A few vocabulary words as we move forward from Kamakura and Muromachi period:
Bushido – ‘Way of the Warrior’. First recorded in the 16th Century (in the Koyo Gunkan and other such works), the term Bushido has come to act as a blanket expression for the philosophy and mindset of the samurai, in particular the ideals of honor and bravery.
Cha-no-Yu – Tea ceremony; a custom refined in the later 15th Century and popular among the samurai and court nobles. Considered in many ways an art form.
Chado – The Way of Tea; a term used to describe the art and practice of the tea ceremony.
Chonin – A class term for merchants and artisans, who figured in below the peasants and above outcasts on the social scale.
Daimyô – ‘Great Name’; term used to describe the autonomous lords of the late 15th and 16th Centuries who exercised personal authority on a multi-province, multi-district, or, in some cases, multi-village level. A term occasionally, and incorrectly, applied to the earlier SHUGO, or misleadingly equated to the shugo. At the same time, the term shugo-daimyo is sometimes used to describe the increasingly autonomous shugo of the
early to mid-14the Century, and the term shugo can be found still in use as late as 1560. In the Edo period, the term daimyo generally applied to those lords who governed lands worth more than 10,000 KOKU.
Fudo Myoo – Budd. Deity of Fire; attendant to Dainichi, depicted with a sword in one hand and a rope in the other. Also known as Achala.
Gempei War – The conflict between 1180 and 1185 that saw the defeat of the Taira (Heike, Heishi) and the rise to power of the Minamoto (Genji) led by Minamoto Yoritomo.
Insei – Modern term describing a system whereby retired/abdicated emperors continued to rule from behind the scenes. Once commonly translated as ‘government by cloistered emperors’, the term ‘cloistered’ is now considered misleading. Emperor Go-Daigo officially abolished this system in 1321.
Katana – Traditional long sword of the samurai constructed through the folding and refolding of a bar of hot metal thousands of times. Reknowned for its toughness and cutting ability, the katana-or tachi-replaced the bow as the primary weapon of the samurai during the later Kamakura period, although it was often secondary to a short spear (YARI) in battle.
Nichiren – Sect of Buddhism found by the monk Nichiren in the 13th Century that
tended to inspire nationalism and a hard-line approach among its followers to both religion and politics.
Nō – Traditional form of theater popular among the court and samurai that makes use of dance, costumes, music, and a chorus to portray an often-complex tale. Nō was developed 1350 and 1450 by Kanami Kiyotsugu and his son Zeami Motokiyo. The term is derived from the phrase sarugaku no nō. See SARUGAKU.
Ronin – ‘Wave Man’; a masterless samurai. Many samurai were made ronin by the vicissitudes of the sengoku Period, and so formed the basis for many bandit groups and outlaw bands that plagued the countryside into the Edo Period. Though not employed by a daimyo, a ronin was still entitled to wear his swords.
Samurai – “One who serves”; the traditional warrior class of Japan until 1876. While of obscure origins, the samurai emerged as a powerful force by the 10th Century and after 1192 acted as the de facto rulers of Japan. Until the 1590’s, the status of samurai was somewhat fluid, and within the grasp of those born in the lesser classes-especially in
times of war. In the 16th century, many samurai worked alongside the peasantry until they were called to service. After Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s clampdown on social mobility, all men who carried arms were considered samurai (or varying ranks) and made to live in the castle town of their daimyo. With no more battles to fight, the Edo samurai refined their ways of thinking and in many ways shaped the romantic way in which samurai history is now perceived.
Seppuku – Ritual suicide: the act of killing one’s self by slitting open his belly. Possibly first carried out by Minamoto Yorimasa in 1180, seppuku came to be the ‘official’ manner of suicide for a samurai, and was prohibited for all other classes. In time, seppuku came to take on religious connotations, but in essence the exceedingly painful manner of dying it brought was a mark of grime pride to the samurai-a final test of his bravery. By
the 16th Century a ‘second’ (or KAISHAKU) had been added to the ritual, to limit the amount of suffering the samurai who was to die would experience. When a female member of a samurai house committed seppuku, she almost always did so by slitting her own throat. Shôgun – Military ruler of Japan; a shortening of Sei to shogun, or ‘Barbarian-quelling general/marshal’. The rank of shogun was originally given on a temporary basis to those leading campaigns against the AINU, the first such commission being given to Otomo Yakemochi in 784. Following the Minamoto’s triumph in the Gempei War (1180-1185), Minamoto Yoritomo received the title shogun in 1192 and made it a hereditary position. The Minamoto were in time followed by the Ashikaga (founded by Ashikaga Takauji in 1338) and the Tokugawa (founded by Ieyasu in 1603). The rank of shogun was finally dispensed with when Tokugawa Yoshinobu resigned from that post in 1867.
Shogunate – Term used to describe the government of a shogun, BAKUFU.
Wakizashi – Short sword carried with the katana by the samurai.
Zen – Considered both a philosophy and a sect of Buddhism, Zen became popular in Japan among the samurai after it’s embrace by the Kamakura Bakufu in the 13th
Century. By the 16th Century, Zen was almost universally studied by samurai and daimyo alike.