Top Famous Japanese Samurai Names And History

by Bunka Japan August 20, 2021 12 min read

The famous samurai is a famous character in Japanese culture. Samurai have been around for centuries and they are often the center of attention in many films, novels, and video games that are set during this time period. However, not everyone knows who some of these famous samurai were or what their stories entail. This article will list some famous samurai names and give you an overview of their history with the hope that it will help you get to know Japan's most famous warriors better!

There are many great samurai warriors in the Japanese history, such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. But there are other greatest to learn about Miyamoto Musashi or Tomoe Gozen - a fearsome female Samurai of Japan.

The samurai were a very well respected and powerful group of people. They followed the bushido code which is an honor-bound set of rules that prescribes how to live as a warrior, emphasizing practices such as martial arts mastery, integrity in life and death; courage; respect for one's opponents or superiors regardless of rank or social status (read more here). The Meiji Revolution abolished their power but they still had some influence on Japan way into present day because many became businessmen, professionals etc., while others helped shape Japanese culture!

If you are looking to learn more about samurai fighting styles, read this "What Type Of Martial Arts Did The Japanese Samurai Use?"

Here are a list of famous Japanese samurai names and history:

 

1) Miyamoto Musashi (1584 – 1645)

famous Japanese samurai Miyamoto Musashi

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Born in 1584, Myamoto Mushashi was a famous and accomplished soldier, swordsman, and artist. When he was on the losing side of Battle Sekigahara in 1600 then he became ronin samurai which meant that his lord no longer recognized him as an official member of their army because they had lost this battle.

Miyamoto Musashi was a Japanese swordsman and philosopher who developed the two-sword technique known as nito ichi ryu. His reputation is so great that he has been referred to by other names, including kensai meaning sword saint or satsujin shoji which means killing machine in English.

He had many duels against rivals but his most famous fight occurred on an island with Saski Kojiro - ending quickly when Miyamato struck him over the head with a wooden sword after this duel, he retired from society despite teaching select students and helping suppress rebellions such as Shimabara of 1637.

Myamoto Mushashi was a great painter and author of the famous Book of Five Rings. He also wrote many other books on his martial art, philosophies, or sumi-e style paintings as well as bird paintings which are renowned in particular for Shrike Perched on Withered Branch (Kobokumeikakuzu) and Wild Geese Among Reeds (Rozanzu).

Myamoto Mushashi is most famously known for being an influential Japanese warrior who mastered multiple forms of combat from different cultures such as kenjutsu to jujitsu.

 

2) Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537 – 1598)

famous Japanese samurai Toyotomi Hideyoshi

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Toyotomi Hideyoshi lived from 1536/37 to 1598 and served as chief Imperial minister. He helped finish to 16th-century unification of Japan, helping create the country we know today.

Born a peasant in Azumato Province (modern day Nagoya), Toyotomi Hideyoshi left home when he was still a boy and became page at one feudal lord's mansion where he met Oda Nobunaga who would become his mentor for life - or so it seemed until this great man rose through ranks becoming samurai under him before joining armies fighting other clans trying unify all of Japan with their own rule into what you see now on your map.

Hideyoshi, the man who would later build a castle in Osaka and become one of key figures in Japan’s unified government. He clashed with Tokugawa Ieyasu during Nobunaga's attempt to unify the country but their alliance remained strong. Hideyoshi was then appointed as an important minister by his lord Toyotomi Otomo so that he could continue pacifying regions without conflict from other lords like Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was responsible for solidifying the caste restrictions that marked Tokugawa Japan. Farmers, merchants and monks were forbidden from taking up arms while warriors as well as artisans, farmers and tradesmen could only be found in their own areas of towns or villages due to strict segregation enforced by law.

 

3) Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543 – 1616)

famous Japanese samurai Tokugawa Teyasu

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The son of a local lord, Matsudaira Takechiyo was born in 1542. He came into his own during the era when Japan's civil war and feuding lords left it mired with violence and death.

