Essay Example on Edo Period: Japan's Warrior Culture & Urbanization

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1884 Words
Date:  2023-04-09


The 1600s to the 1820s is a crucial period in Japanese history. The period is popularly known as the Edo or Tokugawa and is rich in Japanese cultural practices. During that time, Japan was under the Tokugawa Shogunate that served as the feudal military government. Tokugawa Shogunate was an effective militia government that led to swift economic development and urbanization. As a result, various social statuses such as the merchant, Ukiyo culture, among others. The Japanese warrior culture is at the center of the distinct cultural practice of Japan during the Tokugawa period. The paper gives an in-depth analysis of the warrior cultural practices in Japan between the 1600s and 1820s.

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Before the onset of the Tokugawa shogunate administration at the beginning of the 1600s, the Japanese warriors, were actively involved in war conquering neighboring states as well as defending their territories (Tipton 480). Tokugawa shogunate changed the cultural traditions of the warriors considerably. The warriors were no longer training anticipating wars since the regime introduced a peaceful atmosphere. The warriors thus joined the ruling class with their primary role being defending the state. The warriors now concentrated on sharpening their combat skills through training on martial techniques. The predominant places forming the warriors' culture between the 1600s and 1820s are the dojos and the swordsmanship centers as opposed to the battlefields in the earlier centuries (Tipton 485). The dojos and swordsmanship schools conducted several challenges and combats for the student warriors to demonstrate their combat skills. The rivals participating in these duels at times took the challenges too far to the point that it resulted in the death of the participants.

The Japanese warriors during the 1600s and 1820s were primarily the samurai. The warrior status was not exclusively set aside for a specific gender as both men and women would serve as warriors. They belonged to the bushi class in the military. The Onna-bugeisha were the female samurai warriors and served as the Japanese nobility during the Edo era since they had excellent martial art skills (Nishiyama 265). They had specific training on how to use various weapons, particularly the swords, bows, and arrows. Their primary purpose was to defend the community, their household, society, and honor when there were attacks.

Japanese Warriors Suits of Armor

One of the unique characteristics of the Japanese warriors during the Edo era was their mode of dressing. Their primary dressing code was the kimono, which was exceptional combat wear that had both an inner cover and outer cover. Kimono, which was primarily made of silk-covered the loincloth. They would then carry their armor on top of the kimono and cover it with some loose pants. The sword was the most crucial part of the Japanese warriors. It not only served as a weapon but also acted as the main symbol of the samurai warriors. The Japanese warriors during the Edo era (the 1600s-1820s) predominantly wore double swords popularly known as the daisho, which literary translates to "large and small." (Ravina 480). The pair eventually became the symbol of the warriors for the rights and privileges of the samurai. The Osafune school of artisans specialized in the making of these swords. The custom of the pairing of the swords goes beyond the Edo era. Most Japanese medieval historians believe that the pairing started around 1479s when tsuba decorations on the handle of the swords began. Most of the artifacts available in the museums representing the Japanese medieval history comprises of the kimono and swords. Besides the swords, the warriors also used numerous weapons, including bows, arrows, spears as well as guns.

The Japanese warriors were highly respected and elevated members of the society under the Tokugawa shogunate regime. They, therefore, employed highly talented artisans who designed their elaborate and sophisticated suits of armor. The costumes of armor were reliable and robust and protected the warriors from spears, swords, and arrows. They were primarily made from tuff leather with sections that covered critical parts of the body reinforced with pieces of iron plates. The application of lacquer on top of the leather made it tuff, sturdy, and waterproof. Weapons from enemies could not penetrate such armor. According to Ravina (504), the Japanese warriors during the Edo era used domaru gosuku or the cuirass-type suit of armor that was more sophisticated than the earlier designs. As a result, it was acknowledged as the formal protective gear for the samurai warriors during this period. It is worth noting that these suit of armor of the Edo era were ceremonial attires as battles were rare during the Tokugawa shogunate administrations. Nevertheless, the suits of armor changed considerably from light-weight to heavy-weight following developments in the firearms during the Edo era.

Besides protecting the warriors, the suits of armor served numerous other purposes. They were essential gears during various public relations activities of the Japanese culture. According to Nishiyama (210), the warriors used dramatic helmets together with the facial protectors to symbolize their might, power, and superhuman characters. Nishiyama also states that the warriors that died in the battlefields or the training challenges in most cases were laid to rest dressed in the suit of armor that they were wearing at the time of their deaths (226). The culture was to symbolize that these warriors met their demise in style, a heroic way to die according to the warrior cultures.

