More than a century and a half after their “discovery” by Western observers, the samurai remain as iconic figures in Japanese history. Indeed, they are among the most popular warrior figures in world history, as indicated by their frequent representations in films, popular media and above all video games. In part, this can be explained by their long history, having been present in various forms for close to a millennium, but more than anything, it is connected to positive connotations of bravery, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and sword skills. But how accurate are those attributes? Historical records paint a very different picture of warriors who disregarded authority, who switched sides numerous times, and who looked only to their own best interests. But somewhere and somehow, they managed to become the true rulers of Japan, rewrite their own history and transform themselves into the very epitome of selflessness and loyalty. It is this transformative process and its consequences for contemporary society that will be the topic of this lecture.
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Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Stockholm University