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Who were the samurai?

Samurai warrior on horsebackIn medieval times, Japan was torn apart by wars between rival families called clans. The clans hired warrior knights to fight for them. These knights were called samurai. One clan leader became so powerful, he ruled over the whole of Japan in the late 12th century. He was called the shogun, a military dictator. The emperor, meanwhile, had no power. Shoguns ruled Japan on behalf of the emperor for the next 700 years.

Jimmu, legendary founder of the Yamato dynasty


Clans had been battling with each other to rule different parts of Japan since ancient times. In the 3rd century, one of these clans, the Yamato, ruled over the plains where today the cities of Osaka and Kyoto are located. The Yamato rulers believed that they were descended from Jimmu, Japan's legendary first emperor. Jimmu himself was a descendant of the sun goddess, Amaterasu.
The Yamato went on to conquer the rest of Japan. Yamato emperors have reigned over Japan ever since.

In medieval Japan, poor peasants were forced to give half the food they grew to the shogun or local lord (daimyo).

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