THE TOP SAMURAI

Posted on June 05 2016

Samurai are some of the most interesting figures in military history. The samurai were the military nobility and officer caste of medieval and early-modern Japan. Listed are some of top samurai based on the interesting stories and myths around their lives. Please feel free to let of know if any are missing anyone from this list.

 

Yamamoto Tsunetomo

 

Yamamoto Tsunetomo (山本 常朝) (June 11, 1659 – November 30, 1719) was a samurai of the Saga Domain in Hizen Province under his lord Nabeshima Mitsushige. For thirty years Yamamoto devoted his life to the service of his lord and clan. When Nabeshima died in 1700, Yamamoto did not choose to follow his master in death in junshi because the master had expressed a dislike of the practice in his life. Instead, Yamamoto followed his lord’s wishes and refrained from junshi. After some disagreements with Nabeshima’s successor, Yamamoto renounced the world and retired to a hermitage in the mountains. Later in life (between 1709 and 1716), he narrated many of his thoughts to a fellow samurai, Tsuramoto Tashiro. Many of these aphorisms concerned his lord’s father and grandfather Naoshige and the failing ways of the samurai caste. These commentaries were compiled and published in 1716 under the title of Hagakure, a word that can be translated as either In the shadow the Leaves or hidden leaves.

 

Miyamoto Musashi

Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵) (1584 – June 13, 1645), also known as Shinmen Takezō, Miyamoto Bennosuke or, by his Buddhist name, Niten Dōraku, was an expert Japanese swordsman and rōnin. Musashi, as he was often simply known, became renowned through stories of his excellent and unique double bladed swordsmanship and undefeated record in his 60 duels (next to “only” 33 of Itō Ittōsai). He was the founder of the Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū or Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship and in his final years authored The Book of Five Rings (五輪の書 Go Rin no Sho), a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy that is still studied today.

 

Minamoto Tametomo

Minamoto no Tametomo (源 為朝 1139 – April 23, 1170) (also known as Chinzei Hachirō Tametomo (鎮西 八郎 為朝)) was a samurai who fought in the Hōgen Rebellion of 1156. He was the son of Minamoto no Tameyoshi, and brother to Yukiie and Yoshitomo.

In the Hōgen Rebellion, he fought to defend the Shirakawa-den, alongside his father, against the forces of Taira no Kiyomori and Minamoto no Yoshitomo, his brother. The palace was set aflame and Tametomo was forced to flee and was banished to the island of Ōshima in the Izu Islands. In Ryūkyū, it has long been believed that he made his way down to Okinawa during his exile, and founded their kingdom by siring the first king of Chūzan, Shunten. This tale was included in Chūzan Seikan by Shō Shōken, the first history of Ryūkyū.

Tametomo is known in the epic chronicles as a powerful archer and it is said that he once sunk an entire Taira ship with a single arrow by puncturing its hull below the waterline. It is also added in many legends that his left arm was about 4 in. longer than his right, enabling a longer draw of the arrow, and more powerful shots.
After the Hōgen Rebellion, Tametomo was banished, after cutting the sinews of his Tametomo's left arm, limiting the use of his bow. He eventually killed himself by slicing his abdomen, or committing seppuku. He is quite possibly the first warrior to commit seppuku in the chronicles.

 

Tomoe Gozen

Tomoe Gozen, (巴 御前) (1157–1247), was a late twelfth-century female samurai warrior (onna-bugeisha), known for her bravery and strength. She fought with Minamoto no Yoshinaka in the Genpei War. After defeating the Taira and driving them into the western provinces, Minamoto no Yoshinaka (Tomoe's master) took Kyoto and desired to be the leader of the Minamoto clan. His cousin Yoritomo was prompted to crush Yoshinaka, and sent his brothers Yoshitsune and Noriyorito kill him. Yoshinaka fought Yoritomo's forces at the Battle of Awazu on February 21, 1184, where Tomoe Gozen purportedly took at least one head of the enemy. Although Yoshinaka's troops fought bravely, they were outnumbered and overwhelmed. When Yoshinaka was defeated there, with only a few of his soldiers standing, he told Tomoe Gozen to flee because he wanted to die with his foster brother Imai no Shiro Kanehira and he said that he would be ashamed if he died with a woman.

There are varied accounts of what followed. At Battle of Awazu in 1184, she is known for beheading Honda no Moroshige of Musashi. She is also known for having killed Uchida Ieyoshi and for escaping capture by Hatakeyama Shigetada.

 

 

Honda Tadakatsu

Honda Tadakatu[/caption]

Honda Tadakatsu (本多 忠勝) (March 17, 1548 – December 3, 1610), also called Honda Heihachirō (本多 平八郎), was a Japanese samurai, general (and later a daimyo) of the late Sengoku through early Edo period, who served Tokugawa Ieyasu. Honda Tadakatsu was one of the Tokugawa Four Heavenly Kings along with Ii Naomasa, Sakakibara Yasumasa and Sakai Tadatsugu.

A native of Mikawa Province in Japan, he lived during the Azuchi-Momoyama and Edo periods. Ieyasu promoted him from daimyo of the Ōtaki han (100 000 koku) to the Kuwana han (150 000 koku) as a reward for his service. In addition, his son Honda Tadatomo became daimyo of Ōtaki. In 1609, he retired, and his other son Tadamasa took over Kuwana. His grandson, Tadatoki, married the granddaughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Senhime. Despite his years of loyal service, Tadakatsu became increasingly estranged from the Tokugawa shogunate (bakufu) as it evolved from a military to a civilian political institution. This was a fate shared by many other warriors of the time, who were not able to make the conversion from the chaotic lifetime of warfare of the Sengoku period to the more stable peace of the Tokugawa shogunate.

 

Such was Honda's reputation that he attracted notice from the most influential figures in Japan at the time. Oda Nobunaga, who was notoriously disinclined to praise his followers called him a "samurai among samurai". Moreover, Toyotomi Hideyoshi noted that the best samurai were "Honda Tadakatsu in the east and Tachibana Muneshige in the west". Even Takeda Shingen praised Honda, saying that "[h]e is a luxury of Tokugawa Ieyasu". It was widely acknowledged that he was a reputed samurai and a loyal retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

 

Tadakatsu is often referred to as "The Warrior who surpassed Death itself" because he never once suffered a significant wound, despite being the veteran of over 100 battles by the end of his life, and because he was never defeated by another samurai. In theater and other contemporary works, Tadakatsu is often characterized as polar opposite of Ieyasu's other great general, Ii Naomasa. While both were fierce warriors of the Tokugawa, Tadakatsu's ability to elude injury is often contrasted with the common depiction of Naomasa enduring many battle wounds, but fighting through them.

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