Tales of Samurai

Read some of the most amazing tales of Samurai throughout history.

 Japanese warriors called the Samurai, were prominent figures during Japan’s warring period. This lasted from the years 794 to 1185, where the first Samurai appeared in the Heian era. Their prominence continued throughout the Kamakura, Muromachi, and Tokugawa periods. Despite this, the imperial court and civil government commenced simultaneously.

They established themselves in history as legendary warriors. Thus, becoming prominent all over the world, even until this day.

 

Before the West made contact with Japan, it was wholly divided into many feudal states. In general, there was the presence of an Emperor; yet during the last millennium, he only ruled in name. Those real rulers who controlled the country were the Daimyo. They were individual leaders of each city state.

At the beck and call of the Daimyo were the Samurai. They were a group of disciplined warriors known for their loyalty, and tenet of hard work. These aspects have formed the foundation of the country’s modern society.

Here are some of the most amazing tales of real Samurai Japanese warriors. They were the people who molded the country, Japan, that we know today.

Miyamoto Musashi and Niten Ichi-ryū

A great Japanese warrior known in history was Miyamoto Musashi. Around the year 1595, when he was only 13, Musashi killed his first opponent in battle. Although armed only with a wooden sword, Musashi won the battle within a minute.

At some point, the Samurai began traveling Japan, hoping to perfect his sword skills. He also aimed to become the best swordsman in the country.

Before reaching the age of 20, he became known for engaging in different skirmishes. During these battles, he emerged unharmed every time. He even destroyed a prominent clan of warriors single-handedly in numerous battles.

The Art of Dual Wielding and Swordplay

Around this period, Musashi started using two blades during battles. It was a distinct and completely unheard of technique during that time. he has invented the Niten Ichi Ryu technique which taught the art of fighting with two samurai swords.

By the year 1613, the warrior made a name for himself by battling against one of the country’s known duelists. This was when he faced Sasaki Kojiro – a man known as Musashi’s most formidable opponent.

Musashi defeated the other in a snap, yet this duel left him very upset even after his victory.

This was the point that led Musashi to swear off of such duels forever. He felt that he was robbing the world of more artists and he did not want that.

His story continued until the year 1645, when he started feeling that his death was near. But instead of sitting and waiting for this, Musashi traveled and began writing his book. This was the popular Book of Five Rings – the conclusive text on classic Japanese swordplay.

He was also able to produce a guide to becoming self-reliant before dying, and this was the Dokkodo.

Yasuke – The African Samurai

Generally, the Samurai warriors were the most enduring symbols of Japan’s cultural heritage. This is why almost all of them were born Japanese. Of course, there were a few non-Japanese individuals who became Samurai, and one of them was Yasuke.

Yasuke was of African descent but turned into a Samurai by Oda Nobunaga. This was after working as a bodyguard for the Daimyo. Yasuke was an African man brought to Japan in the year 1579 by the Jesuit missionaries. Due to his unique appearance, he gained a lot of attention from the Japanese people.

When it comes to his origins, these are completely shrouded in mystery. Yasuke’s name was first mentioned in the year 1579. It was a time when he worked as an attendant of Alessandro Valignano, the Jesuit missionary. There was a high chance that Yasuke was a slave at that time.

His unique colored skin generated a great amount of interest and intrigue. With that, a lot of native Japanese came to see the man at a church that the Jesuits built in Kyoto. The commotion among the people piqued the interest of Nobunaga. He then requested for an audience with him.

Apparently, Nobunaga was doubting if Yasuke’s black skin was real. Because of this, the warlord asked the African to remove his shirt to rub his skin and prove that his complexion was not ink. Aside from noticing Yasuke’s skin, Nobunaga admired his height of 182 centimeters since most Japanese males were shorter. Yasuke’s height was imposing to the island’s indigenous groups.

Later, Nobunaga assigned Yasuke to be his retainer and bodyguard. Soon after, he became a Samurai in the year 1581. He stayed at Nobunaga’s Azuchi Castle throughout his service.

The Greatest Archer in Japan History?

There was once a great archer in the history of Japan. He was Minamoto no Tametomo, the son of Minamoto no Tameyoshi. He was a Samurai who fought in the Hogen Rebellion.

Many believed that one of Minamoto no Tametomo’s arms was longer than the other. Despite this, the genetic deformity allowed him to execute more powerful shots. Plus, he was also a fearsome Japanese warrior on horseback.

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Over the centuries since the year 1156, Minamoto no Tametomo had become popular in epic chronicles. In legends, it was said that he shot the hull of a Taira ship with a single arrow, causing this to sink.

Along with his father, he also defended Shirakawa Den against the army of Taira no Kiyomori and Minamoto no Yoshitomo. The palace burned in flames which forced Tametomo to flee.

When the Hogen Rebellion ended, the Taira cut the tendon of Tametomo’s arm. The cruel act disabled him from taking advantage of his power in archery. He was then exiled to the island of Oshima in Izu.

Later, Tametomo sliced his abdomen to kill himself or commit Seppuku. It is possible that he was the first Japanese warrior in history to perform the act.

Tomoe Gozen – The Famous Japanese Female Warrior

Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons

 

The battlefield dominated by men had a flower among them. This was Tomoe Gozen who started her life as the concubine to Minamoto no Yoshinaka. He was one of history’s most popular Daimyo.

