The Masterless Samurai
September 5, 2011 · 6:22pm EST · Posted by Fujiyama Dojo
Fujiyama Dojo
P.O. Box 20003
Thorold, ON, Canada
L2V 5B3
(905) 680-6389
A masterless samurai or ronin (literally "wave man") was the term used to describe an unemployed samurai. Whether it was by the dissolution of a fief or some other circumstance such as being "born" a ronin, son of a masterless samurai, some warriors wandered the land. Their martial skills had to be developed constantly because they were subject to innumerable challenges, many of them from other samurai seeking to "improve" their names. These ronin served as mercenaries, assassins by payment, or were hired to protect towns or villages, sometimes even against the organized forces of a Lord. Unwillingly, these ronin provided some of the so-called "lesser" styles of swordsman ship and other fighting arts by instructing individuals of other social classes when hired for whatever reasons. The ronin were feared and respected, and are a romantic character in stories, legends and literature of old Japan. The cinematic character Yojimbo (meaning bodyguard) played by Toshiro Mifune seems to best represent the image of the wandering warrior.


Idleness took care of some ronin who allowed themselves to indulge in wine, gambling and neglected training. Others lost their status, like all samurai, with the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The Shizoku (ex-samurai) became a symbol of a bygone era. Some were forced to sell their possessions, including the unthinkable; their prized swords. The money obtained through those sales was called namida no kane or "the money of tears". The ronin legend ended there, with that of all samurai. Some family records describe that some survived as painters, carvers or even instructing in calligraphy, but the majority suffered a fatal blow due to the change in Japanese society. Of course, entrepreneurs from samurai backgrounds also emerged. A retainer of the Tosa clan, Iwasaki Yotaro, ran a private business and was entrusted by the Meiji government with some of its commercial interests. His company still survives today. Its name is Mitsubishi.


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