Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Samurai Facts

My current WIP is a steampunk novel, but also involves pirates, ninjas, and samurais. A few months ago, I posted about ninjas, giving you just the very basics of this mysterious group of warriors. You can check that out HERE. But it's always interesting separating fact from myth (i.e. ninjas wearing black, when they actually wore navy blue or dressed to blend in with the crowd).

So I decided to write about the samurai. I've always been so mystified about this Eastern version of knighthood and nobility. Here's a quick history lesson on the samurai:

1) This elite Japanese group became more prevalent around the 11th century. They served as warriors and protectors of their feudal lord (their daimyos). But when Japan entered the Imperial Age, the rule of the samurai had ended during the 19th century.

2) Many people know of the samurai seppuku (ritual and voluntary suicide). Samurai warriors would rather die with honor than fall prisoner to enemy hands, and other times, the daimyo would order a samurai to commit seppuku if he failed miserably or brought dishonor to his clan. BUT, seppuku was really very rare.

3) With Hollywood's help, most of us think of the sword when it comes to the samurai. Yes, the sword was a vital weapon - and symbolically, the katana sword is synonymous with the samurai's sword. But on the battlefield, samurai warriors employed all kinds of weapons - the spear was very popular, especially on horseback. The bow and arrow too, and samurai became experts and launching arrows while riding. And finally guns. YES, guns. Samurai used lots of guns. In fact, they were designing and building much better guns than Europeans were at the time.

4) Bushido - code of honor. The samurai did indeed have their own code of honor: loyalty, devotion, strict adherence to doing the right thing. These were simply ideals, and the daimyos manipulated this code to keep their samurai in line. The reality is, the samurai often did stab each other in the back. Treachery was commonplace.

5) Ninjas! I always come back to ninjas, don't I. Most ninjas were just samurai warriors used for assassinations and spying missions. Many were also disgraced samurai.

6) The shogun was one of the highest positions of power in feudal Japan. The shogun was appointed by the emperor. The emperor was more of symbolic ruler, but the shogun held most of the political/military power. In more modern times, the shogun is equivalent to a 5 star general.

7) The Last Samurai (with Tom Cruise) has to be one of the most historically inaccurate movies I've ever seen. Despite the film's portrayal, Japan DID have artillery, going back to the 16th century in fact. The military did not need the help of an American on how to use guns, although they did seek out help from France and Prussia. And finally, the whole treaty built on trading American weapons for the opportunity to open trade was complete fiction.

Oh, and I find how Tom Cruise's character manages to dodge 1,364,204 bullets from a Gatling gun while all the other samurai crumple all around him absolutely laughable. But that's Hollywood.


Anonymous said...

This is really cool and informative as my heroine's partner was a Samurai. Good to know I have his characteristics right. *phew*

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Trust Hollywood to go overboard every time. That's why I enjoy foreign films set during that time in history - more accurate.
And you can't go wrong with Ninjas!

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

Might I suggest that you read about Miyamoto Musashi. He is considered by many to be the greatest samurai to have ever lived, and his book played the foundation of many business decisions made by corporations in the latter part of the 20th century when Japan was "exploding" with economic power.

Kelley said...

Hi there!

I just wanted to let you know that I left you awards over at my blog!!

Pop on over and get em' :)

Jay Noel said...

Riann: Really? A samurai? I'm so proud of you!

Alex: I do too. I don't mind the subtitles either. Love me some ninjas.

Michael: I read Book of Five Rings a few years ago. I read a lot of business books - and it was interesting how Musashi's writings can apply to economics.

Musashi was also a rebel. He lived in the forest, was incarcerated, and perfected a new technique of fighting with two swords. And was the king of mental warfare.

Kelley: Very cool! I'm going now!

Pk Hrezo said...

I didn't care for The last Samurai at all, so it doesn't surprise me it's inaccurate. Funny, I thought of Star Wars when I first started reading it... like perhaps Lucas got inspiration for Jedi warriors from samurai and ninjas.

Jay Noel said...

PK: Yeah, George Lucas was heavily influenced by old samurai movies The Hidden Fortress and Bodyguard. "Jidai Geki" are Japanese period movies about samurai - and that's where he came up with the word "Jedi."

sonia said...

