In Japan, warrior culture is evident in the form of stone and terracotta figures that display armour and swords. These are placed around burial sites. The samurai as a class and culture emerged during the Heian period (895-1185), which was a time of great blossoming of art and culture in the capital of Kyoto. During this period the great love story of The Tale of Genji was written by the female author Murashiki Shikibu.
Samurai means ‘to serve’ and is one of the essential qualities of warriors in Japan. The word ‘samurai’ is derived from the verb saburau which means ‘to wait on, serve’, and refers to personal attendants of high-born conscripted warriors from well-to-do families who were tasked with guarding regional estates of the aristocracy from northern clans. These warriors were adept at horse riding and archery and required to continually perfect their skills. Overtime, the areas where they were sent to guard developed into autonomous clans with their own sphere of influence and wealth. Eventually they challenged the aristocracy and Kyoto's Emperor for control of the country.
Samurai warriors were required to practice and perfect their skills such as horse riding and archery. What skill are you currently trying to perfect? What skill would you like to master? What things do you need to do to master this skill?
The samurai were loyal, honest, courageous, respectful and demonstrated self-sacrifice and self-control. What do these words mean to you? Who do you know who demonstrates these values either in their personal or professional life? Share an example of how this person demonstrates one or more of these values.
What do the words aristocracy, warrior and emperor mean to you? Where have you heard these words before? Brainstorm in small groups. Find out the meaning of these words.
Investigate Japanese history by assigning a different period to small groups. Research and present a synopsis about this era. Create a timeline in an interesting way – perhaps include an element of performance, illustration or animation, and have each group present their timelines to the rest of the class in chronological order.
This print below depicts the Japanese military commander Taira no Tadanori who was a Japanese military commander in the Heian period, including during the the Genpei War against the Minamoto. Find out more about him and the Genpei War.
Taira no Tadanori wrote a poem on the day before a great battle, why do you think he would do this?
Were I, still traveling as night falls,
to make a sheltering tree my inn,
then would my host tonight be the blossoms themselves.
How many syllables does this poem have? Identify the style of poem.
Waka is a type of classical Japanese poetry traced back to the 8th century and was influenced by stories such as the Tale of Genji. The most common type of waka is the tanka and consists of 31 syllables 5-7-5-7-7 per line. Write your own tanka poem that tells a story about Japan or the samurai.