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The Last Samurai *possible spoilers*

  1. Dec 3, 2003 #1


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    Have any of you seen the movie The Last Samurai? What did you think of it?

    I really know nothing of the Samurai, or how they existed, or how well the movie portrayed them. Does anyone have any historical knowledge of them? Did they really get wiped out? (I assume a white dude did not end up being their only survivor. ) Is the story completely ficticious?

    I have to say I was stunned when I thought about the way the Samurai chose to fight with primitive weapons, because it allowed them to see and know their enemy. They chose to fight with primitive weapons out of respect for the humanity of their enemies. It's far too easy to use a gatling gun (or, by extension, a missile or nuclear warhead) to wipe out people you never even see. That's very cowardly.....

    What are your thoughts? Did you like the movie?

    - Warren
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 3, 2003 #2
    Samurais are noble knights or warriors of Japan, whom are descendants of the Chinese. They escaped mainland of China and moved to a tiny island about 3000 years ago, adoping the same writing system, but a different prenounciation.

    Japan is famous for 2 legendary swords:

    Katana - Used most often in movies, well known, "CUTS STEEL LIKE LEAVES", as you saw in Matrix 2, Morpheous cut the car of Cadalac with it.

    Masamune - "CUTS PEOPLE TO 2 PIECES Without blood", yes it's that fast. Usually very long, famous illusion: Final Fantasy 7, Sephiroth owned a very long one.
  4. Dec 3, 2003 #3
    They really put hundreds and hundreds of hours into making just one samuri sword. I think they fold it thousands of times. I don't really know what that physically does to the steel to make it more strong. It does, however, make it amazingly sharp.
  5. Dec 3, 2003 #4
    I heard the lengend goes that the blade itself is cursed with blood, whoever touches it needs to pay a "blood fee."

    and that's why most people when holding it always wear a glove:

    #1. To prevent bleeding.

    #2. To prevent moisture from hand from destroying the blade.

    BTW, they don't use steel to make those swords, because will become stain very quickly.
  6. Dec 3, 2003 #5


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    why cant some Chinese or Japanese poster step in here and provide correct facts?

    Japanese is linguistically distinct from Mandarin. As distinct as Turkish. The grammar verb-forms etc are radically different. The people look more like northern manchurian or mongolian people than they do the south china people. I do not know the facts. But it is a very bad mistake to think that Japanese descend from the Han Chinese (the main Chinese population)

    china has many ethnic minorities quite different from the Han majority. but no presentday minority is enough like Japanese to suggest an origin.

    there was a primitive white (European like) population called Ainu who lived in Japan before the now-dominant Japanese-speaking tribes took over the islands. There has been intermarriage with the Ainu which can explain why some Japanese look somewhat more European. The invading tribes (probably nomadic from north central Asia, where the Turks also came from originally) had already mastered horseback riding and archery----they were technologically superior to the Ainu.

    The Japanese are genetically and culturally rather distinct, almost unique. But for many centuries they recognized the Han Chinese as their cultural teachers. Chinese culture has always been highly respected. They have adopted the Chinese writing even though it is not particularly well-suited to writing Japanese.

    There is a curious similarity between Hawaiian and Japanese language---both are formed from a comparatively small number of syllables of a simple type---typically single consonant-single vowell---strung together. I bet Japanese is more like Inuit (Eskimo) or like Polynesian than it is like Classical Mandarin. But I am not a linguist. The Britannica would give a clue about who they originally were and where they came from.

    The Japanese Middle Ages is an intensely interesting history. There is much recorded fact. Also there is a lot of misleading mythology, often commercialized.

    In the capital Kyoto in the 14th Century there were, IIRC, six main clans. Each clan had their castles round about the various islands and their palace(s) in Kyoto.

    The job of being Shogun sort of rotated from clan to clan. Each clan had its own Headman and the Shogun was the top. Each clan needed a lot of professional warriors.

    The job of Emperor was religiously and ceremonially important but was not political or military. It was more a figurehead at that time.
    The Meiji Restoration in the 1800s restored power to the Emperor and broke the power of the Shogun and the main Clans. This was bad for the professional warrior class, which became impoverished and suffered unemployment because of lack of wars and insufficient clan rivalry.

    Between 1400 and 1800 very roughly IIRC, the Shogun system with the Figurehead Emperor and the large Samurai class of warriors flourished. The warrior class developed aesthetic refinement and various strict codes of behavior and ideals. Many of them had very refined taste in art/poetry/music/tea/women and whatever else mattered besides fighting. They appear also to have exploited the tradesmen and farmers of the time without much scruple.

