Ninjas and Samurai are among today’s popular culture’s most famous military figures. Many of us have seen movies, played video games, and read books that feature ninjas or samurai characters.
Japanese history and culture enthusiasts respect the relevance of Samurai and other varieties of warriors in the nation’s history.
Japan is known for having a long and complex story comprising periods of war and peace. Ninjas and Samurai played a crucial role irrespective of the country’s social or political climate.
It was believed that in Japanese society Ninjas and Samurai worked together and did not fight each other.
However, according to certain beliefs, when a Ninja and Samurai fought against each other, the latter usually won. This article will discuss the origins, lifestyle, similarities, and differences between both. Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
Ninjas and Samurai: Who Were They?
Samurai, also called ‘bushi’ in Japanese, were military nobles in the country. These warriors existed in the period when the Emperor of Japan was a little above a ceremonial figure, and a Military General or Shogun headed the country.
These Military Generals were lord over several powerful clans, called ‘daimyo,’ each of which ruled over its small region of the country and recruited Samurai to act as its warriors and guards.
Samurai were not only violent warriors but were ardent followers of strict codes of honor and combat. During the Edo Period Long Peace, which lasted for 265 years (1603-1868), the Samurai class slowly lost their military function and diversified their roles as bureaucrats, administrators, and courtiers.
During the Meiji Reforms of the 19th century, authorities eventually abolished the Samurai class after enjoying centuries of power and influence.
The word Ninja also means ‘shinobi” in Japan. They were the former equivalent of secret agents whose jobs involved infiltration, espionage, sabotage, and assassination.
They originated from the popular Iga and oda nobunaga tribe. While the Samurai strictly adhered to their principles, the Ninjas were in a world of their own, using dubious means to get what they wanted. Like the Samurai and any successful Ninja, they were hired by powerful clans to do their dirty work.
There’s not enough info about them, but the image of the Ninjas portrayed in the modern day is far from the historical reality. Our current view of them has been reshaped over time, not only by Western movies, like the 3 Ninjas, but also by Japanese folklore and Media. (1)
What Did Ninjas and Samurai Look Like?
Being a Ninja was majorly about getting hidden information rather than assassinating people in the middle of the night. Most times, they would be inconspicuously dressed – as priests or peasant farmers, for example – to enable them to act as scouts and monitor the enemy without being caught.
Think about it. The concept of someone running around dressed in black doesn’t seem conspicuous.
However, Samurai appeared cool and dominant in their armour, which evolved to have a ceremonial and protective function as their role changed. The fact that Samurai didn’t have to charge into war at a moment’s notice during the Edo peace period indicates that some armour became exaggerated, even somewhat ridiculous.
When Were They Around?
In the middle of the Heian Period (794-1185), during the sengoku period, the idea of the Samurai first appeared.
There may have been sneaky ninja precursors as early as the late Heian Period. However, the shinobi—a group of specifically trained mercenaries from the villages of Iga and Koga—did not first appear until the fourteenth century, making them considerably more recent than the Samurai by about 500 years.
After Japan’s unity in the seventeenth century, the Ninja, who had emerged due to a demand for soldiers willing to commit dishonourable acts and relied on political turmoil and warfare for their livelihood, vanished into oblivion.
The Samurai, on the other hand, adjusted to their social position and survived considerably longer.
Similarities and Differences Between Both
Both the Samurai and the Ninja were military experts. Throughout Japanese history, they both laboured, but the Warring States era saw the most of their activity.
- The mediaeval Japan samurai and ninjas both participated in martial arts.
- Samurai and ninjas engaged in sword combat. While ninjas primarily employed shorter, straighter swords, Samurai used katanas and wakizashi swords. Most times, a samurai won the sword combat.
- Both collaborated to achieve their objectives. Due to their greater social standing, Samurai employed ninjas as mercenaries and spies.
- In Japanese history, both have long histories and have ruled society for many years.
- Samurai acquired their talents from their families and at schools. In Ninja history, it is believed that most ninjas have acquired knowledge through contact with other ninjas and in schools.
Both kinds of military professionals descended from warriors and thinkers in previous generations. Shoguns and daimyo of the Samurai clan were related, and feuds between clans were motivated by kinship ties.
Ninjas may have lived in families and picked up their talents from close family members at a young age. Hence, their families played a significant role in their skills and talents.
The Japanese history of arts and culture, such as painting, poetry, storytelling, the tea ceremony, and more, were both influenced by and participated in by ninjas and Samurai. (2)
While samurai and ninjas have many things in common, they differ significantly in several important ways. The two sorts of warriors have quite different moral codes and value systems, one of their most significant contrasts.
- Samurai were renowned for their moral compass, emphasis on honour, and sense of right and wrong. Ninjas, on the other hand, were led in their tactics and acts by ninjutsu, a broad category of physical and mental skills.
- A dishonorable Japanese samurai would attempt ritual suicide rather than endure the shame owing to their values. Since Ninjas value balance and harmony more than absolute right and wrong, an Iga ninja might carry out an act considered dishonourable by Samurai but acceptable to ninja standards.
- Samurai only engaged in battle according to honourable means. However, the Ninjas operated as foot soldiers.
- Samurai used ninjas to carry out dishonourable missions, including spying, arson, and other secret activities. When carrying out their assigned activities, they acted covertly and stealthily and dressed simply in black attire. Although a ninja disguised as a spy does not necessarily mean he was working for the samurai, on the other hand, he might be working on a secret mission for his country. (3)
We may never know for sure if ninjas and samurai ever fought one another. But we do know that they were both highly skilled warriors who played important roles in Japanese history.
If you enjoyed learning about these two warring factions, be sure to check out our other blog posts about Japanese culture and history. Thanks for reading!