Read in Japanese – The History of the Word “Samurai” (Part 2)

read in Japanese

Ready to continue reading the story of how the word "samurai" came to be through another "guided reading"?

"Guided reading" is a format I have designed to help you read and get used to Japanese syntax.

For each sentence that makes up the original text, I will first provide you with an English translation and a vocabulary list

Read the content of each sentence in English and then take a look at the vocabulary list.

As you do this, your brain will calm down and the reading itself will turn into a kind of discovery of how those same ideas are expressed in Japanese.

Once you've done that, dive into the original Japanese text.

To help you further, I will provide its transcription in rōmaji and a word-for-word translation.

A Brief Summary of Part 1

In the first part of this guided reading, we saw how the word "samurai" came about.

"Samurai" is a relatively recent pronunciation that arose in the 16th century.

Before that, it was pronounced "saburahi" (Heian period), and then "saburai" (Kamakura to Muromachi periods).

In its earliest form, the word "samorahu" (Nara period) conveyed the meaning of "standing next to a nobleman, observing him and waiting for him to give orders.".

So, let’s keep reading:

Servants or Skilled Officials?

So, from the conjunctive form of "saburahu", the noun "saburahi" was created in the Heian period, and while this originally meant "to take care of one’s lord by being at his/her side, or the person [doing that]”, it later came to refer to a class of skilled officials (ginō kannin) of low to middle rank who served the imperial court while at the same time served upper class aristocrats, before finally coming to indicate warrior (bushi) which were part of such skilled officials.

  • さて (sate) - so; well
  • 連用形 (ren'yōkei) - conjunctive form
  • 平安時代 (Heian jidai) - Heian period
  • 名詞 (meishi) - noun
  • 生まれる (umareru) - to be born
  • ~わけである (-wake de aru) - the fact is; as you know
  • が (ga) - but
  • 原義 (gengi) original meaning
  • 主君 (shukun) - lord
  • ~の側近くで (-no soba chikaku de) - at the side of
  • 面倒を見る (mendō o miru) - to look after; to take care
  • また (mata) - and moreover
  • 後に (ato ni) - later
  • 朝廷 (chōtei) - court
  • 仕える (tsukaeru) - to serve
  • 官人 (kan’nin) - officials
  • ~でありながら (-dearingara) - while being
  • 同時に (dōji ni) - at the same time
  • 上級貴族 (jōkyū kizoku) - upper class aristocrats
  • ~に伺候する (-ni shikō suru) - to serve; to attend
  • 中下級の~ (chū-kakyū no) - of low to middle rank
  • 技能官人層 (ginō kan'nin-sō) - class of skilled officials
  • 指す (sasu) - to refer; to indicate
  • ~ようになる (-yō ni naru) - to come to
  • そうした~ (sō shita) - such
  • ~の一角を構成する (-no ikkaku o kōsei suru) - to constitute part of
  • 武士 (bushi) - bushi, warrior


sate, sono ‘saburahu’ no ren'yōkei kara Heian jidai ni ‘saburahi' to iu meishi ga umareta wake dearu ga, sono gengi wa ‘shukun no soba chikaku de mendō o miru koto, mata sono hito' de, ato ni chōtei ni tsukaeru kan'nin dearinagara dōji ni jōkyū kizoku ni shikō shita chū-ka-kyū no ginō kan'nin-sō o sasu yō ni nari, soko kara sō shita ginō kan'nin no ikkaku o kōsei shita ‘bushi' o sasu yō ni natta.

so | that | ‘saburahu’ | of | conjunctive form | from | Heian period | in | ‘saburahi’ | (quot.) | noun | (subj.) | was born | the-fact/thing-is | but | that | original meaning | as-for | ‘lord | at the side of | to take care | and moreover | that | person’ | was, and | later | court | at | serving | officials | while being | at the same time | upper class aristocrats | to | served | low- to middle ranking | skilled officials | (obj.) | to refer | came to-and | from there | such | skilled officials | of | one corner (part) | (obj.) | constituted | ‘bushi’ | (obj.) | indicate | came to

In other words, at the beginning, not only warriors (bushi) but also other low- to middle-ranking skilled officials such as the “myohoka” (legal experts) were regarded as “samurai”, so there was no element in the word indicating soldiers.

  • つまり (tsumari) - in other words
  • 最初は (saishō wa) - at first; at the beginning
  • ~のみならず (-nomi narazu) - not only… but also...
  • 明法家 (myōhōka) - legal experts (of ancient Japan)
  • 他の~ (hoka no) - other
  • ~とされる (-to sareru) - to be regarded
  • 武人 (bujin) - warrior; soldier
  • 意味する (imi suru) - to mean
  • 要素 (yōso) - element


tsumari, saisho wa bushi nomi narazu, myōbōka nado no hoka no chū-ka-kyū ginō kan'nin mo ‘samurai' to sareta no deari, soko ni bujin o imi suru yōso wa nakatta no dearu.

in other words | at the beginning | bushi | not only… but also... | legal experts | etc. | of | other | | low- to middle ranking | skilled officials | also | ‘samurai’ | were regarded | the-fact/thing-is-and | there | soldiers | (obj.) | to mean | elements | didn’t exist | the-fact/thing-is 

Status Didn’t Matter Anymore

read in Japanese

As mentioned before, "saburahi" changed to "saburai" and then "samurai," but it was not until near the Edo period that people began to use this type of term to refer to warriors (bushi) in general, regardless of their status. Until then, it was limited to higher-ranking warriors (bushi) who were the vassals of aristocrats or shoguns.

