Japan has a rich history of deadly arts and ancient warriors, the most famous of which are the legendary Ninjas and the Samurai. While many people often confuse the two or believe them to be basically the same, there are big differences between these two types of ancient Japanese fighters. Let’s take a look the history of both classes and learn in what ways they were similar and different, and who would win in a fight between the two!
The Samurai, known as bushi or buke by the Japanese, were warriors that belonged to the noble classes of ancient Japanese society. In fact, the word Samurai means “those who serve in close attendance to the nobility”.
The Samurai first came into existence during a feudalistic period where the Emperor of Japan was relegated to being merely a ceremonial figure. The country was actually ruled by a Shogun, a military dictator appointed by the diminished emperor who presided over powerful clans called the daimyo. The Samurai were then employed to be their guards and elite military, allowing the Shogun to squash rebellions and maintain power. Eventually, the Samurai also became their political advisors and came to power in leadership positions.
Viewed above all other warriors in Japanese culture, the Samurai were men of principles who adhered strictly to a high code of honor called the Bushido – the way of the warrior. The Bushido called for the Samurai to be frugal, wise, pious, disciplined, loyal to their master, and value their honor over their very life.
The Samurai were skilled at dueling in hand to hand combat, as well as with weapons like spears, bow, and arrows and, of course, the Samurai sword. They followed a code of ethics when they fought ensuring that the fight was honorable in fear of disgracing themselves in battle and bringing dishonor to themselves.
While the samurai everyday clothing consisted of different kimonos with colorful symbols and pictures, a sign of their nobility status, in battle they would wear full body suits of armor, made of metal plates tied together with silk or leather, along with a metal helmet. Their attire favored protection over mobility or stealth, as their preferred method of combat would be open battle or duel.
While the Samurai were considered nobility and took no payment for their services to their daimyo or emperor, Ninjas were low-class mercenaries and assassins for hire available to anyone with the right sum.
Making their appearance in the 15th century, about 500 years after the Samurai, Ninjas specialized in espionage, infiltration, sabotage, ambush, and assassination, making them perfect for covert guerilla warfare and destabilization.
Unlike the Samurai, Ninjas did not follow any code of honor and did not follow any tradition of ritual or decorum when fighting. This made them particularly dangerous as they specialized in sneaking up on their targets rather than facing them in open battle, as well as using ninja stars and darts to silently assassinate from a distance.
Since stealth and speed were two of their main concerns when going on a mission, their outfits were usually plain black tight clothing, showing nothing but their eyes and containing no armor. This allowed them to go undetected on the cover of the night and move swiftly. However, they were also known to disguise themselves as priests, peasants, or even samurai, depending on the needs of their mission.
While the Samurai were elite fighters and masterful martial artists with knowledge of military tactics, there is little doubt that a Ninja has the upper hand in battle. Ninja’s trickiness, ability to sneak up on their opponents and lack of regard for fighting in a way considered honorable allows them to use unorthodox fighting methods and weapons that would not be allowed for a Samurai, giving them the edge in battle.
Regardless of who will win in battle, it’s safe to say that both ancient warriors were not only hugely influential in the crafting of modern day Japan, but later became myths that have captured the imagination of millions throughout the years. For those interested in learning more about their rich cultures and background first hand, below you can find museums and exhibits dedicated to these legendary fighters, where you can see actual weapons they used and outfits that they wore, and learn more about what made each of these warriors so amazing and memorable.
Upon arrival, you will be guided by a kuno, a female ninja, through a house that at first sight looks like a normal farmhouse from the outside but is anything but. Inside you will find all kinds of ninja trickery, including fake hallways, traps, revolving walls, and hidden compartments that hid swords and the secrets to their technology.
In the exhibition halls, you will learn about the weapons and tools the ninjas would use on their missions, their secret codes, and fighting styles and even watch a demonstration of them being used in battle. A must for any true ninja enthusiast!
The product of 5 years of founder Tetsuro Koyano’s arduous labor, the Samurai Museum offers 2 floors of authentic samurai armor, helmets, kimonos, katanas and so much more. Featuring realistic Sengoku period décor and reproductions of artwork and woodblock prints, the walls also showcase plaques with history and famous stories such as that of the nightingale and the three Great Unifiers.
The top floor features exhibits from the Kamakura, Sengoku and the bakumatsu periods, and the museum also features a fun sword exhibition, and the opportunity to take your photograph in the full samurai costume of your choice.