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The Dark Side of the Samurai Warrior Class
Here are 10 Horrifying Facts You Didn't Know About Samurai10. They Tested Swords by Cutting People in Half - In Japanese, "Tameshigiri" quite literally translates to "test cut," and although it wasn't practiced exclusively by Samurai, it was often done on their behalf. In a nutshell, tameshigiri involved testing the sharpness and quality of a newly forged blade on a straw mat, something you've no doubt seen replicated by innumerable overweight guys wearing fedoras on YouTube. Sometimes, though, when the client purchasing the sword was particularly wealthy or of high enough in social standing, the sword would be tested on a live, often-screaming, condemned criminal.
Depending on the severity of the crime committed, the criminal could lose a limb or be cut completely in half. How easy the cuting was done was an important selling point for the weapon. But hey, sure this was cruel, but those criminals deserved it, right? We mean, it's not like Samurai ran around randomly murdering people for fun.
Oh, wait, you know where this is going...
9. Samurai Randomly Murdered People for Fun - During the tumultuous Sengoku period of Japanese history, there was an informal practice amongst Samurai known as "Tsujigiri," which roughly translates to "crossroads killing," but could be more accurately translated as "being an unthinkable monster." Invariably undertaken by Samurai who'd recently purchased a new weapon or mastered a new technique for turning someone's bowels inside out, Tsujigiri involved walking around at night and testing the new weapon/technique on the first person they found.
While these wanton acts of night stabbing were "technically" illegal, few Samurai were ever arrested for doing it because it's really hard to arrest someone for a crime that involves killing the only witness, and then running away. And in the rare event that a Samurai was caught cutting down an innocent civilian, they could always claim they were invoking their right to...
8. Murder People They Thought Insulted Them - "Kiri-sute gomen" was a basic right afforded to Samurai that allowed them to immediately kill anyone of a lower class (including other Samurai), if they felt insulted, with a punishing sword-assisted backhand. The only conditions were that A) they had to do so immediately after the perceived insult occurred, and B) there had to be a witness. Luckily, a Samurai could use his own servant as a witness, meaning it was possible for Samurai to kill basically anyone he felt like, without reprieve, just because society said they were important enough to get away with it.
Because life is seldom fair, being able to indiscriminately murder members of the public wasn't the only perk enjoyed by Samurai due to their status as members of an elite class of sword-wielding psychopathes, as they were also deemed so important that...
7. (Common) Women had to Pay to Marry Them - Marriage in the age of Samurai was an unusual thing, because what exactly it entailed depended on the class of the woman a given Samurai wanted to wed. For example, let's focus on what happened when women from the lower classes wanted to get themselves some of that sweet Samurai loving, because it's hilarious. In short, common women wanting to marry Samurai had to pay them for the privilege of becoming what amounted to becoming a servant. That last part isn't hyperbole, either. It's noted that one of the most valued traits in Samurai wives was "obedience," and they were basically expected to do everything for their husband, including making themselves available for sex 24/7. Which might not be as insulting for the woman, if their husbands weren't also allowed to have mistresses, if they wanted.
While having a Samurai husband admittedly did have several benefits for common women, such as increased status, it did come with an undeniable downside in that...
6. Wives Were Expected to Kill Themselves, If Their Husbands Messed Up - Seppuku was a form of ritual suicide practiced by Samurai (and others) when they really messed up. Usually, it was done as a way to rob an enemy of the satisfaction of killing them. Think of it as the most extreme version possible of saying, "You can't fire me, I quit."
To commit seppuku, a Samurai would slice open his own stomach with a small blade, before his head was ceremonially cut off by a trusted associate so as to minimize their suffering. Though this wasn't the only way in which seppuku could be committed, it was by far the most common. But here's where things get, well, weird. You see, when a Samurai screwed up so badly that he felt that h e needed to commit seppuku - to die with at least a shred of honor intact, his wife was expected to kill herself, too.
You know, the same wife who was expected to be unquestionably obedient and had little to no agency in her life. While functionally similar to male seppuku, female seppuku (known as jigai) involved slicing the neck instead of the stomach, and the woman was expected to tie her legs together beforehand so that her body would be found in a "dignified pose." After all, nothing says "dignity" like cutting off your own head because someone else told you to.
