A subject that arouses a lot of curiosity is the samurai. Many wonder who these characters were and what they represented. There are those who think that they never existed and are only characters of Japanese folklore. Today they represent only a part of Japanese history, but hundreds of years ago they played a very important role in Japanese society.
These warriors developed various skills during their military training, being able to wield various weapons such as daggers, bows, arrows, spears, shards and swords, the katana being the main sword and instrument of warfare. The katana had a mystical symbolism for the bushis because it represented the link between the samurai's body and his soul.
In this article we will see together:
- Who are samurai?
- What is harakiri?
- How do samurai influence the current fashion?
Who were the samurai?
Samurai ( 侍 ) was a term designating the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. In other words, they were Japanese warriors who defended the daymio (feudal lords). The word "samurai" is derived from archaic Japanese, from the verb "samorau", changed to "saburau", which means "to serve" or "he who serves". It was between the 12th and 14th centuries that they acquired great importance and prestige in society, being called martyrs.
Samurai Code of Honor and Conduct
The samurai had to follow a code of conduct called Bushido and a very strict code of ethics. Bushido means "the way of the warrior and according to the code, samurai must be loyal, resistant, courageous and disciplined". Bushido teaches that the katana (Japanese sword) is not simply a weapon. It represented the soul and ultimate symbol of the samurai. They prepared themselves from childhood, receiving training from the most experienced masters.
Being a samurai means not only fulfilling a function, but also being part of a certain group in society. To be a samurai, one must be born into a samurai family. Japanese society was highly hierarchical and even samurai were divided into more than twenty hierarchical categories.
Many women were also samurai. Known as onna-bugeisha, these warriors also followed the code of bushido and trained to use weapons such as the naginata, an instrument of warfare consisting of a curved steel blade and a large wooden rod. A famous samurai warrior was Tomoe Gozen, who fought in the Genpei War in the 12th century.
The weapons of these Japanese warriors
Genbuku, the child received his first real sword and armor. He also gained an adult name and became a true samurai. The katana and wakizashi are together called daisho (literally "big and small") and mean "honor" of a samurai and almost an extension of themselves. In this way, they have never separated from these weapons, even when sleeping with them under their pillows.
The samurai also perfected his skill with the yumi (bow), which is reflected in the art of kyujutsu. The yumi was an asymmetrical bow made of bamboo, wicker, wood, and leather and had an effective range of 50 to 100 meters, also being used from a horse, which eventually became a sport called Yabusame.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, many samurai used their military experience and acquired skills to devote themselves to business administration in the fields of commerce and agriculture. In the 19th century, with the imperial restoration (Meiji dynasty), feudalism ended in Japan. The samurai lost their prestige and strength. In 1870, an uprising of samurai took place, but it was strongly suppressed by the imperial army of Japan.
Harakiri and Sepukku, death for honor
Harakiri is part of the teachings of Bushido, the code of the samurai warriors, the main ones of which are honor, loyalty and bravery. The truth is that the harakiri ritual consists of a series of surprising practices and is surrounded by interesting facts that you may not know and that we will detail for you.
What is the meaning of "Harakiri"?
It literally means "cutting the wind" or "cutting the stomach" and consisted of kneeling down and sticking a dagger or wakizashi into his own belly in a suicidal ritual in case he dishonors himself or his ancestors. Ideally, the viscera would be exposed to show their purity of character and, at the end, pull the blade upwards, making a cross-cut.
Death was slow and painful, and it was not uncommon for the warrior to remain alive for hours or even days, bleeding to death and feeling indescribable pain at the same time.
The Sepukku, ritual before the last breath
The ritual was officially called Sepukku, and other people attended and served as witnesses. The samurai could not show his pain or fear, but rather demonstrate total self-control to those who attended. Before the suicide itself, samurai always followed the same ritual: they bathed to purify their bodies and souls. Then he wore the specific seppuku garment, completely white, took a cup of sake, always at two sips, and then wrote one or two farewell poems.
The samurai's great motto was that life is limited, but name and honor can last forever. For this reason, these warriors attached great importance to honor, public image and the name of their ancestors, and even to life itself. It was a way of perpetuating their existence. This philosophy still persists today, and as a result, Japan is one of the nations with the highest suicide rate in the world.
