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samurai(sä'mo͞orī`), knights of feudal Japan, retainers of the daimyodaimyo
[Jap.,=great name], the great feudal landholders of Japan, the territorial barons as distinguished from the kuge, or court nobles. Great tax-free estates were built up from the 8th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. . This aristocratic warrior class arose during the 12th-century wars between the Taira and Minamoto clans and was consolidated in the Tokugawa period. Samurai were privileged to wear two swords, and at one time had the right to cut down any commoner who offended them. They cultivated the martial virtues, indifference to pain or death, and unfailing loyalty to their overlords (see bushidobushido
[Jap.,=way of the warrior], code of honor and conduct of the Japanese nobility. Of ancient origin, it grew out of the old feudal bond that required unwavering loyalty on the part of the vassal. It borrowed heavily from Zen Buddhism and Confucianism.
..... Click the link for more information. ). Samurai were the dominant group in Japan, and the masterless samurai, the roninronin
, in Japanese history, masterless samurai. Ronin were retainers who were deprived of their place in the usual loyalty patterns of Japanese feudalism. The daimyo they had served might have died, been exiled, or become so poor that the samurai had to abandon his lord.
..... Click the link for more information. , were a serious social problem. Under the TokugawaTokugawa
, family that held the shogunate (see shogun) and controlled Japan from 1603 to 1867. Founded by Ieyasu, the Tokugawa regime was a centralized feudalism. The Tokugawa themselves held approximately one fourth of the country in strategically located parcels, which they
..... Click the link for more information. shogunate (1603–1867), the samurai were removed from direct control of the villages, moved into the domain castle towns, and given government stipends. They were encouraged to take up bureaucratic posts. As a result, they lost a measure of their earlier martial skill. Dissatisfied samurai from the Choshu and Satsuma domains of W Japan were largely responsible for overthrowing the shogun in 1867. When feudalism was abolished after the Meiji restorationMeiji restoration,
The term refers to both the events of 1868 that led to the "restoration" of power to the emperor and the entire period of revolutionary changes that coincided with the Meiji emperor's reign (1868–1912).
..... Click the link for more information. , some former samurai also took part in the Satsuma revolt under Takamori SaigoSaigo, Takamori
, 1828–77, Japanese soldier and statesman noted for his obstinate conservatism. He was an early opponent of the Tokugawa shogunate. He was exiled (1859–64) but returned to train Satsuma warriors.
..... Click the link for more information. in 1877. As statesmen, soldiers, and businessmen, former samurai took the lead in building modern Japan.
See H. P. Varley, The Samurai (1970).
(from Japanese samarau, “to serve”), an aristocratic class in feudal Japan. In the broad sense, the term includes all secular feudal lords, from great princes (daimyos) to petty nobles; in the narrow and more frequent sense, it refers to a military-feudal category of petty nobility.
The emergence of the samurai as a separate estate is usually viewed as a process that began during the rule of the feudal house of Minamoto (1192–1333) in Japan. The samurai estate became clearly defined during the rule of the shoguns of the feudal house of Tokugawa (1603–1867). The most privileged stratum of samurai were the hatamoto (literally, “under the banner”), who were the direct vassals of the shogun. Most of the hatamoto were on the level of a service rank on the shogun’s personal estates. Most of the samurai were the vassals of princes; they usually owned no land and received a salary in rice from the prince.
The samurai code of conduct (seeBUSHIDO) was permeated with contempt for the toiling masses. The laws of the Tokugawa permitted a samurai to kill, on the spot, “any commoner who conducts himself in an unbefitting manner in regard to members of the military class.” During the Tokugawa dynasty, when internal feudal wars had ceased, military detachments of samurai were used mainly to crush peasant rebellions. At the same time, however, the daimyos no longer needed such large samurai detachments as had existed during the feudal wars, and the number of samurai in their military detachments decreased. Some of the samurai became ronin (déclassé samurai, whose vassalage to the princes had ended), who frequently assumed the status of townsmen, taking up a handicraft, trade, or some other occupation.
Beginning in the mid-18th century, the process of internal disintegration of the samurai estate intensified. Even without passing to the status of ronin, many samurai took up trade, handicraft production, and other occupations. The rank-and-file samurai, particularly in the principalities of Satsuma, Cho-shu, Tosa, and Hizen, who had close ties to bourgeois elements, played an important role in the incomplete bourgeois révolution of 1867–68 (seeMEIJI RESTORATION). After the uprising, the samurai estate, like other feudal estates, was abolished, although the samurai did not lose their privileged status.
After the agrarian laws of 1872–73 were enacted, a significant proportion of the samurai, who had already become de facto owners of land (goshi) under Tokugawa rule, became the de jure owners of this land as they came to be included in the category of the new landlords. Cadres of civil servants and most of the officers of the army and navy were drawn from the ranks of former samurai. The bushido code, the glorification of samurai valor and traditions, and the cult of war were incorporated into the ideological arsenal of the Japanese reactionaries, which was used to propagate racism and militarism. The term “samurai” is often used to designate Japanese militarists.
A. D. SYRKIN
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