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7 Samurai Myths

The popular image of the Japanese Samurai warrior as a well educated, spiritual and honorable gentlemen does not tell the whole story. Each generation tells the story of the Samurai according to its own values and attitudes rather than based on history. Some common myths about Samurai include:

1. Seppuku for honor
In popular mythology Samurai are quick to commit Seppuku to preserve their honor.

While it is true that Samurai warriors would sometimes end their own life, their motivation was not always to preserve their honor. The primary motivation for Seppuku was often very practical: to avoid a terrible end at the hands of one's enemies.


2. Samurai don't retreat
Studies indicate that Samurai were as practical on the battle field as any other warrior. Reports written by Samurai warriors indicated they sometimes attacked and then retreated when they began to experience casualties.
samurai battle

3. Samurai were dependent on swords
The Samurai warrior is usually portrayed as being entirely dependent on his sword (katana) for fighting. Indeed, the Bushido teaches that the katana is the Samurai's soul. However, in reality the Samurai used a wide range of weapons from short knifes to cannon. Research indicates that arrows and long spears called yari were the weapons of choice in large battles. In feudal Japan, katana were indeed prized possessions passed from generation to generation. In fact, they may have been considered too precious to be used in battle as they were often the the Samurai's most expensive possession.
samurai movie

4. Samurai Gentlemen
In popular lore Samurai were all loyal and law abiding. Modern romanticism about Samurai portrays them as diligent followers of the Bushido code of conduct. In fact, infighting and disputes amongst Samurai were commonplace and Samurai could be disloyal or deceitful. Examples of wayward Samurai are easy to find in history such as Akechi Mitsuhide who betrayed his master and committed multiple acts of treachery.
samurai fighting

5. Samurai were few
The first comprehensive survey in the Meiji era counted the Samurai at 1,774,000 out of a total population of about 25 million people. That means that Samurai were about 7% of the population at the end of the 19th century. In fact, many modern Japanese can find some Samurai connections in their family tree.
samurai armor

6. Samurai were merciful
Samurai are often portrayed as having modern ideas about fairness and justice. Samurai are even depicted as being protectors of the poor and weak against the tyranny of the elite. Nothing could be further from the truth. Samurai were used by lords to extract taxes and tribute from commoners. A Samurai could kill a commoner for the slightest insult and were widely feared by the Japanese population. Samurai are said to have tested new swords on prisoners. It is unlikely that many Samurai had modern ideas about fairness and equality as they are portrayed in popular myth.
japanese history

7. Samurai were all battle hardened
The Edo era saw an extended time of peace during which no major battles were fought. During this long peace many Samurai became scholars, bureaucrats, administrators or leisurely gentlemen rather than warriors. The Samurai gradually lost their military function and their katana and wakizashi became a status symbol more than a weapon.
samurai culture
japanese samurai

This is the major reason that the Samurai were disbanded. When it came time to modernize Japan's military to deal with threats from abroad Emperor Meiji decided the Samurai were unfit for the task.

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For more information check out:
10 best Samurai movies of all time
Japanese history
Samurai guide
Samurai photos

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