Define samurai

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The Samurai of Japan

Global History and Geography I E. Napp
The samurai was a skilled warrior on horseback in Japan. He was similar to a European knight. Samurai had to follow the Code of Bushido. The Code of Bushido was similar to the Code of Chivalry practiced by the European knights.

Bushido, literally means "Way of the Warrior". It is the Code of Honor and way of life of the Samurai. There are eight virtues, which a Samurai must try to possess:

A sense of justice and harmony,

courage and contempt for death,


sympathy towards all people,

politeness and respect for etiquette,

sincerity and respect for one’s word of honor,

absolute loyalty to one’s superior,

a duty to defend the honor of one’s name and guild

  1. Define samurai:


  1. Why was a samurai similar to a European knight? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  2. What was the Code of Bushido? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  3. What were some of the rules a samurai had to follow? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  4. Why was the Code of Bushido similar to the European Code of Chivalry? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Honor was so important to the samurai that a samurai would frequently take his own live in the face of failure, or if he had violated Bushido. This “honor” suicide became ritualized, taking the form of seppuku. Also known by the more vulgar phrase hara-kiri, seppuku was a way for a samurai to restore honor to his lord and family, and to fulfill his obligation of loyalty even if he had failed as a samurai.

Ritualized seppuku involved the samurai wearing the proper garments while he was presented with the ritual knife, wrapped in paper. The samurai would then take the knife and cut open his own stomach, from left to right, with a final upward cut at the end. However, seppuku was not a solitary act, and few samurai were left to die a slow and excruciating death from disembowelment. Another samurai would typically stand behind the one committing seppuku, and behead him with a sharp sword shortly after the seppuku cut was made.


  1. What would a samurai do if he “lost his honor”? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  2. How did seppuku restore honor? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  3. Describe seppuku. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  4. Was seppuku a solitary act? Explain your answer. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Tale of the Ronin

The Tale of the Ronin is story that tells of a group of samurai who were left leaderless. In Japan, a samurai without a master is a ronin. In this true story, the master of 47 samurai is forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) for assaulting an official of higher status. He had assaulted this official because the official had insulted him. His samurai, who are now ronin, decided to avenge their master’s death. Feeling that that the higher official had needlessly provoked him, they decide to patiently wait and plot to kill him. Once they killed the higher official, they themselves were forced to commit seppuku for committing the crime of murder. Of course, the ronin knew that they would have to commit seppuku. All 47 ronin committed suicide together. This story is frequently told in Japan to remind people about the importance of achieving the honorable fulfillment of revenge.

  1. Who was a ronin? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  2. In The Tale of the 47 Ronin, why did the master commit seppuku? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  3. How did the ronin avenge their master? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  4. What did the ronin do after they avenged their master’s death? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Sword of the Samurai

A samurai's sword is his most sacred and prized possession. Not only did the samurai rely on his sword to defend him, but spiritually the sword held greater significance as the samurai actually believed his soul inhabited the sword. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the same discipline and respect in which the samurai wielded his sword, went into the actual making of the sword itself.

Swords weren't simply 'cast' in a mould and then sharpened. A Japanese samurai sword was made by an intricate process of heating the steel, hammering it flat, then folding it, then hammering it flat again, and folding. This process of repeated hammering and folding would be done up to as much as 30 times, or until the maker was satisfied it had been done properly.


What was a samurai’s most sacred and prized possession? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Why was a samurai’s sword so important to him? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

How was a samurai’s sword made? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Can you name an item in our modern world today that is as carefully made as a samurai’s sword? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A Japanese Death Poem

Inhale, exhale

Forward, back

Living, dying:

Arrows, let flown each to each

Meet midway and slice

The void in aimless flight --

Thus I return to the source.


  1. What is a Japanese death poem?


  1. What is the meaning of the poem? ____________________________________________________________________


  1. Why was death poetry popular among samurai? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Samurai Helmet

The Samurai warrior often fought hand to hand in the battlefield. The winner of the battle would decapitate his opponent and take the head home as a trophy. This ritual gave birth to the Samurai helmet. The helmet was built of riveted pieces of iron and had a heavy duty neck protection. In many cases, a metal mask would also be attached to the head gear. Once together, the helmet had a very ferocious appearance.
The Samurai had a very strict set of conduct during battle. When faced with an opponent, the Samurai would yell out his name, ancestry and previous deeds of heroism to identify himself before the fight. After defeating his enemy, the Samurai would pay compliments to the dead soldier prior to severing his head. Before battle, each warrior would burn incense in his helmet so that in the event that he lost, the adversary would have a pleasant smell after severing the head.

  1. How did samurai fight? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  2. What would the winner do after a battle? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  3. Why did samurai begin to wear helmets? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  4. What did a samurai say before he faced his opponent in battle? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  5. Why did the samurai give compliments to the man he defeated? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  6. Why did samurai burn incense in their helmets? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Samurai’s Hair

The samurai's hair was an important part of his appearance, and most of the samurai make reference to the importance of its neat appearance. The traditional hairstyle (for the better part of a thousand years) was the topknot, a fashion by no means exclusive to the samurai. Nearly everyone, with the exception of Buddhist priests, wore topknots. There is reference to the use of topknots in ancient China, and it might have been one of the many cultural imports introduced to Japan.


  1. How did the samurai wear his hair? __________________________________________________________________

  2. What is a topknot? _________________________________________________

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