The samurai were the military aristocrats of their day. They were protectors of the shoguns and warlords that ruled Japan until the Meiji Emperor was restored to power in the 19th century. The majority of the samurai class were warriors, but some were more famous as philosophers and artists, and never saw battle. A samurai was expected to marry and father children, not only because centuries of warfare depleted the population, but to assure the continuation of the social class to which he belonged. Unlike the knights of Europe – who did not inherit the title but were given it by the reigning monarch – the samurai’s wife and children were also samurai.
The sword became the symbol of the samurai, and the specific sword known as the katana, was curved, slender, and single-edged with a long grip that could be held with both hands. His armour was of leather or iron and covered with lacquer – not wood or bamboo as popularly believed. The armour and helmet of Darth Vader appears to be based on that of the samurai, circa 1600.Â Symbolsof theÂ sun,Â moon, andÂ stars were used by the samurai and appeared on their helmets and flags. Their celestial powers were believed to aid the warrior in battle.
As aÂ tattooÂ design, the samurai symbolizes all the highest ideals of Bushido, honour, loyalty and duty. It expresses the wearer’s understanding and appreciation of the importance ofÂ living inÂ the moment, of taking not one second of existence for granted.
The samurai warrior is the penultimate symbol and epitome of masculine courage, honour and justice withinÂ Japanese tattooing, and the samurai represents the highest masculine ideals within Japanese culture. The samurai adhered to a strictÂ code ofÂ conduct called ‘Bushido’,Â meaningÂ ‘the way of the warrior’. Bushido was based on the ZenÂ Buddhistprinciples ofÂ Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Respect, Trust, Honour and Loyalty until death. Other ideals to which the samurai aspired were self-discipline, frugality, self-sacrifice and nobility.
As a samurai, a warrior was expected to conductÂ himselfÂ and act as if each day were his last, as it might well be. If every day might be a samurai’s last, he was expected to keep his affairs in order, so that his family would not be burdened upon his death. A samurai did not want to owe money or other debts for the same reason. A samurai lived in the now, cognizant always of the fleeting nature of existence. TheÂ cherry blossom, with its ethereal, fragile beauty came symbolize the samurai for that very reason.