Samurai: An Illustrated History brings the violent, tumultuous, and, at the same time, elegant world of the medieval Japanese samurai to life.
This book of Japanese history traces the story of a unique historical phenomenon: a period of 700 years—equivalent to the entire stretch of Western history between the reigns of the Crusader king Richard the Lionhearted and of Queen Victoria at the height of the British Empire—during which an enclosed civilization was dominated by a single warrior caste.
The historical narrative is supported by explanations of samurai armor, weapons, fortifications, tactics, and customs, and illustrated with nearly 800 fascinating color photographs, maps, and sketches, including ancient scroll paintings and surviving suits of armor preserved for centuries in Japanese shrines.
From the 12th to the 19th centuries the history of Japan was effectively the history of the samurai—the class of professional fighting men. At first they were no more than lowly soldiery employed by the court aristocracy of Kyoto, but the growing power of the provincial warrior clans soon enabled them to brush aside the executive power of the imperial court and to form their own parallel military government. Though individual dynasties came and went in cycles of vigor and decadence, the dominance of the samurai as a class proved uniquely resilient.
Through centuries of warfare, rebellion, and treachery, through invasion and overseas expeditions, the ever–shifting alliances of samurai families struggled relentlessly for land and power. The great warrior clans were founded by ruthless adventurers, rose to extend over province and whole regions of the country, and fell in utter ruin. At last, from the bloodbath of the Sengoku Jidai—the age of battles" beginning in the late 15th century—there emerged three extraordinary leaders who pursued the vision of unifying Japan under a single ruler: Oda Nobunaga, his lieutenant and successor Toyotami Hideyoshi, and finally Tokugawa Ieyasu, who fought, plotted and butchered his way to the ultimate prize.
Early in the 17th cenury the vitorious Tokugawa shoguns took the deliberate decision to isolate Japan completely; an until U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry anchored off their coast nearly 250 years later the extraordinary medieval world of the samurai was preserved as if in amber. Mitsuo Kure's account ends with the painful birth of modern Japan under the stimulus of that shocking encounter, which finally destroyed the institutions created by the samurai shoguns.