How Samurai Work


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from Howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark: Hey, and welcome to - actually, konichiwa and welcome to the podcast. I had no idea what samurai were all about.

Chuck Bryant: I didn't either.

Josh Clark: Yeah. I knew that they were excellent swordsmen. I vaguely had some sort of conception from Kill Bill: Volumes 1 and 2, and of course, there's the whole Wu-Tang Clan phase that I went through for a while, but that's really about the limits of my understand of samurai, until now. Because we have been meaning to do this for about 17 to 19 months now -

Chuck Bryant: [Inaudible] true.

Josh Clark: - and we've researched it just about every week, so if we fail on this one, it's -

Chuck Bryant: Seppuku for us.

Josh Clark: Exactly. Nice one.

Chuck Bryant: Thank you.

Josh Clark: Chuck, let's talk about the history of the samurai.

Chuck Bryant: Okay, Josh. I have a prepared joke, should I say it?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: No one is quite sure who the first samurai was, Josh, but we all know who the last one was.

Josh Clark: That's pretty good.

Chuck Bryant: And he was short.

Josh Clark: Yeah, he was real short, and is still.

Chuck Bryant: Tom Cruise. I didn't like that movie. In the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries, Josh, there were a bunch of rivalries going in Japan and a bunch of wars. It was not a very good place to be, and a lot of these wars, most of them in fact, were against the people who inhabited the islands of Japan, which the imperial Japanese called Emishi.

Josh Clark: Which means barbarians.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and they were tough dudes, apparently.

Josh Clark: Yes, they were, and they were pretty good at riding horses, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Were they the ones that were the riding archers?

Josh Clark: They were, and so were another group from the planes called the Kanto. The Kanto Tribe actually were kind of in charge of fighting the Emishi, and the Kanto and the Emishi were really good at riding a horse, shooting a bow and arrow at the same time.

Chuck Bryant: Not easy.

Josh Clark: No, it's not easy, and actually, the earliest samurai did this. This is what they were modeled on. They were horseback archers, and that whole school of discipline that you identify with samurai, grew out of the kind of training it takes to be able to ride a horse and accurately shoot someone in the throat with an arrow. Right? To practice shooting someon e in the throat with an arrow while you're galloping past them, what did they used to use, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: This is a bad and a good. The bad, was they used dogs, running dogs, which was awful. The good news is, even way back then, the Shogun came along and said no more dogs.

Josh Clark: Right, he said use chickens.

Chuck Bryant: He said it's a cruel thing, and - oh, did he really?

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: And yeah, they didn't use the dogs as target practice anymore. Animal rights way back then, pretty cool.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and so, originally, the samurai was, like we said, based out of these horseback archers, but horses played a big role in the lines of the samurai. This code, that we'll get to more in depth, is called Bushido, was grown out of another kind of code or a way of living called Kyuba no michi. Man, do you know how many times I've said that in my head, and now that I say it out loud it's Kyuba no michi, right, which means, The Way of the Horse and the Bow, which basically, if you were dedicating yourself to being a horseback archer, that was your life. That's all you did. You lived, ate, and breathed that, right?

Chuck Bryant: Right. Sure.

Josh Clark: So that kind of discipline formed the foundation of the samurai outlook, samurai way of life, the samurai super toughness.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Nice work. They're also an elite warrior, and that status sprung from the fact that they were powerful families that lived way out far away from the capital, and they would pass their land down and their prestige from one generation to the next, over hundreds of years. So there were these warrior houses, and they obtained noble status. You combine that with the Emishi barbarian and the code - what was it?

Josh Clark: The Kyuba no michi.

Chuck Bryant: Right, the warrior code, and basically, that was the formation for the early samurai.

Josh Clark: Right, and the reason that you had all these warrior clans was because, like you said, I guess the early millennia, the first half of the first millennia was a really dangerous place. Lots of civil war, lots of land grabs, lots of just general butchery.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, power shifts.

