Samurai Identities in Early Modern Japan
Level 3 Gallery
Fall 2014 — Fall 2015
Table of Contents


Over the course of eight centuries (12th–19th) during which they ruled the Japanese archipelago, samurai created a rich cultural legacy that came to permeate all aspects of Japanese life. Warrior clans battled each other for dominance and adapted the literary and visual arts of the courtier elite to construct hybrid identities that encompassed the arts of war and high culture. Particularly during the early–modern Tokugawa period (1600–1868) — two and a half centuries of peace — samurai used military science, weaponry and armor, and artwork to celebrate a martial past and re–invent an identity in a country without wars. In this exhibit, you will see aspects of samurai identity in a number of forms — the weapons they once wielded in battle and later fetishized as relics of a glorious history; the books they wrote and scrolls they painted in order to perpetuate their knowledge and memorialize their past; and the images of samurai heroes that were re–appropriated as nationalist icons of imperial Japan in the early twentieth century.

The following students at Brigham Young University provided transcription, translation and information in the preparation of this exhibit: Emily Bartholomew, Benjamin Black, Darin Brinley, Rachel Brisson, Mika Buehner, Ashley Burdge, Heather Cazahous, Taylor Collins, Jamie Cote, Jessica Croy, Dahlin Draper, Brian Emery, Alec Ferguson, Patrick Harris, Cameron Hilker, Jack Koch, Chad Martinez, Landon McGlinchy, Bradford Melluish, Sarah Miner, Ryler Nielsen, Michelle Pappenfuss, Spencer Pelfrey, Cameron Schmutz, Michelle Soderquist, Zachary Strong, Candice Thomas, Marianna Thomas, Bradley Warner, Vernon Wilcox, Derek Williamson.

Samurai armor

Samurai armor Samurai armor

Samurai armor illustration

Samurai armor illustration

Illustration by Josh Cotton, BFA Illustration Student

This suit of armor dates from around 1853 and once belonged to a retainer of the Shimazu clan of southern Japan. It is likely that it was actually used by rebel samurai in combat when the Shimazu and others fought against the shogun’s army sometime in the late 1850s or early 1860s. This fighting led to the overthrow of the Tokugawa regime and the establishment of a modern Japanese nation–state. Ironically, near the beginning of the Meiji period (1868–1912), samurai status was abolished, disenfranchising those who had helped establish the new government.

Map of Japan

Map of Japan

The commercial city of osaka was the site of the Battle of Osaka (1614–1615), in which the Tokugawa regime consolidated its power. Tokugawa shoguns ruled the Japanese archipelago from their capital in edo until an alliance of outer clans, including the Shimazu based in satsuma domain, rebelled by proclaiming they would restore the imperial family, which resided in kyoto, to its proper place as the political rulers of the country. In 1868, the rebels overthrew the Tokugawa, moved the young emperor Meiji from Kyoto to Edo, changed its name to tokyo (“eastern capital”), and declared the Meiji Restoration the beginning of a new era.

Samurai and Haiku


Ink and color on paper, hanging scroll

Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 (1716–1784)

Ca. 1776–1784

Private Collection

The famous haiku poet and artist Yosa Buson developed a type of hybrid poem/painting style called haiga 俳画, in which the image and poem interact in interesting ways. In this painting, the poem does not mention a samurai at all, though that is the image depicted. Rather, the poem mentions abandoned signal fires. Yosa is perhaps suggesting that the samurai himself is the abandoned relic of a warrior culture that was becoming less relevant after a century and a half of peace.

みしか夜のなみ打 きハやすて篝
mijikayo nonamiuchigiwa yasutekagari
Summer’s brief nightalong the beachabandoned signal fires.

