The story of the samurai begins in the Heian period of Japan - a lot later than you might imagine (790-1185 CE), as the samurai class emerged at the same time as knights of Europe.

The samurai didn't start out as knights, however, they were mercenaries. Local lords known as Daimyo would hire skilled fighters as bodyguards on diplomatic missions, and as rough hands to shake down neighbours who owed them money.

There was no special system of honour, these men were loyal to whoever paid them. In fact, backstabbing and betrayal among these bodyguards, then known as 'saburafu', was so rife that stories would spread of those who went against the grain by showing loyalty to a single lord.

The closest thing to Bushido, or 'way of the warrior' in these early years came from Hojo Soun who wrote “Lord Soun’s Twenty-One Articles”— a collection of lessons aimed at regulating the behaviour of hired samurai.

In reality, the so-called samurai ethics we recognise today largely spread as a brand of neo-Confucianism which became popular in the Tokugawa era. This was a time of peace when mercenaries were no longer needed.

Samurai had become wealthy by serving local lords and lived on largely by name and status.

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