Historically, Japanese samurai were warriors that followed a strict
code and were diligent in their martial art training and their devotion
to the art of the samurai sword. The samurai were the highest of
four main classes in Japan, with the others being farmers, artisans,
and merchants. In feudal Japan, a samurai was employed by a lord
and alotted a wage, measured in rice, depending on the merit of
the samurai. The origins of samurai are thought to go back to the
Heian period (794-1192).
The samurai are often known for their moral code, called bushido,
that stressed the importance of loyalty to the samurai's lord, even
to the point of offering up one's life to do the right thing. One
of the more well known accounts of bushido are contained
in the book Hagakure.
Samurai trained with many weapons, but the sword held a special
place in their practicing, fighting, and way of life. Training with
wooden swords, an art known as kendo that is still practiced today,
samurai honed their skills as well as learned the principles of
strategy. Samurai were the onle ones who could carry swords, and
they usally carried two, a long one, known as a katana, and a short
companion sword, called a tanto.
In addition to just being warriors, samurai were known for their
appreciation for writing and the fine arts. The ability with the
brush was admired along with the skills with the sword. It was common
to write poems, especially for certain occasions. The writings and
paintings of Musashi Miyamoto are considered to be among the most
famous works of that period.