Sample Research Paper on Samurai Warriors


The samurai are legendary warriors and the most outstanding class of individuals in ancient Japan. They were noble combatants that fought each other or enemies that came upon them and their masters using their fear-provoking armor, swords, riffles, bows, spears, and arrows. The samurai progressed throughout the development of the Japanese culture and eventually became the highest ranked social caste during the Edo Period from 1603 to 1867. To be regarded as samurai, they had to lead a life anchored on the native code of bushido, which emphasized notions like loyalty to one’s master, respectfulness, moral behavior, and self-discipline[1]. A review of the lives of three samurai warriors, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Miyamoto Musashi, is carried out to gain more understanding of the unique caste and their role in shaping the Japanese culture.

Oda Nobunaga

Oda Nobunaga was a Japanese samurai warrior and a government official who ended the perennial feudal wars in the country by unifying more than half of the Japanese provinces into his rule. He was a virtual dictator who was able to restore a stable government and established conditions that would lead in the future to a unification of the entire country. Oda Nobunaga was born on the 23rd of June, 1534. His father is known as Oda Nobuhide, who was a deputy governor and had extensive land in the province of Owari. During his childhood, Oda Nobunaga was known to be a very cheeky individual who would play around with other children from the area regardless of his rank. At the time, Japan was in a state of anarchy since the Ashikaga shogunate did not have proper authority over the nation. Powerful feudal lords who ravaged the country for long periods, as marauding warriors would terrorize farmers who, as a result, had to arm themselves, replaced them. Japan needed a revolutionary leader that would revolutionize the country, and Oda Nobunaga, through military rule, would establish the proper course of such a revolution.

The father of Nobunaga, Oda Nobuhide, was a feudal lord in Owari province who controlled the areas that surrounded the city of Nagoya and had managed to amass wealth and a strong force of military retainers. When he died in 1551, Nobunaga was meant to be the legitimate successor, but many did not want him to up the leadership position because he was deemed to be too careless and radical. The Oda clan had many factions that seemingly opposed Oda Nobunaga from taking power and instead preferred his younger brother Nobuyuki. With assistance from factions of the Oda Clan, Nobuyuki was able to rebel against Nobunaga but was defeated in the Battle of Ino[2]. By 1559, Oda Nobunaga had managed to eliminate opposition within the Owari province and within the clan, thereby unifying the whole clan under his rule.

As a samurai with ambitions to rule the whole of Japan, Nobunaga took part in many wars in a bid to stamp his authority and establish a more powerful nation under one leader. An example of such a war was the Battle of Okehazama that was orchestrated by Imagawa Yoshimoto, who gathered his army of 40,000 men and marched towards Kyoto in a bid to aid the weak Ashikaga shogunate. The Oda clan could only rally an army of only 3,000 men and was greatly discouraged by experts within his rule to avoid frontal attack since they lacked the manpower needed. Nobunaga did not heed their advice but instead sent out scouts to spy on Yoshimoto and establish an appropriate time to attack. They prearranged a surprise bout during a thunderstorm and were able to win the Battle of Okehazama. The win led to the formulation of n pact between Oda Nobunaga and Matsudaira Motoyasu, who had experienced long eras of antagonism.  The triumph had a momentous impact on Nobunaga’s power and more vitally destabilized the zeal and alliances of his enemies.

Nobunaga wanted to unify the whole of Japan under his leadership by not only utilizing military prowess but also encouraging strategic partnerships through marriages and alliances in war. After the Battle of Okehazama, he advanced to the Saito clan that was in Mino province. Saito Tatsuoki had just acquired power after the demise of his father but was seen to be an ineffectual and feeble leader. Nobunaga sought to take advantage of the situation by creating a rift between the leader and his military retainers, who did not have confidence in him. After ensuring leadership and military prowess were lacking in the clan, he attacked in what is famously referred to as the famous Siege of Inabayama Castle in the year 1567. He forced the leader of the clan, Saito Tatsuoki, to flee, thereby leading to the collapse of the clan and the gain of a large share of Japan. Nobunaga continued his relentless campaign to conquer provinces, bringing them all under his leadership in a policy that was popularly known as “Tenka Fubu” that meant capture the whole world by the force of arms[3].

One of the main factors during Nobunaga’s rise to supremacy was the coming of the Europeans to Japan, particularly the Portuguese, who came to Japan in the early 1540s and took part actively in Christian missionary exertion and commercial trade. Japanese leaders were strongly against the spread of Christianity, but Nobunaga took a different approach by giving his approval to the spread of its activities since he hated Buddhist sects. The Portuguese introduced guns to Japanese warfare, which Nobunaga acquired and fought within his battles of conquest. As a samurai, who was constantly inept in the ways of warfare and susceptible to tremendous change, his enemies did not stand a chance against him.

