Kuro’s newbie guide to the samurai and the daisho

When I was a young lad, I used to play with these toy swords called samurai, as my parents called it, and I thought they were pretty cool because of all the toy swords that I had (and broken) its the one that had a rather different look, while all the other toy swords that I had are straight and double edged, this samurai has a single edge and the blade is curved, so I though that it was kinda neat. Even my playmates during childhood even think that samurai sword is cool, and the would go “I wanna play with that samurai too!”

When I grew older, and I was still in my “anime immersion” I chanced upon this anime called Ruroni Kenshin, shook my beliefs regarding that samurai sword and I went “what?! That guy is samurai?! What the hell about the sword? Why do they carry two swords and use only one? Oh, I see, that other one is a spare, just in case, right?” The anime fan in me was really curious, and so to feed my curious mind, I watched more Samurai anime and movies and researched more about the Samurai. So to speak, this was my start on becoming a fan and a student of the Japanese culture.

But I digress, what exactly is the Samurai? To save you from all the time and trouble of researching, read on.

The Samurai are the honorable warriors of feudal Japan and they follow a strict moral code that guides them in lives called Bushido. The term Samurai came from the archaic Japanese word saburau which means to serve. They can be somewhat compared to the Knights of medieval Europe who also followed a code of conduct.

Historically speaking (a little history lesson coming up), the Samurai started to become prominent during early Japan’s Heian period, although the term itself wasn’t used at that time. It was during the emperor’s decline in power and the feudal lords’ rise that the Samurai began to accumulate power through political marriages and protective agreements. Some Samurai clans were originally formed by farmers who had taken up arms to protect themselves from the imperial magistrates sent to govern their lands and collect taxes. The apex of this was when Minamoto no Yoritomo seized the power form the emperor and started the Kamakura Shogunate and the rise of the Samurai. The Samurai itself was not “recognized” until Toyotomi Hideyoshi who became grand minister in 1586 created a law that the samurai caste became codified as permanent and hereditary, and that non-samurai were forbidden to carry weapons, thereby ending the social mobility of Japan. From this point on, the Samurai flourished until the Tokugawa period where Bushido was formalized by prominent samurai such as Imagawa Ryoshun.

The Samurai are loyal servants of their feudal lords or daimyo and they follow a code of conduct which guided them in their daily lives. They are expected to be unattached to material things for it is their daimyo who provides for them. They place great importance to honor above all else. They are careful in their words and actions as even a single insult uttered in the spur of the moment could lead to dishonor. They live their lives in service and accomplish orders without fail and failure to accomplish a duty given to him by his lord results to dishonor, which may result to comitting of seppuku (ritual suicide) for shaming his lord by not accomplishing the task given to him by his lord. A samurai aims to be a master of both pen and the sword because in mastering both the pen and the sword, the samurai masters mind and muscle. In mastering the pen and sword, the Samurai becomes one step closer to perfection, a goal of all Samurai.

The Samurai carry two swords, collectively called as daisho. The etymology of this word becomes apparent when the terms daito (meaning big sword) and shoto(meaning small sword) are used. The daisho commonly consists of a Katana and a Wakizashi. The Samurai are the only ones allowed to bear a daisho and any non-Samurai seen bearing a daisho is cut down on spot. Most Samurai only use the Katana and carry Wakizashi as a back-up weapon. Some use the daisho in tandem. A famous samurai, Musashi Miyamoto has developed a style called Niten in which one wields the Katana and Wakizashi simultaneously, although only a few practice the style because it demands a very high level of technique.

The Katana is the longer sword of the daisho. It is the primary weapon of Samurai. It has been said that a Katana is an extension of its wielder’s soul, so much that some Samurai name their Katanas (Ever heard of Muramasa and Tetsusaiga?). Some even believe that a Katana holds a spirit within and the Samurai must appease the spirit by living an exemplary life with honor and if the spirit is appeased, the samurai will know no defeat. In simplest explanation, the Katana is a Samurai’s license to kill (should the need to kill arise).

The Wakizashi is the shorter sword of the daisho. This holds more of a ceremonial value to Samurai other than its purpose of being a back-up weapon. It is used to decapitate defeated enemies and to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). It has been said that if a Samurai who will commit seppuku is given a wooden sword instead of a Wakizashi, his dishonor would carry to the aferlife. In simplest explanation, the Wakizashi is a Samurai’s badge of honor.

And here, it is, my self-made guide to the Samurai and the Daisho. I hope my post has helped you understand the Samurai and their prominent dual swords.

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