Top Facts about Samurai that You may not have Heard

When people think of Japan, one of the most mythical images that springs to mind it that of the fearsome samurai or traditional warriors.

But how much do you actually know about these amazing fighters? From their armor, to their levels of education, we check out the top facts about samurai that you may not have heard…

1. Samurai swords actually came from somewhere else

Top Facts about Samurai that You may not have Heard

That’s right. Samurai swords have become some of the most famous weapons in the world, but these blades known as Katana were actually first imported from Korea and China in the days of old. The swords had a straight instead of a curved blade, which was only developed in Japan later when the samurai started riding horses.

2. There were probably more samurai than you realize

Samurai are often portrayed as a small and secretive group of warriors, but actually there were quite a large number of samurai around back in the days of old. In fact, official records show that at one time as much as 10 percent of the population of Japan were samurai, which means that many people today will have had a family member who was once a samurai.

3. Samurai were more than just soldiers

It would be easy to imagine that samurai were just fighters and nothing more, but actually most samurai enjoyed a high level of education. They were considered nobility in Japan, and usually had a high literacy rate as well as being trained in other subjects like math. Other skills like calligraphy, poetry, and the famous Japanese tea ceremony were also taught to samurai. Perhaps the most amazing of all their skills however was the art of flower arranging, which is a world away from their fearsome image.

4. Samurai were not always from Japan

Top Facts about Samurai that You may not have Heard

Many people who watched the film The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise may have laughed at the idea of a Westerner becoming a samurai, but actually this really happened in the days of old. Not just limited to Japanese, people from outside Japan sometimes fought as samurai, and were awarded their own special sword and a Japanese name to go with it. Several famous Western samurai warriors include adventurers, navy officers, and arms dealers.

5. Samurai did not always carry samurai sword

Top Facts about Samurai that You may not have Heard

In popular culture, a samurai and his sword were inseparable, but actually for a long time samurai did not even carry a Katana. Instead, for many years the weapon on choice for a samurai was a bow and arrow, and it was only latterly that they used a sword. One of the reasons for this change was that samurai started to fight on horseback more than before, and a sword was easier to use in this situation than a bow and arrow.

6. Female samurai always existe

Top Facts about Samurai that You may not have Heard

Most people think of samurai only as men, but female samurai always existed as well. Women who fought as samurai were known as Onna Bugeisha and historical documents mention them as far back as the 1500s. In some battles, as many as a third of the samurai fighters are said to have been made up of women.

7. A samurai would always name his sword

It’s true that a samurai would always have a name for his sword. This was because the samurai sword was considered to be sacred and worthy of its own moniker.

8. Samurai were pacifists

People think that samurai loved to fight and have an image of a class of unruly warriors, when actually nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, samurai were noblemen and were actually taught to only use their samurai swords as a last resort if they got into an altercation. Part of the reason for this was that these weapons were considered sacred, and samurai were taught not to use them lightly unless in battle.

9. Samurai armor is worn by the US Army

Well, in a sense anyway. The armor worn by samurai was designed to be lightweight and allow maximum mobility, and much of it was made up of moving lacquered plates tied together with silk ties or leather laces. As opposed to other armor used at time, such as the bulky pieces worn by Western knights, the samurai armor was considered ahead of its time, and was adapted by the US Army. What many people do not know is that the flak jackets worn by army personnel in combat nowadays are actually modeled on original samurai armor.

10. The sword was part of the samurai’s soul

Top Facts about Samurai that You may not have Heard

A samurai sword or Katana was considered to be an extension of the samurai and therefore a part of his soul. Anyone who was not a samurai was not allowed to carry a samurai sword and would receive the death penalty if they did so.