Japanese art and culture from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries

This education resource includes works of art from our permanent collection that can be used as a starting point in the classroom for students to learn about Japanese art, history and culture and develop and understand Australia’s engagement with Asia.

Samurai presents the art and culture associated with Samurai - the military elite who ruled Japan from the late 12th to mid 19th centuries. Samurai were expected to cultivate the arts of war and culture and as a result the works of art in this resource includes a diversity of media from the humble tea bowl to the opulent golden screens and spectacular armour. These works of art demonstrate how the Samurai, as warriors and patrons of the arts, permeated every aspect of Japanese art and culture during this period.

The making and responding suggestions have been curated into the following themes ‘time and place’, ‘storytelling’ and ‘methods and materials’ in response to contrasting works of art. These conversations between works highlight the transformation of the Samurai and Japanese culture throughout time, providing an opportunity for students to explore and compare cultural knowledge, beliefs and practices and consider and develop multiple perspectives.

Samurai armour, with breastplate depicting Fudō-myōō and inscribed 'A Fortuitous Day, the 8th month of the 12th year of Genroku (1699), Myochin Munesuke', c.1699, Edo (Tokyo), iron, gilded, silvered and patinated copper, gold leaf, wood, silk, cotton, leather, animal fur, 170.0 cm (height); Gift of Max Carter AO, Susan Cocks, John Crosby, Dr Peter Dobson, Sandra Dobson, Frances Gerard, Arata Gwinnett, Sam Hill-Smith, Shane Le Plastrier, Mark Livesey QC, Joan Lyons, Dr Leo Mahar, Skye McGregor, Diana McLaurin, John Thornton, Zena Winser and David C. Urry through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation Collectors Club 2016, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

Samurai: An Introduction

Ferocious warriors devoted to their craft and loyal to the shogun or daimyo

Japan, Kyoto, Japan, Scenes from three chapters of The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari), 1600-1700, Japan, Kyoto, single six panel screen, colour and gold on paper, 91.0 x 232.0 cm; Gift of the Friends of the Art Gallery of South Australia 1999, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

The Rise of the Samurai

Beloved heroes and despised villains of samurai history

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Japan, 1798 - 1861, Sasai Kyuzo Masayasu, from the series Heroic stories of the Taiheiki (Taiheiki eiyuden), c.1847-50, Edo (Tokyo), woodblock print, ink and colour on paper, 35.7 x 25.7 cm (image & sheet); Gift of Brian and Barbara Crisp in memory of their son Andrew 2005, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

Samurai Transformed

Artist representation to suit the ethos of the period

Japan, Kyoto, Japan, Descent of the Amida trinity, early 14th century, Kyoto, hanging scroll, ink, colour, gold on silk, 120.4 x 41.0 cm; Gift of Andrew and Hiroko Gwinnett through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2008, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

The way of the Samurai

Buddhism, calligraphy, ritual of tea drinking, animals and nature

Kinai, Japan, born active mid 18th century, Tsuba, sea shells design, c.1760, Fukui Prefecture, iron, 7.2 x 7.3 cm; Gift of John and Geraldine Halls 1984, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

The Taming of the Samurai

Tsuba, swords and suits

Art in Auslan - Samurai

Learn Auslan for words commonly used in Samurai.

Shunsen Natori, Japan, 1886 - 1960, Okochi Denjiro as Tange Sazen, 1931 or 1934 (original series 1931), Tokyo, woodblock print, ink and colour on paper, 37.8 x 25.7 (image, large oban), 40.2 x 27.3 (sheet); Gift of Brian and Barbara Crisp in memory of their son Andrew 2005, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

Samurai Publication

Read online

The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.

Art Gallery of South Australia staff Dr. Lisa Slade, James Bennett, Russell Kelty and Kylie Neagle contributed to the development of this resource.