1274 Kublai Kahn’s Mongol warriors invade Japan; despite their superior numbers the invaders were repelled by the bravery of the samurai and destroyed by a terrific storm.
1281 The second Mongol invasion was again scattered by big winds and high seas; over 4000 ships and 30,000 men were lost. This kamikaze, or ‘divine wind,’ saved Japan from certain defeat, and became a term associated with the samurai spirit.
1543 The first barbarians, the Portuguese, landed on Japanese soil. While the introduction of their matchlock guns altered the rules of samurai warfare, it was their introduction of Christianity that proved to be the more dangerous invasion of samurai territory.
1650 By the 17th century the Japanese decided to close their country to foreigners except for the very limited trade with the Dutch and Chinese traders at Nagasaki.
1868 The Meiji Restoration restored the emperor to power at the expense of the samurai, whose spirit lives while they themselves have vanished.

1274 Kublai Kahn’s Mongol warriors invade Japan; despite their superior numbers the invaders were repelled by the bravery of the samurai and destroyed by a terrific storm.
1281 The second Mongol invasion was again scattered by big winds and high seas; over 4000 ships and 30,000 men were lost. This kamikaze, or ‘divine wind,’ saved Japan from certain defeat, and became a term associated with the samurai spirit.
1543 The first barbarians, the Portuguese, landed on Japanese soil. While the introduction of their matchlock guns altered the rules of samurai warfare, it was their introduction of Christianity that proved to be the more dangerous invasion of samurai territory.
1650 By the 17th century the Japanese decided to close their country to foreigners except for the very limited trade with the Dutch and Chinese traders at Nagasaki.
1868 The Meiji Restoration restored the emperor to power at the expense of the samurai, whose spirit lives while they themselves have vanished.

© 2006, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. All Rights Reserved.

Curator Barry Till tells of samurai life in feudal Japan, how they were at the top of the four classes of people. With honour they served society and enjoyed certain privileges as carrying two swords.

Welcome to the Samurai Section. I’m Barry Till, Curator of Asian Art. In ancient Japan there were four classes of people: the Samurai were at the top, followed by the peasant farmers who grew food for the nation, next in line were the artisans who made things like furniture and pottery for the people and at the very bottom level were the wealthy merchants, who were looked upon as parasites. The samurai lived by a very strict ethical code known as bushido; it involved high moral obligations to society as law-enforcers. Only the samurai could carry two swords. They literally had a “license to kill” known as kirisude. If a commoner was disrespectful the samurai had the right to chop of his head without consequence. The Japanese sword was the most terrific weapon of its age. It could be folded as many as one million times during production. A samurai never surrendered. They preferred to die in battle or they would commit suicide rather than surrender. This was known as seppuku ‘ritual suicide.’ In the west we know it as hara-kiri, and it literally means ‘gut splitting.’ They would take the short sword, stab themselves slightly below the waist, draw it across to the right turning it slightly upwards and then an attendant would chop of their head.

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
1185 - 1868
JAPAN
© 2006, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The following learning objectives have been created with considerable and specific reference to the Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLOs) for various grades and subjects as outlined by the Ministry of Education for the province of British Columbia. The portions that directly reflect curricula language have been italicized. All applicable texts, websites, and other learning resources are listed in the bibliography under References.

• Students will be introduced to Samurai philosophy and ethical code and see how it is reflected in their current knowledge of characteristics of contemporary Japanese culture.
• Students will review an encapsulation of Samurai history from the first Mongol invasion of 1274 to the Meiji Restoration of 1868 allowing them to examine the organization and evolution of Japanese society.
• Students will understand the responsibilities and social position of Samurai within Japanese culture (e.g. family vs. individual warrior) which will allow them to compare individual rights and social responsibilities in various cultures.
• Students will learn some Japanese vocabulary characteristic of Japanese culture and society (e.g. giri ‘duty’, chugi ‘loyalty’).


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