Josh Clark: Sure, so these powerful clans grew out of this, and they started basically cultivating samurai. One of the key aspects, key characteristics of samurai, is pretty much the opposite of ninja. Do you remember when we did the ninja podcast? They'd turn on whoever hired them, you know, if somebody came along and offered them more money. Not so with the samurai.

Chuck Bryant: No, they serve their master, the Daimyo, is that how you pronounce it?

Josh Clark: I believe so.

Chuck Bryant: Okay, they serve their Daimyo with absolute loyalty, even if that meant death. And didn't you already say it means One Who Serves?

Josh Clark: I didn't. Did you?

Chuck Bryant: Maybe I just imagined that. Samurai means One Who Serves.

Josh Clark: Right, and that was actually, funny enough, originally applied to bureaucrats.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, interesting.

Josh Clark: And then it was ultimately applied to samurai, which little by little, there's all these different foundations that finally come together in, I think, the 12th Century when these two clans, these two warrior clans that were vying for power, the Taira, T-A-I-R-A.

Chuck Bryant: We're gonna go ahead and say the Taira Clan.

Josh Clark: Right, and the Minamoto Clan basically came together and clashed, and in 1192, the Minamoto's won. The head of the household, Minamoto Yoritomo - how do you like my Japanese now, huh?

Chuck Bryant: It's really good.

Josh Clark: Yeah, he said, okay, you know what, we now run Japan. The Emperor said, hey, way to go, I'm going to make you Shogun, which is essentially the head of the joint chiefs, the head of the military.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that kind of backfired on him.

Josh Clark: What did Minamoto do?

Chuck Bryant: He said, hey, thanks for making me Shogun, I'm going to take over and strip you of all your power.

Josh Clark: Right, and if you say one word, I'll cut your head right off of your body. And so, what happened was, the Minamoto Clan set the samurai up for this elite status that they never had before.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, they were servants before.

Josh Clark: Exactly. They served the Daimyo, and there was still an entire class of lower Eschalon samurai, who served the Daimyo, but then the Daimyo, these futile lords, served the Shogun, so it went Shogun, Daimyo, samurai, and then everybody else. The Minamoto Clan, who set up this Shogun, the government that they ran was the Bakufu.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that was a dictatorship, basically.

Josh Clark: Right, and that was the last time the samurai really changed. From that point on, the modern samurai was born.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Right?

Chuck Bryant: Yes. So Josh, we've talked about how they formed. Should we talk a little bit about the, just the nuts and bolts of what makes a samurai?

Josh Clark: I think we should.

Chuck Bryant: If you're talking samurai, you cannot skip the armor, the lamellar armor it's called, and you've probably seen it before. It's made by binding metal scales together on a plate, and then they cover it with lacquer to waterproof it. Then, all these little light plates are fashioned together by leather strapping. That's the armor that distinctively you've seen on a samurai.

Josh Clark: You know what's weird? I just wrote an article about skin disorders, and there is a skin disorder called Lamellar Ichthyosis, which is basically like fish scale skin disorder.

Chuck Bryant: Well, there you have it, full circle. There were two kinds early on, the yori, which was the mounted samurai; it was a lot heavier with the heavy helmets and shoulder pads and stuff. Then, the do-maru, which was lighter, obviously, for the foot soldiers, and then later on, the gusoku in the 16th Century, and that's what this dude is wearing right there.

Josh Clark: Yeah, that's a pretty cool picture that you got my Wan Calle, C-A-L-L-E.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I didn't even see there was a credit there.

Josh Clark: That is a pretty cool illustration. Did you see that MoMA link I sent you, or the picture from the MoMA Exhibit?

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: There's a MoMA Exhibit of -

Chuck Bryant: I did, yes.

Josh Clark: - of the guy who had the black lacquered deer antlers coming out of his helmet? Basically, if you saw this guy coming at you with a sword, you would probably die of fright. At the very least, you would run, and I think that's kind of what it was intended for. They had iron masks that went with the iron helmets.

Chuck Bryant: Yes, well, the helmet's called the kabuto, and like you said, they would often add the devil face, and they would add horse hair moustaches and little beards made out of horse hair on the front of the mask as well.