After being sent to the Imagawa clan at four-years old, Ieyasu was raised with education in their court for 15 years. In 1567 he finally took over his family’s position and changed his name to Tokugawa after returning home from a life of exile.

He had a successful military career and ran his own town in the east of Japan. He was given governance over Edo where he established Tokyo, transforming it into what we know today as an international city with millions living there.

After the unfortunate death of his ally Toyotomi Hideyoshi, civil war broke out again. Ieyasu won the war and gained the title of shogun, becoming a military governor in Japan as well as its ruler with few limits on power. So began Tokugawa's rule over all but name for what would be three centuries to come until he passed away at age 80 in 1616 after having been ill for months beforehand due to illness or old age is not precisely known.

His mausoleum at Nikko has become one of most important shrines and was commissioned by Shogun himself from an artist who had taken up residence near Nagasaki during his time there trading with foreign merchants while simultaneously keeping firm control over Christianity-dominating Europe.

 

4) Oda Nobunaga (1534 – 1582)

famous Japanese samurai Oda Nobunaga

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Oda Nobunaga's story is the source of many others, but it’s well worth knowing on its own. Born in 1534 and living through a deeply fractured Japan where warlords frequently clashed against one another often causing much death and destruction before he came to power, Oda nobunaga was viewed by some as both an oppressive tyrant and a national savior.

Nobunaga was an eccentric figure. When his father died and left him to take care of the family’s land, he took it with a strange sense of entitlement, associating freely with peasants below their station as well as shunning many traditions that were important under feudalism such how wearing funeral garb at one's own elaborate burial rites. Nobunaga would also break protocol in other areas like when Hirate Masahide committed suicide after being offended by Nobuna ga during said ceremony--the first time anyone had ever done so--- but this event seemed to shock into reality for the young boy who then went on to unite Japan through force instead of diplomacy or succession rights established within Yamato clan itself .

With the help of a few uncles, Nobunaga gained control over his land. He was not in power for long before he faced challenges from one brother and later another that only ended when both were killed by him. All of this happened while other feudal lords sought their own place among them.

The legacy of Nobunaga led to Tokugawa Ieyasu and his allies' unified, more stable Japan. This was because Nobunaga died before he could unite all of the country with a single government.

 

5) Kusunoki Masashige (1294 – 1336)

famous Japanese samurai Kusunoki Masashige

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When Kusunoki Masashige was born in 1294, he had already been indoctrinated into the Akuto. This group of samurai banded together to form a new government that did not belong to the present regime and despised how under-rewarded they were for their actions fighting against Mongolia. A man with such passion would be destined for greatness - and so it is no surprise when one learns about his early life as an active member of this organization after being raised by parents who belonged themselves.

The Emperor, Go-daigo (96th emperor of Japan) was forced to flee when his plot for take down the government was revealed. He found refuge at Mt. Kasagi in south Kyoto and declared war on the Government who were against him because he wanted revenge after what they did to him years ago which is why he's been plotting this since then. Masashige pledged loyalty towards GOdaijo as one of first people who would help overthrow those cruel men from power so that no more innocent lives are lost just like how many others had died before them too due to their selfish behavior!

The soldiers of Kusunoki Masashige were not like other warriors. They didn't wear fine armor or swords, but they threw rocks and poured boiling water on those who tried to assault their castle in Kawachi! With the tide turning against them after news of the Emperor's arrest, he opted to burn down his castle and flee without ever being captured by government troops.

Masashige rallied his men and 1,000 locals in Osaka. The government responded in force by laying siege to the small army cutting off their supply lines but Masashige anticipated this and created a secret path for supplies that led to victory as starving forces instead starved with no new provisions from outside sources coming into play which also prompted Emperor Go-Daigo's return who then lead renewed efforts against the Shogun regime.

