Thursday, July 21, 2011

Origin of Samurai

There are a lot of Japanese words that become known worldwide. Judo might have been the first one as the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 introduced it to be an official sport in the Olympic games. Other examples are Karate, Shogun, Keiretsu, Bushido, and Samurai. As one types these words, word processor software does not give the typist the warning of a typo or a misspelling. How do non-Japanese people in the world picture "Samurai"? They may think they are warriors who are skillful on using the world deadliest swords.

This vision is right. For those who are not familiar with the word, Samurai, Samurai is a Japanese term referring to Japanese soldiers. Even Japanese people assume Edo, Shogun era Samurai when they refer to Samurai. A Samurai started to appear in Japanese history around early 8th Century. The Great Generals became official positions when then government was fighting against local tribes in Japan for unifying all Japan. There were 4 Great Generals depending their defense responsibilities. They were Great Generals for the East, for the West, for the North, and for the South. Before the Great Generals, the difference between Emperor's noblemen and generals were not clear. Noblemen were politicians, but they were warriors at the same time, upon the order from Emperor.

The Great Generals were professional warriors, and they formed their own professional soldiers forces. In 796, Tamuramaro Sakanoue became Grand General on top of Great Generals and became head of warriors. People called his position of Grand General Shogun. He is the first Shogun in Japanese history. Then the difference between lawmakers and warriors became clear. Aristocrats did not go to war any more. Fighting became the profession for soldiers.

Even Grand General being a position of Emperor's government, those soldiers were Emperor's army. Emperor and people called soldiers Samurai. The meaning of Samurai in Japanese is men of service for Emperor, government, and the people. The word Samurai became usual word in Japanese referring to soldiers.

As Aristocrats' government got corrupted in 10th century, Yoritomo Minaamoto, a Great General's son became Shogun in 1192. He opened independent administration in East Area of Japan. He is the first Shogun of Samurai government. After the Dark Age of wars and fighting in 15th and 16th century, as Emperor's power became weak, Samurai had been the center of Japanese politics and military system for almost 700 years.

Samurai government period ended in 1868, as then Shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa declared to return the political power to Emperor. Samurai was no longer governing group of Japan. Later part of 18th Century, after China-Japan war and Russian-Japan war, the doctrine of Samurai, Bushido became the center of attention. Bushi and Samurai have the same meaning, soldiers in Japanese. Bushido is the base principle of Bushi or Samurai. It was because Japanese education system needed to re-establish Japanese spirit and patriotism competing against foreign countries.

It was interesting historical fact that the first modern textbook of "Bushido" was written in English and published in the US in 1900. The title of the book was "Bushido: The Soul of Japan". The author was a young diplomat, Inazo Niitobe. It is also fascinating that the author was a Christian, since the last Shogun government, Tokugawa regime was persecuting Christianity so hard. In 1938, the first Japanese version of this English book is published in Japan. The military government before World War II, to drive Japanese to the war, abused Bushido. Bushido does not recommend dying when defeated.

Spirits of Bushido, however, survived this abuse. Based on never give up spirit for fighting to the end, deeply under the influence of Confucius, Sun-Zu, and Zen, Bushido is alive today, as the strongest principles of Japanese people believes.

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