We all know a little bit about the ancient and legendary Japanese samurai, but most of our knowledge comes from things like movies and TV. Most of us see them as noble fighters who stick to a strict “code” throughout their lives. These ancient warriors are among the most well-known class of warriors in history. But in fact, there is much more to samurai culture as a whole that you probably don’t know. In order to bring you up to speed, here are 12 cool and interesting facts about the ancient samurai. Number 7 in particular is something you will likely find shocking.
#12 The Armor
While their armor might look a bit strange and over the top, each piece played a vital role. While the armor was of course supposed to protect, it also needed to be mobile. It was so well-designed that Americans actually based the first flak jacket on samurai armor. The next entry tackles a large misconception about the samurai.
#11 Large Number Of Samurai
In most people’s minds, the samurai were a very noble and elite class warriors, and almost an exclusive club. However, there were actually many more samurai than you think. At the peak of samurai culture, about 10% of Japanese citizens were samurai. As a result, most people born in Japan now have at least a little bit of samurai blood in them.
#10 Female Samurai
While the term “samurai” is meant for men only, there were a number of females trained in the same combat and strategy. For a while, it has been assumed that they were a small minority in the overall samurai population. However, research now shows they fought in more battles than scholars previously thought.
#9 The Weapons
When most of us think about the samurai, we associate them with a unique sword called a “katana.” However, samurai actually possessed and used a number of different weapons. In addition to swords of all sizes, they used bows, spears and eventually even began using guns, once gunpowder became more available.
#8 Samurai Were Extremely Well-Educated
In addition to being warriors, the samurai were extremely well educated. When the rest of the world struggled with literacy, the samurai could actually read and write very well. They were also talented in mathematics, art, calligraphy, and various other skills. They proved to be very diverse and cultured individuals as well.
#7 Homosexuality Was Rampant
When it came to sexual relations, you may be surprised to find out that the samurai were a very open-minded people. In fact, it was not only accepted, but it was encouraged. This is quite similar to other groups (such as the Spartans), who also had similar open-mindedness.
#6 Pederasty Was Common And Encouraged
The term “pederasty” refers to a sexual relationship between an adult male and a child or adolescent boy. This was unfortunately common in samurai culture and was even referred to by some as the “noblest form of affection.” By the beginning of the 19th century, it began to fall out of favor.
#5 Most Samurai Were Actually Quite Small
While their menacing armor might make them look fearsome and imposing, most Samurai were actually quite small. In fact, they ranged from about 5’3-5’5 for the most part. In addition to this, they were also very slim in build. The European knights at the time were often about a foot taller than the average samurai.
#4 The Ritual of Seppuku
Seppuku is a form of ritualistic suicide. Samurai were all about dying with honor, so instead of being killed by their enemies, they would disembowel themselves by slicing open their own abdomen. This was also a way for a disgraced samurai to regain honor that they had lost during their lives.
#3 The Horrific Practice of Tsujigiri
While many think of samurai as noble 100% of the time, that was not the case. Perhaps the most brutal example of this is the practice of Tsujigiri. This is when a samurai would test out a new weapon or fighting style on a live opponent. Problem was, they would often just attack a random and unarmed bystander.
#2 The Kabukimono
The Kabukimono was a gang of wandering samurai, or samurai who used to work for families. These people dressed and looked flamboyant, and had their own set of rules, outside normal samurai code. They were extremely violent and rude people, and it is thought that the Yakuza originated from Kabukimono groups.
#1 They Created Jiu-Jitsu
Jiu-Jitsu is without a doubt amongst the most common martial arts in the world. Many of the best fighters in the world are trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. But as it turns out, Brazil isn’t the home of Jiu-Jitsu. This martial art was actually created in Japan during the Sengoku period, which ran from the late 1400s to the early 1600s.
Though we primarily get our understanding of ancient cultures from movies and TV, the history of people like the samurai is often full of surprises. Though still generally considered a noble group, the samurai were not without their complexities, nuances and flaws, as you discovered in this article. Though the contributed martial arts like Jiu-Jitsu to our culture, they were also responsible for horrendous grievances like Tsujigiri and may even have partially founded modern-day Yakuza.
Hopefully, we opened your eyes a little bit to the good and the bad of the samurai culture.
If you enjoyed this article, please leave us your thoughts below, or like or share it!