The samurai had been shortchanged and did not receive the land that they so desperately needed to get them out of poverty. Another rebellion rose in Kysusu, led by Ashikaga Takauji, whom Masashige was able to escape with after he saved his life during this time period.

Masashige encouraged the emperor to make peace, but he refused. He then tried to walk the Emperor into fleeing into exile, but that was refused as well. In the end Masashige led an army with a slim hope for victory against Ashikaga’s forces of 200,000; his own were 899 men strong and lost many on their journey in battle when they finally met near Osaka by 1336 AD where he succeeded suicide after being outnumbered so greatly..

Masahide's devotion and cunning have made him a very popular samurai hero especially within his native city-state (Osaka).

 

6) Hattori Hanzo (1542 – 1597)

famous Japanese samurai Hattori Hanzo

Hattori Hanzo was a fearless warrior who performed many feats in service of the Tokugawa clan, including rescuing Tokugawa Ieyasu's daughter from a castle and laying siege to another. Born around 152 AD, he served until his death at 55- some sources state that this happened suddenly while hunting or died during battle with pirates on an island off the coast of Kyushu.

 

7) Sanada Yukimura (1567 – 1615)

famous Japanese samurai Sanada Yukimura

Yukimura was born in 1567 and was known as A Hero who may appear once in a hundred years” and “Crimson Demon of War. His clan, the Sanada, caught up with wars between Oda Nobunaga forcing themselves to fight on different sides when Tokugawa took power after his death. Yukimura fought valiantly against them during Winter Siege at Osaka Castle causing many losses for enemy forces while he himself had smaller force size than that of enemies there.

I think you're tired of hearing about how Yukimura died, but in case it's not clear: he was fighting against Tokugawa forces and they managed to get him. The siege on Osaka castle went well for a while with him leading his troops during the battle until he finally conceded defeat after being completely outmatched by an enemy force that vastly outnumbered them at nearly 10-1 odds.

The defender of Osaka, exhausted and low on supplies but still as formidable as ever. Yukimura Sanada was a powerful general in the late Sengoku period who defended Osaka Castle against overwhelming odds before finally capitulating to Tokugawa Ieyasu's forces after months' worth of bitter fighting.

This heroic warrior is said to have made one last plea with his enemies: "I am Sanada Nobushige."

 

8) Uesugi Kenshin (1530 – 1578)

famous Japanese samurai Uesugi Nobushige

A long time ago, a young man named Nagao Torachiyo led an army in the fight against Takeda Shingen. He was born to be one of Japan's most powerful warriors and leaders when he changed his last name as refuge for Uesugi Norimasa who then adopted him as his son.

After his power had reached its peak, the mighty Uesugi sought to overthrow one of Japan's most powerful lords. He bravely faced all odds but unfortunately died before he could start a battle with Oda Nodabunaga.

 

9) Takeda Shingen (1521 – 1573)

famous Japanese samurai Takeda Shingen

(Source, 9)

Takeda Shingen, a 1521-born feudal lord of Shinano Province and one of the warlords who struggled for power over the valuable Kanto Plain in eastern central Honshu. He is best known for his series of battles with another famous warrior by Uesugi Kenshin that became legendary. The two fierce commanders clashed fairly indecisively but cemented Takeda's influence as he became one of the most powerful military leaders in region.

He was most feared by Oda Nodabunaga, and after defeating an army led by Ieyasu he began to make inroads into Tokugawa territory. A year following his victory over the armies of both men, Takeda died at age 39. To this day many people celebrate him as a genius who had skills that should be celebrated throughout all Japan due to the film Kagemusha (Shadow Warrior) directed by Kurosawa Akira being created about him.

 

10) Date Masamune (1567 – 1636)

famous Japanese samurai Date Masamune

Date Masamune was an incredible tactician who led the Date clan to power. He had a remarkable ability for warfare, earning him such nicknames as "One-Eyed Dragon of Ōshu". At one point he broke alliances and conquered land in his quest to hunt down a defected vassal from Ashina clan. After this campaign, many battles ensued against neighboring clans.

