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Tradition Continues

After almost a century and a half of near-constant civil war and political upheaval, Japan unified in 1603 under a new ruling family, the Tokugawa. This 250-year regime brought economic growth, prolonged peace and widespread enjoyment of art and culture. The samurai, the ruling warrior class of this prosperous period, were the primary beneficiaries of this proliferation of riches and art.

The Art of the Samurai will explore how the guardians of this historic era expressed their status and creativity through magnificent and functional works of art. From silken suits of armor to elaborate ceremonies with precious wares, the world of the samurai continues to captivate audiences today. Join us as we enter this exclusive and enigmatic world.

The Regime Begins

During the Edo period (1603 - 1867), Japan was united under Tokugawa shogun, notably Tokugawa Ieyasu. Following his appointment as shogun in 1603, Ieyasu established his government in Edo, now Tokyo. As part of his governance strategy, Ieyasu redistributed land among feudal lords, strengthening loyal vassals and moderating their power through financial and political obligations. This shift transformed the samurai lifestyle and began to reshape Japanese culture through the modern era.

Who Were The Samurai? 

In the modern era, the terms 'samurai' and 'bushi', the traditional name for warriors, are often used interchangeably, but historically there was a distinct difference. Anyone could become a soldier, but one had to be born into the ruling class of the samurai, an esteemed lineage directly under the emperor.

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Edo Period Samurai Suit Of Armor


Philosophical Foundations

Bushido, originating in the eighth century and enduring through modern times, served as the code of conduct for Japan's warrior class, governing their way of life. Derived from the Japanese words bushi meaning "warrior" and do meaning "path" or "way," bushido translates directly to the "way of the warrior." Before the formalization of bushido, there were earlier codes of conduct, such as the Way of the Man-At-Arms and the Way of the Bow and Arrows, which were prevalent in the 10th and 11th centuries. It was during the Edo period that bushido became solidified with a formal code.

Virtues of Bushido

Bushido, rooted in Buddhist and Confucian ideals, prioritizes loyalty to one's lord and honor, encapsulating eight virtues: Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Politeness, Honesty, Honor, Loyalty and Character.

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In the Edo period, participation in tea ceremonies became vital for a daimyo's social status, showcasing their roles as warriors and patrons of the arts. The Japanese chadō tea ceremony, featuring ceremonial-grade matcha, is globally renowned today. Mastery of its movements requires years of practice. Though Japan’s feudal era came to an end in 1868 and the samurai class soon followed, a deep honor and admiration for the tea ceremony persisted through the Meiji period and continues to the present era.

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During the Edo period, Japan practiced isolationism, avoiding trade with the West. In 1853, American Commodore Matthew Perry broke this isolation by entering Tokyo Bay with U.S. Navy ships, aiming to establish trade and discourse. Despite Japan's initial reluctance, the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed in 1854, granting access to two ports and allowing American consuls in Japan. Although not a commercial pact, this treaty paved the way for future trade and contact with the West, profoundly influencing art movements like Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and transforming Western decorative arts with the influx Japanese goods.

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Meiji Japan Silver Tea and Coffee Service by Sanju Saku. Circa 1900. Sold at M.S. Rau.

Portrait Of A Mother And Child by Tsuguharu Foujita. Circa 1957

The samurai dominated the Japanese government and society until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, which led to the abolition of the existing social system. Despite losing their traditional privileges, many samurai entered the elite ranks of politics and industry in modern Japan, still holding vast social influence. The legacy of the samurai continues to reverberate through time, shaping not only Japan's historical narrative but also influencing contemporary culture worldwide. From their unwavering commitment to honor and duty to their mastery of martial arts and code of conduct, the samurai epitomized the ideals of courage, loyalty and discipline.

Honor. Artistry. Tradition. 

Step into the samurai world and discover how these historical guardians lived their lives through mesmerizing and functional works of art.