There have been lots of stories about ninjas and samurais over the centuries. We have seen them in movies and cartoons and read them in stories. Today, let us get to know a bit more about real ninjas in history and Japanese samurai history. We’ll also discuss the conflicting thoughts about ninja vs samurai that have been prevalent since the inception of these two groups.
1. Real Ninjas in History
Most ninja families resided in Iga and Koka and lived secret lives. During the 15th century, there was a requirement for spies among warriors. So, the government officials formed a group & named them mercenaries. They were private soldiers which were not part of any military group and worked as spies and raiders. Some ninjas worked as arsonists and terrorists, depending on the group they were working with. Ninjas belonged to the lower classes in ancient Japan who were not officially a part of the military force. (Also read Why do people love Ninjas?)
2. Japanese Samurai History
The samurai were members of a powerful military caste during feudal Japan. During the shogun rule in the Kamakura period (1185–1333), this group was entrusted with the security of the estates. Samurais are warriors from noble families in Japan and are assigned a high place in the military groups. (See Why Japan is Called Land of Rising Sun?)
3. Most Powerful Samurai Ever
There have been numerous samurais in Japan, but Miyamoto Musashi (Niten Doraku after he became a Buddhist follower) is known as the best samurai swordsman for winning his first duel fight at the age of 13 and never losing a single battle of the 61 duels he ever fought. In the ninja vs samurai age, he was known as the sword saint of Japan, popularly known as Kensei. Apart from being a samurai, he was a writer, philosopher, strategist, and a ronin viz a samurai with no master. (See Why Japanese people are so disciplined and organized?)
He wrote two books as well:
Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings): It is based on the fight strategies and art of sword fighting.
- Dokkodo (The Path of Aloneness): It contains lessons about his last days.
4. Ninja vs Samurai
In the ninja vs samurai debate, you should know about their dressing styles and their art of living.
- Ninjas mostly wore civilian clothes in black or blue colors without any pattern. Only their eyes were visible as their dress hid their weapons, as they did not have proper armor. Samurais wore colorful Kimonos or traditional Japanese dresses made from fine silk or other expensive clothing material.
- Another ninja vs samurai difference includes that ninjas became role models for other classes by following discipline, ethical behavior, and a respectful attitude. Samurais were literate people, and their love for art was evident from various gatherings they organized, like tea ceremonies, painting exhibitions, etc.
- In the 17th century, Tokugawa Shogunate employed ninjas as guards for Edo Castle and spy on regional lords. They worked with and for anyone who paid them for their services accordingly. At the same time, samurais served only the emperor of the period and never asked for a fee. They served the noble classes closely and also protected their lands. (See What is the Difference Between Hearing and Listening?)
5. Weapons and Swords Used
The article about ninjas vs samurai will be incomplete if we skip discussing their fighting techniques and the weapons they used.
- Ninjas did not follow a code of fighting. Their style was known as Ninjutsu or the art of stealth. They never preferred to fight face-to-face while Samurais fought face-to-face and never took the path of cheating. Samurais followed Bushido i.e. the way of the warrior, an ancient code of ethics according to which they fought and lived. They also took Zen training to calm their minds during wartime.
- The sword was curved and slender, with a squared-shaped or circular guard handle, long enough to be held in both hands, known as Katana. Ninjas used the head of the sword to stun the enemy by sprinkling it with a stunning powder which was essentially a mixture of red pepper, dirt, and dust. For samurais, Katana was also their inseparable companion and soul. Katana was paired with a short blade and given the name of Wakizashib.
- Ninjas also used ropes and hooks, a collapsible ladder, spiked gloves for climbing, wooden shoes, bamboo tubes hammers, chisels, etc. Apart from their ultimate sword, samurais used weapons like a longbow known as Yumi. They were skilled in the art of bow shooting known as Kyujutsu and the art of horse shooting known as Yabusame. (Also read Why Do We Like Superheroes?)
6. Influence on Culture
Because of ninja and samurai, Japan has cherished its cultural heritage.
- Ninjas may not hold a place and status in history as samurais do, but they are well-known for their art and skills. Iga and Koka, the homeplace of ninjas, and the Togakure Ninpo School & Museum in Togakushi, Nagano are places where their essence is still present. There are museums dedicated to ninjas where their weapons and things related to them are preserved. Ninja temples, mansions, theme parks, shows, etc., are also places of authentic ninja culture.
- The heritage of samurai is present in every part of the country. The castles, battlegrounds, pilgrimage sites, and festivals have their essence all over the country, and their presence is still maintained. But above all, the discipline, cultural practices, respect, and honor witnessed by the people of Japan reflect how the samurais have influenced the Japanese culture. (See Why do Asians work very hard?)
So today, we learned about real ninjas in history and Japanese samurai history. We also discussed ninja vs samurai differences and their role in history and the modern age.