Nasuno yoichiSamurai (侍) is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. In Chinese, the character 侍 was originally a verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society, and this is also true of the original term in Japanese, saburau. In both countries the terms were nominalized to mean “those who serve in close attendance to the nobility,” the pronunciation in Japanese changing to saburai. An early reference to the word “samurai” appears in the Kokin Wakashū, the first imperial anthology of poems, completed in the first part of the 10th century.

By the end of the 12th century, samurai became almost entirely synonymous with bushi (武士), and the word was closely associated with the middle and upper echelons of the warrior class. The samurai followed a set of rules that came to be known as Bushidō, meaning the way of the sword.

Following the Battle of Hakusukinoe against Tang China and Silla in 663 AD that led to a Japanese retreat from Korean affairs, Japan underwent widespread reform. One of the most important was that of the Taika Reform, issued by Prince Naka no Ōe (Emperor Tenji) in 646 AD. This edict allowed the Japanese aristocracy to adopt the Tang Dynasty political structure, bureaucracy, culture, religion, and philosophy. As part of the Taihō Code, of 702 AD, and the later Yōrō Code, the population was required to report regularly for census, which was used as a precursor for national conscription. With an understanding of how the population was distributed, Emperor Mommu introduced the law whereby 1 in 3–4 adult males was drafted into the national military. These soldiers were required to supply their own weapons, and in return were exempted from duties and taxes.3 This was one of the first attempts by the Imperial government to form an organized army modeled after the Chinese system. It was called gundan-sei (軍団制) by later historians and is believed to have been short-lived.

The Taihō Code classified most of the imperial bureaucrats into 12 ranks, each divided into two sub-ranks, 1st rank being the highest adviser to the emperor. Those of 6th rank and below were referred to as “samurai” and dealt with day-to-day affairs. Although these “samurai” were civilian public servants, the name is believed to have derived from this term. Military men, however, would not be referred to as “samurai” until later on.

BattleIn the early Heian period, the late 8th and early 9th centuries, Emperor Kammu sought to consolidate and expand his rule in northern Honshū, but the armies he sent to conquer the rebellious Emishi people lacked motivation and discipline, and failed in their task. Emperor Kammu introduced the title of Seiitaishogun (征夷大将軍) or shogun, and began to rely on the powerful regional clans to conquer the Emishi. Skilled in mounted combat and archery (kyūdō), these clan warriors became the emperor’s preferred tool for putting down rebellions. Although this is the first time ‘shogun’ title is used, it was a temporal title and had not been accompanied with political power until 13th century, and at this time (7th to 9th century) the imperial court officials considered them to be merely military section under control of imperial court.

Ultimately, Emperor Kammu disbanded his army. From this time, the emperor’s power gradually declined. While the emperor was still the ruler, powerful clans around Kyoto (京都) assumed positions as ministers, and their relatives bought positions as magistrates. To amass wealth and repay their debts, magistrates often imposed heavy taxes, resulting in many farmers becoming landless. Through protective agreements and political marriages, they accumulated political power, eventually surpassing the traditional aristocracy.

Some clans were originally formed by farmers who had taken up arms to protect themselves from the imperial magistrates sent to govern their lands and collect taxes. These clans formed alliances to protect themselves against more powerful clans, and by the mid-Heian period they had adopted characteristic Japanese armour and weapons, and laid the foundations of Bushido, their ethical code.

After the Genpei war, a clan leader Minamoto no Yoritomo obtained right to appoint shugo and jito, and allowed to organize soldiers and police, and to collect certain amount of tax. Though the initial responsibility was restricted to arresting rebels and collecting needed army provisions, and forbidden to interfere kokushi governors, the responsibility expanded gradually and thus samurai-class appeared as political ruling power in Japan.

Samurai warriors described themselves as followers of “The Way of the Warrior” or Bushido. Bushidō is defined by the Japanese dictionary Shogakukan Kokugo Daijiten as "a unique philosophy (ronri) that spread through the warrior class from the Muromachi (chusei) period. From the earliest times, the Samurai felt that the path of the warrior was one of honor, emphasizing duty to one’s master, and loyalty unto death. Feudal lords such as Shiba Yoshimasa stated that a warrior looked forward to a glorious death in the service of a military leader or the emperor: “It is a matter of regret to let the moment when one should die pass by….First, a man whose profession is the use of arms should think and then act upon not only his own fame, but also that of his descendants. He should not scandalize his name forever by holding his one and only life too dear….One’s main purpose in throwing away his life is to do so either for the sake of the Emperor or in some great undertaking of a military general. It is that exactly that will be the great fame of one’s descendants.”

Samurai can be built using:

  • Warrior, Monster hunters 1: Champions pg 19
  • Knight, DF1: Adventurers pg 8
  • Swashbuckler, DF1: Adventurers pg 11
  • Weapon master, Action 3: Furious Fists pg 11

A dojo master should add Instructor (Martial Arts pg 35).

A retired Samurai may add Monk (Martial Arts pg 37).


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