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#1 nee

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Posted 02 March 2008 - 06:46 AM

I was watching The Last Samurai the other day, and I was wondering- did the Samurai had an elaborate hierarchy system in terms of "greater" and "lesser/minor" Samurai, like, say, the Western feudalist model of one lord subject to greater, more powerful lords holding "bigger" titles? I looked up Ashigaru as well, and the minor soldiers in the movie just doesn't seem to fit into that category or light infantry. Anyone elaborate on this? Would really help to make Western comparisons and state equivalents if possible.

#2 大泽升龙

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Posted 02 March 2008 - 11:48 AM

I was watching The Last Samurai the other day, and I was wondering- did the Samurai had an elaborate hierarchy system in terms of "greater" and "lesser/minor" Samurai, like, say, the Western feudalist model of one lord subject to greater, more powerful lords holding "bigger" titles? I looked up Ashigaru as well, and the minor soldiers in the movie just doesn't seem to fit into that category or light infantry. Anyone elaborate on this? Would really help to make Western comparisons and state equivalents if possible.


I think it depends on the rank of the lord the samurai serves. Literally, "sumurai" means "shi" (servant) in Chinese.

#3 Moonstone

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Posted 02 March 2008 - 12:08 PM

I think it depends on the rank of the lord the samurai serves. Literally, "sumurai" means "shi" (servant) in Chinese.


Although the Chinese character 侍 ("servant") has often been used to transcribe /samurai/, the etymology of the Japanese word is traditionally thought to be derived from an Old Japanese verbal phrase meaning "continuously guarding/watching well" (/sa-/ "good, well, nicely; true, real, truly; young, youthful; fresh; early; Spring" + /mor-/ "to guard, to watch over" + /-p/ frequentative suffix "~ over and over again, ~ continuously" + /-i/ nominalizer "one who ~, that which ~"). Old Japanese had many of these somewhat polysynthetic verbal compounds. In any case, the original meaning of /samurai/ might have been closer to "guard, bodyguard, watchman" than to "servant."

The deverbal noun /samurai/ is also related to the Classical Japanese polite verb suffix (sort of equivalent to modern /-masu/), /-saburaf(-u)/ ~ /-sauraf(-u)/ > Modern Japanese /-sooroo/ (obsolete polite verb suffix).

Edited by Moonstone, 02 March 2008 - 12:14 PM.


#4 LongMa

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Posted 02 March 2008 - 01:53 PM

Samurai were ranked based on pay level called "koku".

Each Han (fief) was measured by wealth in koku.

A koku (石/石高, koku?) is a unit of volume in Japan, equal to ten cubic shaku. In this definition, 3.5937 koku equal one cubic metre, or 1 koku is approximately 278.3 litres. The koku was originally defined as quantity of rice, historically defined as enough rice to feed one person for one year (one masu is enough rice to feed a person for one day). A koku of rice weighs about 150 kilograms (23.6 stone or 330 pounds).


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koku


The Japanese samurai caste itself had different ranks with different privileges. A basic ranking system from the twelfth century distinguished three major ranks:

* kenin - meaning "housemen". They were the administrators or vassals.
* mounted samurai - Only high-ranking samurai warriors were allowed to fight on horse-back.
* foot soldiers

During the end of the 15th century, the Ashikaga shogunate had lost control over the country. Powerful feudal lords had ravaged Japan in a series of civil wars lasting for roughly 100 years. When Toyotomi Hideyoshi could finally unify Japan, he introduced a series of reforms thus changing the life of the samurai class. He made the samurai live permanently in castles. Until then they were farming their own land during peacetime. It was like the change from an army of draftees to an army of professionals. To finance the system, Toyotomi Hideyoshi introduced a rice taxation system under which every samurai warrior received a certain amount of rice depending on his rank.


There was a good movie called Twilight Samurai which showed that there were many poor Samurai families.

http://en.wikipedia....wilight_Samurai

By the Tokugawa period Japan had a caste system set up so Samurai could no longer farm or legally engage in trade of crafts. Some did to substitute their income (especially at the end of the Tokugawa) but it was considered demeaning.

The ranks by the end of the Tokugawa were rigid and as followed:

* The Emperor
* The Shogun
* The Daimyo
* Samurai warriors
* The Farmers
* The Craftsmen
* The Merchants
* Women


Actually women had almost no status besides being the property of their father or husband. It was not always like that in Japan. My wife blames Japanese adoption of Confucianism, before that women seemed to have status and were also key to Shintoism as being more inline with the Sun Goddess.