Josh Clark: Yes, which makes them even scarier.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and they're riveted together; you see the rivets, and does this - I have a picture one here I'm showing Josh. Does this look like anyone familiar?

Josh Clark: It looks kind of like the Parewilinder Pal Peralta skateboard from the '80s.

Chuck Bryant: No, no, no. Dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun -

Josh Clark: Darth Vader, yes, nice.

Chuck Bryant: This helmet is absolutely - well, actually, George Lucas absolutely modeled the Darth Vader look and helmet after the samurai kabuto.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Isn't Jedi a Japanese word?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and then the sword, the light saber was - we might as well talk about the swords since we're there.

Josh Clark: The katana?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, the katana and the wakizashi.

Josh Clark: Which together, is called the daisho, which dai is large, sho is small, and the katana is a larger sword, longer and thinner blade, and the wazikashi -

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: Or wakizashi?

Chuck Bryant: Wakiszashi.

Josh Clark: Thank you, is shorter with a broader blade, but you never saw a samurai without both.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And actually, you know why the katana is curved?

Chuck Bryant: Because of the process of making it, no?

Josh Clark: No, it was purposefully curved - remember we talked about how horses played a pretty big role in samurai, an unsung role? The curved blade made for a deeper slashing wound, which was inflicted by a horseback swordsman.

Chuck Bryant: Gotcha. Pretty cool. Did you hold one that day at the meeting we took? People are like, you guys took a meeting where there was a samurai sword?

Josh Clark: Yeah, we did?

Chuck Bryant: Remember, at the School of Human's deal?

Josh Clark: I didn't see that they had a samurai sword.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, this guy brought in a samurai sword at the end for one of their little jobs coming up, and I held it in my hand.

Josh Clark: Where was I?

Chuck Bryant: You might have been in the bathroom or smoking. This was before you quit smoking.

Josh Clark: Okay.

Chuck Bryant: And I held this thing in my hand, and I've never held - have you ever held a real samurai sword?

Josh Clark: I was messing with a couple in Japan, but - yeah.

Chuck Bryant: I mean, it's like way heavier than I thought, and when you hold it and you feel how sharp it is, you're like, this, I could literally cut you in half right now if I wanted to.

Josh Clark: All the ones that I was messing with were in tourist shops.

Chuck Bryant: The little plastic keychain ones?

Josh Clark: They were wood.

Chuck Bryant: Gotcha. Well, it's really intimidating. It's extremely heavy, and you feel the power of the sword when you hold it.

Josh Clark: Right, and the smith's who made samurai swords are generally recognized as the greatest sword makers in the history of humanity.

Chuck Bryant: Absolutely.

Josh Clark: One of the reasons why is not just because of these gorgeous, really heavy, perfect swords that they made again and again -

Chuck Bryant: Killing machines.

Josh Clark: Yeah. You could, actually, cut someone's head right off with one slice.

Chuck Bryant: Easily.

Josh Clark: But they actually created a technology or a method, a technique, for an age-old problem, which was, you want a sword with a sharp blade that won't break. You can use a hard metal to keep a blade that will keep its' edge, but it makes a very brittle sword, so it will break easily, right? So what did they do?

Chuck Bryant: Josh, they made a sword with a core made out of soft metal that wouldn't break, and then covered it with layers of hard metal that were folded and hammered. They hammer it to squeeze out impurities, and they keep folding it repeatedly until there's all these layers lam inated together.

Josh Clark: Right, like, literally millions of layers.

Chuck Bryant: Well, actually, that's - this article has a slight mistake in it.

Josh Clark: Does it?

Chuck Bryant: That's lore. I looked this up. When they fold the blade, they hammer it out, and there have been lore that they folded them hundreds of times, and thousands of times to create millions of layers. Apparently, after anything over 20 folds, adds no more layers.

Josh Clark: Really?

Chuck Bryant: That's what they said, so a 20 fold sword would have 1,048,576 million layers.