Hippu zukai Vol. 1

Hippu zukai Hippu zukai

Pages 24–25

These pages from the military science manual Hippu zukai 疋夫圖解 (1716) illustrate two types of signal fires used during battles. The first (on the right) is a standard signal fire, tended by low–ranking soldiers. The second is an abandoned signal fire, like the one mentioned in Yosa Buson’s haiku. These were placed near the borders of encampments and left to burn out by themselves. See more of Hippu zukai in the case along the south wall of this exhibit.

War Memory

Remembering battles and the warriors who fought them was key to preserving and propagating the fierce and fearless image of the samurai. As battles ceased during the largely peaceful Tokugawa period, images of battles and battle flags that functioned as reportage, such as The Tale of Ōsaka and Illustration of the Battle of Ōsaka shown here, gave way to texts that memorialized military accoutrements, such as the illustrated collections of banners. Aside from venerating great samurai of the past, these memorial texts functioned as a form of military science while also reinforcing the legitimacy of the Tokugawa regime.

Ōsaka monogatari

Ōsaka monogatari 大坂物語 library search page

Tale of Ōsaka

Woodblock–printed text and illustrations on kōzo paper, bound in two volumes

Anonymous author and illustrator

Published in Kyoto by Tsurugaya San’emon 敦賀屋三右衛門, 1672

Brigham Young University L. Tom Perry Special Collections

Call no. 895.6 Os1 1672

This tale recounts Tokugawa Ieyasu’s 徳川家康 (1543–1616) siege of Osaka castle in 1614–1615 in which he destroyed the rival Toyotomi clan. The scene on the right from volume one is from the winter campaign (December–January). Note the many and varied banners and the use of firearms. The scene on the left from volume 2 depicts Kōri Muneyasu’s 郡宗保 (1546–1615) suicide. Kōri was a leader of the banner bearers for the Toyotomi. After losing the battle, he refused to hand over his banner to low–ranking enemy troops he deemed unworthy, and so he retreated inside the castle and killed himself as the Tokugawa forces set fire to the castle.

Hata uma–jirushi ezu

Hata uma-jirushi ezu volume 1
Hata uma-jirushi ezu volume 2
Hata uma-jirushi Hata uma-jirushi

Illustrated Banners and Battle Standards

Ink and color on ganpi paper, accordion–style binding in two volumes

Anonymous author/artist

C. late 17th century

Brigham Young University L. Tom Perry Special Collections

Call no. 895.61 H28

Battle flags offer a fascinating glimpse into samurai culture. Used both as identification and to create aura on the battlefield, these flags are astonishingly varied and creative. They became the subject of interest for later samurai and scholars, who carefully documented banners used by famous samurai of previous eras.

Seiki shūzu

Seiki shūzu

Collected Illustrations of Banners and Standards

Ink and color on kōzo paper, bound in one volume

Tozawa Morinori 戸澤盛徳 (dates unknown)


Brigham Young University L. Tom Perry Special Collections

Call no. CR 115 .J3 S45 1800

Even in the late Tokugawa period (1600–1868), centuries after battles had ceased, samurai remained very interested in battle flags as an important aspect of their culture and history. Tozawa Morinori was an eclectic collector of battle flag imagery, and was interested in banners and standards including those of lesser–known samurai and samurai on the losing side of battles such as the Battle of Osaka (1614–1615).

Entire volume available for browsing on the tablet in the exhibit.

Seiki shūzu

Seiki shuzu Seiki shuzu Seiki shuzu Seiki shuzu

Collected Illustrations of Banners and Standards

Pages 43–46

On these pages Tozawa illustrates several banners and standards used in the summer campaign of the Battle of Osaka (1614–1615) that he copied from a 1799 copy of the Mogami screen 最上屏風, a painting said to have been completed shortly after the battle in 1615. A mid–nineteenth century copy of the same painting is displayed to your left. For more information on the Mogami screen and Tozawa’s study of it, see Seiki shūzu on the tablet in the exhibit.

