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.
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.