Tomoe Gozen was a female Japanese warrior claimed to have taken 7 heads home from a single battle. This Japanese warrior was adept with the bow & arrow and the Naginata. So with her skills, she went into battle as the leader of Yoshinaka’s army. During the Battle of Yokotagawara was when she acquired the heads of 7 enemy warriors.

In the Battle of Uchide no Hama, she led a total of 300 troops into battle against a vast enemy army of 6,000 men. She emerged victorious as one of the five few survivors.

The final battle was where she was last seen fighting. This was also when her husband ordered that she flee the battlefield. She attacked, head on, a group of 30 soldiers where she beheaded the leader in a single action.

The Tale of the 47 Ronin

The ultimate tale that expresses the Japanese warrior’s honor is the Chushingura. This is better known as the 47 Ronin. This started in 1701, when a conflict arose between two Daimyo who were ordered by the Shogun to entertain an envoy.

In feudal Japan, the Daimyo Asano Naganori ruled his province with justice. However, the envious Kira Yoshinaka feared that the Shogun favored the fair warlord more. Due to this, Kira insulted Asano constantly which caused the latter to show aggression by slashing the other Daimyo with a Tanto.

Although this only resulted in a minor injury, drawing a weapon in the Edo Castle was a major offense. Because of the crime, the Shogun ordered Asano to commit Seppuku. After this, the 300 Samurai who served Asano had to live as outcasts. The forced suicide of their master angered 47 of these Japanese warriors.

Instead of gaining retribution, the 47 warriors gave up their titles as Samurai then adopted the title of Ronin. Oishi, their leader, wandered for a few years. In the end, they assembled and took revenge by murdering Kira. The next day, they carried out the sentence of Seppuku.

The Great Horns and Legendary Sword of Honda Tadakatsu

The Samurai had other weapons aside from their Katana. One was the Wakizashi, the auxiliary sword that was shorter than the Katana by a few inches. The other was the Tanto, an even shorter blade. The two smaller weapons were for committing Seppuku, but the Samurai often used the Wakizashi.

Aside from the weapons, they had impressive armor which they wore in battle. This often consisted of iron plates dipped in thick lacquer. Silk cords held these pieces together, forming lighter and more durable protective gear.

In 1560, Honda Tadakatsu entered the battlefield and intimidated his opponents with his armor. He wore a helmet with enormous stag antlers which made it easy for everyone to see him.

Instead of using the traditional Katana, he used the Tonbokiri, one of the three legendary Japanese spears. The weapon was also known as Dragonfly Cutter due to its blade’s sharpness. With a single swing, Honda Tadakatsu was also able to cut through several opponents with this huge polearm.

Kusunoki Masashige and His Guerilla Tactics in Battles

Kusunoki Masashige, a Samurai from the 14th century, became the leader of a small fief. The Japanese emperor Go Daigo ordered him in the year 1331 to fight a losing battle for the empire.

Soon after Kusunoki entered the battle, an army of Shogunate forces captured the emperor. Fortunately, Kusunoki was able to flee to the mountainous region of Japan. He led a small army in a succession of guerilla-style raids. This helped turn the tide of the war.

In 1332, Kusunoki seized Chihaya, a military stronghold in central Japan. It was vital for one’s victory since the fortress was critically significant for strategy. Here, the Emperor heard of the many victories, leading him to bribe those who jailed him before returning to Kusunoki. This caused a lot of nobles to side with the emperor and support his rise to power.

Everything went well until the year 1336. This was when the destructive struggle for the throne began. Ashikaga Takauji commanded an overwhelming army, which threatened Go Daigo.

Kusunoki proposed a strategic retreat, but Go Daigo disapproved of this. The emperor insisted Kusunoki to engage in battle against the opposing army. Kusunoki remained loyal and followed the emperor’s orders, causing the death of his troops. His lasting loyalty for Go Daigo makes him one of the perfect examples of the ideal Samurai.

Was there Ever a Western Samurai Around?

Known as Miura Anjin, William Adams was an English navigator. In 1600, he reached Japan while in his five-ship expedition for the Dutch East Asia Company. In his country, he was the first to reach the Japanese nation.

Among the few survivors of the only ship that arrived in Japan, Adams and Jan Joosten had to settle in the country. Melchior van Santvoort and Jacob Quaeckernaeck had to return to the Dutch Republic for trade. The two navigators who stayed became the first two Western Samurai.

William Adams did not identify himself as a warrior on the battlefield. He also did not contribute much to the country’s war technology. He was recognized for his brilliance, which allowed him to earn the trust of the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Even before serving the Shogun, Adams was already a brave man. He sailed out from England to the unknown opposite side of his country. In fact, 90 percent of the crew died during the expedition since the ocean was plagued with illness. Only nine people survived, and Adams was one of them.

Initially, Tokugawa Ieyasu imprisoned Adams. After this, the latter became the Shogun’s chief advisor since he talked his way out of prison. He taught Japanese craftsmen how to create Western-style sailing ships. Adams became successful as Ieyasu’s interpreter and diplomatic advisor.

The Western Samurai was unable to leave Japan for a decade and even became a prisoner who was close to his death. Despite that, he managed to be one of the most powerful and wealthiest men in Japan.

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