Page 43

“In the sixth month of Genna 1 [1615], after successfully attacking Osaka castle in the province of Settsu, Tokugawa Ieyasu had a painting made that faithfully depicted the bloody battle that had taken place and gave it to Mogami Yoshiaki [最上義光 (1544–1614)]. After the Mogami family died out, the painting came into the possession of the Kōzenji temple in Muikamachi, Yamagata, and still resides there. A certain retainer of the Lord of Yamagata castle Akimoto [Tsunetomo 秋元永朝 (1738–1810)] made a copy of this painting, and I begged him to allow me to make a copy. I have illustrated here two or three banners from within that painting that are a little unusual in form.”

Page 44

Kuze Hironobu 久世広宣 (1561-1626)

Sakabe Hirokatsu 坂部広勝 (1561–1622)

Page 45

Kuze Hironobu久世広宣 (1561–1626)

Honda Masashige 本多正重 (1545–1617)

Page 46

Oguri Tadamasa 小栗忠政 (1555–1616)

Ōsaka natsu no jin zu

Osaka natsu no jin zu

Illustration of the Summer Campaign of the Battle of Osaka

Ink and color on silk, hanging scroll

Anonymous artist

Undated (ca. mid-nineteenth century)

Private Collection

This exhibit marks the 400th anniversary of the epic months–long siege of Osaka castle in 1614–1615 that allowed Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康 (1543–1616) to eliminate his last rivals. The daimyo Mogami Iechika 最上家親 (1582–1617) was assigned to stay in Edo to guard the shogun’s palace during the battle. Two of his retainers had a painting made that, unlike many later battle paintings, was true–to–life in its bloody and un–romanticized views of the campaign. The painting here is a copy of the 1615 original which was destroyed in a fire in 1894.


Three Instruments and Five Teachings

Byakunenshi 白拈子

Handwritten text and illustrations on kōzo paper, bound in one volume

1868.9.7 (October 23, 1868)

Brigham Young University L. Tom Perry Special Collections

Call no. U 43 .J3 H34 1868

“Three instruments” refers to battle banners, cavalry apparatus, and signal conches. The “five teachings” refer to five ways of learning the military arts through hearing, seeing, donning on the body, doing with the hands, and miscellaneous methods.

Though the preface to Sankan–gokyō–ron is signed only “Byakunenshi,” a pseudonym, the very end of the book is signed Nakajima Motonori 中島意徳(dates unknown). It is unclear if Byakunenshi and Nakajima are the same person. Nakajima was a samurai in the service of Sendai domain. This copy of a military text was completed the day before the reign name was changed from Keiō 慶応 to Meiji 明治, signaling the beginning of the Meiji period. The Meiji restoration of direct imperial rule was yet to be fully accomplished until the Meiji side won the Boshin War of 1868–69. Nakajima commanded a battalion on the Tokugawa side of this conflict.

Warrior Weaponry

It was not until the Tokugawa period (1600–1868) that the sword became the most visible weapon of the samurai. Bow and arrow, lance, and then musket were more common in combat of the medieval period. But it is the sword that has captured the imagination of the Japanese and admirers of samurai around the world. Indeed, Japanese sword–makers were and are among the finest. During the peaceful Tokugawa era, when their roles had shifted from warrior to bureaucrat, the sword became the quintessential marker of the samurai. Only those of samurai status were allowed to own and carry swords. No matter that they were no longer wielded battle and rarely used at all — swords became during the Tokugawa period (and remain today) objects of connoisseurship, symbols of status, and powerful emblems of nostalgia for a bygone era of war.


Samurai sword

Ōsuriage katana 大磨上げ刀

Attributed to Rai Kunimune 來國宗 (active ca. 1352–1356)

Mid–fourteenth century

Loan courtesy of Huffaker Collection

This sword is an ōsuriage 大磨上げ, meaning the blade has been shortened from its original length, so much so that the maker’s signature has been lost. Shortening and remounting of swords was common, and this one was likely remounted in the mid–fifteenth century, the fittings all dating to that time as well.

