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Article - 'Culture of Japan – Life of a Samurai' by KaosTenshi

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Aug 8, 2003

Blurb

The fourth in a series of articles about Japan’s most bloody time, delving into life of the average samurai boy.

Body

Welcome to the fourth in a series of articles about the Sengoku Period of Japan, the age of the country at war, delving into the life of the average samurai boy.



Birth

To be a samurai was to be born a samurai; one could not simply chose to become one as a profession. If a boy was not born a samurai, he could be adopted into a samurai clan as well. Six days after being born, a boy would be given a ‘yomyo’, or youth name that he would use in his childhood. Born left-handed? Well that’s just too bad. Since a boy was to become a soldier one day and had to know how to use a katana, he simply wasn’t allowed to use his left hand. So, boys were trained rigorously to use their right hands for everything.



School

Everything was about working in a group with other boys, from the earliest of childhood games. You were taught to cooperate with others, and be unselfish. When a boy turned seven, he attended school with other samurai boys where he was taught how to read and write. By about three years later, a boy would be spending roughly twelve hours a day at school! He would be taught how to fight, as well as the arts, such as playing the shakuhachi (bamboo flute), writing haiku (Japanese poetry), and fine calligraphy. A boy would also learn by listening to his elder samurai talk about battles and past victories. Since a boy had to be a gentleman as well as a warrior, he was also trained in self-discipline, good manners, and respect for his elders.



War Games

Since a boy would become a fighter, many clans saw to it that even during his time at home he would be taught to fight. He was taught how to play board games such as Go to train himself to have a strategic mind. He would also learn how to wrestle wearing armor, chasing wild horses, how to fight on horseback, and even how to tie up a man! After all, if the wrong kind of knot were used, a prisoner could escape.



Genbaku

Between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, a boy would undergo a ceremony and receive a ‘Genbaku’, a ‘coming of age’ name that he would use throughout the rest of his life. This marked the transition from being a boy to being a man. A young man would be given a new, adult haircut that marked him as being a samurai, and would be given a suit of armor, making him ready to serve his Daimyo.



Marriage

Young men had little more choice in this matter than women did; if a clan chose a wife for him, he was usually forced to marry her to solidify a marriage alliance between two clans. If his wife could not provide sons for him, then it was naturally considered her fault and not his.



Life of a Samurai

Every morning, a samurai man wakes up and has breakfast with his wife and children before going to the castle. If he is a samurai of low rank, then he likely has a job as a lookout, patrolling the castle or the streets of the surrounding city. After having lunch, he will practice for a couple of hours every day. In the afternoon he joins his fellow samurai at a hot springs to bathe and socialize before visiting a temple. After going back to work for a few hours, he has dinner with his fellow samurai. A couple of hours later he returns home, and his wife tells him what she and the children did all day.



However, when a samurai was called to war, he followed his Daimyo everywhere as a member of the army. He could spend weeks or even months without returning home, or even to a small village. While no one knows exactly how many samurai managed to live to die of old age, it is known that casualties for all battles were disgustingly high numbers. During the Sengoku Period, a samurai such as our average example here would most likely be killed in the battlefield.







Next Article: A Sengoku Period Village; a look at the average peasant village and the people living in it.