The legends of the Japanese warrior– referred to as the samurai, are renowned for accounts of military valor and political intrigue—epic conflicts between powerful lords, samurai vassals, and the imperial court—as well as accounts of profound self-sacrifice and loyalty. The term samurai is derived from the word saburau, or “one who serves.” The evolution of the samurai from mounted guards to the nobility (during the twelfth century) and their subsequent ascent to military leaders of Japan is chronicled in distinctive warrior arts and literary tradition. The expression “Age of the Samurai” refers to the long period during which Japan was ruled by its warrior class. That age can be said to have begun with the establishment of a national military government at the end of the twelfth century.
The samurai warrior class of Japan has always fascinated the western world due to the intriguing contrast between their strict military training and frightening efficiency, and their deeply spiritual customs and surprisingly refined artistic talents. The samurai, one of the most famous military forces in the world, emerged during the 7th century in pre-medieval Japan and remained active until their abolishment in the late 19th century. Originally used as mercenary forces, the samurai quickly became the primary military force in service of the Japanese Empire and, soon after, the effective ruling class of all Japan. Although the samurai transitioned relatively rapidly from simple military lives to high court functions and inter-clan intrigues, their military-inspired core values and moral codes were religiously maintained.
The Heian Period, lasting from 794 AD to 1192 AD marked the samurai’s true rise to power. Considered by many to be the peak of Japanese cultural development, the period represented a shift from the adoption of foreign practices to the development of internal ones . As Japan’s culture bloomed, the power of the samurai clans did as well. During this period, houses and clans of samurai began to form Bryant, Early Samurai .The feudal lords of these clans were able to obtain land and control it with the samurai armies under their command. Able to provide lower taxes and better protection for the common people in their land than the increasingly disconnected 5 central government, the samurai slowly won the loyalty of the people. As the central Emperor’s power slowly declined, the regional samurai clans became the de-facto rulers of the provinces and the dominant forces in both the economic and political arenas. Part of a long archipelago off the eastern rim of the Asian continent, the island country of Japan has four main islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Numerous smaller islands lie on either ends to form a sweeping arc formation that extends northeast to southwest. Japan’s closest neighbors are Korea and China. In Japan’s early history, the Korean Peninsula was used by travelers as a land link between Japan and the vast expanse of China. A distinctive feature of the Japanese landscape is its volcanic, mountainous terrain.
More than two thirds of the land is adorned with low to steep mountains traversed by swift-flowing rivers. This unique topography contributes to a striking contrast in climate between the western coast, along the Sea of Japan, and the eastern coast, along the Pacific Ocean. The dramatic geographic features of their country have instilled in the Japanese an enduring reverence for nature, and have shaped its political history and artistic culture. Like most Japanese of their time, the samurai followed Buddhist religious teachings as well as the practices of Japan’s native religion, Shinto. Buddhism originated in India, birthplace of the historical founder also known as the Buddha Shakyamuni. The main tenets of Buddhism, expounded in the Four Noble Truths preached by the Buddha, teach the origins of human suffering in desire, and offer hope of escape from suffering and the endless cycle of rebirth through pursuit of the Noble Eightfold Path. The latter is a set of guidelines for living based on principles of ethical conduct, the cultivation of wisdom, and mental discipline. In some schools of Buddhism the Buddha Shakyamuni is thought of as one buddha among many, each inhabiting a different era or part of the universe.