Note the diamond–shaped crest on the handle. This is the crest of the Takeda clan which also appears on Takeda Shingen’s 武田信玄 (1521–1573) banner displayed in front of this exhibit.

Short sword

Short sword Short sword

Ōsuriage wakizashi 大磨上げ脇差 Unknown maker

Blade ca. 1550

Fittings ca. 20th century

Loan courtesy of Huffaker Collection

Like the other sword in this display, this was once a long sword but has been shortened and remounted. This sword contains a signature, but it is a gimei 偽名, or false signature added at a later date. The blade does, however, date to the Warring States period, when warlords around Japan were mustering armies of samurai and competing for dominance.



Tantō 短刀

Unknown maker

Ca. mid–20th century

Loan courtesy of Huffaker Collection

This dagger is a modern reproduction of an Edo–period woman’s dagger. Elite samurai women were often gifted a dagger at birth, which they kept with them throughout their lives to use as protection or to commit suicide when necessary.

Tōken no maki

Token no maki

Swords Scroll

Ink and color on kōzo paper, horizontal handscroll

Copy of original by Ise Sadatake 伊勢貞丈 (1718–1784) and his circle

After 1801

Brigham Young University L. Tom Perry Special Collections

Call no. 895.63 M66

Ise Sadatake was the leading historian of samurai culture of his day. This scroll is a copy by an unidentified member of his circle and includes twelve famous swords and one dagger. The sword illustrated here is “Kogarasumaru” 小烏丸, which was brought to Emperor Kanmu 桓武 (737–806) from the Ise Shrine by a giant raven and later bestowed upon the Taira clan and passed down until it was lost at the end of the Genpei War (1180–1185). In 1785, the Ise family presented the sword to the Tokugawa shogun, dramatically revealing that it had been a secret family treasure for centuries. This illustration was originally made by Ise Sadatake in 1768, then copied in 1780, several years before anybody knew the sword existed. Kogarasumaru eventually entered the collection of the imperial household where it remains today.

This sword illustration is carefully annotated with information on the size, shape and design of each part. After the image is an inscription indicating that the copyist copied the image and annotations in autumn of 1780 from an image in the possession of Sakakibara Nagatoshi 榊原長俊 (1734–1798), who was a disciple of Ise Sadatake 伊勢貞丈 (1718–1784). Another disciple of Ise Sadatake, Hirano Sadahiko 比良野貞彦 (?–1798), indicates in red ink that he further annotated the sword information on the fourteenth day of the ninth month of 1780.

The Art & Science of War

After the Battle of Osaka (1614–1615) and the Shimabara Rebellion (1638–1639), the art of warfare as practiced on the battlefield transitioned to the science of military strategy and memorializing of accoutrements as disseminated by several schools of military scholars. The manuals displayed here represent one of the dominant lines of military science during the Tokugawa period. The widespread literacy of samurai enabled a culture of books and scrolls that preserved and promulgated military knowledge and samurai identity over several centuries.

One form of military knowhow circulated among warrior elite was that of firearms, just one example of Western technology adeptly adapted by samurai. Matchlock muskets were introduced into Japan in 1543 by shipwrecked Portuguese. Called Tanegashima for the island where the Portuguese landed, these guns were quickly copied and manufactured by the Japanese, becoming a decisive factor in battles of the Warring States period that preceded Tokugawa rule.

Hippu zukai

Hippu zukai volume 1
Hippu zukai volume 2
Hippu zukai volume 3
Hippu zukai volume 7

A Soldier’s Illustrated Guide

Ink and color on kōzo paper, bound in four volumes

Imaeda Naokata 今枝直方 (1653–1728)


Brigham Young University L. Tom Perry Special Collections

Call Nos. 895.61 Ar44 1716, 895.61 Ar44 1716b

By the eighteenth century, military science had developed into several schools, each of which had its own secret teachings and manuals. Arisawa Takesada 有澤武貞 (1682–1739) prepared Hippu zukai as an abbreviated overview of his father Nagasada’s 永貞 (1638–1715) military scholarship. In 1716, Imaeda Naokata, the chief retainer of Kaga domain, borrowed Takesada’s Hippu zukai and carefully copied it.