Speaking of telling people to kills themselves for no reason at all, let's talk about...
5. Bushido, and How it Killed Thousands During WW2 - Bushido is generally described as being a strict code followed by Samurai that stressed the importance of honor, self-sacrifice, and not being a narc. In reality, though, Bushido was more of a nebulous group of rules that Samurai kind of followed when they felt like it. This didn't stop the Japanese government reviving the idea of Bushido at the durinvg World War II, as a way of convincing conscripts that dying in the most explodey, "screw you" way possible was the best way to appease their Samurai ancestors.
While it's not necessarily the fault of Samurai that, years later, the government would use them as a shining example of why sometimes killing yourself could be awesome, if you did it in a metal enough way, it is their fault for being so cool everyone was all like, " Yeah, I'll crash a plane into a battleship, if it's what a Samurai would have done."
Which is kind of annoying when you take into consideration that Samurai weren't that cool, because "cool" isn't a word we'd use, since...
4. They Used to Shoot Dogs with Arrows, for Sport - Though Samurai are synonymous with the katana, which means "Japanese Sword," Samurai placed a great deal of emphasis in learning how to properly use a bow and arrow. So much so, that they developed a training exercise known as inuoumono, which quite literally consisted of chasing dogs on horseback and shooting at them with arrows. Over time, the exercise became popular enough that Samurai and Japanese nobles began doing it for fun, competing against one another to see who could pre-emptively annoy PETA the most. Just so this entry isn't totally depressing, we should mentioned that the arrows used were sometimes padded so that the dog wasn't killed, but this was less out of concern for the dogs' well-being, and more so that the Samurai shooting at them didn't have to go out and buy more arrows...
If you're largely indifferent to the idea of people murdering dogs for fun, maybe you'll be more inclined to dislike Samurai when you learn that...
3. They Used to Have Lots of Sex with Teenage Boys - Given the numerous benefits we've already discussed, like being able to murder people you don't like and having a semi-infinite number of dogs to shoot, it's probably not going to surprise you that a lot of people wanted to be Samurai. It may surprise you, however, to learn that becoming a Samurai involved having a surprising amount of sex with an old, creepy man. To explain, Samurai training young boys in the ways of combat were allowed to take their apprentice as a lover until they became an adult, as part of a "brotherhood contract." Though it's noted that the Samurai could only do this with the boy's express permission, anyone with a basic understanding of how consent works should be able to see how gross this is.
But what happened if a Samurai stopped being, well, Samurai, they were still awful people because...
2. They Refused to Re-Intergrate into Society, Because They Felt They Were Above Working - The idea of the ronin, those masterless Samurai who became wandering swords for hire, has become almost as romanticized as the idea of the Samurai itself and, as such, we felt like we should call them out for being awful people, too. In short, if a Samurai lost his master or otherwise dishonored himself, and decided that he didn't want to tattoo his own intestines with a dagger, he'd become a ronin, which was roughly analogous with being a hobo. Despite being considered one of the lowest rungs of society, ronin still mostly acted like Samurai, in that they treated everyone badly and refused to work like normal people. Work was considered to be "beneath" them.
Due to this, many ronin become bodyguards, mercenaries, and criminals, and earned their keep killing or robbing people for money. That was apparently more honorable than just working on a farm or something. But here's the best part: there were a subset of ronin so ridiculous in the way they acted and behaved that they get their own entry on this list. We're of course talking about...
1. The Kabukimono - Like ronin, kabukimono were often masterless Samurai who decided that being alive was a preferable alternative to Seppuku. Unlike ronin, though, they celebrated their ew lease on life by being utterly contrary. The kabukimono would dress in wildly flamboyant outfits, in the most garish colors possible.
When such an outfit couldn't be found, the kabukimono would settle for women's clothing, accentuated with the most stupid looking haircut possible, making them similar to hipsters, only marginally less annoying. Kabukimono, as Samurai with no masters and thus, no responsibilities, spent most of their time actively making the world a worse place, engaging in such activities as beating random people in the street or fleeing from restaurants without paying.
Kabukimono would also murder people for fun and rove the streets looking for other kabukimono to beat up... Ah, entertainment before television was invented...
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