View Full Version : Were the ashigaru and ji-samurai considered samurai?

11th April 2003, 12:08
So I'm very confused about what exactly the defintion of samurai is. Were the ashigaru and ji-samurai considered samurai? And are the words "bushi" and "samurai" considered synonmous? If not, what is their difference?

Thanks in advance.


Meik Skoss
11th April 2003, 14:38
"Samurai" is a weird sort of word and connotes more the idea of a retainer who also happens to be a "bushi" (warrior). It's what we have taken into the English language to mean warrior, but I believe bushi is a more appropriate term.

The bushi class was divided into different levels. Not all of them were the same in every region/domain (J: han), so it's difficult to generalize, but *basically*, yes, the ashigaru and ji-zamurai were considered members of the bushi class, albeit very low ranking. It is probably safe to consider ji-zamurai as a sort of armed gentry, living on/by the land, whereas most bushi were deliberately kept in towns and paid stipends.

If you really want to know more about this, contact Karl Friday, a professor of history at the University of Georgia and specialist in the medieval Japanese period.

Hope this helps.

11th April 2003, 14:56
Hi Mr. Dirrenberger,
Yes, both the Ashigaru and the Ji-Samurai were certainly a part of the Samurai class in Japan...Think of it like being in a company...Some Samurai had higher level offices that they held and others were lower on the scale..The Ashigaru were Samurai but considered the lower tier of the group. The Tokugawa era led to a firmer understanding of where on the scale you belonged. Ronin may possibly have been considered lower than Ashigaru (??) on the scale but both were Samurai..The same applies to the Jisamurai, although by the Tokugawa era there had been efforts to restrict the groups to more 'single' occupations, this led to less of a 'cross-over'...The Samurai came to occupy houses in the central Towns of their Daimyo and lost their links to the countryside somewhat after 1600...
As for the terms 'Bushi' and 'Samurai'...They are not exactly synonomous. 'Bushi' means 'War-person' ('Warrior') and could be used in a description of duty as a soldier. This would apply to those who fought and carried that tradition on...Samurai were 'those who serve'...Originally used in Heian times to describe the aides of the higher class lords, Samurai as a term denotes a person who maintains a job as a Retainer to a lord. Used in many ways and not always in war...Bushi was also mostly used by the Samurai class to describe themselves...However far they became from actually being warriors (By the mid-Tokugawa period especially..)they still maintained the distinction of being soldiers..
There is more to this...And much that I have not put down. The best way to understand the idea is to read Japanese language books and compare the uses of the terms in them. English language sources are rarer but Dr. Karl Friday's books are very good on this subject and some of the more topic-based books by scholars like Jeffrey Mass have also looked at the use of the terms...
I 'think' thats it...(??)

Don Cunningham
11th April 2003, 16:10
Prior to the end of the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States Period), most every able-bodied male subject was armed with various weapons to some degree. Even farmers were required to help defend their provinces. As Japan became unified under Hideyoshi Toyotomi, though, a heavily armed populace was considered a significant threat to the new government. To discourage uprisings and revolt, Hideyoshi initiated a series of legislative social reforms. These edicts strictly defined social classes and drastically restricted social mobility.

In 1588, he issued the taiko no katanagari (sword hunt), a decree prohibiting the possession of swords and guns by all but the noble classes. Claiming the possession of weapons by peasants “makes difficult the collection of taxes and tends to foment uprisings,” the mandate prohibited farmers from possessing long or short swords, bows, spears, muskets, or any other form of weapon.

As a result of the edict, only members of the warrior class were permitted to wear the daisho, thus further differentiating samurai from the rest of the population. Three years later, Hideyoshi issued another edict clearly defining the four major social castes —-warrior, farmer, craftsman, and merchant. It further restricted interactions between the different classes and prevented any changes in social status. Samurai were also forced to move away from their villages and farms and to live within garrison towns. The creation of mutually exclusive farming and military social classes was calculated to prevent them from forming any potential alliances and resisting the new administration.

In the last of his social reform efforts, Hideyoshi commissioned a land census, establishing a uniform tax system and further restricting physical movement between the various provinces or han under his rule. Each individual was required to register their name, along with their status, and the number of houses. All registered individuals were also prohibited from moving to any other province or han without prior government approval.

Following the death of Hideyoshi and the establishment of the Tokugawa shôgunate under Tokugawa Ieyasu, these social policies were further enforced with even more government proclamations.

Basically, most ashigaru (foot soldiers) were forced to become farmers and to give up their weapons and former status under these edicts. The samurai definitely had various rankings, from hatamoto (bannermen) and down to the lowest levels. Even within the hatamoto class, there were levels. Some hatamoto found civil service employment as bureaucrats and administrators. Because of their annual stipends and positions, they were considered higher ranking than the majority of middle- and lower-ranking retainers, who were left with no real productive activity. Referred to as mueki no hatamoto (non-appointed or non-commissioned banner men), these unemployed hatamoto and gokenin (household retainers) typically received only small annual stipends and often faced serious financial problems. Therefore, they often had to find other sources of income as either farmers or merchants.

Don Cunningham
11th April 2003, 16:28
[Somehow this closing paragraph was not copied into the end of my previous post.]

While there were exceptions in some han, the social class situation played out the same in all provinces for the most part. Those who refused to become merchants or farmers and to give up their social status were often forced to become ronin.