Written by Hazel | 27th June 2018
Fearless. Powerful. Deadly. The Samurai were Japanese warriors who wore remarkable armour, yielded unique weapons and had stunning combat techniques. And yet there is so much more to be discovered about these noble warriors who served in Japan from 1185 to 1868. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about the Samurai.
1. The Samurai had more weapons than just one sword
From as early as the thirteenth century, the Samurai were making use of projectile based weapons alongside swords. Strangely, it was only when Europe introduced their own guns years later that Japan took a step back from the use of such weapons. It is, of course, the use of a short sword called a wakizashi, and a longer sword called a katana which the Samurai are really known for. Additionally a Samurai would use multiple knives, chains, punching spikes and bladed punching stars in their arsenal of weapons.
A Samurai would use multiple knives, chains, punching spikes and bladed punching stars in their arsenal of weapons
2. Women and children could also be Samurai warriors
Perhaps one of the most surprising and myth-busting facts about the Samurai is that not all warriors were men. While it was certainly unusual for a woman not to follow the traditional route of cooking and cleanng, 'onna bugeisha' - meaning 'women of war' - did exist. Notable Samurai women included Tomoe Gozen and Hangaku Gozen, legendary fighters from the 12th and 13th centuries. As for children, they were given wooden swords to practice fighting from the age of 3, and then real weapons just 4 years later before being raised to know military tactics and combat skills.
‘Onna bugeisha’ - meaning women of war - were uncommon, but did exist
3. Samurai armour was highly functional
As elaborate and fascinating as a Samurai's battlefield clothing was, outfits worn by these japanese warriors was designed purely with combat in mind. Every aspect of the armour was made to be strong, look intimidating and allow the wearer to perform to the best of his (or her) ability. Neck guards, metal plating and symbolic imagery designed to frighten the enemy kept the wearer extremely well protected, light and flexible. Such was the strength of their metal plating, the very first bullet proof vests were inspired by Samurai armour. More recently, this armour has inspired many other parts of popular culture including the helmet of a certain sith lord, Star Wars’ Darth Vader.
The influences of the impressive Samurai armour are still visible today
4. A Samurai was expected to be benevolent, but could kill a man if he chose to
Samurai lived by the ‘bushido code,' a set of values to live by which encompassed chivalry, compassion and strength of character. Warriors were expected to uphold these values as a moral standard, and failing to adhere to these expectations would have brought great dishonour to a Samurai. A Samurai was, however, allowed to take justice into his own hands and kill people of lower class if they broke the law. They also had the right to carry not one, but two swords with them as a mark of their high-power status. Other privileges included the ability to use a last name and ride a horse.
Samurai lived by the ‘bushido code,’ a set of sacred values
5. The last true Samurai was one of the most influential and also one of the tallest
2003’s blockbuster ‘The Last Samurai’ starring Tom Cruise is based on true events regarding Saigo Takamori - the last true Samurai. He lived in the late Edo and early Meiji periods and was a hero of the restoration of imperial rule to the Empire of Japan. He also rebelled and ultimately died fighting against the weaknesses he saw in the government. For his bravery and heroism, he is considered a legend. At 182 cm in height, Takamori would have been considerably taller than his fellow Samurai, who averaged only 160 to 165 centimetres. It’s fair to say that Saigo Takamori was a true giant of men and of history.
The last Samurai, Saigo Takamori, will go down in history as a heroic leader
For exciting Samurai objects from Japanese history, take a look at our Samurai auctions. All items in these auctions are hand picked and selected by our team of in-house Asian Art & Antique experts.
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