This blog introduces my collection ‘Memories of Samurai’ and provides a brief history of the Samurai and their ethical code or bushido.
Memories of Samurai
Who were the Samurai?
Samurai were the officer class, or nobles, of the Japanese army from medieval times up to the latter part of the Nineteenth Century. Many of us will have come across them in modern literature. Even more will remember the ‘Shogun‘ television series from 1980 which was based on a novel by James Clavell. There are many films depicting Samurai including ‘The Last Samurai‘, made in 2003 and starring Tom Cruise. Going back to old black and white films, there is the classic ‘The Seven Samurai‘ directed by Akira Kurosawa, one of my favorite films. The film ‘The Magnificent Seven’, made in 1960, is essentially a remake of The Seven Samurai.
Samurai ethics was influenced by various religions including Buddhism, Zen, Shinto and Confucianism. This was not just an ethical code to fight by, but a way of living. It is known as bushido and has eight virtues: righteousness, heroic courage, benevolence/compassion, respect, integrity, honor, duty and loyalty, and self-control. These ethics allowed the violent nature of the lives of Samurai to be balanced by wisdom and serenity.
Before the 1550s, the Samurai fought for clans led by individual lords (daimyo). Samurai were fiercely loyal to both their clan and their lord. From the latter part of the 16th Century, the warring groups began to live peacefully and the role of the Samurai changed. They went from warrior to spiritual guides, still in their armor, following the bushido.
My images focus on the upper torso and head of my Samurai figures, with particular emphasis on the shoulders and the helmets of the armor. The original photographs were taken at the Festival Dell’Oriente in Perugia in October 2017, where there was a display of Samurai armor on life size figurines. Research for this blog discovered a great deal of literature about Samurai armor and it’s individual elements, far too complicated to go into here but for those who would like more detail click here.
Typical in my images, you can see the ‘spaulders’ (spode) protecting the shoulders. These are made of small bamboo or leather plates laced together with silk braid to allow for movement. The ‘kote’ are arm length ‘gloves’ made by bamboo plates connected by chain mail. The helmet or ‘kabuto’ is again made from bamboo and leather plates and includes a neck guard. It has a crest or buffalo horns. A face mask or ‘mengu’ serves to both terrify the enemy but also provides stable posts on which to fix the top heavy helmets. The mengu also has throat guards. You can read the history of Japanese armor with a great deal more detail here.
Memories of Samurai Collection
With my new collection I endeavor to portray not only the warrior-like, intimidating aspects of the Samurai but also an element of spirituality. This is echoed by the figures coming from the dark gradually out into the light. I have created a short YouTube video to show the new collection together, with some particularly appropriate music I think! Click to watch it and see if my intended vibe comes through.
All of the Samurai images in this blog are available to purchase as fine art prints, just click on the image that interests you to be taken to a page with more information. You can see my full Samurai collection at my Pictorem store (with free shipping in North America).
This article was originally published in 2017 and was updated and republished on 17 May 2022.
Before you go
My name is Dorothy Berry-Lound an artist and writer. You can find out more about my art and writing at https://dorothyberryloundart.com.
Thank you for reading!