  • 前述する (zenjutsu suru) - to previously mention 
  • ~ように (-yō ni) - as
  • その後 (sono ato) - later; after that
  • 語形 (gokei) - word form
  • 変化 (henka) - change
  • 遂げる (togeru) - to achieve; to carry out; to attain
  • 地位 (chi’i) - status
  • ~に関係なく (-ni kankei naku) - regardless of
  • 全般 (zenpan) - general; overall
  • この種の~ (kono shu no) - this kind of
  • 語 (go) - word
  • 呼ぶ (yobu) - to call
  • 江戸時代 (Edo jidai) - Edo period
  • それまでは (sore made wa) - until then
  • 貴族 (kizoku) - aristocrats
  • 将軍 (shōgun) - shogun; a general
  • 家臣 (kashin) - vassals
  • 上級武士 (jōkyū bushi) - higher-ranking warriors
  • ~に限定される (-ni gentei sareru) - to be limited to


zenjutsu shita yō ni, ‘saburahi' wa sono ato ‘saburai' → ‘samurai' to gokei henka o togete itta ga, chi’i ni kankei naku bushi zenpan o kono shu no go de yobu yō ni natta no wa, Edo jidai chikaku kara deari, sore made wa kizoku ya shōgun nado no kashin dearu jōkyū bushi ni gentei sarete ita.

previously mentioned | as | ‘saburahi’ | as-for | after that | ‘saburai' → ‘samurai' | (quot.) | word form | change | (obj.) | went accomplishing-and | status | regardless of | bushi | overall | (obj.) | this type | of | word | with | to call | when it came to | Edo period | near | from | was-and | until then | as-for | aristocrats | or | shoguns | etc. | of | vassals | were | higher-ranking warriors | to | was limited

In the “Vocabulario da Lingoa de Iapam" (literally the "Japanese – Portuguese Dictionary”), published in early seventeenth century, gave the terms “bushi” and “mononohu” were given Portuguese translations meaning “warrior” (bujin) and “military man” (gunjin), respectively. However, “saburai” was translated as “a nobleman or person to be respected”, so it was already widely recognized that samurais were a special class of people in the warrior (bushi) hierarchy.

  • 17世紀 (jūnana seiki) - seventeenth century
  • 初頭 (shotō) - early part (of a century)
  • 刊行される (kankō sareru) - to be published
  • 『日葡辞書』 (nippo jisho) - lit. "Japanese–Portuguese Dictionary”
  • それぞれ (sorezore) - respectively
  • 武人 (bujin) - warrior
  • 軍人 (gunjin) - military man
  • ポルトガル語 (porutogaru-go) - Portuguese language
  • 訳語が与えられる (yakugo ga ataerareru) - to be assigned as a translation
  • ~のに対して (-no ni tai shite) - in contrast; while
  • 尊敬すべき人 (sonkei subeki hito) - a person to be respected
  • ~と訳される (-to yakusareru) - to be translated as
  • 階層 (kaisō) - hierarchy
  • 特別な (tokubetsu na) - special
  • 存在 (sonzai) - existence; presence; being
  • 見識 (kenshiki) - view; opinion; discernment
  • 既に (sude ni) - already
  • 広まる (hiromaru) - to spread

17世紀初頭に刊行された『日葡辞書』では、Bushi(ブシ)や Mononofu(モノノフ)はそれぞれ「武人」「軍人」を意味するポルトガル語の訳語が与えられているのに対して、Saburai(サブライ)は「貴人、または尊敬すべき人」と訳されており、侍が武士階層の中でも、特別な存在と (いう) 見識が既に広まっていた。

jūnana seiki shotō ni kankō sareta “nippo jisho” de wa, bushi (bushi) ya mononofu (mononohu) wa sorezore ‘bujin' ‘gunjin' o imi suru porutogaru-go no yakugo ga ataerarete iru noni tai shite, saburai (saburai) wa ‘kijin, mata wa sonkei subeki hito' to yakusarete ori, samurai ga bushi kaisō no naka demo, tokubetsu na sonzai to (iu) kenshiki ga sude ni hiromatte ita.

seventeenth century | early part | in | was published | “Japanese-Portuguese dictionary” | in | as-for | bushi (bushi) | and | mononofu (mononohu) | as-for | respectively | ‘warrior’ | ‘military man’ | (obj.) | to mean | Portuguese language | of | translation-words | (subj.) | were assigned | in contrast with the fact | saburai (saburai) | as-for | ‘nobleman | and moreover | a person to be respected’ | as | was translated-and | samurais | warrior | hierarchy | among | special | presence | (quot.) | opinion | (subj.) | already | had spread

Here you go!

I have to admit that this text was a bit repetitive in some parts, but it served to give us an idea of the evolution of the word "samurai".

If you want to try to reread this second part without any help, here it is once again:




17世紀初頭に刊行された『日葡辞書』では、Bushi(ブシ)や Mononofu(モノノフ)はそれぞれ「武人」「軍人」を意味するポルトガル語の訳語が与えられているのに対して、Saburai(サブライ)は「貴人、または尊敬すべき人」と訳されており、侍が武士階層の中でも、特別な存在と見識が既に広まっていた。


How did it go? Was the text more easily accessible after this "guided reading" exercise?

If you found this post helpful and interesting, please feel free to leave me a comment below and let me know what you think.

Sources & Images: Wikipedia, Weblio, Pixabay.

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