Samurai II: Musashi's Challenge to the Kyoto Elite
Samurai 2: The Legacy of the Warrior Class in Japan
Samurai were the hereditary military nobility and officer caste of medieval and early-modern Japan from the late 12th century until their abolition in the 1870s during the Meiji era. They were the well-paid retainers of the daimyo, the great feudal landholders. They had high prestige and special privileges, such as wearing two swords and having the right to kill anyone of a lower class in certain situations. They also followed a code of conduct called bushido, which emphasized bravery, honor, loyalty, and self-sacrifice.
Samurai played a crucial role in the history and culture of Japan, influencing its politics, warfare, arts, and society. In this article, we will explore some of the aspects of samurai life and legacy, as well as some of the best samurai games that you can play if you are interested in this fascinating topic.
The Origins of Samurai
The term samurai was originally used to denote the aristocratic warriors (bushi) who served the imperial court and the provincial lords (shugo) in the Heian period (794-1185). They were skilled in archery, horseback riding, and swordsmanship. They also practiced Zen Buddhism and poetry.
However, the samurai truly emerged as a distinct class during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), when the first shogunate (military dictatorship) was established by Minamoto no Yoritomo. The shogun appointed his loyal vassals as military governors (shugo) and stewards (jitō) of various provinces, creating a feudal system that lasted for centuries. The samurai became the ruling political class, with significant power but also significant responsibility.
The Rise and Fall of Samurai
During the 13th century, the samurai proved themselves as adept warriors against the invading Mongols, who attempted to conquer Japan twice but failed due to typhoons that destroyed their fleets. The samurai also fought among themselves in various civil wars, such as the Genpei War (1180-1185), the Nanboku-chō War (1336-1392), and the Ōnin War (1467-1477).
During the Muromachi period (1336-1573), under the influence of Zen Buddhism, the samurai culture produced many unique arts, such as the tea ceremony, flower arranging, ink painting, and Noh theater. The ideal samurai was supposed to be a stoic warrior who followed an unwritten code of conduct called bushido, which held bravery, honor, and personal loyalty above life itself. Ritual suicide by disembowelment (seppuku) was institutionalized as a respected alternative to dishonor or defeat.
During the Sengoku period (1467-1603), Japan was divided into warring states ruled by daimyo, who competed for land and power. The samurai became more professionalized and diversified, adopting firearms and other innovations from Europe. Some of the most famous samurai of this era were Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Uesugi Kenshin, Takeda Shingen, Date Masamune, Sanada Yukimura, and Miyamoto Musashi.
During the Edo period (1603-1868), Japan was unified under the Tokugawa shogunate, which imposed a strict social order and a policy of isolation from foreign influences. The samurai were made a closed caste and were required to live in castle towns under their daimyo's supervision. They were also expected to serve as civil bureaucrats or take up some trade during the long peace that prevailed. However, their economic position was eroded by inflation and taxation. Some samurai became discontented with their status and rebelled against the shogunate in movements such as the Shimabara Rebellion (1637-1638), the Forty-seven Ronin Incident (1701-1703), and the Meiji Restoration (1868).
The Meiji Restoration ended the feudal system and abolished the samurai class. The former samurai were encouraged to adopt western-style clothing and education. Some of them became leaders of modern Japan in politics, business, education, and culture The Legacy of Samurai
Although the samurai class was abolished, their legacy lives on in many aspects of Japanese culture and society. For example, the samurai values of loyalty, honor, and discipline are still respected and admired by many Japanese people. The samurai also influenced the development of martial arts, such as kendo, judo, karate, aikido, and ninjutsu. The samurai sword (katana) is still considered a symbol of Japan and a work of art. The samurai armor and helmet (yoroi and kabuto) are also prized as historical artifacts and cultural icons.
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The samurai also left a rich heritage of literature, art, and philosophy. Some of the most famous works include The Tale of the Heike, a 13th-century epic that recounts the Genpei War; Hagakure, a 17th-century treatise on bushido by Yamamoto Tsunetomo; The Book of Five Rings, a 17th-century manual on strategy and swordsmanship by Miyamoto Musashi; and Chūshingura, an 18th-century play that dramatizes the Forty-seven Ronin Incident. The samurai also inspired many modern writers, artists, and filmmakers, such as Akira Kurosawa, Yasushi Inoue, Eiji Yoshikawa, James Clavell, and Quentin Tarantino.
The Best Samurai Games
If you are interested in experiencing the samurai world for yourself, there are many video games that can immerse you in this fascinating era. Here are some of the best samurai games that you can play on various platforms:
Samurai Shodown is a classic fighting game series that debuted in 1993. It features a roster of colorful characters based on historical and fictional samurai, ninjas, monks, and other warriors from the 18th century Japan. The game is known for its fast-paced combat, weapon-based attacks, and special moves. The latest installment, Samurai Shodown (2019), is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia, Windows PC, and Arcade.
Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima is an open-world action-adventure game that was released in 2020. It is set in the late 13th century during the first Mongol invasion of Japan. You play as Jin Sakai, one of the last surviving samurai who must fight to protect his island from the invaders. You can explore a beautiful and realistic depiction of feudal Japan, engage in stealth or direct combat with various weapons and skills, and choose between following the honorable way of the samurai or the dishonorable way of the ghost.
Nioh is a dark fantasy action role-playing game that was released in 2017. It is loosely based on the life of William Adams, an English sailor who became one of the first Western samurai in Japan. You play as William, who travels to Japan in search of a mysterious stone that can grant immortality. You must fight your way through hordes of demons (yokai) and humans using various weapons, magic, and guardian spirits. You can also customize your character's appearance, skills, and equipment. The sequel, Nioh 2 (2020), is a prequel that lets you create your own half-human half-yokai protagonist.
Samurai Warriors is a spin-off of the popular Dynasty Warriors series that focuses on the Sengoku period of Japan. It is a hack-and-slash game that lets you control one of dozens of playable characters based on historical figures from the era. You can participate in large-scale battles against thousands of enemies using various weapons and abilities. You can also experience different scenarios and stories depending on your choices and actions. The latest installment, Samurai Warriors 5 (2021), features revamped graphics and gameplay.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an action-adventure game that was released in 2019. It is set in a fictionalized version of Japan during the late 16th century Sengoku period. You play as Wolf (Sekiro), a shinobi who serves a young lord with a special bloodline. You must use your prosthetic arm and katana to fight against various enemies, including human warriors, giant animals, and supernatural beings. The game is known for its high difficulty level and rewarding combat system.
Samurai were more than just warriors; they were a social class that shaped the history and culture of Japan for centuries. They left behind a legacy that can still be seen and felt in many aspects of Japa