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History and Traditions of the Samurai (lesson)

Samurai helmet with a half-face mask, approx. 1615–1650. Japan.

Edo period (1615–1868). Iron, leather, laminated paper, lacquer, and textile. Gift of Dr. William A. Galeno, B87M22.

Objective: 

Students will use images of samurai armor and weaponry to learn related vocabulary. They will describe the functional and aesthetic aspects of armor through focused viewing and reading, and they will draw conclusions about the changing code of the samurai over the course of 800 years.

Duration: 
45 minutes
Resource Type: 
Region: 
Keyword Results: 

Common Core Standards:
RL 7.1: Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
W6-7.2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

Content Standards (California):
HSS Historical Interpretation.2: Students understand and distinguish cause, effect, sequence, and correlation in historical events, including the long- and short-term causal relations.
HSS Historical Interpretation.3: Students explain the sources of historical continuity and how the combination of ideas and events explains the emergence of new patterns.
HSS 7.5.3: Describe the values, social customs, and traditions prescribed by the lord-vassal system consisting of shogun, daimyo, and samurai and the lasting influence of the warrior code in the twentieth century.
HSS 7.5.6: Analyze the rise of a military society in the late twelfth century and the role of the samurai in that society.
VPA/VA 7.3.1: 3.1 Research and describe how art reflects cultural values in various traditions throughout the world.
VPA/VA 7.4.2: Analyze the form (how a work of art looks) and content (what a work of art communicates) of works of art.
VPA/VA 7.5.3: Examine art, photography, and other two and three-dimensional images, comparing how different visual representations of the same object lead to different interpretations of its meaning, and describe or illustrate the results.

Materials: Worksheets: Theoretical Hierarchy of the Warrior State; Key Vocabulary; Samurai Military Gear; Teacher Key; Line Drawing of Samurai Armor; Artwork: Helmet and half-face mask; Short sword and long sword; Matchlock pistol; Military camp jacket; Suit of armor; War fan; Signal fan; Other: Paper to create fans

Procedure:

  1. Show the worksheet Theoretical Hierarchy of the Warrior State. Review the relationships between the shogun, emperor, daimyo, and samurai.
  2. Ask students to complete the Key Vocabulary and Samurai Military Gear worksheets. Review as a class.
  3. Show the artwork War fans.
  4. Look carefully at the two types of fans and speculate how these might have been used in war.
  5. Have students make a fan out of a single sheet of ordinary paper and then try using it in as many ways as they can (cool off, hide facial expressions, point). If you were a warrior and your fan was made of hard metal, how could it be useful? Tell students that the fans are made of hard materials including bronze and iron.
  6. How does this information change their ideas about how these fans might have been used?
  7. What role do the decorations on the fans play? Would the red sun design be visible at a distance, helping your warriors to identify you? If so, how could it help you in battle?
  8. The fans could also be used as a tray to hold objects such as gifts in ceremonies. The decorations on one of the fans show a sun and moon behind clouds, a reference to a system of reading the sky for good omens for battle. How could the decoration on this fan be helpful to the warriors in a symbolic way?
  9. Have students discuss how the aesthetic and functional aspects are melded into the fan.

Conclusion:
Summarize that daimyo and their samurai valued the military arts equally with the cultural arts. This value is evident in the integration of beauty and design into the function of the Samurai’s military gear.

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