The Nonmilitary Culture of the Samurai

Culture of the Samurai

We know the Samurai as dedicated warriors. As such, their entire lives revolved around the study of and training for military service. It is easy to imagine them practicing swordsmanship and archery most of the time. Then, of course, as their primary duty, they would go to war as well.

Outside swordsmanship, they also spent time on other things. Like us, they studied academic subjects too. Also, they engaged in nonmilitary traditions and rituals. What were these?

Brief History of the Samurai

Samurai rose into power in the 12th century, particularly in 1192. They were under Minamoto Yoritomo, Shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate. The government entitled them to office appointments and land grants. In exchange, they were to live their lives in the service and protection of the empire.

In the 13th century, they started rising in popularity. Hence, they attracted many people to train for the military. This trend went on until the next century wherein the Samurai assumed greater responsibilities. They became assistants for the Daimyo or warlords. They obtained land, money and administrative power in return.

However, these lords became so influential enough to overpower the Shogun. As such, never wanting defeat, the Samurai partnered with them. Some of them got promoted into the same position later on.

By the 15th and 16th centuries, chaos disturbed Japan. Several wars emerged, beginning from the Onin War. These pertained to the Sengoku Jidai or the Warring States Period. Throughout this era, Samurai and Ninja were in high demand. Also, Daimyo terribly fought against each other.

From the 17th century onwards, the country was in recovery. As peace started prevailing, fighting became unnecessary. Consequently, the Samurai lost their significance as the government dissolved them. It banned the possession and use of military weapons.

Because of this, most Samurai ended up living as teachers and artists. They also joined elite ranks in politics and industry. This condition lasted until the Meiji Restoration Period in 1868. At this point, the Samurai rule officially ended. The feudal system came to its dissolution as well.

What Comprised Their Military Training?


The physical training of the Samurai was very intensive. They had to master swordsmanship, the art of fencing. One important lesson they had to learn was readiness for anything. They should know what to do when they accidentally broke a sword.

They should also learn how to fight without weapons. Moreover, they practiced archery. Their objective was to shoot accurately in any distance all the time. Even more, they had to do this while on horseback more often than not.


The Kyudo

Samurai could acquire all the skills in swordsmanship and archery, including different variety of samurai swords. They could master the craft enough to call themselves excellent warriors, However, without the right mindset and attitude, their prowess would not take them any further.

As such, self-control was vital both in training and in actual fighting. They had to manage their emotions as well as to endure pain and suffering.

Exercises included going on days without food and water. They also would walk on snow without anything to protect their feet. Worse, they should overcome the fear of death by imagining themselves as already dead. In addition to this, they could never sit back and relax. They had to be alert and proactive all the time.


Buddhism played a significant role in shaping the Samurai’s spiritual upbringing. Much of their values and ethics patterned themselves from the doctrines of this religion. This was in integration with the Bushido, their moral code of ethics. For this, meditation was an activity they could never miss daily. They would do this for inner enlightenment and self-reliance. In performing this, they aimed to reach a certain level of paradise.

What Comprised Their Nonmilitary Education?

The nonmilitary education of the Samurai covered calligraphy, poetry, music, history, mathematics, and ethics.

Schools emphasized good writing. It employed Kanji, adopted logographic Chinese characters the Japanese used in their writing system. Samurai integrated these with calligraphy, a Greek-style of lettering. They used a brush or any other writing instrument.

Also, Samurai were poetry and music lovers. As such, they would write poems about nature, religion, and the like. Likewise, they would compose songs in the same themes.

Samurai studied history as well. Asian and Western cultures were their favorites. As such, they knew a lot about Buddhism, Confucianism, Greek mythology, and the likes.

Furthermore, they trained their minds in mathematics. They would master arithmetic and other necessary skills. This subject, integrated with physics, was a great help for their training in archery. Accurate shooting while on horseback was a requirement.

Finally, the study of ethics included Bushido. This moral code comprised of 8 virtues which the Samurai had to live up to. These were justice, courage, compassion, respect, honesty, honor, loyalty, and self-control. Most of these principles based themselves upon the teachings of Confucius.

What Were Some of Their Nonmilitary Practices?

Tea Ceremony

The tea ceremony was one of the essential Samurai traditions. It was a cultural activity that involved the ceremonial preparation and presentation of Matcha. This was what they called the green tea they used.

First, guests would arrive at the master’s house a little before the appointed time. As they entered, they would leave their things and wear socks which they called Tabi. Then, the housekeepers would serve them hot water and some tea. When all the guests had arrived, they would wait for the host to call them.

Upon meeting, the host and guests would exchange bows. They would then perform a purification ritual on a stone basin. Then, they would finally enter the tea house through a small door. They would crawl in until they got inside.

After viewing some items and tea equipment, they would close the door. It should be audible enough to notify the host. The host would then welcome them and entertain their questions.

Afterwhich, he would serve them a meal with rice wine and some sweet delicacies. There would be a short break during which the guests returned outside. They would wait until the host finished cleaning the room and fixing the furniture.

Upon the second call, guests would perform the same rituals. To start the tea session, the first guest would bow to the second one. Then, he would raise the bowl in a gesture of respect to the host. He would rotate it and take a sip. Cleaning its rim, he would pass it on to the next guest. This procedure would go on and on until the last person.

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When they got nothing to do, Samurai would often paint. Using a paintbrush and monochrome ink, nature was one of their subjects. This practice began in the mid-Kamakura Period. Much of the involved techniques came from the Chinese.

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