Samurai warriors were at the top of the social order
Samurai warriors emerged as an elite force in Japan's provinces during the early 10th century. Recruited by local chieftains, these fighting forces were maintained long enough to wage a specific war, after which the soldiers would return to their lands to till the soil. With Japan's emperor living in the ancient capital of Kyoto and unable to maintain control of the provinces, the samurai clans established themselves as viable political entities. By the late 12th century, samurai lords ruled both the provinces and central Japan. They maintained their influence until the mid-1870's when the samurai class was outlawed and their privileged status was dissolved.
The rigorous training of a samurai warrior began in childhood. Samurai school was a unique combination of physical training, Chinese studies, poetry and spiritual discipline. The young warriors studied Kendo ("the Way of the Sword"), the moral code of the samurai, and Zen Buddhism. Samurai were expected to live according to Bushido ("The Way of the Warrior"), a strict ethical code influenced by Confucianism that stressed loyalty to one's master, respect for one's superior, ethical behavior in all aspects of life and complete self-discipline. Girls also received martial arts training. Although most samurai women did not fight on the battlefield, they were prepared to defend their homes against invaders.
The samurai attached great importance to the circumstances of their own death. If a samurai died of his own accord, it was considered a valiant end. Rather than suffer defeat or humiliation at the hands of an enemy, samurai warriors often chose ritual suicide (seppuku).
After Tokugawa Ieyasu united Japan, samurai military services were rarely needed. Though they continued to train daily, samurai gradually transformed from warriors to bureaucrats. As townspeople acquired new wealth, the samurai, barred from engaging in commerce, found themselves in dire circumstances. For many samurai, peace led to dispair.
WARDROBE AND HAIR
Samurai warriors took great care styling their hair, which they pulled back into a topknot called a "chomage." For battle, samurai warriors shaved the tops of their heads, which reduced the heat under their heavy helmets, and wore their hair straight on the sides. When not wearing helmets, they pulled the side and back hair into a topknot.
A samurai's clothing style was very important and indicative of status. Outlandish, colorful patterns were considered immodest and conceited. Though samurai children dressed flamboyantly, they became more subdued in appearance after their coming-of-age ceremony.
The samurai's everyday wear was a kimono, usually consisting of an outer and inner layer. Normally made of silk, the quality of the kimono depended on the samurai's income and status. Beneath the kimono, the warrior wore a loincloth.
The samurai's swords were normally thrust through an "obi," a belt wrapped around the waist, and were always worn on the left side. When indoors, the samurai would remove his long sword, but he was always armed with some form of weaponry.
Outside the home, the samurai wore a two-piece costume called a "kamishimo" over the kimono. The upper piece was a sleeveless jacket with exaggerated shoulders. On the lower part of their body, samurai wore wide flowing trousers called "hakama." When traveling, they would wear a long-sleeved coat over the kimono.
A samurai going to town for pleasure would often hide his face with a hat (often one shaped like a basket) to avoid being recognized just in case he was disobeying any rules.
Top and left: Samurai warriors/Bato-machi Hiroshige Museum
The samurai class, "shimin," formed Japan's top elite, and were the only caste granted the privilege of wearing two swords and having two namesa family and a first name. The shoguns and daimyo lords were members of the shimin caste.
THEN & NOW
Modern Japan still maintains a culture based on the concepts of honor and shame, fundamental to the samurai code.