This week, we’ll be starting a short series about the advent of the samurai class. First, what came before the samurai, and why did Japan’s emperors decide to devolve more and more power to provincial warriors?
Listen to the episode
Hired Swords: The Rise of Private Warrior Power in Early Japan.
Japan: A Documentary History, Vol 1.
A History of Japan to 1334.
Though now a rarefied pursuit for those with the money to enjoy it, in early Heian Japan horseback archery was the pinnacle of weapons technology. Able to swiftly move about the battlefield and alternate between harassing arrow fire and charges, horse-mounted archers were supremely deadly and generally more effective than traditional Heian foot soldiers.
Another depiction of a horseback warrior — this image, of the warrior Nasu no Yoichi, is from a later date than the point discussed in this episode, but still depicts the key aspects of the provincial warrior’s kit: the bow, a sword for defense, armor, and a horse. Only provincial aristocrats had the money and training for these weapons.
Taira no Masakado, the rebel who tried to make himself an emperor in the 900s. His destruction is a good example of the Heian system functioning effectively to curb warrior ambitions.