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Samurai (Jap)

Originally the private guards of the aristocrats, the samurai warrior class seized control of Japan in the late twelfth century and ruled Japan continuously until the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1868. The samurai elite vigorously established their own artistic traditions, influenced both by Zen Buddhism and Confucianism.

Samurai were expected to be well-versed in the arts of peace as well as the arts of war, and were patrons of the tea ceremony, poetry, painting, calligraphy and No drama. In painting, the suibokuga style of Chinese ink painting practised by Zen monks flourished under samurai patronage, and the style was adopted by the secular Kano school of painters, who became official artists to the shoguns.

The most celebrated symbol of the warrior was the Japanese sword, revered as the 'soul of the samurai'. A craftsman's highest skills were lavished on swords and sword furniture, which were appreciated for their beauty as much as their function.

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