When Nobunaga had properly implemented his control over central Japan, he launched a foremost campaign towards the western regions of Honshu. His leading generals, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Akechi Mitsuhide, were tasked with these responsibilities. Hideyoshi, in 1582 attacked the castle of Takamatsu that was controlled by Mori’s forces and asked for more reinforcements from Oda Nobunaga. As Nobunaga arranged to meet the request, he left Azuchi, went forth to Kyoto with a small retinue, and lodged at Honnoji temple. It was at that temple that Mitsuhide attacked his lord and set fire to the building, thereby assassinating his leader. Nobunaga’s ultimate death on the 21st of June 1582 denied him a more prominent place in Japanese history.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was given birth on the 2nd of February, 1536, in Owari Province in Nakumara, Japan, and he was born into poverty as his father was a farmworker and a part-time soldier. Hideyoshi lost his father when he was only seven, and his mother soon got remarried to another soldier of Oda Nobuhide. As a child, Hideyoshi was skinny and ugly, and when he was sent to the temple to acquire an education, he fled, seeking a better escapade[4]. In 1551, he joined the service of Matsushita Yukitsuna, the retainer of the powerful Imagawa family but later returned home in 1558 to offer his services to Oda Nobunaga. He first took part in the war as a sandal-bearer to Oda Nobunaga in the Battle of Okehazama that they won despite all odds being against them.

Six years after the Battle of Okehazama, Hideyoshi led a raid that resulted in the capture of Inabayama Castle. The Oda clan now owned the Inabayama Castle, and its leader was so grateful that he rewarded Hideyoshi by promoting him to a general. When Nobunaga decided to attack his brother-in-law’s castle in 1570, Hideyoshi was instrumental in its success since he led the first three detachments of a thousand samurai, each one against the fortified castle. They used the novel technology of riffles rather than relying on horse-mounted swordsmen. Oda Nobunaga was largely successful in his endeavor mostly because he received much needed technical support from army generals like Toyotomi Hideyoshi. By the year 1573, Nobunaga’s troops had defeated all his enemies within the area, and for his loyalty and unqualified success, Hideyoshi received the daimyo-ship of three regions in Omi Province as they had consolidated the power of half the provinces in Japan.

A calamity hit Oda Nobunaga during the year 1582 when his generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, decided to turn his army and attack him at the place he was lodging. It was rumored that Nobunaga’s diplomatic machinations had led to the murder of Mitsuhide’s mother, and this left Mitsuhide greatly dismayed. It has not been established how Oda Nobunaga died, but there are two theories, one suggesting that he either killed himself through committing seppuku or he perished in the fire that engulfed the temple he was residing in[5]. After the assassination, Hideyoshi was able to capture Mitsuhide’s messenger and learned of his master’s death.  Together with other Oda generals, Hideyoshi raced back to redress the death of their lord, and he managed to catch up with Mitsuhide, whom he defeated and killed at the Battle of Yamazaki.

After Oda Nobunaga’s death, there was a succession bout in the Oda clan, but Hideyoshi triumphed by installing the grandson of Nobunaga, Oda Hidenobu as their new leader. During the Battle of Nagakute,   Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu engaged in skirmishes that led to the crushing of Hideyoshi’s troops and the deaths of Ieyasu’s top generals. Ieyasu had to sue for peace since the war was too costly for him, and Hideyoshi’s provinces increased to 37. He started distributing lands to his defeated foes in Shibata and Tokugawa clans in an action that signaled that he was taking power for himself.

In 1583, Hideyoshi began to reunify Japan by constructing Osaka Castle that became the symbol of power and intent to rule Japan. He ordered that the old Imperial Palace be restored and started offering gifts to the imperial family. He then brought the southern land of Kyushu under his authority that was the primary trading port for international trade. In 1586, 250,000 troops were sent to invade Kyushu and crush all resistance. As he often did, he returned smaller portions to his foes while rewarding his allies with larger pieces. His ultimate reunification crusade was in 1590 when he sent over 200,000 of his men to triumph over the Hojo clan. They were successful after six months, and Hideyoshi ordered Ujimasa, the leader of Hojo, to commit seppuku. He confiscated all the domains and sent out the son of Ujimasa and his brother to exile, thereby obliterating the great Hojo[6].

During Hideyoshi’s reign, he introduced policies that were instrumental in maintaining peace in Japan. For instance, in 1588, he forbade all citizens besides the samurai from owning weapons, thereby clarifying boundaries between social classes. Three years after that, he prohibited anyone from hiring Ronin and ensured the Japanese social order was maintained. A nationwide census was carried out that measured not only the number of people but also their productivity, thereby deciding on how to tax them. Hideyoshi tried to conquer China and Korea unsuccessfully, and he died of illness on 18th September 1598, his lineage being wiped out successfully by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Even though his lineage did not survive, Hideyoshi had a tremendous impact on Japanese culture and politics. His major accomplishments were the solidification of the class structure, unification under central control, and the popularization of Japanese culture.

Miyamoto Musashi

Miyamoto Musashi is the most famous historical samurai due to his highly acclaimed prowess in martial arts and authoring of books on the subject matter, a key example being the “The Book of Five Rings.” His ideas of fighting strategy and techniques have frequently been articulated and have become commonplace among samurai combatants. As claimed in his book, Miyamoto Musashi battled over sixty duels during the period between 1604-1613, defeating all those who dared challenge him and establishing a reputation as the finest swordsman in Japan[7].

