History | The Way of the Samurai
J400 | 3011 | Keirstead


Above section open to majors only
Above section open to undergraduates only

Towards the end of the twelfth century, a Japanese aristocrat,
lamenting the ruin he observed around him, sighed, “How few are the
houses that were there of old. Great houses have crumbled into
hovels and those who dwell in them have fallen no less. … Truly it
has become a warrior’s world.”

In this course we’ll take a less despairing look at the samurai and
their world. One of Japan’s most recognizable figures, the follower
of the “way of the bow and arrow” has become an icon capable of
standing for everything from the pre-World War II military state, to
the skill and efficiency of Japanese business in the 1980s, to the
fabled stoicism and forbearance of the Japanese population.

We’ll try to take apart some of the mythology surrounding the
samurai by examining the medieval origins and development of the
warrior class. We’ll  investigate the historical reality of warrior
life along with the legends, the war tales (with their depictions of
superhuman derring-do) alongside the more humble facts of warfare
and training and daily life. The elaboration of the warrior ethos
will be a topic of special concern as we investigate the ways the
warrior’s world found expression in religion, art, and literature.
For comparative purposes, we’ll also take a look at Europe and the
mythology and ethos of the figure of the knight.