Samurai were warriors from Japanese noble families, who served in private armies recruited by daimyo (local lords). They fought in civil wars that raged in Japan from around 1159. In 1603, the Tokugawa SHOGUNS restored peace. Samurai then became local officials and administrators.
Samurai swore a solemn oath of loyalty to their comrades and their lord. They aimed to follow a code, called the bushido (the way of the warrior). This called for self-discipline, skill, bravery, honor, obedience, and self-sacrifice. Many samurai also followed the teachings of Zen Buddhism.
From 1192 to 1867, Japan was ruled by a series of powerful army commanders with the title of shogun. Japan’s emperors had great prestige but little real power.
In 1192, the warlord Yoritomo, who was the head of the mighty Minamoto clan, defeated rival nobles to become the most powerful man in Japan. The emperor gave him the title of shogun, which means “great general.” Yoritomo set up a new, military government, far away from the imperial court.