Samurai means ‘to serve or wait on’ and refers to the hereditary military-elite class of Japan. The word itself immediately conjures images of ferocious warriors whose devotion to their craft was equal to the loyalty to the shogun or daimyo. For centuries the samurai ruled over the four main islands of Japan. From their formation and ascension in the 11th-12th centuries to their demise in the mid 19th century, the heroic deeds and epic tragedies of the samurai was the cornerstone of art and culture.

For the shogun and the daimyo, cultivated pursuits and the works of art created for them were an extension of the samurai's power and prestige. Their patronage was essential to the development the ritual of tea, garden design, flower arrangement and Nõ theatre hich have come to define Japanese culture. It was expected that all samurai were masters of the sword and brush. As war gave way to peace, the role and the requirements of the samurai shifted from warriors to administrators. In the mid 19th century the samurai class was abolished as Japan modernised and the ethos and image of the samurai became a symbol of the country. The epic accounts of their exploits in both the martial and cultural realm continues to inspire devotion today making the samurai a global phenomenon.

The name of a series of hereditary military of dictators of Japan, appointed by the Emperor, from 1185-1868.

Daimyo means ‘expansive private land’ and refers to members of the military elite who ruled large provinces and vassals of the shogun.

Is a form of classical Japanese musical drama performed since the 14th century.

Find Japan on a map of the world. Locate Edo (former name of Tokyo), Kyoto and Osakaon a map of Japan.

In small groups brainstorm and discuss what do you already know about Japan, for example, the climate, terrain the people or the food.

Find an interesting fact about Japan or Japanese culture. Collate this information as a class – what new things did you learn? How do these things that you discovered compare to life in Australia?

Where have you heard of the word samurai? Before looking at any images or works of art – draw what you think a samurai would look like. What do you think they do? How do you think they behave? What special characteristics or traits do you think they have? What personal characteristics or traits do you have?

The most elite samurai were expected to have superior military ability as well as be skilled in the cultural arts. Why do you think this balance was important? What two opposing or unrelated skills do you have? Are you good at swimming as well as cooking or drawing? As a class list your skills on a piece of paper and display. Collectively, what skills does your class have?

Watch Samurai Educator Briefing with Asian Art curator Russell Kelty