Funny, I only know about ninjas because of the work I did with TMNT but I really know nothing about samurai... although I do want to watch some Kurasowa soon!

Julia Hones said...

The Last Samurai was done in New Plymouth, New Zealand. I was living there when the movie was done.

Jay Noel said...

sonia: What work did you do with TMNT? Love those guys!

Julia: That's a gorgeous landscape. The movie has an amazing soundtrack too, I'll give it that.

Milo James Fowler said...

Honestly, I don't care about the historical accuracy of a movie as long as I can see samurai in action. So freakin' cool. Thanks for all the details. I may have used a couple of them in my story "Hero for Hire"...

The Golden Eagle said...

Interesting facts!

I don't usually think of ninjas and samurai as being tied to each other that closely--but I guess they are!

J.L. Campbell said...

Fascinating piece, especially since I enjoy novels that involve Japanese culture.

Ciara said...

I'm one of those ignorant people that loved The Last Samurai. I didn't realize how inaccurate was, I just enjoyed the entertainment. :)

Jay Noel said...

Milo: I know what you're sayin'. I took my own liberties in my WIP as well!

Golden: Yup. They are "related."

J.L.: I do too! It's such a interesting culture. Thanks for stopping by.

Ciara: You know, I liked that movie too. I own it, despite it's historical inaccuracies. The fight scenes are awesome!

Mark Noce said...

Wow, what a rad sounding book! I personally find all those eclectic subjects intriguing, but medieval Japan is definitely one of my favorites!

Crystal Licata said...

Your steampunk novel sounds awesome. Pirates and Samurais...great combo. Also, I received a blog award and passed one on to you :)

Rusty Webb said...

Steampunk priates & Ninjas. Cool. I noticed David Powers is following you twice. How'd he do that?

Jay Noel said...

Thanks Mark!

Crystal: Thanks, and I will check that out now.

Rusty: I write what I love. I have no idea, I noticed that too. I think that little Google program was fouled up for a couple weeks. There were a bunch of blogs that I know I was following, but had dropped off. So I re-followed.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Best of the day. And all this time I thought ninjas wore plaid green and red outfits. Have a great weekend.

Jay Noel said...

Stephen, they do wear plaid green when they're on holiday in any of the celtic lands.

Mr. Shife said...

My Dad was stationed in Japan for a bit and I really enjoyed learning about the Japanese culture. I enjoyed The Last Samurai as a film but you are right on about the historical inaccuracies. The samurai are one of my favorite aspects of the Japanese culture. I find them absolutely fascinating. Have a good one, and best of luck with your WIP.

Mohamed Mughal said...

Your writing involves research and historical context, two ingredients that ensure growth of a writer's base of knowledge. You'll continue to tap that base in future works, so it's time well-invested.

Thanks for the comment you left on one of my recent blog posts. Your feedback was helpful and would certainly help improve that piece of writing!

David P. King said...

I'm saving this post for later, just so you know. This will be a great resource when I finally get around to my story that has samurais in it. :)

Jay Noel said...

Shife: The Japanese culture fascinates me as well. Thanks man!

Mohamed: Since my book's setting is an alternative world, I still wanted the reader to be able to recognize things within it's "correct" historical context, but have some fun with what is so vastly different than what we know. And no problem!

David: Glad I could help.

The Desert Rocks said...

The samurai and suicide part make me think that maybe they evolved into kamakazi pilots? Good luck with your novel--it sure sounds interesting. Steampunk Samurai? Wow.

M Pax said...

Cool misx on the samurai, steampunk and pirates. Hope we all get to read your masterpiece in the near future.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

was i dont care about this stuff i have to learn about this in class

Anonymous said...

Everything it is, we must take the wisdom from that movie.. We are can't forget who we are..

Anonymous said...

The plot of Last Samurai is not factual based but the depiction of Samurai, Japan and the period in which it is set is very accurate.

Anonymous said...

Tom Cruise didnt dodge bullets from the gatling guns. He got shot multiple times. If you are going to make statements make sure they are correct.

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