samurai


samurai

Member of the Japanese warrior class. In early Japanese history, culture was associated with the imperial court, and warriors were accorded low status. The samurai became important with the rise in private estates (shoen), which needed military protection. Their power increased, and when Minamoto Yoritomo became the first shogun (military ruler) of the Kamakura period (1192–1333), they became the ruling class. They came to be characterized by the ethic of bushido, which stressed discipline, stoicism, and service. Samurai culture developed further under the Ashikaga shoguns of the Muromachi period (1338–1573). During the long interval of peace of the Tokugawa period (1603–1867), they were largely transformed into civil bureaucrats. As government employees, they received a stipend that was worth less and less in the flourishing merchant economy of the 18th–19th centuries in Edo (Tokyo) and Osaka. By the mid-19th century, lower-ranking samurai, eager for societal change and anxious to create a strong Japan in the face of Western encroachment, overthrew the shogunal government in the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Feudal distinctions were abolished in 1871. Some samurai rebelled (see Saigo Takamori), but most threw themselves into the task of modernizing Japan. See also daimyo; han.

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