So one could be higher in class status but poor. This happened in Europe at the end of the Dark Ages, where you had 2nd and 3rd sons of nobles who were landless and poorer than the new merchant classes. In Spain and Portugal many of these landless nobles went abroad to seek their fortune in the Americas.
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#5 mariusj

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Posted 02 March 2008 - 03:27 PM

Actually women had almost no status besides being the property of their father or husband. It was not always like that in Japan. My wife blames Japanese adoption of Confucianism, before that women seemed to have status and were also key to Shintoism as being more inline with the Sun Goddess.

So one could be higher in class status but poor. This happened in Europe at the end of the Dark Ages, where you had 2nd and 3rd sons of nobles who were landless and poorer than the new merchant classes. In Spain and Portugal many of these landless nobles went abroad to seek their fortune in the Americas.


I don't think that is because of Confucianism. Japanese government before Tokugawa [which really is a very very feudal] are mostly Buddhist, and their woman was treated pretty much the same way. In the time of warring period, their treatment was no better in proportion. In Edo period, it is worse simply because Japanese society advanced enough to have luxury. For example, one thing I hate the most about Edo was their treatment of prostitute; they [Japanese] can free a slave, but woman are properties. But if you think of it, only because Edo was economically and socially better off then during the warring time period that they can allow prostitute to form in brothels and such. So I don't think it is the adoption of Confucianism, as even the worst Neo-Confucianism did not put female on property level but simply a tons of worthless restrictions on them.

#6 LongMa

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Posted 02 March 2008 - 03:59 PM

I don't think that is because of Confucianism. Japanese government before Tokugawa [which really is a very very feudal] are mostly Buddhist, and their woman was treated pretty much the same way. In the time of warring period, their treatment was no better in proportion. In Edo period, it is worse simply because Japanese society advanced enough to have luxury. For example, one thing I hate the most about Edo was their treatment of prostitute; they [Japanese] can free a slave, but woman are properties. But if you think of it, only because Edo was economically and socially better off then during the warring time period that they can allow prostitute to form in brothels and such. So I don't think it is the adoption of Confucianism, as even the worst Neo-Confucianism did not put female on property level but simply a tons of worthless restrictions on them.



This is true, but I think I should have defined the time period.

Confucianism came into Japan, not so much as a "religion" as in China or Korea but as part of a government philosophy, the way the idea of the Republic and the citizen came into Rome from Greece. This did not start in Tokugawa or in the Waring Period. I'm talking about the Asuka period.

This is when the Yamato court first started Sinizing Japanese political life, it was not as complete as in Vietnam or Korea but at this time they adopted many ideas from China in the ways of government and it is impossible to do that without bringing in Confucianism.

I agree that one can not completely blame Confucianism for the subjugation of women in Japan. I just think that was the main catalyst. As with a lot of things Japanese people adopt from foreign lands they often take it more serious than the mother country of the idea. As Japan became more militarized (during the Warring States Period) their ideas about state authority became more rigid, and most of this was based on Japanese ideas of Confucianism, this authority was held by the emperor, but the vessel that expressed it became the Shogun. So difference to the Shogun was difference to the Emperor.

Still the ideas of women being innately inferior to men and lower on the hierarchy of political/social culture than men and the codification of this was largely imported from China.

Before this time, in the villages, at least from what I have read (one book that stands out is "Premodern Japan: A Historical Survey", by Dr. Mikiso Hane). His research found that before this period, at the village level (where Japan was predominately rural scattered villages) women were not equal to men but much closer to it than in later times. He also notes that women had more power in the Yamato court, and women had long been dominate in Shintoism...in fact in the Wa state it was led by Himiko (the religious authority) and her brother (political authority)...according to the Chinese who documented the War. It is true we do not know if the actually became the Yamato Court or were Himiko lived in Japan, the Chinese were somewhat vague, but the idea was that women had more power.

Something else that Hane noted was that as time went on and more influence came from China in the form of literature people (mostly men) stopped writing about overt love relationships, about their family, etc. These things became improper, as men should suppress their emotions and feelings for women, etc and focus on the loyalty to the state (Shogunate, Emperor, etc).

In any case I believe there is a general trend in most societies that the closer you are to a hunter/gather existence the more power women had and the more equality. As civilization comes and politics becomes an organized event removed from the average local person and things become codified around institutions, women have lost power to men.

This is also true in Europe. Celtic women (as the Roman's recorded) had much power and fought with men in battle and even led men into battle. Something that Roman's found disgusting. The greatest rebellion in Roman Britain was lead by a woman, Boudicca, who almost succeeded running the Romans out of Britain. I can think of other examples in Central Asia of horseback woman warriors as well. Once division of labor occurs strongly and government is formalized women have almost always lost.

