The life of a Samurai

  • The word samurai comes from saburu (to serve). The higher class samurai warriors are always called “bushi.” Most Japanese refer to the samurai as “bushi.”
  • Only the samurai could have a last name. Ordinary people did not have a last name.
  • Only the samurai were allowed to have a horse or use palanquin.
  • Only the samurai could commit seppuku (ritualistic suicide).
  • Only the samurai could carry 2 swords.
  • During the early Edo period samurai could kill anyone on the street and get away with if a samurai though the person was just being disrespectful.
  • Japanese samurai reward for the service was about 200 koku of rice. In other words their annual salary was 200 x 150 kg of rice. The samurai used to get their salary from daimyo as “rice” not in cash.
  • Most samurai were able to read and write. They were more educated than the rest of the society.
  • The samurai often practiced tea ceremony, calligraphy, poetry and ink painting. Samurai were the only ones who could access to prestigious zen gardens, elegant temples and castles.
  • Since there were not many wars samurai kept improving their techniques by practicing martial arts.
  • It was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to become a samurai if one is not born in a samurai family. Toyotomi Hideyoshi was an exception.
  • Samurai were named by taking a kanji character from their father’s name and mixing with another kanji character.
  • Samurais changed their names after reaching adulthood.
  • Samurai often visited temples and zen gardens and practiced tea ceremony to reduce the stress they had.
  • About 10% of the Japanese population were the samurai class and they were the majority who hung out with the geisha and who practiced traditional Japanese arts.
  • The marriage of the samurai was usually arranged by a higher ranking samurai and it was difficult to get divorced because that’d mean the higher ranking samurai would lose face.
  • Ordinary people wanted their daughters to get married with a samurai and even paid money to the samurai for this upward social class change.
  • Some Japanese kamikaze pilots took samurai swords to the cockpit before their final flight.
  • Samurai were the only ones allowed to carry two swords in public.
  • Samurai were not allowed to own businesses. Samurais were not allowed to do farming.
  • If the lord/master of a samurai dies, he loses his social status and rights as a samurai and he becomes a ronin “man of waves.”
  • Samurai wives were a little unfortunate, they were forbidden to see their relatives and obey their sons.
  • The samurai used to wash themselves with cold water and put incense in their helmets to show that they are ready to die on any day.
  • Usually ordinary people kneeled and put their forehead on the floor (dogeza) when a high ranking samurai was passing by. This was not mandatory but very common.

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