Japanese History 122. Samurai Culture


Prof. Thomas Keirstead

Towards the end of the twelfth century, a Japanese aristocrat, lamenting the ruin he observed around him, sighed, “How few are the houses that were there of old. Great houses have crumbled into hovels and those who dwell in them have fallen no less.… Truly it has become a warrior’s world.”
In this course we’ll take a less despairing look at the samurai and their world. One of Japan’s most
recognizable figures, the follower of the “way of the bow and arrow” has become an icon capable of
standing for everything from the pre-World War II military state, to the skill and efficiency of Japanese
business in the 1980s. We’ll try to take apart some of the mythology surrounding the samurai by examining the historical reality of warrior life along with the legends, the war tales (with their depictions of superhuman derring-do) alongside the more humble facts of warfare and training and daily life. The elaboration of the warrior ethos will be a topic of special concern as we investigate the ways the warrior’s world found expression in religion, art, and literature.