Number of samurai in Japan?

Nov 2013
574
Kingdom of Sweden
#1
The Samurai class numbered approximately 10% of Japan's population throughout history, according to Encyclopædia Britannica. In the year of 1600, Japan's total population was between 12 and 22 million people. This means that Tokugawa Ieyasu in theory had an army of 2,000,000 professional soldiers at his disposal, and many more peasant conscripts (ashigaru). This is an enormous number even for a country of Japan's demographics at the time, and I was wondering whether this is correct. Were all these Samurai truly warriors, or did many of them spend their lives with peaceful duties?

Bonus question: In Europe, the medieval armies usually contained around 5-10% knights and 90-95% peasant soldiers. Was the ashigaru-samurai ratio in Japanese armies different?
 
Jun 2011
1,812
São Tomé de Meliapore
#2
The Samurai class numbered approximately 10% of Japan's population throughout history, according to Encyclopædia Britannica. In the year of 1600, Japan's total population was between 12 and 22 million people. This means that Tokugawa Ieyasu in theory had an army of 2,000,000 professional soldiers at his disposal, and many more peasant conscripts (ashigaru). This is an enormous number even for a country of Japan's demographics at the time, and I was wondering whether this is correct. Were all these Samurai truly warriors, or did many of them spend their lives with peaceful duties?

Bonus question: In Europe, the medieval armies usually contained around 5-10% knights and 90-95% peasant soldiers. Was the ashigaru-samurai ratio in Japanese armies different?

The entire Samurai class did not hold allegiance to the Shogunate directly. The individual Samurais were loyal to their domain or daimyo and in turn the daimyos were controlled by the shogunate. During Edojidai, the saumurais held clerical and administrative posts in their domains.
 
May 2015
11
Honolulu
#4
Even by 1600 the Samurai were not necessarily a distinct class completely separated from the peasantry - I'm pretty sure the 5%-10% figure we see includes ashigaru and dispossessed warriors (Ronin) at this point. And not even remotely all of them were in any way loyal to Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1600. I don't think there was any point where all the Samurai from Satsuma to Dewa were truly loyal to the Tokugawa after 1600 - they just didn't have a choice, but during the Edo period, local domains were also left alone by the Tokugawa government to pretty much do what they wanted in exchange for taxes and lip service. That's not to say that the Tokugawa couldn't oust local leadership if things weren't working out, but as long as one nominally played by the rules, they'd be more or less left alone.

By the 1700s, the vast majority of Samurai were bureaucrats rather than warriors, and many were struggling to eat due to various things the Tokugawa government did to drain off resources from local domains.
 
Last edited:
Mar 2015
813
Europe
#5
The Samurai class numbered approximately 10% of Japan's population throughout history, according to Encyclopædia Britannica. In the year of 1600, Japan's total population was between 12 and 22 million people. This means that Tokugawa Ieyasu in theory had an army of 2,000,000 professional soldiers at his disposal, and many more peasant conscripts (ashigaru). This is an enormous number even for a country of Japan's demographics at the time, and I was wondering whether this is correct. Were all these Samurai truly warriors, or did many of them spend their lives with peaceful duties?
10% is close, but not quite. It does not mean 2 million men even in theory.
In 1873, when Japanese Meiji restoration took first census, they found about 30 million people in Japan, and 2 million of them in samurai class. Which is 7 %, not quite 10. But that was samurai class. Half of them were women. And the remaining million included boys, elderly and disabled men. So how many actual fit adult combatants?
 
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Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
32,130
T'Republic of Yorkshire
#6
Even at 10%, that doesn't amount to 2 million trained professional soldiers. The samurai of the Edo period were a members of a social class. Some barely knew which end of a sword to point at the enemy. As well as being soldiers and bodyguards, they were administrators and politicians, amongst other things - at least those who had jobs at all. Many were simply unemployed. Since they weren't allowed to become farmers or merchants, there were nly a limitef number jobs available for them in a peaceful Japan.
 
Jul 2016
243
Just outside the Rust Belt
#8
The 10% is a class of people. Cut that in half to discount women. That's 5%, now given that of that 5% likely half were children or elderly. Of that, how many were professional warriors? You're looking at 1-2% were adult male warriors of the Samurai class. Likely way less.
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
32,130
T'Republic of Yorkshire
#9
Was there like an equivalent to a knighting ceremony for samurai trainees? Some sort of requirements?
Depends on the period and circumstances. In the Edo period, no - you were born a samurai, and that was it.

However, in earlier times, a peasant could be raised to the status of a samurai, usually for success in battle. I'm not familiar with the details of the process, but it usually involves the granting of a family name.For those samurai who took formal weapons training in a dojo, there was the awarding of a certficate to those people who had reached the status of a master - one of the main figures of the early Meiji reform period, Sakamoto Ryoma was a licensed swordsmaster (but, being a very practical man, who also carried around a Smith & Wesson revolver).
 
Jul 2016
8,471
USA
#10
Depends on the period and circumstances. In the Edo period, no - you were born a samurai, and that was it.

However, in earlier times, a peasant could be raised to the status of a samurai, usually for success in battle. I'm not familiar with the details of the process, but it usually involves the granting of a family name.For those samurai who took formal weapons training in a dojo, there was the awarding of a certficate to those people who had reached the status of a master - one of the main figures of the early Meiji reform period, Sakamoto Ryoma was a licensed swordsmaster (but, being a very practical man, who also carried around a Smith & Wesson revolver).
If a samurai family produced a dull witted son who had physical defects of some sort, that son would be considered a samurai from birth in the Edo period?

I heard during one period that most samurai didn't even know how to use the swords they carried anymore, that they were mostly bureaucrats. Is that true or over simplified?