Test of Honour: Samurai Glossary

Our new Test of Honour samurai game keeps the Japanese terminology to a bare minimum, but for those of us who like to delve deeper into the period, Andy Hobday and Jez Fairclough have supplied this glossary – full of interesting historical snippets… 



Ashigaru – ‘Light feet’: infantry. Largely developed in response to the Onin War, the Ashigaru became the backbone of all daimyo armies in the 16th Century, especially after the widespread adoption of the matchlock. Until the 1590’s, an ashigaru was normally a peasant who worked in his home village when not on his lord’s campaigns.


Bajo – A term for cavalry.

Bakufu – ‘Tent/Camp government’: term used to refer to the shogunate or, in the case of the Hojo Regency, the military government. Bakufu could also be more narrowly applied to the headquarters of the shogunate.

Bansho – ‘Captain’; found occasionally in 16th Century records (especially relating to the Hôjô clan).

Bo – Wooden staff primarily used by non-samurai in the Edo period.

Bo-jutsu – Staff fighting

Bokuto – Wooden sword often used in a swordsman’s training.

Buke – A martial house or a member of such a house

Bushi – Warrior.

Bushido – ‘Way of the Warrior’. First recorded in the 16th Century (in the Koyo Gunkan and other such works), the term Bushido has come to act as a blanket expression for the philosophy and mindset of the samurai, in particular the ideals of honour and bravery. The philosophy of Bushido is “freedom from fear.” It meant that the Samurai transcended his fear of death.


Chugen – Term occasionally used to describe ASHIGARU.

Daimyô – ‘Great Name’; term used to describe the autonomous lords of the late 15th and 16th Centuries who exercised personal authority on a multi-province, multi-district, or, in some cases, multi-village level. A term occasionally, and incorrectly, applied to the earlier SHUGO, or misleadingly equated to the shugo. At the same time, the term shugo-daimyo is sometimes used to describe the increasingly autonomous shugo of the early to mid-14the Century, and the term shugo can be found still in use as late as 1560. In the Edo period, the term daimyo generally applied to those lords who governed lands worth more than 10,000 KOKU.

Daisho – Sword pair formed by the KATANA and WAKIZASHI and worn by the samurai.

Daito – Long sword. (katana, uchi-katana, tachi, no-dachi ) – nagasa (length) over 2 shaku (shaku = 11.9 inches)

Do – Generic term for body armour – that armour which protects the torso; a cuirass.

Donjon – Castle keeps, popular in the later 16th Century. The first castle keep was built by Matsunaga Hisahide in 1567 at Tamon. Donjons were ultimately designed as much for appearance as defensive capability.


Giri – Samurai’s duty. “Duty” is a primary philosophy of the Samurai.

Gun sen – Folding war fan often made out of metal.



Haiboku – Defeat.

Hakama – Large, skirt-like trousers worn over a kimono, typically worn by samurai – especially in the Edo Period. A shorter version, a han-bakama, could be found among lower-class samurai and outside classes.

Hanran – Rebellion.

Hatamoto – ‘Bannerman”; retainers close to the Daimyo/Shogun and accorded certain privileges and special status.

Honjin – The headquarters of a daimyo or general on a campaign.

Horagai – Conch-shell used as a signaling device on the battlefield and for ceremonial purposes.


Jinbaori – Surcoat, or sleeveless jacket, worn over armour, often by important samurai, especially in the 16th Century.

Jingasa – Simple iron helmet used by foot soldiers in the 16th Century that doubled as a shallow pot for cooking rations in the field.

Jitte – Iron bar with a prong on one side used to disarm an attacker, developed for use by the YORIKI in the Edo Period.


Kabuto – The traditional helmet of the samurai, often decorated with an elaborate crest. The most common sort of kabuto by the 16th Century was the so-called hachi-mai-bari, or ‘eight applied plates’. This cheap, conservative design was a descendant of the ornate kabuto worn by earlier Heian and Kamakura samurai that were designed for using a bow and protecting against arrows.

Katana – Traditional long sword of the samurai constructed through the folding and refolding of a bar of hot metal thousands of times. Renowned for its toughness and cutting ability, the katana or tachi replaced the bow as the primary weapon of the samurai during the later Kamakura period, although it was often secondary to a short spear (YARI) in battle.

Ken – sword – refers specifically to an ancient straight-bladed sword made before the ninth century with both single and double cutting edges and curved point sections. These early swords were apparently carried slung from the waist by cords or some other materials. They range from two to four feet in length and various shapes of hilts.

Kimono – Standard every day wear throughout Japanese history, designed in part to keep its wearer cool during the summertime. Kimonos were made from cotton, hemp, or silk, depending on the station of the wearer, and changed styles frequently over the centuries. Formal kimono, as a court noble or important samurai might wear, were made of fine silk, with especially long sleeves and reaching to the floor. Peasants and foot soldiers often wore half kimonos which allowed easy movement and perhaps more importantly were cheap.

Kyo-jutsu – Bow and arrow fighting.

Kyuba no michi – The Way of the Horse and Bow.



Mempo – Face mask or plate worn with armour, popular from the mid-16th Century and progressively more elaborate as time went on.

(Ka)Mon – Family crest, often displayed on flags, formal clothing, and armour – especially after the 15th Century.

Monogashira – Captain, leader

Musha – A shortened form of Bugeisha, lit. martial art man.

Musha-shugyo – Warrior pilgrimage. It was a samurai tradition, in which a warrior would become ronin and travel the land, fighting in duels to establish and perfect his own skill, and to promote the strength and value of his school. It was started by Musashi. Musashi became the archetypal unkempt, invincible ronin, as he passed through duels and wars undefeated.