Josh Clark: Wow, so it's kind of like hammering a chicken that's been shot by a horseback archer.

Chuck Bryant: You just can't make it any more dead.

Josh Clark: It's just - yeah, right. Okay.

Chuck Bryant: So you talked about Kill Bill though? You know, you can buy a Hattori Hanzo sword on the internet, autographed by David Carradine for $600.00.

Josh Clark: I can't believe he's dead, still.

Chuck Bryant: I know. Hung himself in a Bangkok hotel room. It was fitting somehow though, and odd.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: But yeah, you can buy one of those for $600.00, or if you don't want to spend that kind of dough, I think you can get a functional katana for about $200.00 online.

Josh Clark: Yeah, or you could get a wood one from a tourist trap in Japan.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, well, that's what they use for training, you know, back in the day.

Josh Clark: Yes. You know, the cruel tutelage of Master Pai from Kill Bill - and certainly, Quentin Tarantino wasn't the first one to come up with the idea that samurai masters taught their students through rigid and brutal -

Chuck Bryant: Methods.

Josh Clark: Yes. That's been a recurring theme through samurai stories all along, and the reason why is because it's true; it really happened. There was one sword training master who used to walk around with a wooden katana, day or night, completely unprovoked and without warning, would smack his students pretty hard. Those things are hard; they hurt. Like, just holding it and tapping it in your hand, your hand starts to hurt, so actually getting hit by one of these swords hurts bad, and if you get hit by one randomly, you learn pretty quickly never to let your guard down, which is what he was trying to impart.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, you could be asleep and get a sword upside the head.

Josh Clark: You could be, you know, using the bathroom, anything, eating gruel, hammering a chicken that's been shot by a horseback archer.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, good point. Josh, they also use things called pole arms, which was a long pole with a blade on the end of it. That was good for stabbing at dudes on horseback. It gives you a little more reach, obviously, and they even had guns. This is something I didn't know. In the 16th Century, they started trading with Europe, Japan did, and they bought these matchlock guns and kind of kept them as backup though. The samurai was like, ah, I'll put a gun on my horse, but I'm not gonna use it. I'm still gonna use a katana, unless I really need it.

Josh Clark: It turns out, they got those guns from European missionaries.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, really?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Look at that.

Josh Clark: Yeah, who were kind of infiltrating Japan to try to start trade, but they were missionaries. Everybody relax, we're just missionaries, but hey, have you seen a gun before? Check this out.

Chuck Bryant: Sure, interesting. This is my boom stick.

Josh Clark: So, Chuck, one of the other characteristics of the samurai is this idea of a very noble, loyal life. We said that the kyuba no michi was the foundation for Bushido, which means Way of the Warrior. Bushi is warrior, and do is the way.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Right? So this is the Way of the Warrior, and essentially, it's just this code, this guide, that was kind of put up by one samurai or another, and it formed the legend of the samurai, but it also informed the way they live their lives.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and a lot of people hear this and they think it's a formal set of rules that everyone followed, but it was actually different depending on who you were, and where you had passed it down or gotten it from. It wasn't even written down until the 17th Century, so -

Josh Clark: Right. There was a samurai named Yamamoto Tsunetomo, and he turned into a Zen Monk. He had a follower who he just basically dictated the tenants of Bushido to, and he wrote them down.

Chuck Bryant: Darth Maul?

Josh Clark: Right. Actually, some of the high points of Bushido - well, it covers everything from life and death situations. If you're presented with the choice, choose death and you can't ever go wrong. You'll never be afraid because you're always prepared for death.

Chuck Bryant: I don't like the Bushido for that reason.

Josh Clark: Right, it's a little, eh. And then, to really trivial matters, you should never sneeze in front of somebody because it makes you look foolish. And then, my favorite, is the lesson of the downpour, where you know when you're being rained on, you're just so uncomfortable, and you're running, you can't get wet, oh my God, I can't get wet. So there's this Bushido tenant that says if you remind yourself that it is natural to get soaked in a rain storm, that's what's supposed to happen in a rainstorm, you'll never run for cover again, you'll just get soaked, what's the problem? This can be applied to all aspects of life. That's my favorite one.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I used to play in the rain up until six or eight years ago.