Tokugawa Ieyasu showed no fear when he was forced to choose a side during the Tokugawa-Toyotomi civil war, but once his overlord Hideyoshi died and left him with nothing. A man of great character, he eventually took up arms on behalf of Tokugawa's faction after finding that there was not enough food for both himself and the people in his domain. He then lead them all to an unexplored location which would grow into Sendai City thanks largely due to its proximity from fishing waters--an ideal place for those who are hungry or need work!

Masamune was known for his great sympathy for the Christian population growing in Japan, only reluctantly allowing their persecution in his domain when Ieyasu outlawed Christianity. It is because of Masamune's patronage that there are now a small community of Japanese descendants living in Spain as they fled to escape from religious prosecution on home soil.

Masamune was a powerful samurai who changed the political and cultural landscape of Japan forever. He has been represented in many media that chronicle both real and imagined versions of his life, but this is only scratching the surface to how influential he really was!

 

11) Honda Tadakatsu (1548- 1610)

famous Japanese samurai Honda Tadakatsu

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Honda Tadakatsu was a loyal servant of Tokugawa Ieyasu, and his contributions aided the success of countless battles. Perhaps being most noted for successfully leading evacuating troops from advancing Takeda forces before their decisive clash in 1584 during the Komaki Campaign, he would also go on to have great successes like breaking through an enemy's defensive line at Nagashino Castle with only 2 outposts left standing by nightfall after engaging them all day long.

His courage is said to have so impressed Toyotomi Hideyoshi, his foe in that battle, that he ordered a general ceasefire. Ieyasu was left with only a few troops but rode out and challenged the vast enemy host himself-and won! He continued to fight for Ieyasu through many battles and campaigns including Sekigahara where future shogun Tokugawa finally defeated him. It's hard not be inspired by this brave samurai who died protecting his lord at age 106 after serving him faithfully all those years ago.

12) Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159 – 1189)

famous Japanese samurai Minamoto No Yoshitsune

Yoshitsune was born in 1159, and is one of the most famous samurai's to have ever lived. He fought alongside his half-brother during Genpei War that led him on a path towards fame as he helped consolidate power with both humans and gods alike. Yoshitsune faced many challenges before embarking on this journey such as death at age 10 when overthrowing an attempted coup by court nobles leaded by Minamoto no Yoritomo who were seeking revenge for their father being killed from illness. It wasn't all bad though because after escaping execution himself thanks to monks taking care of him while residing within Kurama Temple.

Yoshitsune is a skilled samurai, the most respected and talented of his time. He took up arms against those who would take what belonged to him - that which was rightfully his by law. Against all odds he won every battle, liberating Japan from tyranny in the process as well as freeing it for himself following so many years spent without power or authority over anything at all."

Yoshitsune fell out of political favor when his brother Yoritomo schemed to end his growing power and forced him to flee Kyoto. He found refuge with Fujiwara no Yasuhira, son of the childhood protector he cherished so much. However, under pressure from Yoshitsune’s own brother-Yoritomo-he had a residence surrounded where Yoshitsune was staying at the time; defeated all retainers that were fighting for their lord in order to escape alive; and finally committed suicide."

A tragic hero as depicted by Japanese culture who has been deeply revered over many centuries: it is an open question whether or not Genghis Khan could have succeeded if without them knowing about this man's life story beforehand!"

 

13) Shimazu Yoshihisa (1533 – 1611)

famous Japanese samurai Shimazu Yoshihisa

One of the greatest leaders to ever live, Shimazu Yoshihisa was lord over Satsuma Province. Born in 1533 and died on March 5th 1611. He led his brothers uniting Kyushu which they claimed until Toyotomi Hideyoshi took it from them in 1600 but were defeated by him a few years later leading to their final years as Buddhist priests composing poetry that is cherished across Japan for its humility and skillful tactics!


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