Miyamoto Musashi was born in Miyamoto village in 1584 into a samurai family and was brought up mostly with his mother. His father was known as Shinmen Munisai and was an accomplished warrior who would regularly visit his son and offer instruction on aspects of samurai culture, the central teaching being swordsmanship.  At the tender age of 10 years, Musashi’s parents died, and he found himself living in a monastery where he was taught about Buddhism. When he got to the age of 13, he was confident enough to challenge Arima Kibie, an older samurai attending classes at Shinto Ryu School. Arima disrespected Musashi by regarding him as a child that ultimately resulted in him being thrown to the floor and beaten to death by a wooden staff. Musashi ran away from the monastery at the age of 16 and got himself into a subsequent duel that he won with relative ease. Afterwards he faced a tougher challenge when he got engaged in the Battle of Sekigakarai as a samurai of the Ashikaga Clan warring against Ieyasu Tokugawa. Even though the Ashikaga Clan lost the war, Musashi battled courageously and succeeded in surviving its aftermath. After that, he had to contend with being a samurai with no master, a position popularly referred to as Ronin, and began to roam Japan on the type of warrior excursion referred to as Musha shugyo, and it is during this period that he honed his ideology in a sequence of duels.

Musashi began his pilgrimage by moving to Kyoto in 1604 where he would challenge the Yoshioka Clan, heads of the most prominent schools. Three contests were organized that set the swordsman on his path to becoming the greatest warrior of all time while ruining that of his opponents. The first was against Seijuro Yoshioka, and the two decided to fight using wooden swords and not to death. Musashi won the fight and broke Seijuro’s arm in the process thereby leading Seijuro to resign as head of Yoshioka Ryu and become a Zen monk. His successor was Denshichiro Yoshioka, who became the head of the family and ultimately challenged Musashi in order to regain honor for his family. The duel was to death and Musashi arrived late to get his opponent angry and killed him with a head blow his successor being a 12 old known as Matashichiro Yoshioka, who also challenged the warrior to a night fight. The boy wanted to engage in foul play by having a retinue of men kill him, but Musashi killed the boy and used two swords to fight of the retinue, a trademark that made him very famous[8].

The most famous duel that Musashi engaged in was with Sasaki Kojiro in 1612 who was termed to be the most feared and respected samurai in the land. Musashi arrived late, with tattered clothes, and a wooden sword that angered his opponent. Musashi fought tactfully and won the duel as he had his wooden sword made longer than that of his opponent. Later on he decided to teach his sword skills and by 1640 he had become the Lord of Kumamoto and inscribed books like the ‘The Thirty-five Instructions on Strategy’, ‘The Book of Five Rings, and ‘The way of Walking Alone’[9]. He died peacefully on the 13th of June 1645 after finishing the last of his books from natural causes.


The three samurai warriors made a significant impact on the course of history of Japan and its social culture. Oda Nobunaga was instrumental in laying in place strategies that led to the unification of Japan and make it a law abiding nation. Toyotomi Hideyoshi integrated Japan by conquering all clans and implementing strategies that promoted a peaceful nation. Miyamoto Musashi was a ronin who perfected the art of samurai warfare and wrote extensively on strategy thereby contributing significantly to developing a proper strategy in samurai warfare.


Beasley, W. G. The Unifiers”. The Japanese Experience: A Short History of Japan. California: University of California Press, 2000.

DiMarzio, Daniel. “One of the Greatest Warriors in History Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645).” Danieldimarzio Website. 2009.

Jansen, Marius B. The Making of Modern Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Poisuo, Pauli. 10 Fascinating Facts About The Samurai.

Szczepanski, Kallie. Toyotomi Hideyoshi: Japan’s Great Unifier, 1536-1598. February 4, 2015.

Tokitsu, Kenji. Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings. Essay, Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2004.

Weston, Mark. “Oda Nobunaga: The Warrior Who United Half of Japan.” In Giants of Japan: The Lives of Japan’s Greatest Men and Women, by Mark Weston, 140-145. New York: Kodansha International, 2002.

[1] Poisuo, Pauli, 10 Fascinating Facts About The Samurai, August 26, 2013, (accessed February 17, 2016).

[2] Weston, Mark, “Oda Nobunaga: The Warrior Who United Half of Japan.” In Giants of Japan: The Lives of Japan’s Greatest Men and Women, by Mark Weston, (New York: Kodansha International, 2002).

[3] Beasley, W. G. “The Unifiers”, The Japanese Experience: A Short History of Japan (California: University of California Press, 2000).

[4]  Szczepanski, Kallie, Toyotomi Hideyoshi: Japan’s Great Unifier, 1536-1598, February 4, 2015. (accessed February 17, 2016).

[5] Jansen, Marius B, The Making of Modern Japan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).

[6]  Jansen, Marius B, The Making of Modern Japan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).

[7]  DiMarzio, Daniel, “One of the Greatest Warriors in History Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645).” Danieldimarzio Website, 2009,

[8]  Tokitsu, Kenji, Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings, Essay, (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2004).

[9]  Tokitsu, Kenji, Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings, Essay, (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2004).