Josh Clark: What, you were trying to set fires?

Chuck Bryant: No. I mean, as an adult. Sometimes it's fun. I highly recommend it.

Josh Clark: Okay.

Chuck Bryant: I didn't know I was following some samurai code.

Josh Clark: Yeah, you were like right there. If you would be willing to die, Chuck, you would be a samurai.

Chuck Bryant: No. I come from the Wham Choose Life School. That's my code, tiny running shorts, and choosing life.

Josh Clark: Nice.

Chuck Bryant: I guess we have to talk about seppuku.

Josh Clark: Well, yeah, I mean, if you were dishonored, then yeah, you had to kill yourself.

Chuck Bryant: Yes, otherwise known as - I didn't know it was vulgar phrase, but hari-kari.

Josh Clark: Yeah, it essentially means gut-cut.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, no wonder. That is vulgar.

Josh Clark: Well, vulgar also means common.

Chuck Bryant: Oh God, you're right. I feel like an idiot now.

Josh Clark: Don't. I'm still trying to figure out the Wham reference, so.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, when I think vulgar, I think of nasty words.

Josh Clark: I know what you mean, but that's, again, common, you know what I mean?

Chuck Bryant: You're right. So this is what you - you know, when you have seen the person thrust the sword into their gut, it sort of doesn't really happen that way. What happens is, you gotta wear the right garments, very ritualized.

Josh Clark: White.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, is it white?

Josh Clark: Um-hum.

Chuck Bryant: And they present you with a ritual knife wrapped in paper.

Josh Clark: Right, to give you a better grip. Normally, you're going to do this in a garden or a Buddhist temple. Never a Shinto temple because a Shinto temple is not to be tainted with death.

Chuck Bryant: I would choose a garden. That would be my pick. You insert the knife into your -

Josh Clark: Wait, wait, first, you write a little death poem and you take four sips of sake. Four being shi, shi meaning - remember the Friday the 13th podcast in Japanese? Four and death are the same kanji character, so four is kind of like a pun on, hey, I'm about to kill myself. Okay, go ahead.

Chuck Bryant: Gotcha. And then you - can I plunge the sword into myself at this point?

Josh Clark: Please go ahead, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: So you plunge the sword into your belly, and you go from left to right, it's very important, and you do a little final upward cut at the end. If you're lucky, and usually you're lucky, there was another samurai behind you with their sword to cut your head off really quick so you're not writhing in agonizing pain.

Josh Clark: Right, and that - what's that samurai called?

Chuck Bryant: The second in command is called the Kaishakunin.

Josh Clark: Right, and if were -

Chuck Bryant: Kaishakunin.

Josh Clark: If you were forced to commit seppuku, which was kind of routine -

Chuck Bryant: You choose to though, right?

Josh Clark: No. You could be forced to. The Kaishakunin would be assigned by the Bakufu, the military dictatorship, right.

Chuck Bryant: To end it quickly.

Josh Clark: If you decided to do it yourself, then yeah, it was up to you to come up with a Kaishakunin. Probably, who you would want would be a friend, right, or an - I've never heard of this before, an Iijutsuka. This is somebody who had practiced drawing a sword, slashing it, and returning it to - oh, no, drawing a sword, slashing, wiping it off, and returning it to its sheath in one fluid motion. The Iijutsuka could, basically, they could cut our head right off -

Chuck Bryant: That's what you want.

Josh Clark: With one slice. No, it's bad news for the second samurai.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, but that's what you want as the -

Josh Clark: Well, you want to be killed immediately, and that was the point, but you didn't cut somebody's head right off. You would leave the throat, the skin attached to the throat because it was bad form to cut somebody's head right off.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, because you don't want it rolling all around on the floor.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: I wonder how those conversations went down. "Hey man, you want to do me a solid this afternoon? I gotta kill myself, and if you could be there to cut my head almost all the way off, I would really appreciate that."