All four volumes are available for browsing on the tablet in the exhibit.

Kōken no zu

Illustrated stance and posturing for firearms Illustrated stance and posturing for firearms

Illustrated Stance and Posturing for Firearms

Ink and color on paper, mounted as handscroll on paper decorated with gold leaf

Copy of 1626 original by Inoue Masatsugu 井上正継 (?–1646)

After 1843

Brigham Young University L. Tom Perry Special Collections

Call no. 895.63 In7

Inoue Masatsugu made a name for himself as a firearms specialist in the Battle of Osaka (1614–1615), later becoming a firearms advisor to the Tokugawa regime. He died in 1646 after a heated debate with another firearms specialist, Inadome Naokata 稲富直賢 (?–1646), turned violent. The Inoue style ( Inoue–ryū 井上流) became the dominant methodology for firearms handling in Japan. The signatures and seals at the end of the scroll are those of the succeeding generations of the Inoue family, as well as several generations of Date 伊達 feudal lords who ruled Sendai domain. It is clear that they came under the tutelage of the Inoue as well.

Though a long horizontal handscroll, the joining glue has dried and separated, allowing us to display here separate pieces from various parts of the scroll. After the exhibit, the scroll will be repaired in the Harold B. Lee Library’s conservation laboratory.

Below are the dates and names for the line of signatures and seals at the back of the scroll, right to left.

Reinventing Tradition

Though samurai status was abolished in the reforms at the beginning of the Meiji period (1868–1912), samurai did not disappear. The symbolic power of warriors became even more potent as samurai were reimagined as Japan became an imperial power in Asia. As the imperial military — which claimed to be the successor to past samurai armies — came to dominate the constitutional monarchy, a painting of a fourteenth–century tale of a samurai carrying an emperor on his back surely resonated. Likewise, as Japan colonized the Korean peninsula (1905–1945), images of Katō Kiyomasa 加藤清正 (1561–1611), a general who led the invasions of the Korean peninsula in the late sixteenth century, proliferated. And as Japanese soldiers in the Asia–Pacific War (1931–1945) identified themselves as modern samurai, artistic depictions of past warrior heroes, such as Minamoto Yoshitsune 源義経 (1159–1189), took on added significance.

Kagemusha movie cut

Images of samurai — their armor, weaponry, battles, and emblems — are probably even more pervasive in modern culture than they were when warriors ruled the Japanese archipelago. Video games, comic books, and film all attest to the continued popularity of the samurai. Below you can see scenes of the Battle of Nagashino (1575) as depicted in Akira Kurosawa’s 黒澤明 1980 film Kagemusha 影武者 (Shadow Warrior). Though not entirely historically accurate, the scene nevertheless faithfully displays many of the trappings of the samurai detailed in the materials of this exhibit.

On the outside wall of the exhibit, you can see reproductions of battle banners (hata 旗) of several famous samurai of the Warring States period (1467–1600), including those of Takeda Shingen 武田信玄 (1521–1573) and Oda Nobunaga 織田信長 (1534–1582). Takeda was defeated by Oda in the Battle of Nagashino.

Battle Banners

Battle banners

The battle banners (hata 旗) displayed outside this exhibit are reproductions of banners belonging to famous samurai of the Warring States period (1467–1600), all of which also appear in materials displayed in the exhibit.

Sanada Yukimura 真田幸村 (1567–1615). Gold six–coin crest on red ground. The six coins are the required payment to cross the River of Three Crossings 三途川 in the afterlife. Sanada was the leading general of the Toyotomi side in the Battle of Osaka (1614–1615).

