The samurai lived in feudal Japan and adhered to a warrior code of conduct known as Bushido. Bushido stressed absolute loyalty, obedience and simple living. Honor was valued above all things, and samurai were known to commit suicide to retain their honor.
Bushido means “warrior samurai ways” and was heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism. Samurai warriors trained in military arts, but they also cultivated philosophy, art, calligraphy and writing in their pursuits. Active for about 700 years, samurai were typically rural landowners or stewards of land. They were unquestioningly loyal to their overlords, and at the end of their military campaign expected to be compensated with land grants.
During the invasion of Japan by Kublai Khan in 1274, samurai planned for war by preparing themselves carefully in the event they were killed during the campaign. They were determined to maintain their dignity even if they were beheaded, so they blackened their teeth and tied their hair into a top knot before going to war. In addition to bringing a dagger and sword, samurai also brought deerskin, which served as a place holder for target practice and a seat for a warrior about to be executed. Though there was treachery within the ranks of the samurai, most lived ascetic lives and valued courage, bravery and honor.