he identity of Japanese samurai is more of a hereditary legacy than a profession. Whether as a male samurai or as a female member of a samurai family, they belong to the military class, regardless of whether they have ever held a katana. However, samurai are not limited to purely military roles. Some samurai are very prestigious scholars. Samurai can serve as civil and military administrators, clergy, painters, and aesthetes. Some samurai are simply family members of samurai families. However, theoretically all samurai should be proficient in archery and horse riding.
Female family members of samurai also need to receive training to use the short tanto carried in the belt. This tanto is collected in a brocade box wrapped in fabric, like the samurai sword worn by men, it is a symbol of their identity. Women of the upper class will also be trained to use a specific weapon, Naginata (a kind of halberd), which is a weapon used by women and is the last line of defense for home defense. At night, feudal lords usually let groups of women holding Naginata patrol the inner courtyard.
Many Buddhist monks – at least those from most classes – become samurai as soon as they are born. The religious world is a field that does not emphasize the origin of its members (after all, one should abandon the secular lifestyle after being ordained), but this is not very common. Some wealthy and powerful lords, after accepting the precepts of Buddhism, continue to manage their territories and command their own armies. Takeda Shingen (1521-1573) and Uesugi Kenshin (1530-1578) are two famous cases of this situation. For most Ashigaru, the real life that their rank allows them to live is just enough to maintain a glorious dream. Ironically, it was Toyotomi Hideyoshi himself – a man of peasant origin, who rose from the position of fetching slippers for his master to the ruler of all Japan – that made it more difficult to realize those glorious dreams, because his decree of separation of soldiers and farmers restricted people of the same origin as him.
For a considerable period, the Confucian concept of strict social hierarchy did not receive official recognition in Japan. It was not until the Tokugawa Shogunate that the Japanese government began to officially encourage the spread of this concept in order to firmly control society. In fact, there has always been a strong undercurrent of Confucianism in Japanese samurai culture, and everyone has more or less accepted a lot of Confucian thought. The samurai’s concept of hierarchy is also related to the Buddhist worldview of predestination.
As a Japanese samurai, there is a strong fear of losing their daimyo, and the social structure is correspondingly dependent on the inherent spiritual dependence between the servant and the lord. Losing the lord and becoming a ronin (a samurai without a lord) means losing the support and protection of any family power. If the lord dies and there is no heir, his family will become ronin. The family may also be expelled from the family for committing crimes, such as fighting or violating family rules.
Sometimes, a ceremony called Genpuku (元服礼) is held for 13 to 15 year old prospective samurai. For some noble families, this usually happens before the first formal participation in the war. Genpuku is a coming-of-age ceremony. From then on, the boy’s hair will be trimmed in the style of an adult: the hair on the top of the head is shaved off, and the other hair is tied into an adult-style bun. In addition, they have to wear an adult-style hat, called a crown. In some cases, if the samurai family to which they belong happens to be in a war, the hat-changing ceremony will become a change of a suit of Samurai armor. For women in samurai families, at least in higher-ranking families, the coming-of-age ceremony they experience is called a skirt. At the skirt ceremony, they shave their eyebrows for the first time and dye their teeth black. The latter needs to be achieved by using iron oxide dye, which is a court tradition of ancient Japanese upper-class women. This also means that they are ready to get married. At that time, their marriages were mostly political marriages used to consolidate family relationships.
All samurai have duties and receive salaries. They need to use their salaries to buy all the equipment they need and decorate their houses (if they have them). The basis of the samurai economy is rice, and the amount of rice that can feed a person for a year is used as a unit of measurement, called “stone”. Stone is a universal unit of measurement for samurai wealth, and one stone is equivalent to 120 liters. The income of the lowest-ranking samurai is slightly less than one stone (assuming that their food consumption is all accounted for by the family owner).
Medium lords or castle owners may have a salary of several hundred stones. He needs to use these salaries to support the samurai who serve him, repair the castle, raise horses, raise servants, etc. For convenience, cash is used when paying bills, but the samurai economy is essentially a rice-based economy. Even the Takeda family in Kai Province – most of Japan’s most valuable gold mines are located in this province – also needs rice to support the soldiers. Rice is so important that many farmers who grow rice cannot eat the rice exclusively for samurai, but can only eat millet. The harvested rice is sent to the lord’s castle for measurement, and then stored or distributed.
Within the samurai clan, various positions are arranged to undertake various responsibilities. In some respects, it is similar to the practice of modern armies: everyone is a soldier, some are cooks, some are secretaries, some are responsible for transportation, and some are responsible for other more confidential affairs.
The samurai stationed in the castle can freely adjust their work-if their job level is high enough. After promotion, you may not always work in one area. If a samurai gets a higher-level job, he needs to fully understand all the details of the castle or even the entire territory needed to command and maintain an army.
During the shogunate era in Japan, samurai were not allowed to insult others, especially their colleagues. If a samurai insulted a colleague, he would be punished by a fine at the very least, and at worst, he might be asked to commit seppuku (ritual suicide).
However, the shogunate didn’t care whether ordinary Japanese people insulted others or not.Of course, no bored Japanese commoner would dare to insult a samurai.
During the Kamakura shogunate, the shogunate’s definition of “insulting” was very strict. Not to mention greeting the other’s female relatives (which could likely result in a verdict of seppuku), even casually commenting on other samurai could be considered as “insulting”.
For example, if a high-ranking samurai commented on a low-ranking samurai, saying that the low-ranking samurai “has been receiving my family’s favor for generations”, if the high-ranking samurai cannot provide evidence to prove this, he can be deemed by the shogunate as “insulting” and will be punished.
However, the shogunate was not always strictly controlling the samurai on the issue of whether it was “insulting”. As long as evidence could be provided, it would not be considered an insult.
For example, the aforementioned greeting to the other’s female relatives, of course, counts as an insult; but if one factually says “how your mother was when she was a dancer”, as long as it can be proven to be true, the shogunate will not consider it as “insulting”.
This also resulted in a situation where Japanese samurai began to attach great importance to family honor from the Middle Ages. Many times, they would rather die than let their family be humiliated. The reason is that they are afraid of being caught by other samurai and being talked about for decades.