Takeda Shingen 武田信玄 (1521–1573). Takeda diamond crest in gold with gold lettering on navy ground. The lettering is a poem from Sun Tzu’s Art of War (孫子兵法, c. 544–496 BC). 疾如風徐如林侵椋如火不動如山 “Swift as the wind, silent as a forest, fierce as fire, unmovable as a mountain.”

Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康 (1543–1616). Three black triple–heartvine crests on white ground. The Tokugawa defeated the last of their rivals, the Toyotomi clan, in the Battle of Osaka (1614–1615). The Tokugawa shoguns effectively ruled Japan from 1600–1868.

Oda Nobunaga 織田信長 (1534–1582). Gold flowering quince crest on black ground. Oda defeated the Takeda clan at the Battle of Nagashino in 1573, largely thanks to his use of firearms.

Arrival of Emperor Go–Daigo at Hōki

Arrival of Emperor Go Daigo at Hoki

Ink and colors on silk, hanging scroll remounted in frame

Attributed to Kobayashi Kiyochika 小林清親 (1847–1915)

Undated (ca. 1900–1915)

Loan courtesy of Ray and Rita Hingson

In the spring of 1333, exiled Emperor Go–Daigo 後醍醐 (1288–1339) escaped his island imprisonment and attempted to overthrow the Kamakura warrior government, which he saw as a usurpation of imperial power. This painting depicts Go–Daigo being carried from his boat to shore at Hōki province 伯耆国 by the samurai Nawa Nagashige名和長重 (dates unknown), assisted by some of his clansmen. The image of an emperor attempting to rule directly, though with the support of loyal samurai, must have been potent and meaningful during the Meiji period (1868–1912), after the Tokugawa regime was overthrown in 1868 by samurai loyal to Emperor Meiji 明治 (1852–1912).

Woodblock Facsimile

Woodblock facsimile

In 1879, Kobayashi Kiyochika 小林清親 (1847–1915), who was a samurai and had fought in several battles leading up to the Meiji Restoration (1868), published a woodblock print triptych depicting Emperor Go–Daigo’s 後醍醐 (1288–1339) escape from exile. Kobayashi received training in both Western and Japanese painting, studying under the Englishman Charles Wirgman (1832–1891) and the well–known Japanese artists Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 (1831–1889) and Shibata Zeshin 柴田是真 (1807–1891). Later in his career, as the popularity of woodblock prints waned, Kobayashi turned to painting large–scale historical subjects in a hybrid Japanese and Western style. Though no signature or seal can be found, it is likely that Kobayashi re–worked his earlier woodblock print into the painting displayed here by eliminating background figures and restructuring the image to fit a vertical format.

Helmet of Katō Kiyomasa

Helmet of Kato Kiyomasa

Ink and color on silk, hanging scroll

Matsumura Baisō 松村梅叟(1885–1934)

Ca. 1920–1934

Private Collection

Katō Kiyomasa 加藤清正 (1561–1611) was one of the most famous generals of the Warring States period (1467–1600). He participated in Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s 豊臣秀吉 (1537–1598) invasions of the Korean peninsula, where he became known for hunting tigers. Kiyomasa also had one of the most recognizable helmets in Japanese history — a large black court cap with a gold snake eye.

Inscription: 威風堂々一掃千軍兵人此兜萬古不折 ifū dōdō issō sengun heijin kono kabuto banko orazu “His awesome dignity sweeps away a thousand armies of warriors / For countless ages this helmet remains unbroken.”

Yoshitsune and the Lost Bow

Yoshitsune and the Lost Bow

Ink and color on silk, hanging scroll

Minamoto Naohiko 源直彦 (dates unknown)

Ca. 1920–40

Private Collection

During the Genpei War (1180–1185), the famous general Minamoto Yoshitsune 源義経 (1159–1189) lost his bow in the surf, but risked his life to retrieve it. When his men asked why he had gone to such great lengths, he answered that it is a short bow, and he could not stand to have the enemy recover it and ridicule him for his puny bow.