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During my travel in Japan, when I visited Samurai Museum in Shinjuku area in Tokyo, I felt that the purpose of the Samurai warrior in Japan and the bandits in our country must have been the same. Because a Samurai warrior was no ordinary warrior; a warrior for whom self-respect was more important and dear than his own life, was considered to be a Samurai warrior.
The Samurai period in Japan is spread over 700 years which started from Kamakura period and lasted till Edo period. This entire time span of 700 years comes alive in the Samurai Museum. The Museum displays the dress, armour, weapons etc. used by the warriors from the beginning of the period to the end of Edo period when the weapons used had come under foreign influence. The original articles have been stored and displayed separately. In one of the rooms, there is live display of sword fight by Samurai warrior by Mr. Hattori, who even today lives according to the Samurai tradition. Tourists coming from across the world can experience the Samurai sword, armour and the weapons.
Let us try to understand why the Samurai era and especially the three Shoguns during the entire Samurai era have such a strong influence even today on the Japanese society. The three leaders, whose names are Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyoshu, are known as the Unifiers of Japan. Shogun means Commander of the Army. After the Emperor of Japan, the Shogun was considered to be the strongest person and he had full control of the law and order of Japan. There is one tale regarding the three Shoguns very popular in Japan, reflecting on the characteristics of each Shogun. The first important Shogun Nobunaga, when he desires to hear the Koel singing, he said: ‘Oh little bird, if you do not sing, I will kill you.’ While the second important Shogun Hideyoshi said: ‘Oh you little bird, if you do not sing, I will force you to do that.’ The third important Shogun Ieyoshu said: ‘Oh you little bird, if you will not sing, then I will wait for you to sing.”
This shows that Nobunaga was a cruel and a restless leader while Hideyoshi was loyal to Nobunaga and had become a Shogun after him. Ieyoshu was of a very patient, mature and a calm nature, during whose time the wars between different leaders had been stopped and an era of peace and prosperity had begun.
It is interesting to know the social order of Japan during the Samurai period. At the top of the social order was the Emperor. Below the Emperor was the Shogun, the commander of the army and responsible for maintaining law and order and have policies and rules which would be for the betterment of the society. Below the Shogun, were the Daimyo, after them the Samurai, who were warriors and were role-models for the people and maintained peace and calm in the society. Then was Ronin, then the farmers and then the Artisans. In this entire stratum of social order of Japan, the traders were at the lowest level. They were at the lowest level because they were using people’s needs to earn money. This activity was believed to be of a very low level in Japan. Of course, it is also important to note that after the Edo period, especially after 1890, the traders who were at the lowest level in the social order have now taken the place of Shogun.
Since ancient times, Japan has been ruled by monarchs and feudal lords. Then the Genpei War took place between Minamoto Dynasty and Taira Dynasty almost towards the end of Heian period of Japan. Then started what became like the focal point of Japanese society – the Samurai period. This period remained from Kamakura to Edo period, about 700 years long! According to Professor Ito from National Defence Academy, these 700 years were very difficult for Japan. The country faced attacks from Mongolia and Spain, the arrival of Black Ships under the leadership of US Navy Captain Perry and the discovery of Japan by Portugal. The discovery of Japan by Spain and Portugal had increased the danger on the East Asian countries. During all these attacks, the brave Samurai warriors and their Shoguns helped Japan to survive. The Samurai Museum in Tokyo retains all these memories.