Naginata – A mid-sized pole-arm topped with a curving blade popular in the Heian Period. Originally the weapon of a foot soldier, the naginata came to be known as the favored weapon of the warrior monks (SOHEI) and women. The naginata was not otherwise in general use by the 16th Century.

Nanban dô – Armour inspired by western examples, especially that of a Spanish Conquistador, popular between 1580 and 1600. Tokugawa Ieyasu, for instance, wore a suit of nanban dô at the Battle of Sekigahara (1600).

Ninja – Popular term often loosely applied to irregular forces, spies, and assassins in the time of the samurai. According to legend, the services of ninja clans, especially those of Iga and Ise provinces, were highly sought after by sengoku daimyo.

No-bori – Long, vertical flag popular in Japan after the 15th Century; carried by the retainers of a daimyo in battle (and the daimyo himself) and displaying individual family crests, patterns, or written characters.

No-dachi – ‘Field Sword’; an extremely large two-handed sword fairly popular in the 15th and 16th Centuries, essentially an over-sized TACHI. Surviving examples from the Muromachi Period include no-dachis almost 6 feet long. Samurai are said to have brought them to Korea (1593) in some number to use as a psychological weapon against Korean soldiers.


Ransen – a confused, wild battle (literally, chaos battle).

Ronin – ‘Wave Man’; Master-less Samurai. A samurai became a ronin under two circumstances. The first was when the samurai had shamed himself in the eyes of his master, but refused to commit seppuku. The second case of a samurai becoming a ronin resulted from his master’s death in one of the countless battles.

Ryu – Particular school or style of martial arts.



Saihai – Baton carried by leaders to aid in the direction of troops; worn at the waist when not in use.

Samurai – Member of the warrior class. The word “samurai” is derived from the archaic Japanese verb “samorau,” changed to “saburau,” meaning “to serve”.

Sashimono – Small banner affixed to the back of a suit of armour, for battlefield recognition purposes. Common in and after the 16th Century.

Seppuku – Ritual suicide: the act of killing oneself by slitting open the belly. Possibly first carried out by Minamoto Yorimasa in 1180, seppuku came to be the ‘official’ manner of suicide for a samurai, and was prohibited for all other classes. In time, seppuku came to take on religious connotations, but in essence this exceedingly painful manner of dying was a mark of grim pride to the samurai – a final test of his bravery. By the 16th Century a ‘second’ (or KAISHAKU) had been added to the ritual, to limit the amount of suffering the samurai who was to die would experience. When a female member of a samurai house committed seppuku, she almost always did so by slitting her own throat.

Shôgun – Military ruler of Japan; a shortening of Sei to shogun, or ‘Barbarian-quelling general/marshal’. The rank of shogun was originally given on a temporary basis to those leading campaigns against the AINU, the first such commission being given to Otomo Yakemochi in 784. Following the Minamoto’s triumph in the Gempei War (1180-1185), Minamoto Yoritomo received the title shogun in 1192 and made it a hereditary position. The Minamoto were in time followed by the Ashikaga (founded by Ashikaga Takauji in 1338) and the Tokugawa (founded by Ieyasu in 1603). The rank of shogun was finally dispensed with when Tokugawa Yoshinobu resigned from that post in 1867.

Shoto – Short sword ( wakizashi, chisa-katana ) – nagasa (length) between 1 and 2 shaku (shaku = 11.9 inches )

So-jutsu – Spear fighting

Sohei – Warrior monks; relatively modern term describing the armed warriors that acted as military muscle for major religious establishments from the 9th Century until the 1580’s. In particular, the warrior monks of the Enryakuji (Mt. Hiei) were an important political force for centuries, and their support was often sought after in times of war. At the same time, the Sohei were destabilizing elements, and clashes between riotous Sohei and Bakufu and Court forces were reasonably common until 1571. In that year, Oda Nobunaga destroyed Mt. Hiei’s monastic complex and Hideyoshi’s later forays into the Kwatchi-Kii area marked the beginning of the end for the Sohei in general.


Tachi – Term for sword, specifically the long sword carried by the samurai; KATANA.

Tabi – Short socks, designed with a split toe so as to be worn with sandals.

Taisho – General, captain, commander.

Tanto – A common Japanese single or, occasionally, double edged knife or dagger with a blade length between 15 and 30 cm (6″–12″). Tanto first began to appear in the Heian period. Tanto were mostly carried by Samurai.

Teppo – Matchlock, harquebus, gun. Occasionally referred to as a Tanegashima, after the island where Portuguese sailors introduced the European matchlock to Japan around 1543. Japanese matchlocks tended to be of superior quality to European and Chinese varieties and incorporated a number of original additions. Japanese gunners were generally trained with an emphasis on accuracy as opposed to load time but were aided in the latter with the invention of cloth ‘cartridges’ sometime after 1570.

Tsuba – Sword guard.


Wakizashi – Short sword carried with the katana by the samurai.


Yari – Lance, spear.

Yojimbo – Bodyguard, especially in the Edo Period.

Yumi – Bow. The bow acted as the ‘official’ weapon of the samurai during the Heian Period but by the 15th Century had been more or less relegated to the common soldiery. Made from laminated strips of bamboo composited over a core of wood, the Japanese bow was generally effective out to 80 meters. In the later 16th Century, bowmen acted as skirmishers in most daimyo battle formations.


Zanshin – Samurai sensing danger. It is the ability of the samurai to sense danger, trained into him from his youth by teachers that would sneak up on him until his senses were acutely developed.


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Now you are armed with superior knowledge it’s time to sharpen your katana and hone your skills – why not treat yourself and pre-order your copy of Test of Honour today!


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