Many people know of the samurai, the nobility of the military in medieval Japan. Lots of people find themselves fascinated with these icons of the Japanese past. Today, you can still experience a bit of this rich past.
Originally, samurai were known as bushi or buke. The word samurai first appeared in the 10th century. The roots of samurai can be traced back to the Asuka period, which is when national conscription began. Through the centuries the role of these warriors changed, from the dissolving of the national army to the creation of clans formed by groups of farmers. It was these farmer clans that began the foundation of Bushido, the practice of the warrior.
In the 12th century, the leaders of one of these clans were given the responsibility to organise the law and arrest rebels. It was this giving of responsibility that began the samurai class. Thanks to the benefits of social mobility, these early samurai earned power and money and the era of the Shogun began in the 1100’s. The governments across Japan became dominated by samurai. Taira no Kiyomori was the first samurai to run the Japanese government and he relegated the Emperor of Japan to a mere figurehead. The samurai fought, won and lost for hundreds of years. During the Tokugawa shogunate, the samurai have moved away from the role of warriors and began losing their military functions. The era of the samurai of the past ended due to the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy in 1853. The army was modernised and re-trained. The Meiji era brought along more changes, with the samurai’s right to be armed abolished. The samurai class was abolished in the late 19th century and the era of the samurai was over.
Although the era of samurai ended over a century ago, you can still experience some of it’s charm, honor and ethics. Nestled in Kakunodate is the Samurai District, an old area which used to house samurai families. Beautifully built homes and strategically placed weeping cherries give an ancient feel to this place. Here you can wander the ancient streets, and in May see the cherry blossoms in bloom. Six houses are open to the public, and you can see a variety of different living conditions depending on the wealth of the family. There are museums to visit too, so you can find out more about the history of the noble samurai. Two of the larger houses offer immaculately kept storehouses, armor and clothing from their ancestors. Click here for more information about Kakunodate.
If you travel up to the Akita prefecture in Northern Japan, do visit this stunning example of feudal Japan.