Josh Clark: And Chuck, let's see what else was there? Oh, if you were young, or if they didn't think you could be trusted with a wazukashi - wakizashi -

Chuck Bryant: Are you serious?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah, yeah, the second sword. Sorry.

Josh Clark: Yes. If they were afraid you'd get up and kill everybody in the room rather than kill yourself, they'd give you a paper fan and then the moment you touched the fan or touch the fan to your belly, schwing, right.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, I didn't know that was lack of trust. I thought it was just a tamer version.

Josh Clark: It's both.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, okay.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and then one last thing. Can I - I really was, like, I want to understand seppuku.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: There's this type called jumonji giri, jumonji, and that where you committed seppuku and you bled to death.

Chuck Bryant: There was no backup sword.

Josh Clark: Right, and the last guy to do this was a General Nogi, who did it in 1912. Remember the Meiji Emperor?

Chuck Bryant: That's after it was outlawed. Interesting.

Josh Clark: Somebody's committed it as recently as 1970, but they had the backup samurai. This guy did it himself. He cut himself in the ritual cut, and then put his shirt on afterward and just kneeled there and bled to death, after the death of the Emperor.

Chuck Bryant: Wow, and the shirt just held all his guts in?

Josh Clark: I guess.

Chuck Bryant: Sort of like the horse diaper? Yeah, it was officially abolished though in 1873, although like you said, Japanese like to stick to their traditions, so it has happened as recently as the 2000's, right?

Josh Clark: Oh, is that right? The last I saw was 1970, but yeah, or maybe it started to make a resurgence in 1970 and it's still going on.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I seem to think there was some head of a corporation that did it recently, but I can't confirm that.

Josh Clark: Really? That's pretty - that's a way to go.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it's hardcore.

Josh Clark: So Chuck, we should probably talk about what happened to the samurai, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, where they went?

Josh Clark: Well, let me talk about this one guy first. Remember we were talking about warring clans and power struggles and everything, there was a huge civil war called the Sengoku, which was a civil war period in Japan. It was from 1338 to 1603. In that year, Tokugawa Ieyasu grabbed control, and this guy, he was a Minamoto descendent, so he took the Shogun title, and he kept the peace, his family kept the peace for 250 years. He kept a complete strangle hold on the other samurai, the Daimyo. He made it so that your family had to live in the capital -

Chuck Bryant: Oh, that's that guy.

Josh Clark: Right, and you lived way out in the provinces.

Chuck Bryant: He basically held the families hostage.

Josh Clark: Right, to keep the other samurai, the other Daimyo under control, right. He also had a castle called Nijo-jo, and I've been in that castle. We've talked about it before.

Chuck Bryant: What?

Josh Clark: Yes. Remember in the ninja podcast we talked about a guy who had a castle that had -

Chuck Bryant: Oh, the floors.

Josh Clark: Squeaky floors. I've walke d on those floors.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, yeah. Did they squeak?

Josh Clark: They sound like nightingales. They're called nightingale floors. It's just like, cheep, cheep, cheep -

Chuck Bryant: Did the ninja come down and kill you?

Josh Clark: I tried walking on it. I got, like, two steps without making a sound, so I could see a ninja possibly doing it, but it was random. Wherever you stepped, it was gonna make the sound. It was pretty amazing stuff.

Chuck Bryant: I don't think you and I would be candidates for ninja or samurai, maybe sumo.

Josh Clark: Possibly.

Chuck Bryant: That's where I'm headed.

Josh Clark: Or a geisha.

Chuck Bryant: So like you were saying, we gotta talk about where they went, what happened to the samurai. There was a - what did you say, two and half centuries of peaceful rule?

Josh Clark: Yeah, under the Tokugawa family.

Chuck Bryant: Right, so during that time, obviously, if you got peaceful rule, samurai are going to decline gradually just because there's no one to fight. Then, the main two things, Josh, are urbanization and the end of their isolationism. That's what really drove them out of business.

