Samurai warriors will forever remain in a special place in the Japanese consciousness. Known as the “bushi” in Japan, these men were warriors for whom honor, nobility, and strength were central to their being. More than 70 years after the samurai was officially outlawed in Japan, people still look to the teachings of the samurai for knowledge and wisdom.

The origin of the samurai begins in 710 AD. After the Battle of Baekgang when the Japanese were driving from the Korean peninsula by the Chinese and the Koreans, the Emperor of Japan, Tenji, wanted to implement reforms in social structure similar to those found in China.

He ordered that one in every three or four males be conscripted into the military. These conscriptions would lead to clans, which would eventually form the samurai class in ancient Japan.

The samurai, as we would come to know them, first appeared in Japan in 1185. After the battle of Dan-no-ura, leader Minamoto no Yoritomo would establish the superiority of the samurai over the nobility in Japan. From this point until the late-1800s, the samurai would make up the ruling class of Japan.

Because of this elevated status, the samurai were educated in Buddhism and Zen, and to a lesser extent Confucianism and Shinto. These religious philosophies influenced the samurai in several ways. First, the idea of rebirth found in Buddhism led the samurai to abandon needless killing. Confucianism also stressed the idea of loyalty, which became a tenant central the samurai.

The decline of the samurai started in 1873, when Japan started to modernize their army. Before they completely disappeared, photographers came to capture them in their traditional garb and to capture some of their ceremonies. The images capture an important piece of Japanese history.

These images would be used in Japan to stress the importance of samurai teaching and their importance on the national character of Japan. In 1905, after being defeated in war at the hands of the Russians, Japanese nationalists turned to the samurai and what these writers called “bushido” (way of the warrior) to build a sense of Japanese exceptionalism.

While all of the images are interesting, one is especially fascinating. It seems to capture a samurai warrior committing seppuku. This process was done by plunging a sharp object into one’s stomach, then pulling it across the body. A crowd would often be present to watch. It was considered an honorable form of death for someone who had suffered dishonor.

The idea of honor and loyalty was central to the life of the samurai. Their devotion to their country and their follow samurai is something all Japanese people strive to emulate. That honor shines through in these amazing photographs.

Today, most of us get our knowledge of the samurai from movies and TV shows. It’s important to remember that behind these fictitious representations were real men who lived a life based on a code of honor. It’s an important lesson for us all to learn.