Samurai warriors were the members of the military class in Japan. They employed a variety of weapons, such as bows and arrows, spears and guns, but the most famous weapons were samurai swords. Samurai warriors led their life according to the ethic code of Bushido ("The Way of the Samurai") that stressed such points as self-discipline, respectful, ethical manners and loyalty to a master.
Samurai warriors were meant to fight in battles that were numerous in their lives until they were defeated. After a defeat, some samurai chose to commit suicide rather than being captured or dying a dishonorable death. Samurai warriors were of primary importance during the feudal period in Japan, as they took part in many wars and battles that occurred during the period.
Samurai warriors became very important during the Heian Period (794-1185), when powerful landowners hired samurai warriors to protect their properties. Two military clans, the Minamoto and Taira, were established during that period and they fought for the supremacy and control over the country against each other. The defeat of Taira by Minamoto Yoritomo and the establishment of a new military government in 1192 marked the Kamakura period (1192-1333).
The Muromachi Period (1333-1573) is famous for the chaotic Era of Warring States (1467-1573), when Japan consisted of dozens of independent states, constantly fighting with each other. Therefore, samurai were of great demand during the period, while many of well-known samurai movies took place during this era. In 1573, Toytomi Hideyoshi reunited Japan and introduced a severe social caste system that was further maintained by his successors. He made all samurai warriors decide between a life on a farm and a warrior life in castle towns. He also proclaimed that only samurai could arm themselves with a sword. During the Edo Period (1603-1868), samurai warriors stood at the top of social castes, followed by the farmers, artisans and merchants. However, in 1868, the feudal era ended and the samurai class was abolished.
Not only men are known to be famous samurai, but women as well. Tomoe Gozen is one of a few examples of a true woman warrior in the early modern Japanese history. She was married to Kiso (Minamoto) Yoshinaka, who rose against the Taira and in 1184 took Kyoto after winning the Battle of Kurikawa. She is described as a charming and beautiful woman, but at the same time, as a "warrior, worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot." She participated in many battles and stood one of a few last warriors on the battlefield. Some have written that Tomoe in fact died in a battle with her husband, while the others assume that she survived and became a nun.
It is important to note that in addition to the warrior skills and the ethic code that determined the behavior of each samurai warrior, samurai were very educated people. Their ideals were formed through learning national wisdoms, concerning life and death, philosophy, diplomacy, morality, human relationship, marriage and parenting that consequently led their lives.