    The samurai sword involved different steel alloys. There was a high-carbon edge surrounding a low-carbon core. The core was tough and the edge was hard----in steels these two properties of hardness and resiliance are difficult to combine. Photographs of cross-sections of samurai swords show two regions and the way fingers of one alloy interpenetrate and mesh with fingers of the other alloy to make a strong bond. It was a high technology (it had some features we associate with high tech, but just in a different historical context)

    The Meiji Restoration, which destroyed the old system and the support system of the Samurai class, may actually have been brought about by a conspiracy of Samurai who patriotically wished to modernize their country so it could rival European military-industrial power. I do not know for sure, but I suspect that the Meiji Restoration is a very interesting historical event.

    The famous Samurai Movies tend to be about pre-Meiji---that is, Medival, Japan. And there is a lot of nostalgic fairytale stuff in what Ive seen too.

    I remember enjoying Seven Samurai, which is about unemployed (even hungry) Samurai who find a worthy cause of fighting Bandits and defending a village. This restores their self-respect because it gives a purpose to being a professional warrior. This would probably be a post-Restoration time Movie.

    The best Japanese Movie ever made is called Tampopo and it is about food, specifically Ramen noodle soup.
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2003
  7. Dec 3, 2003 #6
    For a more in-depth history:
    http://people.myplace.net.au/~aikido/samurai.htm [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  8. Dec 3, 2003 #7
    i am chinese, my facts are straight. And stop being lame and copying pasting off of websites.
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2003
  9. Dec 3, 2003 #8
    what do they use?
  10. Sep 9, 2004 #9
    Physics and the Katana

    Ok boys and girls, I had to laugh at some of the posts regarding the Katana on this site.

    A few things of note. Masamune was a "swordsmith" not a weapon type

    The Katana is considered the epitome of sword design...for the type of fighting it was designed to do. it is not the be all and end all of sword perfection, there are dozens of types of swords and each has it's own particular style of use in combat

    The Katana is most definately made of steel, The method of construction of folding the steel was adopted by the Japanese around the 8th century AD. The blade is NOT folded thousands of times but a mere 10-15...a physics student who understands the binary system will note that a single sheet of anything folded once creates 2 layers, again = 4 layers, again = 8 layers, follow the pattern up to 15 times and you get approximately 32000 layers of steel. This method was designed to create an even carbon content throughout the length of the blade. On the final fold, it was folded over a softer iron or low grade steel core which would give the blade a rigid outer shell and a softer core for resiliency. From there, a high carbon edge was welded to the main body of the blade. The blade is then coated with clay in varying thicknesses in the cooling/tempering process. a basic blade can be forged in a couple days.

    Once the basic blade has been forged, it is then sharpened and polished. This process takes up to 120 hours. This is done using stones of varying coarsness. The blade is polished by burnishing and buffing to a mirror finish, this also aids in preventing rust.

    as for the physics of what the blade was capable of. Any physics student will know that a wedge shape will displace more mass and meet with greater resistance in the process than a flat blade with a beveled edge. The Katana was not designed to cut through anything much harder than laquered leather armor which was common in Fuedal Japan for centuries. The curved blade is best suited to slashing draw cuts not hacking and cleaving. There is nothing magic about the japanese blades, they are steel and will behave as such and if you try to cut through anything harder than the blade itself, the blade will be irrepairably damaged.

    I have included some links regarding construction methods of Japanese blades and some useful information on dispelling the hype that the likes of Tom Cruise and Quentin Tarantino have given us about what the Japanese sword.

    http://www.galatia.com/~fer/sword/mishina/lecture.html [Broken]

    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  11. Sep 9, 2004 #10
  12. Sep 9, 2004 #11
    Again on the Historical "Masamune"

    http://www.filmswords.com/highlander/masamuneart.htm [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  13. Sep 9, 2004 #12


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    I haven't watched the movie (though I fully intend to), but some months ago I came across a fantastic article about Samurai in the National Geographic Magazine.

    Before that, my miniscule knowledge of the Samurai came from little tidbits picked up here and there (most of it from Kurosawa).
  14. Sep 9, 2004 #13
    The samurai were the aristocratic ruling class in Japan for centuries. Some few practiced the sword. Some few of them actually fought now and then. Most were simply members of the ruling class. "Samurai" included women, children, old cripples, anyone who was a member of that class. For most of those who studied combat, they fought only in their training sessions. In battle, a samurai could usually be found commanding troops from the rear, using signalmen equipped with coloured fans and such. Some few actually were professional warriors, such as Musashi, who fought as a soldier in an army. However, Musashi was not the ideal samurai as portrayed in romanticised fiction; he was quite the brute. He beat one guy to death with a club to the back of the head, after the guy was down on the ground. Several of his duels were against children. Most duels were against people who trained as weekend warriors in harmless clubs/dojos, and this is one thing he actually complains about in his book - that there were so few genuine warriors among the samurai.

