the most famous aspect of samurai are their swords and armor. Samurai were masters of the sword as well as other martial arts, and while the katana is the most famous samurai weapon, they also used other swords of the East, polearms, bows, staff weapons, and later even learned to use matchlock rifles, or tanegashima. Some samurai became specialists with particular weapons, such as yari (the spear) or yumi (longbow). There are also a number of rarer weapons that were used by samurai, such as the kusarigama, which is a sickle attached to a handle by a long chain. Most samurai wore lamellar armor into battle, which was made by weaving together small rectangular scales of iron, bronze, or leather.


There are a number of a famous samurai – some were masters of martial art like Miyamoto Musashi, who famously defeated an opponent in a duel to the death using only an oar (his opponent being armed with a sword). Some were political and even national figures, like Oda Nobunaga, a samurai warlord who spurred the reunification of Japan and ended the Sengoku (warring states) period. Others were infamous commanders, such as Takeda Shingen, who conquered wide areas of land during his reign.


Samurai Code


The samurai code of honor, bushido, had very strict rules for how samurai were to conduct themselves, both in terms of personal lifestyle as well as in public service. The concept of bushido can be related to the Western ideal of chivalry, with virtues of samurai being loyalty to one's master, honor in life and in death, command of martial arts and weaponry, and a frugal life. This code of honor carried over to female samurai, though in a different context – the duty of maintaining and running the household typically fell to samurai women, as did caring for children and even defending the home from intruders. Women were often trained in the use of naginata (a slender spear with a curved edge) and knife-fighting.


Similar to the traits sought-after in male samurai, women were expected to behave with strength, self-restraint, duty, and humility. It was important for samurai women to know how to manage a home and its finances, educate children, keep records, and order servants. While women were largely responsible for keeping a household running smoothly, they were not its authoritative head, and were not involved in political matters or diplomacy.