10 Horrifying Facts You Didn’t Know About Samurai

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Pop culture would have you believe that the samurai were a noble bunch of honorable warriors who served and protected their communities. In reality though, samurai were jerks of the highest order, who abused the power they were given in ways that would make a bloodsucking parasite think they were overstepping boundaries. For example, consider…

10. They Tested Swords by Cutting People in Half

katana

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 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, with the ease with which this was done being used as a 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, we know where this is going…

9. Samurai Randomly Murdered People for Fun

samurai

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

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“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 1) they had to do so immediately after the perceived insult occurred, and 2) 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 buttnuggets, as they were also deemed so important that…

7. (Common) Women had to Pay to Marry Them

samurai wedding

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. Today we’re going to focus on what happened when women from the lower classes wanted to get themselves some of that sweet samurai loving, though, because it’s hilarious.

In short, common women wanting to marry samurai had to pay them for the privilege of becoming what amounted to 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 wouldn’t be as insulting for the woman if their husbands weren’t also allowed to have mistresses, if they wanted.

While spending quality time with samurai penis 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 Husband Messed Up

jigai

Seppuku, for the lucky few of you who’ve managed to make it this far on the internet without running into those people who are oddly obsessed with Japan, was a form of ritual suicide practiced by samurai 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 (or sufficiently trained bear, we’re assuming) 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 he 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

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 turn of WW2, 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

samurai bow

Though samurai are synonymous with the katana, which as the film Samurai Cop has taught us means “Japanese Sword,” samurai placed a great deal of emphasis in learning how to properly use a bow. So much so (hey, that rhymes) 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 if they were really good at it.

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

gay samurai

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. For anyone who doesn’t, feel free to go on Google image search and browse the many pieces of “artwork” depicting this practice until you, like us, agree that it’s “icky as all hell.”

And here’s the thing: even in the event 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

ronin

The idea of ronin, 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 like crap and refused to work like normal people, considering it 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

kabukimono

Like ronin, kabukimono were often masterless samurai who decided that being alive was a preferable alternative to letting someone cut their head off with a big sword. Unlike ronin, though, they celebrated their new lease on life by being utterly fabulous.

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 activities that would make Master Betty proud, like 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, in what must have been the most fabulously well coordinated fistfights this side of a Power Rangers crossover episode.

Which is a pretty great image to leave everyone picturing.


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5 Comments

  1. Rene Maurin

    How are they more condemnable or romanticized then the mob, medieval knights or the US troops? The article is sensationalistic, smugly harnessing the superficial layer of complex facts. It diminishes the humor in it to the level of intercultural mockery …

    • Rick Mendoza on

      And let’s not forget about the ancient Greeks. They weren’t any nicer and loved little boys just as much…

  2. Really is amazing how much pedophilia has existed in the world. I guess it’s only had a label for the last 100 years or so. Before that, anything goes.

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