In Europe, the Celtic women lost when Celtic lands became Germanized and Catholicism. Catholics definitely taught that women were morally and socially inferior to men and they used the bible to justify their position (which was a Jewish and Roman idea).

Edited by LongMa, 02 March 2008 - 04:05 PM.

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#7 nee

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Posted 02 March 2008 - 08:03 PM

So, in terms of Koku pay and localized prestige, being in the Samurai class did not necessarily mean you had a mount to fight as cavalry, and a fellow samurai next door would likely have very different income and so forth- the only real similarity would be just classified as in the same warrior class, am I right? So Samurai would generally refer to a warrior caste more so than nobility/wealth/rank?

#8 LongMa

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Posted 02 March 2008 - 08:59 PM

So, in terms of Koku pay and localized prestige, being in the Samurai class did not necessarily mean you had a mount to fight as cavalry, and a fellow samurai next door would likely have very different income and so forth- the only real similarity would be just classified as in the same warrior class, am I right? So Samurai would generally refer to a warrior caste more so than nobility/wealth/rank?


Generally yes, especially in the middle and late Tokugawa. There were Samurai who were that due to the family they were born and were grain clerks, or some other type of bureaucrat. I'm not sure what the percentage is, but after the Tokugawa "united" Japan there weren't that many wars going on, less need for "warriors" but to put down some uprisings. There were also no major invasion threats after the Mongols (Yuan Dynasty). You can say that most high ranking Samurai were also rich, but not all rich people were Samurai. Some of the wealthiest people in the late Tokugawa were the lowest class (merchants). Farmers were actually high in the caste system but tended to be quite poor. The system made little sense if you are thinking in terms of "economic class".

Also you are correct, to my knowledge most Samurai did not have horses.
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#9 SNK_1408

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Posted 04 March 2008 - 03:12 AM

Horses are not native animals of Japan, so having horse even to Samurai warrior was expensive and require privilege to own one. It needs at least two working men to look after single horse.

I think simple analogy of Samurai rank is something like this:

1. Shogunate rank - Lord of overlords
2. Daimyo rank - Overlords
3. Samurai officials rank - Warlords

Any detailed ranking mechanism - I don't know. But some of the Bushido code ranks is still used in Karate MA today.
But I was told, this ranking mechanism came adopted in Kofun period. Something similar to Bone-rank system used by Hwarang of Silla.

I think to be part of Shogun or Daimyo rank, Samurai must be member of higher clan, like Fujiwara clan of Japan.

Edited by SNK_1408, 04 March 2008 - 03:15 AM.

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#10 nee

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 10:28 AM

Thanks for the info. Also, Was there any visually distinct features that separated Samurai from Ashigaru or other Samurai? In the Last Samurai movie there were these soldiers that were similarly equipped to teh more major characters: were they lesser samurai or something?

#11 Lu Su

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 02:26 PM

Thanks for the info. Also, Was there any visually distinct features that separated Samurai from Ashigaru or other Samurai? In the Last Samurai movie there were these soldiers that were similarly equipped to teh more major characters: were they lesser samurai or something?


Not really its just the flow of the movie, but in an essence there were subclasses official or unoffical within each Samurai establishment of village. Respect and general recognition of abilties was important and sometimes heavily outweighed birth right nobility depending on the village or establishment.

One correction I do have to make is in the previously mentioned list putting women as the lowest class. The merchant class was considered the lowest as is outlined by various people form that age and Miyamoto Musashi himself. Inazo Nitobe, a well known Japanese philosopher and scholar of Bushido also states the classes clearly.

Women who were in a samurai family or a consort of a Bushi or retainer were held in very high regard. Obviously, the man or husbands word came first and was law in the family, but the women were allowed to express their own thoughts and views on things respectfully despite popular belief. Also, they were to be shown the very same respect as their husband by other classes and people or they would facet he same penalty as if they offended the husband or samurai. A samurai's wife or woman was thoroughly trained in artistic pursuits and learning, and by the age of 18 was expected to be a master of the naginata and other fighting arts. In their husbands absence they were the 'ruler' of the homestead and given full liscence as their husbands were to defend or kill if necessary to preserve themself or their children and home.

#12 SNK_1408

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 07:34 PM

Thanks for the info. Also, Was there any visually distinct features that separated Samurai from Ashigaru or other Samurai? In the Last Samurai movie there were these soldiers that were similarly equipped to teh more major characters: were they lesser samurai or something?


Yes, Ashigaru did wear armor but not symbolic style. They were simply conscripted foot-soldiers employed by shogunate lords. Any Samurai rank would have been much higher rank then Ashigaru soldiers.
Movies are just movies they tend to exaggerate and sometimes completely wrong.
The Last Samurai was just pure hollywood fantasy, Samurai already adopted arquebus as long range weapon over bows by 16th century.

