Samurai are Japanese warriors, famous for their skill with the Katana. Samurai normally work for a clan and a lord. They are expected to hold to an unwritten code of Bushido, which encourages them to put honour, bravery, and loyalty over their own lives. Some samurai became famous due to their amazing accomplishments, or skill with the sword. This is a list of 10 famous samurai, that you need to know about.
Sanada Yukimura “Crimson Demon of War”
The Crimson Demon was a dangerous samurai who fought in Siege of Osaka, one of the most famous battles in Japanese history. Sanada was a leading general defending against the larger Tokugawa shogunate. With only 7,000 men Sanada managed to force back the invaders over and over again. He also launched several counter-attacks on the enemy. The castle was kept safe time and time again by Sanada rushing into battle and taking the Tokugawa Shogunate head on. He became an important figure in the siege. However, by the winter siege they had only half the numbers of the attacking force, and eventually Sanada was killed. This destroyed morale on the defending side, and they went on to lose the battle. It’s rumoured that Miyamoto Musashi took part in the battle.
Miaymoto Musashi is believed to be more skilled with a sword than any samurai in history. He defeated dozens of opponents, including famous samurai like Sasaki Kojiro. In fact, he defeated Kojiro using nothing but a wooden sword. Out of 66 duels, he never lost a single one. He wrote a book on swordsmanship called “The Book of Five Rings”.
Akechi is a famous samurai from the Sengoku Period, and was seen as an honourable samurai until 1582. He was a general working for Oda Nobunaga, one of the most powerful samurai in Japan at the time, and someone who had a very real chance of taking over the country completely. In 1582 Mitsuhide rebelled against him, killed this respected samurai, and then reigned as Shogun for 13 days. Before he died, Nobunaga ordered Mitsuhide to kill Hashiba Hideyoshi, but instead Mitsuhide told his men to kill Nobunaga. Mitsuhide used to be one of Nobunaga’s most trusted generals, but there relationship had soured when Nobunaga continually insulted, and humiliated him in public. Why Mitsuhide killed him is a mystery.
Hideyoshi was one of Oda Nobunaga’s greatest generals, and succeeded his position after he died. He ruled from 1585 to 1591, which is known as the Momoyama period. His son replaced him, only to be overthrown by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Hideyoshi was the reason that the right to own weapons was restricted to the samurai class
Ishida initiated the famous battle of Sekigahara in Japanese history, where he fought against Tokugawa Ieyasu. He was the only person who could stand against Tokugawa, if he fell here, nobody would be able to stop them. Ishida managed to amass a much larger army than Ieyasu, totalling 120,000 compared to Ieyasu’s 75,000 men. Ieyasu was skilled at diplomacy, and had, through behind the scenes talks with many of Ishida’s allies, managed to convince many of them to change sides at different points throughout the battle. It got to a point in the battle when Mitsunari had so many generals turn against him, that he was now completely outnumbered.
His army collapsed and he lost the battle. An interesting note, Ieyasu’s son was supposed to join the battle, but decided to attack a thinly defended fort on the way. Hidetada (Ieyasu’s son), had 38,000 men, compared to the defending force of 2,000 this looked like a quick and easy victory. However, this fort was under the control of Sanada Yukimura. His stout defense made Hidetata’s superior numbers irrelevant, and he could never get past him.
Minamoto no Yoritomo
Minamoto was the first shogun in Japanese history. He invented the shogunate system after his victory in the Genpei War, and immortalised himself in the process. The Taira Clan who were currently the most powerful clan, made a fool out of Prince Mochohito by putting someone else on the throne. In a dangerous rage, he declared war on the Taira, and put out a call to arms, which the Minamoto clan answered. This was the Genpei War, which had three factions. The Taira, but also two different Minamoto clans, one led by Yoritomo, and the other led by Yoshinaka. The first battle he took part in, was a colossal failure.
Minamoto was unexpectedly attacked by a force 10 times his size in the night and had to escape. He built up his army, and went to battle again. Eventually, with the help of his two brothers, they managed to push the Taira back. They then went on to create their own administrations. The Genpei war came to end with the battle of Dan-no-ura, where the Taira was defeated by a much smaller Minamoto army. 8 years after this victory, Minamoto had defeated his Minamoto rivals, and become shogun.
Minamoto no Yoshitsune
Yoshitsune is one of the most famous samurai from the Heian, and Kamakura period. He ran the military arm of the Minamoto clan, which came to rule Japan. Yoshitsune defeated the Taira clan in battle after battle, even when he was outnumbered. He is now known as one of the most skilled, and intelligent samurai from history.
Oda Nobunaga became the most powerful and feared man of the Sengoku period. His army became so large no one could stand up to him. He was a brilliant strategist, tactician, and businessman. He overthrew the Ashikaga shogunate, and took over half of all Japan. Nobunaga inherited his father’s land. His father was only a minor lord, and didn’t have enough to stand up to the larger clans. However, Nobunaga was able to defeat the much larger Imagawa clan. Nobunaga was smart enough to equip his army with new technology to gain an advantage over his enemies, and was the first leader to equip soldiers with muskets. Eventually he managed to get the skilled generals Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Hideyoshi Toyotomi to join his ranks. If he wasn’t betrayed by one of his own generals, he might have unified all of Japan.
Ieyasu successfully founded the last shogunate in Japanese history, after defeating all the competing warlords of the Sengoku period. He essentially became Japan’s ruler in 1600 after winning the Battle of Sekigahara against Ishida Mitsunari, who failed to keep his allies loyal. Ieyasu is now one of the most famous samurai of all time. He was prodigious, being successful in battle against the Oda clan in a series of battles while still a young teenager. Ieyasu fought the Siege of Terabe Castle in 1558, when he was only 14. He his first battle, but learnt from his mistakes. Now 16 years old, he captured the fortress of Marune from Oda Nobunaga. He would eventually become allies with Nobunaga, and become of the three unifiers of Japan.
Date Masamune “The One-Eyed Dragon of Oshu”
Date Masamune is one of the most brilliant, and famous samurai from the Edo period. He was an expert tactician, and noticeable for only having one eye. This is where he got the name “One-Eyed Dragon”. He was born in Yonezawa in 1567, and suffered from smallpox at a young age. This lost him the use of his right eye. When a senior member of the clan claimed that an enemy could grab it while fighting him, Masamune ripped it out of his own head. Masamune had a helmet with a crescent moon on top of it; this combined with his missing eye, gave him an appearance that inspired fear.