Samurai – A Documentary

Just like a sudden realization I had this sudden urge to watch a documentary episode, and I particularly looked for anything related to samurai. Embedded below is the video from National Geographic. I’m not going to do a full write-up here, since I’m too unmotivated to do that. Instead, I will only write some notes from the snippets which stood out to me.

  • There was some (kinda of) large scale excavation and retrieval of full skeletons near the sea in Kamakura, Japan–the place most famous for its samurai history/culture/homage  (not that the entire Japan is not famous for its samurai)–which is some kilometers away (but not really that far) from Tokyo (you can see these places next to each other on Japan map).
    • I say “large scale” excavation because there were >3000 skeletons unearthed. That should be enough hint of a big massacre, which would mean it could have been due to a battle. And battle between what? Obviously, it could only be from warriors. And if we mention warriors in Japanese setting, it could most probably be the samurai.
      • Now, it’s time to face the truth that is often overlooked by popular media trying to depict (not so) ancient Japan. The entire regiment of the opposing sides were not only comprised of samurai (who were warriors serving a feudal lord), as they would also pull the monks to the  front-lines. I think even farmers, though could have been trained in weapon-wielding and some martial arts but were not professionals, were even involved.
      • Also, a samurai was not only skilled with the sword–like how contemporary literature and media love to show–but were also well trained in other arts such as archery and spear-wielding.
    • There was a wide range of injuries obtained by the fallen as indicated by the various marks of damages in their skeletons.
      • One pair of man and woman skeletons were found in intimate embrace. An interesting fact was that this pair of skeletons was found from a separate area, which was nearer to the land than to the sea where most remains were found. Their skulls had cuts, indicating a confrontation with an enemy samurai. Needless to say, these blows to their heads killed them in just seconds.
        • Women were also trained, but not as rigorously as men were, in martial arts. Just in case.
      • There were also skeletons indicating that the dead were also killed by arrows to the head and cuts on the top of the head. (Anyway, it seems that it’s always been fatal head injuries all throughout this episode. Yikes!)
      • Another pair of remains worth giving attention to were skulls found from another spot in the whole excavation area. One of them belonged to an older man. These skulls were missing the remaining skeletons to match them, so it is likely that these men were decapitated. Also, there were no signs of facial distortions, which would mean that these men were actually quite famous.
        • The older man could have been a high-ranking warrior of the Hojo clan.
  • Samurai‘s mastery of the katana (Japanese sword, 刀) is said to have been far more advanced than that of the West’s long sword, comparing both of them in the same time frame (about the 1300s). Though the West’s double-edged sword was heavier and could even break the bones of its victim, the katana was not inferior for its clean and simple strikes could even be more fatal.
  • I don’t know much of Japan’s history, so this episode was quite informative for me, though I bet that this documentary’s writers were a bit more imaginative than necessary, as they really are in most documentaries. Anyway, I think it’s worthy to note some of what objective data I gathered, even though I should seek supplementary reading materials to be more certain of these learnings:
    • The remains date back to the 1300s, and they possibly belonged to the (not totally exclusively) warriors who fought along the seashore of Kamakura, where the Hojo clain ruled. This clan was the opposing force to Kyoto‘s rising power, Emperor Go-Daigo.
    • Before Emperor Go-Daigo‘s time, the emperors/rulers were more of religious figures than rulers having actual power. Emperor Go-Daigo, backed with vigor and sufficient training in the martial arts, wanted to conquer and rule Japan, just like what his ancestors did.
    • Although Kamakura was supposedly impenetrable due to the protection by geological barriers (mountain ranges on the west and the sea on the east), the imperial army were still able to defeat the Hojo army. The former successfully infiltrated Kamakura by going through the seashore at low tide. Purrfect.


I think that’s all I want to write for this episode. I might do this again… someday.

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