Death on the battlefield
On the battlefield, the samurai decapitate their opponents and the heads of the defeated are like a trophy and are carried to the feudal lords, the daymio. Samurai who killed great generals were usually rewarded with land and privileges. In general, in the West, we regarded samurai as rude and crude people, regardless of the many other skills these warriors possessed.
Among the skills of the samurai, the love of art stands out in every way. Besides the practice of the art of fencing, many were distinguished poets, calligraphers, painters and sculptors. Some art forms such as Ikebana (art of floral arrangements) and Chanoyu (art of tea) were also considered martial arts because they trained the minds and hands of samurai.
These warriors also took into account their spiritual side, practicing Zen Buddhism as a way to discover a path that would lead to calm and harmony. In addition, they placed great importance on the family and it was common for them to take matters into their own hands in case a loved one was murdered in order to restore the family's honor.
Samurai style in fashion
Samurai aesthetics can be found on the catwalks of fashion shows and imposes itself in looks dressed as capes, made of precious fabrics of Japanese origin. The fabrics are embroidered and brocaded with golden threads. The kimono, the quintessential garment of the land of the rising sun, is now transformed to become a trend.
We have seen great brands like Celine, incorporating it into their collection with different styles and lengths: from kimonos that reach to the hip to others that slide down to the knees as a vest or coat. For summer, prefer the haoris, softer and lighter, they blend perfectly into summer outfits as an open overshirt over a t-shirt.
But the pioneers of the creation inspired by samurai outfits are of course, the Japanese themselves. Many Japanese brands are famous for their fusion of traditional and modern aesthetics, we can think of Junya Watanabe, Rei Kawakubo or Yohji Yamamoto. Without forgetting the one titled the Samurai of fashion, Kenzo Takada.
The last Samurai of high fashion
The "samurai of fashion", Kenzo Takada, was the first Japanese to bring his haute couture to Paris in the 1970s, with a creative proposal full of color, freshness and optimism that became his trademark.
Born in Japan, Kenzo decided to settle in the French capital during his youth, being truly fascinated by the passion for fashion that was alive in the city that many call "the city of light". He then decided to bet on a new way of understanding ready-to-wear: to leave the everyday life to "enter a dream".
It was years later, more precisely in 1983, that the designer decided to launch his first perfume and in 2000 he ventured to create Flower by Kenzo, his most emblematic perfume to date, represented by a poppy. The world-famous and recognized designer passed away in October 2020.
How to have a Samurai-inspired look?
At Kappa Japan, we try to promote an original style from the country where manga and anime were born. We work closely with Japanese people to offer the coolest products in Tokyo. The "traditional-modern" look is something we know well. Would you be tempted by a touch of originality on your outfit?
Here are some ideas of products we have in our store all year long for a samurai inspired outfit. The Haori is a short jacket that can be worn with a t-shirt or over a shirt. It's a versatile Japanese garment between streetwear with more complex designs and on the other hand a traditional style more period.
Put away your flip-flops and sandals, try the getas. Geta are the traditional shoes of Japan that look like flip-flops to us westerners. Made of wood and very comfortable, they are shoes that have existed for hundreds of years in Japan. Although they are becoming rarer today, they are still worn during matsuri (festivals).
Why not wear the kimono, especially the komon type, which is a generally casual kimono, characterized by a small pattern repeated all over the kimono. This is what its name means in Japanese. It can be worn for everyday life or, with a nice obi, to go to a restaurant. And this type of kimono can be worn by married or unmarried women, the only difference being the length of the sleeves.
Thank you for reading our article, now that you know everything about the Samurai, it's your turn to act with honor and bravery, and to help you put yourself in the shoes of these mysterious warriors, Kappa Japan is here to offer you the best of Japanese ready-to-wear.
So, which piece of our catalog do you like the most? Could you wear a typical Japanese outfit for an event or an outing? Tell us all this in the commentary just below this article. Also, follow us on our social networks, we post very often in order to inspire you to get inspired by Japanese outfits and make you discover more and more about the culture, life and fashion in the land of the rising sun. See you soon on our blog!