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In Japan, Samurai were of the military elite during the medieval and early-modern period.

In Japanese, they are known as bushi or buke. By the 12th century, the word samurai became synonymous with bushi. It was closely associated with the middle and upper ranks of the warrior class.

Usually associated with a clan and their lord, the samurai also followed a set of rules that later came to be known as the bushidō. Although the samurai numbered less than 10% of Japan's former population, their teachings are still found today in both everyday life and modern Japanese martial arts.

After hundreds of years of enjoyment of their status, powers, and ability to shape the government of Japan, the samurai came to an end. The samurai class was abolished during the Meiji reforms in the late 19th century, and a western-style national army was established. The Imperial Japanese Armies were recruited, but many samurai volunteered as soldiers and even advanced to be trained as officers. Many soldiers of the Imperial Army class were of samurai origin, and were highly disciplined, motivated, and exceptionally trained.

The samurai culture was influenced by the philosophies of Buddhism and Zen, and to a lesser extent Confucianism and Shinto. Zen meditation became a principal teaching because of the process to calm one's mind.

The Buddhist concept of reincarnation and rebirth swayed samurai to abandon torture and needless killing. Some samurai even gave up violence altogether and became Buddhist monks after realizing how idle their killings were. However, some were killed as they came to terms with these realizations on the battlefield.

The most significant role that Confucianism played in samurai philosophy was to stress the importance of the lord-retainer relationship. It is the concept of samurai requiring to show loyalty to his lord.

Most samurai were bound by a code of honor and were expected to set an example for those below their rank. A notable part of their code is seppuku, which allowed a disgraced samurai to regain his honor by committing his own execution, as samurai were still obligated to social rules.

Samurai warriors described themselves as followers of Bushido, or "The Way of the Warrior". By the Japanese dictionary Shogakukan Kokugo Daijiten, Bushidō is defined as "a unique philosophy that spread through the warrior class from the Muromachi 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".

photo of Japanese samurai one photo of Japanese samurai two photo of Japanese samurai three

Where to Experience Samurai in Japan

photo of Hirosaki Samurai District

Tohoku | Aomori | Hirosaki

Hirosaki Samurai District

The Hirosaki Samurai District consists of four samurai houses that served the Tsugaru Clan long ago during the Edo period.

photo of Usuki Samurai District

Kyushu | Oita | Usuki

Usuki Samurai District

A well preserved samurai district with Edo period architecture close to the ruins of Usuki Castle located in Usuki, Oita Prefecture.

photo of Matsue Samurai District

Chugoku | Shimane | Matsue

Matsue Samurai District

Historic buildings, former samurai residences, traditional Japanese style tea houses, and more can be found in the Matsue Samurai District.

photo of Kakunodate Samurai District

Tohoku | Akita | Kakunodate

Kakunodate Samurai District

The Kakunodate Samurai District has been around since 1620 when Yoshikatsu Ashina became the lord of the area.

photo of Aizu Bukeyashiki

Tohoku | Fukushima | Aizu Wakamatsu

Aizu Bukeyashiki

Aizu Bukeyashiki was a samurai residence that once belonged to a powerful member of the Aizu Clan until it was burned down and eventually restored.

photo of Kitsuki Samurai District

Kyushu | Oita | Kunisaki Peninsula

Kitsuki Samurai District

A unique and well preserved samurai district located in Oita Prefecture, Japan.

photo of Hagi Former Castle Town

Chugoku | Yamaguchi | Hagi

Hagi Former Castle Town

A former castle town ruled by the Mori Clan and hometown to Hagiyaki Pottery located at Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan.

photo of Nagamachi Samurai District

Chubu | Ishikawa | Kanazawa

Nagamachi Samurai District

Nagamachi Samurai District is located at the foot of Kanazawa Castle and preserves a traditional atmosphere.

photo of Tsuwano Old Town

Chugoku | Shimane | Tsuwano

Tsuwano Old Town

Tsuwano Old Town is distinguished for its historically prominent buildings and well-preserved samurai residences.

photo of Nikko Edomura (Edo Wonderland)

Kanto | Tochigi | Kinugawa Onsen

Nikko Edomura (Edo Wonderland)

Nikko Edomura is a Japanese cultural theme park that centers on the lifestyle from the golden age of the Edo Period.

photo of Toei Uzumasa Eigamura

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Toei Uzumasa Eigamura

Toei Uzumasa Eigamura is a film set and theme park in one with many attractions available.

photo of Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura

Hokkaido | Noboribetsu

Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura

A history theme park that is based on the Edo Period and showcases the lifestyle 400 years ago.

photo of Azuchi Momoyama Bunka Mura

Kansai | Mie | Ise

Azuchi Momoyama Bunka Mura

Azuchi Momoyama Bunka Mura is a theme park centered on the Azuchi Momoyama Period (1573-1603).