Religious and Cultural Practices of the Japanese Warriors

Tipton (350) states that Japanese warriors were highly religious individuals and adhered to several cultural practices. The sword was peculiar to the Japanese warriors not only as a weapon but also as a spiritual vessel. It served as a link to the soul of the warriors and symbolized the striking equilibrium between the destruction forces during battles and creation when they participated in martial arts training. A great Japanese warrior required both physical combat skills of a swordsman and religious and cultural knowledge. Therefore, power and swordsman skills alone did not qualify one to be a magnificent Japanese warrior. The warriors studied unique mystical Buddhism as their primary religion. The religious practice was practically essential in casting spells that could paralyze an enemy, cure illnesses among the warriors as well as protect and defend them as they were in the battlefields.

Both the earlier samurai warriors and those of the 1600s to 1820s believed in the existence of a supernatural deity, Zen, who would deliver them and lead them to triumph over their enemies. They, therefore, rose to fight their enemies courageously with serenity from Zen. Ravina outlines the conditions for one to be a great warrior as per the words of Musashi, who was one of the great Japanese swordsman (90). According to Musashi, warriors should be self-reliant and achieve spiritual nothingness. Ravina mainly quotes Musashi's words, "In the void is a virtue, and no evil." (Ravina 90-91). Therefore, the warriors develop an art of meditation as a way to induce calmness and tranquility as they prepare for forthcoming battles. Reflection was particularly vital as it ensured that the warriors remained calm and focused as they face the imminent dangers of the conflicts. The art was an ancient tool of the samurai warriors long before the Edo era. Besides, according to the warriors a peaceful state, it enhanced the consciousness and the ability of the warriors to look at the universe and see the bigger picture of it. They would thus understand their place of the world and why it was vital for them to participate in the battle. During the peaceful Edo era, the meditational arts were essential in training samurai warriors as there were no significant battles to fight. Student warriors in those days would practice Zen meditation in the temples or as they had tea to experience the utmost peaceful moments.

The Codes of Ethics of Bushido

The early Japanese warriors and those of the 1600s up until the end of the Edo era held on to eight unique codes of ethics that governed their conduct. These codes of conduct are the virtues of Bushido or "the way of the warrior" (Benesch 455). The Bushido codes were essential moral guidelines that imparted virtues such as loyalty, discipline, courage, care, and devotion amongst the samurai warriors. The following section stipulates the eight codes of ethics according to (Benesch 455-457)


Justice is the highest virtue amongst the eight Bushido codes. Benesch defines justice as the ability of the warriors to decide and determine the best course or choice based on reason and without hesitation (455). Therefore, the integrity or justice code was essential in establishing and accepting adverse courses of actions such as striking, dying, among others, when the right time comes. The samurai warriors considered this virtue using an analogy of the bones that firmly holds the rest of the body together. Therefore, justice or rectitude was far much important than talent, training, and learning of martial arts techniques.


Courage is the Bushido virtues in which the warrior values and do the right thing that affirms to integrity without fear of the repercussions. The Bushido virtues distinguish heroism and courage. It states that the acts of a warrior qualify to be among the courageous virtue if the warrior exercises the utmost integrity.

Benevolence or Mercy

The codes of ethics of the samurai warriors expect them to show mercy as they condemn their enemies even though they had the power to kill. They were humans who were to demonstrate and practice love, sympathetic emotions, kindness, and various traits of benevolence.


The samurai warriors were amongst the high-class social status during the Edo era. Unlike their predecessors in the prior centuries, they rarely engaged in warfare due to the relative peace created by the Tokugawa shogunate administration (Nitobe 35). Therefore, the virtue of politeness was essential in creating a peaceful coexistence with the commoners. Politeness, as a code of ethics of the warriors, meant the ability to determine submissiveness traits. The virtue of politeness and that of benevolence were intertwined.

Honesty and Sincerity

The samurai warriors had to observe this virtue by disregarding natural richness as they believed that wealth and riches prevented the warriors from gaining an advanced state of wisdom. The training of young warriors from wealth background involved instilling a mentality that was focusing on wealth too much leads to dishonesty and lack of sincerity, which led to the breaking of the Bushido codes (Nitobe 36). Therefore, the warriors were to shun luxurious lives as it leads to dishonesty and embraces simplicity in their way of life. However, the warriors of the 1600s to 1820s slowly changed their ways of life and social status (Benesch 460).


The sense of honor amongst the Japanese warriors during the Edo era emanated from the personal dignity of a warrior, unlike those of the earlier warriors that relied on their martial arts skills. Bushido codes of ethics aimed at teaching young warriors to uphold and value their duties, obligations, and privileges as samurai warriors. According to Tipton (605), the samurai warriors dreaded disgraces that hung upon them like swords. Vices such as short-temper were highly condemned.


Loyalty among the warriors in the Edo era meant being true and keeping promises to those the warriors indebted. It also meant putting the needs of the Japanese community and the Tokugawa shogunate regime first at all times. It was thus the most vital virt...

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