The good example can be study from Hydeyoshi invasion of Korea.
According to Korean account conscripted foot-soldiers of Japanese invaders used arquebus and didn't wared full body armour like shown on movies. Only Samurai warlords and top ranking officials wared full brown samurai armour, but armour weren't effective with actual hand-to-hand combat, suggesting Samurai armour is more symbolic for displaying power and status.

Edited by SNK_1408, 16 April 2008 - 07:36 PM.

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#13 Aaron

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 09:56 PM

Yes, Ashigaru did wear armor but not symbolic style. They were simply conscripted foot-soldiers employed by shogunate lords. Any Samurai rank would have been much higher rank then Ashigaru soldiers.
Movies are just movies they tend to exaggerate and sometimes completely wrong.
The Last Samurai was just pure hollywood fantasy, Samurai already adopted arquebus as long range weapon over bows by 16th century.

The good example can be study from Hydeyoshi invasion of Korea.
According to Korean account conscripted foot-soldiers of Japanese invaders used arquebus and didn't wared full body armour like shown on movies. Only Samurai warlords and top ranking officials wared full brown samurai armour, but armour weren't effective with actual hand-to-hand combat, suggesting Samurai armour is more symbolic for displaying power and status.



Typically ashigaru armour was supplied by the daimyo as a form of uniform, and it also showed that they placed some value in these troops considering they actually were giving/loaning them armour. Before the Onin Wars, ashigaru were simply peasant troops who easily joined a daimyo's army (he accepted them to boost his numbers) but they also easily left after a defeat, victory, to go plunder, etc. The main reason being that many people saw the wars as a way to make money (join the army, fight, and then loot dead samurai). During the Onin Wars, the daimyo realized that not only were these people sometimes key for victory, but they also acted as a self sufficient force on their own. (Almost all of their rations came from their homes.)

It was during Hideyoshi's separation edict where we see the ashigaru and samurai blended together. Once it was put into effect, all those serving in the armies were effectively "samurai". The ones from a notable clan were more often than not rich, while the ones who were ashigaru were poor, or at least found wanting in terms of money. Though they were still afforded the respect given to a Samurai, in that they still were on the higher end of the class scale. And more often than not, with careful planning, these "ashigaru samurai" managed to acquire more money due to the fact that they were given a stipend by their regional lord (meaning that they were at least considered valuable).

As for ranks in a samurai clan, it's very obscure. However most of them are the result of members who have served for long generations. Meaning that only the older samurai (those in their 40s-60s) held these positions. And then there's a pecking order based on seniority, however there were instances where certain samurai were given higher ranking positions due to martial skill, or any excellent performance in areas useful for governance.

There is one rank which I do know the name of, that being Hatamoto. This rank could only be held by one born into a samurai family (meaning that ashigaru were not eligible to achieve this rank, no matter their martial prowess.) It was the highest rank that a samurai could be given (note a samurai, not a daimyo; who if born of a certain family, could attain the rank of Shogun*.)**

And thank you for pointing that out SNK_1408, the samurai adopted the arquebus during the 16th century. Hollywood likes to make the samurai seem almost untouchable in their perceived "honour". In fact the weapon was so highly praised that it was considered a great honour to be able to lead a gun unit into battle. The ashigaru were trained in the use of this weapon, because it was rather easy to use. Not to mention it didn't require the substantial amount of training needed to properly use a bow. Though going even further, it was by no means a "peasant" weapon. In fact the samurai would be given even more training with the arquebus, making it easily a weapon that the samurai would use.***

Anyways, I've rambled on about things which aren't even with the main topic, however I feel that this information is needed to understand samurai ranks. Considering that there is no written military ranking (or if there is, I'm not aware of it, and with that being fact it would most likely not be translated into English).

* Meaning: "Barbarian Subduing Generalissimo"
** This was how Tokugawa Ieyasu was able to become the Shogun, by him being able to prove his Minamoto ancestry to the Emperor.
*** Akechi Mitsuhide was well known for his skill and extensive training with guns.

Edited by Wen Chou, 22 April 2008 - 09:10 PM.


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#14 SNK_1408

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 09:57 PM

Thank you Wen Chou for detailed explanation.

Didn't know about Tokugawa is from Fujiwara ancestry, that explained why he was friendly with Joseon.
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#15 Aaron

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 09:13 PM

Sorry about that, I noticed a mistake in my post. It's been edited, but I originally meant to say that Tokugawa was able to prove his ancestry to the Minamoto family, though it is disputed by some historians. (I don't really know why I said Fujiwara, must be a combination of age and lack of sleep.)


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