ronin (rōˈnĭn) [key], in Japanese history, masterless samurai. Ronin were retainers who were deprived of their place in the usual loyalty patterns of Japanese feudalism. The daimyo they had served might have died, been exiled, or become so poor that the samurai had to abandon his lord. Ronin became farmers, monks, soldiers of fortune, or even bandits. In demand in times of war, they were often a burden on society in times of peace. At their best, as in the story of the 47 Ronin depicted by Chikamatsu in his popular drama, they are a model of loyalty and self-sacrifice exemplifying bushido. In modern Japan, the term ronin is often given to high-school graduates who, having failed to pass college entrance exams, are preparing for another opportunity.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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