This article will give you an overview of the samurai history of Japan, from their founding in the 8th century to the rise of samurai warriors in the 20th century. You’ll learn about legendary figures like Oda Nobunaga, Minamoto Yorimoto, and Sanada Yukimura.
The lineage of Oda Nobunaga was from the Fujiwara and the Taira clan. He was the grandson of Oda Hisanaga and his wife, Tsuchida Gozen. His two brothers were also named Nobunaga and Nobuhide. The Nobunaga’s ruled Owari Province in the sixteenth century. They conquered the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku and renamed the area. Nobunaga was the first samurai to rule Owari and his mother had two daughters, one named Oichi and the other named Hiro.
There were many foreigners in Japan during the Sengoku period, and some of them became samurai. They were brought to Japan as prisoners, allies, or retainers of daimyos. In the early Edo Period, Korean natives were brought to Japan and put under the service of daimyos. One Korean samurai, Kim Yeocheol, served the Maeda clan for a short period and was given the Japanese name Wakita Nakata. He was also appointed the commissioner of Kanazawa City.
His story is also widely known through fiction. Many depictions of Nobunaga portray him as a demonic, evil, and cruel character. Positive portrayals of Nobunaga include Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, a drama about a young samurai who turns against his lord, and Eiji Yoshikawa’s Taiko Ki, a novel about a young man who learns to become a samurai.
Nobunaga consolidated his position by extending his territory in the Tanba Province. He sent Akechi Mitsuhide to soothe the area in 1576. In 1578, Nobunaga led an attack on the Mori clan, forcing them to submit to the shogun. In 1583, Nobunaga captured Inabayama Castle and threw the Daimyo into exile.
When the Oda clan seized Ishiyama Hongan-Ji in Osaka, they were able to make some progress. The Mori clan fought back by breaking the naval blockade and sending supplies into the fortified complex. When Oda Nobunaga ordered his army to expand into the western part of Japan, Hashiba Hideyoshi decided to use the military might of the Nobunaga clan to defeat them. This strategy proved successful as the Uesugi clan won the Battle of Tedorigawa. From here, the Oda clan marched on Kyoto, defeating the Uesugi forces. Read more about him here.
The Minamoto Yorimoto was the third son of the clan leader. His father, Minamoto no Yoshitomo, was killed in 1159 during the Heiji Rebellion, along with many of his family members and allies. During his youth, Yoritomo lived in a Buddhist temple. When he was older, he set up his base in Kamakura, a city far from the government capital of Kyoto, and was surrounded by allies.
In 1623, Yorimoto departed from Kamakura and sent an envoy to the capital. In early December, the Tohoku Samurai arrived in Kyoto and replaced the Yoshitsune and Yukie. They sealed warehouses in Harima Province, the province of the Cloistered Emperor.
Yorimoto’s leadership lasted for a total of seven years. His rule was brutal, and he did not provide the requisite succession for his territory. Because he feared rivalry, he liquidated some of his relatives. This made his own sons incompetent to lead the Kamakura Shogunate. In 1199, Yoritomo’s two sons were still too young to hold his power.
Yoritomo also founded the feudal system in Japan. He aimed to limit the Imperial court’s power by installing feudal lords across the country. The Kamakura Shogunate lasted until 1333. However, Yoritomo only held this position for seven years and died in 1199. Yoritomo was also the first to support Zen Buddhism in Japan.
Yorimoto was a descendant of Emperor Seiwa. The Taira clan was his rival. Yoritomo’s mother, Yoshitomo, was from the Fujiwara clan. The three sons of Yorimoto were named after him. These two men led the rebellion throughout Japan. If you want to learn more about the history of the Japanese samurai, read this article.
After defeating Yoshitsune, Yorimoto turned against the Imperial Court but was later repulsed by the Emperor. This action led to the eradication of the Takakuranomiya clan and the subsequent destruction of the capital. Yorimoto’s rage grew, and he and his samurai were soon feared throughout Japan.
During the Sengoku period, Sanada Yukimura was the first ‘samurai’ to be slain. He was the second son of Daimyo Sanada Masayuki and was the younger brother of Sanada Nobushige. Though Sanada Yukimura was never called ‘Yukimura,’ he did acquire the title in the late Edo period fiction. He was also referred to as the “Crimson Demon of War” or the “Last Sengoku Hero.”
Yukimura was first used in the Nanba Senki war chronicle, published in 1672. It was an enduring book, selling in large numbers. Soon, it became a familiar name. In 1672, the Matsushiro family embraced the Yukimura family’s name and the samurai’s family name.
Nobushige was a patient man who rarely became angry. He was also called a ronin in Osaka Natsu no jinja temple, where he fought against the Tokugawa and Bakufu clans. The Sanada clan, however, lost its backup to the Gohojos and Bakufu. Thus, Nobushige was forced to cross the umbrellas of various territorial lords to fight for his family.
After the Battle of Sekigahara, Yukimura joined his father in a siege of Osaka Castle, where they held off Tokugawa forces for a while. The Tokugawas were defeated, and Yukimura was exiled to Mount Kudo. After he returned to Japan, he built a fort in Osaka at the request of Hideyori Toyotomi. During the Winter Campaign of Osaka (1614), he routed Tokugawa forces. The following year, he fought against the Tokugawa forces at Sumiyoshi, near Osaka. He also attacked the Dates army, which had accumulated a mighty army.
Another famous samurai was Sanada Nobushige, the first samurai of Japan. He was the leading general in the Osaka no Eki and served Toyotomi Hideyoshi directly. His legendary status was attributed to his bravery in the Siege of Osaka; he had four wives and ten children.
Yasuke was Japan’s first Sami or samurai of African descent. He came to Japan in 1579 as a bodyguard for Alessandro Valignano; an Italian Jesuit appointed to inspect the Jesuit missions in the Indies. A mysterious six-foot-plus man from Africa, Yasuke gained celebrity status in Japan.
Nobunaga, the most powerful daimyo in Japan, requested that Yasuke join his entourage, which included the samurai of Honno-Ji. Nobunaga had never before given a foreigner a samurai position to a non-Japanese man. Moreover, Yasuke was an unusual candidate for the post because he had no martial training. In contrast, all other samurai were trained from a young age.
While a samurai must have had a martial spirit to succeed, Yasuke was not all business. He also had a unique skill of reading culture. He understood Utenzi, a historical form of Swahili narrative poetry that celebrates heroism. Yasuke’s mother language was Swahili, which is spoken in the northern part of Mozambique. Nobunaga treated Yasuke as his own family. Even the emperor Nobunaga allowed him to dine with him on several occasions.
While there are no definitive accounts of his early life, Yasuke’s early years were well documented in books and fiction. His life was reimagined in comic books and Japanese TV historical dramas. Aside from novels, the story of Yasuke’s life was immortalized in the late 1960s with a book by Yoshio Kurusu. However, it is not clear whether Yasuke was the first foreign samurai in Japan.
While Yasuke’s early life was uncertain, it is possible that he was an enslaved boy. This is possible; as a young man, he may have escaped to India and been given freedom by a Christian missionary group. It is also possible that Yasuke accompanied a group of Jesuit missionaries trying to convert the Japanese to Catholicism.
While there is little information about the actual life of the first samurai, his story has survived in popular culture. It was famous in Japanese children’s books Kuro-suke and the manga series ‘Afro Samurai.’ In addition to popular media, a Hollywood movie is currently in pre-production Yasuke. Read more about his life story here.