The samurai ruled Japan for nearly 700 years influencing many aspects of Japanese society and even the world with the Samurai Code known as Bushido. Bushido is comprised of seven virtues from integrity, to bravery and courage, to kindness and compassion, with the goal of one living an honest life and becoming a truer person. In 1899 when Inazo Nitobe wrote “Bushido, The Soul of Japan,” it became a global sensation and was revered by many including President Theodore Roosevelt and President John F. Kennedy. This fascinating lifestyle will be explored in depth in our course, “The Way of the Samurai Warrior,” which is co-sponsored with the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS), and will begin in a few weeks.
Dirk Van Tuerenhout, Ph.D., curator of anthropology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, will guide participants through HMNS’ current exhibit “Samurai: The Way of the Warrior” on the fourth class meeting. Dr. Van Tuerenhout provides a glimpse into the exhibit and into the captivating ways of the samurai below.
What is your favorite artifact or item in the Samurai exhibit and why?
My favorite item is one of the sword blades on display. It is the one on the bottom of the display seen in the photo below. The cutting edge of all these swords point up; you can see the difference in polish on the actual edge versus the rest of the blade. I am in awe realizing that this polish was achieved by a specialist, who worked by hand for weeks to achieve this luster. The bottom sword is extra special because the artist included an image as part of the cutting edge’s design …
This is a close-up view of what I am referring to:
It will make more sense when you flip the image 180 degrees:
Does this remind you of a sacred mountain in Japan, perhaps? It sure did remind the Japanese.This image was incorporated into the cutting edge of the sword – by hand – and on both sides of the sword, in the same spot. I find this amazing.
What do you find to be the greatest contribution of the samurai?
In my opinion, the Bushido code is one of their lasting legacies, if one could put it that way. Marked by frugality, a sense of honor, mastery of swordsmanship and loyalty, Bushido is still very much part of Japanese society (mastery of swordsmanship aside, perhaps).
How was one eligible to become a samurai warrior? Were they born into a certain status or selected from lower military ranks? How long was the training to reach the status of samurai?
As early as the eighth century, when peasants were called upon to go to war as foot soldiers, it was possible for some extremely lucky and skilled peasant fighters to work [or] fight their way into the class of samurai warriors. In other words, by distinguishing themselves on the battlefield, they would have received recognition, ultimately resulting in becoming a samurai. However, by the Edo period (1600-1868 AD), it was no longer possible to replicate this feat of becoming a samurai. At that time one was a samurai because both parents (mom and dad) were samurai. By virtue of being born into a samurai family, one became one as well.
As far as training goes, in the earliest days it would have been for as long as it took to be recognized by your superiors, provided you survived long enough on the battlefields as well. In later days, samurai would practice on a regular basis, in order to be prepared. That training was hardly ever put into practice during the Edo period, as warfare was virtually absent during that entire period.
The Samurai Code, also known as the way, clearly dictated all of the warriors’ actions on and off the battlefield. Saigō Takamori, known as the last true samurai, describes the way as follows:
The Way is a natural way of the Universe, and to learn it, one must revere
Heaven, love man, and live one’s life from first to last in self-control.
We hope you find your way to “The Way of the Samurai Warrior” starting Tuesday, March 31.
Jennifer Egenolf, Marketing Director
Top image credit: “Seinansenso snou” by TukiokaYositoshi（1839-1892） – The ukiyoe “Kagoshima boto syutuzinzu” (an original print ). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Seinansenso_snou.jpg#/media/File:Seinansenso_snou.jpg