The Art of the Samurai
Written by Toby Osborne, illustration by Tomer and Asaf Hanuka
The art and splendour of these strong and noble ‘knights’ of Japan lives on. With armoured costumes and weaponry, the Samurai were renowned for their chivalrous code of conduct, Bushido, known as ‘the way of the warrior’.
The military elite of feudal Japan, Samurai, were feared, respected, and honoured. They became a ruling class of their own and reigned supreme nearly 400 years ago.
Yet their legacy continues to stand tall, playing an important role in the Japanese psyche, culture, and history. Their suits of armour, complete with expressive and artistically-designed face masks, remain – seemingly possessed by the spirits of their past owners – an enduring tribute to these heroic men.
A Unique Philosophy
Borne out of a fusion of Buddhism and Shintoism, Bushido instilled the value of loyal obedience to one’s master, until death. In terms of the Japanese dictionary definition of Bushido, this ‘unique philosophy spread through the warrior class’ as an unwritten code of moral principles, which grew and evolved organically over the course of centuries.
Weapons of the Samurai
By the Edo period in Japan (1603-1868), the katana, or ‘samurai sword’, was the weapon of choice. According to the Bushido, the katana is the Samurai’s ‘soul’. They were taught to name their precious katana blades as if they were living entities.
The son of a Samurai was traditionally given his first sword at birth; a simple charm sword with a dull edge. Upon turning 13 years old, a ceremony called ‘Genbaku’ was held, giving the male child his first real sword and armour, as well as an adult name, completing the transition to Samurai. Other weapons of the Samurai included a ‘yari’ (spear) and a ‘wakizashi’ – a small dagger, which was kept under his pillow in case of unexpected attack, or used to honourably commit suicide, ‘seppuku,’ a ritual disembowelment.
The Art of War
The Samurai played a crucial role in this bloody and violent conflict, which took place during an epic siege at a castle in Osaka, Japan.
The Samurai had served their masters well, and become an integral part of life in Japan. However, as the country became peaceful and the Emperor was restored to power, the Samurai would eventually be abolished in 1876.
Yet, the people of Japan would not soon forget these honourable heroes of the past. Following their demise, there was a surge in literature about the Samurai, which spread to the West as their imagery became romanticised in books and films. Now tourists from around the world can marvel at the treasured and preserved armour, swords, and artefacts of the Samurai generation. For instance, at Ozakajo’s museum, the famous antique screen may be viewed in all its glory, in addition to a miniature model battlefield featuring an army of Samurai in the heat of Osaka’s great battle.
Oryx tours Ozakajo
The grounds of Osaka Castle cover approximately 15 acres of land. With a five storey-tall exterior, and comprising eight storeys inside, Ozakajo or Osaka-j? (‘j?’ means castle in Japanese) is equipped with a huge moat to deter invaders, making this a formidable structure, which still dominates the Osaka city skyline with skyscrapers looming close behind.
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A Warrior’s Armour
The life-saving and intimidating costume of the Samurai was constructed from metal, bamboo, and cloth. While the Japanese armour was not unlike an English knight’s, it was considerably lighter, allowing for fast hand-to-hand combat and swordsmanship, but lesser protection than solid metal. The primary ingredient, therefore, was bamboo, with a metal chest plate covering the vital organs.