Josh Clark: Yeah because Tokugawa and his descendents didn't like the Europeans very much, and were like, you guys need to beat it because we know how to cut someone's head off and just leave a flap of skin at the throat.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Sure.

Josh Clark: So yeah, they were isolationists, and then all of a sudden, the Americans started going, you know, we'd like to trade with Japan. We get people who get shipwrecked around there somewhere, and we want to make sure they're taken care of, and we want to use this place as a supply port, so we're going to sail over there.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, so in 1853, the Commander Chandler Bing sailed into Edo Bay. Is that not his name?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, I'm sorry, Commander Matthew Perry. I had that wrong. He sailed over there to chat with the - Millard Fillmore sent him to chat with the Emperor, who was a figurehead, but that's who - you know, you can't go talk to the Shogun, you gotta go talk to the Emperor. So he went and said just what you said, we want to open trade and if we get guys that are shipwrecked here, please take care of them, and open your ports so we can dock here and resupply.

Josh Clark: Right, and -

Chuck Bryant: Please.

Josh Clark: Apparently, when he showed up, he said I'll be back in a couple of months; you guys talk it over, right?

Chuck Bryant: Talk amongst yourselves.

Josh Clark: But when he showed up, he showed up with full cannons out, guns, everybody was basically strapped to the teeth.

Chuck Bryant: He's like, think about it, see what you want to do.

Josh Clark: Right, but that - I guess that kind of intimidation really struck a chord with the Japanese, or some of the Japanese who are like, whoa, what's been going on outside the boarders of Japan while we haven't been paying attention? And so, there was a split in the samurai class, where some wanted to go ahead and open up Japan and modernize Japan. This is the people in charge. The lesser samurai didn't like that at all, so they actually went and staged a revolt. The lesser samurai actually won.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that was a surprise.

Josh Clark: It was because they beat the Shogunate, which is kind of a big deal.

Chuck Bryant: Very big deal.

Josh Clark: Although, they had gotten kind of fat and lazy in the two and half centuries of peace.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's true.

Josh Clark: So the lesser samurai, who hadn't gotten quite as fat, lazy, and comfortable overthrew the Shogunate, took the Emperor, and restored him to power, the Meiji Restoration.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and that was actually a boy Emperor, Emperor Meiji was, I think, a teenager at the time.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: I'm not quite sure, but he -

Josh Clark: He was young.

Chuck Bryant: Boy king.

Josh Clark: And now, he makes a really good yogurt drink you should try.

Chuck Bryant: Really? What's it called?

Josh Clark: Meiji.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Yeah. Well, I mean, that's the brand; they're like Nestle.

Chuck Bryant: Gotcha. So it was called the Nestle Restoration, and the power of the Diamyo's was taken away, the government seized their land. There was no way to pay the samurai, so they basically started paying them off with bonds, depending on what their rank was.

Josh Clark: Right, but it was like a, here's your settlement.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and go and don't be samurai anymore.

Josh Clark: Right. They had basically turned into the modern - the equivalent of what the modern era is, somebody who falls in the grocery store and lays around watching Jerry Springer waiting for their settlement to come through.

Chuck Bryant: Yes, that was kind of what happened at the end of the samurai.

Josh Clark: Uh-huh, that's pretty sad.

Chuck Bryant: And in 1876, it finally culminated with the final blow, which was the Emperor said you cannot wear your swords anymore, and we're going to draft an army. So that was kind of like no more use for you.

Josh Clark: Right, and so there was some rebellions here and there, Tom Cruise shows up, and the rebellions in the outlying areas are crushed.

Chuck Bryant: Top Gun.

Josh Clark: And that was the end of the samurai. Japan became modernized, but it wasn't the end of the samurai spirit.

Chuck Bryant: No, no, that lives on.

Josh Clark: As Chuck said, there was a CEO that recently killed himself using seppuku -

Chuck Bryant: Maybe.