    The samurai class was removed from power during the Meiji Reconstruction. It all came to a close when 30,000 samurai faced the Peoples' Army. The samurai stood at one end of the field with their swords and the privelages of being the ruling class. The army stood at the other end with guns. The guns won.

    I very much enjoyed the movie. By far the best work from Tom Cruise. Beautiful scenery, great music, nicely choreographed fight scenes. Lots of groovy stuff.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2004
  15. Sep 9, 2004 #14
    Please read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan#History

    It's only a movie.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  16. Sep 9, 2004 #15
    No. Generally a day, perhaps two if they go slow. No sword was ever folded more than 20 times. Usually around 12. The folding process was used to spread impurities out along the lenght and breadth of the blade, thus removing any points where impurities would otherwise be built up and cause weak points.

    1 - 2
    2 - 4
    3 - 8
    4 - 16
    5 - 32
    6 - 64
    7 - 128
    8 - 256
    9 - 512
    10 - 1024
    11 - 2048
    12 - 4096

    Doh! Which silly duffer put 5096?!
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2004
  17. Sep 9, 2004 #16
    Quite some time ago, I posted a rather length essay at another message board. Religion Of The Samurai, by Kaiten Nukariya. It's very long, so I won't post it here. However, here is the link: http://www.sciforums.com/showthread.php?t=16016

    BTW, the romantic image of the stoic, noble samurai created by the movie industry is nothing like the real thing. They were the elite in a feudal system. They were quite often complete bastiches to the people they ruled.

    Other links I provided back then:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  18. Sep 9, 2004 #17

    I could find no posting where someone put 5096 however, to comment on the "impurities" in the blade...essentially, steel is Iron and Carbon...Carbon "is" the primary impurity. In the forge process, the carbon content is regulated by pounding out the blade and how hot the blade is. In Japanese forge, it is usually in the gold/orange range (temperature in degrees not know...sorry) or was described as "the color of the moon during harvest". The carbon content determines the rigidity of the steel...more carbon = harder steel, less = softer. The problem was always getting the content correct as to not make a blade so hard it becomes brittle or so soft it will bend easily...like many western smiths, the japanese found a method that created an excellent "happy medium" that accomodated both issues very well.

    The basic blade shape could be wrought in a day, this is true but there were a number of methods of quenching and reheating which could last over a couple days...tempering a sword was a tricky business and you could screw it up very easily.

    the numbering method you describe above is Binary math or Base 2 which was mentioned in a previous post...a graphic example of this can be seen in one of the links I provided.

    There is no denying that for what the Katana was designed to do, it is an excellent weapon if used appropriately. it is not a majic blade and will not do things that defy the laws of physics or common sense. misunderstanding of the weapon and over glorification of it's abilities and superiority have been common since the western world discovered Japan and I doubt they will go away anytime soon...the best defense is to study the subject for yourself and not simply rely on the likes of Kill Bill and The Matrix as a source of any semblence of reality of what it was capable of...Morpheus cut a car up with his Katana in the Matrix...yeah yeah yeah...Neo dodged bullets and flew too, should I believe that as well?
  19. Sep 9, 2004 #18
    I did. I just hit the wrong key earlier.

    Heck yes. The well-made ones are beautiful!
  20. Sep 9, 2004 #19
    forge folding

    Please my see other posts for more information but, in brief, the forge folding process was a method of evenly distributing the impurities (i.e. carbon) throughout the blade, the folding process is not what made the blade sharp...the high carbon, differentially tempered edge and a very intricate sharpening/polishing process is what made the blade very sharp. The blade was generally not folded more than 15 times (I have heard as high as 20 but not fewer than 10). This folding creates thousands of layers of steel and as I said, distributes the impurities evenly and creates a rigid outer jacket which is then folded over a softer iron or lowgrade steel to give the blade resiliency and the edge is welded on afterward.
  21. Sep 9, 2004 #20


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    Carbon is definitely NOT considered an impurity in steel - in fact, it is a primary alloying element (at least in low allow steels) and is what makes steel harder than iron. And, the carbon content of a steel (or any other metal, for that matter) can not be controlled by heat-treatment. What the heat-treatment does is determine the microstructure of the steel, and this is what primarily determines the hardness (yes, the total carbon content is also important, but that is not affected by heating/cooling). The hardness is usually a nealy linear function of the amount of a phase known as martensite, that is stabilized by the heat-treatment. It is also a function of the particle size, which too is dependent on the cooling rate.

    Slow cooling, or annealing, generally results in a tougher but softer steel, while rapid quenching results in a harder but more brittle steel. There are more factors that go into determining the properties of the steel, and they would take up a good chapter to describe.
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