Japanese Samurai

The Japanese samurai warriors came into existence in the 12th century when two powerful Japanese clans fought bitter wars against each other – the Taira and the Minamato.

At that time the Japanese shogunate, a system of a military ruler, called the shogun was formed.

Under the shogun the next hierarchy were the daimyo, local rulers comparable to dukes in Europe. The Japanese samurai were the military retainers of a daimyo.

And finally you may have heard of ronin. Ronin are samurai without a master.

This is what happened to the 47 Ronin in the famous story of Chushingura after their lord was forced to commit suicide.

According to historians the fierce fights between hostile clans and war lords was mainly a battle for land. Only 20 percent of Japan’s rugged and mountainous area can be used for agriculture.

Japanese Netsuke and Japanese Kokeshi Dolls

Art of the Ninja: Ninjitsu

There are many theories as to the beginnings of what we know as the art of ninjutsu today. Each Japanese historian has his or her own set of facts and beliefs, and it is difficult pinpointing a specific place, person, time, or set of circumstances that would be acceptable to all as the birth of the art.

In all truthfulness, ninjutsu did not come into being as a specific well-defined art in the first place, and many centuries passed before ninjutsu was established as an independent system of knowledge in its own right. The people who were later referred to as ninja did not originally use that label for themselves.

They considered themselves to be merely practitioners of political, religious, and military strategies that were cultural opposites of the conventional outlooks of the times. Ninjutsu developed as a highly illegal counter culture to the ruling samurai elite, and for this reason alone, the origins of the art were shrouded by centuries of mystery, concealment, and deliberate confusion of history.

In the legends of the founding of Japan’s Imperial Family, passed on by word of mouth through the generations before recorded history, two ninja-like characters are credited with assisting the first emperor, Jimmu, in attaining a decisive victory. Jimmu was in combat against the troops of Iso Castle, and the battle was going against him.

One night in a dream, the future emperor had a vision in which he was told to take the clay from Mt. Amakaga and mold it into a sacred vessel. Mt. Amakaga was a holy mountain that lay in the middle of the territory held by the Iso forces. Obtaining the raw clay became the symbol of Jimmu’s intention and resolve towards succeeding in the conquest of Iso Castle.

Shinetsuhiko and Otokashi served their lord Jimmu by disguising themselves as an old peasant and his wife, and the two successfully slipped into the enemy territory, packed the clay, and returned safely. Jimmu then molded and fired a platter and bowl set from clay, offered them to the gods of fortune and went on to attain the victory he so strongly believed to be his destiny.

The skills of ninjutsu were said to have been passed thereafter to Tennin Nichimei, Okume Mei, and Otomo Uji for further development and expansion.