After first delving into the history of the samurai, it’s interesting to explore the culture of this pre-modern Japanese warrior. From the weapons they used to how they were addressed, there is a lot to take in when exploring the nature and evolution of this Japanese warrior. Let’s delve into the world of the samurai even deeper to understand how they fought, rose and became a cultural icon of Japan.
Traditional Japanese weapons are highly associated with that of the samurai. There are many varieties and styles of samurai weapons, providing a unique and interesting range of Japanese weaponry to look into. The most popular choice of weapon of the samurai was the sword, a now synonymous icon of this historical Japanese warrior. Ancient Japanese swords from the Nara period featured a straight blade, though by the late 900s, different types of blades began to emerge. These included the curved tachi appeared, followed by the uchigatana and ultimately the katana. The Katana is one of Japans most famous weapons with its unique sharpness and strength. The Katana was strong enough to be used in defence and sharp enough to damage the enemy, earning its reputation as ‘the soul of the samurai’.
The yumi is a form of Japanese long-range bow. Crafted from bamboo, wood, rattan and leather, this weapon was favoured by samurai skilled in archery. The use of pole weapons was also highly popular, with the most popular types being the yari and the naginata. Whilst resembling a spear, the pole weapon’s curved blade was what made them so effective. The samurai also often chose to use the tanegashima, a type of Japanese matchlock. Tanegashima were produced on a large scale by Japanese gunsmiths, these then new weapons were highly effective, seeing them become the weapon of choice over the traditional yumi.
As far back as the seventh century, Japanese warriors wore a form of lamellar armour, a type of armour made from small rectangular plates of iron and leather. This armour eventually evolved into the armour worn by that of the samurai. The first types of armour were known as yoroi and consisted of small individual scales known as kozane which were crafted using either iron or leather that was bound in small strips and coated with waterproof lacquer to protect the samurai armour from water. The strips were then laced together with silk or leather lace to form a complete chest armour, these parts were then combined to create the whole suit of armour. Alongside carrying their weapons and adornments, the samurai had to endure the weight of the intricately crafted armour that when completed weighed an astounding 66 lbs.
As time evolved, so did the nature of the samurai armour to accommodate the use of firearms, new fighting tactics and the need for more protection. As samurai armour changed over the coming years it developed drastically and so did the methods of warfare. The kozane armour was retired and replaced by a new iron-plated armour with added new features that protected the face, thigh and back as well as features such as the helmet and loincloth.
The samurai name is an intrinsic part of samurai culture, that has long been influenced by heritage. Each samurai would be named by combining the kanji, the Chinese characters that are used within the Japanese writing system, from their grandfather and one new kanji. It was also traditional to use only a small part of their total name when addressing each other which is why samurai have official nicknames. Unlike the nobles, this Japanese warrior tended to use their shorter names rather than their formal names. Because of this, samurai had four parts to their name: a true family name (their clan root), one that links to their family lineage, an official nickname for their first name, and a formal first name.
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