Josh Clark: Probably, but also, it kind of informs Japan there's that whole keep a stiff upper lip, don't complain kind of tradition and culture, and you can argue that the history of the samurai is the history of Japanese culture. But also, in WWII, the Bushido was resurrected, and kind of perverted by the Japanese government, and sold to the Japanese military, who would go crazy and kill everybody before they were killed.

Chuck Bryant: Right, the kamikaze pilots?

Josh Clark: Yeah, that was part of it.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: There was the bonsai guys.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, the bonsai guys.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and just basically, their whole death before dishonor because it's like a suicide bomber today. If you're facing somebody who would rather die than lose, that's the most dangerous foe you have.

Chuck Bryant: Right, as opposed to the American way, which is do anything you can to save your butt, even if it means dishonor.

Josh Clark: Right, or go fall in the grocery store and see what happens afterwards.

Chuck Bryant: Right, and sue somebody. We would be remiss, Josh, before we leave, if we didn't mention a few movies, notably The Seven Samurai, 1956.

Josh Clark: Right, or the 37 Ronin.

Chuck Bryant: 47, they added ten, and The Magnificent Seven, the awesome western with Yul Brynner was based on The Seven Samurai, but a western version.

Josh Clark: There's also Ghost Dog, which I've been meaning to see, but have not.

Chuck Bryant: You haven't seen that?

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, well, I was about to say that's my favorite all-time, maybe favorite Jim Jarmusch movie; definitely top two.

Josh Clark: More than Dead Man, huh?

Chuck Bryant: I think it's in a dead heat with Dead Man. It's awesome. You've gotta see Ghost Dog. That's where Forrest Whittaker is like a modern day samurai living in New York, in Brooklyn, I think, even.

Josh Clark: Doesn't he raise pigeons?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, he's very peaceful. It's full of the Bushido. Like, it's broken up with him reading passages from the samurai code. Pretty cool.

Josh Clark: Nice. Okay, well, that's about it. If you want to see some pretty cool images of samurai armor and learn more about the samurai, including what a Ronin is and what happened to the 47 Ronin, you just want to type in samurai to the handy search bar at Howstuffworks.com. So now, I guess, it's time for listener mail.

Chuck Bryant: Yes, Josh, I'm gonna call this the cutest kid in New Zealand. Hey dudes, Chuck and Josh, this email comes to you from Felix, from Wellington New Zealand.

Josh Clark: Oh, yeah.

Chuck Bryant: He's a cool kid. I'm 9 years old, and I've listened to pretty much all your podcasts. Dad usually plays them in the car on long drives. The recent one of taxidermy I thought was seriously gross. I wish I could do a kiwi accent. I'm not even gonna try it though.

Josh Clark: No, I wouldn't if I were you.

Chuck Bryant: I had a thought that you guys might want to do an episode on really long place names around the world, how that came about, and what they mean. We have one in New Zealand called - and I won't even bother to say it because it looks like the alphabet or has just been written down in random order. I dare you to try and say it in your podcast, but Felix, I will not. But I did attach an mp3 of me saying it to impress you with my skills.

Josh Clark: That's Felix speaking, not you.

Chuck Bryant: Yes. You guys are cool and funny, and the by the way, it translates roughly as the summit where Tomatia, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land swallower who traveled about, played his nose flute to his loved one. That's what this name translates to.

Josh Clark: That's crazy.

Chuck Bryant: So we got permission from Felix's dad, since he's a little kid, and he said go ahead and play it. So without further ado, here is Felix from New Zealand.

Felix: Hi, this is Felix here. Listen to this: Taumata whakatangihanga koauau o tamatea pokai whenua ki tana tahu.

Chuck Bryant: That is awesome. I'm glad we finally got around to playing that clip. It's very cool.

Josh Clark: Very cute little kid there.

Chuck Bryant: Well, I don't think we should make a call for audio files, do you?

Josh Clark: No. I think that one belongs to Felix pretty much. His number is being retired in the Stuff You Should Know Hall of Fame. If you want to come up with something cool, interesting, and clever, and have your number retired, you should put it in an email and send it to Stuffpodcast@howstuffworks.com.

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